Category Archives: Professional Development

What’s My Non-negotiable? Conferencing.

photo of yellow light bulb

Yesterday, my amazing English department met to discuss Why They Can’t Write. (If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.) We spent the morning discussing and questioning the text, our practices and ourselves as teachers before breaking up to think about how the ideas from our morning conversations could be applied in our classrooms. It. Was. Amazing. PD.

See, I crave these conversations in my professional life; I’m constantly having them with myself in my head – especially when I’m driving by myself – and I’m lucky enough to have a fabulous PLC who are willing to indulge in these wide-ranging deep dives into our practices almost at the drop of a hat. However, the more I have, the more I want. So to be able to have such a thoughtful conversation with such intentional educators was so inspiring. I left with so much to think about, so much to question; in fact, one of our final takeaways inspired me to change the content of this blog post. I was planning on writing about using station rotations in large classrooms. However, after we asked ourselves to use the last few weeks of summer to think about our non-negotiables when it came to the instruction we offer and the relationship-building we crave, I wanted to reexamine my non-negotiables.

After some reflection, I realized the biggest sacrosanct practice is conferencing with students. A few weeks ago, we reposted an excellent piece by Angela Faulhaber; she included an image that quoted Carl Anderson: Conferring is not the icing on the cake; it IS the cake. And, man, does that hit the nail on the head.

Regular conferencing improves student performances and my relationships with my students and, honestly, their relationships with each other unlike any other practice I’ve ever tried. After trying conferencing for a year, I can’t see myself ever teaching without it. It’s a staple of the 3TT world as well: we’ve written about it here and here and here.

Even with all of the value that I find in conferencing, I have to admit that the first conferences last year went… well… poorly. They were super awkward and sometimes stilted. The kids hadn’t bought in yet, and, really, I probably just seemed like a weird lady who wanted to know about their reading habits a little too intensely. I’m also an extreme introvert, so I’m always worried that the conferencing – which doesn’t come naturally to me – is made more uncomfortable for everyone because those early one on one conversations are so out of my wheelhouse. It takes a while to draw reluctant students out of their shells and for both of us to become more comfortable with each other, but the end results are so worth any early awkwardness.

Here’s how this first conference runs: 

  • I created a Signup Genius form, and students chose a time that works for them. I scheduled ten minutes per conference. I set a timer and tried really hard to stay within the ten minute time frame; I wanted to be respectful of their time. 
    • This year, I think I might extend the sessions to 12 minutes. 
  • Students prepared answers to a series of questions before they came to the conference, so no one was put on the spot. I wrote about those questions and their results last year
  • This year, I’m revamping those questions just a little. Last year, students responded to each question. I think this year, I might allow them to choose two or three questions to respond to, hopefully allowing us to get to the ‘meat’ of the conversation a little faster.
    • Instead of asking what students have read lately, I want to draw a distinction between reading for pleasure and reading for class. So I am asking students to discuss one on one with me their aha/agree/disagree moments from their summer reading selections, and then I’ll follow up with a question about how they see themselves as a reader/what they read for pleasure. I thought some of them seemed guilty or ashamed when they said they didn’t read for pleasure last year. I want to try to avoid that feeling for them. 
    • Instead of just asking them to talk about themselves as writers, I’m toying with the idea of asking them to bring a piece of writing that showcases how they feel about themselves as a writer. Last year, I realized that students didn’t really view themselves as writers really – but they had very firm impressions of themselves as a ‘good’ writer or a ‘weak’ writer, but they couldn’t really articulate WHY they felt that way. Hopefully, changing this question will lead to more celebrations of what they already are or have accomplished.
      • I do think it will be interesting to see who goes the reader route and who goes the writer route and try to tease out why they chose that particular question in the conference. 
    • I’m getting rid of the how do you learn best question entirely; that’s right out. We ended up spending a lot of time on this question, but I didn’t use it to change my instruction that dramatically. I just need to remember to vary my instruction for different learner types throughout the year.
    • I’m also getting rid of the homework question from last year. It’s ok if I don’t know that they turned in homework on time or turned in homework late when they were sophomores. In reality, I actually ended up using this question to discuss their current schedule, trying to suss out how much they had on their plates. I can just run a report in our grade book to figure this out.
    • I’m keeping the last question, which is designed for students to ask questions or bring up concerns, unchanged. This one led to some very rich, necessary conversations and allowed me to calm nerves, change seating charts, and offer strategies BEFORE they were needed. I’m hoping that I’ll have more time for this question after revising the other questions.

