Category Archives: Logistics

What is Your Teaching Everest?

I’m standing on my desk.

It’s dangerous, but exhilarating, and I probably look like a loon, but I don’t care. (Please see my post where I embrace my dorkdom in an effort to really get to know my students and move on happily with passionate living and teaching.)

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High heels kicked off, channeling the spirit of Mr. John Keating and brazen pigeons everywhere, I’m perched on the edge of my desk during prep, looking around the room to try and gain gain a different perspective.

Oh, Captain, my Captain…Somebody call security. She’s lost it.

No, no. I’m all right. (Well, you know – Relatively speaking. Dear colleagues, if you hear a thud, please investigate.)

So, what caused this poetic exploration of my abandoned classroom? I was thinking about a quote I heard at NCTE 2016:

What is your Everest this year as a teacher?

No, my desk isn’t my Everest. I’m not that far gone. But, per Shana’s inspiration to start with a question, I was thinking about what needs my attention the most right now. With 86 minutes to plan, grade, create, and locate necessary motivation to do all of the roomaforementioned tasks, what should I start with?

There’s certainly a lot to chose from: stacks of papers, countless books to read, share, and sort, a department in need of collaborative time to plan, students flying under the radar.

Everything in front of me is important. I need to grade the narratives my sophomores wrote, to put some ending punctuation on that adventure. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is calling to me too. That book is Hester Prynne meets Offred meets futuristic criminal justice system that injects offenders with a skin altering virus based on their crimes – I need several extra hours in the day to read. Truth be told, I should have started this post sooner too. Procrastination and exhaustion mix into a delightful little cocktail called Crippled Motivation. Bartender, I’ll take another when you have a minute.  

In all seriousness though, I return to my question (Yes, I’m off my desk, Mom), because answering it means I can get something done. I’m weird that way. Could I pick up a stack of papers and just start? Of course. But I have to mentally work up to it, know my plan, have a reward of some sort (read five papers, read When She Woke for five minutes). This time, the question, the task, the implication is much bigger.

What’s most important right now? When I could do a thousand things, what needs to be done right now because it will mean the most?  I know the answer. And not only because I was just standing on my desk :

My Everest this year is feedback.

Consistent, responsive, quick feedback that first encourages, and then focuses in on promoting growth. Remember the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar? That’s the stuff right there.

I want to move my students forward. We all do. But now, more than ever,  I believe the way to do it is through sincere investment in the original thoughts and explorations of my students. Personal connections that, yes, take some time, but build relationships that have helped me to better recommend texts, suggest style moves students may need to make in their more formal writing, and encourage additional critical thinking beyond the classroom.

I used to stress about “finding something good” to include in my comments to my students. And I hate to say this, but it’s downright hard in some instances, isn’t it?

I really like what you did with the title there. 
Interesting transitional choice. 
Wow. So many words in that sentence.
Nice…font selection.

But now,  I’m thinking about feedback in new ways and delivering it in new ways too. To reach my Everest, I’m going to have to get creative and intentional. So, here’s what I did this afternoon:

  • Read through a section of one pager submissions from my AP students. Check them in with the quick rubric for a formative score, and email five students per class with reactions. Not corrections, but reactions. Students are encouraged to explore in these writings and the best means of moving them forward in this case is to share additional insights, question, and encourage. I highlighted the students’ names in my gradebook to know I’ve contacted them and I’ll do the same with several more students next week. Writing feedback…check.

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  • I made a plan for conferring during reading later this week. Without a plan, it’s feeling random and I’m not doing it enough (the thousand things on my desk keep capturing my attention). So, I have a list. I know who I want to talk with based on quick writes students did today. They reflected on their progress toward their weekly reading goals and some students are struggling. Just by having them take a quick photo with their phones and email me the page, I got a literal snapshot of how each and every one of my students is doing with their independent reading, and I didn’t have to collect notebooks. Now, I’ve emailed a few students congratulations and made this plan. In the picture below, Alexis refers to her current read as “a beautiful romance of adventure.” Love! Reading feedback…check. 

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  • Students will self-assess their latest practice AP argument essays. Feedback does not need to come from me to be beneficial. Using the AP rubric to help justify scores, students will take a sheet of paper, put a score and justification on the top, fold it over and hand it to the person next to them. Scoring will proceed in the same way around the table until everyone has his/her paper back. The table will then need to calibrate/norm and agree on a score. Self assessment and peer assessment…check
  • I am going to question and listen more. Long ago, I gave up on the idea that my imparting knowledge on others was the best way for them to learn. Everyone learns best when the are motivated to do so through personal connection to the work, interest in the material, and an understanding of how to improve. Workshop sets this up in a classroom, it’s now my job to remember to listen more and jump in less. During conferences, during book clubs, during discussion. Listen first, respond, encourage, and redirect/suggest later. This certainly doesn’t mean my presence in the room diminishes. It means I remember that my presence in the room is to guide my students, not steamroll them.

