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Category Archives: Community

More Than a Coach, a Reader

Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)The following is a guest post from an inspiring teacher and football coach I met this summer. He sent it to me the day after my daughter got married, and I’ve been playing catch up with life and getting-ready-for-back-to-school ever since. Sorry, I am late in posting it, Charles. You have to know, this post excites me:  I’m excited for the PD experiences we had this summer. I’m excited for the students who will walk through your door this fall. I’m excited to know you will spread your love of books and reading far and wide — and I’ll be excited, and not at all surprised, when you share a few titles with your linebackers. (Have you read Twelve Mighty Orphans?)


It’s August 6th and my summer is effectively over. We start football camps Monday and I’ll work until 5pm most days making sure helmets are ready, tackling dummies are out of storage, and duties are clear. This isn’t a necessarily dreadful thing because I love coaching football, and this part of the year is rife with expectation and uncertainty.

It’s also, for me, a time of reflection. Did I make the most of my time away from the classroom? Did I find enough time to shower my own kids with love and affection? Did I make sure I did the dishes and laundry and kept the house in order so that my wife had time to relax when she got home from work? I hope the answer to all these questions is “yes,” but I fear it’s a “maybe,” at best.

I was at school most days. The first two weeks after graduation were dedicated to our very first CCISD Literacy Institute, and mornings spent with athletes at Strength and Conditioning camp consumed most of the rest. The Literacy Institute was an incredible experience in almost every way. I learned so much from my teaching partner, Meggie Willner, and we both fell head over heels in love with our group of STAAR Camp students. Working with our curriculum director, Billy Eastman, and Amy Rasmussen made this the most valuable professional learning I’ve ever experienced. Those two weeks will make a difference in the lives of students in my class and the time trade off was more than worth it. Strength camp is bittersweet because I didn’t get to sleep past 6:15, but my football players and my own kids were there for most of it, and seeing them learn and work was worth it. For better or worse, this physical connection to campus means that I never really stop thinking about teaching or coaching. I’m always there.

My summer was, for the most part, wonderful. Whether afternoon napping, writing, playing board games with my kids, or swimming in our new swimming pool, my family and I always found ways to fill our time with laughter and joy. This summer was, however, different, and not just because of our much deeper sun tans. This summer I read like a “real” English teacher should. I’ve always listened while my colleagues extolled the virtues of their summer reading regimen. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been known to crack open a book on a hot summer afternoon while sitting in the cool air-conditioning, but it hasn’t been my habit. Reading during the summer always felt like “work,” and I shouldn’t be working during my break. I should be chasing my kids around the house, helping them build blanket forts or taking them to the trampoline park. Reading threatened to get in the way of all that fun, but I wasn’t going to use that excuse this summer.

This summer, I consciously committed to being an avid reader, and while I’m sure many of you read much more than I did, that felt like a success for me.

CharlesMoorebookstackI read so many amazing books and looking at my stack makes me realize what an eclectic collection it is. I read fiction, memoir, poetry, a thriller short story anthology, and even a graphic novel. I read the first book in a series, the fourth book in a series and a few standalone novels.

I’m proud of the volume that I consumed (remember I must spend SOME time thinking about inside linebackers). I’m proud of the variety and scope and I think it will make me a better teacher going forward.

These are the books in the order in which I read them:

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My teaching partner, Meggie, and our curriculum director, Billy, wanted to throttle me when I told them how I felt about this book. They both RAVED about it and I really didn’t care for it. I’m sure a second reading would do it justice because I was dealing with a lot personally and professionally at the end of the school year while reading it, but it just didn’t resonate with me. I hope this doesn’t make me an embarrassment to the profession.

