Virtual Writing Instruction

Across school districts, students’ grades, scores, and standardized test results indicate a widespread drop in foundational skills, some of the more critical skills affiliated with academic writing. Writing is not just an English-specific necessity. The ability to construct cohesive, clear, organized thoughts in written form is essential for all aspects of college and career readiness. As educators, we must prioritize these foundational writing skills to ensure that, even in the midst of virtual or hybrid learning, students are still being set up for success.

Daily cross-curricular opportunities

Writing is one of those skills that is strengthened by repetition and practice. Exposure to different styles of writing and opportunities to compose different written forms helps students to recognize the importance of writing in all subject areas. Therefore, teachers should provide opportunities for students to practice composing various genres and for different purposes. These do not necessarily have to be long, involved essay prompts; teachers can use these ideas as warm-ups, exit tickets, lesson activators, etc.

For example, science teachers might ask students to write and submit lab reports, compose directions for science experiments, or draft project proposals for a final project. History, civics, or social studies teachers should consider prompts that require students to compare and contrast two or more cultures, time periods, land forms, or branches of government. Math teachers can help students with procedural or sequential writing skills by asking them to compose an error analysis for any questions that they missed on a quiz or assessment. For a task such as this, students are subconsciously learning the skills necessary to craft written work that follows a problem-solution or cause-effect format. The key here is to demonstrate that writing skills, even short practices, lend themselves to all content areas, not just English.

Peer review

Peer review sessions are extremely beneficial, especially during virtual learning where students do not have day-to-day interactions with their peers. Dissecting someone else’s work can be a very enlightening practice for young writers. It allows them to see how another student interpreted and approached the same task in relation to their own response. Viewing another’s writing also sheds light on different writing styles, provides ideas for varying sentence structure, and demonstrates how others interpreted a text or quote. In evaluating another’s writing, students begin to grasp, not only how their own writing measures up, but how an instructor might evaluate a written response. It forces students to consider the prompt, the rubric, and the overall objectives with regard to their final composition. Peer review sessions also prompt student discourse, which, during these trying times, can help stimulate social skills, collaboration, and motivation.

Formative feedback

By embedding formative feedback into weekly writing instruction, educators send the important message to students that writing is a fluid process—students are not expected to craft perfect writing on their first, or even second attempt. One of my most beneficial practices to help students with essay writing is to formatively assess the introductory paragraph first, before students continue on with their entire essay. By pumping the breaks and providing specific feedback on each student’s intro paragraph, I am able to accomplish several things at once.

First, looking at the intro paragraph gives me an inside view of the foundation of their essay; I’m able to see students’ interpretation of hook statement, bridge statement leading into their thesis, and the final thesis statement, around which the entire essay will be framed. If students’ introductory paragraphs are a mess in any one of these categories, I can quickly provide necessary feedback and scaffolds for them to revise and reset before they have gone too far down the wrong path. Looking at the intro paragraph also shows me whether students actually understand the writing prompt or not. If multiple students seem to be off track or missing the mark, I can easily intervene and provide supports, interventions, and reteaching to ensure that everyone understands the prompt and how to approach it.

Student choice

Educators can also capitalize on one highly underrated teaching strategy: student choice. When at all possible, I try to provide my students with latitude for their written responses and essays. Of course, with a curriculum to follow, grade books to align, and cohorts that prefer to plan in “lock-step,” this is much easier said than done. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to plan for student choice when designing the writing tasks, as well as the instructional lessons leading up to those tasks.

Below are several methods for implementing student choice while providing writing instruction:

Set up a NoRedInk classroom for students to join, explore, and practice various aspects of sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. The platform is set up for self-directed, student-driven, asynchronous work. Therefore, the activity options in NoRedInk can provide students with interventions, scaffolds, and supports, as well as enrichment and rigor for those working ahead of the group. NoRedInk allows students to choose from grammatical, sentence-level practices, standardized English prompts, and guided essay support. They can also participate in peer or self-review, depending on their level of comfort with collaborative feedback.