Gaining a new perspective feels like hitting the reset button to me. It provides clarity of mind and purpose. Skill development is my professional responsibility. Human development is my personal responsibility. They work hand in and hand and they are the Everest I will climb all year, every year, as I talk with, respond to, and gain insights alongside my students.

What is your teaching Everest this year? We’d love to hear from you! Please add your insights to the comments below! 

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Workshop Routines and Some Leopard Print Pajamas

Amy and Shana posted earlier this week about our upcoming presentation with Jackie Catcher at the NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta. ncte

Amy is going to discuss perspective and assessment, Shana will share insights on unit
planning
, Jackie is focusing on mini lessons, and I’m going to try not to pass out from sheer terror/excitement/nerves/exhaustion/adrenaline.

If I can meet Penny Kittle without
incoherently mumbling some nonsense (Oh my goodness. I love Book Love. I mean love. Did I say love already ?), I’ll consider that a win too.

Or, perhaps most importantly, I’ll be speaking about workshop routines.

Establishing routines to support the non-negotiable components of workshop was one of the first considerations of my district when the high school ELA team started our move to workshop last year. We run on an A/B block schedule with 86 minute classes, and structure
is key to make sure all workshop components get their due time.

I was thinking about it tonight when I was putting my three year old daughter Ellie to bed (which, by the way has been going on now for over an hour because she’s needed several “one more” hugs). Every night, without fail, my husband and I work Ellie through the process of pajamas, books, teeth brushing, more books, several kisses (for Ellie and all nearby stuffed animals), one last story, several more kisses, and a hug.

I’d be lying if I said it went perfectly each night.

Case in point, Ellie just came out and asked what I was doing. I seized the opportunity and asked if she had a message for you all.

She’d like you to know that she is wearing leopard pajamas.

So…how to segue past that one?
I give up. That kid’s good. Yes, I gave her another hug too. Anyway…

Workshop routine. What’s its purpose?

In my opinion, it’s to provide comfort, consistency, and (hopefully) somewhat predictable outcomes.

When Nick and I take Ellie through her bedtime routine each night, she knows what’s coming. She knows we’ll be there with her, whether she’s cooperative or…spirited. She knows that each component of the routine has a purpose, because we make them clear. She knows, or at least experiences, the consistency that leads to that predictable outcome which is a warm bed and sweet dreams.

Yes, she fights it sometimes. Yes, she enjoys some parts more than others. Yes, it’s occasionally exhausting. But we know the net benefit. Our darling daughter is sent to dreamland with a positive experience, consistent expectations, and security.

Workshop routines are established for and run with the same outcomes in mind.

Students need daily practices, without fail, that strive to build capacity for critical thinking, community with peers, and rapport with instructors. They need a classroom structure that promotes a gradual release of responsibility so they can study craft in order to emulate that craft. They need time to practice. Time to explore. Time to be in control of their own learning. Time to be readers and writers.

In our district, that’s a pretty structured 86 minute class period, per Penny Kittle’s suggested breakdown of daily activities:

  • 10 minutes silent reading/conferring
  • 5 minutes attendance/agenda/book talk
  • 15 minute quick write
  • 15 minute skills based mini lesson
  • 38 minutes workshop time
  • 3 minute wrap up/sharing/homework

In my opinion, it’s the components that matter. The timing, especially in an even shorter class period (See Amy’s post on workshop in a 45 minute class period or Shana’s post with her ideas for workshop in a short class– it CAN be done!), are necessarily brief to allow for work in all areas, provide time for students to put into practice what they are learning, and maintain momentum around specific skills by linking components in a class period. For IMG_0684example, have students look for specific craft moves in their independent reading, write about them in a quick write, see them reflected in the mini lesson, and work to incorporate them into their own writing during workshop time. I’m even organized enough sometimes to tie my book talk directly to the craft move we’re discussing. Sometimes.

My students know what to expect each day. They know they can count on time to read, make choices in their learning, have guided instruction on college and career readiness skills, and workshop time to put those skills into practice.

Well, I know they have those things. Their perception of the class structure is often described as “fast.” As in, “Wow. That class period really went fast.” And it does. There’s always a lot to do. There’s always a lot to talk about, write about, read about, think about.

There’s, of course, always room to grow too.

Routines to add around writing fluency (weekly one pagers), mini lesson variety (demonstration, explanation/example, guided practice, etc.), use of writer’s notebooks, conferring, providing formative feedback, and the list goes on.

Workshop aims to empower students, teachers, and entire learning communities through a shared love of reading and writing to promote literacy.

