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¡Escribir Como Estrellas!

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Engagement in writing requires students to rely on their experiences in listening, speaking, and reading. Teachers of English Language Learners (ELLs) must be able to differentiate between content knowledge and writing proficiency of their students. While some ELLs may have high levels of content knowledge, they may experience difficulty with composing their thoughts. Utilization of vocabulary, knowledge of idioms, spelling of words, placement of punctuation, and use of adjectives are all areas that can hinder appropriately written communication of ELLs. Students whose primary language is something other than English need opportunities for oral communication with teachers and peers who can serve as models. The oral exchange provides ELLs with support and feedback in expressing themselves effectively. Integrated learning experiences with listening, speaking, reading, and writing must be provided English Language Learners if they are to achieve mastery of the Writing Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).

¡Escribir como Estrellas! is a comprehensive, rigorous, relevant supplemental writing resource developed by Texas educators to integrate critical and creative thinking as well as focused reinforcement into writing instruction. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! addresses all Readiness and Supporting student expectations of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and is designed to develop and improve bilingual students’ composition, revision, and editing skills. With a unique emphasis on critical and creative thinking, students are empowered to extend and apply learning beyond the classroom. 

¡Escribir como Estrellas! units are aligned with the Reporting Categories as outlined on the Assessed Curriculum Document prepared by the Texas Education Agency (2010). ¡Escribir como Estrellas! also aligns with the STAAR™ Blueprint (TEA, 2010) as it includes narrative and expository composition instruction and practice as well as instruction and practice for the Revision TEKS (32%) and instruction and practice for the Editing TEKS (68%). Each unit includes activities that represent the STAAR requirements with components that support the writing process, develop the critical thinking skills needed for successful writing, and provide effective instruction and practice in order for students to master the revision and editing requirements.

Mentoring Minds supports bilingual students as they build competency in writing, mechanics, and composition. This stand-alone product has no English counterpart. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! is written for students whose primary language is Spanish.

The TEKS-based, multi-genre Student Edition is written in Spanish and is comprised of 15 writing units. Each unit includes grammar practice, one passage with revision questions, another passage with editing questions, and a writing prompt with a graphic organizer. Young (2012) stated that “revision and editing will be assessed separately, with increased focus on revision as students become more experienced and skilled writers.” She further noted that “revision is focused on effectiveness, i.e., strengthening/improving various aspects of a piece of writing: the introduction and conclusion, organization/progression, development, word choice, and sentences.” Young concluded that “Editing is focused on correctness (conventions): capitalization, punctuation, spelling, grammar, usage, and sentence boundaries (fragments and run-ons).” ¡Escribir como Estrellas! is designed to complement the requirements of the state writing assessments. A glossary is also included in the Student Edition of this product. The glossary serves as a vocabulary resource for students in order to develop an understanding of TEKS-based words and vocabulary appropriate to the activities within each writing unit. This supports content shared by Young (2012) as she stressed the importance of developing students’ academic language in support of content area achievement.

Student data from the 2011-2012 STAAR™ Fourth Grade Writing (TEA, 2012) demonstrate a range of scores. Fourth graders in Texas were given two prompts from which to compose two pieces, a personal narrative and an expository. Two scorers evaluated each student’s composition which could have resulted in eight points per composition for an overall total of sixteen composition points per student. The total students tested were 24,451. The released data from the personal narrative writing reveal 20% of students received a rating of 2; 12% of students received a rating of 3; 41% received a rating of 4; 13% received a rating of 5; 11% received a rating of 6; 1 % received a rating of 7; and, 1% received a rating of 8. Data from the expository composition show 20% of students received a rating of 2; 15% of students received a rating of 3;  37% received a rating of 4; 15% received a rating of 5; 11% received a rating of 6;  2% received a rating of 7; and, 1% received a rating of 8. According to Victoria Young (2012), Director of Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Assessment for the Texas Education Agency, there are several reasons for the lower range results. The following reasons indicate most likely why students scored in the lower range: weakly matched structure, weak or nonexistent central idea, repetition or wordiness; inclusion of many different ideas, vague use of language, and weak language conventions. Students who scored in the higher score range produced compositions with the following characteristics: strong match between form and purpose, explicit central idea, narrow and deep development, effective introduction and conclusion, specific use of language, and strong language conventions. As evidenced by these results, there appears to be a need for quality resources that support the implementation of writing instruction and show a strong potential for improving writing outcomes for students with or without writing difficulties. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! provides an essential framework that offers all students a model composition, critical thinking prompts that encourage narrow and deep thinking, and planning and drafting opportunities to structure student thoughts prior to composition of the written piece.

