Category Archives: Community

What I’ve read in 2019, So Far!!!

I’m not finding a lot of reading time this year. Maybe it’s graduate school. Or maybe it’s that I’m just really lazy. I’m up to 14 books in 2019. I’d say that’s a pretty respectable number, but what strikes me is the quality of books I’ve been able to enjoy as winter has moved into spring, then into summer, then back into spring, then summer, and on and on, ad nauseum…

Amazing Books that Everyone Should Read Right Now!!!

40519254Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak was one of the books that sent me, several years ago, on this YA journey.  Shout is Anderson’s memoir-in-verse that inspired her to write Speak. Every girl needs to read this book, and so does every boy.

img_5084For Every One by Jason Reynolds

A book everyone needs to read to themselves and to each other. We need more books just like this.  Some might breeze through this book book in a hour or less. Others might savor every page, basking in the wisdom of Reynolds.  This book is a mentor text gold mine.

 

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

GREATEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL I HAVE EVER READ!!!! Must I say more? I will. This book’s protagonist, Bri, let’s the reader see an authentic young adult attempting to find herself in a world she doesn’t totally understand.  I’m an adult that doesn’t understand this world and yet…wisdom abounds. I can’t even…

Sequel Successes and Follow Up Fun!!!

The Vanishing Stair (Truly Devious, #2) by Maureen Johnson

img_5411I loved Truly Devious for so many reasons.  Massive and mysterious Gothic mansion setting? Check! Plucky and intelligent teenage sleuth? Check! Fast paced narrative that weaves in authentic “teenager sounding” dialogue? Check! This sequel is a win for everyone involved and I can’t wait for the final book in the series!!

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Odd One Out by Nic Stone

I have a nasty habit of moving about 80(ish) pages into a book and then losing interest. I let myself stray to far from this book for too long. When I book talked this book for my students, I noted how it wasn’t so much about a love triangle, it was more of a love circle. The confusion about how we are supposed to feel about ourselves feels authentic, even to this old man.

img_5419Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

I enjoyed her first book, One of Us is Lying, but this one missed me, somehow.  The plot twist was interesting, but predictable, and I struggled to keep up with the constantly switching points of view.  Me not liking this book may reflect more upon the reader than the writer and I HATE that I didn’t like this book, but reading it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Others will love it and I will not be a person that denounces it based solely on my own discomfort.

Fun Books that May not be for Everyone

Bull by David Elliot

A book in verse that retells the story of the Minotaur. I didn’t realize how much a book could make me feel uncomfortable, both linguistically and contextually.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If you love twist endings, or are far more intuitive than I am, you will love this book. An examination of total mental meltdown through the eyes of our current generation of teenagers, this book has many layers.

c79cbe95-7c09-4d7e-b25e-f4d26b880aa0-7652-0000007733788706_file-1A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Another book I let gather dust on my nightstand. The story of Shirin and Ocean.  A girl who clings to her faith in the face of bigotry, while at the same time exploring forbidden love.  Excellent lesson for us all.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson

This was a weird, wild book. Don’t believe the words or the pictures, both can lead you astray in this fantasy story about clashing cultures and an unpredictable friendship.

Guilty Pleasures

img_5345Wolf Pack (Joe Pickett, #19) by C. J. Box 

A guilty pleasure, a wheelhouse book.  When I can’t get wait to get to another Jack Reacher story, Joe Pickett is the next best choice. I could see our junior and senior boys loving the easy escapism this book provides.  Like a romance novel for readers with beards.

Verses for the Dead (Pendergast, #18) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Aloysious X. L. Pendergast is a lone wolf FBI investigator with a mortician’s wardrobe and the gaunt, pale skin to match.  He solves the bureaus most bizarre cases using a combination of inductive reasoning and the focus of a Tibetan monk.  I will never pass on an offering from Preston and Child because they, so deftly, mix intrigue with well crafted prose.

Adrift (Corps Justice – Daniel Briggs #1) by C. G. Cooper

My wife has been trying for at least a year to convince me to read free e-books from Amazon Prime.  This book had an interesting concept, not unlike the books I love from Lee Child. A former soldier finds himself caught up in the middle of a small town turf war and, while he didn’t light the fire, he is more than willing to put it out.  Not that I’m a master of the written word, but having crafted a sentence or two, I can sympathize with an author when I see he or she needs a good editor.


Charles Moore can’t wait to see what the Battle of Winterfell does to his beloved Westeros. He’s trying to be a diligent reader, but he’s not trying as hard as he could be.  He enjoyed seeing the whole family together for the first time in a long time over the Easter Weekend and he’s ready for grad school to be over for the semester.  

