Category Archives: Questions & Answers

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

 

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Q & A: How does workshop work to prepare students for college? (Or I love teaching these books) #3TTWorkshop

 

Questions Answered (1)I’ve been asked this question in several different ways:  How do we do this for college prep courses? How does workshop work in an AP English class? If I’m not teaching books from the canon, how am I preparing students for college? And we’ve written about it a lot on this blog. (See here and here and here and here and here and here for starters.)

Sometimes I think we have misplaced ideas about what is expected of students in college — especially if we were English majors, and our students may not be —  and perhaps some skewed ideas of what rigor looks like when it comes to high school English classes.

I first clued in when I read Readicide by Kelly Gallagher. No doubt, I killed the love of reading — and the love of the literature I loved — the way I “taught” the books I expected my students to read. (Most didn’t.) Since then, I’ve studied, practiced, implemented, revised, and stayed up late thinking about how I need to revise my instruction in order to best meet the needs of my students. All of my students — not just those in a college prep or AP English or those going to college — but every student in every English class in preparation for the rest of their lives. I want them to be fully confident in their literacy and all the gifts that will give them in whatever future they choose.

My students, not just those in advanced classes, or on a college-bound track, need to know how–

  • to think critically about their ideas and the ideas of others
  • to articulate their thoughts in writing (in multiple modes) and orally (with clarity and confidence)
  • to support their thinking with valid sources
  • to revisit their ideas and revise them when they encounter viewpoints that require them to extend, modify, or change their thinking
  • to verify sources, and identify and analyze bias

There’s power in these skills, opportunity and freedom — for our students and for ourselves. We do not need a list of “AP suggested novels” to teach them.

What we need is to build communities in our classrooms where students feel safe to engage in inquiry, share their thoughts, receive feedback, and give themselves to the learning process. Study guides, worksheets, TpT lesson plans, and the same ol’ same ol’ approach to teaching the same ol’ books will not cut it. Just because a book is considered of literary merit does not make the learning around it rigorous. Rigor is not in the text but in what students do with the text. (For more on this, see Jeff Wilhelm’s article “Teaching Texts to Somebody! A Case for Interpretive Complexity“)

What we need is to to know our state ELA standards or the AP English Course and Exam Description as provided by College Board. (I think the AP English Course descriptions scream “workshop.”) Then, begin thinking about and hunting for mentor texts, written in a variety of modes, that 1) prompt students to think in different ways about a different topics, 2) engage students in inquiry and class discussion, 3) spark ideas for research, and all along the way, invite students to write beside these mentors:  What do you think? What do you notice? What do you wonder?

At least this is the genesis of answering the question:  How does workshop work to prepare students for college? There’s so much more to it.

Resources that have helped me:  Write Beside Them and Book Love by Penny Kittle, Dr. Paul Thomas’ blog. Currently reading: Why They Can’t Write by John Warner, and the #1 on my summer reading list Handbook of Research on Teaching The English Language Arts 4th edition, edited by Diane Lapp and Douglas Fisher.

I once did a two day workshop, helping a district coordinator move her teachers into the readers-writers workshop model. In a reflection after our training, one teacher-participant wrote:  “I’ve been teaching for 24 years, and feel like I’ve been told I’ve been doing it wrong all along.” Nope.

But. . .

What if we could do instruction better?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in North Texas where she thinks, ponders, and writes about how to motivate, engage, and teach today’s adolescent readers and writers. She will be spending a lot of her summer facilitating PD focused on readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Follow her @amyrass — and she’d love it if you follow this blog!

 

How do I keep my students reading throughout the summer?

Questions Answered

Let us know if you have questions about readers-writers workshop. Throughout the summer, we’ll be posting answers. 

Don’t you just love this question so much more than “What do you do for summer reading?”

Of course, we know to get to the “keep my students reading” part, we have to do a lot of work — sometimes a whole lot of work — to get some student reading throughout the school year. And those of us who give so much of our time to this heart work of reading, can feel sad, anxious, and exasperated when our students leave us and get “assigned” a book, or more than one, for summer reading.

