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    Skill Review = Fun

    Last updated 3 years ago

    Play a game or work on reading skills? If the choice elicits groans, kids will be delighted to find they can do both with these online games and activities:

    Fact Monster
    Need to review the names of the fifty states? Want to see a timeline of events in Narnia? Maybe you just want to play a game of Hangman with topics in history, science, or sports. Fact Monster's fascinating games and other features turn reviewing into entertainment.

    PBS Kids
    Explore this large variety of games that help kids practice basic skills. Lyrical Solarium "provides practice in understanding how word choices affect meaning and impact writing." The Effective Detective shows how details matter in descriptive writing. Most games are designed for younger grades, but they may be good reinforcement for kids with learning challenges.

    Discovery Education's English Homework Help
    Each of these 24 animated clips gives a short lesson in writing, punctuation, or grammar, organized by general grade levels. You can watch the Pentastic Four and Buzz, a talking computer, use grammar and punctuation rules to solve coded email messages from a mysterious character named Dark Marker.

    For older students, there are film clips like "Researching the Salem Witch Project" that illustrate how to find a topic, form a thesis statement, and apply research strategies. Good review for skills.

    IXL Learning Inc.
    This is a wonderful site for Language Arts activities. Topics are arranged by skills taught at various grade levels (2-10). Practice exercises are interesting, and correct answers are praised. Incorrect answers bring up clear, easy-to-follow explanations of the rules being tested. Worth bookmarking!  

    This site, designed to help people learning English, includes a few interactive activities that give kids experience in following written directions, understanding poetry, matching text and titles, and using a dictionary. Good practice for challenged readers.

    Next time you come by The Literacy and Language Center, tell us about the online games and activities you've found that help you practice your skills.

    I and Me Explained

    Last updated 3 years ago

    Conscious Writers Cut the Clutter

    Last updated 3 years ago

    Want to Become a Confident Writer? Be a Conscious Writer. Paying close attention to the meaning and impact of the words we use is the key to powerful writing.

    Many of us fall into the habit of using patterns that make our writing less effective then it could be. Here are two ways to make conscious choices on your path to becoming a better wordsmith:

    Avoid Repeating Yourself
    If you take the time to see what your words actually say, you may notice that some of them duplicate the meaning of others.
    If you write, "The house is surrounded on all sides by trees," the words "on all sides" are redundant. The word "surrounded" means "on all sides."
    Instead, write: "The house is surrounded by trees." The meaning is clear, and the writing is clean.

    More examples:

    • "See the following list below."  =  "See the list below." or "See the following list."
    • over-exaggerate  =  exaggerate

    You'll find many lists of redundant words and phrases online.

    Use Only What You Need
    Are you a writer of few words? Or do you use too many words? If you have the habit of adding verbs like make, give, have, do, let, or take to your sentences, your writing could probably use a trim!

    Instead of writing, "The policeman gave a signal for him to stop," say:
    "The policeman signaled for him to stop."

    More examples:

    • It let out a loud roar. = It roared.
    • He made an attempt to calm the protesters. = He attempted to calm the protesters.
    • They took the opportunity to eat at Katrina's Café. = They ate at Katrina's Café.

    Keep clutter in mind when you write this summer. Read your words carefully with an eye to spotting repetition and unnecessary verbs. The practice will sharpen your writing and strengthen your skills!

    "Learning the Art of Pie-Making using the 'Gradual Release of Responsibility' Teaching Model"

    Last updated 3 years ago

    There it was, aromatic juices bubbling from the slightly sunken lattice-work crust, golden around the edges, small squares of baked red fruit peeking from underneath its toasted top, and the heavenly smell that I came to know as home.  I couldn’t tell you at what age I first ate her pie.  Apple pie was a part of the fall every year, and other fruit pies like cherry, blueberry or blackberry each had their season.  For some reason, though, my mother’s apple pie was her signature dessert, the jewel on the crown of her cooking.

    My mother started training my siblings and I to cook dinner for the five members of the family when I was in middle school, with some mixed results at first. It was an introduction into a new way of thinking because 80% of the time my Mom didn’t use a recipe, a measuring cup or measuring spoons.  Learning her improvisatory methods lead me to understand, later in life, how to play jazz.  

    Around the age of fifteen was when my sister and I had graduated into baking pies.  She helped at first, showing us how she created her signature pinched crust that made each pie look like a big smiling sunflower.  Shortly after that she’d call one of us in to “finish” her pie by having us crimp the edges for her and put it in the oven.  I recall at one time requesting she make a certain pie I was craving, to which she suggested I learn do the whole process myself.  She walked me through each step a couple times with feedback.  Gradually she backed off and we were on our own.

    Little did I know my Mom was utilizing a process for learning that leads to independence, or in this case, ultimately leads to a person who could probably make a pie in her sleep.  The GRR Method, or ‘Gradual Release of Responsibility’ Model is a style of teaching in which the responsibility for learning is transferred from the teacher to the student (or baker).

