Category Archives: #3TTWorkshop

Formative Assessment Works!!!

For those of you who haven’t taught Seniors, trust me on this:  Formative assessment during the second semester is challenging.

If you’ve taught seniors, then you might understand where I’m coming from:  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they aren’t grasping a concept, or they are just too tired of school to have the energy to engage.

I hurts my heart to even consider that my precious learners are worried about bigger issues than Comparative Literary Analysis essays or finding examples of bias in their self-selected texts.  Prom looms five days away and graduation seven weeks after that.  They work, they compete in extra curriculars, they deal with the adults and peers in their lives.  I forget, sometimes, that their plates are filled with important thoughts.  I remind myself I’m not doing their stress levels any favors by point out that we still have important work to do before June 2nd.

Last Monday we reviewed an excerpt from Niel Schusterman’s Thunderhead as a mentor text for practicing literary analysis through all the lenses that should be crystal clear to these literate learners.  I needed to assess their understanding and thinking so that I could make decisions about the instruction leading up to the summative assessment.  That’s the point of formative assessment; to “form” a plan for instruction.

I read the short selection with them, and asked them if they would, please, mark their thinking on this first lap through the text.  They should, as they’ve done many times before, underline or highlight what they noticed about the words the author chose through the lenses of diction, bias, author’s purpose…literally anything they noticed within the realm of literary analysis. It’s the last nine weeks of their public education career. They should be able to look at a text through a variety of lenses.

Some of them made some marks on the page while others wrote notes next to highlighted lines or words.  Others, though, marked nothing.  [Alarms wiggle and stir in my head. Something’s not right.]

I asked them to share within their groups what they noticed.  Muted whispers of ethos, tone, and metaphor struggled out of some groups, but again, most said very little.  Very few connections were being made. For them and for me, the picture was as clear as mud. This, by itself, is important formative assessment. This wasn’t working. [Def Con 55- Full tilt klaxons at maximum volume!]

Yet, I refuse to blame them.  I fully believe that it is solely on me, the teacher, to facilitate engagement with the text.  Somehow I need to do a better job inviting them to take all those useful tools out of their tool belts and dissect this very meaningful text.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

I bear a striking resemblance to Tom Brady.  Photo by Keith Allison

In football parlance, I needed to call an audible in the middle of the game. What I had hoped they would do; they won’t or can’t.  It’s time for me to jump in and scaffold this concept to a place where they can see the connections they can make and I can assess their thinking.  I’m not going to put them in a position to fail on the summative assessment if I know they aren’t ready for it.

In a whole class mode, I read over the text, mark what I notice and verbalize my analysis.

Now I ask them to talk about what they notice.  There it is…an increase in discussion, an inflation in dialogue. The alarm volume turns down a notch, but it doesn’t turn off.

I wrap the class period up with an invitation to write about what moves the author is making and as they do I confer with a few students who seem completely flabbergasted.  The bell tolls, signaling an end to their literary torture session.

 

Thus was the source of my salvation:

book

I only saunter.

Jumping into this book reminded me of a few important tenets of writing instruction that I let myself forget:

  1. Give them choice- I was allowing no choice in the subject of their analysis.  I know better than to restrict their reading and writing experiences and I let my, and their, end of the year exhaustion affect my decision making.
  2. Show them, not tell them, what you want to assess.  I wasn’t showing them examples of literary analysis and again, I know better.  I was expecting, wrongly, that Senior English students would confidently engage in literary analysis and move forward with their thinking in a way that shows me they can write a response in essay form.

After school, I tore up my lessons plans for the next four days and re-wrote them to reflect what I SHOULD do to support my students in this exploration.

On page 5 of their amazing new book Marchetti and O’Dell introduce a mentor text written by Joe Fassler from The Atlantic.  His recurring series “By Heart” is a collection of responses from a diverse group of thinkers and writers and is an amazing resource.  A simple Google search returned a link to this series of essays. I scanned the list of the titles and discovered an article from September titled, “What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon.”   In it, Celeste Ng describes her feelings of the children’s book and how it “informs” her writing.

Perfecto!!!

This checked so many of the boxes of what I was looking for in a mentor text.  And…I get to read a children’s book to “big” kids.  I know enough about my students to know they will love this.

Also, I used Marchetti and O’Dell’s five part descriptions of literary analysis on pages 11 and 12 to create a glue-in anchor chart for their readers’/writers’ notebooks that helped to clarify what exactly we should look for when reading and writing literary analysis.

Confidence restored! Disaster averted… kind of.

We Ng’s reflection and discussed how this was a perfect example of literary analysis.  They asked questions, we laughed about Goodnight Moon.  I saw their confidence grow and I knew we were back on track and ready to move toward our essay.

Thursday, we started the drafts and I hope to see many of them tomorrow.

Being responsive and intentional is a crucial part of the workshop pedagogy.  I can’t stress enough how this one piece can make our break my teaching.  My lesson planning skills have finally reached the point where I plan for and anticipate opportunities to change up what we are doing to match what the students need. This was an opportunity for which I hadn’t planned, but we made the adjustment and made it work.

Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Let me know in the comments below when you’ve had to make big changes on the fly to support your students’ learning. I know I can’t be the only one.

Charles Moore is neck deep in Children of Blood and Bone.  He’s spending the day taking his daughter to school and then having lunch with her.  It might be the best day of his life.  His summer TBR list is growing uncontrollably; feel free to add to it in the comments.

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Why Workshop? Because Kids Deserve It!

