28 July 2015

Extreme Writing in Secondary Social Studies

Yesterday I read "The Power of Extreme Writing: How do I help my students become eager and fluent writers?" by Diana Cruchley. Two thoughts stuck with me. The first was that I did a variation of Extreme Writing with my fifth and sixth graders when I first started teaching. It was fun and addressed some of the early writing standards. The second was that with its emphasis on more creative styles of writing I couldn't see much opportunity for using Extreme Writing in secondary Social Studies.

This morning, as I was out walking, I had another thought. "WAIT! Extreme Writing WILL work in secondary Social Studies!"

First, here's a little bit about Extreme Writing. Cruchley explains that the purpose of Extreme Writing is to build fluency in writers. In other words, students have to get their thoughts on paper in a coherent manner. The way to do that is with practice. This can be accomplished with several cycles of 10 minutes of in-class time for 10 days (with follow up time at home).  Years ago, I read Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" where she recommended something similar for writers. In fact, Goldberg recommended setting a timer for five minutes and writing. If you don't know what to write about, write "I don't know what to write about" over and over and over until what's trapped inside comes out. Cruchley recommends providing prompts that will spark interest and engagement in students. Cruchley and others have gathering prompts and posted suggestions to the web.

So where does this fit into secondary Social Studies? My 9th and 10th grade geography and history students had a difficult time with essays. In class essays were the worst (and I'm sure my students would agree). Despite reviewing the prompt and thorough planning, they still struggled to put pen to paper and get the essay completed. My AP students also struggled with timed writings. I frequently heard "I don't know what to write" or "This is really hard." I always suspected that part of the issue was lack of confidence in their own ability to express themselves on paper.

Extreme Writing can address this struggle. Most of my students didn't come to me with a lot of in-class writing practice. In most of their other classes, these students were assigned take home essays to be completed over the course of a week or more. This gives students LOTS of time to revise and refine their writing. In a pinch though, some students are nearly paralyzed with fear of the in-class essay. Taking 10 minutes of class time a day for 10 days is worth the "lost" content time to build fluency and confidence in students.

Here are a few other questions to consider:

  • But what about my content? These prompts have nothing to do with my content! That's actually the point. Extreme Writing builds fluency and confidence in writing. It will start out as a pretty messy process, but over time as student fluency improves, you'll start to see more thoughtful pieces and new skill that will transfer to writing about the social studies.
  • I'm a History/Social Studies teacher! Why do I need to do this? Check with your colleagues in your students' other classes. Are they doing Extreme Writing or something similar? Perhaps you can share the task. The Common Core Literacy Standards clearly outline shared responsibility for reading and writing development. If writing is a challenge for your students and if no one else is doing it, it's on you. In the long run, Extreme Writing will help make your job easier because your students will be better prepared for the writing demands of social studies courses.
  • Clearly this is just for younger students, right? Cruchley recommends Extreme Writing for 4-9 grade students. However, in my own experience I was not a super-confident writer when I got to my senior year of high school. I had good teachers who emphasized writing, but getting the words down on paper still was anxiety-provoking. Mrs. Hanley, my senior English teacher, fixed that with her own version of Extreme Writing. We wrote in journals, we wrote essays, we wrote and wrote and wrote. By the beginning of second semester we could write a full essay in 20 minutes with a cold prompt. 

25 July 2015

Lessons from the Hill: 3 Tips for Getting Involved

Update: This was updated to include relevant links for further information. 

Last week I had the privilege of attending the National Councilfor the Social Studies Summer Leadership Institute in Washington DC. Two educators represented the California Council for the Social Studies at the Institute. During the course of the Institute my colleagues and I toured the Newseum and had a private tour with the writer of their Vietnam War exhibit. We also learned about the state of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA...or commonly, for the most recent version, No Child Left Behind), including the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Bill.

One of our major assignments at the Institute was to meet with our representatives in the House and Senate. My California colleague and I were able to secure an appointment with my Congressman, Mike Thompson, and dropped by to visit her Congressman. He happened to walk up as we began talking with his education staffer, so we had a second meeting right in the hall. We also dropped off information in our Senators' offices, but they and their staffers were busy debating the amendments to ESEA that day.

This is the fifth time I have been to Capitol Hill to discuss Geography Education or Social Studies education, and it got me to thinking yet again about the importance of participating in our government (think: don't complain if you don't vote). Most of the Social Studies teachers I have talked with have not visited their state or national legislators and don't seem to participate in government beyond voting. There are things that Social Studies teachers CAN do to get more involved in government. I offer three tips:

1.     Become informed about issues, including education policy, and vote. You don't have to be an expert on every issue and you don't even have to vote on every issue, but DO cast your vote for the candidate who best aligns with your values and the issues that matter to you. Don't forget that your local community needs your votes on issues that are important right in your backyard (Should plastic shopping bags be banned in your community? Let your elected officials know!).
2.     Write to your city, county, state, and national officials and let them know how you feel. I recently wrote to my city hall to express concern over an uneven sidewalk in my community. Within a week or so, that sidewalk was clearly marked so that others didn't fall. Now, I'm not sure that my email was the immediate cause of the change, BUT it added to the voices of others who had communicated about the sidewalk issue. Most elected officials communicate by email, so don't worry about having to get a stamp. In fact, when you're writing to your Congressional delegation, it's BETTER to email since all regular mail has to be scanned before arriving at the office. Tell your elected representatives how you feel about issues important to you. Offer solutions. Request a meeting at the local office with a staff member. Just LET THEM KNOW. Look up your representative here and your senator here.
3.     MEET with your elected official. Go to City Hall or the county Supervisors' chambers or the State Capitol, or to Washington DC. The farther you are from your local government, the more lead time you need to give yourself to secure an appointment. I've found that a minimum of 3-4 weeks is needed to get an appointment with my Congressman in Washington. Be patient when trying to schedule an appointment and make it clear that you are willing to meet with a staff member in order to get your voice heard. Sometimes our elected officials' political views don't match our own. That's okay. You still need to let them know where you stand and they ARE representing YOU. Be polite and agree to disagree. I've learned that it's not that scary to talk with elected officials or their staff. Just have your talking points ready (take a notecard if you need to) and have fun.


As Social Studies teachers we should model civic behavior. Your voice DOES matter so let it be heard.

07 July 2015

From the Web: Bystander Intervention In Cyberbullying

Posted from Diigo