Book Club: Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop

GrammarMany educators denounce isolated grammar instruction, placing it somewhere on par with corporal punishment.  Truth be told, the only grammar I remember was drill and kill of diagramming sentences.  Secret:  It was isolated.  After teaching ELA for a few years, I made the commitment to weaving grammar instruction into the curriculum.  Unsure of where to start, I did my research and settled on Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined.  Instead of reading the book cover to cover, I took the “build the plane while flying it” approach.

My first realization:  Students’ grammar knowledge was SO beyond bare minimum that it was actually a sense of a relief.  If I wasn’t teaching grammar up until this point, my room wasn’t the only four walls depriving students of their right to understand the structure of compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.

In walks Jeff Anderson.  The structure of the book allows teachers to pick and choose skills or move  in a progressive manner as instructed by the layout of the resource.  I follow his suggestion of “inviting” students to notice the correctness of sentences.  Gone are the days of “correct the mistakes” worksheet.  My class adopted a routine in a rather organic manner.  It goes a little something like this:

On Tuesdays, we do grammar.  Not Mondays or Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays.  I know it’s a bit Type A, but it worked for me in my first year introducing grammar instruction.

Week 1:  Students are invited to read the sentence projected on the board and jot down everything that is correct, while also trying to identify or guess the rule of the week.  Next, we discuss the rule; students copy the rule and create a memo in their writer’s notebook.  I give students about five minutes to create the memo and allow them to “decorate” the text in their notebook, stressing the importance of making it easily noticeable in their notebook.

Week 2 (On Tuesday, of course!):  This next step takes place IN class during the first half of the year and OUT of class as homework (between week 1 and week 2) the second half of the year.  Students are tasked with searching their independent reading book to find a sample sentence following the rule.  Students share their mentor text at their table (or search for one if they are unprepared).  Students label the sentence according the rule.  Example:  Underline and label the independent clause, circle and label the dependent clause.

Week 3:  Students generate a sentence of their own exercising the focus rule.  They jot down the sentence and again label the sentence parts.  They have at least one person check their sentence.  Up on the wall they go.  The following week we begin a new rule.

Next year I plan to inject an assessment into the mix.

Reasons I like this:
-Students focus on ONE rule for two-three consecutive weeks.
-The instruction is authentic and assists with close reading of text because students are hunting for sentence types (simultaneously, they are evaluating writer’s craft).
-They ask questions.  When they find something that breaks a rule or varies from the exact rule, they want to know why.
-I can easily select grammar rules or types of sentences to include in their next writing assignment.
-I use their writing to inform my decisions about future focus skills.
-When asked, students are pretty okay with this approach.

Book Club: Notice and Note {Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst}

If you teach English/Language Arts, BUY THIS BOOK.  A self-identified instructional fiend, I have found my latest and greatest.  Only this time it’s not about a pedagogical quick fix to keep your students engaged.  It’s about real instructional moments that help build stronger readers through close reading.  The authors have identified six signposts that when found in text, readers should pause and ask a question of themselves.  The questions lead students to COMPREHEND the read.  If students find a character acting in a way that contradicts their previous behavior or expected behavior, students should ask themselves, why might the character be doing this. I would put this book into my “top five favorites” box.
Notice and Notes
Reasons I love this book:

1.  The practices have been tried and tested in a diverse range of classrooms across the country.  From there, the authors revised their approach based on student and teacher feedback.

2.  The mentor text selections are engaging, accessible, and relevant.  The signposts  revolve around the most common features found in the TOP BOOKS read by middle school and high school students. Meaning, if you read common titles, you’ll come across the sign posts identified by Beers and Probst.

4.  The model lessons are teacher-ready.  You can teach directly from the script and use the mentor text included.  The lesson includes a gradual release model allowing the teacher to model good reading skills and the students to practice independently.  A graphic organizer is included for students to find their own examples in a class novel or their independent reading book.

5.  The anchor charts, matrices, bookmarks, and other teaching materials are easy to duplicate.

Other Resources:

Notice and Note Anchor Chart with Questions:
Notice and Note anchor chart

Sample anchor chart for individual signpost:
Tough Questions

Book Club: Teach Like A Champ

Need a refresher before returning to school, Teach Like a Champ is the answer to the calling. This is a quick and dirty breakdown of the actions that effective teachers do, you know the ones that aren’t necessarily publish-worthy strategies. The names are easy to remember, the descriptions are easy to follow, and the video serves as affirmation that the little things you do are actually quite important if you want to run a productive learning environment.