Are You Doing Quick Writes in Your Classroom? Why You Should Be (Especially in an AP Language and Composition Class)

Grief is a house. We were using this quick write from Linda Reif’s The Quickwrite Handbook since in AP Language and Composition we were beginning an analogy essay (For this essay, students extend compare/contrast form and write an extended analogy.). As I wrote my quick write about how grief is like a black hole, I soon discovered that while I could produce words like point of no return, event horizon, gravitational pull, I wasn’t confident in my use of them. AHA. Impromptu mini lesson: after we “[rode] the wave of someone else’s words” (Ralph Fletcher wisdom at its finest) and experimented with analogy writing, shared our best line or idea with someone in the room, and revised some part of that quick write, I shared my writing and explained how I realized I needed to research my known (black hole) more if I was going to write about it accurately. Quickly, I directed students to share their topics at their table groups and ping pong ideas off each other until they had ideas for further research for improved development. Undoubtedly, this quick write was just-in-time for us as writers. In Linda Reif’s words, it gave my students “frames and ideas for their own writing”; it encouraged them “to take risks in a non-threatening, informal situation”; it offered “ongoing practice for writing in sensible, realistic, and meaningful ways on demand”; and it provided an example of “fine, compelling writing.”

From that moment, I began to reflect through the lens of my AP classroom on all the other ways my students benefited from quick writes this year. While quick writes serve so many of our novice writers (and less-so-novice writers like me!) well, they partner well with the aims of an AP Language and Composition course. Moreover, they serve many of the students with whom I work in this course, students who tend to be advanced learners (with labels like gifted, talented, twice exceptional, high achieving, college bound, etc.), students who tend to be highly self-critical, perfectionists .

Slaying the Beast That Is Perfectionism (or at least wounding it)

Some of my students in this course maintain a distorted or unrealistic perception of self, believing, as Sal Mendaglio writes in “Gifted Sensitivity to Criticism,” that  “knowing everything and doing everything right–perfectly–the first time” is actually realistic. Of course, it’s not. And, in a high intensity course like AP Language, where students must write, write, write, it’s important to address these perceptions of writing: writing doesn’t have to be perfect. It rarely is in general, let alone on a first stab.

Quick writes arm my students again and again with opportunities to slay this mindset. These short, ungraded bursts of writing get pen to the page–with urgency. There’s no time for second-guessing or trying to compose just-right language or–common with gifted and high achievers– avoidance. There is only writing. Quick writes have not completely destroyed this mindset, but they’ve poked holes in it, particularly useful when students later face the high pressure of the on-demand writing of the AP exam. I wonder: how many of my students who struggled to get words to the page or to finish an on demand writing might have been helped had I employed quick writes sooner? If thinking, on demand, and getting words to the page had been a routine?

Sky Diving But With Language

Within my population of gifted and talented learners and high achievers, there is the potential for their creativity to soar in their writing. But for many of them, unless I optimize conditions for jumping, keeping them safe while they take risks as a writer, they won’t. They won’t jump because it might mean a spiralling-out-of-control, fall-flat-on-your-face, splat kind of failure (to them), which is precisely what so many of my students want to avoid. They’ll cling tight to five paragraph essays and divided thesis statements. They’ll grasp on to worn topics and expressions. Why? Because they maintain image this way; they can’t look stupid or inferior.

But the quick writes give them parachutes–a controlled way to jump into the possibilities of language because they offer that “non-threatening, informal” and mostly private opportunity to jump into possibility. This semester in particular (teaching on a block schedule sure accelerates my learning as a teacher–this is my second lap through AP Language this year!), I see my students jumping, taking risks in form and expression.  I wonder: with so much beautiful, powerful meaning to explore in these micro bursts, why wasn’t I giving them this opportunity to dive before?

 

Paper, Paper, on My Desk, What Line Is Fairest of Them All? THIS ONE!

With the students I serve in this course, quick writes–in addition to serving as a way to dispel assumptions about writing and encourage risks–also help address tendencies toward self-criticism. For some of my learners in this course, self-criticism debilitates. It is not enough that the teacher or peers recognize writing that is good; the learner needs to as well. For the exceptional learner, this tiny shift in perspective may reflect in their self-talk.