For several years, my AP Lang students, many who were second language learners who took a courageous leap to tackle an advanced English class, would read stacks of self-selected books, and grow exponentially as readers, only to get handed at the end of their junior year a summer reading assignment and a list of study questions for AP Lit. Beowulf. This is problematic on so many different levels — but entirely out of my control. What could I do?

The only thing that made sense at the time was to encourage my students to form their own summer book clubs. I suggested they might set some goals to read their assigned text first, and then meet together to talk about it — similar to what they’d done in class in the three rounds of books clubs we’d done throughout the year. Then, they could choose another book and meet up again. Students took it upon themselves to circulate an interest form, and most students wrote that they were interested.

It didn’t really work. I was too busy in the summers to commit to keeping the idea alive. And we all know soon-to-be-seniors, or many teens for that matter:  Procrastination is their BFF.

I still love the idea of summer book clubs, and I know some schools are having great success with them. Hebron High School is one of them. The English department at Hebron is doing amazing things to cultivate a culture of reading, not just during the school year, but throughout the summer as well. They open the school library every Wednesday afternoon, so students can select books — and get coaching for college essays. They’ve got book clubs scheduled with teachers and coaches. They’ve got a wish list for books circulating within their community. Really fantastic ideas to keep the focus on the power of reading.

Scholastic recently released a report about summer reading trends. The report states that 32% of young people ages 15-17 read zero books over the summer — up 10% in two years. The report also states that “53 percent of kids get most of the books they read for fun through schools—so what happens for that majority when school isn’t in session?”

It doesn’t take much to know the answer. So what can we do? Besides following Hebron’s lead, here’s a few ideas:

  • Talk up your public library! Invite a librarian to come visit your classes, and get students to sign up for library cards. One of my biggest regrets at my last school is that I didn’t take my 11th and 12th grade students on a field trip to the public library. We could have walked — the library was that close. I know the majority of my students had never been inside, and every year I thought what a great activity this would be. Every year I didn’t do it. #ifIcouldgoback
  • Cull your classroom library, and let students take home books. I know. I know. Many of us invest so much time, energy, and money building fantastic classroom libraries, and we lose enough books throughout the year without giving them out freely at the end of it. But, really, what can it hurt? Every year I’d pull books that I felt I could give up and put them on the whiteboard rails for students to take home for the summer. (Sometimes they even brought them back.) It didn’t matter. I’d rather have books in kids’ hands than hidden under butcher paper in my closed up classroom. Kristin does, too:tweet about giving books
  • Give students access to lists of high interest and award winning books —  and free resources. Pernille Ripp shares her students’ favorite books each year. YALSA has great lists. And a cool new Teen Book Finder. BookRiot published “11 Websites to Find Free Audiobooks Online.Audiobook Sync gifts two free audiobooks all summer. Great titles, too!
  • Invite students to talk to you about their reading. Yes, even during the summer! Lisa does this in a slowchat on Twitter with students who will be in her classes in the fall. Students tweet her updates about their reading lives. She tweets back. It’s a great way to build relationships and share book ideas.

Every year I feel like I could have done more to keep my students reading throughout the summer. The truth is — we can only do what we can do. Sometimes it touches the right student at the right time. Sometimes we just keep trying.

I’m sure you have more ideas. Please share them in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives, gardens, and rides her bike 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 thing. 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

New Q & A Posts Starting: If you’ve got questions about readers-writers workshop, we may have answers #3TTWorkshop

Yesterday I had a little chat with my five-year-old granddaughter who had just got in Elletrouble with her mom and dad for running away instead of coming when they called her. She’d had a scuffle with her little brother and didn’t want to stop playing long enough to get a talking to. (I can’t say I blame her. No one likes thinking they are in trouble.) After a dose of parental guidance and a tad of time, I knelt beside Elle and asked if we could talk. She melted me.

Elle reminds me of her mother — so full of spunk it could be dangerous. She’s fire and ice and double-dog-daring. She has the memory of a growing elephant, and she asks THE best questions. She’s fearless and inquisitive dolled up in loud and loving chaos.

