Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

While most people spend August sipping sun tea and binge-watching Stranger Things, teachers spend it kicking off the new school year. So. Much. To. Do. We have to set up our classrooms on newly shined floors, decorate our boards, deploy our reading materials, get the printer and laminator dancing like a pair of tango champions. . . . If only there were free online lesson plans to teach student-centered writing!

There are.

If you complement your reading program with one of the writing handbooks from Thoughtful Learning, you have a free online Teacher’s Guide that gathers and organizes your resources, all in one place! Relieve a little stress. Find what you need. Seriously, this three-minute video is better than yoga for teachers in August:

How to Nurture a Writing Mindset
Thoughtful Learning

Mindset plays a pivotal role in learning. Students who approach writing with confidence and enthusiasm are much more likely to persist through challenges than students who feel fearful and discouraged by it. Unfortunately, the latter category includes many students in our classrooms.

This year, let's nurture a positive mindset toward writing. But what classroom practices will help, and how can we measure progress?

Empowering Writers

To nurture a positive writing mindset in our students, we can incorporate some best practices into our classrooms.

  • Invite students to write about topics of personal interest.
  • Build choice into writing assignments.
  • Immerse students in examples of good writing.
  • Model effective reading and writing strategies.
  • Balance freedom and structure (by teaching the writing process).
  • Use minilessons to teach skills that writers can immediately apply.
  • Focus your feedback on solutions, not problems.
  • Be flexible about grammar and correctness.
  • Make time for reflection.
  • Point students to effective writing resources.

(Learn more about these best practices.)

Surveying Growth

To measure our students’ evolving mindsets, we can use entrance and exit surveys, like the ones that follow.

Writing and Thinking
thoughtfullearning.com

With so much content to teach, we often focus on getting students to remember, understand, and apply information. That's no small feat! But Bloom's Revised Taxonomy suggests that we help students go deeper—analyzing and evaluating and eventually creating. Sure . . . but how?

Why not visually? For most of us, seeing is believing. When we can visualize abstract concepts and relationships, we gain a greater grasp of them. You can use a ready-made set of graphic organizers, checklists, and other visuals to help your students analyze, evaluate, and create.

Analyzing

When students analyze information, they break it into its parts, examine each part closely, and study how the parts fit together. Engineers and lawyers and medical professionals analyze constantly, so helping students develop this thinking skill can improve their success well beyond your classroom.

You can use these minilessons with downloadable graphic organizers to help students analyze:

Chain Link

And and or may be little, but they are fierce: They connect ideas not only in writing but also in math and logic. For instance, Boolean algebra uses and and or to determine the logical relations of compound propositions. These little words also make computers work. Because of and and or, you can send an email, share a selfie, like a meme, and access your bank account.

In fact, recent studies suggest that we should do more to directly teach these and other conjunctions. If developing writers can't use them effectively, they will struggle to formulate and express ideas. And readers need help with connectors, too.

And, or, but, nor, for, yet, and so can empower writing in many ways:

  • Connecting two or more words, phrases, or clauses
  • Combining choppy sentences to create a smoother flow
  • Elaborating simple sentences and ideas
  • Expressing relationships between concepts
  • Fixing comma splices and run-ons
  • Signaling comparisons, contrasts, causes, and effects
  • Creating cohesion
  • Creating surprise

The following minilessons help students understand and use these little but fierce words.

8 Best Practices for Mentoring Young Writers
Thoughtful Learning

“There are moments as a teacher when I'm conscious that I'm trotting out the same exact phrase my professor used with me years ago. It's an eerie feeling, as if my old mentor is not just in the room, but in my shoes, using me as his mouthpiece.”

—Abraham Verghese

Who was your mentor? Who first helped you see yourself as a teacher? As a writer?

Every day in class, you have the chance to be that person for someone else. Every time you respond to students' writing, you help them build confidence and competency, help them self-identify as writers. What's more, regular feedback drives revision, a crucial practice that beginning writers tend to misunderstand or ignore.

Of course, the awesome pedagogical value of individual feedback also poses an awesome teaching challenge. How can you ensure your responses to student writing are frequent, effective, and efficient? The eight best practices that follow will help you meet the challenge.

Teaching Teenagers
Chris Krenzke/Thoughtful Learning

It takes a special soul to want to teach teenagers. How often have you heard, "I'd never want to teach middle school!"?

I personally love that age. Teenagers haven't yet figured out who they are, so if I can teach them something that empowers them, they grab onto it and transform before my very eyes. They are so full of energy and potential that, given a meaningful direction, they will launch themselves toward a goal or endeavor.

Of course, without a meaningful direction, teenagers can also explode on the launchpad.

8 Ways to Empower Reluctant Writers
Thoughtful Learning

To develop as writers, students need to identify as writers. Instead, many students feel reluctant to write and discouraged by language in general. How can we engage such students, and how can we boost their confidence and belief as writers? This post explores eight teaching strategies for shifting the mindset of reluctant writers.

1. Make a personal connection.

Reluctant writers often feel like outsiders in writing classrooms. To create a welcoming environment, we need to show students that their presence is valued. Simply greeting students by name or asking how their day is going can go a long way to establishing trust. So can identifying and engaging with students’ interests outside of school. For instance, if a student is reading a Field & Stream magazine, we can ask about favorite experiences in nature and share our own. These seemingly small social connections establish bonds that make students more comfortable sharing ideas with us in writing.

Student writing about baking
Thoughtful Learning

Managing a writing classroom can be like trying to make the perfect pot of chili for a table of 20. You know going into it that no single recipe will align with the taste preferences of every diner. However, through experience and experimentation, you discover certain essential ingredients will create a savory base, which your diners can supplement with a choice of accompaniments that suit their tastes—a dash of hot sauce here, a glob of sour cream there.

Similarly, certain essential ingredients go into creating a successful writing classroom. When mixed, the ingredients that follow provide an effective starting point for developing students’ skills and identities as writers. Know that these ingredients are just a start to a successful writing class; they produce the best results when you make adjustments to meet the changing needs of your students.

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