Category Archives: Readers Writers Workshop

Q & A: How do I do this on my own without other colleagues teaching this way? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered (1)

Believe me when I say I understand. Completely. I think many other teachers who took off the old shoes of making all the choices in their English classes and tiptoed, stomped, or danced into workshop instruction understand, too. Sometimes we are the only one hearing the music.

This was me most of the time.

Of course, working with colleagues in highly functioning PLC’s is advantageous. If we’re lucky, we’ve been in a few grade level teams, or even full departments with colleagues who embrace the choice and challenge readers-writers workshop offers and collaborate well. Other times we have to stick with our knowledge of what works best for growing readers and writers and make our own instructional choices, based on what we know is best for the students relying us in our own classrooms. It’s always our own students who matter most.

So how do I do workshop on my own without other colleagues teaching this way?

Here’s the advice I got when I asked a similar question to someone with a whole lot more experience than me in all things authentic reading and writing instruction:   Nod your head a lot, and then close your door.

That’s pretty much what I did for the first eight years when I was figuring out how to manage a classroom library, give students choice in the books they read, hold them accountable in some way for their reading, get them writing more (and better), using mentor texts, conferring semi-regularly, and trying not to lose my mind when I’d go to team meetings and hear “I’m teaching ________ (insert title from the canon) and making students do study questions, along with these specific annotations. Do you want a copy of my test over the book?” Thanks by no thanks.

We teach readers, not books. And maybe it’s just me, but when I hear teachers say “I make my students do ____”, I kind of cringe. Study questions, annotations for all (done with a teacher’s specific rules for notes instead of the reader’s own rules), and tests over books:  Sandpaper on teeth.

When I shifted my instruction to include choice, student engagement soared. I was converted, and I hungered for more ways to fully move into workshop instruction. But at the time, I was the only convert on my campus. I was lonely there.

However, I had company outside my school. Everyone who determines to make this shift does. You may just have to find it.

First off, there’s this blog. I started it with two brilliant teachers, Heather and Molly, I met at a summer institute of the North Star of TX National Writing Project, a site of National Writing Project. We wanted a place to write about how we applied our learning from our institute with our students, and we wanted a space that helped us stay connected. I was teaching at a Title I high school in a district just north of Dallas; Molly had just moved to a high school with a focus on project-based learning in Longview; Heather taught middle school in a district east of Ft. Worth. (If you know north TX, you know we spanned a distance geographically.) I tell you this history for a few reasons:

The National Writing Project advocates for authentic writing instruction, and it is one of the best networks of educators, willing to collaborate and share, I know. If you can link to a site near you, you will never do this work alone.

Three Teachers Talk has grown as my learning about workshop instruction has. Heather and Molly moved in exciting career directions different than mine, and at times this blog has really been one teacher talking as I tried to figure things out. (Note: Writing helps us figure things out.) Then, when I attended the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute and took a two week class taught by Penny Kittle, and learned with Shana, Erica, and Emily, a similar blog-writing collaboration happened.

We started writing regular posts here called Our Compass Shifts because we were all working to shift our thinking about instruction and apply the learning from Penny’s class with our own readers and writers. Our teaching souls clicked. The Modern PLC. Emily and Erica wrote with us for awhile, but like Heather and Molly they moved on to other good things. We remain friends, but Shana — Shana remains as Diana exclaims of Anne in Anne of Green Gables, my “bossom friend. A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul.”

To continue improving, growing, striving to do right by our students, I think we all need at least one bossom friend. I’ve got two in Shana and Lisa, two of the other admins on this blog. (Angela, you’re up-and-coming.)

I had to find them though. I couldn’t keep my classroom door shut and not step in to learning opportunities that helped me grow. Growing takes action.

So how do I do workshop on my own without other colleagues teaching this way?

Seek out connections with others who are making workshop work. All of the contributors on this blog have been where you are. Read their posts. Leave comments. Ask questions. Email me directly if you can’t find answers amy@threeteacherstalk.com. Like everyone else in the teaching world, I’m busy, but I will do my best to help. (And your questions may turn into blog posts. That’s how I met the amazing Lisa Dennis.)

Join a network of passionate educators on Twitter. There’s chats for you. #TeachWrite #DistruptTexts #buildyourstack #3TTworkshop #titletalk #NerdyBookClub #APLitchat #teachlivingpoets all come to mind. So many teachers moving the work of choice and challenge — and equity — forward. If you are new to Twitter and don’t know who to follow, follow us @3TeachersTalk; then, check out who we follow — educators like you.

Read books by those who’ve built a movement, and join in on discussions. Some of our favorite teacher-writers are active on Twitter, and they share brilliant ideas regularly. Thomas Newkirk, Tom Romano, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Linda Rief, Cornelius Minor to name a few.

Also, Shana put together a fabulous resource page here. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a good start.

I know joining chats, reading books, and connecting online does not replace collaboration on a campus, but it does work to help us grow in our practice.

Just like my daughter has online friends who are in the #houseplantclub, and my sister has online friends who play Pokemon Go, teachers — eager to make workshop work for their students — can find the support they need to make this ever-important pedagogy of engaging students as they grow in their identity as readers and writers work.

