Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since 1991. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process.

I serve Northern Nevada for nine months of the year (August-May), and during summers, I hire myself out to school districts around the country.

If you would like to check my availability for the summer of 2014, please contact me at my e-mail address.

 

Always
Write

 
       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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resources from one of my favorite teacher-workshops: Writing Across the Curriculum & Exit Tickets

My license tells me I am a language arts and computer teacher, but I purposely identify myself as a writing teacher and a critical thinking teacher when I am asked. Secondary teachers identify themselves by their content specialty--math, science, language arts, history, health, P.E., etc.--but I try not to do that anymore. I think every teachers' job is to know their content and to teach critical thinking skills about that content. After presenting my Writing Across the Curriculum and Exit Ticket Workshop, I challenge teachers to somehow add critical thinking teacher to their job title.

Here's a little secret about writing, if you want to know why every teacher should explicitly teach it as a skill to their students: it's the best evidence of critical thinking that you'll ever receive from them.

Worksheets and those questions at the end of the chapter require almost no critical thinking; they simply ask students to locate information, copy it down, and promptly forget the information. Let's just admit to ourselves that these are short-term memory, regurgitation tools, and they've remained popular because they keep kids busy and relatively quiet.

And when we assign reports and projects but do not explicitly teach our students to summarize (instead of copy) information from sources, then we're doing little more than teaching skills that will someday become plagiarizing.

My Writing Across the Curriculum and Exit Ticket Workshop demonstrates what critical thinking looks and sounds like when writing is used well in all content areas. My workshop provides lesson-building tools and instructional formats that help even the most-resistant-to-writing teacher see the value in teaching students to write as a way to show that learning has occurred. We learn to design instruction where students write but cannot plagiarize.

I am so very passionate that every teacher should be using writing as a thinking tool. In order for that to happen, writing strategies must be explicitly taught in every classroom. On this page, I freely share a few of the resources from my one-day and two-day versions of this popular workshop.

Can't attend my Writing Across the Curriculum Workshop?

I recently began selling my presentation materials. Visit my products page to learn what materials from this workshop I sell.

Looking for a trainer for your school or district?

Between June and August, I am available for hire for two- and three-day workshops outside of Northern Nevada. Click here to learn about hiring me.

Mentor Texts that influence my Writing Across the Curriculum techniques:

If you appreciate the lessons I am freely posting here at my website, kindly consider using the links below to purchase the mentor texts I am recommending; a very small percentage of each sale from Amazon helps me keep this website free and on-line for all to use. Thanks in advance in helping me out!


51 Wacky We-Search Reports by Barry Lane



A Sampling of Resources from this 1- or 2-Day Workshop:
provided to give you a glimpse of what we learn about in this professional development experience

I. Remembering Traditional Writing Across the Curriculum Experiences

I suspect every teacher knows what it's like to receive writing from a student that feels--maybe not plagiarized--but certainly regurgitated.

In fourth grade, my teacher--Mr. Borilla (pictured at right)--assigned us a two-page report on a president of our choice. Two pages and an original picture...that was his assignment.

Mr. Borilla wheeled in a cart of encyclopedias from the school library and told us to write about what we learned while reading from them. Now, I was one of Mr. Borilla's best creative writers, but this writing task baffled me; I didn't know how to do it. I ended up with a report of piece-mealed, mostly copied sentences from the encyclopedia's voiceless article about Thomas Jefferson.

To this day, I am sure the only fact about Thomas Jefferson I retained from that two-week project in fourth grade was that T. J. was the first president who actually lived in what's now known as the modern day White House. Why is that the one fact you remember? you might ask. Well, it's because that was what I drew a picture of for my required illustration for the report.

Basically, I ended up with an illustration and two pages of copied writing that taught me almost nothing about my topic. Amazingly, I earned a B on that report. Mr. Borilla told me my handwriting should have been neater, and that I might have used a ruler when drawing my picture of Mr. Jefferson watering tulips in front of his columned white house.

