Writing Portfolio

At the beginning of the school year I put together a writing portfolio with my students using a combination of old teacher manuals, a new book on teaching writing, and Pinterest ideas I had been pinning for years. What came about was, in my opinion, a fun and interesting container for student writing, notes, and ideas. We used the portfolio 173 out of 180 days this year, the others were review and state testing days! Special Needs/IEP students used the exact same set up and papers as their classmates and working in these portfolios was like having an automatic active assessment as well as an immediate chance for remediation.

I have been asked a few times, by a few different people, to lay out how I set this up. I don’t think this is a hugely different design from the rest of the portfolio ideas that are out there, but I took some pictures and will now walk you through the set up and use of my Writer’s/Writing Portfolio.

Materials List:

1 – 1 inch 3-ring Binder (We used the ‘view’ type)

1 – Set Page Dividers/Tabs (OR tape and construction paper in

a pinch)

Loose Leaf Notebook Paper

Set of Graphic Organizers (grade/class appropriate)

Crayons/Colored Pencils/Markers Etc.

Scrapbook Paper (optional)

…………..I also used the book Getting to the Core of Writing (level 5) by Richard Gentry, Jan McNeel, and Vickie Wallace-Nesler. (My state repealed Common Core but the writing standards are similar and this book is GREAT!)

A Treasury of Critical Thinking Activities By Teacher Created Resources

And Pinterest ideas from various Bloggers for Anchor charts and craft ideas.

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This is what the scrapbook paper was for! We decorated covers to slide into the viewable fronts…just another way to personalize student writing. When they have that much time and interest invested, students might take more care of what’s inside (about a 50/50 chance!)

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As you can see, the first few pages of the portfolio offer more chances for personalization and connection with the students. The interior title page (“Ms. Tyree’s…) can be decorated etc, allowing for personality to show itself immediately. The dedication page makes future assignments go from horrid homework to being for someone students actually care about…whether they be friend, family, or famous. Dedicating their work in such a manner both transfers the responsibility from teacher to student (I dedicated to MY friends/family…I am the AUTHOR and must do MY best) and gives students a sense of ownership for their portfolio and their work.

The Table of Contents page gives students a way to quickly flip through to needed information. When coupled with the page dividers (shown in these pictures are actually strips of paper or sticky note written on and then attached via clear tape) the table of contents provides an extra organizational tool for all.

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In the “WRITING IDEAS” tab we have the ‘AUTHORITY LIST’. The authority list is literally a list of items the portfolio builder feels authoritative about. For example:  my list (shown above) includes mythology and movies (writing research…really!), and Tinkerbell, Minions, and Crochet. These are things I feel very knowledgeable about and if I need to decide on a topic for a quick in class essay, I can choose from this list and whip up a first draft fairly easily. That’s the point, after all, of the ‘ideas’ section: The ability to recall what you know about and write it down without too much of that frustrating contemplation that gets students down before they ever write a word.

Next comes the Heart Map. Students (or other authors) draw a big heart in the center of the page with the words “I LOVE…” written inside. They then haphazardly fill the page with the names of things that they love. These are not necessarily items that they have to know a lot about, but merely things that they feel emotionally attached to. Many students will write things like ‘my friends, my family, soccer, music…’ and this not only gives you an insight into that particular student, it also provides them with topics for research projects, science experiments, or even art projects (to name a few).

Third in line is the Treasure Map (not pictured). The Treasure Map is an interesting art piece in which students think of a place that holds a lot of memories for them. Hopefully this place will be a holder of both good and not-so-great memories, or mostly good (most people will not draw a map of a bad memories place holder). They then draw an outline/blue print of that place…much like a pirate’s treasure map would be laid out. Then they place an X over the places with the strongest memories (i.e. the tree house fort behind Grandma’s house, the creek next door, etc.). If they are asked to write a narrative and don’t know where to begin, a look back at the treasure map can provide a bevy of inspiration. WARNING: Younger students and some IEP students will have difficulty differentiating between writing a fictional account and writing the bare bones of whatever actually happened. With these students make sure that you either tell them to write the facts, or are VERY specific when it comes to the fiction you want. Don’t write it for them, but make sure they understand the difference.