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Fine, Let’s talk Anchor Charts!

As she dropped her backpack onto her desk during a recent passing period, a student asked, “Mr. Moore, where are the walls?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them in ages,” I replied, as I tidied up my library shelves, shoving books back into their alphabetical order.

“But they used to be right there, and there, and two more, there and there,” she pressed, a hint of confusion sneaking into her voice.

I paused for a moment, thinking, before saying, “When was the last time you saw them?”

“I can’t remember.” she replied, slumping down in her desk, reaching for her book.

Finishing up my book shelving task, I took a second to consider what she was trying to tell me. Surveying the panorama of my classroom all I saw were giant white sticky notes.  I thought I heard a faint intake, a gasp for air, as if the old walls were struggling to breath, suffocated by their new decoration. Hardly any of the burgundy paint showed through. Instead, the walls were decorated with the tapestries of learning, covered by curtains of craft and content; literacy lessons.

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This is just the front of my room.

These new walls are better than the old walls. They aren’t frozen in place; a testament to tax dollars. These new walls are mobile – the kids carry them, accessing their information wherever they read and write. Earthquakes can’t wrench these walls from the foundation, nor can they be melted by flame.

I catch a lot of flack for the appearance of my anchor charts. I mix up the colors, try to use shapes, and squiggle my lines. My chart-writing improves daily, yet still my “man handwriting” is criticized by my colleagues and the kids make me re-write words until they are perfectly legible from the moon.

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Please consider my feelings. I tried to use fun letters at the top.

Not all charts are created equally.

First of all, the chart paper can’t be some namby-pamby (made up words) semi-stick, off brand, weak-sauce chart paper.  I want the super adhesive, never fall off the wall paper that I can move around, frantically pointing from one chart to another, connecting ideas, pulling their thinking from a previous lesson to connect to a new one.

Some charts find themselves arrayed with other, like-minded charts, like a file folder.  Others are stacked together to save space. Oftentimes, the students ask amazing questions that I answer, not by re-teaching something we’ve already covered, but by pointing to the appropriate anchor chart and then analyzing the looks on their faces to determine if I need to drill deeper or leave them be.

I’m not the only one doing the pointing.  Anchor charts multiply the number of teachers in the room.  Maybe one kid elbows another, confused.  The elbowed victim points to the board, or the wall, before refocusing on their work.

The universal usefulness of anchor charts helps all of our learners. Inclusion teachers are masters at using our anchor charts. My English learners lean on them frequently.  Don’t, however, think that the GT/Pre-AP kids don’t use them.  They do, almost as much as anyone.

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Somehow, I’ve assumed the mantle of “Anchor Chart Guy.” This means that whenever I bop (stroll? strut?) into the classrooms of other teachers, they demand I cast my gaze upon their anchor chart collections, beaming with teacher pride.  For me, anchor charts have become a shibboleth.  You either know how important they are or you don’t, and I pity those who fall in the “don’t” category.

We share anchor charts on our team.  Often times, we will do each other the favor of snapping a picture of a chart and uploading it to our team planning pages in OneNote. I’ve walked into my teammates classrooms and noticed specific, amazing anchor charts, only to have he or she tell me it was stolen…from me!!! Conversely, I might see one of hers (or his) that appears particularly useful, and I’ll snap a picture of it with my phone, storing that idea for later.

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We even started an Anchor Chart Hall of Fame in our OneNote planning notebook. Mostly as a joke…mostly.

I counted my anchor charts on Friday.  There were forty.  I wasn’t surprised. Those who know me won’t be either.


Charles Moore wants to learn more anchor charts. If you know of a book that is particularly insightful to this idea, please let him know.  He’s also looking forward to the weather, and therefore his pool, heating up. And crawfish. Always crawfish.  One last note, if you run into him, ask him about the Saga of the Lost Charm Bracelet.  You won’t be disappointed.  Check out his twitter feed at @ctcoach.

Popular Titles for Middle School Students

Lately I’ve seen several twitter and facebook posts asking for “must-purchase” titles for classroom libraries and book clubs. It’s that time of year – the time when we order for next year and cross our fingers that it all arrives by the first day of school.

Ordering titles for our classroom libraries is no joke, so I love seeing how thoughtful people are about it.

I thought I’d check in with my students to find out how they might answer that question, so I asked them what their best books of the year have been so far. They wrote about it and talked about it, and then I had them publicly post their titles so that other students could get inspired to read new titles, add to their next reads lists, or think about new titles for summer reading.