I’m excited to see what these changes will bring to my new set of students. Last year, I noticed an immediate uptick in class participation, discussion and a willingness to ask questions and seek out help and understanding after students had their conference. I’m hoping for more of the same this year as well. 

If you offer introduction conferences, what do you do that works for you?

Sarah Morris teaches AP English Language & Composition, AP Seminar,  and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. She is currently wondering if Steve Harrington’s name was chosen before or after the casting team saw Joe Keery’s impressive head of hair. (It’s summer, and these are summer thoughts!) She tweets at @marahsorris_cms. 

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Filling your tank

Happy Summer, friends!!

By now hopefully you have had some time to recover from the hustle and bustle of the school year. My school has been out for over a month now, but that means that my summer is halfway over! One of the things that is so important for all of us is to find time to recharge over the summer break.

What’s the first thing that you think of when you think about recharging? I think about travel! My husband decided that he’d run a half-marathon along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon this summer, so we made a little fun trip out of it. Amazing! Oh, and while he was busy running around at 7000-8600 ft altitude (crazy man!), I spent about 4 hours reading surrounded by this gorgeous view! Win-win! 🙂

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But recharging can’t always just be about escaping life, can it? The other thing that I’ve done quite a bit of this summer is getting recharged by doing some professional development that has refreshed my teaching spirit and gotten me excited for the coming school year.

My first experience was as a reader for the AP English Language & Composition course. About 1600 high school and college English teachers spent all week reading about 1000 essays each to score this year’s AP Lang exam. Not only did I learn an incredible amount about this exam and what’s needed to do well on it, I also met some amazing educators from around the country. Think about it–I spent 8 hours a day with people who teach exactly what I teach! Talk about a PLC! We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, and it didn’t matter if you sat down with a complete stranger because you had tons of things to talk about. Fabulous!

Next up on my summer of recharging was a week at an APSI (Advanced Placement Summer Institute). There are some changes coming in the way AP Lang exams are scored, and I wanted to take advantage of a week of training so that I could best serve my students. When I got approved to travel to this training, I decided to take the training with an instructor who I’ve admired for a couple of years. He’s someone who is in the same Facebook AP group (it’s an amazing group) and I’ve really appreciated the lessons that he shared and the way that he encourages others.

What happens when you go to work with a rockstar? Other rockstars are also drawn to the same place.  My APSI class was a master class of teachers, both experienced at teaching AP Lang and new to it. What an engaging and enriching week! We talked, we modeled instruction, we traded ideas for approaching the material–we did all of that and more!

Teaching can be an incredibly isolating career. Oftentimes it feels like we’re in this alone. This is especially true if you’re in a small school or a small department. For me, the summer is the time that I try to reach out and broaden my horizons. I try to find others who think and work like I do and then I soak up as much learning and experience as I can from those people. It refreshes me and rejuvenates me to go back into the classroom to get ready to help my new crop of kids grow and learn as much as possible.

Whatever you do to recharge this summer–whether it’s traveling or reading or digging into some incredibly PD–I hope that you enjoy your break and come back to the new school year refreshed and engaged and ready to broaden the minds of the young people in your care. If you’re looking for others ideas about professional development, check out this post about doing workshop, this post about finding mentor texts, and this post about great books!

Enjoy your break!

Q & A: How do I do this on my own without other colleagues teaching this way? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered (1)

Believe me when I say I understand. Completely. I think many other teachers who took off the old shoes of making all the choices in their English classes and tiptoed, stomped, or danced into workshop instruction understand, too. Sometimes we are the only one hearing the music.