One of my favorite warm-up activities is to provide students with several gifs on a Google slide. I try to choose gifs that relate to students and their interests, such as The Weekend’s Superbowl Halftime performance or the latest State Farm commercial. They get to choose the gif they’d like to caption. Then they must incorporate a sentence structure or grammatical concept that we’ve recently discussed in class somewhere in their caption. Not only do students get to pick the gif they want to caption, but they also get the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions, for example. Teachers can quickly sift through the gif response to make sure that clauses are punctuated correctly and that students are understanding the purpose of the dependent clause in relation to the independent clause.

For writing instruction involving essay revision, teacher feedback, or peer edits, ask students to consider which section or paragraph of their essay they’d like to really rework or revise. Teachers can then use strategic grouping to organize students into groups with peers who are looking to revise the same portion of their essays. I might organize small groups as follows:

    • Group 1 should be students who would like support/guidance with the thesis statement.
    • Group 2 should include students who need help finding appropriate quotes from the text or texts.
    • Group 3 should consist of students who need support with a concluding paragraph and/or transitions between paragraphs.
    • Group 4 should be for students who need help with elaborating on their analysis or further developing their own explanations.

Student choice with writing samples/models:

Providing teacher models at the beginning of a new writing task is another beneficial strategy for incorporating student choice. Depending on the writing task, teachers should find (or create) a few various examples of the final essay or product for students to read and review.

These samples can also include student essays from previous years. Provide students with options and require them to read, review, and assess at least one of the sample essays. This activity serves several purposes—it allows students to see how others have approached the essay prompt, either successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on the samples you collect. It also shows teachers if students truly understand the criteria for success after viewing a teacher model or student sample.

If students review a mediocre or poor essay model as “great” or “topnotch work,” then teachers immediately see that they have missed the mark on fully explaining the task and the learning goals attached. Conversely, if students are unable to articulate why the model essay was unsuccessful or sound, then they truly do not know how to approach the task successfully either.

These are just s0me of many strategies teachers can use to optimize their teaching approach when it comes to virtual writing lessons, in particular.

Service Through the Written Word

When was the last time you read a book or an article and felt like it had been written just for you? In fact, you may have caught yourself wondering if your picture was going to be on the next page as an example of someone who has lived what the author has described. I know this has happened to me more than once in my lifetime.

I have been blessed many times through a book I’ve read. Sure, we often search out reading material that is relevant to our experience or curiosity at the time, so we might come to the experience already expecting ~ or at least hoping ~ we will be enlightened, validated, or soothed on some level. And it is a gift when we find exactly what we are looking for ~ most of the time!

I believe many authors ~ especially in the world of self-help and spirituality ~ seek to serve others through their writing. In fact, I have read comments and heard interviews with well-known writers who have expressed their writing practice has first and foremost been a self-transformative process ~ one that may have begun without any consideration as to whether it would serve others or not.

The Creative Energy of Writing

Writing is a creative endeavor whether we are journaling our private thoughts, developing professional materials, or writing the next best seller in creative fiction. When writing engages us on a holistic level, it becomes a channel through which we can express our deepest musings and lay bare our souls.

As Service Providers, we are often engaged in a variety of writing activities. In the traditional sense, we write case notes and progress reports outlining the details of our engagement with the people we are serving. We may write program reviews and other more business-like materials as an element of our position. Whether providing service traditionally or alternatively, we may have opportunities to write for publication or research dissemination over the course of our careers. There are countless opportunities to express ourselves through the written word.

How we choose to do this with the energy to serve others is important. The words we choose, the dedication to writing clear observations as opposed to personal opinion, the desire to demonstrate respect for privacy and compassion for the individual who will read it are all aspects of how we serve others through our writing.

Journaling can be one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal as Service Providers ~ tools can not only provide a safe space for the venting of emotions and challenges, but also a tool that helps guide you to the deepest parts of who you are and how you show up in service to others.