Here’s what we came up with:

Block A Best Books

Bad Kitty, Norse Mythology, Pugs of the Frozen North, A Wrinkle in Time, Hitler Youth, The Martian Chronicles, To the Field of Stars, All Fall Down, Echo, Auggie and Me, Our Surprising Love Story, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Long Way Down, The House of the Scorpion

All Fall Down by Ally Carter has been a big hit with several of my seventh grade girls. All Fall Down Cover

It’s the first in a mystery series, and three of my seventh-grade girls have read all three of the books in the series since I added it to my classroom library in January. It’s led one of them to read some of Ally Carter’s other books, and they have had some fun and authentic discussions about these books, which is always fun to witness.

Block C Best Books

The Fault in our Stars, Twilight, Long Way Down, Memoirs of a Geisha, Turtles All the Way Down, Sarah’s Key, Everything Everything, Big Foot, Looking for Alaska, American Sniper, Smile, Booked, Guinness Book of World Records, Anne of Green Gables, Perfect, Out of My Mind, Insurgent, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe moved one of my readers to tears.

Aristotle and Dante cover

This student literally hugged her copy when she was done with it, and while she is a prolific reader, this one made it to her “top book” award. If this student recommends it, then I’m sold.

Block E Best Books

Eleanor and Park, Everything Everything, The DaVinci Code, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 3:59, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Crossover, The Maze Runner, Out of My Mind, The Hunger Games, The Perfectionist, Taste Test, Love that Dog, The Alchemist, Slappy New Year, Between Shades of Gray, Star Wars, The Popularity Papers

Out of My Mind seems to be a game changer for a few of my seventh grade readers.

Out of my Mind cover

Somehow, this sweet story of an eleven-year-old girl who is drastically underestimated has reached some students who I never would have pegged as liking “this kind of book.” One boy in particular has said it’s the best book he’s ever read, and if I could translate the look on his face into words, you wouldn’t doubt it.

Hopefully these titles my students shared will help with some of your purchasing choices this spring.

One thing to notice is that these titles aren’t the latest or newest publications, but they are fairly recently published, for the most part.

I think the important piece is not that we have the newest and hottest titles (not that it doesn’t help!), but that we realize that variety and availability are what matter. To illustrate this point, I’ll share an example: I purchased about 150 “new” books for my classroom library over the winter break, brought them back to Nicaragua in my suitcases, book talked them daily, and made them available to all of my students.

Variety and availability have made a significant difference in the reading habits and attitudes of many of my students. I didn’t spend a lot of money – some of the books I purchased second or third hand for fifty-cents apiece. I’ve reinforced the paperback covers with packing tape, and it helps. The point is that the books are readily available, and I know what I have in my library, I know my readers, and I can do my best to play matchmaker between book and reader.

How do you choose books for your classroom library? What are some of your must-haves?

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

No Accountability Book Clubs

Prior to starting a round of Book Clubs with my AP Lit students, I questioned what would be a “just right” accountability fit for my very different first and fourth periods.  Third quarter always hits juniors hard.  It is a reality check that changes are ahead.  It seems to be the time students are in full swing with clubs, theater, sports, and other projects.  My students are invested in their independent reading, with many switching between texts they can use on the exam and fun YA selections, and developing reading identities.  My students are also chatty and friendly–Book Clubs seemed like a perfect fit at this point in the year.

But how to keep students accountable in a non-punitive way when they’re already overbooked.  I thought about my goals for the Book Clubs, which extended far beyond adding another text of literary merit to their tool belts for question three.  I wanted them to read, to engage, to think.  For students to have fun meeting together to discuss books like adult readers do.

For some, a bit of accountability helps spur their reading and processing.  I have many students who like to document their thinking with annotations or dialectical journals and be rewarded for their visual thinking.  I understand that. For others, a bit of accountability becomes a chore that interferes with their engagement. Students have reflected that tasks associated with reading pull their focus away from the text and onto the assignment.  I get that, too.

I have been ruminating over my grading practices this year, taking notes on what is helpful and what can change next year as we progress, seeking practices which keep students accountable in non-intrusive, authentic ways.  Letter grades in the English classroom can be tricky. Our content lends to subjectivity when grading. Add in the pressure for college-acceptable GPAs and authentic learning can be lost in the quest for an “A.” It can be difficult to accurately measure understanding, as well as the more essential habits for success beyond our classrooms–effort, improvement, depth of thought and questioning–with five letters.  I am trying to shift from grades and points to accountability, effort, revision, second-laps, and reflection as tools for building skills and taking risks. I want anything I evaluate to have meaning and to be balanced by a lot of low stakes participation, effort, and reflection.

