Monday, December 18, 2017

Writing for Elementary Schools

LearningCity is here to help in many ways with literacy in elementary schools, especially writing!

There are a number of ways that teachers can use great programs to build writing skills. For instance, with VocabularySpellingCity, a teacher can have the students write a sentence for each word on a list or a paragraph that uses all the words on a list.  Two great ways to practice writing skills!

The Right Approach to Writing

WritingCity, powered by WriteSteps, is the perfect program to empower young developing writers. Our new K-5 writing and grammar program seamlessly aligns with state standards and supports highly-respected best practices. The complete WritingCity framework includes ready-to-use interactive lessons proven to increase student performance and scores. Teachers can easily implement our program to help students confidently craft their writing.
Teach Writing Effectively
The writing curriculum weaves together the best elements of successful teaching methods such as the Writer’s Workshop and the Six Traits Model to achieve superior writing instruction that spirals across all elementary grade levels.
Make the Most of Your Writing Block
Daily instructional videos break down lessons into quick 5-7 minute clips, shortening instructional time so that students get more practice writing, and teachers can conference with students.
Customize Student Learning
Students can log in at any time and work at their own pace, review material, and write and publish their work online for teacher and peer feedback. With engaging writing prompts, exemplary student writing samples, and an easy annotation platform, students have all the tools they need to excel.
Access On-Demand Professional Development
Personalize your professional development with our team of highly trained educators, or explore a wide selection of introductory and topic-specific tutorials. Our team of teachers is there to support you every step of the way.
Get Students on the Right Track with WritingCity

Another way to build writing skills is with a course from Time4Writing.  And I cite:

Time4Writing teaches writing courses for elementary, middle school and high school students. Time4Writing’s certified teachers provide eight-week tutorial courses for:
  • Students who don’t get enough writing practice and feedback from their schools
  • Students who want additional writing instruction to prepare for high stakes tests
  • Homeschool families that like the external evaluation and guidance on writing
  • Students who need extra writing practice to help sharpen their skills
  • Students who lack confidence in their writing
  • Students who enjoy writing and need constructive feedback to improve

While handwriting practice is quite different, VSC also helps create printable worksheets for handwriting practice. And I cite once more:

VocabularySpellingCity allows users to print out any word list as a handwriting worksheet. Each word appears on a separate line on handwriting paper in light writing for tracing, with plenty of space for handwriting practice.
VocabularySpellingCity provides a variety of options for printable handwriting worksheets. Specifically, users choose between print (manuscript), D’Nealian font, cursive, or sign language; arrows on or off; lower or upper case; large, medium, and small type size, and left or right alignment.
Printing in larger type is ideal for preschoolers and early Elementary students. If you have a free account, you can easily create alphabet handwriting worksheets and number worksheets by entering and saving lists consisting of letters and/or numbers. Once you save the list, simply select Handwriting Practice from the Games page to generate your custom worksheet. You can choose from the more traditional print (manuscript), or create D’Nealian handwriting worksheets. For older students, you can print cursive handwriting worksheets and decrease the type size for more age-appropriate handwriting paper.
To create handwriting worksheets, just find the word list you’d like use, and select Print a Game. Then select Handwriting. Choose from the different options, then select the Print link. Click here to see an example.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Four Traits Writing

I just read about an interesting twist on the popular Six Traits Writing.
It's called Four Traits Writing.  Basically, it addresses one of the really outdated parts of Six Traits which is a real weakness. Six traits doesn't have a framework to address the type of writing.  All writing is considered the same and measured against the same rubriques. But this makes no sense to the students.

The problem is that students today are writing far more than most previous generations. But they are doing it as chats and texts, not as formal long form essays.  Four traits writing addresses this and provides a framework so that the audience and media are considered. Really, this comes to purpose of writing. Below is the original mateirals from 4 traits writing which could definitely and should be updated. In terms of usage, I imagine this could be integrated in writing in either:

The Types of Writing
Blending Writers Workshop
Student Writing Practice

Four-Trait Writing© is an update of a traditional approach to the learning of the craft. Under pressure to correctly create an essay to fit the rigid standardized testing guidelines, students are not usually given the opportunity to broaden their writing horizons for today’s electronically connected world.
Four-Trait Writing provides students a framework both to write successfully for today’s high stakes test and to discover writing beyond the formal essay. Students have the chance to find their voice when writing for the internet, editorials, and even dialogue.
So, what are the Four Traits of successful writing? They are:
1. Content – Story and Logic
2. Style (Sentence Variety and Structure)
3. Mechanics (Spelling, Punctuation, Capitalization Rules)
4. Media & Voice (Persuasion; Objective Journalism; Internet Writing; Dialogue: Plays and Scripts)
  • Content – Story and Logic covers the flow of a narrative and the organization of an expository essay.
  • Style discusses sentence structure, variety, and fluency and the usage of colorful, descriptive words.
  • Mechanics are the writing basics of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Learning to use all of these properly and becoming adept at proofreading for errors in these areas, are an essential skill for the middle school writer.
  • The Media and Voice in the modern world are different from that of the past. Today’s writer needs to have a separate voice for the different media available to them. In the same day, a single writer might have to shift between writing a blog article with paragraphs with bolded key works, to a formal structured essay for a school assignment, or to a chatty commentary article for a printed magazine with a headline.
  1. Voice for Media (Persuasion) – Students are introduced to and practice writing to persuade to buy, to vote, to think in a similar fashion.
  2. Voice for Objective Journalism – Students discover the five W’s and the H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) of objective article writing for an online or hard copy publication.
  3. Voice for Internet Writing – In today’s world, students can create web pages and blog on the internet. This is quite different from any other writing they may have learned in the past as much of it is created in a more conversational tone with subheads and bullet points.
  4. Voice for Plays and Scripts – Many students enjoy using their imaginations and creative voice. Here, they have that chance as they write dialogue and stage directions.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


It's here, VocabularySpellingCity finally has a full sibling, writingcity. An elementary writing program.