Through creative writing, we can lose ourselves in a private world of fantasy and make-believe that may have some similarity to our real-life experiences. Through this practice, we can create our own alternative endings ~ the ones that light up our hearts and spark our inspiration.

Join Us

On this episode of Serving Consciously, I welcomed my guest, Joyce Sweeney.

Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her first novel, “Center Line”, won the First Annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding Young Adult Novel. Many of her books appear on the American Library Association’s Best Books List and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Her novel “Shadow” won the Nevada State Reading Award in 1997. Her novel “Players” was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Sports Book and by Working Mother magazine as a Top Ten for Tweens. Her novel, “Headlock” (Holt 2006), won a Silver Medal in the 2006 Florida Book Awards and was chosen by the American Library Association as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

Her first chapbook of poems, “IMPERMANENCE”, was published in 2008 by Finishing Line Press. Her second chapbook, entitled “WAKE UP”, was released in February.

Joyce has also been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years, beginning with teaching five-week classes for the Florida Center for the Book, moving to ongoing invitation-only workshops and finally to online classes which reach students nationally and internationally. Developing strong bonds with the students, critiquing and instructing is her hallmark. She believes writers need emotional support as well as strong, craft-based teaching if they are to make the long, arduous, but very worthwhile journey to traditional publication. At this writing, 57 of Joyce’s students have successfully made this journey and obtained traditional publishing contracts.

In 2011, Joyce and a coalition of local playwrights, directors, and actors formed The Playgroup LLC, which conducts workshops for playwrights and actors and produces original works by local playwrights. The Playgroup currently presents three productions a year at their home base, The Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.

Joyce lives in Coral Springs with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro. You can learn more about Joyce and her services on her website.

How has the service of writing touched your life?

Scotland National Poet Encourages Looked After Children to ‘Get Write In’

Jackie Kay – Scotland’s National Poet ©cc by 2.0 University of Salford Press Office

Scotland’s national poet, Jackie Kay, has today (Tuesday 15 August), announced the winners of a new national competition for all school-aged children in Scotland who are looked after or have experienced care. The competition aims to show how writing can enhance creativity and give a voice to young people who are looked after.

Get Write In! has been launched by CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland), and supported by The Scottish Book Trust, Who Cares? Scotland, the University of Strathclyde, and the world-famous Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Participants from throughout Scotland were encouraged to submit a 500 word creative story in either English or Scots, capturing the theme of ‘Random Moments’ about an unexpected surprise, a moment that was a turning point, or a fork in the road, which could be transformed into an inspiring story.

There is one overall winner in each age category: one for primary aged children (under 12); and one for secondary aged young people (12-18). The junior winner is Joseph Ness for his entry ‘Dumb’, and for the senior category it’s William Cathie for ‘New Life’.

The winners were presented with their prizes by Jackie Kay and Mark McDonald, Scotland’s Minister for Childcare and Early Years, at a special event at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh this evening. The fantastic prizes included: a trip to the Harry Potter Experience in London with overnight stay and travel; a storytelling and creative writing workshop; and tickets for Scottish Book Trust Authors Live events.

Jackie Kay, who chaired the judging panel, commented: “We were moved by these extraordinary pieces of writing, both the poetry and the stories. Young Scots lives came shining through, the very tough times and the good ones. We were blown away by the talent that emerged, and by the openness of so many young Scots to share their stories. They struck a chord with us. We hope many more will continue to enter next year. For the young Scots this year who did, it has been a validating and uplifting experience to have their voices heard and appreciated.”

Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald, said: “It is inspiring to see young people take such an interest in creative writing, and this competition is a brilliant opportunity for care experienced young people to develop their literacy skills and to gain confidence in expressing themselves. I have been so impressed by the quality of the competition entries and I’m sure that for many, this is just the beginning of their creative journey.”