Leopard pajamas or no, the routine of workshop provides a consistent safe place for all stakeholders to learn and grow. Sweet dreams.

I’ll be sharing more about moving to the workshop model and workshop routines in more depth on Sunday afternoon, from 1:30-2:45, in room B211.

Will you be at NCTE?  Please let us know in the comments.  We would love to meet you!

If you can’t make it to Atlanta, you won’t be missing out–tune in to Twitter using the hashtag #NCTE16 during our session times to join the conversation.

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Try it Tuesday: Building Fluency (And Relationships) One Page at a Time

I got to know Bennett because he “grew up” in my classroom.

I got to know Kathy because she discovered how much reading could challenge her thinking.

I got to know Austin because his sense of curiosity,  coupled with his sense of humor, brought him back after graduation to share his insights on college level critical thinking with my students last year.

I got to know Trevor because he had lost his love of reading, and workshop helped him find it again.

I got to know Abbey because I unknowingly played a part in developing her confidence.

We get to know our students in countless ways and through countless circumstances. Through conferences, writers notebook entries, overheard conversations, questions, books in their hands, and sometimes simple nods and smiles, we better understand the humans we as teachers are blessed to work with everyday.

And it is my belief that understanding (connecting with, acknowledging, listening to) students is the component that makes true growth and learning possible. As in life, building relationships breeds understanding, compassion, insight, tolerance, empathy…the list goes on and on (and as I’m typing this, is strikingly similar to a list of reading/writing benefits as well. Coincidence? I think not).

Yet, there are plenty of students I feel like I never get to know as I should. In fourteen years of teaching, I’ve had the opportunity to know roughly 2000 students. That’s 2000 unique life experiences, desires, learning styles, and needs, and I’d be lying if I said I connected, to the degree I might have wanted to, with each and every one, or even most.

But workshop does bring me closer. I talk more with students than at students now, and it makes a world of difference. I’m also offering up more opportunities these days for students to have real and honest connections with the classes I’m teaching. They share who they are in what they choose to read, how they respond to it, and what they write in far more meaningful ways, because the personal connections they create with the material allows for more depth.

My task now is to match those personal connections to learning through assessment of their acquisition of skills.

Sounds simple.
Not simple. Not at all simple.

But you know this. I’m pushing at an open door.
And yet, I would wager, it’s rarely easy for any of us.

So. How to keep students honestly sharing, deeply thinking, connecting to their reading, and growing as writers?

The one pager.

Shana wrote about weekly one pagers about a year ago, and I first started them with my AP students last January. It’s a simple concept. Students write every week. They write what they think, feel, and want to explore.

My modification for my AP students is to have them write weekly about what they are reading independently or specifically for class. The emphasis is to contextualize a chosen quote that they find impactful in some way and then react to it. Part craft study, part reflection, part magic. Beyond that, I encourage students to let their writing flow. 500 words (ish). Single spaced. Analysis. Reflection. Once per week. No exceptions.

Since the point is to write more (and more, and more, and more), I try to keep in mind that I don’t need to read every word. With four sections of AP Language this year, totalling 81 students, I’d be in way over my head. So instead, I keep the scores formative, rotate through the classes to comment on one section of the four per week, and give completion scores for those I skim over. Students use turnitin.com to submit the writing each week, so it’s organized and in one place. Occasionally, we’ll discuss our quotes in small groups and/or use the writing for some craft study in class.

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sample-2

sample-1

Those are the logistics.

My favorite part of this practice, however,  is the way it provides a safe place for my writers to grow, and when they really embrace the exercise, fantastic things happen.

At the start of this school year, I received an email from Simrah, a former student who finds herself in college this year:


Mrs. Dennis,
     I hope you are doing well. I’m having a wonderful time in college and have been meaning to email you to say thank you for having us write one pagers. In English these first two weeks of school, we have been writing one pagers on different readings. Doing so last year was very helpful. We continue to write one page type essays in my class as a grade and being able to do it without question has been great! You can tell you AP Lang students I said this. Thanks again and I hope you have a wonderful school year. Hopefully I’ll stop by the school some time to say hello personally 😉 ❤

Sincerely,
        Simrah —– (a very thankful one pager writing college student)


Just this week, as I introduced my AP Language students to their upcoming “opportunity” to grow as writers, I received an email from Charlie, a young man whose heart is big, his desire to learn is bigger, and unfortunately, this week, he had an unexpected topic emerge for his one pager that turned his piece into an outpouring of emotion that he desperately needed and brought tears to my eyes.

Charlie lost his grandfather this past weekend. Up to this point, Charlie and I have laughed together, as he is a wonderfully personable young man, but I wouldn’t say we had particularly connected. Then he emailed me Sunday to (can you believe) apologize for going over the word limit on the one pager and share with me a picture of how striking the resemblance is between his grandfather at the same age Charlie is now.

