Category Archives: Student Projects

Multigenre Magic

Teacher goosebumps. We’ve all had them: students are focused, consulting their Writer’s Notebooks, talking to each other, incorporating what they learned into their writing. It’s what we live for. No moment in the academic year ever evokes this synchrony more than the multigenre project.

Defining Through Experience

Like my students, you might be wondering what multigenre is. I learned about multigenre during my first year of teaching when I attended a workshop with Tom Romano, the godfather of multigenre. Dr. Romano has since become a mentor and colleague and his work continues to inspire my students 15 years later. Shana 

When we begin our multigenre unit, students have, at best, a vague notion of the vocabulary, but no experience.

Before class begins, I conspire with one of the orneriest kids; today it’s Jamal. Together, we quickly whisper a plan. As students finish up their vocabulary quiz, I look to Jamal, eyebrows raised.

“Jamal! I just saw that. You cheated,” I accuse heatedly. Suppressing a smile, Jamal shifts to fake outrage. We verbally spar a bit, ensuring all students tune in. They’re used to firm classroom management. Today it’s different.

Channeling all my inner drama queen, I huff and puff and toss my ID badge and keys to the floor. “Guess, what? I’m done!” I proclaim as I storm out of the door.

I wait a beat. Then before students can get too excited, I burst back in the door and high-five Jamal. Students are confused, excited, hyped. “You’re trying to figure it out, right? Well, before we talk about it, let’s write about it.”

Students grab their Writer’s Notebooks (WNB) as I pass out notecards. On each notecard is a genre of writing with which my students are familiar: Facebook post, text message conversation, letters, among them.

And students write. For three minutes their pens flow and they capture all the nuances — the questions, the perspectives, the layers. We share writing. We collaborate. We grow as a community.

“We’ve just created a multigenre,” I explain and share Romano’s definition of multigenre.Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 2.31.22 PM

Multigenre Tasting

Once we define multigenre, the next step is to immerse ourselves in mentors. Using past projects, as well the ones I’ve curated at Multigenre Library, we participate in a multigenre tasting. We create lists of the qualities of multigenre, as well as a rubric and checklist for this kind of writing. After establishing guidelines, students go back to their notebooks and explore their writing territories, finding compelling topics.

Mini-lessons

The bulk of the time for this unit is spent workshopping, conferencing, writing. We spend time in three main ways:

  1. Genre minilessons
  2. Research minilessons
  3. Revision minilessons

In genre mini-lessons, I stand firmly on Katie Wood Ray’s shoulders, knowing that asking my students to notice things in a piece of text is the key to them reading like writers. So, when we are going to try a new genre, we start by looking at examples of that genre. We make a list of rules/guidelines for that kind of writing and then we write about our own topic. Together we explore double voice poems, recipes, and open letters. Katie wrote about one of my favorite genres to explore in this post last month.

Once students have tried out lots of different ways of writing, from lots of different perspectives, we talk about incorporating research into their writing in a purposeful way. Whether students are writing about personal topics, or more traditional research subjects, they need to know how to add a layer of research because it deepens the writing and builds their own knowledge.

I began to save the research step until later in the process after they’d generated plenty of writing about their topics. They write a bit, then conduct research, then weave that research into writing that already exists. This approach has cut down on plagiarism. More importantly, it’s made the writing and the research more authentic.

Publishing & Assessment

Next students publish. We discuss how important it is to remember that their writing is the engine of the multigenre project. A beautiful presentation falls flat if the writing doesn’t show evidence of craft. This is an English class, after all. Students conference with me and with each other about ways they might present their work. Some choose digital platforms, others create scrapbooks.  

 

I have tried many approaches to assessing student learning within this unit. I used to have a rubric that was so detailed you’d need a magnifying glass to read it (which means nobody actually read it). Now I use a simple rubric, one we create together. Students must have a certain number or pieces, and write in a set number of genres. There needs to be passion and voice. Mostly, though, I focus on feedback. I make notes on post-its and stick them on pages where their voice soars, where images pop. The assessment has already happened through conferencing and workshopping. In the end, we focus on celebrating the work and how far they’ve come.