When I first watched the Rita Pierson TED Talk titled Every Kid Needs a Champion, I found myself shouting, “Yes! This lady gets it!”  Our job is to help kids feel connected at school- to ensure that kids feel safe and taken care of while also giving them the best educational experience possible.  This TED Talk catapulted me into thinking- How Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 10.40.19 AMcan we do things even better? How can we reach more kids?  How can we ensure that every student feels connected to their school and their teacher? Don’t misunderstand me- I work with the best teachers around, who love kids and are passionate about the work they are doing in their classrooms.  However, we can always do more and get better, right?

I am a high school administrator, that is lucky enough to work with the English department.  We serve almost 3,000 students on a daily basis. It’s my job to ensure that every kid has a champion, someone they trust and feel has their best interest at heart.  It’s also my job to ensure that we are providing the best educational experience possible for our students because our students deserve that. James Comer said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”  That’s where the workshop model comes in. The workshop model provides us with the opportunity to give students choice in what they read and an authentic environment to write about things that hold value to them. It provides an avenue for our teachers to get to know students on a deeper, more personal level because students are ingrained in work that matters to them.  Teachers are able to work one-on-one with students through reading and writing conferences. Teachers are able to have in depth conversations over current events through philosophical chairs and classroom debates. Students talk about what they’re reading on a daily basis. Students improve their writing because they have great mentor texts and a teacher who is writing with them and modeling writing for them.  In short, we know our kids better because we have implemented the workshop model.  We are also able to teach all the skills we need to through choice reading and providing authentic writing opportunities for our students.

I love Amy Rasmussen’s blog post, So You Don’t Think Workshop Works?  5 Reasons You are Wrong, because she makes key points about why the workshop model can and does work in classrooms everywhere.  I found that as we made the shift away from a more traditional classroom structure to the workshop model, we encountered some people that questioned its effectiveness and its validity.  Some questioned how it would impact our state testing scores (they’ve gone up and we are closing the gaps for our students), some questioned whether students would actually be reading and learning the required TEKS in our classes (they definitely do and on an even deeper level than before), some questioned whether or not you could teach a PreAP or AP class through the workshop model (I see it happen on a daily basis).  It’s important to know your why and your purpose. When you know and believe that the workshop model is what is best for students, because of the positive impact it has for them both academically and relationally, it’s easy to defend.

As the workshop model has become more pervasive, and people notice the positive results happening within our department and in our district, we have received lots of requests for campus visits (which we love!), and I get asked quite often about how and why we made the shift to the workshop model in our department.  I thought I’d share my top tips for implementing and sustaining the workshop model in hopes that it helps you carry on the great work.

  1. Teammates.  You need a team of people who “get it” and believe that building student relationships is the key to success in education.  You need a team that understands workshop and why it’s essential in the English classroom, or at least a team that is willing to learn.  Hiring and retaining the best teachers around will help make your workshop thrive.  If you have an administrator, or teachers, that don’t understand the value, send them the Three Teachers Talk blog!  Point them towards professional authors such as Kyleen Beers, Penny Kittle, Jeff Anderson, Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, etc.  Have them attend conferences so that they are able to immerse themselves in the work.  Take them on learning walks so they can see it in action, or utilize technology to view workshop from afar.  It has been my experience that you have to see it in action to truly understand the work.  You need to talk to students to understand the impact it is having on their educational experience.
  2. Professional Learning Communities.  Whether you have a team of 6, 3 or 1, PLCs play an essential role in getting the workshop up and running and then also sustaining the workshop model.  Teachers need to collaborate with others. We need to talk about the work we are doing, how our students are doing, what engages them, and even what frustrates them.  We have to learn from each other.  At my school, we team within our school, our district, and even with teachers in other districts.  Additionally, I love blogs and Twitter and consider them a vital part of my learning community. I strongly encourage you to connect with as many people as you can while you are navigating the wonderful world of workshop.
  3. Conferring. Andrea Coachman, a Three Teachers Talk guest blogger and also the English Content Coordinator in my district, wrote a post about Accountability Through Conversation which details our district’s journey of implementing the workshop through one of the most Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 5.47.07 PMimportant aspects- talking with our students.  This area was a big learning curve for us.  The tendency is to think that having a teacher table or holding daily student conferences is an elementary concept, but in reality it’s what’s best for students at all levels.  The teachers I work with would say that conferencing with students has been a game changer.  They know their students strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing better than before, and they are able to target specific skills that each student needs.
  4. Money. Every school allots a certain amount of budget money to each department.  It really doesn’t matter if it’s a lot or a little, but you need to commit to spending your budget money on professional development for teachers and also books!  Teachers must have the training they need to run the workshop. It’s always a good idea to send them to professional development where they can learn from the experts. My teachers always come back and share with the department, so we all benefit from their learning.   If money is an issue, apply for grants and scholarships to help teachers attend professional development. There are also a plethora of professional books written to help teachers with workshop- check out 10 Pedagogical Must-Reads for Workshop Teachers.  Another important component of the workshop is having classroom libraries; they are a key component because our students must have a selection of books to choose from.  We have been lucky that our Media Resource Specialist has purchased many of our classroom libraries.  However, our teachers are also great about adding to their own libraries as well.
  5. GRIT.  Angela Duckworth wrote Grit which examines why some people fail and others succeed.  She defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.  It takes a lot of work to get the workshop up and running because the teacher is creating mini lessons based on their students needs, helping students find choice books, modeling writing with mentor texts, and conferencing with students.  We are in year 3 of implementation and are still learning and adjusting each day.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  

Workshop works and it’s worth it.  At 7:30 AM this morning, I was on hall duty, and a group of students came walking by, and said, “I love starting my day with English class.  It’s so fun- we read, we write, and we talk about it all. My teacher is the best! It’s the best way to start the day.”