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Rebar

They say reading is like a roller coaster and I went with an easy to read book for the Literacy Institute at the start of summer. A super straightforward, gently-paced book was exactly what I needed at the start of summer. I really enjoyed this book and for those seeking YA that appeals to both boys and girls, you can’t go wrong here.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I loved this book!!! It is a blend of Sci-Fi and fantasy with a strong female protagonist. I loved the author’s take on super powers and the surprisingly effective post-apocalyptic setting. I was tempted to read the second and third books in the series, but I want this world to be there for me when I want to revisit it.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

This book spoke to my teaching soul. Vance examines a culture drowning in poverty and while it’s a reflection on his firsthand experiences, I felt like there was so much from his past that echoed in mine. I don’t think I realize how much our students’ home lives affect their school lives, but this book made me reflect on it again and again. This book coupled with a viewing of The Shack, directed by Stuart Hazeldine caused a sort of mid-summer epiphany that will change my teaching in the years to come. Another blog post, maybe?

Scythe by Neal Schusterman

I one-clicked this book the day Billy Eastman book talked it at the literacy institute and once I picked it up, I couldn’t stop. It’s original and well-written and even though parts of it were somewhat easy to predict, others still kept me guessing until the end.

the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace

I read this poetry book under a shade tree in Wimberley, Texas, on our 16th annual summer camping trip. My mother-in-law noticed how fast I was turning the pages while reading this one and told me it wasn’t a real book. I handed it to her and she read it cover to cover. We didn’t talk about it, but I think we both knew how it affected us: deeply.

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe by Cullen Bunn and Dalibor Talajic

Determined to read a graphic novel, I picked up one about my favorite Marvel character. I’m not particularly experienced with graphic novels, having only finished George R. R. Martin’s graphic novels that are companions to his A Song of Ice and Fire. It was fun but not intellectually stimulating. Maybe this experience will help me with a reluctant reader or two or maybe give me some “street cred” with my Manga readers.

Matchup edited by Lee Child

Please don’t hate on my man crush on Lee Child. I’m obsessed with his Jack Reacher character and devour anything Child publishes. This book is produced by the International Thriller Writer’s Association and paired a dozen female authors with a dozen male authors to write a dozen short thrillers with varying success. There might be mentor texts here.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book was a quick read for me and it made me feel like an idiot because I didn’t see the plot twist until it was too late. I really enjoyed reading about how Yoon’s main character dealt with her problems the way a teenager would. I think this is an important book for our students to experience. To some, the main character’s relationship to her mother will be an eye-opener; to others, all too familiar.

Vanguard by Ann Aguirre

A vanity read if there ever was one. I love the Razorland trilogy and I couldn’t resist buzzing through this fourth book in the series. The love story made me uncomfortable at first, but I think books should do that sometimes. I enjoyed the happy ending in this book as my summer also draws to a happy ending. A modern Romeo and Juliet story? Maybe, maybe not.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This might be the top of the list of my summer reading. The story was incredible, the characters were deep and it is set in the same part of the country that J. D. Vance visits in his memoir from earlier in the summer. I love when books connect like that. This is one of the few books this summer that would keep me up late at night reading. I fell in love with this book and can’t wait to read Zenter’s Goodbye Days (if I can ever get it back from our freshman A.P. teacher).

Ah, the ones that got away…

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

The Last Neandertal: A Novel by Claire Cameron

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

and so many more…

So now I must start a list for the new school year. I don’t typically read a lot during football season. Working 80-hour weeks and trudging through months without a day off will take the motivation out of me. But maybe I can set a goal for the fall. Something to reach toward even when my knees and ankles are tired and my eyes won’t stay open.

Maybe I can get to school 20 minutes earlier and squeeze in some reading while the coffee percolates. I crush coffee.

Charles Moore is the senior English team lead at Clear Springs High School in League City, TX. He enjoys leisure swimming, reading, and coaching linebackers. Follow Charles on Twitter @ctcoach

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What’s in a Notebook?

It’s that magical time of year when my writer’s notebook is almost full, and I get to start a new one.  I love setting up my notebook, personalizing it, giving it value.  But I love, nearly as much, to look back at a full notebook–and today I want to share mine with you.

I’ll preface this overload of snapshots with a caveat that my sharing is unusual in terms of the writer’s notebook.  Whether we ask our students to use these tools as playgrounds, workshops, or repositories, notebooks belong to students.  Ownership is key if our students are to take on the identities of writers.  This means that for some, a notebook is private, while for others, sharing is essential.