Here's the idea. VSC has pioneered a fun low cost easy to use approach to using education. The foundational concept is to implement best practices in a way that takes advantage of technology to simplify the lives of teachers, the management of the schools, and most importantly, the education of the kids.

After years of searching, VSC found WriteStepsWriting which is a great writing program which will form the bones of WritingCity.

What is WriteStepsWriting? It is a writing workshop approach to teaching writing with easy to use daily lessons plans for all of elementary school.  The daily mini lessons can be delivered by the teacher or played with the videos. The WritingCity videos work especially well when teachers are using literacy centers and one center is focused on writing where the students have the daily mini lesson before doing their work.

WritingCity is also popular and effective because of the examplar text. Only really student examples are used and they are presented as is so students are not intimidated by professional examples which don't resemble anything they are ready to produce. The friendly examples of other students' writing which gets lavishly praised and analysed encourages students to go ahead and give it a try!

On another note, VSC also has a half sister site which is Science4Us. It will become a full sibling once it gets rebranded and extended for 3rd-5th.  Much of the interesting science work is discussed on the US Science Education website such as here, studying with bicycles.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Writing Programs

i have looked at what the needs of todays writers are. I'm talking about the K12 students who are both getting lots and lots of writing practice thru tweeting and texting but are not learning to clearly structure anything more than sentence fragments.

The biggest tool out there is turnitin which schools use to detect cheating.
There's also massive essay grading programs used for most of the standardized tests.
There are not so many good grammar checkers or pratice tools.

VocabularySpellingCity has a nifty pair of writing practice programs for sentence writing practice and paragraph practice writing.  There is also a great set of short (ie 8 week writing classes) provided by Time4Writing which is used mostly by parents to help with their kids' writing. Often for homeschoolers learning to write.

Time4Writing is an online writing curriculum designed with homeschoolers in mind. In fact, the creation of Time4Writing was the direct result of feedback from users of the Time4Learning Online Homeschool Curriculum who wanted more targeted, individualized writing instruction.  The outcome of that feedback was an elementary writing curriculummiddle school writing curriculum, and high school writing curriculum that covers the key writing skills students need to know by graduation. In addition, the variety of lesson types is designed to keep young writers engaged and motivated to succeed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Science SBIR 2012

Science educators have proposed interactive hands-on engagement to enhance science instruction for over 30 years. During the early 90s, hands-on science kits and teacher professional development institutes and programs were implemented across the nation (Roychoudhury & Kahle, 1999; Stohr-Hunt, 1996; Supovitz, Mayers, & Kahle, 2000; Supovitz & Turner, 2000).

However, the use of kits, specifically the refurbishment of consumable items, represented additional costs to school districts. During the hands-on kit based era, the refurbishment process often revealed that few of the items were ever used from the science kits. This observation indicated the limited use of science kits to enhance science instruction. Further, teachers reported that the significant amount of time necessary to set up material centers, distribute manipulatives to students and control the safe handling of certain items served as barriers to science instruction.

Research found that a science kit curriculum requires more professional development investments by school districts than they are able to provide (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). The typical professional development structures for science teachers in the U.S. are problematic and have a limited impact on teacher practice and student learning (Randi & Zeichner, 2004; Weiss, Banilower, McMahon, & Smith, 2001).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Writing and Vocabulary

Is it impossible to be a good writer with a poor understanding of vocabulary? I think so. I think it's also nearly impossible to be a good writer without a certain proficiency in spelling. Why?

Becuase when someone writes, they should be thinking about what they are trying to say and how they are trying to say it.  It's hard to imagine someone without basic spelling skills having the spelling automaticity required to write well.

Or, the cognitive load of trying to spell each word can prevent someone from thinking about what they are trying to write. But if their spelling is automatic, they can think about their writing.

Schools and students develop spelling and writing automaticity largely through practice.  Here's some great resources for practicing for each grade level.  For second grade spelling, third grade spelling, fourth grade spelling, and fifth grade spelling

In second grade, and I quote:  Second grade spelling word lists include Dolch and Fry sight word lists and word structure lists (compound words). Second grade students can build sight word fluency and phonics mastery through the use of VocabularySpellingCity’s interactive online games. Second grade games feature both audio and visual elements, an effective learning tool for all maturing readers and writers, specifically English Language Learners (ELLs).

And quoting from the 5th grade materials:

Fifth grade teachers can find hundreds of free vocabulary and spelling word lists on VocabularySpellingCity‘s website. Word lists can be paired with engaging, interactive games to practice fifth grade English language arts concepts. In addition to online learning games, VocabularySpellingCity offers printable worksheets on topics including hyperbole, personification, and metaphors to help make planning fifth grade vocabulary lessons easy.
Fifth grade-level word lists support reading and literacy programs like Journeys and Wonders. Teachers can use lists to supplement fifth grade language arts lesson plans. VocabularySpellingCity can also administer and assess spelling tests and vocabulary tests. Fifth grade teachers can create their own lists to accommodate more advanced spelling patterns that include affixes and multisyllabic words, as well as remedial word lists that include high frequency words and commonly misspelled words.
Maybe the traditional spelling practice really is the way to learn these words and the whole CCSS thing of just read read read is not going to develop the skills needed for writing. No duh!

Elementary Writing: The Writers Workshop

It seems like Writer's Workshop and Six Traits Writing are two popular approaches to learning to write in schools.  But how is a school ...