This was me most of the time.

Of course, working with colleagues in highly functioning PLC’s is advantageous. If we’re lucky, we’ve been in a few grade level teams, or even full departments with colleagues who embrace the choice and challenge readers-writers workshop offers and collaborate well. Other times we have to stick with our knowledge of what works best for growing readers and writers and make our own instructional choices, based on what we know is best for the students relying us in our own classrooms. It’s always our own students who matter most.

So how do I do workshop on my own without other colleagues teaching this way?

Here’s the advice I got when I asked a similar question to someone with a whole lot more experience than me in all things authentic reading and writing instruction:   Nod your head a lot, and then close your door.

That’s pretty much what I did for the first eight years when I was figuring out how to manage a classroom library, give students choice in the books they read, hold them accountable in some way for their reading, get them writing more (and better), using mentor texts, conferring semi-regularly, and trying not to lose my mind when I’d go to team meetings and hear “I’m teaching ________ (insert title from the canon) and making students do study questions, along with these specific annotations. Do you want a copy of my test over the book?” Thanks by no thanks.

We teach readers, not books. And maybe it’s just me, but when I hear teachers say “I make my students do ____”, I kind of cringe. Study questions, annotations for all (done with a teacher’s specific rules for notes instead of the reader’s own rules), and tests over books:  Sandpaper on teeth.

When I shifted my instruction to include choice, student engagement soared. I was converted, and I hungered for more ways to fully move into workshop instruction. But at the time, I was the only convert on my campus. I was lonely there.

However, I had company outside my school. Everyone who determines to make this shift does. You may just have to find it.

First off, there’s this blog. I started it with two brilliant teachers, Heather and Molly, I met at a summer institute of the North Star of TX National Writing Project, a site of National Writing Project. We wanted a place to write about how we applied our learning from our institute with our students, and we wanted a space that helped us stay connected. I was teaching at a Title I high school in a district just north of Dallas; Molly had just moved to a high school with a focus on project-based learning in Longview; Heather taught middle school in a district east of Ft. Worth. (If you know north TX, you know we spanned a distance geographically.) I tell you this history for a few reasons:

The National Writing Project advocates for authentic writing instruction, and it is one of the best networks of educators, willing to collaborate and share, I know. If you can link to a site near you, you will never do this work alone.

Three Teachers Talk has grown as my learning about workshop instruction has. Heather and Molly moved in exciting career directions different than mine, and at times this blog has really been one teacher talking as I tried to figure things out. (Note: Writing helps us figure things out.) Then, when I attended the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute and took a two week class taught by Penny Kittle, and learned with Shana, Erica, and Emily, a similar blog-writing collaboration happened.

We started writing regular posts here called Our Compass Shifts because we were all working to shift our thinking about instruction and apply the learning from Penny’s class with our own readers and writers. Our teaching souls clicked. The Modern PLC. Emily and Erica wrote with us for awhile, but like Heather and Molly they moved on to other good things. We remain friends, but Shana — Shana remains as Diana exclaims of Anne in Anne of Green Gables, my “bossom friend. A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul.”

To continue improving, growing, striving to do right by our students, I think we all need at least one bossom friend. I’ve got two in Shana and Lisa, two of the other admins on this blog. (Angela, you’re up-and-coming.)

I had to find them though. I couldn’t keep my classroom door shut and not step in to learning opportunities that helped me grow. Growing takes action.

So how do I do workshop on my own without other colleagues teaching this way?

Seek out connections with others who are making workshop work. All of the contributors on this blog have been where you are. Read their posts. Leave comments. Ask questions. Email me directly if you can’t find answers amy@threeteacherstalk.com. Like everyone else in the teaching world, I’m busy, but I will do my best to help. (And your questions may turn into blog posts. That’s how I met the amazing Lisa Dennis.)

