Stop Teaching Revising and Editing Like That; Try it Like This!

Do you teach
revising and editing by having students mark up or correct grammar mistakes?  I mean, that's how I was taught to edit my writing.  And yet, no one taught me to tie my shoes or ride a bike by giving me 10 wrong examples.  So if you've never heard of Mentor Sentences for teaching grammar and revision, let me introduce you! 

How do Mentor Sentences Help Revising and Editing?

The way I see it, Mentor Sentences work because we are:
  • Teaching students to improve their writing by reading and analyzing model sentences
  • Naming the grammar concept we are learning to recognize and use
  • Taking time to craft our own sentences based on those models

All my Mentor Sentence pages incorporate these 3 elements. You can download a free sample here.  There are 2 model sentences with space for students to tell what they notice.  There is a small box with hints about the concept they are learning, along with a set of "note cards" that I chop up and distribute for students to glue into their Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics notebooks.  These note cards have a more thorough definition as well as more isolated examples.  And finally, each page has space for students to write their own sentence that incorporates the grammar concept we are studying. 

How Do I Use Mentor Sentences for Grammar Instruction?

I get asked a lot about what a revising and editing lesson plan looks like, so I thought I'd do a loose walk through. And I say loose because the way I use these Mentor Sentences varies according to the concept as well as students' prior knowledge.  If I'm moving from adverbs last time to coordinating conjunctions today, I will have a wider range of activities.  On the other hand, if I covered dialogue with tags preceding the spoken word yesterday, and today I want students to correctly punctuate dialogue with the tags after the spoken words, then quick grammar lessons on subsequent concepts are all they need.  So generally speaking, here's how I suggest you plan your weekly routine:

1. Introduce with models.  I present one page each week, such as the conjunctions, as an introduction to the concept. The grammar concept is taught in a sentences so students can see how the concept works in context.  They analyze the sentence for things that they already understand.  For example, they might notice it starts with a capital letter, or it ends with a period.  Hopefully they will recognize the subject and/or the verb that they learned in third grade.Revising and Editing Sample Page
Students also glue one of the note cards into their Editor's Notebook for future reference.  This will help them use academic language later on as they analyze future sentences.  As I said, at first you may hear a lot of students notice the capital and period, but as the year progresses, hopefully as they are learning about verb tenses they will recognize other grammar concepts they've learned this year, such as, "This sentence also has a compound subject."  Recognition is important before students can start using revising strategies independently.
2.  Try it out and share.  After you've taught the concept and students have seen the model, they write their own sentence.  For students who need a sentence frame, you can accept a sentence that is similar to the model but with a different subject or verb.  For students who want to push themselves, they might choose one of the examples from the note card that they haven't seen in context and they want to try out.
It is important to make time for students to share their writing.  Whether this is done in a one on one conference with you/a partner, in a small group, or whole class depends on what makes sense for you.  I have found that having 3 kids share with the whole class each day is a nice wrap up for our lessons.  I confer with a few students who need/prefer it.   
3. Practice.  If students appear to need more practice, I use task cards, songs, games, sorting activities, workbook pages, and so on as part of the Writer's Workshop block.  Of course, you can switch this step with the "try it out" step.  You can also spiral this step in revising and editing centers during your writing block (I highly recommend this).

4. Use proper revising and editing for grammar in context.  Near the end of a unit of study in Writer's Workshop, I review the relevant concepts from Mentor Sentences that I expect students to look for when editing. In the drafting stage of the writing process, we learn about the types of writing (what makes a good narrative, persuasive piece, and informational article).  During the revision stage, the real test of revising and editing ability is having kids edit their own work. Students have their Editor's Notebook with note cards to refer back to.

5. Summative assessment.  For a our standardized assessment, my district uses Journeys, which includes weekly tests in grammar. 

Do You Need More Revising and Editing Support?