 

Goodbye Days: a Craft Study and a Gorgeous Grand Slam

I love language. I love sharing my love of language with students.

When I read a book, I often dog-ear the pages, thinking of how I might use a passage to help my writers. Sometimes a book just does me in — so many beautiful words I cannot keep up. It’s a bonus if the story does me in.

Like Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. 30649795

If you haven’t read this book, oh, you’ll want to. Zenter’s first book, The Serpent King, kissed my soul. Goodbye Days took a hammer to it.

In a good way.

I started marking passages at page 36. I think because I forgot to think about it. Just read the first line of this YA novel:  “Depending on who — sorry, whom — you ask, I may have killed my three best friends.”

Mini-lesson opportunity one (whom), two (parenthetical with the dash), three (participial phrase), and four (voice)– all in one sentence.

The first time I really thought about using language from YA novels to teach my writers was in a class at UNH Literacy Institute taught by Penny Kittle. She showed us mentors of sentences and passages, pulled from the books she introduced to her students. She talked about how these craft studies also could serve as quickwrite prompts and book talks. A triple play.

Since then, Shana (who sat with me in Penny’s class) and I upped the ante:  some of our favorite mentors are hard-hitting home runs. But the following passage from Goodbye Days –It’s a gorgeous Grand Slam.


Excerpt from Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (p36)

     I feel like I’m watching something heavy and fragile slide slowly off a high shelf. My mind swirls with mysteries. The eternities. Life. Death. I can’t stop it. It’s like staring in the mirror for too long or saying your name too many times and becoming disconnected from any sense of yourself. I begin to wonder if I’m even still alive; if I exist. Maybe I was in the car too.

     The room dims.

     I’m tingling.

     I’ve fallen through ice into frigid black water.

     I can’t breathe.

     My heart screams.

     This is not right. I’m not fine.

     My vision narrows, as if I’m standing deep in a cave, looking out. Spots form in front of my eyes. The walls are crushing me.

     I’m gasping. I need air. My heart.

     Gray, desolate dread descends on me — a cloud of ash blocking the sun. A complete absence of light or warmth. A tangible, mold-scented obscurity. A revelation:  I will never again experience happiness.

     Air. I need air. I need air. I need air. I need.

     I try to stand. The room pitches and tosses, heaving. I’m walking on a sheet of Jell-O. I try again to stand. I lose my balance and fall backward, over my chair, thudding on the hardwood floor.

     It’s one of those nightmares where you can’t run or scream. And it’s happening to me this moment in the dying light of this day of dying. AND I AM DYING TOO.


What writing mini-lessons could you teach with this passage?

What’s the most important thing you think you’ll ever write?

I am good at setting reading goals. Good at helping students set them, too.

But I never really thought about the importance of setting writing goals until I decided I wanted to write a book and struggled to get words on the page each day. (I still struggle.)

Even with this blog, my writing goals seem fuzzy. Sure, we have a 3TT posting schedule, and more often than not, I make my mostly self-imposed deadlines. But I haven’t really considered these deadlines writing goals.

Today I am wondering why not.

And I’m thinking that this is probably similar to how my students view the writing tasks I ask them to complete. They look at the calendar I provide. They consider the writing workshop dates, the revision workshop dates, the writing group dates. Maybe they pay attention to the learning goals I write on the board and review each day — all valuable parts of our writing class routines, but I doubt they actually set any goals. (Okay, maybe they set the goal to actually complete the assignment. Maybe.)

But I want them to set writing goals. I want to set writing goals for myself this year.

billygoal

a gem of a goal by my friend Billy

So today as we go back to school and get back into our routines, we will talk about writing goals, not just writing assignments. We will talk about the reasons we write and how practicing our craft can help us accomplish those reasons.

I think we’ll start with this poem:  The Writer by Richard Wilbur. And then read “The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers” and maybe “9 Weird Habits That Famous Writers Formed to Write Better.”

Then, maybe I’ll ask this question:

What’s the most important thing you think you’ll ever write? Why?

I don’t know where the conversation will go, but I am okay with that. I’ll let my students know how I feel about setting some personal writing goals. I’ll let them know how I think this may change, or challenge, my ability as a writer.

I’ll write my goals as they write theirs, and we’ll share.

If you need personal writing inspiration — or just want to find some excellent short mentors to use as you write with you students — read this: “Ten Texts That Will Get Teachers Writing.” And, of course, we share lots of writing inspiration on this blog.

I’d love to know your writing goals for the year. Please share them in the comments. (P.S. I hope one of them is to write a guest post here in 2017.)

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

#3TTWorkshop: End of the Year

Conversation Starter: What kinds of reflections do you have for your year? Let’s start with celebrations.

Amy:  Before I celebrate, let me say this:  I have two whole pages of notes written on the back covers of my writer’s notebooks with reminders of what to do new and differently next year. Why is it always easier to focus on the negatives that need improving versus the positives that worked well?

Lisa: This was a year of experimentation and excitement, and my celebrations come from student reflection and collegial collaboration. Our district has a clear vision that they want to move workshop from K-8 to K-12, so it was a year of exploration. Last year, workshop loomed. We had very little knowledge of what it would look like at the high school level, so I naturally…Googled. Having read Penny Kittle and talked with a few colleagues who were already embracing elements of workshop, I was excited. I loved the idea of choice and set about organizing some notes of “how to.” I knew, as department leader, I would be tasked with spearheading the shift with my colleagues, so I wanted to have some solid ideas of how best to proceed.

Original_5000If you Google “Readers workshop for high school English,” guess who comes up? Ta-da. I had found Three Teachers Talk. Specifically, Amy’s post with resources to make the move to workshop. I had struck gold. I read. And read, and read, and shared the blog with our literacy coach, and read, and started quoting sections of the blog and taking notes, and read some more. Real teachers, in real classrooms, with honest reflections on the work. I was elated.