Here's the truth: Mr. Borilla was actually the best teacher I ever had (click here to see my on-line dedication to him), but his president report-writing unit needed some serious work. Mr. Borilla did what a lot of teachers did back then, and still do (to some degree) today; he assigned us to do summary writing without ever showing us how to summarize.

Assigning a written product (like a report) without first teaching a writing skill (like putting research into your own words) is just not a valuable writing across the curriculum lesson.

At this point in my workshop, I ask teachers to share a memory of a time they were assigned to write a product but weren't taught enough skills to do the writing well.



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II. Comparing Traditional and Not-So-Traditional Report Writing

I hand out three pieces of writing early on in training. This handout includes a fourth grader's paragraph about bats, a fifth grader's report on Argentina, and an explanation of the Big Bang Theory from a sixth grader.

I ask the teachers, "Which student has learned the most about the content?" And "Which student demonstrates the best skills as a writer?"

There's always some debate about which student--Dante or Wittekin--has learned the most about content and demonstrates strong writing. There's never a question about which student has learned the least. That fifth grade report (by Dena) is actually my wife's fifth grade report, which always makes everyone laugh that I have such a things and show it off! To assure my participants this wasn't her best piece of writing from school, Dena demands that I show her 6th grade prize-winning poem, Summertime Magic. Usually, I remember to show the poem too!

Looking again at the three examples, I ask, "Which type of writing would you prefer to receive from your students?" And "Which type of writing would be the most enjoyable to assess?" The discussion that follows sets the stage for the rest of my workshop, whose goal is to show that writing across the curriculum assignments can be both creative and useful.

 



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III. Exploring Creativity and Writing Across the Curriculum Lessons

I believe report-writing is important. Students absolutely do need to learn to write formal reports in school, but the best writing across the curriculum lessons are much smaller than a formal report...and they can be very creative in nature.

Barry Lane's awesome book, 51 Wacky We-Search Reports: Face the Facts with Fun, taught me so much about adding fun to my W.A.C. assignments. When I teach this workshop in Northern Nevada, I always ask for an allowance to purchase this book for the class's participants. If you are bringing me to your district to present this workshop, you should consider purchasing this book for your participants too; it's cheap and it's eye-opening to teachers from all content areas.

At WritingFix, Barry has allowed us to share four of the book's fifty-one ideas. Click here to access the page where those free samples are stored.

Barry's book taught me to think outside of the box when designing writing lessons. It had never occurred to me that a recipe could be a writing assignment...or a wanted poster...or a report card...or an imaginary photo album.

To prove that anything with writing on it can convey learned information, I have my teachers read "Ordeal by Cheque." I remember reading this unusual "short story" in college and had forgotten about it completely until I started using 51 Wacky We Search Reports; it's can be found in many places on-line. The teachers completely enjoy deciphering this story together. Inevitably the teachers in my workshop ask, "So did the story (from 'Ordeal by Cheque') ever get written down in a way so that we'd know what happened for sure what happened to the characters?"

When they ask this, I respond with, "Sometimes school isn't about having the right answer; sometimes it's about having a good group conversation that explores many interesting possibilities." The word research is purposely written as we-search on Barry's book; good writing instruction goes hand-in-hand with quality group discussion prompts.

One of my workshop participants--elementary teacher Kathy McCormick--saw so much possibility in the "Ordeal By Cheque" format, that she translated it into a writing assignment, which you can access by clicking here. Kathy designed the assignment to be an alternative to the traditional "What I did over summer vacation" assignment.



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IV. Inspiring Original Wacky We-Search Formats

Outside my cubicle hangs a poster that a colleague bought me when she learned that I was a huge fan of "The Simpsons." Each episode of the show, as you may or may not know, begins with a scene of Bart writing (and re-writing) an "I will not..." statement on the chalkboard about some rule he has obviously broken at school. Each episode begins with a new "I will not..." statement. The poster I have is a collection of some of his funniest ones from over the years.