So, with that said, let’s take a walk through my notebook–and, so we can see many other examples, please share what your notebook is full of on Twitter with #whatsinanotebook!

First, personalization and inspiration are key.

The first few pages of my notebook always contain photos, a tracing of my hand with some goals, a heart map, or some other kind of writing territory or prompt.  Whenever I’m stumped about what to write, I return to these first few pages to remind myself of the topics I need to mine.

From there, the variety begins.

I always write beside my students, so my notebook is generally peppered with quickwrites or “write into the days” from NWP.

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These are often the roughest drafts of posts that land on TTT, like this page, which morphed into this post.  For my students, quickwrites are often seed prompts that lead to longer compositions.  Just as often, though, they remain untouched:  an essential part of building fluency and stamina and the identity of a writer with many starts and stops.

My notebook is also full of poetry that I write beside or around.

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I get my poems every day via email from the Writer’s Almanac.  In addition to just being inspiring and enjoyable to do, this active reading of poetry makes me more aware of wordplay, themes in literature and in my life, and a new perspective.

I also write in response to quotes from books, TED talks, poems, or anywhere.

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This helps me to unpack a quote that strikes me for its craft, content, or both–students, too.

Gluing in artifacts to write beside is also powerful for me.


These serve not just as reminders of who and what is important to me, but a lovely time capsule to show me what was happening in my life at the time when I return to look at my notebook in future years.

There are also things I’m attempting to make connections between, but perhaps never do…

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(This might go under “things I abandon.”)

Rants that should probably be left in the dark…

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(You can tell by my handwriting that I was ticked, here.)

Things I abandon

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Sometimes I mean to write a bit more, and never do, so I add some squiggles and doodles to fill up the white space.

It’s important to remind students that it’s okay to abandon pieces of writing…we abandon books, don’t we?

…and random doodles, drawings, and in-the-moment jots and notes.

The last spread of my notebook is always my what-to-read page…

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(I keep my lengthy read, currently reading, and TBR list on GoodReads, so this page functions more as a ThriftBooks shopping list.)

…and the very last page is always my list of words and phrases that strike me as unusual.

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I jot these as I find them in books, poetry, or conversation.  Sometimes I look up definitions of these words; sometimes I already know what they mean, but just like them.  I ask students to keep this page, and twice monthly we visit it and do something with our lists.


As you can see, there’s really no “order” to my notebook–no sections other than those crucial first and last pages–but that’s just what works for me.  I taught seniors most recently, and found that they didn’t require the structure of a multi-sectioned writer’s notebook, but when I worked with 8th graders, they most definitely needed a little guidance.

This is just a guide, an inspiration, and an invitation–to not judge me for my wonders about the woes of motherhood, my consternation about teaching topics, or my completely unhealthy obsession with expensive writing utensils (Precise V5 pens…thanks, Amy…and PaperMate Flair markers are my top picks).

Please use this to help you craft a vision for the possibilities notebooks afford in helping us build fluency, gain confidence, and take on the identity of WRITER, and feel free to reach out to any of us with questions or wonders you have about the magic of writer’s notebooks.

Share with us, please, what your notebook looks like on Twitter using #whatsinanotebook!

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Defining Readers-Writers Workshop

“I need a visual of a ‘workshop.’ That word confuses me still.”

This is not the first time I’ve been part way through facilitating professional development and a participant has made a similar request. There’s a lot for me to learn here.

Before we can begin really sharing the excitement and benefits of a readers-writers workshop model of instruction, we must get on the same page as to what we mean by Workshop. I’ll try to do that here.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of workshop and zero in on #2.

workshop definition

Based on this definition, let’s consider this essential question:

How do we create open spaces where the children we teach can grow as readers and writers?

To me “open spaces” equates to “workshop.” Open spaces means teachers let go of control, remove themselves from center stage as the holders of the knowledge, and invite students into a space of curiosity and discovery. It’s a space where students thrive in a community of trust and sharing, where they talk about their identities and experiences as readers and writers, where they play with language and take risks as they explore what it means to develop their comprehension and analysis skills — and their craft as writers.