Quick writes afford this, a glimpse at a time. Routinely, I ask students to highlight or underline an idea or a move they feel good about or they feel successful with. This trains them to look for what went well. We then affirm these successes by finding a partner to share with. And, as Penny Kittle would recommend, we try to share those ideas and words of beauty with the class. There’s affirmation from self and others, which is critical for ALL learners (even I need this when I  model writing in front of my students or in front of peers) but especially for those who expect so, so much of themselves. I wonder: how might quick writes–had I implemented them sooner–have improved the self-efficacy of my writers?

Sneaking Vegetables In–Mini Lesson in Disguise

Of course, one of the more known attributes of gifted learners (and often high achievers and definitely creative thinkers) is their propensity for learning, transferring their learning, and applying their learning.  

For my learners in this course, quick writes serve as a way to scaffold toward mini lessons, as Lisa writes about here (or for more on 3TT about quick writes, here; herehere ; here); however, I can also sneak in a mini lesson, serving up a particular skill I want to see them absorb and then apply into their own writing. The element of novelty, too, as Noah Waspe writes about here, nurtures these learners. Hungry, they consume the mentor texts used in these quick writes and find ways to fuel their writing, often benefiting them in wholly unanticipated ways. I wonder: if I had implemented quick writes sooner, would I have nourished my writers more?

The value of quick writes abound for my AP Language and Composition learners: finding topics (and themselves), practicing revision (another way to counteract perfectionism), further rhetorical analysis practice. And more. Linda Reif’s rationale lays it out beautifully (please purchase The Quickwrite Handbook if you have not yet!). I know: in the ever-expanding universe of workshop moves, quick writes, for me right now, have the greatest gravitational pull.

Kristin Jeschke teaches AP Language and Composition and College Prep English at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa. She knows the force of quick writes personally: they’ve helped her own writing and her own self-talk. She’s at a point of no return–no return to the days in AP without quick writes. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

Enhancing Student Writing: Framing Editing as Choice

I am adding to the trend on the blog this week:  Editing!

I was inspired to re-read Everyday Editing and Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson after Charles wrote about inviting students to notice, note, and imitate last month and earlier this week.  His philosophy influenced what I wanted my students to take away from crafting their final narrative piece–choice.  Anderson argues that telling students what or how to edit isn’t always helpful as it may not be internalized–students may seek a check-list for what to edit versus considering choices and playing with language as a writer. Anderson explains, “We want students to make choices and decisions that create meaning. Not because they’re afraid of making an error. Not because of crapshoot-fifty-fifty chances, but because they are thinking.  We want them to have ways to reason through what’s in front of them, what they see, what it sounds like looks like, means. A thought process” (10). All writing starts with merely getting your ideas out, but revision and editing happen when a writer begins to examine the choices they are or are not making. Choice is ownership in writing and far more rigorous than editing from a checklist.

In American Literature, we restarted our school year with a focus on narrative–we dug back into choice reading and ran through numerous laps of narrative writing, studying the choices authors made in mentor texts and our choice novels. Based on the narratives we had been studying together, students came up with a running list of moves we referenced as we wrote, revised, and conferenced. These core components, which students deemed essential moves of storytelling, formed what their final narrative would be assessed on:

  • Interesting Structure of Scenes within a Larger Story
  • Dialogue or Internal Thinking to Reveal Character
  • Dynamic Shift or Growth that Illustrates a “So What?”
  • Writer’s Craft Language that Shows vs. Tells
  • Variety of Sentence Structure and Word Variety

For me, one of the most challenging practices to get my students in the habit of is revisiting and re-crafting their writing. We live in an instant society which I believe programs students to complete tasks versus sit and whittle away or tinker with their thinking. Hence, “Enhancement Rotations” were born (I didn’t want to call the rotations “edits,” but I have yet to come up with a better name, suggestions?). I asked students to bring in what they thought was their final draft–little did they know they would be producing a “new” final draft! My goal was for students to notice the impactful choices they had already made, but to stretch themselves to make more. To not edit grammar errors, but to re-craft with intention.

In summary, Enhancement Rotations consist of student drafts circulating the classroom and their peer experts suggesting ways to re-craft the outlined aspects of the writing assignment or genre (we used the list above), while also complimenting the elements present in the draft already. Students decide what component they want to be an expert on from our list, then spend the time suggesting and complimenting that element only. Once the draft has visited a group of expert Enhancers, the draft rotates to the next group. Eventually, all selections rotate to different experts and gain not only suggestions and perspective but a holistic, paper-based conference.