Finally, we have the memory hand, I also call the Emotions Hand. Students trace their hand and write a different emotion on each finger, the thumb, and their palm. They then (in a different color works best) list a few things that make them feel the emotion listed. (i.e. ANGRY often includes siblings, teachers, homework….PROUD was a difficult one for elementary students and usually just included good grades, winning a race, or praise from parents/teachers).

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The beginning of our ‘Writing” section is a page for Goal setting. This is really included so that the teacher can have individual conferences with each student and set goals for their writing. You put the date set, the goal, and then eventually the date met. Pretty simple right? Well I apparently can’t just leave well enough alone, so I not only did conferences, I also had students do small group/peer readings and discussions…and then they set another goal as well! This really pushed them to view their work not as another grade, or another essay for homework, but as something personal to them. Some of the best goals were set, and met, by my ‘special’ students, because (and I quote) “No one told us we could before”.

After the goals page is a set of loose leaf papers for story ideas and first drafts. The first page was a mini table of contents…students were asked to put the date written, the title, and the page number of their works.

Then came the graphic organizers and outlines section. I passed out 13 pages of organizers and 3 types of outlines during the first week of school. These included a KWL Chart, A Fact Chart, A Vinn Diagram, a Tree Chart, A Brainstormer, and a Cause and Effect Diagram.

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Since I taught fifth graders, we did some minor modifications to these pages, allowing them to use these much more easily. For example, the KWL chart had an extra column to allow for ‘things we couldn’t find the answer to’, while the Timeline page was alternately described as a paragraph outline…giving students a slightly different way to outline their essays along with the typical bulleted or roman numeral set up.

The final thing in our portfolios was, in my opinion, the most important; the writing journal. Every entry began with the day’s date in the upper left hand corner, then the word ‘prompt’ and the day’s prompt written out. Most day’s I gave the students 10 minutes to write to the prompt, usually while playing music softly in the background (a variety of artists and types). About 1 day a week I made students write without music, so that they would be used to noise or silence and able to work through during the testing (you never know what the ‘quiet’ class work next door might include!). Friday’s were always ‘free Friday’…allowing student creativity to come out as they wrote to their own inner muse for the day.

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Over the course of the school year, most of my students went from maybe getting a sentence or two written in the 10 minute time limit, to getting at least a half page. Most of them started writing more than a full page! More than anything else in the portfolio, even more than the differentiated (yet all the same) outlines, graphic organizers, and ‘what we know’ pages, I believe that the daily timed writing allowed my students the room to grow as authors, which is the best aid you can provide for students or aspiring authors! (one more quick example: an IEP student upped their score from a 4th grade writing test score of UNsatisfactory {but about 2 points from limited Knowledge} to ADVANCED on the 5th grade test. Writing, just like anything else, has be a daily habit. Like exercise, your muscles get used to be worked and can easily jump back into the push ups and chin ups of your mind!)

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What I Wish My Students Knew…

The other day I took a tip from trending topics and asked my 5th graders to write their final journal entry over “What I Wish My Teacher Knew.” It was heart wrenching. Some of the students wanted to tell me about home things, sick family members that are being hush/hush, bullying in the neighborhood, worries about moving up to Middle School, or even missing parents. Some wanted me to know that although they’re good students, they HATE school. They don’t like studying, they hate having to answer questions, and they only want to hang out and play sports.

In every class, they asked me what I wanted them to know. I responded, of course, that I am proud of them all and that they have been through a lot as a grade this year and everyone made it through admirably. Needless to say, we had an emotional day.

Now I want to let them know what I REALLY want them to know:

What I wish my students knew:

1) Ms. Tyree (and every teacher you’ve had) cares more about you and your future than you will ever know. We worry over you long after you’ve left our class and will remember you long after you forget who you had for 5th grade writing.

2) Sometimes, even though we really do care about you, we just need time to finish whatever it is we’re doing…even if all we’re doing is taking a deep breath!

3) There is never a good reason to insult people, even if you’re playing and it’s your friend…adults have a hard time with this as well.