Charlie’s writing touched me. He quoted Dr. Seuss in saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” and went on to detail the events of the past week and his deep thinking/feeling about them.

When I hugged him this morning, he smiled again, and then hung back for a few minutes after class to tell me more about his grandpa, how the family was doing, and how he was doing. It was a conversation he needed to have and I was honored to share it with him. He joked on his way out the door that it would be hard to top his first one pager this coming weekend, but he would try.

Earlier in the weekend, Charlie had ended our email exchange by saying, “I am so lucky to have a teacher like you who cares so much.”

Well, Charlie, you’re sweet to say, but really,  I’m the lucky one.

Because I’ve gotten to know Charlie, Bennett, Kathy, Austin, Trevor,  Abbey, and I’m learning more and more ways to know more and more students.

I’m getting to know them in ways that truly matter.

As readers.
As writers.
As learners.
As people.

As writers of one pagers. Simple assignments that can be simply amazing.

Have you tried “one pager” writing in your classroom? How do you work to build fluency in your students’ writing. Please share in the comments below. 

 

Thanks for the Great Read #FridayReads

I think it was a “thank you,” of sorts.

My associate principal, the ever-smiling, ever-supportive, Anita Sundstrom, had asked at the end of last school year to borrow some books to read over the summer.

I sent her home with Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale (and I swear to the heavens and Nicholas Nickleby that Ms. Hannah isn’t paying me to write about her book. Though I may have mentioned how it made me weepy here, and how I broke the law to read it here,  and how the lovely Erin Doucette – who is so very lovely that she helped me with the title of this post at 7:31 a.m.- and I book talked it for the whole school here).

Only a few days later, I received a text from Anita. Something about reading until two in the morning and then not being able to fall asleep for fear of Nazis.

As I said…I think it was a thank you.

She couldn’t put the book down and immediately wanted another recommendation.

Translation: A book captured a reader and fueled a desire to keep reading.
Further Translation: The deepest desire of each and every English teacher fulfilled.

However, it wasn’t until I went to book talk The Nightingale for my current students a few weeks back, that I noticed the Post-it stuck to the inside cover of the book: “Thanks for the great read. – Anita” 

It made me smile. And want to pass on the book love.

So, when I did the book talk, I shared the brief reading story above and showed that Post-it to my students. I joked that Mrs. Sundstrom’s note added street cred to the book. After all, she’s a former science teacher.

Translation: The book has a wider appeal than just a tearful (though sincerely passionate) English teacher.
Further Translation: I now had an idea to help “sell” more books.

Next to the book return bin in my classroom, I placed a stack of Post-its and a few pens. I introduced the idea that we could all help each other better understand the books in our library and their appeal by leaving each other notes in the text. 

These quick little reviews could reach out to readers in search of a book. Those souls searching for a little connection to the readers that have gone before them. Swaying back and forth in front of the bookshelves. Staring. Now, they would have the recommendation of fellow readers right there in the book. The book that would already be in their hands.

Sometimes those Post-it notes can recommend a book I’ve not yet book talked. Sometimes those notes can recommend a book before I can get over to the shelves and help a student select a text. Sometimes those notes lend cred to book when a cover/title/description doesn’t do it justice.

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So…
Read a book.
Love it.
Leave your name and your thoughts on a sticky note.img_6677

Simple, right?

Helpful too.

Now I tease kids that their old school Post-it note reviews might find their way to Mrs. Sundstrom’s office, which is better than finding themselves in Mrs. Sundstrom’s office.

My hope is that the inside covers of my books end up looking like our writer’s notebooks: colorful, messy, informative, creative, and full of inspirational, deep thoughts.

So, thank a peer, thank a friend, thank a reader, thank a book. #FridayReads and then pass it on.

How do you capture students’ thoughts on books they love? Please share your ideas in the comments below! 

Making Workshop Work in 45 Minutes

Kerry wrote:

“One of the seemingly overwhelming hurdles I feel I have is to engage my students with only 45 minutes each day! Do you have any tips or tricks for me to do this?”

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Amy’s diagram of all the moving parts of workshop

So many teachers ask this question.  When one considers all of the moving parts of workshop instruction–reading, conferring, mini-lessons, booktalks, quickwrites, workshop time, choice–it’s tough to conceptualize how to fit it all in to any duration of class time.

 

What’s important to consider is what Penny Kittle referred to as the “currency of time”–what you spend your time on, and what will give you your biggest return for the investment of that time, is equally as important as what you DON’T spend your time on.  You can make workshop work in any time period, with or without all of these elements in one class period, if you invest your time wisely.

