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HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING IN 10 QUICK LESSONS
By AJ Juliani
Each year after holiday break I told my students their writing would change forever. It was a simple statement, but most of them did not take it seriously. What ensued was Writer’s Boot Camp. A 10-day writing program I put my students through each year. It didn’t matter if I taught 8th graders or 11th graders, the rules and guidelines stayed the same. Each day we would cover a new rule. Each day they would write 250 words in class, and 250 words at home. At the end of writer’s boot camp students had to produce a piece of analytical writing, and they had to demonstrate an understanding of the rules.
What I loved about Writer’s Boot Camp was the simplicity, but also the feedback I received from students. They complained when I assigned the writing project, but as the days went on the complaining stopped and they realized that writing wasn’t all that hard, or all that boring! In fact, many students continued to write each day and keep the journal they had built through the boot camp.
I made it a ten day period because we often focus on writing “here and there”. By deliberately focusing my students’ (and my own) attention on writing, it became a challenge that we all had to overcome together. At the end of boot camp, my writing had drastically improved and my students felt a new confidence about their craft.
Here are my 10 lessons to make anyone a better writer.
LESSON #1: BEHIND EVERY GREAT PIECE OF WRITING IS A GREAT STORY.
I don’t care if you are writing a letter, email, essay, book, or company memo, if it is boring, no one will care. Furthermore, it needs to tell a story. Human beings learn better through stories than anything else. If you want people to learn from your writing (however big or small the piece) it needs to be a great story.
LESSON #2: YOU BECOME A BETTER WRITER BY READING. YOU BECOME A BETTER READER BY WRITING.
This generation of students reads and writes more than any other before it. However, much of that reading and writing is text messages, Twitter/Instagram/Facebook posts, short blogs (like Tumblr), and other online pieces.
The type of reading you feed your brain is also going to end up in your writing.
If we want students to write analytical pieces, they must read analytical pieces. If we want them to write a narrative, they must read a narrative. Make sure you are on a good “diet” of reading, and try to read what you’ll be writing. It will make your writing better than you could have ever imagined.
LESSON #3: VIGOROUS WRITING IS CONCISE. EVERY WORD SHOULD TELL. MAKE YOUR POINT WELL AND ONCE. THEN SHUT UP.
Every word should have a purpose within the sentence. Every sentence should have a purpose within the paragraph. Every paragraph should have a purpose within the piece. It’s that simple.
Thanks to Strunk and White for that lesson!
LESSON #4: LEARNING TO USE WORDS EFFECTIVELY WILL BE THE MOST VALUABLE TOOL YOU’LL EVER NEED.
Want to get a job? You are going to have to speak and write well to even get an interview. Want to ask that girl/guy out on a date? Make sure you use the right words! Want to be a better thinker? Build your vocabulary…we think in words!
My good friend Anthony Gabriele used to have this lesson hanging from various spots in his classroom. In fact, many students already know how to use their words to effectively persuade parents or friends…but they fail to transition this type of persuasive language into the classroom in their writing. My job as a teacher was to make that connection to “real world” language use, and how it applies to even the smallest writing task in school.
LESSON #5: ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO WRITE. ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO THINK CRITICALLY.
At this point of Writer’s Boot Camp, I would give my students a Bourne Identity writing moment. What does that mean exactly? I’d quickly surprise them with a critical thinking scenario that required them to not only think on their feet but also write on their feet.
Why do I do this? Because you never know when you’ll need to use your writing skills for a specific moment. Prepare to write and think when you are unprepared. Success will follow!
LESSON #6: STYLE = YOUR GRADE.
Maybe you’ve got great content. Your structure and grammar are perfect as well. Yet, whether it is a teacher, a blog reader, or a boss, something is still missing when they read what you write. That’s because your writing style is what takes readers from passively absorbing your work, to actually believing in you.
Style, in short, is your personal writing voice. It separates you from everyone else. In order to improve your style you must write, write, and write some more. Once you find it, you’ll know, because your readers will want to talk with you.
LESSON #7: CHEER UP, GREAT WRITING ISN’T LABORIOUS, IT’S TEDIOUS.
I used to landscape during my summers while I was in college. One of the first things I learned to do was mulch. Taking hot (and smelly) mulch from off the truck, into wheel barrels, and spread it all over huge properties was no fun task. It was a workout!
I also had the opportunity to do some gardening as a landscaper for a huge estate. I’d spend all day walking around the grounds picking a weeds and pruning different plants. It took a lot of time, but I never broke a sweat.
Great writing won’t make you sweat.
It isn’t laborious like mulching, it is much more tedious like pruning and weeding a big estate. Great writing takes time and you have to keep working at it. Think about writing as a journey and you’ll continually improve.
LESSON #8: WRITE TO ENTERTAIN, NOT TO IMPRESS.