4) I know you feel pushed around and talking back is a way to take some of that power you crave…get over it. There will ALWAYS be someone in charge of at least one aspect of your life. Bosses, spouses, parents, teachers, law makers, etc. will all have a say in what you do and how you do it. Fight for things that are worth it, but talking back just to hear your voice is not one of those things.

5) YOU (YES YOU!) are SMART. So maybe you don’t have the best grades and maybe sometimes you don’t understand everything the first or even fiftieth time….that’s ok. Everyone learns differently and everyone has things that are more difficult to learn. You CAN and WILL get it as long as you keep at it.

6) Stay Creative! The spark inside that makes you who you are, and that sends you twirling through the classroom on a whim, is an amazing gift. Never lose it. However, channel that creativity into art, mechanics, robotics, music, dance…anything that excites you and stop hopping like a frog in my classroom!

7) You are an Author….You Are a Scientist…and You ARE Amazing. I am very proud to have the honor of being in your lives.

State Testing

My classroom is a mess this week. Not the fun we’re learning and exploring so there’s paper and words everywhere kind of mess. No…the we-have-to-take-state-tests so everyone is needlessly jittery, nervous, and sleepy kind of mess.

These tests are supposed to analyze and showcase what a typical Nth grader should know…there’s just an issue or two with that type of thinking.

First of all, in a ‘typical’ classroom setting with ‘typical’ characters, there is really no such thing as ‘typical.’ Each child and each day brings with them new challenges. For example, in a ‘typical’ 5th grade classroom in my district you will find a range of 10-13 year olds most, if not all, of whom learn in a different style! There is a range of skillsets for each subject (math, reading, spelling, writing, social studies, art, music, even for P.E.) that can go as low as 1st or 2nd grade and as high as 9th-12th grades (and beyond). That range of skills may even occasionally be found in the SAME student.

As teachers, we spend our days differentiating learning, drilling vocabulary, and responsibility, and worrying that we aren’t doing enough; because really, how much is enough? Then our nights are spent analyzing, grading, and preparing. As a mother, I have trouble separating the care, preparation, and work I put in to the 85 ‘kids’ I have 5 days a week, and the 2 yr. old that is actually mine. My toddler cringes when Mommy brings work home.

Secondly, in a state where the testing vendor, standards, and leadership all changed this year (two out of three more than once) even a “normal,” “typical” teacher with “normal,” “typical” students and a “normal,” “typical” classroom (if any such a place actually existed) would be having issues right now!

No students are ‘cookie cutter.’ Different economical, ethical, lingual, and regional backgrounds are creating even siblings with vast cultural differences due to the constant rise and fall of industries. Yet every student, even those deemed in need of “special instruction” is given THE SAME TEST with the bare minimum of assistances provided to those whose paperwork is in order.

Now, I know that my students are all working to the best of their abilities, whatever those may be. However, every student from bottom to top has expressed concern. Now that they NEED it none of them can seem to recall those random grammar rules, how to find a LCM, why Paul Revere had a horse, or how solids melt (to name a few). One student confessed today to wondering if perhaps he had forgotten how to read.

All of this because of the LIFE ALTERING IMPORTANCE of these tests that is so highly stressed to them all now. Low scores for 5th graders mean remedial courses instead of fun electives. For 8th graders these tests may make the difference between a driver’s license or a bicycle in High School. So you can see why there might be some concern. Add to that the fact that students who have been receiving tutoring, in class remediation, small group, etc. all year are now required to go it alone, and you come out with nervous students and paper shreds under almost every desk. Though some will last longer, and some much shorter, in our school this phenomenon will last for 2 weeks.

TWO WEEKS! Some look at that time frame at scoff at our concern. “2 weeks,” they say, “What’s that in the grand scheme of thing? Don’t you spend another 30+ weeks in school?”

Yes, yes we do. Thirty weeks of preparing our students, and ourselves. For teachers the testing outcome can affect our employability. For students it can affect their ability to choose electives in 6th grade, or even to advance with their friends. For the WORLD OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS, this is the equivalent of Olympic Qualifiers. Though we try to boost student confidence, a lifetime of training has placed a pressure on them to succeed, no matter what we say.