The Academic Readiness Spanish Summary Report of Grade 4 Writing (2012) from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) yielded results for revision and editing on the Fourth Grade STAAR™ Writing Assessment. There were a total of 9 revision multiple choice/selected response items. In the All Students category, the students answered 58% of the revision questions correctly or 5.2 average number of items. A total of 19 editing items were given. In the All Students category, the students answered 63% of the editing questions correctly or 11.9 average number of items. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! offers instructional support for revision and editing in the form of formative assessment opportunities for targeted TEKS: Correccción and Revisión. 

Resources appear to be needed to assist with the implementation of writing instruction that results in better writing outcomes for students with or without writing difficulties. Instructional materials that align to the TEKS, save teachers preparation time, and provide focused activities to advance skills in writing mechanics and writing composition are descriptors that define ¡Escribir como Estrellas!. Many English Language Learners (ELLs) are in difficult situations. While they may acquire conversational English that appears fluent, many ELL students take a longer period to develop Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). This means ELLs more than likely experience difficulty in academic areas of reading, writing, spelling, and other areas. Thus, ELLs need instructional and assessment materials in their primary language as English tests would not equitably measure their abilities. When ELLs are supported in learning a second language, they will have increased opportunities of performing better in school and growing up to be successful citizens (Roseberry-McKibbin & Brice, 2005). These reasons justify the development of ¡Escribir como Estrellas!.

Graham & Harris (2002) found that the quality of writing instruction received by students has an impact on writing achievement. Frequent and varied engagement opportunities are needed to compose meaningful text as well as devote time to direct instruction in writing skills and strategies (Westby & Costlow, 1991). Furthermore, the state accountability system and aforementioned state assessment scores serve as stimuli for the development of writing resources for teachers. With the emphasis on improved performance in the area of writing and with many other demands placed upon our schools, the search for products that reflect research recommendations and meet the accountability demands is prevalent.

Students build and acquire competency in two broad areas: writing mechanics and writing process. As students advance in grades, teachers must continue to place emphasis and use reinforcement on the mechanics in addition to process aspects of writing. Gallimore and Tharp (1999) recommend that students be provided with structures, questions, and organizational frameworks that offer support as new concepts are introduced. Studies show that writing processes mature over time rather than students memorizing examples of good writing and creating such compositions immediately. Cazden (1988) noted that writing examples provide the impetus from which students learn. Thus, acquisition of writing skills by students takes time to develop and strategies are continuously presented to students which help students think, participate, and learn to improve their individual writing. The skill pages in ¡Escribir como Estrellas! provide repeated opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery or comprehension of the skills. The two featured texts within every unit are also used to instruct and model personal narrative or expository unit composition and to teach targeted revision or editing skills in context, numbered sentences.

¡Escribir como Estrellas! guides students from teacher-directed work to independent work. Findings from studies indicate that student interest emerges and results in the interactions of the student with the writing content. Multiple and varied opportunities are present within the Student Edition of ¡Escribir como Estrellas! that engages students to develop the content. Teachers can also construct learning environments that heighten student interest. The way a student feels about subject content can affect the effort put into the task at hand and the learning outcome advocated Renninger and Hidi (2002). Studies show that students can feel positively about their writing through support from others. A number of studies indicate teachers can assist students in developing an interest to write (Renninger, 1992, 2000;   Renninger, Sansone, and Smith, 2004). Group work can result in a favorable effect on the interests of students to learn (Hidi, Weiss, Berndorff, and Nolan, 1998).  Research suggests that students increase motivation to write if the topics are of interest to them (Hidi and McLaren, 1990). ¡Escribir como Estrellas! applies these research findings while using content that is realistic and an array of topics that spark the varied interests of the students. Thus, ¡Escribir como Estrellas! reflects research findings to spark student interest, promote active student engagement, and improve writing performance.