Big words, fancy sentence structures, and deep thoughts aren’t what writing is about. Writing is about conveying an emotion, and your focus as a writer should be to entertain the reader through your words. Many time we think about “entertainment” as something that is fun but, in reality, to be entertained is to care about what is happening and be connected to the words.
When’s the last time you read a book, watched a movie, or listened to your favorite song and said, “That was impressive writing?”
We don’t think about the actual writing, we think about how we feel and connect to that book, movie, or song. We’ll end up liking the book, movie, or song because we are entertained by the words and story. Aim to do the same with your writing.
LESSON #9: KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REVISING AND EDITING. THEN DO BOTH.
As a teacher, I had a few opportunities to improve and change my lessons throughout the year. The snow days forced me to make quick rearrangements of what I would teach, and cut out some of the content I would bring to my students. Various choices have to be made throughout the school year in terms of what I would teach, but I have to be flexible enough to make it work for the students and fit the curriculum.
During the summer I can look (often with a colleague) at the entire year. We can change and modify entire units and add or take away new projects, papers, assignments etc. The process goes back and forth each year as big changes are made during the summer months and small quick fixes are implemented throughout the school year.
Chances are you rarely edit…or revise. I’m here today to tell you that both are necessary! Editing your writing is similar to what we do during the school year as teachers or leaders. Changes sometimes need to be made. Cuts need to happen. And every once in a while we’ll add something new of value. Revising is similar to the work we do in the summer when we look at the entire structure and flow of the content and curriculum. In order to improve the teaching and learning, the changes made during the year and during the summer are necessary. In order to improve your writing, revising and editing are also necessary.
LESSON #10: IF YOU WANT TO IMPROVE, YOU’LL CONTINUE TO IMPROVE.
In the end, it’s all about attitude.
For the final lesson of Writer’s Boot Camp I’d ask my students to write down the biggest challenge they ever had to overcome. For some students this was very personal, and for others it often was about a sporting challenge or related to one of their activities they do outside of school. The students were very open about this question and it sparked the same debate in class every single year.
Do your circumstances make you who you are? Or, does who you are, impact your circumstances?
When it came down to it, every one of my students believed they had the power to improve their life in some way. Many didn’t know exactly how they would do it, but they had hope in their own individual power to move their life forward.
I left them with a simple message: Life, just like writing, is all about attitude.
Here is an article I came across that I feel can be very helpful in working with students who are dyslexic. This information will help you in your classroom.
Strategies for Teachers 1/2/19
Published on Dyslexia Help at the University of Michigan (http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu)Home > Strategies for Teachers
Strategies for Teachers
Upon completion of this section, you will
Acquire general recommendations for the classroom that enrich learning for beginning readers and writers
Identify tips for the different parts of the reading process that enrich comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary
Have ideas to use when teaching children with visual deficits
General recommendations Comprehension and fluency Vocabulary
Sparking new ideas for your classroom
Malcolm Alexander, the acclaimed dyslexic sculptor , tells a story about one of his teachers who made a difference. According to Malcolm, that teacher said, "When I teach, when I look at a student's work, I always try to find something nice in it. And then go into the rest of it."
This is a gift you can give all students, but particularly those who are dyslexic: find something positive, something they have done well, and acknowledge it. They will remember that comment — and you.
As a teacher, you most likely already have a print-rich environment in your classroom. We know that all teachers, whether they are new to the profession or seasoned veterans, continue to look for suggestions and tweak their skills so they are better able to help their students.
The following suggestions may spark a new idea for your classroom.
Writing The good news about honing one's teaching for individuals with
Students with visual deficits
dyslexia is that many of the strategies will be helpful to the typical learner as well. And, of importance, the strategies will be particularly helpful to any struggling readers and writers in your classroom.
In addition to general recommendations, there are suggestions to promote phonological awareness skills, reading comprehension and fluency, vocabulary development, oral reading, comprehension of written directions, spelling, and writing. As always, choose the strategies and activities that best fit your students, your classroom, and you.
Some general recommendations for teachers of beginning readers and writers
Make personalized books and stories with the student’s name and photos. Alternatively, have him or her dictate a story and draw pictures, which an adult can then transcribe and bind with a cover.
Increase print awareness by asking your student to look for everything he/she can find with writing (i.e. McDonald’s sign, labels, and packages).
Provide multisensory experiences for students related to each book that they read, such as using stories and coloring pages (available with a story teller guide).
Choose rhyming books with high repetition of words and phrases.
Dramatically pause to allow students to fill in the refrain as you are reading.
Play sound matching games. For example, say, “Let’s think of as many things as we can that start with Mmmm.” Your student might say “Mouse, moo, milk.” If your student has difficulty, give him or her clues. Say: “We drink mmmmm.” Wait two seconds and then provide the answer (“milk”).