Here are my suggested steps in more detail:

  1. After students have worked the writing process, have them print at least two copies of their piece.  Having more drafts than students allows the Enhancers to move through the drafts at their own pace because no one is waiting on them to finish to have a piece to edit. I prefer students have hard copies of their piece without names.
  2. Divide your “look fors,” essential elements, rubric, etc. into sections or chunks where students can be the peer experts–invite students to select what aspect they feel confident in providing advice and suggestions about. Organize one element at one station of desks or tables.  I suggest color coding each element, as it helps Enhancers know what draft has already been to their station. Asking students to narrow their focus helps them move through more of their peers’ drafts, thus seeing even more samples of writing and voice, especially of peers they did not conference with or may not often select as a partner.
  3. Let the editing begin!  Similar student experts sit together and use the same color marker or pen to suggest directly on their peers’ drafts (I do ask that students write their name and focus at the bottom of the draft for Step 4). Before starting, we reviewed each key move of storytelling and recalled mentor texts.
  4. Towards the end of class, students retrieve their drafts and silently reviewed the suggestions and considerations for a few minutes.  The final 10 minutes are for conferencing with one another about the feedback, further questions, and of course, compliments.  I then charge students with creating yet another draft!

Paola’s draft when from a removed retelling to showing, including a fake iMessage text feature from the suggestion of a peer.

Abbey expanding on her feelings and emotions, moving her draft from a retelling a common experience to one that was more personal, adding depth to the experience and purpose.

Inviting writers to notice and note the choices their peers are making serve to strengthen their writing, too, as we know more exposure leads to more thinking and understanding. My writers are beginning to notice the craft and creativity writing offers. Additionally, sharing writing and conferences continues to build the community of writers, and revisers, we are striving to become.

Maggie Lopez teaches American Literature and AP Literature in Salt Lake City, UT. She started reading Educated on her snow day last week, the first in 30 years, alongside Everyday Editing. You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

Revising and Editing with Jeff Anderson Part II

If you haven’t had the chance to see Jeff Anderson in person and hear him deliver the gospel of editing instruction, be prepared…he’s very tall.  He’s also funny, charismatic, and passionate. He has an ability to take something very difficult and make it seem accessible, even to an old ball coach like me. Also, he got me to say, “AAAWWUBBIS.”

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In my post a month back, I outlined how Jeff Anderson describes the first three parts of inviting students into the editing process.

  • Invitation to Notice
  • Invitation to Imitate
  • Invitation to Celebrate

The next three parts are how we take what we’ve noticed and start putting those skills into practice.

Invitation to Collect

Those of us whose students spend most of their time in a notebook might have a dedicated section where we collect “sentence gems.”  These are beautiful examples of sentence construction that we want to hold on to, and maybe one day, imitate.  Anderson points out that he starts this practice with mentor texts that are “controlled.” In other words, he puts specific texts in front of the kids that contain sentences that he wants to help them find.  Once they’ve got an idea about what it means to “collect beautiful sentences, he lets them loose to find sentences in, for instance, their self-selected reading.  Mini-lessons are another place where we can examine well constructed sentences even if our lesson focus is somewhere else.  Many times I’ve paused a mini-lesson to point out a beautifully constructed sentence or a familiar pattern even when it wasn’t a sentence that related to our lesson focus.

Invitation to Write

Putting our skills into practice is the step that might need the strongest shove forward. Whether we use sentence strips, foldables, or just a blank page in our notebooks, we have to sit in the chair and explore these moves in authentic ways.  I think we can all agree that the true internalization of a writing move is most effectively solidified through our hands-on practice with that move.  After that, its up to the writer to use those moves in places where it will increase the effectiveness of a piece.

  • Invitation to Combine

Anderson writes about how practice with combining sentences helps “develop students’ sentence sense.”  This idea shows us that we can help students understand that they should be “thinking analytically about meaning.” Um…that sounds like effective and engaging instruction and it sounds like the highest level of thinking to me?

Anderson uses a sentence from Lois Lowry’s Gooney Bird Greene (2002) to help us understand that students might learn about combining sentences by working backwards.

Lowry’s sentence: When the class was quiet, Gooney Bird began her Monday story.

Uncombined:

The class was quiet.

Gooney Bird began her story.

Gooney Bird’s story was a Monday story.

 

Anderson goes on to suggest how separate groups could work to combine and uncombine sentences alternately.  Some teachers might see this as too elementary for our secondary classrooms, but I would argue that the writing my students produce tells me this type of practice is still very necessary.