Our district leaders moved forward, rolling out workshop with UBD training, visits to the middle school to see workshop in action, and reviews of Penny Kittle’s key principles. And while valuable and necessary for our progress as a department, it wasn’t until February when Amy and Shana came to Franklin, professionally developed us by teaching us in the workshop just as they would their own students, and let us experience workshop firsthand that workshop really took off. The department was excited. There was wild planning, replanning, reading, purchasing of books, collaborative meetings on the fly (five minute passing periods afford more than enough time for drive-by enthusiastim). And talk. So much talk. Though we weren’t expected to make the “official” move to workshop until next year, we were all trying new things (book talking, setting up writer’s notebooks, and shopping on thriftbooks.com), seeing incredible responses from students (readers spread out all over the building and students writing something, anything, every single day), and basically diving into the work to see what would help us float.

It hasn’t been easy, but as I wrote yesterday, the small (and for some of us BIG) moves we are making have us enthusiastic about what workshop will look like across our department. It’s been a great year to grow and see some incredible enthusiasm from students as choice changed their minds about the written word and its power.

The big takeaway from workshop this year? Do it. Now. You won’t regret it.

Shana:  This was a weird year for me, and I’m wistful.  I was just telling my mom that I feel like I barely taught this year, and I think I mostly feel that way because I didn’t have a firm end of the year (I was out on maternity leave from mid-April to the last day of school).  Instead of doing reflections alongside my students, studying their self-assessments and working with them on the year-end MGPs, learning from my own thinking and my reading of my students’ thoughts, I just…slowly drifted away from my classroom and saw most of my students for the last time at their graduation instead of for a celebratory last-day-of-school photo.  It made the end of my teaching career feel really nebulous.  I hated that.

But, there were lots of great things about this year.  I looped with my students, so I began the year knowing most of their likes and wants and needs already.  I was able to dive right back into helping some of my reluctant readers find new books, help my new students assimilate into a workshop culture more seamlessly, and leap into newer, more complex writing tasks with more confidence.  I loved that so many tenets of workshop were already norms in our classroom in September–book talks, conferences, notebooks, and just book love in general.  It was transformative to begin a school year without having to gain students’ trust with the workshop model, instead having the trust already established.

And my students did and wrote and created great things.  Carleen reassured me that workshop structures made her fall in love with reading again.  Jak showed me that having choice in reading helped him advance as a reader far further than any assigned text could have catapulted him.  Tyler showed me that even the most reluctant reader can fall in love with a complex classic.  And countless other kids helped me re-fall in love with reading and writing and teaching every day in my classroom, when they had miniature successes and failures and highs and lows.  I celebrate that act of falling in love with literacy all year long.

Amy: My biggest celebrations came in the form of one-on-one moments with students. I wrote about an experience with Diego previously. He ended up writing a well-constructed
and extremely personal multi-genre piece about his brother’s drug addiction. Our final conference was a powerful moment. Diego opened up about his love for music and showed me how to find his YouTube channel. He is a talented musician. His ability with poetic language suddenly made sense. I wish I had a do over with this talented young man.  I would have done things differently.

Another celebration came from a conference I had with Emerita in the spring. She was a Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 9.10.40 PMtough student: smart, outgoing, talkative, eager — but she didn’t like that I wanted to
push her into writing even better, reading even better. We locked horns, and sometimes her silent attitude made me feel inept and out of sorts. (I know we shouldn’t take things personal, but I struggle with this. I want everyone to like me.) Finally, in a moment of
divine inspiration, I gave students to opportunity to do some extra credit. Anyone who wanted to improve their grade could research
the work of Carol Dweck on mindset and then write up an essay that answered specifics about the characteristics of Dweck’s work and how it relates to their attitudes in school. Emerita changed after that. She understood what I’d been trying to get her to see all along:  we can always work on our craft and improve. After our conference reviewing her extra credit essay, her work improved as did her attitude towards everything we did the rest of the year. I share a copy of her conferring notes here.

What are some things you know you want to do differently?

Amy:  Well, like I said, I have two pages of notes. Some of them relate to things I’ve done successfully in the past and just forgot to do this year like taking more time to allow students to decorate their writer’s notebooks. I’ve always allotted sufficient time for students to do this in class, but I didn’t this year, and as a result, I noticed quite early on that students did not have much attachment to their notebooks. They still represented “just another composition notebook for class” instead of a place to capture ideas and notes about themselves as writers. I’ve already got NOTEBOOKS clearly outlined on next year’s calendar.

I also need to be a better Reading Teacher. That might sound strange since I teach AP Lang, but many of my students struggle with reading, not to mention critical reading. I need to utilize strategies that will help them not only read more, which I already do quite well, but read better. I’m re-reading Cris Tovani’s books, and I will introduce Beers & Probst Notice and Note next year. I’ve used both in the past, but not with AP students. After two years in this position, I’ve learned that we’re going to need to practice some basic comprehension and some thematic work before we can go too far into rhetorical analysis.

Shana:  My hubby spilled an air freshener on my notebook yesterday, so from its ruined depths I’ve turned to my “teaching ideas galore” section for this question.  The first thing I’d like to shift into thinking about is ways to write or respond to reading nonlinguistically.  For years, much of my students’ writing was about reading.  Then I shifted away from that and toward making reading and writing activities independent and celebratory, while still asking what we could learn from one and apply to the other.  I’ve kind of gone back toward writing more about reading this year, but next year I’d like to see how we might tell stories through visuals, or write book reviews in doodles, or create collages to illustrate patterns in a text, or diagram similar story arcs across independent reading books.  I’ll be on the lookout for this theme during my summer reading of journals and books.

