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Writing in Middle School Art – Part 2

Writing in Middle School Art – Part 2

This year, the MS Art teachers have been investigating how they can better support their students as writers about art. We worked together in the first part of the year by looking at how students learn how to write other text types in English classes with the workshop model, the writing process, and the use of mentor texts. At the end of April, they invited me back to share some work they had tried and to think through some questions.

My messy, coded notes


As a coach, I find these kinds of conversations fascinating but also challenging as I work to balance consulting and coaching. My school has done a lot of work with Cognitive Coaching and we have a culture of using those tools to help each other reflect and plan. But as a MS Literacy Coach, I have expertise that they are seeking to tap into as they work with their students. I have found using a notebook to jot notes and code those notes as I listen helps me sort the elements of our conversation that I should support with consulting or doing some background work for them and the elements I should support with Cognitive Coaching to allow them to find their own next steps. It can be easy to slip into all consulting, but my notes become a nudge to pause my busy mind as it pulls up ideas and solutions. I can then ask a probing question and move the conversation toward coaching. 

As they shared the work they had done to write their own pieces as a mentor text for the students, I was thrilled to see they were thinking about differentiating this work for their more fluent writers and art thinkers by providing some high school student samples. I was then able to paraphrase and ask probing questions to help them identify additional strategies to support those students who might find this work challenging. Some of their ideas included creating additional teacher models with simpler text, marking up mentor texts with highlighters and labels for students to refer to when they are writing, planning for small group instruction, and creating charts to hang in the room with steps and key terminology.

That is a lot of new thinking! I ended our meeting by summarizing the key points, naming my next steps and the new ideas that they wanted to consider. I look forward to seeing how these creative and thoughtful teachers take the strategies we use in English and revamp them for their art students.

Using the Literacy Exchange Model to Build the Chinese Literacy Symposium

Using the Literacy Exchange Model to Build the Chinese Literacy Symposium

A few months ago Amanda Jacob, the Elementary Literacy Coordinator at Taipei American School, posted a photo to the Reading and Writing Workshop in International Schools Facebook group of their Mandarin team planning for shared reading in their classes. “It’s fascinating to see how structures I use for teaching reading in English work in Chinese. These teachers found great ways to support character learning and vocabulary building.” The comments started flooding in. 

Teachers in the region had questions. Others shared how they were investigating how other balanced literacy structures traditionally used in English classes might benefit student engagement and learning in Mandarin lessons. With a nudge from Erin Kent, our friend and fellow literary coach, to bring people together to share their work, willingness to help from a few literacy coaches, and strong support from the leadership at Taipei American School, the first Chinese Literacy Symposium was born.

Amanda and I started planning together using the work from the  Middle School Literacy Exchange to help us frame out the weekend. We set up a Google Site and gathered information regarding what people wanted to learn and share in connection with balanced literacy elements in Mandarin language classes.

From there, we created overarching goals.

  • Build community
  • Learn from and with each other
  • Create a shared understanding of workshop and balanced literacy
  • Make time to plan and create together

We looked back at our notes from the MS Literacy Exchange and worked to build from our reflection.

  • Having most or all of a teaching team participate builds momentum and increased application into daily practice. What would this look like in Elementary/Primary school?

In order to encourage teaching teams or partners to attend together, we were able to make this a free event (again, thanks to strong support from the TAS leadership). This was successful with many schools sending two or more participants, so teams were able to think together about the weekend’s learning fit their context.

  • Having a common starting point in our learning across schools allows the learning to be relevant to all participants.

While all the participants were not coming from the same starting point with trying out balanced literacy in their context, we were within a similar band of a year or two in our work. This meant that whole group instruction was relevant and small groups could zoom in the pieces they were ready for at this time.

  • Having common pedagogy rather than common curriculum allows the learning to be practical and hands on. What would this look like for Math or Science?

This was true for us as the focus was the pedagogical practices of balanced literacy components and how these have been or could be used in Mandarin language classes. There were some organic side conversations around curriculum and assessment that were useful for those who wanted to think more about these pieces.

  • Having coaches who can facilitate the exchange creates a clear, focused learning experience.

We had three literacy coaches lead whole group sessions and facilitate the learning across the two days. Then we had two additional literacy coaches help with the responsive planning and delivery of the day-two small groups based on day-one exit tickets. We also had three rounds of mini table presentations put on by the participants, so they could share their experiences with the group.

Overall, it was an exciting weekend of learning and exploring with each other. Participants came ready to learn and their noticings and questions throughout the symposium demonstrated critical and creative thinking as they considered how this learning could support students’ language learning and engagement. Here are some of the things the group noticed and questions they had.

How are you addressing these ideas and wonderings in your context?

Using Mentor Texts in Science

Using Mentor Texts in Science

During an option professional learning session on conducting one-on-one conferences with students across all subject areas, I used a video of one of my conferences with an 8th-grade writer to help the teachers unpack the purposes and structure of a conference. The video happened to show me using the mentor text with the students to help her name techniques she could apply to her writing. This sparked the idea of using mentor texts for lab reports in the mind of one science teacher.

After successfully creating a mentor lab report and using it with one class, Polly invited me to come observe how she launched the mentor text with another class.

Polly started the lesson by inviting the students to name the purpose of a lab report. One student said, “A lab report allows someone else to repeat the experiment.” Polly elaborated on this by saying, “And so, we want to write our lab reports in a way that will make it easy for someone else to follow the steps and repeat the experiment. So today, I have prepared a mentor lab report to help guide your work as you write yours.”

She paused and reminded the students of how they use mentor texts in English class to give them a vision for their work and to find and use strategies for improving their writing. 

Polly digitally shared the mentor lab report she had created and asked the students to read through the procedure section. They needed to notice and make a note in their notebook three to four strategies the writer of that experiment used to make it easy for others to repeat that experiment.

After about 10 minutes of independent study, Polly brought the class back together to share out the strategies they noticed. Students added to their list as other shared. 

She then sent them off to conduct their experiment and write up their procedure using the strategies they had gathered from the mentor text to make it easy for someone else to repeat the experiment. 

Once students were writing up their procedures, Polly was able to confer with groups, partners, and individuals efficiently with the help of the mentor lab guide. She kept coming back to the original question, “What strategies did this writer use to make it easy for someone to repeat this experiment that you could use in your writing?” Sometimes she started a conference off by asking, “What do you notice between what you wrote and what is written in the mentor text?” 

These questions allowed the students to name strategies and set their own next steps with increasing independence. This also meant that Polly wasn’t repeating the same tips to multiple students. She found that she was able to see more students and that the students’ lab reports were written with more clarity.

Many literacy teachers use mentor texts regularly to help students envision the work they will do and find their own strategies to improve their work. Where else across a student’s day might we use mentor texts?