Tomlinson (1999) and Hall, Strangman, and Meyer (2003) attest to the positive effects of differentiation. Differentiation is a process through which teachers enhance instruction by matching the characteristics of students to instruction and assessment although the students are accessing the same curriculum. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! reflects differentiation in several ways. Differentiation in grouping practices is evidenced through the opportunities provided for differing group formats, resulting in independent practice. Differentiation in product also occurs when students demonstrate the learning. Differentiation in terms of a student’s learning profile and in relation to product are present in ¡Escribir como Estrellas! as students are provided opportunities to engage in conversations with the teacher, brainstorm ideas independently and with peers, use graphic organizers, and write responses for compositions. Differentiation also occurs according to the interests of students. The passages are varied, including stories, poems, diaries, and informational texts which appeal to varied levels of student interests.

Research advocates teachers employ a variety of ways to assess the needs of their students. Stiggins and Conklin (1992) note that classroom assessments must be high-quality for instruction to be effective. In 1998, a review of empirical studies by two British researchers noted the benefits of well-planned classroom assessments.  Black and Wiliam (1998b) stated that when classroom assessments are used to adjust ongoing instruction, not only did the content appear to be learned better, but students seem to improve their performance on external achievement tests. Black and Wiliam (1998a) stated that all activities employed by teachers and students from which they could gather feedback to modify teaching and learning is formative assessment. Popham (2008) defines formative assessment as a process that students and teachers use during instruction (assessment for learning). The assessment feedback guides teachers to make adjustments during instruction and directs students how to improve their performance to reach the intended goals. Lewis (2002) shares how assessment for learning can improve performance. Teachers can study evidence from an assessment and then purposefully plan additional learning experiences based on what students have and have not learned. These findings support that more sound decisions are made based on assessments for learning as opposed to assessments of learning. Thus, ¡Escribir como Estrellas! offers several opportunities from which purposely planned assessment evidence can be garnered and used to adjust ongoing instruction.

¡Escribir como Estrellas! reflects regular informal means of assessing the students and then using the results to drive future instruction. Activities within the Student Edition may be used by students and teachers to gather input to gauge the learning and correct any misunderstandings. The skill practice pages Repaso, containing constructed-response questions, and the Corrección and Revisión pages, containing selected-response questions, are provided for guided and independent practice and to assess learning on the targeted revision and editing standards for each unit. In Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading, Marzano (2010) described three types of assessments, obtrusive, unobtrusive, and student generated. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! includes the first two as there are assessment opportunities that take place while instruction is and is not occurring. There are also several opportunities for assessment when students may not be aware that teachers are gathering information.  In all ¡Escribir como Estrellas! assessment opportunities, the evidence gathered may be used to adjust instruction. Therefore, the assessments are considered as formative in nature, meaning the assessments within the Student Edition may be used as input to gauge students’ learning, correct any misconceptions, and determine future instructional plans as well as improve student performance in writing.

Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of various planning and revising strategies in writing (Graham & Harris, 2005; Harris & Graham, 1996). Strategies that research found to have favorable results include teacher modeling, cooperative application of the strategy, and independent practice of the strategy. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! supports these findings by utilizing the research recommendations upon which to base the four components of each unit. Plan y desarrollo, or the two planning pages including the graphic organizer, in the fourth component, substantiates research findings by leading students to plan appropriately prior to the written composition. When instructing students who are learning English, it is essential to improve comprehension. Graphic organizers facilitate ELLs' comprehension through visual illustrations of vocabulary, ideas, and the interrelationship (Kim, Vaughn, Wanzek, & Wei, 2004). Graphic organizers are most beneficial to ELLs when presented in small group activities. During the activities, ELLs have the opportunity to work cooperatively, discussing and sharing their thoughts. During initial unit activities, the teacher can promote collaborative discussions to help students understand how organizers help to frame content prior to writing compositions. Eventually, the discussion scaffolding can be removed when students sufficiently acquire the skill of completing organizers; yet organizers remain as a strategy for students to use independently.