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, working with teachers in all grade levels to move kids as readers and writers. She’s getting ready to introduce multigenre to 150 freshman next week while covering a 3-week sub position. She might be a little crazy (but also really excited).

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Remembering How Good Readers Read – Guest Post by Brandon Wasemiller

Happy New Year, Three Teachers Talk! We hope your new year is off to a magnificent start. Hot off the presses from Franklin High School, my colleague Brandon Wasemiller writes about challenging our toughest students to value their voices and embrace the opportunities that reading can hold in their lives and their academic experiences with participation in The Global Read Aloud. 


We often talk about sparking the love of reading in our students. It is our daily, yearly, and career-defining struggle. Over the past few weeks, I tried something new because I was really struggling with a Tier II Intervention class (A class I have taught in the past but was reassigned to this year). I was giving book talks, getting to know the students, helping them with their books, teaching them how to be readers; but nothing was sticking. Most of them didn’t even try.   

It wasn’t until the second week of class that I came to a realization through a reading engagement survey, a pre-assessment, and a set of conferences. It was an idea that slapped me across the face and helped me guide the class. They’ve been nonreaders for so long that they have forgotten what it is to BE a reader.I have to re-teach these kids how to read.

And with that, I was off.

A fellow teacher, collaborator, and 3TT All-Star told me about a great project–The Global Read Aloud. A way for teachers and students in different classrooms (and most of the time different states) to collaborate and talk about the same book at the same time. So what was the chosen book? A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

(Listen, quick aside here,  but if you haven’t read A Monster Calls yet, what are you even doing?)

And so we began reading A Monster Calls. I tried to think of as many ways as possible to teach this book and make it fun and interesting. I started teaching them about active reading and about thinking while reading. I modeled for them how I read, and I had them track questions and comments throughout, but honestly, I felt like I was spinning my tires.

Then, one day, I pulled out the good ole Audible app and I played the audiobook. The chapters (The Wildness of Stories”, “The First Tale”, and “The Rest of the First Tale”) all feature two distinct characters. Conor, a young boy who is suffering through his mother’s battle with cancer, and a gigantic Yew Tree that turns into a monster at 12:07 to tell Conor stories. At the end of listening to all three chapters, we had a discussion as a class. To my sheer amazement, every single student discussed what happened and had amazingly in-depth responses to my questions.

So what was different? Why did the audiobook reach them better than some of my other activities?

And it hit me.

They are listening and experiencing a real and authentic reading experience.

They are actively engaged and plotting along with a READER who is emphasizing words, speaking in different voices for multiple characters, and emphasizing italicized and stylized words, all helping us as readers paint a picture of the novel in our heads. These are the qualities that good readers do independently. These are the qualities my students needed to re-learn.


I have a memory that I don’t think I will ever forget. I was probably six or seven, and I was at my grandma’s house. Every day, after nap time, my grandma would have story time and she would read from this book of Disney short stories. She would read us a few and she always did the voices. My grandma was Br’re Rabbit and talked in a thick southern accent, she was Mickey and squeaked her voice. My brother, sister and I were her captive audience. Our favorite story, however, was the Tale of the Headless Horseman.

One dark, rainy afternoon (I’m being serious, it really was dark and stormy) my grandma stepped out of the bathroom and her head was tucked inside a jacket and the jacket was zipped all the way up. The effect was that she seemed to have no head. She sat down to read the tale of The Headless Horseman as the Headless Horseman. She performed the tale of Ichabod Crane and his race to get across the bridge before losing his head.

That was not story time, that was an experience. I was there on the bridge racing to save my life, I was looking at the evil horseman careening towards me as I begged the horse to ride faster, I was there as the Horseman drew his sword and prepared to strike….

The idea for this unit came to me as I remembered that sometimes enjoyment in reading is lost because we lose what it is that makes us readers.

When you’re a kid, your parents read to you in different voices. When you read out loud to your parents or to teachers at a young age, they encourage you to read like they do. They help you sound out words, understand what a comma does in a sentence, what it sounds like to read a sentence as a question or exclamation; and then at some point–after the training wheels are off–we no longer read out loud.