If Anderson’s sentence wouldn’t present much of a challenge, take a look at this one from Nic Stone’s Odd One Out (2018):

She’s probably got Jupe by an inch or so height-wise, but completely opposite body type: slim, kind of willowy. 

I think there is enough there to start a conversation about how sentences can be combined.

Now we can use…

  • Invitation to Edit
  • Extending the Invitation
  • Open Invitation

Anderson’s methods speak to me in that they are intentional and specific.  My growth in literacy instruction leans more towards writing instruction recently, and Anderson makes this type of instruction easy for me to understand.  The greater my understanding, the better chance my students have of understanding, and growing, and exploring their place in this world.


Everyday, Charles Moore hides behind a narrow tree in his front yard waiting for his daughter to walk the three house distance from the bus stop.  She sees him the whole time, but he pretends to jump out from behind the tree and scare her before they run giggling into the house. He’s interested to know if anyone else collects beautiful sentences and if so, what are they?

Leaning Into Teaching With Book Clubs

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 8.15.42 pmI read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones recently. It’s a powerful book. I couldn’t put it down and inhaled it in a weekend.

When I finished, I wanted to talk about it, like, now. So I did. I texted my cousin. I read reviews. I talked to anyone who would listen.

In short, I did the work of a reader. As a teacher of readers, I’m reminded of how important it is for us to create space for students to experience this same magic and urgency, to have space to do the work.

That work is about so much more than just the physical act of reading. It’s about wrestling with tough questions, thinking about themes and the way the big ideas relate to our own lives, looking at the way characters change over time.

As a literacy coach I’ve been working with teachers to design book clubs where students can build their literary analysis skills while engaging in reading communities.

Some of our core beliefs around this work:

Book Tasting

Yesterday I spent the day with my colleague Emily and her freshman students taking part in a book tasting. Emily and I curated a list of about 20 young adult titles with the help of lists from Nerdy Book Club, Project Lit, and our local librarian. We stacked books on tables and invited students to come to our Book Tasting.

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books ready for tasting!

The first round, we asked students to find a book that looked interesting. I held up Time Bomb by Joelle Charbenneau and read the first page. I asked them to do the same with their book — just read the first few pages. What’s your gut reaction. We then asked students to rate the book on a scale of 1-5 on the menu they had (you can find lots of these all over the web).

For the second round, I book-talked Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Students moved to a new table and grabbed a new book. We set the timer for three minutes and let kids take a taste of the new book.

We worked through several rounds, letting kids talk to each other about books periodically (book-talking Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore). The goal to “taste” at least five books. Then we asked students to fill out a google form where they shared their top three choices, which we used to put students in groups (most of them got their first or second choice).

Teaching: Mini-Lessons

For a long time, I struggled with what teaching looked liked within book clubs. I understood letting kids read books they’d chosen. I knew students needed time to talk about their reading. For too long, though, I relied on the “role sheets” as outlined in Harvey Daniels’s book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. (Daniels himself has since lamented teachers over-zealousness around the role sheets).

But, role sheets didn’t do enough. I didn’t feel like I was teaching and more importantly, I didn’t feel like students were growing as readers and thinkers.

It finally clicked when I read A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts. I realized that there was space within book clubs for the mini-lessons that work so well in writing workshop. In fact, they were necessary. I’ve also had the opportunity in the last year to work with districts that are adopting Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Units of Study for Reading, which has helped inform my thinking tremendously. I realized that when we’re planning the teaching, we need to think about three things:

  1. Name the skills we want students to be able to do better. What’s the unit’s focus?
  2. Find a short text we can use as a shared read (we’ve been using Pixar shorts, children’s books, and short stories).
  3. Keep the mini-lessons mini. And give kids time to practice.

Planning

One of the keys of success for our books clubs has been in our planning. We’ve adapted Roberts’s thinking about how to spend time. We’ve started calling them A-B-C days.

  • A day: students have time to read (many of our
    Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 9.56.21 PM.png

    from A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts

    students do not read at home, or we have limited copies so kids are unable to take books home)

  • B day: book club meeting where students talk (we like using Conversation Cards if kids get stuck).
  • C day: we teach a mini-lesson and then give students time to practice applying the skill to their book club book.