The obvious change I’ll be shifting to is toward working with preservice teachers rather than high school students.  Still, I’d like to keep many similar structures in place.  As Tom Romano began every class with two poems, I think it’d still be valuable to begin classes with two booktalks.  Writer’s notebooks are a must, as are things like book clubs, wide reading, and writing with an eye for mentor texts.  I’ll be asking myself, though, how to prepare a new generation of teachers for the wild world of high school learning.

Lisa: Give me a second, I need to gather the seven million post-it notes I have scattered across my existence and I can tell you the six million things I am ready to improve for next year (the other million notes are on books I want to read).  

One thing I am really looking forward to is the idea of total immersion. We’ve done a lot of standards based planning around this move to workshop, and I’m excited to blend the skills focus with the choice I’ve already dipped into.

I’m also excited about the creative aspect that Shana talked about above. While more and more skills based over the years, my instruction, up until recently, had really still focused on reading and then writing about that reading. Analysis is obviously important, but there are so many more authentic, thought-provoking, student-driven assessment tools and just plain exploratory modes of expression, that I really want to delve into. To think, I taught through a few years there where poetry was almost lost in my classroom. Thank goodness I rediscovered it for mentor work and had my students writing powerful verse over and over. What amazing modes discourse will I discover next year that I will eventually be appalled to have missed before? Geek alert. I am so excited to find out. 

Finally, better time management. A wonderful colleague of mine, Mrs. Leah Tindall (co-organizer of our high school’s incredible Literary Showcase) said of this year that we were stressing out because we were trying to balance new work with an old workload. This was so true. The work I need to be doing is talking with my students, reading with my students, getting organized enough to have conferences lead to more pointed minilesson work, and provide ongoing feedback that doesn’t require every extra minute of my existence to “grade.” Certainly, workshop is no easy way out in terms of time invested, but it’s time invested differently. Time invested with one-on-one feedback at the forefront and building our students up by our own examples as readers and writers. This certainly takes time, but it does so in a way that makes so much more of an impact than just red pen on paper. It’s honest communication. It’s investment. It’s caring.

I need to stop using reading time to take attendance, and get out there and confer with my students. I need to stop putting off the reorganization of my library, because really, how can I make solid recommendations if I can’t find the book I’m after? I need to stop providing the bulk of my feedback with a pen at all and start using my ears more – feedback after careful listening and reflection. That’s what I’m after next year. I want to hear my students talk from their hearts and their minds and on paper in ways my previous teaching didn’t account for. I can’t wait to hear all that they have to say.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here

#3TTWorkshop — Part Two Student and Teacher Buy In

This post is the continuation of a conversation from the previous post in response to an email we received from our friend an UNH colleague Betsy Dye.

How do we help students understand what we mean by choice, especially when they’ve been given ‘choice’ before in the form of ‘choose from this list of books or topics.’?

Shana:  Again, I think modeling is key here.  I show students my roller-coaster of reading, including the trashy romance novels I indulge in despite my Masters degree in literature.  I show them my pile of abandoned books, for “life’s too short to finish bad books.”  I show them classics that I sort of wish I’d read, but never have.  And then I show them my notebook pages of books I’m currently reading or want to read.

It also helps that I have students complete visual and written reading ladders each year, and I show new students the previous year’s ladders to illustrate individualized choice.  And again, here’s where the class reputation comes in handy as well.

Lisa:  ^This. Our stories as readers and writers are gold, especially to some kids who have no such models in their lives. My students laugh at my copy of Don Quixote on my desk. I started it in September. I am 200 pages in. I’ve read over a dozen books since I unintentionally stopped reading that tome, and I had to promise some of my juniors that I would finish it before they graduate next year, but I’ve covered a lot of ground by not allowing myself to get weighted down. Yes, we must press students to finish texts and not become kids that drop book after book without really pushing themselves, but we must also remember that when they do find the one, it can lead to the next one (especially with our gentle guidance) and hopefully many more to come.

In terms of writing, it’s more modeling and the application of the skill each and every day. Sometimes, it seems, it really comes down to endurance. Many kids only write when they have to, which causes them to sit in front of a screen, pound out the required pages, and move on. However, when they get into the habit of writing, when it becomes exploration instead of a narrowly focused task, it becomes less like completing your taxes and more like picking out what to wear. One you do not only do once a year with heavy sighs and confusion because you are basically out of practice and unwilling to do more than the required work. The other provides you with an opportunity to choose, express yourself, and build confidence.

Finally, the classroom library comes to mind. Variety here is key. Students need to see that they aren’t limited by the short list they might receive at the beginning of the year in other classes. If your library has options and you talk about those options often, they will believe. If you build it…they will come.

Amy:  I’ll repeat Shana:  Confer. Confer, Confer. The more we engage in conversations with our students about what we mean by choice and books and writer’s notebooks and everything else in the sphere of workshop, the more they will understand and take ownership of their choices. We must be willing to admit that choice is hard when they’ve never had it, or they’ve only had tiny tastes of it. So many students are afraid of being wrong, afraid of “the grade.” It’s through our conversations that we have the best chance of eliminating these fears and helping students trust themselves along the way.

How do we open the library shelves to our seniors and help them move beyond the four to six novels they’ve read each year for the three previous years?

Amy:  I’ll start with stating the somewhat controversial:  I doubt most of our seniors read

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 10.29.37 PM

Not my students’ actual conversation but still. 🙂

all the required novels teachers selected in those earlier years. Every year I ask my juniors how many books they read the year before. Some say they read only the required books. Some admit to starting but not finishing them. Some tell me they didn’t read those books at all. If we are going to make all the decisions about the books we choose for our students, we have to be okay knowing that not all of our students will read them.