As I knelt on the pavement in the park yesterday, looking into sparkling brown eyes, I couldn’t help but send a plea:  Please, God, do not let life and school and standardization hurt this highly-spirited mighty wisp of a darling intelligent diva.

I know I share concern with most parents and grandparents. And as teachers, we feel well-deep concern for many of the children we work with every day year after year.

Peanuts tired tomorrow cartoonIt can be emotionally exhausting.

That’s where I was a year ago:  Flat on my back exhausted. Overwhelmed. Overcome. There were several factors that added to my distress. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say this about one last straw:  I’ve become wary of some assistant principals, especially those assigned to evaluate English departments when they have zero literacy experience, — and they do not believe in edu research and data-informed practice. Boy, howdy.

Thus, my gap year, which went by faster than my Elle running from her mother.

Have I missed it? You’d have to define it.

I’ve missed working with teens every day. I have not missed some of their parents. I have not missed the effects of some of their trauma.

I’ve missed working with insightful and forward-thinking colleagues. I have not missed others’ same-old-same-old attitudes or platitudes.

I’ve missed helping writers write and readers read — more — and better. I have not missed trying to break the habits of inauthentic and limiting literacy instruction (only writing to prompts, taking fill-in-the-blank tests, worksheets . . .)

I’ve missed the joy of sharing daily book talks — books I’ve loved, books that gave me pause, books I hope to read, books I-couldn’t-get-into-but-maybe-you-can. I have not missed grades or justifying independent reading without them.

I’ve missed exploring and discussing current events, lyrics, art, poetry, and good books; diving into inquiry, writing from the heart — adolescents have keen insight and so much talent! I have not missed anything test-prep related (test-proctoring included).

I’ve missed my students and the relationships we build around becoming better humans. I have not missed the late work or grading policies that kept me perpetually behind.

I know there’s more — the good, the bad, and the ugly that goes into this profession of teaching. When I first entered the classroom, I had no clue. (I’d bet this is most of the population.)

So what now?

I wish I knew.

Only kidding. Kinda. I know I need to find a job (financially, I don’t know how we’ve made it this far.) I just hope I am better at self care.

I must be better at self care. I must be a better advocate of my practice. For myself and for my students.

So what does this all have to do with my granddaughter?

Elle is every child I’ve ever taught and every child I may ever teach. She’s a handful of opportunity — worth every pinch of sass and poke of attitude — and she needs teachers, especially literacy teachers who give her choice in what she reads and what she may want to write, who talk to her about her needs as reader and as writer, who care more about her as a tiny human than as a data point. Elle needs teachers who feed her inquiry and focus her energy. She needs teachers, equally curious and energetic, who have lives outside of teaching.

Oscar Wilde quote

For the past year, I’ve collected questions teachers have generated at the workshop trainings I’ve facilitated (a gift of part-time consulting work).  I try to answer these questions in the short time we have together, but now I’m thinking I can use these questions here at 3TT, too. I can remind myself of what I love about teaching readers and writers, and perhaps you, dear readers, may benefit, too.

So this is a charge to myself made public — Important since I’ve been awful about keeping my writing commitments and posting regularly, although in the past year I’ve — taught myself to watercolor, read 17 books that are not YA, planted a killer container garden, tried being a vegetarian, binge-watched too much on Netflix, cuddled grandbabies, had a book proposal accepted, and logged miles on my new bike —  Each week I’ll write a Q & A-type post that answers a question about teaching high school readers and writers in a workshop classroom. I used to feel I was pretty good at it.

If you have a question, related to ELAR and/or workshop, please leave it in the comments. I’ll try to spotlight yours.

Questions Answered

Amy Rasmussen has taught all levels of high school English, except AP Lit (gen ed, Pre-AP,  G/T, AP Lang) at two (Title I) high schools in N Texas. She’s passionate about self-improvement but knows perfectionism can kill the soul. She’s become vocal about teacher self care and refuses to even think about grading essays on the weekend. She loves her work as a literacy consultant, especially that moment when teachers want to read and write more — just like we hope for all our students. Follow Amy @amyrass

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