Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer since 1998. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction techniques. I also focus on critical thinking skills, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my writing instruction even more, and this website is where I post my most successful new ideas.

I have been on hiatus from doing out-of-state teacher trainings recently for two reasons: 1) I'm writng a book on teaching writing, and 2) I'm preparing to retire from the classroom at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Beginning in the summer of 2019, I will be available once again to train teachers your school or district if you would like to hire me. You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates starting in June of 2019, please contact me at this e-mail address.

 

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I've been developing some new classroom techniques for our Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook routine. Doing so has inspired Dena and me to start our own Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook (INN), which documents things we learn that fascinate us while serving as an example we can share with our own students. We've now been adding to it since July of 2017, and we've decided we will be sharing six of our favorite techniques between January and June as our "Lessons of the Month" in 2018. These will be shorter, more visual write-ups because I am working on a book while still managing to post these monthly lessons.

an interactive, non-fiction notebook challenge for student researchers
Odd Tweets and Texts

after sharing your most interesting facts from the research in the form of a texts, Tweets or Instagrams, design a challenge for a classmate to prove they understood what you've presented to them

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How does using a text or Tweet or Instagram require me to put others' research into my own words when I report on the facts on my Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook page?
  • What other technological applications exist out there that might help me design an Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook page for class?
  • What "voice" sounds best when I read my texts or Tweets aloud to a small group or partner? How does my writing affect the voice I find in my writing?
  • (Advanced Learners): How can I add an interactive element to my notebook page so that my audience actively participates when I share my page with them?

What's an Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook (INN) Assignment? When we are studying a new piece of fact-driven content, I often assign my students to add one or two new pages in their Interactive Non-Fiction Notebooks. These composition books' pages are researched, planned, drafted, polished, and presented to two or three other students on a special day we set aside, and usually we can get through the process of making and sharing these in 2-3 days. I try to provide a menu of ideas for students to use when designing an interactive non-fiction notebook page (a page of texts or Tweets is certainly one of the items on my classroom menu of choices), but ultimately I want my students to create their own ideas for interesting ways to present information they've learned about a topic of study. We teach a lot of concept attainment in traditional schools, but I don't see enough teaching that pushes the students to a place where they are encouraged to create their own conceptual ideas. That's what I aim for: I want my students to create their own concepts with which they can explain their learning to an audience or to me, their teacher.

When I assign an Interactive Non-fiction Notebook page, on the final copy that is actually presented in small groups and to me, I expect to find and assess the quality of the following:

  • facts the student has decided are worth remembering that have been recorded in a way that others can read them and understand them;
  • facts that are written completely in the student's own words;
  • personal reactions/responses/connections to content that can be pointed out and explained when shared in a small group;
  • (required for my advanced learners) an interactive element--like a quiz, riddle, game, active listening task--the audience is made aware of so they can participate fully when the page is shared in small groups or with partners.

I know there are times when it's appropriate to simply have students take lots of notes on lots of content, and I accept that, but when I am playing the role of writing teacher, I can devise ways for students to use notes and highlighted ideas from content and create something that helps them think more conceptually or thematically about certain topics through these interactive non-fiction notebook pages. I ask participants in my teacher-workshops and college classes, "Is this content you want to go deep with, or can you get away with just covering the surface?" When they say it's content they'd rather go "deep" with when teaching, we start thinking about the possibility of assigning an INN page.

We don't always use our Interactive Non-Fiction Notebooks (INNs) when we learn new content, but when we do, my students know they're to do two things: 1) learn the content that truly interests them deeply; 2) reflect on that content personally to create a unique way to share what was learned on the page each student designs for the notebook.