So we have students who hate reading because it has been force fed to them for so many years. We get them into Workshop and spark the passion of reading, but they have forgotten how to read. My hope for this unit is that it will help those students.

And so, with this new realization, I decided to have my students tell a tale of their own using A Monster Calls as my mentor text.


Prep: Find chapters that will challenge the students to be readers.

I decided to use chapters featuring two distinct characters. Conor and the monster. Students had to create two distinctly different voices (yes, having a monster voice was a requirement) and they had to deal with sarcasm, anger, frustration, and other emotions throughout the chapter. brandon1

There were three chapters all about seven to eight pages long, so I made three groups of seven to eight students per group. Each group was responsible for a chapter, BUT each individual student had to read–out loud–one page. (Huge selling point here, I just kept telling them “It’s only one page!”)

Mini Lesson – Active Reader Annotating

I told my students that the goal for our first class was to focus on how characters speak throughout the chapter. However, for me, this was an opportunity to teach them how to be an active reader and note taker. I did the first page myself under the document cam.

brandon2I annotated after each line of dialogue for how the character spoke. “What emotions are being expressed here?”  I also told them that we needed to pay attention to italicized words and what they are there for.

We looked at the line “‘He’s been very good, Ma,’ Conor’s mum said winking at him from behind his grandma, her favorite blue scarf tied around his head” (41).

“So why is the word VERY italicized?” I asked. The class then talked about sarcasm and how his mom says it that way as an “inside joke” between her and Conor. “It’s so that Conor’s mom shows him that she gets that this is hard for Conor to handle. She wants him to know she is on his side” one student amazingly pointed out. These are the kinds of things I want them to notice. Not so much content, but style and sentence fluency.

Then they set off on their own! It was time for them to work in their small groups and annotate their chapter–together. I knew that I wanted them to collaborate together so I printed out each chapter on extra large (11×17 to be exact) paper, and set them up in areas that they could circle up and all work together. I gave them the space to work it out and let them discuss the dialogue. If they couldn’t get it, I encouraged them to read it aloud to each other and discuss.

I was amazed at how well they did in their chapter prep work. Often there are students who will push back because they are scared to read out loud, but I found that having only one page, and six other students doing the same thing helped them through their stage fright.

The last step of that day: I let them chose the page they will be reading aloud for the audiobook chapter.

 

Practice (Group and Individual)

I opened the next class by reading a chapter to them. I did my deep intimidating monster voice, I did my frustrated Conor voice, and I did my mean grandmother voice. I put myself out there and it made the kids smile (and yes laugh) but that is the point. Model for them what you are looking for, voices and all.

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I told them that they need to practice and become comfortable with their reading of the page and now is the time to do that. Armed with Screencastify (an easily downloadable Chromebook extension for most computers) and a copy of their individual page with annotations, I send them out to record themselves. After they turn the recording into me, I listen and give feedback. I did my best to coach them away from monotone reading, whispering, reading too fast, or too slow, or most importantly, NOT doing a monster voice.

Clearance and Final Recording

The students were set to go.  As one final step, I called each group into the hallway and had them rehearse the whole chapter, as a full group, for me. I gave them my last bits of feedback and sent them back into the room to do a final recording.


I am already looking forward to revising this unit–make it even better. I feel that it can work in any and all classrooms. So much can be learned by understanding how a book is meant to be read and it is our jobs to help the students learn that.

What do you think of reading aloud and making group chapters come to life? Do you see your students struggling to be authentic readers? How have you encouraged students to have authentic reading experiences in your classroom?


Brandon Wasemiller has been teaching a Franklin High School for the past four years. He graduated from the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin where he majored in Secondary English Education. When he is not teaching, Brandon coaches multiple sports (Girls XC and Baseball) and enjoys listening to audiobooks while at the gym.