With these rhythms in mind, we start to map out our time. A week might look like:

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Assessment

There are so many smart ways that teachers assess the work that happens in book clubs. During the process, we are talking with students all the time. We listen to their conversations. We engage in small group teaching when necessary.

For summative assessment, we’ve been thinking about having students do podcasts, or write blogs. Emily plans to have her students write multigenre projects about their books. Another colleague asked her students to create slide decks to share their learning.

We’ve also been thinking about how we might give students a chance to transfer their learning to a performance task. What if we give students a “cold” read and ask them questions that relate to the work they’ve been doing in book clubs? It mimics what many of our students have to do on state testing, and lets us know what we might need to re-teach in the next reading unit.

Book clubs have been transformative for so many of the students we’ve been working with. Kids who haven’t read a book in a long time find themselves thinking and reflecting deeply on the texts they’ve chosen. Some students read more than one book in the 3-4 weeks we spend in this unit. They were talking to each other, trying to figure out meaning.

They are doing the work of readers. IMG_4093.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utilizing Response to Provoke, Evoke, and Make Thinking Visible #TCTELA19

There’s nothing quite like presenting to a room full of educators who “get it.” You know the type:  they share similar goals for their students, they work to improve their craft as readers and writers, so they can help their students improve theirs. They know the best hope we have in our world and in our communities is a literate society. They teach literacy not just literature.

This was my experience at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Conference in San Antonio (#TCTELA19) this past Saturday. And here’s the run down of my session: Beyond What Happened Into What’s Happening: Utilizing Response to Provoke, Evoke, and Make Thinking Visible.

If you teach in Texas, you already know we have new ELA standards coming. K-8 implementation starts next fall with 9-12 the following year. I was blessed to serve on the revision committee for the high school revisions and worked with some wicked-smart educators to craft standards that truly lend themselves to the recursive nature of literacy. And while we never mentioned methodology, I want you to know:  A workshop pedagogy is the best way I know to integrate the standards in our instruction. Many of us are already doing it.

While my session centered primarily on the Response (Strand 3), if you were there, you already know, through response –and the routines of workshop instruction— we can get our students thinking, reading, writing, listening, and speaking about topics and issues they care about in meaningful ways that lead to deeper learning. Authentic learning.

As promised, here’s the videos with the questions to spark response I shared:

Pixar’s short film “Lou”  What do you NOTICE?  What do you WONDER?

Note:  After turning and sharing our writing with a peer, we discussed how topics emerge from this kind of quickwrite. Appreciation, kindness, respect, character, internal struggle, motivation were all topics audience members wrote about in their responses. Through authentic response we help students generate personal and individual writing territories.

Infographics are a great resource for response, quickwrites, analysis, and even composition. Check out Daily Infographics and Statista.

tctela19 -- response

We read the infographic and discussed our thinking with a partner, which led to the Gillette ad. Of course, it did. (I was slightly surprised at how many in the room had not seen it.)

What do you NOTICE?

What do you WONDER?

What do you FEEL?

You probably see a theme emerging. This is how my brain works. I create a text sets — thematically. And with the new TX ELA standards, specifically, the multi-genre strand, I think thematic units make sense. In my experience, learners engage more when I’ve intentionally curated resources that invite them to make connections.

Connect this ad by Barbasol. (“Stop LOL-ing everything!” Makes me chuckle every time.) This ad was made in 2013. How might knowing that change your response?

And finally, this one — a direct response to the Gillette ad. What do you NOTICEWhat do you WONDERWhat do you want to know more about?

tctela19 -- response-2

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

Now what?

If you know me, you know I am an advocate for self-selected independent reading. The new TX standards put this front and center.

tctela19 -- response-3Which also means students need access to high-interest engaging books they want to read. Lots of access. And teachers need to read these books, not just so they can help match readers with books — but to use them to teach literacy skills.

tctela19 -- response-5

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

I wish I’d had more time. We had so much more to talk about. Like these excerpts (The Perfect Score; The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle) from classroom library books — and the open-ended questions that show how we can utilize these books to teach literacy skills — Read like a Readers/ Read like a Writer, all the while integrating several of the new ELA standards. As they should be.

You’ll notice those excerpts both have male protagonists. Both struggling with something. Maybe things that lend themselves to the themes in those little videos.

Some titles from my classroom library I would book talk with students as we viewed, read, talked, and wrote about the sources I share here:

tctela19 -- response-6

What resources for response would you add to this text set? What question for response? What titles from your classroom library? Please share in the comments.