    In 1983 Pearson and Gallagher named the “Gradual Release of Responsibility” after the ideas in the 1970’s of the Russian educational theorist Lev Vygotsky.  Pearson and Gallagher use a model of 4 general stages to guide learning toward independence and automaticity:

    1. Teach using modeling and an explanation of a strategy
    2. Guided practice where teachers gradually give more and more responsibility to the student for task completion
    3. Independent practice accompanied by specific feedback
    4. Application of the strategy in real life situations

    Modeling and Explaining:
    In relation to pie making, as a toddler I can recall grasping her skirt or apron while she rolled out the dough.  Eating her delicacies and daily meals were as fundamental to my childhood as drinking water or breathing air.  Watching her and observing for years started the modeling process.  As I grew into my awareness I began asking questions about best practices such as preventing the dough from sticking to the rolling pin or the benefits of using butter versus shortening in a crust.  

    Guided Practice:
    When she started the guided practice by having me finish her pie crusts with her assistance, she could explain and fix a disaster if I rolled too thin or ran out of pie dough.  There was then a graduation into to me checking in with her after each step of the process while doing it on my own. She taste tested the fruit to sugar ratios by asking open-ended questions like, “How do we balance something if it’s too sweet?  What do we add?”  Once she saved me from baking a salty cherry pie because I had mixed up the salt from the granulated sugar when preparing the fruit.

    Independent Practice:
    The day my pie was done with no assistance from her was somewhat memorable.  When we served it I remember looking at the faces of the ‘Desserters’ at the table to gauge the pie’s success rather than eating it immediately myself.  The feeling of home I felt when eating my mother’s pie was something I had begun developing for myself, with the twist of my own experiences in life.  Making pie was becoming a practice in establishing where my roots were.

    Now not only do I make my own variation of her pies, but I was able to adopt her ‘recipes are for suckers’ attitude by being able to improvise her pies and other recipes I had made time and time again.  Now I realize the gift of a pie, with a homemade crust and fresh seasonal fruit, is the best way to tell the ones you love that they matter.  It tells them that the smiles on their faces were worth the couple hours it took to make it.

    This teaching model has been proven to be effective at all levels of learning, although, many educators now see an initial step of establishing prior knowledge as an ideal pre-cursor to the model. In my example, prior knowledge was established in all the moments she opened that worn oven door to pull out the peach pies in the summer, the pumpkin pies around the holidays and the first blackberries from the neighbor’s patch in the late spring.  She would sometimes grumble as she bit into the first bite of her slice saying, “This could use a bit more sugar and a touch more vanilla,” illustrating how much she used her taste buds, not a recipe, to create her masterpieces.

    Teachers have a much more limited time frame to achieve mastery of a given skill or standard than the years in my Mother’s kitchen.  This four-step process is skill we need to install and develop in every teacher so that they can teach this way (even in their sleep).  If we are teaching concepts just to check a box that it was done but the students have not yet internalized the learning or had enough time to make it an automatic application in their mental ‘tool-box’, have we done our jobs?  When curriculum like math, science and history require students to work on a trajectory that builds off one idea to transition into the next, we have to teach toward true independence or we’ll lose students’ motivation and interest, and getting them caught up later is a well documented uphill battle.

    In a culture of swift fixes and low attention spans we also need to teach people how to learn through creating systems designed to lead to engaged learning as well as the short term goal of teaching a necessary concept.  The leading nations in the world in regards to education typically integrate a longer process in teaching that not only teaches a skill, but a process of learning that can be replicated for any subject, for any learner, in a variety of realistic situations.  Almost always this includes the learner teaching or presenting to others about what they discovered as a final step in some form, which essentially adds an additional step to the GRR model.  The more we can adopt, embrace and then improve upon these practices the more effective our teaching is.

    And we need more pie in the world.  Always more pie.

    Written by Amber Lamprecht who is the Co-Founder and Clinic Director of the Literacy and Language Center in San Francisco.

    That's Amazing: Local Places to Find Reading and Writing Inspiration

    Last updated 3 years ago

    Reading and writing are fun when you're excited about the topic! There's still time to give your kids summer experiences to spark their imaginations, inspire new reading interests, and make writing flow!

    Check out these exciting events:

    Stranded: Tropical Island Survival
    May 8 - Oct 18 (10 AM to 4 PM – closed Mondays)
    Golden Gate Park, Conservatory of Flowers, 100 John F. Kennedy Dr.

    What would you do if you found yourself washed up on an uncharted island? The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers exhibit Stranded! Tropical Island Survival gives you hands-on experience. "Stroll through a living jungle of life-saving plants," discover how to find food and water, build a shelter, and even learn how to climb a coconut tree!

    Science Fiction / Science Future
    May 23 - Sep. 7 (10 AM to 5 PM)
    Lawrence Hall of Science, 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley

    "If you thought invisibility and mind control were only in the movies — think again. In Science Fiction, Science Future you can move objects with your mind and turn yourself invisible right before your eyes." Whether you're already a science fiction fan or curious about things unknown, this exhibit will spark your imagination.

    Every day (10 AM to 5 PM)
    Pier 15 (Embarcadero @ Green St.), San Francisco

    Have you been to the Exploratorium lately? This unique museum is "an ongoing exploration of science, art and human perception—a vast collection of online experiences that feed your curiosity."

    Have a live chat with scientists on board the Exploration Vessel Nautilus exploring the ocean floor off the California and Canadian coasts, listen to "sonically cool videos," and have a "sensational" time.

    We hope you're finding lots of writing inspiration this summer. Next time you visit The Literacy and Language Center, let us know where your imagination has taken you!

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