Join a network of passionate educators on Twitter. There’s chats for you. #TeachWrite #DistruptTexts #buildyourstack #3TTworkshop #titletalk #NerdyBookClub #APLitchat #teachlivingpoets all come to mind. So many teachers moving the work of choice and challenge — and equity — forward. If you are new to Twitter and don’t know who to follow, follow us @3TeachersTalk; then, check out who we follow — educators like you.

Read books by those who’ve built a movement, and join in on discussions. Some of our favorite teacher-writers are active on Twitter, and they share brilliant ideas regularly. Thomas Newkirk, Tom Romano, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Linda Rief, Cornelius Minor to name a few.

Also, Shana put together a fabulous resource page here. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good start.

I know joining chats, reading books, and connecting online does not replace collaboration on a campus, but it does work to help us grow in our practice.

Just like my daughter has online friends who are in the #houseplantclub, and my sister has online friends who play Pokemon Go, teachers — eager to make workshop work for their students — can find the support they need to make this ever-important pedagogy of engaging students as they grow in their identity as readers and writers work.

Press on, my friends, we are here for you.

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. Go here see other Q & A posts about Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop.

How do you read enough to match students with books? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered (1)The verb is the key. How do we read enough in order to help students find books they want to read? We read. We have to read — a lot. And we have to know our students.

The reading part is fairly simple. Well, as simple as carving out the time for it, which I know can be a challenge. Maybe it’s a matter of belief. I have to believe my time reading books I may not normally choose for myself will be worth it. I have to believe that YA literature has substance. I have to believe that my students will read, and most likely read more, when I can recommend books because I have read them.

We find time for the things we value. Simple as that. If we value our readers, we must do the things that help them want to read, and reading books that appeal to adolescent readers is a major part of it.

Book Stack

My Current To Read Next Stack

Personally, I like books in print because I like to save favorite sentences and passages that I might be able to use for craft lessons as I read. But audiobooks are a time saver I trust. I usually have at least two books I’m reading at any one time, hardcopy and in Audible. (I started The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater yesterday; I’m halfway through listening to There There by Tommy Orange.)  And honestly, there are some books I just can’t finish, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read enough to know if I might have a student who wants to give it a try. I can read enough to know if a book might engage one of my readers.

I have to know my readers. The best way I know to get to know them is by talking to students one on one.

Again, the time issue.

Short personal writing can be a real time saver, especially at the beginning of the year or a new semester. Lisa’s Author Bio idea is one of my favorites, ever. I also like to use Meg Kearney’s Creed poem and have students compose their own. Writing like this gives students permission to show themselves, and it gives me an invitation to see into their lives. This is what I need to help match students with books.

A follow up question to the How do you read enough . . .? is often:  How can I find books my students will want to read? or What are some great books for seniors? for 7th graders? for sports enthusiasts? for dog lovers? for a student born in Pakistan? for a group of kids into becoming Insta famous?

I don’t know.

Your school librarian will, most likely.

(Really, I may have some ideas for a few of those questions….but that’s not the point.)

Create a partnership with your school librarian. Hopefully, you still have one. This person loves books and advocates for books and readers. This book expert is a friend to self-selected independent reading, and this professional has access to book lists with descriptors and synopses. (And sometimes funds to add books to the school library.)

Of course, you can find all kinds of book lists online:  Pernille Ripp posts great lists on her blog. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) shares picks. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has Best of the Best lists. Edith Campbell recently posted a list of 2019 middle grade and YA books, featuring and written or illustrated by Indigenous people and people of color. And, of course, this list I crafted before Christmas — all recommendations from the contributors on this blog.

To make self-selected independent reading work, which is a vital part of an authentic literacy focused pedagogy, we have to do the work. We have to read, and I wish I could remember where I heard it first:  Reading YA literature is a powerful form of professional development. Isn’t it?

Amy Rasmussen reads a ton of books on the porch, in the yard, by a pool, on her bed in North Texas. She will be spending a lot of her summer with teachers facilitating PD around readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Her favorite. She’s also going to be doing a lot of writing. And a little poetry study at the Poetry Foundation Summer Teachers Institute in Chicago. Follow her @amyrass

 

Q & A: Where do you find mentor texts for informational reading and writing? #3TTworkshop

Questions AnsweredHere’s the thing:  Finding engaging mentor texts, whether to integrate current events into lesson plans or use them to teach reading and writing skills, requires us to be readers of the world.