Professor Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of Inspiring Children’s Futures which CELCIS is part of, commented: “We were thrilled with the response that we had to the competition, and it’s been a real pleasure to read the rich creativity within the stories and poems from across the country! As we all know too well, the challenges faced by children and young people who are looked after, and their families, are many; we are hopeful that by encouraging young people to draw on their inner creativity through writing, this will contribute to building a positive sense of their power to influence the world around them, as well as strengthening their literacy for their future.”

8 Cover Letter Writing Mistakes That Might Be Ruining Your Career

A cover letter is absolutely essential in finding the job you want. There’s no question about the fact that there will be plenty of people with a similar CV – you’d need similar levels of education and experience to apply for the same job. However, the cover letter is your chance to really make an impression. You can show your passion, enthusiasm, and even some of your personality in this letter. As you only really have this one chance at a first impression with most HR managers, it is important to stand out from the crowd and avoid the 8 mistakes listed below.

1.     Looking Unprofessional

This means paying attention to font, using proper colours, and checking that your email address reflects your professional persona. If you have an immature email address, register for a new one and make sure that’s the one on your CV.

2.     Failing to Use the Right Format

This is a letter, and so it should look like a letter, with an addressee, a return address, and a date. It shouldn’t look like you’ve printed an email, it should very obviously be in letter format, and addressed to the specific employer, with the name of the HR manager if you know it.

3.     Not Sending a Plain Text Version of Your Letter

You might have some cool graphics, logos, or banners on your cover letter, but you do not know whether or not your employer is using an automatic resume scanner – at which point your fancy elements will become a jumbled mess. Keep things simple to ensure there’s no margin for technical error.

4.     Not Paying Attention to Editing or Proofreading

When you’ve spent hours working on a cover letter, it’s easy to assume that your effort will have resulted in the perfect piece of writing. However, this is rarely the case, and many people submit their cover letters without properly proofreading, only to later spot mistakes and errors that look sloppy. You need to appear as competent as possible, and avoid any mistakes at such a crucial time. Fortunately, there are some online tools that can be a huge help when it comes to proofreading or editing your text.

  • Ginger is a great app that improves your writing in a holistic way, by checking spelling, grammar, and even offering to translate or read aloud what you’ve written.
  • Hemingway App is a tool that many writers rely on to strengthen their content and pick up on mistakes that a person might not notice.
  • Readability Score monitors the level of your writing, which is essential if you’re applying for a high level position and want to be sure that your cover letter isn’t too simple,
  • Paper Fellows helps with getting started, which is often the hardest part of writing. This is made easy with all of the advice and support available in the forums here.

5.     Failing to Provide an Example for Everything

If you want to say that you have a skill on your cover letter, then you need to provide some sort of evidence to back up your claims. You can’t just ask an employer to believe you when you say you have skills, experience, or competencies – back this up with examples, experiences, or qualifications.

6.     Including Filler Content

You may be worried that your letter isn’t long enough, and be tempted to pad it out with extra words and phrases and complicated sentences – this is a bad idea. A HR Manager doesn’t have time to try and find the good parts of your letter, they should be obvious.

7.     Sending the Same Letter to Every Employer

It is imperative to get specific about each job if you want to stand a chance competing against other qualified applicants.

8.     Be Clear

When applying online, make sure every file includes your full name, explain job titles, and make sure your email matches your name. Explain any lapses in time between work, and use a structure that is easy to follow.

Writing a cover letter is a stressful time, but avoiding the above mistakes can help boost your confidence and your chances of success.

Optimizing Microsoft Word for Academic Writing

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Microsoft Office Word is one of the most commonly used software editing programs of all the time, but we rarely think about how to make it work better to fit our needs. You might not realize it, but there are several easy ways to optimize Word to make it more efficient and effective when used in an academic setting. In this article, I will be sharing with you six practical tips on how to customize Microsoft Word to help save you time, create documents that are more professional and readable, as well as how to set up Word as a citation manager.