As I personally explored the idea that anything might become a creative and useful writing assignment, I kept looking at this poster. An original idea hatched, and I found myself creating an original Wacky We-Search Report. Barry's book has fifty-one original ideas; I had created number fifty-two!

My Wacky I Will Not... Chalkboard assignment, which I share with my workshop participants, can be accessed by clicking here. It comes complete with an example that I created based on this list of facts about giraffes.

I have the teachers in my workshop work together to create I Will Not... Chalkboards based on this list of facts about jellyfish (example at right).

I challenge my workshop participants that a healthy exercise I will be asking of them is to work with others to create another original Wacky We-Search Report to use with their students. Below are three models that were created by teachers attending this workshop.



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V. Teaching Summarizing as Part of Writing Across the Curriculum

I don't believe we teach our students to summarize as well as we could. Students regurgitate well, and I suspect many think that's all what we want them to do when we say, "Write about what we've learned today."

At this point of the workshop, we do an exercise in oral summarization. I pass out this list of facts about humpback whales. Participants read the list silently, then select five facts that they were the most interested in from the set of facts. I inform them they will soon return the list of facts to me, and later I will ask them to discuss the facts with others. They usually ask for a few minutes madly memorize several facts for that future discussion.

I take the facts away and, later, I have them move and sit with a partner. They go back and forth using this sentence frame: "I thought ____________ was an interesting fact because __________."

Now they switch partners, and I have them use this sentence frame: "I was just partnered with __________ who thought _____________ was an interesting fact about whales because ___________."

We return to our original seats where they rate (from 1 to 5) their ability to talk intelligently about humpback whale facts without needing the original list in front of them

Now, the tables draft and publish a group Wacky We-Search report from Barry's book. Their topic is the humpback whale, but I do not return the fact sheets; they must depend upon their oral summarization discussions (and their memories) to create a poster. For my workshop, I allow them to choose one of the following two formats: The Wacky Report Card or The Wacky Wanted Poster.


At left is an example humpback whale report card created by workshop participants. Click on image to enlarge it.

At this point , we come back to my original Mr. Borilla and the encyclopedia cart story. We all agree that exercises--like creating Wacky Report Cards for a topic of study--teach us how to summarize. Had Mr. Borilla required us to make report cards for our presidents before writing, we a) would have learned to summarize and b) could have been taught to use our report cards to organize the actual report.

It takes a little longer to explicitly teach a skill like summarization. The goal of my workshop is for teachers to see the value of investing that time early on.



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VI. The Power of Great Mentor Texts when Designing Writing Across the Curriculum Lessons

As part of most of my Writing Across the Curriculum Workshops, I feature a discussion on the power of using a mentor text to inspire student writers.

A mentor text, by my definition, is a published piece of writing whose idea, whose structure, or whose writing style can be used to inspire students before they write in class. In my Seven Elements of a Crafted Writing Lesson training, mentor texts are one of the seven elements that help differentiate great writing lessons from ones that are simply good.

There are fantastic mentor texts for math, science, and history available, and we explore some of my favorite titles and talk about how these titles might inspire original writing across the curriculum from students.

My colleague and friend, Holly Young, is an amazing writing teacher. She also teaches critical thinking. She also teaches math.

Holly has been building a mentor text-inspired collection of lessons at the WritingFix website: NumberFix. There are some amazing lessons and prompts posted at NumberFix that teach writing and critical thinking skills during math instruction.

Holly once asked me what my three favorite mentor texts for math are. At right, you'll see my answer.


12 Ways to Get to 11
by Eve Merriam

Math Curse
by Jon Scieszka

A Very Improbable Story
by Edward Einhorn

Another colleague and friend, Yvette Deighton, is an amazing writing teacher too. She also teaches critical thinking and literacy skills during her high school science lessons.

Inspired by Holly, Yvette has also building a mentor text-inspired collection of lessons at the WritingFix website: ScienceFix. There are some clever lessons and prompts posted here that teach writing and critical thinking skills during science instruction.