Shana:  Ha–I know that kids don’t always read what’s assigned, because little goody-two-shoes me didn’t read what was assigned.  And I loved reading.  In fact, I read John Grisham under my desk while my teacher talked about Catcher in the Rye.  I tell students that story, and show them the many weather-beaten Grisham novels on my mystery shelf, and ask them about their guilty pleasure reads, or their life-changing reads, or their escape-from-reality reads.  [Amy:  or their Wattpad reads] All of those discussions start a conversation about the possibilities choice reading might offer, and we go from there.

Lisa:  I asked. They don’t read. They tell me sweetly, but still, they don’t read. Students I had as sophomores will gladly share with me as seniors all the ways they worked to convince me they read The Scarlet Letter, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

Amy:  Lisa, I had students publicly confess to not reading a thing in my class in a Facebook group I had several years ago. Stabbed me right in the eye because at the time I had no idea they could be so sneaky — and smart — and still make high grades in my class without reading the same American literature books you mention. It’s like they subconsciously deny the canon!

Lisa:  So…how do we open our shelves and help seniors move beyond the books they never read? By offering up a wealth of books they can read, telling them to look through the books at home they’ve always meant to read, sending them to book recommendation lists, talking with them about what they might want to do after high school and suggesting books in that vein, having them talk with peers who have kept up with reading and have recommendations to share.

I had a student who graduated in 2013 come back to observe some of my classes this week. He book talked Ishmael to my AP students today, and I just received an email from a student saying that he went to Half Price Books and picked up a copy tonight. 

The power of suggestion is strong. If I am surrounded by people working out, I might consider getting off my couch. If I am surrounded by people complaining all the time, I start to complain too. If I am surrounded by readers, I am going to see what all the fuss is about. Many of our students want to read, but they need time. We can provide it. Many of our students want to read but need suggestions. We can provide those. Many of our students want to read, but only what they want to read.

Bingo. Let’s start there and build on it.

How do we help our colleagues get started with workshop?

Lisa:  By inviting Three Teachers Talk to provide professional development! No, seriously. It’s how my team in Franklin saw all the possibility that workshop holds and how to actually make it work day to day. So that comes down to support. Comparatively speaking, curriculum in a textbook is easy. Curriculum you’ve taught for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years, provides comfort. Running off packets of study-guide questions isn’t too terribly difficult either. Building meaningful lessons from scratch is really hard work. I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen it happen at Franklin as we work to move our 9th and 10th grade classes to workshop. If we didn’t work at it together, it would be infinitely more difficult.

Shana:  Support is essential.  Whether it’s the kind of support one finds in a workplace colleague, or connecting with a like-minded friend via Twitter or a blog, workshop teachers are part of a community just as nurturing as the ones we strive to create in our classrooms.  It warms my heart and fuels my spirit to think of Lisa and Amy working on this craft in their Wisconsin and Texas classrooms, and it invigorates me on days I think I’d rather just run copies of a worksheet.  We’re all trying our best to craft strong, student-centered classrooms, and whatever guidance and support we can provide one another is a non-negotiable.  Pedagogical reading recommendations, webinars, and Twitter chats can all help our colleagues dive into workshop, and be buoys when we need them, too.

Amy:  Yes, to all that, and I can think of two other little things we can do to share this work with our colleagues:

1) invite colleagues to visit our classrooms. I am such a visual learner. When I see a strategy taught, over reading about a strategy in a book, I am much more able to use it successfully with my students. The same holds true for how workshop works. I read Nancie Atwell’s book In the Middle. It is a great book! But I could not imagine how I could make what she described work in my 9th grade classroom with 33 students. It wasn’t until I experienced writing workshop myself via the North Star of TX Writing Project Summer Institute that I got a vision of what workshop looked like.

Too often we teach like castaways on tiny islands, cut off from everyone else. Invite other teachers to walk through, sit a spell, engage in the same routines the students are doing. I think that is the single most powerful way to share the workshop philosophy with other teachers.

2) share student work, excitement, and testimonies. More than our own testifying to the power of workshop, it’s our students’ voices that move teachers. Do you remember the first time you watched one of Penny Kittle’s videos where she interviewed her students? Shana, I think this is the video we watched the summer we met at UNH. I love these boys.

Student voices = the sometimes needed push to fall over the cliff into this exciting workshop way to teach and learn.

Do you have topic ideas you would like us to discuss? Please leave your requests here or in the comments. Thank you for joining the conversation.

#3TTWorkshop — Teaching Students How to Thrive in Workshop

#3TTWorkshop Meme

We received the following request from our UNH-loving friend and inspiring educator Betsy Dye who teaches in Illinois. She got us thinking.

Betsy’s email:

What advice do you have for a teacher about introducing workshop to classes who are unfamiliar with it?  What are some of the effective ways to explain to students what they’ll be doing if they’ve never experienced a workshop classroom before?

While of course I’ve had students who have taken to and embraced the idea of workshop immediately,  I’ve had others who often fall into one or more of the following categories:

–students who have become so apathetic to what they’re doing because of no choice that they now prefer to be told exactly what to do which doesn’t require a lot of effort on their part
or
ninth graders who used to be enthusiastic readers and writers until middle school when whole class novels replaced independent reading and when whole class prompts were assigned for all writing and who’ve consequently lost their passion for reading  and writing
or
students who have been told they will have choices … but then have been pigeonholed when an actual assignment was given (‘you can write about anything you want as long as it happened in the 1700s in England’; you can read anything  you want as long as it’s a fictional historical novel’); these students don’t really trust me when I say I’m all about choice
or
seniors who have spent three years stuck in the whole class read/whole class discuss/whole class write essays cycle, and who have read only about 4 to 6 novels a year

I’ve also had a few colleagues ask how to get started and while I’ve been able to provide a few suggestions, I’d sure love some other input.