What’s most important for our students?  What is the most valuable use of our time?

Time to read.

Time to confer.

Time to write.

That’s it.  If I have those three elements in every single day of workshop, I feel our _Time_-_is_money_095207_.jpgtime has been well spent.  Every workshop classroom will–and should!–look a bit different.  That’s one of the most valuable things about workshop:  not only does it provide for student choice, it gives teachers autonomy, too.

Here’s what I responded to Kerry:

“What I did when I taught those shorter classes was essentially break up my typical workshop into two days, plus I had lots of activities that I always did on certain days of the week.  Fridays, for example, were free-write Fridays in writer’s notebooks, and every Monday always had a sentence study lesson to learn grammar.  We always started with 10 minutes of independent reading, then moved into EITHER a mini-lesson or a quickwrite, then had either a reading or writing workshop.  We had a long workshop every few days or so applying the previous day’s mini-lesson, which they only had a short time to practice the day before.
So, let’s say I’m teaching Macbeth:
Monday: 10 min Independent Reading, 10 min sentence study (using a mentor sentence from the text or a related thematic text like a poem), 15 min mini-lesson on some aspect of whatever part of the play we might be reading that day, 20 min of reading the text with a directed reading activity (close reading type of stuff)
Tuesday:  10 min IR, 15 min mini-lesson or quickwrite (maybe a journal prompt on the nature of evil or something), 20 min reading of the play
Wednesday:  10 min IR, 5 min reminder of yesterday and Monday’s mini-lessons, 30 min reading of the play
Thursday:  10 min IR, 15 min vocab activity, 20 min directed reading activity (discussion, etc.)
Friday:  10 min IR, 10 min free write, 25 min reading of the play
I’d do that for about 3 weeks until the unit was done. (I try not to let a unit go longer than 3 weeks.)
Let’s say I’m teaching narrative writing:
Monday:  10 min IR, 10 min sentence study (using a mentor sentence from a model narrative), 15 min mini-lesson on a writing skill, 20 min writing time (content creation day)
Tuesday:  10 min IR, 10 min mini-lesson follow up, 25 min writing time (lots of revision or tweaking here)
Wednesday:  10 min IR, 5 min reminder, 30 min writing workshop (lots of one-on-one conferring with a combo of content creation and revision)
Thursday:  10 min IR, 10 min vocab activity in notebooks, 10 min writing mini-lesson based on previous day’s workshop, 15 min tinkering workshop
Friday:  10 min IR, 10 min free write, 25 min writing time (straight content creation)
Those days were PACKED.  There was really no free time, so kids who were absent, kids who had questions beyond workshop or conference time, etc. really had to come and see me outside of class (after school, lunch, etc.).  And, there was a lot more homework…we just didn’t have time for everything during 45 minutes.”
How do you make workshop work in any duration of time?  Share with us in the comments a brief outline your daily schedule, please!!  It will be invaluable to see the variety.

Try It Tuesday – The ‘Secret’ to Workshop Success

At this point in the school year, teachers do a lot of counting. Counting days, counting essays left to grade, counting books missing from a classroom library (Seriously people, it’s not cool to steal from teachers. Your growing passion for reading is the bee’s knees, but my own kid may have to pay her way through college at the rate I spend on books for you. Might you return them? Please? Thank you). At graduation this past weekend, I found myself counting seniors I had taught and I began imagining all the opportunities in front of them. Interestingly enough, this year, I looked at those seniors and saw…books.

Zak raved about Ready Player One early this year. It was one of my first workshop successes.
Zoey emailed me over the weekend a few months back about The Girl on the Train.
Jenna plowed through Brain on Fire recently, after Zoey’s recommendation.
Larissa swears that Walden will change your life.
Ellen blushed when she told me she absolutely loved The Sociopath Next Door.
I counted at least eleven kids that read and sobbed over A Monster Calls.

Birds singing and happy little clouds everywhere.

And now…for a moment of full disclosure in the opposite direction. As my department makes the transition to workshop, sometimes the numbers are overwhelming and scary. We are one of only a handful of high schools moving to this model in the entire country. The path before us is paved by K-8 workshop instruction, but the number of secondary schools already doing workshop is relatively limited. This makes the sheer volume of curriculum we’re creating staggering and models hard to find.

On top of those numbers we have extremely limited common prep time, surface level understanding of the best way to break up our 86 minute class periods most effectively, and hundreds of new classroom texts we are working to keep track of (not to mention read). All with three preps for most of my colleagues and a grand total of one hour of collaborative PLC time per week.

In short, this transition isn’t easy and it’s already had some pretty sobering/ugly/weep-worthy moments.