Ever-changing Technology: I earned a Masters Degree in Educational Technology way back in 1999; I was a member of a very small group of students who became the initial group to complete this newly-available Masters program of study. I had fun earning that degree, but I remember learning lots of software for that Masters that doesn't even exist today. Over the years, I have written to receive thousands and thousands of dollars in technology-based grant monies for both my classroom or for the programs where I have served as leader. I always smile, thinking about the technological equipment we bought with those hard-earned dollars that's completely obsolete by now. Technology changes too fast.

And yet...technology drives our students' interest and collective attention span. We have to use its existence to our advantage as educators or we will be seen as obsolete by our students more and more as the future arrives and we deny it.

Technology equipment as well as technology applications change too fast, if you ask me. Anyone remember or still maintain their MySpace page? Someday, and actually this is already true, we will say, "I remember in the olden days when Tweets could only be 140 characters." I personally don't think texts are going to go away anytime soon, but I think Tweets will have a limited life span; something else will replace them, and we risk the chance of being pointed at by our hipper students and laughed at if we use the lesson below during a futuristic time when Tweets are about as cool as MySpace used to be...or tried to be. My message here: adapt these classroom writing ideas to match the modern day technology apps that would ask your students to do some writing; I'm not going to update these lessons after I retire, so those adaptations and new technology applications will need to be demonstrated by you.

Mentor texts that will set a tech-y mood:

Nerdy Bird Tweets
by Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies


Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting!

by Tommy Greenwald

Dena's mentor text for Instagram sample:

Once a Hero: The Story or Private Wojtek Bear by James A. Cutchin

Below, Dena and I happily demonstrate three technologies we've recently imitated in our own INN that we keep to share with our students:

  • Text messages from a person/place/thing that has been researched.
  • 140-character Tweets from a person/place/thing that has been researched--with clever hashtags attached
  • An Instagram feed for persons/places/things that share a relationship that has been researched.

The three brief write-ups below contain teacher-made examples from the INN Dena and I are creating. We are a couple of writing teachers who have resolved to use this technique throughout 2018. I hope these examples inspire not only INN assignments from your students, but I also hope you can translate the idea into stand-alone assignments that can decorate walls and hallways.

Idea #1...Text messages from a researched person/place/thing/idea: Another possible EQ...How can I use texting "voice" and texting abbreviations to summarize and communicate the most important facts about my research topic?

Last year, Dena and I created this camera phone template (It's a Word document) that could be combined with one's own pictures camera phone pictures, printed and trimmed, taped/glued in a writer's notebook, and used as an inspiration for personal writing. You can access our entire Camera Phone Pix lesson write-up by clicking on the provided link. I even made this YouTube video to show how to manipulate your photos within the template.

I taught a new online recertification class to some fellow teachers recently, and I asked the teachers to create and post INN pages to show me they had processed and personally connected to the content of the week of my course. Attempting to be a good teacher, I provided my participants some broad conceptual ideas on which to base their weekly additions to their Interactive Non-fiction Notebooks. I suggested "Technology Tools" as the theme of the week, and the example I showed them was my "Texts from an Earwig" page that I had recently researched and created. I had discovered a surprising amount of earwigs in my vegetable garden as I was preparing it for the winter ahead, you see.

To create the text-ready visual of my topic (an earwig in a camera phone) for my INN page, I used the very template mentioned in the first paragraph of this section of this page and its write-up. I found an image of an earwig with nasty pincers and cropped it to fit inside the template's phone. To create the texts, I used the "insert shape" function in Microsoft Word, choose the box with the arrow coming out of it, and I typed the texts and then printed them. The texts contain facts I learned while researching my topic. In the example texts I share here, you can see I turned my texting earwig into a "quiz show host," and the texts became interactive because there was a hidden answer to share when I present this page to others.

I'm just going to admit up front that I'm not much of a texter. My wife receives 90% of all texts I personally send, and most of them ask, "Are you home yet?" I don't even know enough about texting to write it out as "R U home yet?" I tell you this because my texts aren't very good; they're the texts of a fifty-year-old man who hardly texts. In the hands of a student writer/researcher who really texts, I see a lot of potential for students to personalize their pages with their texting skills. So if you show your students my earwig example to inspire them, please challenge them to make their example much better than mine.