1) Don’t rely on Word’s default proofing settings

If you want Word to offer stylistic suggestions or if you’d like more data about your writing than word count, such as the number of passive sentences and readability statistics, you can turn on more options. Go to options—you should be able to find this under the file tab—and then Proofing. From here you will be able to turn on style suggestions and readability statistics, which will be available to you after you go through the spelling and grammar check suggestions.

2) Remove metadata

This is vital if you’re submitting something that is supposed to be fairly judged without knowledge of the author—e.g., peer review—or if you don’t want someone to know how long you’ve spent editing a document. To remove this metadata, go to the file tab and then select the info option. From there you can see a “Prepare for Sharing” button that you should use in some circumstances.

3) Use Field Codes

You should have an academic writing document template with embedded and automatically updating field codes. You can use these to insert things such as the date the document was most recently revised, the word count, etc. To start using field codes, go to the Insert tab, find the Quick Parts button and click on it, and select Field from the drop-down menu that will appear.

4) Use Word to create PDFs

You don’t need the full version of Adobe Acrobat to create PDFs. When saving a document, you can select PDF as the format and have a document that appears more final and professional.

5) Use a citation manager that has a Word plug-in

Don’t cite manually. Citation managers can be used to store and organize your references, including PDF files associated with them, and then to automatically cite and create bibliographies as you write in Word. I’m familiar with Endnote and Mendeley. Both are useful and have Word plug-ins for citing, but I’ve found Mendeley to be simpler to use for citing in Word, easier to learn, and better for organizing my journal article PDFs. Most importantly, Mendeley is free.

6) Use the Review tab

There are many things you can do from the review tab. Experiment with the Track Changes and Compare buttons. They won’t be entirely necessary for everything you do—especially the compare button—but they are indispensable in some situations.

Message in a Bottle…An Epiphany that Probably Won’t Reach Its Intended Recipient

“Message in a Bottle” was not only a romantic Kevin Costner movie, but once upon a time was a hopeful form of communication. Someone would have an epiphany or reflective moment that desperately needed to find its way to the target of their affection. A message in bottle was then thrown into the ocean hoping that fate will stir the bottle to its intended destination. Before telegraphs, telephones, and the internet, message in a bottle was the hope of connecting with someone outside of your reach, but are we still using a “message in a bottle” mentality in a technologically advanced society?

The internet is just as vast as the sea because the possibility of destinations seem limitless. Today, “message in a bottle” has been upgraded to a Tumblr, Facebook Note, Blogger, WordPress Blog or some form of electronic post.

There has been instances of calls for help, cries for support, profound confessions, or enlightened reflections which may or may not be heard depending on the number of followers, friends, or search engine optimization that allow search engines to find you in this vast world wide web. Does the profoundness of the message correlate with its ability to be heard?

Is Honeybooboo’s preferences more profound than someone battling Cancer who is sharing their experiences in hopes of helping someone else because her medium to be heard is bigger?  As a matter of fact, I would argue the less profound it appears, there is wider appeal. As social workers when we exercise the “message in a bottle” mentality, we lessen our ability to help someone else. It requires those in need to find us in a sea of darkness instead of being that Beacon of Light.

What can we do about it? Social Work Helper may not provide the be all solution for everyone, but it is my attempt at navigating the seas by offering a beacon.  As a Google news outlet with rss feeds placed in the top news aggregator mobile apps around the world, anyone can submit an original blog post or republish a blog post from their own blog to Social Work Helper to help expand their readership. How is this helpful to you? When you take your valuable time to share your dreams, triumphs, failures, and experiences that knowledge should reach as many people as possible in order to help advance someone else.

If you are trying to develop your own magazine, than Social Work Helper may not be the right platform for you. However, if you primary goals are increasing your professional profile, increasing awareness on issues, and reaching as many people as possible, than publishing on this vehicle will help expand your reach.

Work with me in creating a platform that  will better support professional or student development and relationships without having to randomly bump into each other on the world wide web.

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