We’re wrestling with very real questions about how to hold students accountable for their skill progression, how to keep track of meeting student need most effectively, how to appropriately conference with all of our students in large classes throughout the school year, and how to balance a need for college/career readiness with our desire to afford students the choice that will fuel their passions for both reading and writing.

At the end of the day, and the end of school year in which we have all been working to

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AP Language Super Readers – Simrah discovered nonfiction, Louise (our school salutatorian) delved into the study of language, and Ellen and Kaley blew through Brain on Fire.

incorporate more and more workshop practice into our daily instruction (knowing we will be expected to operate in the workshop model to fidelity next year), we are tired. Tired, overwhelmed, and nervous.

However, the visual of an Escher-like hellscape I’ve just created for you, thankfully, isn’t the whole story. As I reflect back on this move to workshop, the overwhelming nature of the preparation involved ultimately pales in comparison to the positive feedback I’ve received from students.

I was sitting on the patio a few nights ago with my husband discussing the class-feedback forms my students had just emailed to me (What did you learn from this class? What did you enjoy? What should I work on for next year?) with the completion of our regular class work and impending exam week. I expressed to him how proud I was of the number of students who commented on reading more, enjoying writing more, and basically being more invested in English class than any other year I can remember.

It sort of dumbfounded me as I recalled the emails over the course of the year. The casual

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My 2A AP Language Crew – Dema read Black Boy after a book talk, Bennett read Ishmael and says it changed his life, and Larissa fell in love with American Classics.

conversations with kids that showed their deep thinking about topics they cared about. Countless peer to peer discussions with overheard snippets such as “Oh, I loved that book. You need to read it” and “Yeah, I just couldn’t put it down” and “This topic sentence is really good, but if you combine it with this idea, the paragraph will make more sense.”  The longer I talked with my husband, and the more I recounted the year in student snapshots, the more surprised I was to realize that my stories of the year had little to do with content I “taught” and everything to do with the students themselves – what they were doing with the content. The difference of 2015-2016 was choice and encouragement to be readers and writers. In short…workshop.

So with my recent numerical obsession (did you know it’s only two more sleeps until the last day of school?!), I compiled the following rundown of my first year of exploring the workshop model:


Workshop by the Numbers

1 – Teacher playing around with workshop. Discovering its benefits, its challenges, and its similarity to and differences from her current instruction. Exhausting in the way teachers love. Some call it masochistic. I call it professional development.

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We learned how to make paper cups on the last day with our seniors…a nod to the practicality of English class…then we read. 

3 – Teachers (Talk) who journeyed to the wild North during February to instruct the Franklin High School English department on the day to day of workshop instruction. Exhilarating.

11 – Colleagues opening their lesson plan books and starting almost from scratch to first play with and then make a full transition next year to the workshop model. Collaborative.

117 – Students who read for 10 minutes of every class period we shared, wrote and reflected during every period of second semester, and changed as readers and writers in ways I’ve not seen before in my 13 years of teaching. Thrilling.

180 – Days in the school year to remind students that they will grow as readers and writers with practice, passion, and a commitment to question, explore, and expand their views of the world. Daunting.

2088 – Hours of summer to read the 16,983 books on my “To Read” list (No time for love, Doctor Jones…or sleep for that matter). Delicious.


So many opportunities.

But now, I am going to be brutally honest once again. As previously stated, the move to workshop can be scary. It’s new. New to us, our students, and in a formal sense, it’s relatively new to secondary education altogether.

However, here’s the part that sort of sounds like cheating:

Though teachers, myself included, are very rarely afforded the opportunity to take it easy, there are few things easier than throwing open the doors on choice and seeing what happens. Of course, there are many systems that need developing in my classroom and so much of workshop requires routine and consistency, but the heart and soul of workshop is really

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1B AP Language and Composition – The seniors have left us, but this crew still has final projects to present

choice – choice, talk, and lots of writing – all of which mainly require simply being honest with, invested in, and responsive to student need. No, it’s not totally easy. It can’t be a free for all. It can’t be totally haphazard. But it can be trial and error. It can be learn as you go. It can be beautifully impactful.

To provide proof, here is a sampling of student reaction from my class-feedback form this year. I tried a lot of different things. I messed up a lot. We backtracked often. I sometimes forgot to book talk. I sometimes didn’t provide enough modeling or take the time to write every time they did, but we worked with choice, we wrote more, and we talked more than ever before.