Research shows that graphic organizers are key to assisting students to improve academic performance (Egan, 1999). Ritchie and Karge (1996) share evidence that students who create visual displays of concepts are better able to comprehend the concepts. Fountas and Pinnell (2001) cite that when content is illustrated with diagrams, the information can be maintained by students over a period of time. Organizers portray knowledge in meaningful ways which help bring clarity to ideas as connections are made. Several studies noted that information is more easily learned and understood with visual organizers across different populations of students and in different content areas (Landorf & Lowenstein, 2004; Ellis, 2001; Hobbs, 2001; Dye, 2000; Carlson, 2000; Levine, 1995). Once students acquire the basic, yet solid foundation of a concept, then future content can be addressed at higher cognitive levels leading students to become more strategic learners. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! incorporates a variety of organizers within the fifteen writing units. Graphic organizers and charts encourage students to organize their thoughts prior to writing a piece as well as provide teachers with observing how students think. This evidence can help teachers determine if other instruction is necessary or provide an impetus and feedback from which to have student-teacher conversations.

The lessons within ¡Escribir como Estrellas! are designed to help students master the elements of writing (e.g., text and character development), writing skills (e.g., spelling, punctuation), and process strategies (e.g., planning and revising techniques). Lessons also incorporate certain characteristics that form a language common to shared expectations and feedback regarding the quality of writing (e.g., sentence fluency, word choice, voice, organization). Both constitute core components of effective writing instruction noted Fowler (2007). Explicit instruction in writing mechanics and composition skills is necessary for writing success for English Language Learners. Students must be taught specific strategies and skills on a systematic basis to help them improve their writing techniques and their English simultaneously. The authors of ¡Escribir como Estrellas! sought to use this knowledge and findings in a product to prepare students for the Spanish Version of the STAAR™ Writing Assessment.

¡Escribir como Estrellas! enhances critical thinking through the use of selected- response items on Correccción and Revisión sections. Constructed-response items are present with the Repaso pages, the graphic organizer, and the prompts that prepare students to write unit compositions. Constructed-response prompts invite students to demonstrate their ability to think about everyday topics and then construct responses. With selected-response assessment items, the answers are visible to students, yet they must be able to recognize the accurate responses. Although selected-response items can be developed to address the higher levels of Bloom's taxonomy, some represent lower cognition levels. Answers are not visible to students in constructed-response assessments. These answers require students to recall information or use their knowledge to formulate responses. Constructed- response assessments are indicative of higher-levels of thought.

 The literature on critical thinking notes the importance of explicit instruction and indicates that students should be taught how to construct responses that require critical thought. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! provides numerous situations where teachers may purposefully model situations or ask questions to focus students’ thinking on an underlying concept and prompt rigorous thought. Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy provides a useful framework for examining and differentiating among different levels of learning and thought. Critical thinking is a crucial element in reading because it promotes reading comprehension and story knowledge (Fitzpatrick, 1994). It is important that teachers recognize the need for critical thinking and include experiences to encourage such thought (Carr, 1998). Creative thinking is often a part of the critical thinking process. In ¡Escribir como Estrellas!, creative thought  provides spiraled practice in a variety of contexts for previously taught TEKS. Creative and critical thinking are both relevant to the problem-solving process as students plan and prepare drafts prior to final composition writing. Critical thinking questions/prompts at the application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels stimulate students to think in depth about the skills, concepts, and topics contained in the unit. Critical and creative thinking questions and prompts invite students to transition to reflective thinking at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956). These questions/prompts also lead students to think and prepare to write about the unit composition topic. Synthesis, a higher level of thinking, is viewed as creative thought. Creative thinking is integrated within the unit to reinforce a previously taught TEKS standard.  These thinking opportunities allow students to make application of the information about the topics contained in ¡Escribir como Estrellas! to personal or everyday life. Given the importance of critical thinking skills to success in daily life and the integral role thinking is given within the writing TEKS, ¡Escribir como Estrellas! presents a wide range of opportunities to engage students in the development and application of critical thinking skills.