“I don’t have time,” I hear some thinking. Yeah, well, finding the time to read ourselves is the best professional development available.

Want to engage students more in independent reading? Read a wide variety of engaging and inclusive YA literature. Want to shake up literature studies? Read more diverse and award-winning literature. Want to bring real world events into the classroom for some critical discussion? Read a whole bunch of news.

There’s no secret to finding mentors that will work. We just have to do the work to find them.

We can rely on others to help. Kelly Gallagher posts the articles of the week he uses with his students — a good resource. Moving Writers has a mentor text dropbox — also good. However, what works for some students may not work for others. We know this.

We also know our students. We know the instructional goals we have for them, and we know what they need from us in terms of interest and ability (at least we should.)

So — read more. Read with a lens that will best meet your needs and the needs of your students. Sometimes we find treasure.

For me treasured mentors, particularly for informational texts — because they often get a bad rep — are those that are not boring. (In my experience, most students think info texts are boring.) Voice, format, and style = engaging real world informational writing.

I’m sure there’s more out there, but here’s three sources I read regularly. Sometimes I pull long excerpts, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes sentences to use as mentors.

The Hustle. “Your smart, good looking friend that sends you an email each morning with all the tech and business news you need to know for the day.” You can sign up for the newsletter here. Here’s a sampling of a great piece with imbedded graphs and data: How teenage hackers became tech’s go-to bounty hunters. This is a mentor I would love to use with high school classes.

The Skimm. (I’ve shared this before.) “Making it easier for you to live smarter.” Sign up for the newsletter here. The women who started this site are all about promoting and advocating for women. I like that. Their podcast is interesting, too.

Robinhood Snacks. “Your daily dose of financial news.” I’ve been teaching myself about investing for the past couple of years, so this one just made sense to me — the newbie-tentative investor. What I like is how the writers make the information so accessible — and they post a “Snack fact of the day,” which will often work as an interesting quickwrite prompt. Sign up for the newsletter here.

What about you? Do you have favorite resources to stay in the loop of the news or to find treasured mentors for informational reading and writing? Please share in the comments.

 

Amy Rasmussen spends a little too much time reading daily newsletters and checking her most recent stock purchases. Her favorite investing apps:  Robinhood, Stash, and Acorns. Really, if she can do it, you can, too. Amy lives, writes, and loves her family in North Texas. Follow her @amyrass

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.

Sowing Seeds of Light: Reflections Following Time with Cornelius Minor

In October, I heard Kelly Gallagher explain that “our job is to create an ecosystem that serves to democratize opportunity.” In December, I observed Cornelius Minor facilitate this in my classroom. Yep, you read that right. THE Cornelius Minor spent an hour with my students, modeling the moves he makes to “disperse power throughout the room,” swiftly engaging students while simultaneously instructing a group of educators.

At all times, Minor modeled what democratization looks like. Prior to the hour in my classroom with students, he spent time with the staff who would be present during the lesson, in his own words, “planting seeds of ownership.” He asked us, “How are you?” and “What’s one thing to work on with you that would meet the needs of students?”. We delineated this, worked in conjunction with him to plan the lesson, and ultimately, “opted into learning” (Minor’s words again).

What followed in the classroom portion of the experience was remarkable. Because my colleagues asked for modeling of close reading, selecting evidence, and metacognition, Minor engaged the students in a digital text–a short video clip from a TV show–and chunked close reading into noticing stuff and providing structured opportunities for talk (structured in that each student had a role to fulfill). From there, he moved to a more complex text (a controversial poem) and continued to ask students to notice stuff; then he offered multiple perspectives on the text, asking students to grapple with these frames, seek evidence, and explore the inherent symbolism. My students simply, as they later reflected, had no timed to get bored or distracted. I observed true cognitive energy, energy sparked by intellectual curiosity, energy that connected my students one to another, each connection a charged particle contained into a beam of light on that December morning.