Here are just a few reactions from my AP Language and Composition class:


Hello,
This year I really learned to be literate. AP Lang actually taught me that I can read books that I want to read and no matter what they are I can discuss them in a scholarly way because even if the book is something like poetry or a comic it is still a book. I’ve learned that all books have something to teach and that’s why they were written in the first place. I’ve read some amazing books this year and I’ve learned how to discuss my opinions on things using a higher vocabulary and assertions that are beyond the obvious. I’ve learned that you can look at anything in life a little deeper and you might just learn something. My tendencies to look deeper into things was fostered and practiced through books and reading so thank you Mrs. Dennis for helping me become a scholar. The first time you called us scholars I didn’t really think you were serious, but now I feel it. I feel like I want to spend my entire summer reading and I plan on trying to finish a large chunk of my I want to read page because reading truly and utterly makes one a better person. Reading makes you a better thinker, citizen and friend. Language is truly a beautiful thing. Also, you should know that coming into this class I was intimidated and almost dropped. English is not my strongest suit as I want to go into premed, but now I can be a poetic Doctor am I right??
Thank you also for always being a nice person and a smiling face to see in the morning.
Love,
Nimmi
Mrs Dennis,
I loved this class, a lot. I’ve never really felt like I’ve learned much from English classes, but in AP Lang this year, I’ve grown so much as a writer and a reader and a thinker. Part of that is the class itself, part of that is the practice work we’ve done throughout the year that forced us to think for ourselves (I actually like doing one pagers now), and a big part of that is you as a teacher. You made us want to be smart. I wouldn’t change a thing, and I think that I’ll probably look back on this class as one of the most valuable I’ve taken in high school. I’ll miss having you as a teacher next year!
Thanks for everything,
Maddie
Mrs Dennis,
I always thought becoming a man would require some sort of coming of age. Some sort of ‘killing the beast and dragging it home’ type situation…
I began this year as a boy and ended it as a man. Throughout the year I became increasingly disillusioned with being a dependent, in ideology and in living situation. I read books about Manliness, articles about what it “means” to be a man and looked far and wide for what the distinction was.
There is no amount of *physical contact*, “macho” rites of passage, or waking up one day transformed that made me into a man. Oddly enough, it was sharing my feelings that made me a man. The turning point was the day you told us “Feel free to share more feelings in your one pagers”.
“Sharing my feelings” translated to me having to figure out WHAT I felt and believed and WHY.
Instead of having some book tell me that I should be principled and have virtue (which is simple enough for me, and not only a manly thing) AP Lang and you made me feel like I had a SAY in my own life and thoughts. AP Lang made me no longer dependent on others for what I believe and why, giving me the ability to evaluate, challenge, qualify AND support things.
AP Language and Composition MADE A MAN OUT OF ME.
I am eternally grateful,
Bennett
Encourage everyone to read Walden, strongly encourage. It’s life-changing.
Continue teaching everyone to question ideas or anything at all; I think that was really fundamental in my growth as a student as well.
Larissa

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the secret formula…

It’s no secret at all.

These are the simple changes I made to my daily practice. And though I have a lot of work to do in regards to running a true workshop classroom each and every day, the results this year have felt amazing. Give it a try!

  • Provide 10-15 minutes per class period for students to read books of their choosing. It’s time well spent. Best spent, actually. 
  • Conference with students during that reading time to better understand what, how, and why they read. This will assist you in recommending further reading and in determining mini lessons your students need to make them better readers and writers.
  • Have students write each and every day. Encourage them to write without stopping (building fluency), revise something every time they write (building capacity to internalize the writing process), share that writing (to build community), and take pride in that writing by choosing and developing ideas.
  • Use additional class time for more conferences with students around what they are reading and writing. Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups during this time, depending on the mini lesson for the day.

Of course, readers and writers workshop involves so much more, but this is where I started this year. This is what resulted in the student response above.

If my calculations are correct, I have roughly 25 years left in the classroom (holy, holy, holy). That’s 3000 students (conservatively) over 4500 days. Talk about an opportunity. Or rather, 4500 opportunities.

What books will they love?

What great stories will they tell?

Whose life will change by becoming a reader and a writer?

I can’t wait to find out. Because the secret to workshop success is no secret…it’s the students.

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3A Sophomores – Trevor said he read more than he ever has, Errin and I read Metamorphosis  together, Josh read (and loved) Moby Dick, and Lauren’s “To Read” list is two pages long. 

What moves have you made to workshop that have made a difference in your practice? Please feel free to leave your comments and questions below!

 

Try it Tuesday: Taking Your Classroom Library Digital

Spring break in Wisconsin is sort of a misnomer. Thank the heavens, it is a break. Time enough to make to-do lists that are far too long to actually do, but blessedly, reading time abounds and my tented texts are multiplying.

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Ice covered trees just last week

But Spring? Not so much. Not usually. The cherry blossoms may be bursting into bloom in Washington and roadtrippers to Florida are finding warm sunshine and sand, but in Wisconsin, we’re a bit…behind.

Mother nature likes to tease Wisconsinites. Sixty degrees one day and snow that evening. Literally. My toes are cold just thinking about it.