Yvette also asked me to commit to three favorite mentor texts for science. At right, you'll see the answer I gave her.


Science Verse
by Jon Scieszka

Water Dance
by Thomas Locker

The Salamander Room
by Anne Mazer

And there's the colleague who inspired us all. Denise Boswell is an award-winning, amazing writing teacher. Guess what, she also teaches critical thinking during history instruction.

Denise's HistoryFix webpage was the very first "sister site" created for WritingFix. It contains dozens and dozens of history lessons that are inspired by rich and well-written mentor texts, from authors who love history as much as Denise does.

Denise has never asked me what my three favorite mentor texts would be for history, but if she ever does, I have my answer at the ready.


S is For Silver
by Eleanor Coerr

Now & Ben
by Gene Barretta

VII. Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum: A Logical Starting Place for All Teachers

"Where do I begin?" is the question I receive the most from teachers who've never explicitly taken time to teach writing skills to their students. My answer has almost always been "With Exit Tickets."

An Exit Ticket is a short response to learning that a student writes at the end of a lesson. With secondary students, I suggest exit ticket responses either be a) about five sentences or b) shorter, if the student is asked to think creatively or abstractly about the content that's been presented. During my workshop, teachers often cite "Exit Tickets" as the most useful thing we learned about during our time together.

If you bring me to your district to present my Writing Across the Curriculum Teacher Workshop, I will share my PowerPoint and training packet used during this portion of the training. If you cannot attend my workshop but are interested in a solid place to begin teaching writing across the curriculum, I invite you to look at the offer below.

If you cannot attend my writing across the curriculum workshop, you can now purchase my
Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum Presentation Materials

Price: $9.50

Exit Tickets are a technique that I have been using for years, and they involve a simple process: at the beginning of a lesson, students are introduced to an inquiry question that they will be expected to answer at lesson's end; the lesson is taught; the students write a thoughtful paragraph--or Exit Ticket--as they leave class; teachers then use the collected Exit Tickets as a quick formative assessment to gauge the need to re-teach a concept or to move on to the next one. It's a simple but effective use of writing across the curriculum, and it builds stronger writing and thinking skills.

For many years now, I have been helping the schools I work with see the value of--what I have come to call--Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum. I genuinely believe if every teacher in a middle or high school required just one Exit Ticket per week from every student, and if they taught their students to write better and better Exit Tickets over time, the repeated exposure to writing and writing skills would create students who could think deeper and better about content. The schools where I have worked that implemented the practice consistently have seen a huge difference in students who can create better writing that shows depth of thinking.

I have now presented my Exit Ticket workshop over thirty times well-over a thousand teachers, and I feel confident that it is one of the best set of materials I have ever created on writing across the curriculum. The Exit Ticket portion of my workshop focuses on three topics: 1) crafting high-quality Exit Ticket questions; 2) choosing a format for Exit Tickets (I present four options) that works for different classrooms; 3) assessing Exit Tickets and responding to the data.

I now offer for sale--to teachers administrators, or professional developers--my 22-page packet of Exit Ticket materials and the 20-slide PowerPoint show that I use during my workshop on this topic. Purchase of these materials allows you to use them in your own classroom or present them to groups of teachers you are working with. If you have questions about this product, do not hesitate to contact me at corbett@corbettharrison.com.

Click here for information on purchasing this 4-hour workshop's materials and self-paced resources.


But if you'd rather have me come present this workshop live in your district...

...well, first of all, thank you! I do pride myself on being a dynamic workshop presenter and facilitator, and I know having me in the room for real is much better than just having my presentation materials.

Between June and August, I make myself available to be hired by districts outside of Northern Nevada, which is where I call home and maintain a teaching contract during the traditional school year. If your district or school is interested in having me come do a two-day workshop on one or two of my training topics, please visit my presenter information page to learn how to start the process of making that happen.


I hope you have enjoyed and learned from any materials I have presented on this page.

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