 

What It Means to Be an American – Student Poetry Can Change the World

Student voice is at the center of impactful, inclusive, and inspirational education. And sometimes, we are lucky enough to teach a student who embraces the power his or her voice holds. img_8361

In the case of Rameen and Isabella, I am blessed this year with two strong, passionate, driven, and now poetic, young women in my AP Language class. When they were asked what it means to be an American in their Government class, they were soon sharing and revising a poem with several members of our English department. And when I heard the final version, I knew I needed to share it with you.

Raising Student Voice is the focus of NCTE’s call for proposals for the 2018 convention in Houston. In it, Program Chair Franki Sibberson says, “Our students’ voices matter. Their voices matter in our schools, our communities, and beyond. As teachers, we want our students to discover their own voices. We want them to know the power of their voices. We want them to know the power of others’ voices, and we want them to know the power of their collective voices. Most important, we want to help them discover how their voices might impact our world and to be empowered to use their voices to speak out for equity and justice.”

 

Isabella and Rameen are prime examples of what beautiful thoughts, words, and actions can come from students raising their voices for right in this world. The fact that Isabella left class the other day saying she’s writing poetry on her own now, warms my heart beyond measure.

Please enjoy the incredible words of these two gifted young ladies. I could not be more proud of their efforts, their sentiments, or their ever-growing understanding of the power their words can have on the world they are already helping to positively change.

They speak from experience. They speak from the heart. They speak their own educated, inclusive, and compassionate truth.

What could be more valuable to promote both within, and beyond, the walls of our classrooms?


 

Isabella: Well, what does it really mean to be an American? Rameen and I decided to tackle the subject when asked this question in Mr. Belan’s government class. We both come from cultural backgrounds that are considered minority groups in the United States (I am half Mexican) and as Rameen said, it isn’t uncommon for a minority’s American-ness to be questioned. We decided to write a poem discussing the subjects of what it really means to be an American.

Being an American isn’t all about being born and raised in the U.S. but there is so much more that makes this country what it is and it’s people who they are. We often forget the history of this country. As amazing as this country is, we forget that it was built on the backs of slaves. Forget that our founding fathers included immigrants. Forget that we are a nation that worked our way up when other superpowers at the time laughed and were certain we would fail. But our success story thus far has only been with the help of every single inhabitant, no matter how big or small their role.

Rameen and I felt that we needed to remind people of our true American values and beliefs. The values and beliefs of what it means to be an American.

Rameen: Growing up, I heard questions such as “Hey Rameen, where are you from? No, no…where are you really from?” or “Hey, what are you?” more often than I care to remember. I very well know that people are intending to ask about my cultural and ethnic background, but the manner in which the question has always been asked is incorrect. I was never offended, but I wanted to educate people about the true meaning of their statements.

Asking me, where I’m from is asking where I’m born or where I’ve lived, which is and always has been the United States. I am a natural American citizen, born in Cleveland, OH. But what most people intend to ask is, “Where are your parents or your family from?” or “What’s your ethnic background?” Now this question, I would respond to with “My parents are from Pakistan,” but I always made sure to follow this with, “but they’re American citizens” because somehow my parents being born in a different country, questions my American-ness.

I, in a way, feel obligated to prove that my family and I are just as American as someone whose family has been born and raised in the States for generations. Despite my entire family being American citizens, we were often faced with the challenge of subconsciously feeling the need to prove to others that we were deserving of that label. We were always extremely cautious of what we would say and how it could be interpreted as being a brown person living in the United States. We were always careful of where we spoke Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.

Being a minority in America often feels as though there are more eyes watching what you’re doing.


Without further ado, we present to you, “What it Means to be an American”

What it Means to be an American
By Rameen Awan & Isabella Barnard

We live in a world where success equates survival.
Where every man, brother, sister, and child becomes your rival.
This is a nation propelled by our wealth.
A place where working for your family is more important than one’s health.
They say that we are a nation of dreamers.
That people flock to our borders in hopes of earning the support of the believers.

We live in an era categorized by numbers on a screen.
Where narcissists are obsessed, wanting their every move to be seen.
Crafting the perfect one-forty characters is everything they strive for,
Forgetting that when it comes to life, there is oh, so much more.
They forget the knowledge that can come from simple conversation,
And will speak with their neighbors with fierce hesitation.  