Book Clubs are like independent reading, just a bit more social.  Why grade it with check-listy parameters?  I wanted students to read, engage, and think with one another.  To come to the table with questions, thoughts, and connections, like a college student would.  To process challenging books together, like an adult book club would.

So I decided I would assign no accountability checks.  Nothing. I only asked students to be accountable to one another, as adults would be in a “real” book club each week, with the schedule they set.

Knowing they wouldn’t be receiving a tangible grade or reward, I was concerned students would see this as an invitation not to read deeply, or that some wouldn’t feel invested in the payoff. However, my hope that our months of community building and sharing in reading experiences as readers outweighed my tinges of fear.  Why not step aside and set them free?

I gave Thursday’s class period over to the Book Clubs and student-driven conversations with the ask that students use the class period to process together.

Students owned it.  

There wasn’t a lull in conversation on Thursdays.  Student groups chatted with each other while I circulated and enjoyed their voices and insights.  I wasn’t roaming the classroom with a clipboard or checking an assignment in while half listening. I was a floating member of each club (hence why there are no pictures accompanying this post!).

I noticed there were discussions about the gray areas of the books, like what is the Combine Chief Bromden references and what the heck happened to Nurse Ratched to make her the adult she is in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  I noticed the crew reading Ceremony worked to make sense of the non-linear structure and researched the myths of the Laguna Pueblo people. Readers of Brave New World connected the text to Oryx and Crake, a summer read, as well as our world.  Readers of The Road hypothesized on the events before the book begins.  Many students annotated their books, kept a notecard of questions to ask one another, took notes during the meetings, and referenced the text throughout their discussions.

There was no need to dangle a carrot in front of their noses or keep track of data to issue a grade.  Students did the work because the elements were there:  choice, time, conversation.  They made meaning together, employing the habits developed throughout the year while practicing being adult readers–readers who read, engage, and think in a realm where there isn’t official accountability to turn in.

I’m not sure what my digital gradebook categories will look like next year, what practices and procedures I will put into place to promote authentic accountability, but I know I will challenge myself to step aside more often, to trust students will do the work if the environment is right.

 

Maggie Lopez is entering the fourth quarter in Salt Lake City upon returning from spring break.  She is currently reading Hitler’s Furies by Wendy Lower. You can find her at @meg_lopez0.

Reading on a Snowy Monday and Canada Reads

We had a snow day last Monday. For those of you that know anything about Vancouver, Canada and the surrounding suburbs, a snow day is incredibly rare. I also know that those of you who live in more wintery climates may have been inclined to laugh at the amount of snow that constituted a snow day as I am sure it would have been considered a light dusting in many other areas of the world. In British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, however, a dumping of snow is a rare event and a school closure due to snow an even rarer event.

For my Monday snow day, I decided to take advantage of the unanticipated day off to do some reading. There is something to be said about being able to immerse yourself in a book and read it cover to cover in one sitting as snow softly falls outside your window.

marrow thievesThe book I ended up reading was The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, which is a powerful modern dystopian novel where the world has nearly been destroyed by climate change. The majority of the people who have survived the natural disasters that comes with climate change have lost the ability to dream with the exception of the indigenous people of North America who can still dream. Because of this, the indigenous people of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow because their bone marrow carries the key to recovering the ability to dream.

I picked up this book on that snowy Monday because I wanted the time to read it more closely. I had actually first encountered the book a few years ago when it was part of the CBC Canada Reads competition and have since added it to the rotation in my dystopian literature circle unit. Canada Reads is a yearly competition where several Canadian novels are nominated (each year the nominated books all centre around a theme). The Canada Reads website describes the competition as being like a “literary survivor” where each book is read and championed by a Canadian celebrity. Each week the champion of each book will debate the merits of their book and one book a week is voted off until the remaining book is declared champion.

While I have followed Canada Reads for many years, a few years ago I introduced it to my Honours English 11 class and had the students participate in their own version of Canada Reads. In groups, they each choose one of the Canada Reads novels to champion and they participate in our own “literary survivor” in class at the same time as the Canadian celebrities. Using the “literary survivor” model in my class has had a huge impact on my students. They have been introduced to some great Canadian reads, but have also become excited and analytical readers of their novels as they are debating for the survival of their chosen book each week. They love to see how their arguments stand up to the celebrity arguments (and I find my students’ arguments are often much better than the celebrity ones) and to see if the book that survives the longest in our class is the same one that survives in the Canada Reads competition. At the end of the class competition, the students have closely read a novel, analyzed it and debated it without feeling like they have done any work at all.