 

Amy Rasmussen calls herself a literacy evangelist –among other things. Wife to a lovely man, and blessed to be the mother of six and grandmother of seven (five of which are boys), she loves to read and teach and share ideas that just might make the world a little brighter — for everyone! Follow her @amyrass — and join the conversation around workshop instruction on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page.

TCTELA ’19: Literacy Talk on the ‘Walk

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Overcast skies and light traffic greeted me as I dropped off I-35 and wove through the surface streets of downtown San Antonio.  The robotic directions from my navigation app contrasted with the view of a city whose facades resemble a city from a century ago.  San Antonio, Texas, is a city from the past, reluctantly relenting to the technological whims of the near future.

With ILA having visited Austin this summer and NCTE’s stop in Houston in the fall, this has been a big year for conference opportunities. South Texas teachers may not have this confluence of conferences again for a long time, if ever. How lucky I am that these opportunities coincided with my coaching retirement.

img_2132While the setting was a history lesson, the message that Jason Reynolds delivered on Friday could not be more prescient.  He spoke of humility, intimacy, and gratitude –  ideas I need to weave into my lessons, for the kids and for me.  (Also, we learned a lot about dealing with distractions from his talk, but that was one of those “teachable moments”).

Jason Reynolds was a tough act to follow, but I gave it my best shot and, for the first time ever, I presented solo outside of Clear Creek ISD. My time slot, late afternoon on Friday, gave me the false impression that the only people in the room would be my close friends and myself. As the room filled up, I experienced a bout of nervousness, but the subject of my presentation, research writing, overcame my hesitations.

The General Session, Saturday morning, ended with a presentation from the Franki Sibberson, President of NCTE.  She spoke about authentic digital literacy and what that mode really looks like in the lives of our kids and the ways in which we can support their digital expression.  Oftentimes, I’ve found, the true use of technology as an enhancement of our classroom experience is a difficult target to hit.  Sibberson’s talk pushed me to focus my aim.

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Jimmy Santiago Baca spoke the hard truth and infused all those attending the Saturday lunch session with an awareness of systemic racism and how it affects our students and us.  He opened eyes and hearts with his words, both spoken and written. Learn more about his story here.

img_5050Saturday also afforded the opportunity to watch my colleagues work. Dr. Helen Becker and Megan Thompson, women who lead the ELA department at Clear Creek High School, a place in which I am blessed to work, spoke about how books written in verse allow struggling students access to their literacy. Rave reviews followed and their effectiveness was evident.

That session immediately preceded one delivered by our own Amy Rasmussen, extolling the virtues of choice and student centered learning.  I’ve had the opportunity to learn from Amy time and again, and I always leave feeling fulfilled but wanting more.  She lives workshop and inspires teachers like me to do the same.

My convention experience come to a close with Jeff Anderson.  (Dear Penny Kittle: Don’t worry, you are still my #1.) This was my first time to watch him present and, while I’ve learned a great deal from his books, seeing him in person lifted my understanding of writing instruction to another level.  His message about authentic writing and revising learning opportunities spoke directly to my teacher heart and forced me to embrace my instructional inadequacies. Just last week, pointing at my compound sentence anchor chart, reminding the kids they know how to fix run-on sentences, a student filled the air with the term “FANBOYS” and I failed that child miserably when I corrected him by calling  them coordinating conjunctions. Anderson took me to school, which is what I needed, and my kids will be better for it.

Once again, I left an ELA focused conference feeling invigorated and excited, missing my kiddos and looking forward to seeing them again on Monday.

An important side note that I can’t help sharing is that I also drove away from the conference feeling an even deeper conviction to support our ELA organizations. I want to extend an invitation to all of our Texas high school ELA teachers to join us in the TCTELA High School Session.  If you want to help out and join our collaborative effort, please email me at ctmoore@ccisd.net.  I look forward to hearing from you because your voice is critical. Maybe more so now than ever before.

Charles Moore is reinvigorated by the connections and conversations from TCTELA 2019.  He’s excited to take on a new role as the leader of the High School Session of TCTELA. If you want to check out his tweeted experience, look no further than @ctcoach.  If you want inspiration about the importance of literacy instruction, look to those amazing educators around you…and don’t forget to look within yourself.