We live in a country where we are to believe that we’re protected by our rights.
But after hundreds of years, many are still fighting those same fights.
Many fail to realize the true struggles that some endure,
And how becoming united as a nation is our only hope for a cure.

We live in a nation with members still supporting the Confederacy.
Supporting the ideals and beliefs of the current U.S. presidency.
It’s as though our slow and steady progress is being completely reversed
It’s as though the change we’ve tried to make is under an inescapable curse.

*****

We live in a land where many claim that the man in office is “not their president”
However, those that concur proclaim, “He is if you’re an American resident.”
But what is one to do if we believe that statement untrue,
If we believe that “America is a place for everyone,” except for me, you, and you?

We live in minds that expand the definition of innovate
Minds that test the boundaries of what man can create
We even sent the first man to the moon so he could gravitate
Other nations try but just can’t seem to replicate

We live in bodies that have the power to shape the future
With precise hands that perform the most intricate suture
With each generation growing when valued is the teacher
With souls that are not afraid of any sort of venture

We live in a society of the best and the brightest
Are we perfect? No. Not in the slightest
But with a military named the strongest
And people that constantly work their hardest
Being an American means having the option of going on your own conquest

It means exploring things to see in which you yourself should invest
It means having the right of choosing if and how you want to be blessed
It means enduring the most in order to find success
It means no restrictions on your mind or your word when in distress

If what it means to be an American is what you are attempting to define
Go back and carefully reread and consider each and every line
You are entitled to your own thoughts but here you’ve heard mine
If you want to better America, do it. Just don’t run out of time.

Shifting Control to Invite More Learning

569059I admit to liking control. I won’t go far as to say I’m a control freak, but I am freakishly close. As I age I realize I like more and more things in neat little rows, even my To-Do lists must be lined up perfectly, so I can make tiny check marks with my Precision pen.

I am ridiculous.

The hardest part of teaching for me is letting go. It’s also been the best thing for my teaching.

To be an effective workshop teacher, we step aside so our students can step in. They want to know their opinions, ideas, and choices matter. They’re hungry for it. We’ve written a lot about choice reading on this blog, and I know many of us advocate for self-selected independent reading, protecting sacred reading time like an O line protecting our quarterbacks.

I wonder what other choices we offer our students. How else do we invite them to own their learning?

Recently, I read this post “The Inspiration in Front of Your Eyes” by George Couros. He begins:

Often when working with educators, I try to give relevant examples of ideas that can be implemented into learning but get very specific to either a class or grade level.  My focus is not adding something to the plate of an educator but replacing something they currently do with something new and better than what they may have been doing before.  For example, instead of a teacher spending hours searching a video to explain a concept in math, or even creating it themselves, why not have the students find the concept and say why it is powerful, or having the students create some form of multimedia to explain the concept themselves? The flip is putting the learning into the student’s hands, which can lessen the work for the educator.

Deeper learning for the student, less work for the teacher.  Sounds good to me!

Couros goes on to explain the importance of being observant and connecting ideas we find in the world, and reshaping them to facilitate deeper learning for our students. Of course, this resonated. This is how we find mentor texts like author bios and user manuals. But Mr. Couros got me thinking about shifting the finding to my students.

Then before school a week ago Monday, I saw Kristen Ziemke‘s Padlet, Take a Knee. And I got another spark to shift my instruction.

I’d never used Padlet before, so while my students shuffled in to first period, I quickly made an account and created a board. I put one thing on it:  Kwame Alexander’s poem, Take a Knee, which I knew was the perfect quickwrite for the day after so many NFL players knelt in protest.

After we wrote and shared and talked in small groups and as a class about the issue. One student said, “I just don’t know enough about it to know what I believe.”

The perfect intro!

I suggested we make a text set that could help us understand the why’s and who’s and what’s of this hotbed of a topic, and I issued the challenge:  As a class of individuals with a wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds, we’d search for articles that would address all sides. We’d use Padlet as our storage space. Then we’d use the text set we build together for our learning in class.

With their phones and iPads, students went to work, and in the 10 minutes I gave them in class, they talked. Students talked about where to find information that “wasn’t biased,” “would tell them the truth,” “will help me want to know more.”