This light pushed me to confront the idea that my kindness and my work ethic will be enough. That when things aren’t quite right in the classroom, I can just work harder–at relationships, strategies, skills, feedback, whatever. I am not Orwell’s Boxer. In fact, if I continue defaulting to my strengths (of hard work and kindness) instead of working in small deliberate ways to grow, I oppress my students and myself. I’ve got work to do. I’ve got new terms to perseverate on, strategies to focus to, and questions to keep asking myself. And that beam of light will keep me focused on growth.

Terms to Absorb

Important: (for the student to know later–for that test, the next class, college): a teacher-centric term, a framing that doesn’t necessarily account for students’ perspectives or experiences at that moment.

Text Agnostic: without preference for specific texts. See “important” above. Connects to the value of choice in workshop. Means seeking out regularly what’s on students’ minds to cull texts.

Cognitive Overload: what a learner experiences when both the context and content are beyond readiness (both content and context are hard or unfamiliar). This stifles growth and ultimately creativity.

Justice: “what love looks like in public” (Minor).  

Aspirational Discomfort: What I’m experiencing as a professional right now. Have I mentioned I’ve got work to do? But I’ve already mentioned my Boxer-like tendencies, so…  

Strategies to Disperse Power

Feedback: One of the most important ways workshop presents opportunities to democratize learning is through feedback. Yes, by providing students with affirming and constructive feedback, I communicate to my students that their ideas and words matter in this classroom. But by seeking feedback from students (which is an additional strategy Minor modeled so well), I model the openness a writer needs for growth–even when not modeling this with writing. After all, I am a person in position of authority seeking opportunities to keep growing and getting better. Yes, we tout teacher vulnerability all the time as a tenet of workshop. But there are a million tiny little ways to do this beyond what we do already that will strengthen our ecosystems.

  • Position students in roles to provide feedback (and Minor emphasizes to let students know you’re doing just that); during his time in my class, Minor selected a student to help signal when something was confusing. Since his visit, I’ve been more deliberate and consistent about pulling aside a few students to check in on my pacing, and I plan to make this a routine in my classroom.
  • Seek feedback mid-stream: check in with students in various ways. Ask for permission to keep going. Ask how they’re feeling. Read Minor’s book and you’ll discover other informal ways, including the on-the-fly class meeting.

Roles: A fairly common practice of collaboration, especially within small groups, relies on taking roles.

  • As a teacher, I can share with students when I have conflicted feelings or interpretations of a text (this is a good thing–it models how our understanding is always evolving. Several students reflected on the power of this.).  Awareness of my confliction communicates that the authoritative interpretation of the text doesn’t begin and end with me. My role shifts, however infinitesimally. 
  • Use these conflicted interpretations, critics’ various interpretations, or ones students generate themselves to assign students roles to take. Minor used a complex and controversial text and, after offering two ways to frame it, assigned students (using partners A  and B) to find evidence to support their viewpoints. Roles extended to other tasks of this close reading of this text. Another student noted how “each person had something to look for” while another remarked that “he made us all feel included and excited.”

Questions to Encourage the Reflection Necessary for Doing the Work

  • How do I fuel my students to preserve that cognitive energy?
  • How do I scaffold experiences so as to avoid cognitive overload?
  • In what ways and at what times do my students “opt” into learning?
  • In what situations in the past have my students “opted” into learning?
  • In what ways can I plant seeds of ownership?
  • How do I send power throughout the room?

I’ll keep doing the work. I’ll continue the journey of democratizing my classroom in small ways, every day. I’ll work to improve how students see themselves in my classroom, helping them harness the power that’s always been theirs. I’ll keep sowing seeds of light. 

Kristin Jeschke teaches College Prep English and AP Language and Composition at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa. She marvels at her students who so readily engaged in the moment, even with a classroom full of educators studying their every move. She marvels, too, at the light emanating forth from the giants in our field, inspiring us all to keep reaching. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

 

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