Opening spaces requires planning. It is not willy-nilly choice in books or topics, or stations without specific guidelines and instructions, or seats moved from rows into small groups without modeling the thinking that makes it possible to “engage in intensive discussion and activity” around our content. Teachers must model what this looks like. And we must trust that our students will engage and learn in this model.

They will — if we let them.

Readers-writers workshop is a method of instruction that often requires a paradigm shift, a shift from the teacher making all the choices and telling students what to learn within a text, to students making choices, and through practice and application of skills-based lessons, learning as they read and write.

I’ll return to some definitions found online to help clarify:

“The Reading Workshop is a teaching method in which the goal is to teach students strategies for reading and comprehension. The workshop model allows teachers to differentiate and meet the needs of all their students.”

For our readers, we open the space for students to choose the books they read. By doing so, we meet students where they are in terms of their interests and abilities. The teacher becomes a coach, teaching skills specific to the needs of each learner. This requires time. We must reserve time for students to read when they are with us in class, and we must confer with students about what they are reading — and how they are reading it. This is reading instruction in a workshop model. We teach the reader, not the book. Readers must predict, visualize, infer, comprehend, analyze, and evaluate. These are all skills we model and teach in readers’ workshop.

What about writer’s workshop?

“As in a professional writer’s workshop, each student in the class is a working author. The teacher is a writing professional and peer coach, guiding authors as they explore their craft. … Teachers write with their students and share their own work as well.”

To teach our writers, we must be writers ourselves. We must model the moves writers make as they use language to craft meaning. We must validate our writers and help them recognize what professional writers do to think of ideas, organize those ideas, and convey those ideas in a way comprehensible to readers. In a workshop classroom, we use mentor texts:  sentences, paragraphs, passages, essays, poems, stories to teach writing skills that students apply to their own writing. We teach the writer, not the writing.

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So, what do I mean when I say “workshop”? I mean students doing the work of readers and writers, “engaged in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject” — specifically related to growing as readers and writers. This work happens because teachers open the spaces in their classrooms which allow for it.

Questions about your move to a workshop model of instruction? Please ask in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in ’17. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies (five). She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she really hopes you will follow this blog!

 

 

We are Magnificently Confused and other names for book shelves

I have a lot of bookshelves and a lot of books. I have a relationship with my classroom

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some of my current shelves

library like many drivers have with their cars. I shine it up and keep it running smoothly. I love the new book smell.

Quite often someone asks about how I organize my library. Very carefully. When I know which shelves hold which books, I can more easily match books to readers. Shelf labels matter.

The labels on my shelves do a couple of things:  They help me know what holds what, but more importantly, these labels serve to pique curiosity and press readers to explore.

When you get to know a lot of books, you realize that most books may sit comfortably on several shelves, especially if we sort them by topic or theme and not just genre.  Sometimes I group the same copies of specific books together, and sometimes I break the sets a part to put on separate shelves.

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sports and war books need a taller shelf

When school returns in August, I will be in a new classroom. A different classroom. That means that my hundreds of books had to move down the stairs and down the hall. Now those boxes wait for when I have time. I’m going to need a lot of time.

I am thinking about how I want to organize my shelves in this new learning space — maybe two reading nooks instead of one, fewer books on the lowest shelves? more intriguing labels on more shelves with the hope of inviting more readers?

I’m thinking for sure on that last one:  changing up the category labels on the shelves. I could use your help here. I think it would be fun to be clever, but clever is hard for me.

So far, I’ve read through a ton of quotes on books and reading, and pulled phrases for shelf labels I think will work for most of the books in my library.

Here’s what I have so far:

Born into Chaos

Clapping for the Wrong Reasons

Burning Bridges

Gracefully Insane (or Close to It)

Black Sheep Own the World

You Cant Just Get Over It

Holding Close My Secrets

Making Myself into a Hero

Stop Reminding Me I Need a Life

Do You Kiss with Eyes Open or Closed?

You Just Can’t Get Over It

The Present Hides the Past

History is Herstory, too

History:  Echoes Heard & Unheard

The Edge of Possibility

Foul Play (and other sports stories)

A Likely Story

Detecto Mysterioso

It’s Going to Break Your Heart

Using My Life as a Lesson

We are Magnificently Confused

What labels would you add?

