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Improving Students' Learning and Writing Ability


By Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli

When learning how to write well, there is nothing more powerful than examining the work of the writers we admire. Real writers need mentors -- those writers who inspire us and demonstrate through their style and craft how we, too, can be successful writers.

In Writing with Mentors, Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, authors of Mentor Texts and Nonfiction Mentor Texts, take us inside two Pennsylvania classrooms and show us how we can use children's literature effectively to teach both informational and narrative writing.

Lynne joins fifth-grade teacher Dan Monaghan to teach a lesson on effective leads in nonfiction. They model the "Sharing a Secret" lead, where students transition from telling secrets about themselves to using these secrets as a lead in longer essays to effectively hook readers. Rose joins two second-grade teachers in their fully-inclusive classroom to teach students all about the importance of setting and place in a good piece of narrative writing.

This video contains two programs, each over 90 minutes long, that show how a writing lesson evolves over two days. Viewers will see master teachers in action, demonstrating modeling, shared writing, whole group lessons, small group and one-on-one conferences, using writer's notebooks, and the all-important reflection upon the lesson.

Real-world writing and real writers don't follow a script. Join Lynne and Rose as they show us how to teach writing the way it was meant to be taught.

2 DVDs / 2011 / () / 195 minutes

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In sports, a good coach is part of the team, and emphasizes participation rather than final scores. This program outlines a similar approach to the teaching of writing: the process model, in which the instructor treats students as fellow writers involved in a creative and unpredictable progression of ideas and actions. With commentary from veteran writing instructors¡Xincluding Dr. Lois Matz Rosen, and Michael Steinberg, the program explores individual and group activities that facilitate steps in the process. Real-life classroom scenes showcase teachers achieving results by circulating among students with encouragement and constructive advice.

DVD (With Teacher's Guide, Workbook) / 2005 / (Grades 6-10) / 44 minutes

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Teachers of adolescents across the country are under enormous pressure to cover more content in their disciplines, to make instruction more relevant to students, and to help students acquire the reading skills they need to succeed on standardized tests and beyond. In this set, high school teacher Cris Tovani brings viewers into her school and classroom and shows how she and her colleagues are meeting the challenge of improving students' reading skills across the curriculum. The tapes include examples of Cris working with students using texts from multiple disciplines in her classroom, as well as collaborating with colleagues throughout the school.

1: Modeling What Good Readers Do
Using examples from technical text and novels, Cris models her own reading process to show students how to read and understand difficult material.

2: Interpreting Data: Charts, Graphs, Standardized Tests
Cris works with students as they analyze charts, data and graphs, and discusses how standardized test scores led her to place more emphasis on data reading across the curriculum.

3: Reading Like a Mathematician Cris and math teacher Jim Donohue co-teach, working with struggling readers on strategies for completing math problems, and talk about their collaboration.

4: Synthesizing Complex Ideas Cris assists students as they integrate reading from history textbooks with current articles in newspapers and magazines. Students synthesize background knowledge and new information to understand wars from the last seventy years.

2 DVDs (With Viewing Guide) / 2004 / () / 120 minutes

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The goal of teaching is to promote independent learning so reading and writing becomes a lifelong habit. As children become better readers, they also become better writers. A workshop format provides a literacy context for building connections between the reading and writing processes. In this two-part series, Donnie Skinner and Vicki Altland demonstrate how they implemented reading and writing workshops in two Arkansas schools.

Program 1: Exploring Literature in Third Grade In the first part, Donnie Skinner and third-grade students at Boone Park Elementary in North Little Rock, Arkansas, explore how literature is used to promote deeper comprehension during reading and writing workshops. The first part of the tape demonstrates the components of writing workshop, including a mini-lesson for crafting a good lead, independent practice, and writing conferences. The second part illustrates the components of reading workshop, including a mini-lesson for teaching a visualization strategy, independent practice, reading conferences, and a literature discussion group. The features of the workshop include:
  • guided demonstrations and think-aloud;
  • guided practice with teacher assistance;
  • independent practice with teacher and peer conferences;
  • language interactions that promote deeper comprehension.

  • Program 2: Conducting Research in First Grade In the second part, Vicki Altland and her first graders at Ida Burns Elementary in Conway, Arkansas, use a workshop approach to conduct research with nonfiction texts. Vicki scaffolds her first graders as they apply a ten-step process for conducting research, including choosing a topic, gathering materials, organizing information, and publishing the results. The features of the workshop include:
  • mini-lesson with guided practice;
  • group work with teacher conferences;
  • group sharing with teacher assessment.

  • DVD (With Viewing Guide) / 2003 / () / 60 minutes

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    Guided reading has long been recognized as a dynamic process that supports children's skills as readers in all genres, yet fiction accounts for over ninety percent of the texts we select for these small-group encounters. If children are to be empowered, life-long readers, who read for many different purposes, they need concentrated, small-group encounters with informational texts.

    In this series, Tony Stead works with third-grade teacher Lisa Elias Moynihan and first-grade teacher Lauren Benjamin to explore guided reading instruction with early emergent, developing, and fluent readers, using a variety of informational texts. After an introduction, three in-depth programs look at what happens before, during, and after the reading¡Xaccessing students' prior knowledge; overcoming text challenges; introducing the focus of the lesson; sharing and reflecting and, most importantly, determining if the students have understood what they read.