Amy:  First of all, I think asking ourselves how we get students, no matter their predisposition, to engage in a workshop-inspired classroom is something we should revisit often. Every year and every new group of students deserves our focus and best efforts so they have the best year of learning possible.

I have to remind myself that just because one group of kids understood and engaged well one year does not mean the incoming group of kids will the next. This year is a perfect example. I’ve wracked my brain, but I must have missed a core piece of the buy-in pie at the beginning of the year because many of the things that have worked in prior years have produced constant push back in this one. I’ve already got two pages of notes with what I want to do differently, or better, next year.

What advice do you have for a teacher about introducing workshop to classes who are unfamiliar with it?

Shana:  My strongest piece of advice is to make sure students know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it during each lesson segment in a workshop structure.  At the beginning of last school year, I had a student named Robert who was constantly angry with me for what he saw as workshop “catching him off guard.”  He didn’t know how to predict what we might do next after ten years of whole-class novel sameness.  He felt afraid that choice amounted to a trick, and that he wouldn’t be able to be as successful as he’d been in previous English classes.  

Robert reminded me that for many of our students, the workshop is wildly unfamiliar, and that for many teens, change is scary.  I had to be deliberate in my language, in our routines, and in my classroom organization in order to constantly reinforce for students what we were doing and why we were doing it.  I made sure to always have an agenda on the board, including a “what’s next” segment that showed how the day’s lesson related to the next class, and also made sure to review and preview during each day’s mini-lesson.  I found that once I reiterated to students that a day’s lesson was going to be used in a specific way, they began to make the connections between lessons that I only saw in my lesson design.

Lisa: Our district has been utilizing workshop for several years in the K-8 realm, but high school workshop is relatively new to our department, and completely new as the prefered delivery method. That said, I think the most important element to stress with teachers is that the enthusiasm they project has a huge impact on student willingness to buy in. This is true with or without choice, but when I am suggesting to my students that they be readers and writers, I need to model, live it, breath it, and love it.

Amy:  One of my first exposures to workshop instruction came from Marsha Cawthon who teaches in Plano, TX. She invited me to visit her classroom. Wow. The walls were painted deep inviting colors, and she’d moved out the ‘school-looking’ furniture and brought in home furnishings. The room welcomed something different. At that time, Marsha told me that when the room is different than what they are accustomed to — desks in rows and stereotypical school posters, etc — students know that the class and the instruction will be different. I started painting my walls, grouping my desks into tables, throwing a rug on the floor, and bringing in cast off furniture and book shelves.

Lisa:  Amy speaks about the impact the physical classroom has on this process. I think that makes a huge difference, too. Our enthusiasm shows in our classroom design. We as teachers know that we are selling a product. That means if we convey our enthusiasm through the way our rooms look, the level of excitement we project about a text through a book talk, and/or our sincere line of inquiry during conferences, students know if we really practice what we preach and use what we are selling. Let your enthusiasm for literature and writing, and in this case they are broad terms because they afford so many options, set the foundation for the year. Ask students a lot of questions, invest in their answers, and moving forward with confidence in what you have to offer them can, and in many cases will, empower them and change them for the better.  

What are some effective ways to explain to students what they’ll be doing if they’ve never experienced a workshop classroom before?

Amy:  Of course, I tell students on day one that the teaching I do and by extension the learning they will do will be different in my classroom. I know they don’t believe me. I teach 11th grade. Talk about kids that are set in their ways. Some checked out of school a long while ago, and they are just going through the motions. Most hope to go to college though — that’s a plus for the AVID program in which all of my students are a part of. I have taught 9th, and 10th grade before though — often the students at these younger grades are even harder to convince that workshop instruction differs from a traditional approach where the teacher makes all the choices in reading and writing. Sometimes kids do not want to make choices. It’s sad, but they are way too jaded already. I know everyone who’s taught for even a little while already knows this. So what can we do?

Rituals and routines. I think that’s at least part of the answer. We set up rituals and routines that we stick through like super glue, and we do not waver or change plans if at all possible. We practice, practice, practice until the routines become the norm. We help students recognize the moments that work and work well. For example, my students read at the beginning of every class period. The routine is set:  walk in the door, get out your books, begin reading. When I am on my game at the beginning of the year, and I welcome students at the door and remind them to sit down and begin reading, I have a much easier time than the daily reminder I end up resorting to. We save valuable reading and instructional time when we get right into our books. Then, when students read, I confer. This routine is the spokes in the wheel that keep my workshop instruction thriving. The more I consistently confer, the more students read and write in abundance and at high levels.

Lisa: I will echo what Amy says with wild abandon. Routine. Use the precious minutes for, as Penny Kittle says, what matters. Again, with our students entering high school with a workshop background, I think the biggest challenge for our official move to workshop next year will be for teachers to learn/grow through experimentation and for students to see what the accelerated expectations are at the high school level. Though, I think for all students, whether they have workshop experience or not, the routine provides a normalcy that quickly unifies the classroom. When students know what to expect every day (time to read, book talk, mini lesson, etc.), expectations have already been set. Then those routines can be built on to encourage consistent reading, deep analysis, focused revision of work, collaboration, and ultimately, the community of readers and writers forms.