And the question of the hour:  What high-interest books would you put on these shelves?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in the fall). She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy because it keeps her focused on her own improvement. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she’d love it if you follow this blog!

Student Gratitude – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

I didn’t teach last year because I resigned.  I still feel guilty.

When I moved back to my hometown of Chicago, I accepted a position with a well-known, controversial charter school network in the city.  I quickly found it was not the right fit for me.  It wasn’t the students–they were full of hope and sweet in spite of the adverse circumstances they dealt with outside of school.  It was the system.  

If the ACT was king, a strict demerit system was the reigning queen.  Students were part of a system that didn’t see them as individuals, but cogs in a wheel that kept churning out “College and Career Ready” students, as measured only by a test, and using strictScreen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM rules to keep the wheels turning.  There was no student choice, just multiple choice.  No discussions, just lectures.  No collaboration, just eyes tracking the teacher.

It was horrible.  So horrible that I made the choice to leave.   I felt like teaching to the school’s standards made me compromise non-negotiable parts of my teaching philosophy.  I tried to break the mold, but received teacher demerits (seriously..teacher demerits).   I couldn’t find my way in the system and struggled to officially make the choice to put myself before students.

I made a choice to leave.  But I didn’t realize how many repercussions that choice would have.  There was so much about teaching I missed and what I, admittedly, didn’t take the time to appreciate when I was in the classroom.   I missed students most of all.

I missed the little things, like greeting them at my door, ready to embark on a 50 minute odyssey into the literary world.  I missed wishing them a happy, safe weekend, then anxiously awaiting their return on Monday.  I missed seeing their homecoming pictures and watching them in the school play.  I missed having class jokes and saying hello in the hallways.  I missed reminding every class, every day about an upcoming assignment and the student who had the best excuse when it isn’t completed on time.  I missed waving to students as we each got into our cars to head home.  I missed reminding them to relax, just take it easy for a night.  I missed the chaotic moments in the classroom just as much as I missed the moments when all the fates in the world conspired and each child was rapt in their learning.

I missed transforming the protesting non-reader into a book worm. I missed adding recommendations to my book list from all types of readers.  I missed students asking me what I was reading and why, did I like the book or the movie better , or which John Green book is the best.  I missed the excitement I felt when a student genuinely loved a book or returned a book that I thought had been lost to a locker or car trunk forever.  I missed being moved by a student’s connection to a character.  I missed seeing my bookshelf fluctuate depending on what topic or genre was trending.

I missed reading their timed essays, the writing in their notebooks, the personal annotations in the margins of their books.  As an English teacher, taking home 180 essays over your weekend doesn’t always feel like one of the perks of the job.  Grading becomes tiresome halfway through the first stack of essays, and builds to a mundane, tedious task quickly thereafter.  Until that one essay…the one from a shy student.  The one from the athlete who no one takes seriously.  The one from the student who actually managed to turn something in on the deadline.  The one that yanks you from your near slumber and makes you re-read it because it is so insightful, poignant, and refreshing.  These essays can be few and far between, but when they are uncovered in my stack of loose-leaf paper, they stir up my teacher soul.  These golden essays remind us of the humanity and intelligence high schoolers have within them.

Can students be whiny?  Sure.  Can they be inconsistent?  Consistently, it seems, some weeks.  Can they be forgetful, even with a school-issued agenda and text-message reminders sent to their phones?  Yep.  But they can also be generous, helpful, and shockingly perceptive about the world.  They can be innovative and resilient.  In fact, they usually are every day.

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As teachers, I think we often see the best of our students, the qualities their parents miss and their peers don’t notice.  We notice their compassion when they offer to help a struggling student.  We enjoy their passion when they light up on the field.  We see their curiosity through the books they select and the choices they make in their own learning.  I missed learning about each student as a member of my classroom community, and uncovering their beliefs, habits, and ideas slowly throughout the school year.  I missed noticing their growth, as English students and young adults, from August to December to May.  What is more rewarding than taking a step back and admiring an individual’s progress?  We are so fortunate that nurturing and acknowledging individual progress is a routine component of our jobs.