Pam McMartin is English department head and Senior School teacher librarian at a school in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. She is currently thawing out after our short burst of unusual winter weather and is looking forward to the return of more mild temperatures.

Follow her on twitter @psmcmartin

“A Sea of Talk”

“Writing floats on a sea of talk.” – James Britton.

ocean waves

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

If you’re an avid 3TT reader, I’m sure that’s not the first time you’ve read that phrase. In fact, Amy mentioned it here just a few short days ago, and we’ve definitely discussed how to get students to talk to each other on this website before. For me, I didn’t hear of James Britton or this idea of a “sea of talk” until I joined my local Writing Project. (As always, I can not speak highly enough of how the Middle Tennessee Writing Project changed the trajectory of my career and the practices within my classroom. If you aren’t involved with your local Writing Project, I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek out those groups and immerse yourself into that community.)

Shameless plug for WP over… I found myself for two weeks straight during my Writing Project ISI starting each day with a little bit of writing, then some variation of turn and talk before returning to our writing. That process – write, share, write some more, share some more, write some more – was presented to us in multiple ways over that two weeks but all of those activities at their core were some variation of that process. And it’s one I’ve taken to heart.

Of course, our ideas are stronger after we spend some time with them in conversation, after we hear feedback from our peers. Of course, just the simple act of speaking out loud is sometimes  enough to jumpstart an idea or solve a problem. In the programming world, this process is called Rubber-ducking. Of course, it would be ridiculous to assume that our students should only ever write in isolation when they have so much to say and share. So, it’s our responsibility to just get out of the way in the classroom and allow that “sea of talk” to rise and fall, ebb and flow. A former sage on the stage teacher, I had to realize that my voice alone wasn’t enough to create a “sea.”

The latest iteration of this rising and falling in my class literally involves rising. In doing some research on how to make argumentation a more natural and low-stakes part of the classroom, I stumbled upon Dave Stuart Jr.’s blog where he discusses Pop-up Debates. I fell into a deep rabbit hole of links upon links, occasionally shouting at the dog, “This is great!” and “Oh, man! This is going to be good.” B was just as enthused as I was. He’s supportive like that.

The Pop-up Debate works like this: Explain the concept of the pop-up shop and relate it to the pop-up debate. Encourage everyone to participate. Students command the floor by ‘popping-up’ at their desks and beginning to speak. If multiple people pop-up, students politely yield the floor. There are no declared winners because everyone wins when the conversation is lively and intelligent. Encourage students to debate all sides – nothing is so boring as a circle of agreement and repetition.

And that’s it. It’s a simple practice, highly adaptable and extremely engaging.

For our first pop-up, I asked students to respond to a question about honor codes that I pulled from an old AP Language synthesis prompt. They wrote on their own for about ten minutes before test-running their ideas with a partner. Then, they popped for about 17 minutes. I found it fascinating to hear how their conversation grew and moved and evolved as they examined new facets of the conversation. Students who are reluctant to raise their hands stepped up to discuss with no prompting from me at all. Students questioned their peers’ assumptions, asked clarifying questions, raised new points, offered counterarguments, moved from specific evidence to social implications, made their points passionately. In short, as a class, we practiced several of the skills required for good writing collectively in a very low-stakes environment.

Then, we turned back to our notebooks and wrote again before debriefing as a class about how the conversation changed or added to their thinking. Simple and powerful.

Pop-ups can easily be used as a means to practice all manner of writing skills while also working on speaking skills. For example, for our second pop-up, we discussed the extent to which the study of philosophy was useful in modern society. Here, we focused on using accountable talk at the beginning of statements to show relationships between ideas – a skill we’re practicing in other ways for the synthesis portion of the AP exam. This week, when we pop-up, students will track the flow of the conversation in their WNs, and we’ll use this to jumpstart mini-lessons on counterarguments.

I hope that this method is one that you can take to your classroom and use right away. I’m always interested in how others keep that “sea” churning in their classrooms. Please share in the comments or on Twitter.

Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. She is reading Mary Oliver for the first time and considering what being a “bride married to amazement…[a] bridegroom, taking the world into my arms” will look like for herself. She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.

 

Sowing Seeds of Light: Reflections Following Time with Cornelius Minor

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

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

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

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

Terms to Absorb

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

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

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

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

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

Strategies to Disperse Power

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

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

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

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

Questions to Encourage the Reflection Necessary for Doing the Work

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

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

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

 

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