Using Scrum in the Classroom

As we shift many of our educational practices towards more inquiry focused learning, we must also shift the skills that we focus on in our classrooms. In many of my classes, I have students engage in long term learning experiences that emphasize important skills including communication and collaboration. One issue I have consistently come across, however, is that students often lack the project management skills required to be successful in this type of learning and that we often launch them into assignments that require planning both their task and their time without providing them with the tools the need to be successful. How many times have we given students “a work block” and set them free only to be frustrated by how poorly many of them use their time?

One of the classes I teach is AP Capstone Seminar. In this class, as part of their AP exam score, students are placed in teams where they have to collaboratively produce a problem/solution style research presentation. Because this is considered part of their assessment for their AP exam score, the CollegeBoard requires that I as their teacher am not allowed to provide them with assistance (similar to if they were writing a sit-down exam).  It quickly became apparent to me that for my students to be successful with this collaborative project in their live assessment, I would need to provide them with strategies to help structure their time and that is when I stumbled across Scrum.

Scrum is a technique that has been used in schools in the Netherlands and has been adopted by many schools world wide. It is a style of project management that originated in the computer design world and that has been adapted to help support students manage long term learning tasks.

When using Scrum with my class, I help guide them through the following process:

1.) Set the end term goal for the project – what is the final product you are trying to produce, or what is your final goal? What date must this be finished by?

2.) Break this final goal down into shorter goals that we call sprint goals – essentially what are the smaller tasks that first must be accomplished in order to succeed in the end goal? By what date must be finish the sprint goals in order to achieve our end goal?

3.) Once students have set their end goal and their sprint goals, they are then asked to create their “flap board”. This flap board is where they will break their sprint goals down into the individual tasks they need to complete to reach their sprint goals, they will assign that task to members of the group, and they will track the progress the group has made on the task.

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The flap board for one of my AP Capstone student groups on the first day.

A flap board can consist of many elements depending on the task, but I have simplified it into the following categories for my students:

1.) Task Backlog: This is where students brainstorm all of the tasks that must be completed in order for them to achieve their sprint goal. These tasks are always written on sticky notes so they can be moved. If a task is in the Backlog area, it has not yet been started. This helps students visualize the volume of work they need to complete.

2.)Week Column: Students divide this section into the number of weeks (or classes) they have to complete the task. This allows them to visualize the amount of time they have to complete their work.

3.) “To Do”, “In Progress”, “Done” columns: these columns are where students track their progress on a task. When they are ready to start on a task from the Task Backlog, they move it to the “To Do” Column and place a coloured sticky note on the task indicating which student will be responsible for the task. Once the student has actually started the task, the move it to the “In Progress” column and when they have completed it, they move it to the “Done” Column. We usually have to come to an agreement within the groups as to what they would constitute as “Done”.

4.) Impediment Backlog: This section of the flap board is for when students hit a roadblock that impedes their progress. For example, a common impediment in my AP Capstone class is that the student has started to research their topic and has realized there are few reliable sources on their topic. If this is the case, they move the task to the Impediment Backlog section.

The Scrum Process:

At the start of each class where students have a “work block”, each group meets with their flap board and takes stock of their tasks. We call this meeting a Scrum and a Scrum should take no more than 5-8 minutes. In this Scrum, students move any of their tasks that they have completed before the class into the “Done” column and then set their goals for the class period. This may involve moving tasks out of the Task Backlog into the “To Do” Column, or moving tasks from the “To Do Column” to the “In Progress” column. As well, if any tasks have been moved to the Task Impediment section, this is the time to address the problem and to come up with an action plan. In these five minutes, students are taking stock of their progress and setting goals for tasks to be completed during this class period. At the end of each work block class, students will hold another 5-8 minute Scrum where they take stock of the progress they made in class, move tasks to the appropriate column, and set their goals for the next class.

A class Scrum is an easy and quick process, but it has revolutionized the way my students accomplish collaborative tasks that require long term planning. When students take five minutes at the start of the class to set their goals for the block, they are more productive and when they take the time to chunk a larger task down into smaller pieces in a guided manner, they are learning how to manage projects, how to collaborate, and how to problem solve to achieve their goals.

For more information on using Scrum in the classroom watch this, video showing it in action.

For more ideas on how to teach the specific skills required for collaboration, check out this excellent post.

Pam McMartin is a Senior English Teacher, English Department Head, and Senior Teacher Librarian in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. She is always looking for ways to apply the project management techniques she tries to share with her student to her own life in order to help manage the chaos. So far, this has been a work in progress. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @psmcmartin.

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