I leaned in to these conversations, teaching terms, suggesting sites, encouraging objectivity — and why it is important for our understanding of human needs and desires.

Our Padlet What’s the Argument is not complete. We haven’t had a chance to return to it yet, but we will. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to ask better questions in preparation for whole class discussions. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to synthesize information from a variety of sources. Maybe we’ll use it to spark ideas for the arguments we’ll post on our blogs. It doesn’t matter.

When we return to our Padlet, or even create another one that coincides with whatever peace-cannot-be-kept-by-force-it-can-only-be-achieved-by-understandinghotbed topic fires up the nation (sadly, there are so many), my students will know I value their input. They’ll know that helping them make sense of our world is as important to me as helping them love books and become good writers.

And maybe they’ll remember to look at all sides of the issues, to see into the hearts and minds of those we may disagree with so we can find a space for conversations.

If my giving up control makes space for that, I’ll take it every chance I get.

What ideas to do have to flip the learning into students’ hands, let go of control, and invite deeper learning? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen is a neat freak in her classroom but not her bedroom closet. She loves sharing books with student readers and reading students’ writing. She is the mother of six, grandmother to five, and wife to one very patient man. She teaches senior English and AP English Language at a huge and lovely senior high school in North Texas. Follow her on Twitter @amyrass

Have you asked students what they need? It is not too late

I am great at taking notes. I am lousy at looking back at them (a lot like my students).

But my student teacher is done with his semester, and am back reading and writing with my students each day. We’ve done a little AP exam crunch — our exam is today — and we are all ready for that test to be over. I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me. Fifteen days to solidify my students’ identities as readers and writers, not just students reading and writing for an English class.

It’s been a hard row with this group. This group, especially my brightest students who let grades motivate their every move. There’s a disconnect the size of the Mississippi when it comes to showing evidence of learning and whining about grades.

Maybe I notice it more because I haven’t been with them every class period for the past six weeks. But something’s got to give.

So I opened up my notebooks and read notes from the class Penny Kittle taught at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute in 2014. Don Murray leaped from the page:

“If you understand your own process, you stop fighting against it.”

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, but for the search for truth in which he is engaged.”

“If you don’t leave a conference wanting to write more, there’s a problem with the feedback.”

“We work with language in action. We share with our students the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, in choosing a true word.”

“Mule-like stubbornness is essential for every writer.”

“One teacher in one year can change a child’s view on reading.”

All reminders of what I love about teaching writers and what I hope for all my students. And I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me.

Recently, I read a great post by Tricia Ebaria titled “One Important Thing I Can Learn from Students.” This part resonates:

Rather than join the chorus of end-of-the-year countdowns, instead of giving in to fatigue (or cynicism), what if we reframed our thinking and asked ourselves: What’s the one important thing I can still do with my students? After all, it’s never too late to do work that is meaningful and important to our students and to the world.

Or how about this question: What’s the one important thing I can still learn about my students? studentswriting

So today I asked two questions to help me focus on students’ needs, and to help students focus on our need to keep learning:

1. Have your grown as a reader and a writer this year? And we talked about if the answer is no then we’ve both failed.

2. What’s one thing you still want, or need, to learn regarding reading and writing before your senior year and beyond? And students wrote their responses at their tables.

Some responses gave me pause. Others made me crazy. Many gave me hope that we still have time so every student can answer question one with a resounding YES.

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“Because we’ve really done nothing in class this year” is my first thought, right? But I have to wonder: Why does this students still feel this way?

student want 6

student want 8

student want 3

I’m celebrating the word PLAY.

student want 1

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student want 4

Hmmm. 

We have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to be willing to ask our students what they need from us as their teachers. If we don’t, we may miss the point of teaching them all together.

I learned valuable things about my students and how they feel about their growth. This lesson is enlightening and humbling. And frightening.

I am almost out of time.

So we started in our writer’s notebooks. Updating our currently reading lists and talking about the books we’ve read, we’ve started, abandoned, and we’ve finished. We updated our challenge cards and checked our progress.