I still think about those kids, the ones I chose to leave behind, and I still feel guilty.  I wonder how they’ve fared as seniors, how they performed on the ACT, if they’re itching to break out of the mold and be free in a few short weeks.  I wonder what they have been reading and writing.  I wonder how I could have stayed and made it work.

There is magic that happens in a classroom.  Sometimes we don’t notice it in the moment or it looks messy.  It isn’t graded on our appraisals or summatively assessed, but it happens, in little moments and big “ah ha” moments.  It happens because of our students.  

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As these weeks get more stressful the closer we get to summer break, I want to challenge all of us to remember the good in our students and try to have gratitude for what they bring to us each day.  To be proud of the relationships you’ve worked to forge with your young readers and writers.  To remember student achievements and how you have supported that growth.  To recall, during arguably the most hectic, patience-testing time of the school year, the young adults that make this noble profession so demanding and rewarding.

Maggie Lopez has six years of teaching experience at large public high schools in Louisville, Houston, and now Chicago.  A graduate of Miami University, she had the pleasure of learning from the workshop masters and is on a continual quest to challenge, inspire, and learn from her hilariously compassionate juniors and seniors. 


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

Practicing What We Teach, One Letter at a Time – A Guest by Amy Menzel

I’m not always ready for Monday, but I was ready for this one. I had spent a lot of time reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love over the weekend and was anxious to get back into the classroom and spread my love of all things literary. Wouldn’t you know it…my seniors weren’t.

Now, it was “senior skip day,” and I knew that, so maybe I was less prepared than I thought. I thought, “Hey, I’ll be able to give more individual attention to students Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMwho need it.” Meanwhile, they thought, “Hey.  I’m here.  What more do you want?”

It’s not so much that they thought this that bothered me, but that they said it. They actually said,  “You should just be happy we’re here.”  To my face. And they meant it.

A small part of me died right then and there. Likely from overheating because my blood was boiling. It took me a while (and eleventy-seven deep breaths) to calm down. Somehow I made it through the day without exploding, but barely.

That afternoon, I sat at my desk as the building got quiet. When only the sounds of the custodian’s sweeping and my continued deep breathing remained, I opened a new Google doc. “Dear Students,” I began, and channeled my frustrations and feelings through my fingertips.

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I made 140 copies, left them in a neat stack in the middle of my cluttered desk, closed my door, walked to my car, drove away, and hoped for a better day.

I felt better that I wrote about it (duh, say many researchers). And I felt better having calmly and clearly expressed my expectations. I also had a student voice echoing in my head from last semester: I’ve never had a teacher take the time to write to us before.”

Of course, we write to students all the time; we write our syllabi, our assignments, our writing prompts. But I do think there’s a difference when we address a note, a discussion to our students. It’s more personal. I forget about this.

It’s also a way to practice what we teach.

Back in April, Lisa talked about the importance of English teachers being readers. She closed her impassioned post, “We must be readers…otherwise, we are in the business of false advertising.” The same is true of our work as writing teachers.  We must write.

This is a lesson I learned (or finally appreciated) during my participation in the UWM Writing Project back in 2010. One of the core principles of the National Writing Project, the program of which the UWM Writing Project is an affiliate, is that, “Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically,” — emphasis mine.

I learned a lot that summer, but the most significant lesson I took away was the importance of practice. Each of us teacher consultants prepared and presented a teacher inquiry workshop and the number one rule for these presentations was to have your participants write early and often. It changed the way I teach. Still, I find that I need to remind myself to write more often.

Now, I know it’s the end of the year. So you may be thinking…

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But I’m all about embracing the constant reflect-and-revise nature of teaching. So allow me to publically commit to writing to my students more–early and often starting next school year.

Dear fellow teachers,

Are you with me?

Sincerely,
Amy Menzel

Amy Menzel teaches English at Waukesha West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She hopes her unbridled enthusiasm for all things literary haunts her graduating seniors for decades to come. In the best possible way, of course.