I get it.  Grammar is just not fun for everyone.  I like it because it I feel like it's logical, like math, but also creative, because we use language to talk about, well, whatever we want!  So whether you are frustrated with all the language standards or just one specific objective, I can help.  I currently I have Mentor Sentences bundles as well as isolated grammar concepts for grades 3, 4 and 5.  You can browse them all here
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5 Ways to Encourage Participation During Distance Learning

Will you be distance learning for back to school 2020?  I've been trying not to worry about it for the past month because it was out of my control and up in the air.  But now that our state has received more guidance that we'll be doing part time remote learning and possibly part time in person, I can start to prepare.  I can think back to what worked well in the spring and then grow from there.  So here is what worked for our elementary school when we started teaching during the pandemic. 

How to Make Distance Learning More Engaging

1.  Access to the internet is a serious issue.  It affects families at my school and it was one of our  biggest struggles.  Our city was fortunate enough to have some assistance for families who needed it.  Here is a list of companies that provide internet access during Covid-19.  Note that some of the offers on the page have extended their deadlines for application, so check each company page on the list that provides service in your area. 

2.  Think about the home environment.  Of course everyone’s home is different, and not everyone has equal access.  However it is likely children have access to kitchen and pantry items, a freezer, a microwave or stove (with supervision) and running water that is shared among fewer people than in the classroom.  How can these materials be leveraged in science?  Are there beans or fruits that can be used for your life science standards?  Can water be heated and/or cooled to demonstrate aspects of physical changes to matter, or do you have weather standards for precipitation and condensation that can be taught with a model?  

3.  Think about siblings, especially younger siblings.  A big pain point for parents who are distance learning is helping children of varying ages complete different things.  Here’s the silver lining: we know one of the best ways to learn material is to teach material.  What practice activities can you choose to encourage students to play with or teach a younger sibling?  Dice games with a variety of levels, such as estimating to different place values can work on lots of levels, making it easier for family members of different ages to play.  

4.  Consider how to use audio recordings for formative assessment.  In the classroom it can be difficult to find time to listen to every student every day.  With audio recordings, you can listen to students, especially those struggling writers.  SeeSaw has this capability built right in but Google Classroom can be a little tricky.  Flipgrid is a great website to use for students to record video if you need to supplement Google Classroom.

5.  Phone your students who need extra support.  I had some students who were showing signs of mental health decline in April.  Of course as teachers it is not our role or area of expertise to treat these students, and the first thing we should do is to notify our guidance councilor and other specialists who are.  See if your district has additional programs designed to help your students.  But also reach out yourself.  Contact the parents to set up a good time.  To help protect your privacy, there are 2 ways you can hide your number.  If your school district uses Google Suite you may have access to a Google Voice line.  Otherwise, simply dial *67, listen for a change in the dial tone, then dial the phone number.

Bonus Tips for Making Distance Learning More Successful

6.  Hold informal synchronous meetings.  This was so important for the kids and me too!  Our class does Morning Meeting in person, so it was only natural to carry this through.  If you don't have time to look through my blog series on Morning Meeting, during distance learning you want to consider doing a fun greeting for every student, give opportunities for students to share (it can be open ended or focused on a topic) and have a fun activity.

7.  Get parents on board and keep them on board.  Connecting with parents was such a struggle for me during my first several years as a teacher.  In my next post I plan to share another list of strategies dedicated to how we can support parents. 

I was hoping I didn't need to write this post, because distance learning was definitely not ideal.  I've written a piece on "hey there are perks to distance learning" and I wrote a super dark piece about sending us back when I was feeling unsafe.  Because writing helps me organize my thoughts and feelings...but those ones are just for me (I won't be posting them).  I was finally able to write this (hopefully more helpful) blog post series because my district has a plan that attempts to keep us safe while helping us carry on with our need to work, teach, and learn, and that is some comfort.  So I'm going to do my best with it, and Shut the Door and Teach however my students learn.  But open the windows because ventilation is important.

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