To see my whole page of earwig texts, click the image below, which also comes with my "Tweets from an Aphid" page that is described below this full-page picture.


Click image to see see really large version of notebook page that can be magnified. Forgive my typo or two!

Idea #2...140-Character Tweets from a researched person/place/thing/idea: A possible Essential Question...How does limiting my number of characters change the way I think about composing my ideas into 'Tweets'?

To complete this technology-inspired assignment, you do NOT need to have a Twitter account; neither do your students. To count your characters in a sentence or chunk of text you've typed, you can easily use the "Word Count" feature in Microsoft Word by 1) highlighting the text you want counted, 2) selecting "Review" from the word menu bar up top while you're in Word, 3) selecting the "Word Count" feature, and 4) use the "Characters (with spaces)" number because that's what Twitter would do--it counts your spaces.

On November 7, 2017, Twitter changed its 12.5-year policy and expanded the limit of characters you can use in a Tweet from 140 to 280. You can decide to require whatever number of characters you want for this assignment. You're the teacher, after all, but make sure the writing task feels relevant and authentic to your students when you assign it.

Me? I allow the students only 140 characters per Tweet, but they can add as many #hashtags afterwards that they wish to use. That's become my compromise--Twitter would count your hashtags as extra characters.

For my example at right, I continued with my theme of "Bugs I found in my garden in 2017 that I want the knowledge to deal with in 2018." This time, I researched the aphids that kept going after my roses and some of my other backyard flowers.

If you have Microsoft Word, here is the Tweet template I created and happily share. My full-page example has ten different Tweets because that's what I could fit on the template when I made it, but I can imagine using this idea with learning tasks where one Tweet would be appropriate from each student/group, or five Tweets as part of a book report assignment. Adapt the lesson to fit your purpose and your time-frame.

Differentiation Ideas: When I shared the original two technology tasks as suggested ideas with my own students, I purposely made one task (the Tweets) a bit more challenging than the other (the texts). It simply took more writing skill to create the Tweets than it did to create the texts. I had more restrictions with the Tweet, but I also had the fun addition of adding a clever hashtag. I share this with you because I think it's important--if you're truly differentiating your own instruction--that you have challenges ready for your students who need an extra challenge, just as it's important to have scaffolding ready to go for your students who may need that during writing instruction. If you look at my two-page spread that shows the texts on the left and the Tweets on the right, you see the same objective happening (objective: summarizing research using a technology tool cleverly), but you see I have examples of two different-leveled tasks available to students. I find that an important thing to learn to do as one learns to differentiate.

Including the Interactive Challenge: The most important thing that happens with our INN pages is we eventually present them to each other in small groups. We share AND we actively listen while we share. To encourage more active listening, my students are required to include some sort of interactive element on their final INN page; the interactive element should give the audience members an active listening task. My students use riddles, they make quizzes, and they hide clues on their pages in order to engage their audience when they present what they've learned. I'll say it again: I believe this to be the most important step in the INN learning task, the "publishing" or sharing with an actual audience. To have students plan something interactive for an audience is a great way to boost your students' expectation to a much higher level of Bloom's taxonomy.

For my Tweet page's interactive challenge, I say to my audience, "After I share each Tweet, which will share an interesting fact or two, I'll share the #hashtag I also created, and you need to come up with a #hashtag that you think is just as or is more clever than mine. Ready?" And I start sharing. And my audience asks me questions about my "Tweeted facts." And I clarify what my hashtag means, if necessary. And then we end our discussion about my page with them trying to add to my page because of the interactive challenge I have given them. All in all, my work that I put into my INN page about both earwigs and aphids becomes the inspiration for a discussion among the students with whom I share it.

INN pages increase the student-centered-ness of my classroom. My students are creating pages to purposely share with each other.