However, as is the eternal promise of rebirth in spring, there are signs. Robins have returned, tiny buds are appearing on the trees, and the first flowers have pushed their tiny heads above the snow and suggested that warmer weather really might be on its way.

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Crocus braving the elements

And so, with the hope that warmer days might actually be on the horizon, I get the undeniable and somewhat inexplicable urge to clean, organize, and pull my brain out of the numbing chill of winter. Throw open the windows (brr!), place hands on hips, and get to work. You’ll recall my to-do lists mentioned earlier? Several closets are in my sights and I geekishly delight in the thought of heading to the Container Store to finally wrangle the toys my daughter received for Christmas.

In the same way, before break, I surveyed my classroom (hands on hips and a waning desire to grade papers) and decided to tackle my number one organizational nightmare.

Mainly? My classroom library check in and check out.

With a recent influx in books for this library, there is excitement, variety, and chaos.

It’s new. It’s wondrous. It’s a big, ugly, mess.

As students clamour for new books (Yay!), their attention to our sign-out sheet has gotten messy at best, and completely ineffective at worst.

I was getting emails from kids weekly – Hi Mrs. Dennis, I accidently walked out of class with the book I grabbed. Could you sign it out for me?  or  Mrs. Dennis, I stole one of your books. Well, I didn’t steal it, I’ll give it back, but I have it and didn’t sign it out. Is that ok? 

Please, steal a thousand books if they are going to get read. However, it’s tricky. I can’t find books I thought I had. Students look for a texts and I don’t know if they are there or not. I go to book talk a text and it’s nowhere to be found.  #biblioissues.

But short of a full library scanning system and detectors that wail if you try to take out a book that’s not checked out, I was sort of at a loss.

So I turned to my friend Google, in search of different ways to handle the blessing of enthusiastic readers. And what I came up with has worked really well for my students that don’t always remember to sign books in or out during class, as they can now take care of it both in class and out.

I wanted it to be simple and provide me with some insights into both my students and the texts they choose. I needed to be accessible and easy for kids to use too. And, I wanted to try and create something that would run itself.

Enter – Google Forms.

Below, you’ll see the steps I took to digitize my classroom library, quickly and easily. 

  1. Create a Google Form that students can access easily. Forms provide you with a URL that can be sent to students’ email, pasted to a digital class syllabus, and/or shared on a class website. Once students fill out the form, all of the data is collected on a spreadsheet that you can alphabetize by student name, book title, or any category you like.

    Library 1

    The opening page leads students to differing questions depending on their need

  2. Differentiate questions on the form to gather the data you want. Below, you’ll see the questions I asked depending on whether a student was checking a book out (tell me what you are taking) or checking a book in (tell me how the reading went).
    • Checking out a book, I’m just looking for the basics:

      Check Out

      The basics so that I know where the book went.

    • Checking in a book, I’m looking to see if a student successfully completed the reading or didn’t, and why.

      Sign In 1

      The first page of the check in.

    • If students abandoned a book, I’m looking to find out why and if they successfully completed the book, I’m interested to find out what they thought.
      Abandon

      Reasons a student might have abandoned a text.

      Finished Book

      Insights once a student finishes a book.

  3. If you want it used, place the link to this form everywhere! I have the form linked to the top of my digital syllabus, I sent the link to students to save via Remind, I emailed it to their school account, and I made QR code for my classroom wall that students can scan, taking them directly to the form. Library Mangement
  4. Much like a mini reader’s conference, read what students are saying about they are reading. In the few weeks I have been asking students to use this form, I have taken away several key insights.
    • Book talks ARE making a difference. 

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      Forms gives you data to help guide future text selections, book talks, and recommendations.

    • Students do read more simply because we give them time! Several students commented that they picked up a book for in class reading and then checked it out to keep reading.
    • Kids care about what their peers are reading. In the section where students suggest why they choose a book, many suggest that hearing their peers talk about a book, or simply seeing someone else read it, piqued their interest.
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      You can take a look at student responses by submission, or…

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      Go to a spreadsheet that you can organize to best supply data in any category you choose.

 

All in all, my organizational itch has been…digitized.  And as I sit and wait for spring during this week off of school, my closets may stay messy and I’ll never get through all the books I want to read (I did manage to start Animal Farm during my daughter’s nap today. A student recommendation and a sneaking suspicion I may be asked not to return to work if someone found out I haven’t ever read it have fueled my most recent read), but over 70 students have used my new classroom library form and that warms my heart, if not my toes.

UPDATE: Here is a link to a copy of my Google Form. Please feel free to make a copy of it for your own use! Enjoy! 

 

How have you made your classroom library run more smoothly? Other ideas on collecting usable data from readers workshop? Please leave your comments below! 

 

 

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