    Program 1: Getting Started An introduction to key issues for ensuring successful guided reading sessions: forming groups using assessments, selecting the focus and text, and managing the rest of the class.

    Program 2: Guided Reading with Early Emergent Readers Lauren and Tony each conduct guided reading sessions with young learners, focusing on the importance of making children aware of what they are learning about the world as they read.

    Program 3: Guided Reading with Developing Readers The importance of using procedural texts in guided reading is highlighted as Tony and a group of children read through How to Make a Paper Airplane. Will the children be able to follow the instructions and make a plane that can fly?

    Program 4: Guided Reading with Fluent Readers We watch as Lisa Elias Moynihan works with her fluent third-grade readers using a biography and then reconvenes the group a few days later to follow-up.

    2 DVDs / / () / 120 minutes

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    Readers in grades 3¡V6 present unique challenges and opportunities for teachers. Many intermediate readers can decode text well, but few have the skills required for the thick textbooks and complex literature they will encounter in the middle grades and beyond. Teachers need to guide students as they develop sophisticated strategies for tackling a variety of new text, while helping students cultivate the independence and self-reflection they need for reading success beyond the elementary grades.

    Bringing Reading to Life is a series of four programs filmed in Franki Sibberson's fifth-grade classroom. The eighteen classroom vignettes present a vibrant portrait of readers at work, delving into novels and nonfiction with ease and confidence, even as they grapple with the new demands of increasingly difficult texts. Franki and colleague Karen Szymusiak show the importance of thoughtful room design and classroom library layout, carefully structured reading groups, brief whole-class lessons, extended discussions that build on previous reading experiences, and individual reading in a wide range of texts.

    Franki and Karen also demonstrate a multitude of teaching and learning strategies that help students in grades 3¡V6 thrive, including mini-lessons, conference and discussion techniques, reading notebook design and use, small-group structures and writing extensions, and read-aloud routines.

    DVD / / (Grades 3-6) / 120 minutes

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    While literacy development begins long before children are of school age, the kindergarten classroom marks an important moment as students embark on their lifelong journey as writers. In the Beginning: Young Writers Develop Independence offers a close-up view of master teacher Emelie Parker's writing workshop at Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Falls Church, VA, a school where nearly all students enter kindergarten as English language learners.

    In the Beginning captures the sights and sounds of a busy kindergarten classroom as Emelie works with her students. Viewers will observe a skillful teacher who knows how to listen, record, and tailor her instruction to writers at widely varying levels of development. We see how Emelie creates a workshop environment that nurtures her students while holding them accountable for their learning.

    This program explores many of the essential teacher-student transactions that support young children as they break into print including teaching skills in context, word work, and conferring with young writers. The camera follows one student, Jesse, from start to finish in a segment that reveals how simple and powerful the publishing event can be for a child.

    Throughout, we see the crucial, ongoing link Emelie forges between her students' reading and their writing. In the Beginning offers a rare view inside the mind of an accomplished teacher as she makes a million moment-to-moment decisions during a hectic kindergarten day, while never losing sight of her primary goal: to help her students develop into independent writers.

    DVD / / () /

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    Reading is a social act. We all love to talk about what we read, whether sharing the latest novel with a friend, reacting to an outrageous editorial with a colleague, or exploring a picture book with a child. Kids are no different¡Xwhen they have opportunities to think and talk about their reading, they explode with thoughts, questions, and ideas. The Read, Write, and Talk practice provides a framework for reading, merging thinking with the information, recording thoughts, and talking about what has been read.

    This lively program lets you join Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, authors of Strategies That Work, in an intermediate-grade reading workshop where students engage in real-world literacy. In this classroom, kids use comprehension strategies to better understand what they read. They grapple with issues, information and ideas that provoke thinking and spur lively conversation. The goal of Read, Write, and Talk is to give kids a chance to talk purposefully about their reading. As information is shared with others, thinking evolves and comprehension deepens.

    Read, Write, and Talk is an on-going practice, not a stand-alone lesson. Once students have learned this process, it is used across the curriculum and throughout the year, with science and social studies reading, literature study, and even with textbooks. It is an authentic process that replicates what "real" readers do, and supports and encourages kids to ask more questions, ponder information, and better understand what they read. In the program Steph models a complete Read, Write, and Talk lesson including:

    teacher modeling: Steph models her own thinking with a short article on a current topic of interest, stopping to jot down her inner conversation, questions, connections, new learning, and other observations;

    guided practice and discussion: During the shared reading, Steph asks kids to jot down their thinking and turn and talk to each other about information in the text. As kids share their thinking, Steph guides the discussion towards an understanding of bigger issues, ideas, and questions raised by the article;

    independent practice: After kids have practiced the process, Steph invites them to choose from among three articles to try this on their own. They read the article, record their thinking, and talk about what they read;

    sharing: The kids come together to share their responses, including new learning, big ideas, and lingering questions. They also discuss how the process of working and thinking together adds to their understanding.

    End-of-tape debrief: A conversation among colleagues about the Read, Write, and Talk practice and how it supports thinking and learning.

    DVD / / () /

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