Shana:  Again, we are in accord.  Routines and rituals are essential to the workshop.  Once those student-centered practices are made normative, and students know that their risk-taking within a workshop community will not result in punitive actions like bad grades, it is then that we can encourage the freedom and autonomy essential to advancement in a workshop classroom.  In addition to all this, I’ll say that after a few years teaching at my high school, my class established a reputation, and students entered the room trusting my practice rather than questioning it.  Students talk to one another about workshop classes, and those who’ve heard about the concept come in willing to try it out because they know the gist of what it’s all about.

How do you help inspire learning and engage those students who seem to prefer to be told exactly what to do?

Amy:  Everyone on the planet loves to have choices. This includes students who seem to be so apathetic they wait until we make the choice for them. Of course, Don Murray said something like this “Choice without parameters is no choice at all.” Sometimes too much choice looms too large for students. Lighten the load. Lower the stakes. Instead of saying “Read anything you want,” say things like “Why don’t you try a book from these interesting titles?” (and set down a stack of five or six) or “Let’s talk some more one-on- one. I bet I can make a reader of you yet.” This puts the challenge on you instead of on the student. Interesting how many non-responders will respond. Sometimes it takes awhile, but we can almost always win the challenge of engagement.

Shana:  I agree–all choice is no choice.  That’s why I like to consistently model what choice in literacy looks like.  When students see my example–I know the kinds of books I like, and I choose from within those genres, or I know the kinds of writing topics I’m interested in and write within those topic frames–they begin to understand what choice might look like for them.  Lisa’s colleague Catherine wrote about intentional modeling here, and I think that’s an essential part of the workshop.  When students see my passion for creating my own path of literacy advancement, they begin to see what theirs might look like, too.  Oh–and never relenting when kids ask for the easy path helps, too.  🙂

Lisa: What comes to mind immediately is how ironic that teenagers would ever want to be told what to do! In so many areas of their lives, like all human beings, we desire to forge our own path if we are truly given the resources and support to do so. Students often want to be told what to do when they are too afraid to take a risk or too trained to let other people think for them. Shana’s point about being a model is my strategy here too. Never be afraid to be geeky about your love of reading and writing.

Where I think I may have gone a bit wrong in the past is that I would try to translate my love of reading and writing through the texts that only I chose. This will hook some students, but without the ability to take a passion for reading and apply it to what they want to read, I was only ever hitting a few kids with each text. It’s like mushrooms. My husband, sweet as he is, has been trying to get me to like mushrooms for over a decade. Now, I do enjoy food, and I will gladly eat all day long, but I am never going to like mushrooms. In fact, when they appear, I am basically done eating (and yes, mushrooms just appearing is a real, hard hitting issue). Mushroom rants aside, we can’t take what we like and expect kids to invest.

We need to show them that we read and write, that reading and writing connects us to what it means to be humans (all humans), and we can all grow from it. Sometimes it takes a long, long, long time, but with the wide expanse of choice, we have a much better chance of reaching each and every student. And…bribe them. 😉

How do we reinvigorate a student’s passion for reading and writing?

Amy: I hesitate to lay all the blame on middle school, but I do think something happens during these years that can often dampen a love of reading and writing in our students. I remember reading a text by Alfie Kohn wherein he said something like “Just when students are old enough to start making wise choices, we take the choices away from them.” I know some would argue that sixth graders are not very wise, but I’d argue right back. Sure, they are. They are wise to the things they like to read and the topics they like to explore in their writing.

My twin sons had a workshop teacher in middle school — the only two of my seven children who did — I think it was seventh grade. Both Zach and Chase learned to like reading, something that did not happen in middle school. They also learned to write. They chose topics like football and winning the state championship like their older brother. They wrote hero stories about saving their friends as they imagined themselves as soldiers surrounded by gunfire. My boys are now close to 22. Chase has spent his first full week at Basic Training with the Army, and Zach plans on joining the Navy when he returns in a year from his mission in Taiwan. They are both masterful writers and eclectic readers. I owe a lot of thanks to that middle school teacher.

Lisa: Show them you care about what they care about, and you care enough to push them to care about a wider and wider world.  That means meaningful conversations (conferring), opportunities to explore student interests (choice writing/reading), passionately sharing your own ideas and insights (book talks, selection of mentor texts), and subscribing to the motto that variety is the spice of life.

I’ve read a lot in the past few months that I would have thought was out of my comfort zone. For example, I read my first graphic novel, Persepolis. Ahhh-mazing. I’ll be honest. I was judgey about graphic novels before, but now, I am hooked! Once hooked, I book talked the text and shared with students the story of how wrong I was about graphic novels. We talked then about books, genres, and experiences with reading that surprise us. I think it’s good for students to be nudged (shoved) out of their own comfort zones sometimes. At the same time, they aren’t going to jump back in the game without those experiences that come from a place of pure passion and joy. So…we must really get to know our kids, make suggestions that speak to them as best we are able, and then give them time. Time is precious to all of us, but to teenagers, it would seem, they have little to no time to read. We must make time for them in class (give them a taste) and then work with them to make the time (even ten minutes at a time) to keep coming back for more.

Shana:  Confer, confer, confer.  When we talk to kids and find out what they are passionate about, we can help them see the connections between their passions and literacy.  Further, we can introduce them to important links between success in their interests and how reading and writing can put that success within reach–my vocation-driven West Virginia students aren’t interested in the literacy skills that college might require, but they do care about being able to read or write a technical manual.

We can also help students discover new passions through reading–after reading Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air in tenth grade, I fell in love with Mt. Everest, and I still read anything I can get my hands on about it.

We’ll continue with part two of this discussion tomorrow. In the meantime, please add your comments. How would you answer Betsy’s questions? What did we leave out?

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