Tag Archives: billy spicer

It’s Worth the Struggle–The Power of Peer Reviews

By Billy Spicer – guest blogger

Students today write like they never have before-both in print and online. Young or inexperienced writers need to both observe proficient writers at work and share in writing events in authentic and well-supported ways.

One key element to guiding students in becoming better writers is finding ways to encourage their craft while allowing them to share their thinking in multiple ways.   The ability to provide meaningful and manageable feedback should always be on our radars as educators.  What should not be on our radar is spending hours correcting every misspelling and grammatical flaw!  Rather than disheartening students and their efforts over constant revisions, let’s collectively focus in providing encouragement to young authors to rework a different component, such as their lead or varying transitions. We can accomplish this right now in leveraging digital literacy tools like myON.  Let’s make the reading/writing bond even stronger through powerful peer editing. For when it’s done correctly, it can be the most powerful element throughout the writing process.digital-peers

Unless students are blogging(which they should be!), they are probably writing to a one-member audience in mind: their teacher. Boring! When young authors keep an audience in mind beyond a single person while also participating in focused peer review interactions, students can offer productive feedback, accept constructive criticism, and master revision. A brief disclaimer before moving forward: not all students are receptive to peer reviews! It makes perfect sense.  Depending on the existing classroom culture, students may be abrasive to the idea in having peers read their work and assess it. So, take caution, but more importantly, empathize with their feelings and “show them the way” through meaningful and authentic interactions with their classmates.  Whether or not peer reviews are successful or not in class partly depends on if their peers can help them see the benefits, and the importance of the process.

blog-imageIn the image above, a Writing Task has been added to a project that is asking students to take a dive into some nonfiction texts with a focus on the structure used by the author. The stated objective included some guiding questions to help frame the task for the students. For this particular Project the Writing Task is the final piece, the assessment item that will help guide future instruction for the teacher while also providing feedback to the student in terms of growth. Here is where the writing task can become more than just a task: enabling the Peer Review feature!

Writing Task

Using peer review strategies, students will learn to reflect on their own work, self-edit, listen to their peers, and assist others with constructive feedback. It also becomes a more authentic route to ask students to revisit their work multiple times before stamping it as a polished, published piece of writing.  By guiding peer editing, educators will establish some key expectations: this is important, you can do it, and I won’t give up on you (even if you give up on yourself).

Real, authentic literacy growth can only occur in a community of learners who make meaningful connections. Peer review facilitates this type of social interaction and collaboration that is vital for student learning.

 

Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the BahBilly Spiceramas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer

 

Wait, What? You Wanted Me To Do What? The Importance of Visible Thinking Strategies For Student Clarity

By Billy Spicer – guest blogger

I strongly believe that the more transparent and explicit we are in communicating with students in what we view as exemplar work, the more equipped they will be as we apply the gradual release of responsibility. And isn’t that the end goal? To have students independently applying strategies explored in class, synthesizing data and stories, and ultimately creating new meaning? How we say it and what we say will determine the span of our reach, the authenticity of the message we construct and communicate, and eventually the gauge in whether we were successful or not as educators. I continue to be fascinated by the work and research from Harvard’s Project Zero: Visible Thinking Routines.  The work is a product research stretched across years of work concerning children’s thinking and learning, along with a sustained research and development process in classrooms.  Let’s take a look at just one strategy: SEE | THINK | WONDER through the lens of how reading workshop may look in an elementary classroom. Of the many visible thinking routines educators may find applicable to their instruction, this one speaks loud and clear to one aspect we all need to be aware of: close reading!

Billy Spicer Blog

As educators continue to seek out authentic best practices for influencing student learning, close reading is often on the agenda. I’ve often overheard conversations where it is misinterpreted or misunderstood.  But what is it? And what does it look and sound like? Forget all of the Common Core stamped books and resources, because here’s the thing: there is no one-stop shop for teaching students how to think critically of a text.  The real answer lies within a varied approach centered around visible thinking routines.  According to Beth Burke, NBCT, close reading is, “thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text’s form, craft, meanings, etc.”  When students are engaged in visible thinking routines they are more likely to create meaning in the content while also fostering meaningful connections between school and their own lives.