¡Escribir como Estrellas! is organized into fifteen units (a minimum of eight pages per unit) that include four components to maximize classroom writing experiences. Each component in a unit builds upon the previous one. Repaso (Practice) is designed with two pages of activities that teach and practice the focus skills of the unit. Corrección (Editing) offers students two pages composed of a written work accompanied by multiple-choice questions that require students to select needed editing within the written work. Revisión (Revision) provides two pages that contain a passage, poem, or other form of written work with multiple-choice questions that require the student to select changes or revisions that should be made within the written work. Tema de la composición (Composition), the fourth component, contains four pages. The first page (Tema de la composición) features a scaffolded prompt. Young (2012) stated  that expository prompts contain a stimulus and are scaffolded. For expository pieces, there are three components: Lee (Look) with a graphic or photograph, Piensa (Think) and a statement for students to consider, and Escribe (Write) and a statement regarding the prompt for the composition. A successfully completed student composition should display explanatory writing regarding the students’ own thinking about their lives and the world around them. An additional element concludes the page: Asegúrate de (Be Sure to) reflective statements that remind students what to consider to be successful in writing. Narrative pieces display only two components: Observa (Observe) and a statement describing the photograph or illustration and Escribe (Write) with an accompanying statement regarding the prompt for the composition. Asegúrate de (Be Sure to) reflective statements remind students what to consider to write successfully conclude the page. Based on Young (2012), personal narrative prompts contain a stimulus and are scaffolded somewhat less than expository prompts. Also included are two planning/drafting pages (Plan y desarrollo) for the composition that reflect the STAAR format. More specifically, students complete a graphic organizer and use another page to complete their planning skills. The fourth page is for the students to record their composition. This 26-lined page aligns with the sample featured on the TEA website (TEA, 2012). The composition prompt page features a narrative or expository prompt presented in STAAR format. The Narrative Prompt Format includes a photograph or illustration, a statement about the photograph, a Write statement that provides the composition prompt, and Be sure to statements that remind students of the criteria upon which their papers will be scored. The Expository Prompt Format includes a Read statement that is a quotation, a Think statement to guide student thinking, a Write statement that provides the composition prompt, and Be sure to statements that remind students of the criteria upon which their paper will be scored. These statements provide students with a scaffolded structure or framework to use when they are required to write. Later, when students write without the scaffolds provided in ¡Escribir como Estrellas!, they have developed the confidence and acquired the skills needed to independently produce high quality compositions. Thus, ¡Escribir como Estrellas! prepares students to independently and mentally work through the steps to organize, plan, and write compositions.

In conclusion, ¡Escribir como Estrellas! emphasizes composition, revision, and editing skills necessary for writing effective personal narrative and expository pieces. This writing resource promotes targeted instruction within every unit with an editing and a revision focus. Closure to each unit is reached with planning, drafting, and composition pages for student writing. The unit components of ¡Escribir como Estrellas! help maximize classroom writing instruction throughout the year with each unit component building upon the others, resulting in preparedness for the forthcoming composition. ¡Escribir como Estrellas! offers cross-curricular connections to integrate learning among the disciplines. Researchers note that students who use information learned in different contexts tend to remember that information longer. When students apply skills across disciplines, student confidence appears to increase. As a result, cross-curricular connections reinforce learning and enhance life-long learning skills.

¡Escribir como Estrellas! is designed around the proven practices and experiences of practitioners, and the standards from the state. !Escribir como Estrellas! covers the  TEKS eligible for assessment, resulting in students prepared to write independently and demonstrating writing skills during STAAR Writing Assessment, Spanish Version. Mentoring Minds is dedicated to providing educators with quality resources that allow the effective use of classroom time so that teachers and students have the tools they need to develop excellence in writing for ELLs. The authors are current teachers of Spanish students who combined their expertise, myriad of experiences, and evidence-based practices to create the product, ¡Escribir como Estrellas!  


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