I book talked Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, my new favorite (I wrote about it here), and American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and let students know I had a fourth copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All books I’d read when Joseph was teaching and was dying to share with kids. Students eagerly reached for them, even tussling over Zentner’s book. (TBH I shudder just a bit when I think about not getting these new books back with it being so close to the end of the year.)

Next, I showed them an idea for their end-of-year writing — a pretty monumental task for teens already dreaming of days out of the classroom. But I think I sold them on how it can answer my question #2.

Multi-genre. Thank you, Tom Romano, and Shana for showing me how a marvelous multi-genre project can light a fire within my writers and let them showcase their interest, their talents, and the learning they’ve acquired this year.

We looked at samples. We talked about topics and research and genres. We talked about how the topics we choose can potentially help us learn the things we still need and want to learn.

We got excited about writing. I think some even got excited about learning.

So with 14.5 days left in the school year, we committed to a pretty intensive end-of-year plan.

I have a mule-like stubbornness when it comes to teaching readers and writers. Certainly some of that will wear off on my students, and maybe someday they’ll look back on their notes and their writing from their junior year in high school and recognize they’ve learned and grown in their “search for truth” as a writer.

How are you utilizing your end-of-year time? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 at Lewisville High School. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. Facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy delights her. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

None of the Above: A Bubble-Free Final Exam

Remember Scantrons tests? The filling in of bubbles at semester’s end in order to prove your worth as a scholar? Many of my anxiety-cloaked memories of high school involve those hideous little forms, a No. 2 pencil, and hours spent hurriedly filling in bubbles to demonstrate my multiple choice understanding of the world.

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Once upon a time, I took this type of test. Early in my career, I gave them. Currently, I hate them. Or rather, as this is a company name I certainly wouldn’t dream of defaming, I hate the concept of a test format that negates creativity, deep thinking, or conveyance of personal connection to learning. While admittedly easy to grade, I don’t recall the last multiple choice test that left me satisfied with the assessment in any way.

Now, before I get myself in hot water, both with Scantron and my fellow teachers, there are realities associated with multiple choice testing that are inescapable, and if we want students to be prepared for the high stakes testing they will certainly encounter as a means to pass AP tests, seek admission to college, and succeed on many college campuses, then we must do our part in preparing students for this type of assessment and thinking. Applied Practice tests, for example, challenge students to dig into a passage and deeply analyze the author’s craft and style. That skill development and demonstration is a wonderful tool.

However, this post is about the opportunities presented to us as educators as we look to the end of a grading term and search for ways to have students think critically about their cumulative learning, their growth as readers and writers, and the

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Bailey’s reading insight.

connections they’ve made throughout our time together that will move them forward as educated citizens.

Many of these thoughts started well before my work with workshop when several years ago, our administrative team organized a committee to discuss our practices around final exams. Scheduling, format, exemptions, and weighting were all on the table. My biggest takeaway from those reflections?

I wanted my final exams to be reflective of student thought, synthesis, growth, and accomplishment to this point. In other words, I didn’t want any part of our “final” exam to be final in any way except that it would happen to be our last assessment together.

In other words, a final exam should showcase rather than stifle.

It should be an opportunity.

In years past, a multiple choice test showed a student’s regurgitated knowledge of the texts we had read and the literary movements we had studied. A written portion challeneged skills in supporting claims, sometimes providing text evidence, and timed writing.

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Amelia’s reading takeaway.

Again, these are valid and necessary skills to prepare students for future academic endeavors. Personally, however, I have grown to believe that if a paper isn’t going to receive some feedback, it’s power and purpose are lessened, or even negated.

 

We want students to grow as readers and writers throughout the year. This should include their final assessment opportunities as well.

exam 1With that in mind, my colleagues and I have worked hard over the years to provide more authentic assessment opportunities for students to demonstrate their growth during final exams.

Portfolios have replaced timed papers. Graded discussions have replaced short answer questions. Reflective speeches, projects, and writing have replaced bubble tests. And, with the advent of workshop, choice reading reflection has become my go-to.