Idea #3...Instagram Feed from a researched person/place/thing/idea: A possible Essential Question...How do I ensure I include enough information to properly caption my Instagrams to promote a lively discussion?

One night at dinner, Dena started telling me a story she'd overheard from the other teacher in a history class she was co-teaching. The story was about a bear cub that was adopted by Polish soldiers and who grew up and became a part of the unit of soldiers that had adopted it. The full-grown bear even learned to carry artillery shells and love the taste of a beer as a reward. This is the type of story Dena loves because it includes a tame animal, but she couldn't remember all of the details when I asked her some questions. After she did a little extra research, she shared the whole story with me.

I really don't use Instagram at all. I'm fifty, and I have too many other applications on my phone. That's just how I am. Dena, on the other hand, loves Instagram. We discussed the idea of Wojtek (the name of the Polish bear she'd researched) having his own Instagram feed. I asked her to create it so I could understand Instagram. She was actually excited by the challenge, and I imagine her students will be too when she brings this idea to them in 2018.

She started with Google and found this online template (FYI--this is an off-site link) and we worked together to create the fake Instagram for Wojtek the Soldier Bear. If you click on the image at right, you can see a larger version of this visual Dena created.

If you had Dena's INN page in front of you and you flipped over the Instagram image she has taped into her INN (it's taped on just one side so it can flip open), you will find several summarized facts that directly relate to the visual she crafted. Those facts are seen at left as a thumbnail. Click on the thumbnail to read what words Dena "hid" beneath her Instagram visual.

Interactive Element: At the bottom of her facts (at left), she invites her audience to create an additional #hashtag that would complement or better the #hashtag she had included on the visual.

Ultimately, Dena created four Instagram images from four different stages of Wojtek's life. Beneath each Instagram image, she has "hidden" several interesting facts that go with the picture. Each Instagram image comes with its own #hashtag challenge.

Dena is currently having her students design a different Instagram template than the one she found online in Google slides. She felt the template was a little too large, so check back with us for an possible update to the Instagram Template here at this webpage.

Below, I share Dena's Instagram Visuals as well as the information about Wojtek the Soldier Bear that she wrote up to underneath the visuals.

Dena's Instagram Feed for Wojtek the Polish Bear Soldier

______________________________________________________________________________________________

If your students like the idea of using a current technology tool to inspire writing on a notebook page, I would love to see you post a picture/scan of their writing at this posting link: Better still, if your students invent a new way to uniquely inspire writing in their writer's notebooks, we want to hear about it: corbett@corbettharrison.com

 


from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Six Idea-Generating INN Ideas
An Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook (INN) requires students to use interesting true facts they've learned as they create a unique or thematic way to present the information to fellow students. If used well, INNs can help you up the student-centeredness of your classroom.

This resource page features one of the freely posted ideas we share with our fellow writing teachers. We hope this page's idea inspires the establishment of a writer's notebook routine in your classroom.

If you're a teacher who is just getting started with classroom writer's notebooks, welcome aboard. We fund this website--Always Write--by selling just a few of our products from our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Before buying, kindly take advantage of the free preview materials we share so you know if the resources will work with your grade level and teaching style before you purchase the entire product.

Our FIRST Product!
Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:


-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
-- Free Preview of August & September --


-- short video about SWT & Bingo Cards --

Our MOST POPULAR Product!
365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

RheTURKical Triangle -- Lesson Link

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Mentor texts to inspire Vocabulary Collectors:

The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter


Boris Ate a Thesaurus
by Neil Steven Klayman

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

Never miss another FREE lesson! Join our Lesson of the Month email group here.

Notebook Mentor Texts that Inspire Student Writers:

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher


Marissa Moss's entire Amelia's Notebook series is great, and I have them all. My favorite titles include:


Notebook Know-How: Strategies for Writer's Notebooks by Aimee Buckner

 

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