Pressure may make diamonds, but right now it is making MESS out of my class.

Political Views…Or Control Issues?

I took advantage of a provided work day today and organized a few areas of my classroom that have sorely needed it. The entire day was spent relatively alone, with music or internet episodes filling the silence while I cleaned, rearranged, and organized. Overall, I loved having the day to get caught up and ready for the final 8 weeks of school! However, the reason we had it has really upset several of my co-workers across all 6 schools in our ISD.

You see, there was a gathering of teachers and educational administration at the state capitol today, protesting and making their voices heard about a few different propositions concerning our profession. Anyone who went came to work at 8:30, had breakfast and lunch provided, and if they had to stop somewhere for supper that would be taken care of too. Those of us who stayed home were made to arrive at the normal 7:45 time, sign in, and could not leave except for lunch time (although my school did give us an hour for lunch). On top of that, anyone who WENT to the capitol will be allowed to wear jeans anytime for the rest of the school year, the rest of us will have to continue to wear professional attire. I don’t really care for jeans and kind of have my own dress code, that usually matches up pretty well with the casual professional dress code our school has (I’m jut quirky…not ill-dressed) so that part doesn’t bother me…but the implications do.

The ‘if you aren’t with us and on our agenda totally you get punished’ vibe that this demonstration sent out has people up in arms about the way it was all handled. So here is my question to you…is this a group of people showing passion for their beliefs and political views, or is this a set of people with control issues looking to force ‘their’ employees into falling in step behind them?

Either way, I got my work done and don’t mind the dress code staying the same. Honestly, I’m not even sure what side of the issue we were supposed to be on…

Projects

I don’t know why we do this to ourselves. Pile up projects, due dates, and D.I.Y.s until we just turn in confused circles, trying to decide which way to go first or, possibly worse, which paint color matches the worksheet our boss assigned today that’s due yesterday. Maybe some of us, myself included, thrive on such craziness. Perhaps the organized and zen approach to life would make us insane, crazy with boredom and aching for stress within a week (probably sooner). I wouldn’t know, I’ve never gotten to point where I could find out! As soon as one thing is finished, three more jump up to take its place, waving like an elementary student who thinks they know the answer.

In fact, I am currently smack dab in the middle of at least 5 different projects:

Dragons in the Deep: Book 4 in the Stone Dragon Saga. A centuries old pirate ship is discovered and could hold the key to finding Aliphonsore’s parents. In fact, it could hold the key to ending the Fairy Queen’s insidious plans. With new friends, both human and otherwise, the return of Passiona and her pet sorcerer on the loose, and ancient obscure texts you never know what could be waiting around the corner!

Fifth Grade Dragons: A spin off of the main Stone Dragon Saga. This book finds Aliphonsore and King Ferdinand as professors at an academy in Realta, having made their way back home after the final battle with Passiona. Anna, who is now a writing teacher for a local fifth grade, is asked to help Aliphonsore and Ferdinand teach some students the basics of ‘human’ story telling/writing…to (hopefully) hilarious results.

Highland Park Presents: A short story compilation written by my fifth graders. They each worked hard on providing a short story that shows their abilities, their interests, and their weird senses of humor. Tyree Tomes is transcribing and editing the stories, turning them into one impressive book with a forward written by none other than the proud teacher…ME!

Plants and Ecology: A unit in science that teach students about things the food chain, energy consumption/output, and the ways communities are coming together and using Science to help save their local environments.

Organizing My Rooms: I have 4 rooms that ‘belong’ to me in this house. My bedroom, my sitting room, my closet, and the writer’s loft. We (meaning Dad) are building shelves for the back of my bedroom and will be getting those put in (hopefully!) soon. After that it is my sincere belief that I might be able to get my rooms organized and things up off of my floors! I KNOW that it HAS to be possible! I JUST KNOW IT!

Crocheting/DIY: I almost forgot…I promised a crocheted ear flappy hat to a friend a few months ago…he reminded me about that the other day so maybe I should hop on that! And don’t get me started on the DIY play house and cutesy painting I was hoping to get done this week cus…that ain’t gonna happen!