In January, the teachers in my Honors English 10 collaborative group, organized an opportunity for our students to share the insights gleaned from an entire semester of choice reading. I was so excited by the project that I added some additional symbolic and reflective elements to it and used it with my AP Language students as well.

Students reflect on the texts

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A reflection from Josh.

they have read throughout the course of the term, select meaningful passages from that reading (many had been marking key quotes in their notebooks throughout the year), and give a talk about how the reading changed, moved, and/or developed their thinking with the support of visual cues and quotes to provide context for their ideas.

Illustrations of such deep thought include:

  • Abby learned that “we all struggle, but it’s how we handle those struggles that truly defines our character.” 
  • Errin suggested that “our world is only as vast as our perspectives allow it to be.” 
  • Tahseen claimed that “books help me solve the problems in my life.” 
  • Bailey, in his infinite wisdom buoyed by the most sincere character, pled with the class to not “let ignorance blind you. Knowing ignorance is necessary to keep creating and learning.”
  •  Rachel said we must “know yourself and use that knowledge to go out and know the world.” 

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Some student samples from Amelia and Josh

As the time for final exam planning in at hand once again, here is a link to the project. Use it as a springboard for your own great reflective projects and encourage kids to once again see the value of the choice reading they have completed this year.

How have your finals evolved? What will your students be doing to wrap up the year? Please share in the comments. 


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She fondly remembers dabbing chapstick on her Scantron to try and fool the machine. This was during her rebellious streak, which lasted about four days. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

I really like grading papers

I have something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it:

 

I enjoy grading papers.

 

I do.

 

miranda sings haters back off

I learned about Miranda Sings from paper grading.

When I grade papers, I learn about the world.  I ask questions I never thought I’d ask.  I become more informed.  Grading papers, when it is going well, is like reading a really, really, really long newspaper.

 

Some of the things I’ve learned from student papers:

 

  1. Superstar quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t a top draft pick back in the day.
  2. The NFL has a lot of strange rules and has an even stranger escalating fine scale for the strange rules.  
  3. In some states there’s a different minimum wage depending on whether you receive tips or not.
  4. The Denver Broncos have a home field advantage because they are used to breathing in that Mile-High air.
  5. The Jets had a miserable season and we’re still pointing fingers all over the place as to who is to blame.
  6. Disney Channel shows are NOT what they used to be.
  7. It will be difficult, but not entirely impossible, for Donald Trump to build a wall against the Mexican border.
  8. Caffeine has some health benefits.
  9. There are child YouTube celebrities.

 

It’s fun to grade papers when students know they have something they want to share.  Getting students to that point, however, requires some heavy lifting.

 

 

  • I model and post my brainstorms.  If I am asking 100 students to come up with new ideas, I have to come up with some fresh ideas, too.  I share my brainstorming at the beginning of a unit and continue to post and share brainstorms throughout the unit, and students who feel stuck take to or modify my original ideas.  This is not unlike the editorial meeting where the editors toss out a variety of ideas and writers pick up the assignment.
  • I try to develop a “yes” culture that empowers risk-taking.  My students are age-young and experience-young.  They don’t know that there are culturally hip, feminist publications like Teen Vogue or analytical commentary pieces like those in Vulture.  They don’t know that The Economist blends news pieces and opinion pieces.  Or that published writers often figure out what they want to write as they write it.  I have a lot of teaching to do around the words “Yes,”  “Try it!” and “Other writers already do something like this.”
  • I meet writers slightly above eye-level.   As teachers, writers, and readers, I think it’s partly our responsibility to share knowledge and resources with our students.  If they wrote about cell phone addiction last year (and they all did, they all do), then this year I have to talk to you about privacy and apps on your phone.  If you’re reading the MARCH graphic novel series, I have to tell you about the time a Harvard professor was arrested for trying to break into his own home.  When they ask me “Is that real?” “Did that really happen?” I know I’ve struck writer’s notebook gold.

 

 

How do you help students brainstorm new topics so that you aren’t reading the same paper hundreds of times over?

 

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  She defers to her students’ judgment on good YouTubers.  She tweets at @HMX_MSE

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