10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know by Jeff Anderson distills what makes writing work in any genre or form. You get a rich collection of mentor texts, tips, and launching points for a variety of writing. Filled with classroom dialogue. Click here to preview Chapter 1 online!
September 19, 2012
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All About the Middle Grades

MiddleWeb Special Report:
English and Literacy
Ensuring that students are engaged -- and learning -- in English and literacy lessons is essential to their academic success, and some may say it is never more important than in the middle grades. From grade four and beyond, students are expected to "read to learn" -- rather than learn to read -- and literacy today takes many forms, from the digital realm to the more traditional world of classic literature. 

In this MiddleWeb Special Report, being published during National Literacy Month, we take a look at how educators are employing new and innovative techniques for teaching English and literacy in fourth- through eighth-grade classrooms, spanning topics from Shakespeare to comic books and graphic novels. We also consider the changing landscape of literacy as it applies to the middle grades and provide a few essential resources for educators working with this unique student group.

We hope you will find this MiddleWeb Special Report informative and useful. If you don't already receive MiddleWeb SmartBrief, we urge you to sign up for our timely e-newsletter. MiddleWeb SmartBrief delivers the stories making news in your profession directly to your in-box -- for free.
  Literacy in the Middle Grades 
  • Urban middle-schoolers give "high-fives for Shakespeare"
    Shakespeare can be taught in many ways, and Boston middle-school teacher Jessica Lander writes in this blog post that she introduced his works to a group of inner-city sixth-graders by first studying Shakespearean insults, then rewriting scenes from Macbeth as text messages and discussing the thousands of words Shakespeare invented. The students' resulting understanding proved empowering in other areas of their lives, Lander writes. "If we want to inspire our students to value education, we should believe even those who struggle the most can study great literature," she writes. The Boston Globe(tiered subscription model) (8/26) Email this Story
  • Why students should read more nonfiction
    Students should be given more nonfiction reading materials, sixth-grade teacher Bill Ferriter writes in this blog post. He recommends exposing students to reading nonfiction about a topic that's familiar and part of their surroundings, such as a book on birds that brought excitement to one of Ferriter's former students. Ferriter writes that students also should see their teachers reading and talking about nonfiction materials. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education (9/6) Email this Story
  • Colo. social studies teacher promotes literacy strategies
    Windsor Middle School social studies teacher Rachel Wood spent her summer touring the nation as part of the Colorado State University Writing Project. In this interview, Wood, who teaches eighth-graders, discusses her experiences as she reached out to educators to promote classroom strategies that highlight literacy, such as exposing students to source materials they can use when studying history. Windsor Now (Colo.) (9/7) Email this Story
  • How Socratic seminars can be used in the middle grades
    Elizabeth Ely, a sixth-grade language arts and world history teacher, uses Socratic seminars in the classroom, in which discussions are led by students. In this blog post, Ely, a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, offers a step-by-step guide to introducing the teaching method, starting with discussion activities and working up to offering civil responses to others' input. Ely also suggests that teachers spend time teaching students about the seminars and explaining their role in the process. Education Week (premium article access compliments of EdWeek.org) (8/22) Email this Story
  • Middle school uses iPads to offer differentiated instruction
    Sixth-graders at Hazelbrook Middle School in Tualatin, Ore., will be using iPads in language arts lessons this year as part of an effort to close the racial-achievement gap, while also tailoring lessons to student needs. Teachers say they plan to use the iBooks Author application to have students create stories. The iPads will be synced together and linked with sixth-grade learning specialist Rory Moore's laptop, so he can offer immediate and custom feedback to each child. The Oregonian (Portland) (9/4) Email this Story
  • Other News
So What Do They Really Know? shows English teachers how to make formative assessment a powerful part of everyday instruction, with lessons and strategies for getting to know students well, differentiating instruction, giving feedback, grading, and more. Read Chapter 1, Assessment: It Doesn't Have to Be the Enemy.
  Research & Trends 
  • Common core set to bring changes in English classrooms
    There are a number of important differences between the Common Core State Standards and existing practices in math and English language arts, writes author Robert Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education. In English language arts, the new standards include an increased focus on nonfiction reading, evidence-based reading comprehension and increasingly complex texts, Rothman notes. In addition, students will be expected to demonstrate effective speaking and listening, and literacy criteria will be included in multiple subject areas, he writes. Harvard Education Letter (July/August 2012) Email this Story
  • Librarians play a key role in implementing common core
    School librarians are finding themselves in high demand these days because of the focus the Common Core State Standards have brought to the skills of research, reading and writing. Kristen Hearne, librarian at Wren Middle School in Piedmont, S.C., said she has been working with other librarians to train science and social studies teachers who must teach their students literacy skills for those subjects. "When it comes to the common core, librarians can be a school's secret weapon," said Hearne, who assisted a social studies teacher with a cross-disciplinary unit on the Vietnam War. Education Week (premium article access compliments of EdWeek.org) (9/12)
  • Has the digital age changed what it means to be literate?
    In this blog post, English teacher Nicholas Provenzano writes that technology has changed what it means to be literate in today's society. To be considered literate, people now must know how to use e-mail, write using a word processor and conduct research that goes beyond a Google search. Provenzano suggests that teachers integrate these skills into classroom lessons, saying students should work to hone these skills daily. SmartBrief/SmartBlog on Education (9/4) Email this Story
  • Is the common core short on digital literacy?:   Kentucky digital-media and English teacher Paul Barnwell says he believes the Common Core State Standards don't do enough to embrace the way students can and should be using digital technology and communication today. In this essay, he notes that many schools still cling to traditional means of delivering education, and the result is that teachers are left without the tools to steer students toward success with the new curriculum. Education Week Teacher (premium article access compliments of EdWeek.org) (8/22) Email this Story
  • Other News
It's essential that we explicitly teach kids how visual information works—how to comprehend it and how to communicate with it. I See What You Mean is a practical guide to incorporating visual literacy—maps, diagrams, tables, graphs, and charts—throughout your K-8 curriculum. Preview the entire book online!
  Educator Resources 
  • MiddleWeb Reviews: 3 professional books about literacy
    MiddleWeb reviewers praised three practice-focused literacy books in recent posts. Beyond the Five Paragraph Essay provides tools and a process to "breathe life back into student writing," says fourth-grade teacher Liz Wisniewski. Sixth-grade teacher Kevin Hodgson found that The Graphic Novel Classroom includes great ideas to engage readers and to "open doors for student expression." And Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This "shows how the teaching process occurs in his own classroom, warts and all," reports literacy coach Francesca LoGiudice. Read all our reviews here.
  • Keep up with the latest YA literature
    Keeping up with YA books just got easier, thanks to the Young Adult Library Services Association and its free app, Teen Book Finder, which we feature in this freshly updated MiddleWeb Resource Roundup on YA fiction and nonfiction. You'll also learn more about topical trends among teen/tween readers, the latest dystopia novels (very trendy), the audiobook outlook and how to have fun with the book version of movie trailers. Read more.
Firmly rooted in the world of middle school students, Caught in the Middle by David Booth shows you how to model writing, incorporate picture books, promote reader engagement and comprehension, interact with student journals, prompt discussion and self-assessment, and more. Preview the entire book online!
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