YOWZA! Putting them all in a row like that is a bit shocking to the system. Quick…somebody line out their to-do list for me! What are you getting done right now? Are you one of ‘us’, with the mile long constant list or are you one of those people who have it all lined out and finish one project before starting another one? If you’re the second type…HOW DOES THAT WORK???

I can’t wait to hear from you! Good luck with all your projects!

Ugly Beauty

A Giant Robber Fly Face (picture taken by scientists at under a scanning electron microscope at the University of Oklahoma) This is the bug my students captured and sent in to be judged. We did not win

Back in September my students and I scoured the school grounds in order to find the ugliest native Oklahoman bug we could possibly locate. (See my first blog about this HERE)This fellow won their votes (I believe he was named Harry). We wrote a paragraph describing our bug and sent him away for judging.

Four looong months later, they finally announced a winner…and it was not the H.P. Robber Fly. But isn’t his picture awesome??

To see more great ugly bugs, check out the winners, and learn more about this great science contest Go To: http://www.uglybug.org

Here is our essay about old Harry Boomer Bug…Remember, we wrote this within a few weeks of school starting and 80 students had a say in what went into this short draft. I am very proud of what they put into this! ENJOY:

Our Ugly Bug contestant is a Giant Robber Fly. Giant Robber Flies are known by the Latin name “Promachus”, which translated to ‘Promachos” in Greek means ‘Champion.” Also known as a Bee Killer or an Assassin Fly, the Giant Robber Fly is classified as follows:

Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Anthropoda
Subphylum – Hexapoda
Class – Insecta
Order – Diptera
No Taxon (Orthorrhapha)
Superfamily – Asiloidea
Family – Asilidae
Subfamily – Asilinae
Genus – Promachus

Robber flies live in dry, not cold, habitats that include short grass and sparse plant life.

A few interesting facts about these bugs are that they eat other (larger) insects, have three simple eyes between their two compound eyes, and that they are hatch in the winter and later will die in the winter. These insects also do not have a mouth. They use their proboscis as both an injector of poisoned saliva and as a straw to suck their liquified food through.

We found this Giant Robber Fly (named Harry) behind the playground equipment in a sparsely vegetated area at the edge of a wooded space. This area is full of multiple species of insects such as mustard bugs, grasshoppers, praying manti, and dragonflies.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this contest. We hope you enjoy Harry’s ugly whiskers!

Sincerely,

The 5th Grade Class of Highland Park Elementary

Writing Affirmation in the Classroom

I AM an author I KNOW how to WRITE The WORDS LIVE in ME And My Story WILL BE AWESOME

I AM an author
I KNOW how to WRITE
The WORDS LIVE in ME
And My Story WILL BE AWESOME

I just wanted to pop today and share a little piece of joy with you. I currently have 83 students in my 5th grade writing program. Our state test is this coming Tuesday. We (meaning me) are starting to really feel the pressure. So today, before beginning our practice test, I am leading my students in two ‘echo’ exercises. #1 is our (almost) daily tradition of S.W.B.A.T. (Students WILL Be Able To…) followed by the lesson’s standard. For example, my board today states “S.W.B.A.T. – Follow a Prompt and Write a Narrative.”

After that rousing chorus, as the students are turning to begin their work, I am calling their attention back to the other side of the board and leading them in the echo of “I AM an AUTHOR! I KNOW how to WRITE! The WORDS LIVE IN ME! MY STORY WILL BE AWESOME!”

Each class is given the opportunity to repeat this after me 3 times. The first time they are hesitant, not really sure what I’m doing. The second time they are slightly more confident but still not so sure of themselves and their abilities. The third time though…OH THE THIRD TIME! Their voices ring proud, strong, and true and you can just tell that they know what is what now. They are enthusiastic, they are pumped, and THEY ARE AUTHORS!

It is an amazing thing to see and hear and I am so very proud of each and every one of my kids. So proud, in fact, that I took a few moments out of an unexpected ‘free’ period to announce it to you!

Please keep in mind all of the kids across the states, and the world, who are about to start taking these tests. Encourage those you can and think of those you can’t. Sometimes a little affirmation goes a long way.