Increase the repertoire of shapes your student draws to include circles, triangles, squares, and various facial features, such as eyes and a mouth.
Increase the repertoire of letters your student writes to include all the letters in the alphabet and numbers up to 10.
Guide your student’s drawing and writing by placing your hand on top of his or her hand. Gradually fade the level of assistance.
During times when other students are independently working on class work, the student should have the option to work in a study carrel with headphones to eliminate distractions.
Allow extra time to complete tests.
Provide a regular study buddy whom the student sits next to in class.
Give “THINK TIME” before answering a question. This can be done by presenting a question and then pausing or by coming back to the student after a little while and repeating the question. Alternatively, have multiple students answer the same question. In this way, several models are provided.
Provide opportunities for writing and spelling every day, in a variety of formats, such as writing in a journal, sending an email, writing or copying a list of homework activities, writing on a large wall calendar, writing thank you letters, or archiving items in a collection.
Explicitly teach organization and planning skills for completing and tracking homework. Instruct students how to break down large projects into smaller tasks.
Improve word retrieval for naming through participation in one or more of these games: Scattegories, Taboo, Guesstures, Password, Scrabble, logic puzzles, rebus puzzles, Catch-Phrase, UpWords, Tribond, Plexers, crosswords and other word puzzles.
Give manipulatives (things to touch and move around) whenever possible to work on math related to time, money, or fractions.
Explicitly and systematically teach math to students with dyslexia (including models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review). Dyslexia and Mathematics Second Edition edited by T. R. Miles and Elaine Miles, 1992, and The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Guide for Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for Elementary and Middle Schools provide more information.
Recommendations to support reading comprehension and fluency for classroom materials
Preview the title, pictures, chapter names, and bold-faced words in order to make a prediction.
Connect new information to previously learned information by talking about a personal experience related to the theme.
Verbalize or write questions prior to reading the text.
Discuss reading schemas for different types of textbooks (i.e. compare math and history). Highlight salient information that each genre addresses. Visual webs are useful for the student to preview and complete as they encounter key information.
Pre-teach key vocabulary for a particular unit or chapter before introducing the text.
Pre-teach themes or background information (i.e. historical context) for reading fiction.
Explicitly teach “how to use” the table of contents, glossary, index, headings, sidebars, charts, captions, and review questions in a text book.
Provide a set of textbooks for the student to take home and to highlight.
Assign class readings a week ahead of time for students to preview. This will improve attention and comprehension.
Provide audio recordings for the student to use while reading the text.
Books on tape and audio equipment may be obtained, free of charge, through the National Library Service .A large range of books are already scanned and available for free through Bookshare .
Give the student a choice of what to read within selected genres, topics, and themes. High interest reading facilitates comprehension and reading for pleasure. In addition to classroom learning, the “curriculum” should cultivate the students’ interests and strengths (both in and outside of the classroom). The Time on My Hands and Affinities checklists at All Kinds of Minds  may be helpful in guiding the student to high-interest reading materials.
Make texts at a variety of reading levels available so that students can read fluently but also be slightly challenged (the appropriate instructional level).
Allow the student to use text-to-speech software for information on the computer. This may be established by setting preferences on a Macintosh computer.
Text-to-speech software is available through a free trial over at CNET .
A scanner with OCR (optical character recognition) may be used to scan textbooks onto the
Model self-monitoring skills with the following questions: “Does what I’m reading make sense?” “What do I think will happen next?” “Are there any words that I don’t know?” “Can I figure out what the words mean from the sentences around them?”
Encourage sub-vocalization of the text and self-monitoring questions.
Model active engagement with the text through visualization of the scene (i.e. trying to make a “photograph” of the word in his/her mind’s eye while enhancing visual features), highlighting, note taking, or jotting down a question.
Train students to silently read at various rates depending on the purpose; for example, skimming to find a particular term or to get the main idea or gist vs. reading more carefully for directions or comprehension of key concept.
Encourage multiple readings of a text.
Provide templates for students to jot down notes and key concepts as they read (i.e. a story line, visual web, or list of WH-questions).
If a student is reading a chapter book or novel, one template should be completed for each scene or chapter.
Pre-made templates are available for free at Inspiration Software . These can be customized as well. Many teachers have made their Inspiration units/lessons available on the web.
Bolster comprehension of idioms and more abstract language through reading the scripts of everyday conversations on Randall’s Listening Lab . Students can listen to the conversation as they read. Key vocabulary is highlighted and defined.
Supporting vocabulary while reading
1. Log unfamiliar words in a personal dictionary that includes the sentence that contains the word, page number, a guess about the meaning, the pronunciation, a dictionary definition, and a new sentence using the word.
Improve vocabulary for written and verbal expression by forming associations between words, paraphrasing, and elaborating on an idea.