The routine has its highest impact when a student responds by using the three stems together consecutively, “I see…, I think…, I wonder….” Implementing or launching this routine in a shared reading or in partnerships can also prove to be a worthy venture because students will quickly see how others use it and apply it to their own use. Another implementation idea is to create a class anchor chart that displays the three driving questions students will need while engaged in their book or text passage.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think about it?
  • What does it make you wonder?

As students enter the intermediate grade levels, the ability for them to use and cite text evidence becomes an important skill. Each of the three question stems can be further supported through text evidence which will result in a deeper understanding of the text.

For teachers that use myON within their literacy instruction, the use of the embedded literacy tools are all students need to apply this visible thinking routine! By color-coding each of the three stems, students can be clear and transparent what they see, think, and wonder. See below for one example taken from a book of a 5th grade student who was reading about states of matter within a physical science unit of study.

Billy Spicer Blog

Billy currently teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. After spending a decade teaching 3rd thru 5th grades, Billy served students and teachers as an instructional coach. He recently spent time in the Bahamas with the Shedd Aquarium where he lived on a research vessel for a week conducting scientific inquiry. Prior to teaching in Lake Zurich he worked at Walt Disney World as a member of the Animal Programs department in entertaining, educating, and inspiring conservation action. He facilitates a passion for literacy, passionate learning, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs. Authentic and purposeful technology integration is a non-negotiable aspect in providing students with the tools to be successful. Billy earned his BA in Elementary Education at Illinois State University and a MA in Literacy and Reading from Benedictine University. He also enjoys hot dogs, coffee, and his ever growing collection of records. To learn more about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom, follow him on Twitter-@MrBillySpicer

Billy Spicer

Inquiry-Driven Student Choice in The Digital Classroom

By Billy Spicer – Guest Blogger

Billy Spicer

Creating a digital classroom is essential to engaging students in learning for today’s YouTube generation.  We all know the “one size fits all” approach does not work. Through the use of authentic tools that bring students personal choice in their reading journey, teachers can leverage technology to create a digital environment that engages students and families collaboratively, fosters personal growth, and provide quality content to frame an environment to build life long readers and learners.

Full disclosure: student choice is messy! But here’s a secret: the messiness is proof you’re getting somewhere! You’re trying! I’m still tinkering, taking risks, and trying new ideas as well. But here’s what I have learned…

In order to support students’ ongoing literacy needs, teachers must provide choice based on the student’s interest, but more importantly, frame it with inquiry-based learning. When students are seeking answers and solutions to questions they pose themselves, true and authentic learning can occur.

When we ask students to seek solutions to problems of their own choosing, we are encouraging them to engage in deep learning through a process of investigation rather that the low-grade clerical work we know has a low effect in improving student outcomes. Meaningful topics that connect with the standards and learning targets within a school can provide opportunities for students to think critically and connect with larger themes.  And isn’t that what we are striving for as advocates for building lifelong readers?  Yes-Thinking critically while engaged in a variety of texts to the student’s interest that promote individual growth!

Students who own their own learning will be positioning themselves for their future, not the one they are often being forced into. Providing students with authentic choice goes beyond simply picking an item out of a menu. In that case it’s still the teacher who is ultimately directing the learning. Instead, seek out opportunities for students to be self-directed in taking charge of their own learning. Whether you are already on board with student choice or looking to get started, consider the following tips as a possible catalyst to dive in.

  • Readers get to select texts that are to their own interest and independant level while following the big themes within a unit of study.
  • Readers pose questions and then seek the answers through diving deep into the topic.
  • Readers leverage literacy tools to curate their own personalized literacy environment: sketchnoting, mind maps, journals, text annotation etc.
  • Readers get to choose when they want to read silently, participate in a shared reading, or listen to the audio version of a book.
  • Readers will decide on an avenue for sharing their findings and answering their own “big question”.

Purposeful and meaningful experiences that integrate technology is at the core of today’s classroom in seeking avenues to improve student learning.  When we provide students with quality resources and tools we are not only empowering them to drive their own learning, but  also maximizing their individual reading growth.  

To learn about some other applications in which I leverage myON in my quest to empower student choice in my reading workshop, please check out the video below!

Transitioning to the Digital Classroom

Billy Spicer teaches in Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in suburban Chicago. As a member of the district’s Demonstration Classroom project, he spends 50% of his time in the classroom, with the other 50% serving as a technology integration specialist. He enjoys facilitating a passion for literacy, passionate learning through student choice, and social media to discover creative ways for students to meet their individual learning needs.