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

A Call for Real Opportunities to Learn — Not More Test Prep

Natl Literacy Trust Survey 2016

Of course, this data caught my eye.

My friend Gary Anderson posted it on Facebook with this link to the National Literacy Trust Findings from their Annual Literacy Survey 2016: Celebrating Reading for Enjoyment.

I had just spent the day working with teachers in Clear Creek ISD as they launched their two week STAAR Academy, a series of summer school-like classes designed to immerse students in authentic reading and writing — not the typical mode of tutorials often offered in the hope of helping students pass their state mandated English exams.

Billy Eastman, Clear Creek ISD High School ELA and World Languages Coordinator, is a visionary who believes in his teachers and in the students they serve. He knows that when students choose books they want to read, experience learning in an environment that validates their personal lives and learning journeys, and are given space and instruction that allows them to write about the topics that matter to them, students grow. They grow in confidence, and they grow in ability.

Thirty-five teachers met with me in a two hour institute this morning. We read and talked and wrote and talked. We built a community of teacher-readers and writers. We engaged in learning — all with a central goal:  How can we create a space for all students to advance as readers and writers?

Then, teachers planned. In teams they designed lessons intent on engaging students as real readers and writers — not just students reading and writing for a test.

After lunch, teachers facilitated similar community building activities with the roughly 250 students attending the academy.

With generous funding by his district, Mr. Eastman was able to provide books, lots of new high-interest YA literature, in which students could choose a book they want to read. This is the first step in “celebrating reading for enjoyment” and all the benefits that come with it.

As I visited the 12 classrooms this afternoon, I witnessed students writing and talking about their reading lives.

“I like stories okay,” one boy said, “but I don’t like to read.”

“I’m not really into reading,” said another.

“Reading isn’t my thing,” another boy said.

I asked one young man if he liked to read, and he told me: “Yes, I read a lot.” He had just selected Scythe, the new book by Neil Shusterman, and I could tell he was eager to get started reading it. He’d already read Unwind and quickly told me how much he enjoyed that series. The other three students in this boy’s small group were less enthusiastic about reading anything, but they were willing to try. One chose Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King, another Boy 21 by Matthew Quick, and the other Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez.

As I observed every classroom this afternoon, I noticed a few things:

  • The ratio of boys to girls in most every classroom was at least 4 to 1.
  • Boys want to read books that look “tough.” The cover has to captivate them.
  • Girls will choose books with male protagonists more often than boys will choose books with female protagonists.
  • Few students choose historical fiction — they seem drawn to realistic fiction and dystopian.
  • Many students chose books teachers might deem too difficult for them. (One of the most popular book choices offered today was All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.)

For the next nine weekdays, students will read their chosen books and spend time engaged in their community of learners. They will practice the moves of real readers and writers as teachers practice the routines of readers-writers workshop and read and write beside their students. Besides the obvious benefit for students, teachers will engage in the kind of professional development that truly matters, the kind that gives hands-on experience with students as they practice the art and craft of teaching.

I am excited for the outcome. I am excited that teachers are excited. I am honored to be a part of Mr. Eastman’s vision for his district.

So what does this have to do with the National Literacy Trusts’ Annual Survey? A lot.

As I read through the report this evening, I found nothing startling or surprising. Of course, there are advantages to reading for enjoyment.

But then I shifted my thinking and began questioning the why and the what. Why does the data say what it does? Why are their gaps in enjoyment between boys and girls? Why are their gaps between age groups? What is happening in schools that might be causing these gaps? What is happening in students’ lives that might be causing these gaps? What can change if we approach reading and writing instruction differently? What should change?

I challenge you to read the report and ask yourself similar questions. Then, I challenge you to take the next step:  follow Billy Eastman’s lead. Whatever your sphere of influence, how can you allow a space for reading for enjoyment? And if you haven’t done so yet: How can you change the model of instruction in your classroom, in your school, or in your district so all students have the chance to become real readers and writers who enjoy what they read and write?

Don’t all students deserve similar opportunities to learn — not more test prep?

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in the fall). She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy because it keeps her focused on her own improvement. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she’d love it if you follow this blog!

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