Teach prefixes, suffixes, and root words to students to improve spelling, decoding, and comprehension.
Give ample opportunities to practice writing target words. The student might be asked to say them, or use them in sentences or a story.
Look up unfamiliar words with an electronic speller that has speech output (such as the Franklin Speller) or a web-based dictionary. For example, Dictionary.com  provides the pronunciation and definition of a word.
Verbalize or write the answers to the pre-reading questions and share the answers with a friend or family member.
Compose an alternative ending for the story or write a sequel.
Act out key scenes from a text or give “How To” demonstrations for kinesthetic learners.
Challenge students to draw inferences from the text (i.e. "How do you think the main character feels?" "Do you think it will be harder to stop a heavier or lighter object traveling at the same velocity?").
Increase reading fluency through a “reading apprenticeship” incorporating the following elements: a. Models of fluent reading.
b. Repetition of the same passage, until reading is fluent.
c. Dramatic readings (i.e. skits, poetry, and speeches).
d. Regular tracking and graphing of reading rate and fluency.
See Read Naturally  for a systematic program that incorporates choral reading (reading at the same time as a fluent reader), repetitions, and tracking of reading fluency.
For more information on reading apprenticeships, see The Fluent Reader: Oral Reading Strategies for Building Word Recognition, Fluency, and Comprehension, by Timothy Rasinski.
Supporting comprehension of written directions
Present less written material per page with no more than two directions in a sentence. Double spacing and bullets or numbers are also helpful.
Provide additional time to take tests.
Assist the student in breaking apart the written directions into smaller steps.
Check for comprehension of the directions.
Both auditory and written instructions should be provided.
Sub-rehearse (quietly or silently repeating) the directions to keep them in working memory long enough to complete them.
Recommendations to support writing in school
Increase phonetic spelling of unfamiliar words by counting the number of sounds in a word, and then correlating the sounds with letters.
Explicitly teach phonics rules and review them multiple times.
Provide a disproportionate amount of positive feedback for writing (relative to correction). Students should be praised for words that are spelled phonetically and accurately.
Use Kidspiration , Inspiration  or other webbing strategies for planning.
Institute delays that require the student to wait 5 minutes before starting a writing task. The student
should be instructed to spend those 5 minutes planning.
Explicitly teach the elements of writing narratives or essays.
Brainstorm key vocabulary prior to writing.
Provide a focused spelling program such as Spellography  to work on learning specific morphological, semantic and mental orthographic spelling rules.
Group words into word families with multiple exemplars of each phonetic pattern.
Provide models of “good essays” for struggling writers to use as a template.
Dictate stories with an audio recording or dictation software.
Emphasize the need to write in “stages” rather than completing a long narrative in one sitting. The stages should include: planning, writing, and revision.
Teach mnemonic devices for editing such as: SCOPE (spelling, organization, order of words, punctuation, and expresses a complete thought)
Instruct students to create an alternate ending for a familiar story, make a modern day story historic, or create a comic strip of two of the characters having a conversation.
Use word prediction software such as Co:Writer  for improving spelling and complex sentence structure.
Text-to-speech software  and word processing should be available for editing written work.
Encourage students to keep a journal. To increase motivation, visual images should be added to each page (i.e. “things found” throughout the day: maps, photos, or clippings from a magazine or the internet).
Improve penmanship with a larger pen or pencil grip and raised-line paper.
Practice handwriting using the following low-tech strategies: pencil grips, paper with raised lines  and a slant board.
Recommendations for students with visual deficits
Encourage students to use a line guide as he/she is reading, to avoid skipping lines.
Use cut-out window for completing math worksheets.
Give visual pictures for commonly reversed or flipped letters: (i.e. “Which way does the “b”/ “d” go in “bed?”).
Utilize a highlighter for key words, concepts, and/or directions when presented with written material.
Give visual images to associate with problematic sounds such as “short a” and “e” (i.e. Does the “e” in “bed” sound like a “short e” in “elephant” or a “long e” in “eagle?" "Does the “a” in “angel” sound like the “short a” in “alligator” or the “long a” in “ape?”).
Encourage students to keep a copy of a “letter shaping card” in his/her school supplies and homework supplies for an easy reference.
For additional information, download our document below, which summarizes teaching tips from Tutor House. Also download MindShift's PDF, Teachers' Guide to Using Videos.
Read How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory  and How to Hold Onto a Kid’s Natural Genius  for even more ideas.
Source URL: http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/professionals/dyslexia-school/strategies-for-teachersLinks:
 http://www.therapro.com/Browse-Category/Raised-Line-Learning-Papers_2/First-Grade-Practice-Paper- Raised-Line_3.html
 http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/sites/default/files/Tutor House Teaching Tips.pdf
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