Press on, my friends, we are here for you.

Amy Rasmussen calls herself a literacy evangelist –among other things. Wife to a lovely man, and blessed to be the mother of six and grandmother of seven (five of which are boys), she loves to read and teach and share ideas that just might make the world a little brighter — for everyone! Follow her @amyrass — and join the conversation around workshop instruction on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page. Go here see other Q & A posts about Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop.

Advertisements

I’ve Been Thinking…About Heroes (Or What I’ve Learned from Eighth Graders This Year) Guest Post by Elizabeth Oosterheert

Theater1

Eighth Grade Theatre Troupe members rehearse a scene from Peter Pan

Every great story has a beginning, middle, and end, not necessarily in that order.

We are all great stories…Phil Kaye

As the first days of June open like flowers, I’m thinking about the courage, complexity, and vulnerability of the eighth graders I taught this year…and all that I learned as we wrote together, and spent time on stage.

My students suffered. They experienced everything from abuse, to the death of a parent and coach, to Stage IV cancer. It was heartrending. And it was glorious, because they used tragedy to craft some of the most beautiful, honest writing I’ve ever read from middle school students, and their wounds gave them authenticity on stage, as many of them joined my theatre troupe.

What were our favorite mentor texts?

TheaterIn  writing workshop, my students’ favorite things to compose were Spoken Word poetry and film analysis. When I asked students what their favorite mentor text was at the end of the year, most of them chose “Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh Grade Viking Warrior” by Taylor Mali.

In a poem that Mali says took him three years to write, he recounts what it was like to lose a seventh grade student to cancer, and also incorporates some of his best teaching memories.

Mali masterfully employs the metaphor of the Viking ship,  their belief in Valhalla, and the importance of dying valiantly in battle.

Students selected a captivating line or  image from the poem, and wrote from that. Not surprisingly, in a year when cancer was impacting so many of my students’ families, this poem resonated with them.

Following is an excerpt from a co-authored poem written by Trevan and Hayden, after listening to and writing beside the “Tony Steinberg” mentor text:

We’ve seen cancer take more than hair.

We’ve seen it take joy,  peace, and life.

Cancer has stolen our coach’s joy,

and torn the heart of his son like a gift ripped away from a child.

Cancer

/kansər/

A disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body sometimes causing death.

Cancer can be battled, beaten like a knight in shining armor overcoming an army.

We watched it advance…

 

The Outsiders DallasIn addition to being inspired by Spoken Word poets, particularly Taylor Mali and Phil Kaye, my students enjoyed the autonomy of writing about memorable characters when we studied book and  film analysis. Our favorite mentor text for character study was “Katniss Everdeen is my Hero” by Sabaa Tahir, published in the New York Times.

In using this mentor text, students had the opportunity to borrow many excellent craft moves, such as the way that Tahir opened her commentary by explaining how she first “met” Katniss Everdeen.

Writing in front of my students, I imitated this craft move by sharing my first encounter with Dallas Winston, the toughest member of Pony’s gang, in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

Dallas Winston and I met on a summer’s day in 2002.

Countless colleagues had urged me to read The Outsiders, yet for some reason the book and I had never crossed paths. At the time, I wondered how a story written so many years ago could still resonate with teenagers. Days away from the birth of my first child, I decided to embrace stillness long enough to give the gold-dusted pages a try, reasoning that my advanced pregnancy made everything other than reading–from tying my shoes to my habit of  swimming a mile every morning–a challenge.

Resting beneath the branches of an ancient pine tree in my front yard, with only a few persistent sparrows for company, I read the book in one afternoon, ignoring everything but the words on the pages as the characters’ lives entranced me as deeply as any magic spell.

Of all the characters in Pony’s gang, it was Dallas Winston who hooked me from his first appearance. Dallas is a character of contradictions, claiming a stone cold heart,  yet lending his gun to two desperate boys and helping to shelter them in Windrixville. Scorning love, but ultimately dying for it. Dallas’ character stayed with me long after I read Pony’s last words about him. I wondered about the tough but broken hearted boy who died under a streetlight with an unloaded gun and Two Bit’s jet handled switchblade.. To some, he died a nameless hoodlum, but Pony knew the truth.  Dallas died young, reckless, and gallant, a true gentleman in a blood soaked jacket who got what he wanted.

So I could write much more about the  eighth grade heroes I taught this year. Like Dallas, they are gallant. They have broken hearts that are healing as they leave eighth grade and look forward to their high school chapters. They’ve reminded me that one is never too young to harness the healing power of the written word.

Elizabeth Oosterheert is a middle school language arts teacher and theatre troupe director at Pella Christian Grade School in Pella, Iowa. She loves writing, and sharing the stage with seventh and eighth graders. Her favorite stories are Peter Pan, The Outsiders, & Our Town. You can find her on Twitter @oosterheerte.

Starting With Why: A Return

Three Teachers TalkJoin us for a summer series revisiting our top posts from this school year, and please “turn and talk” with us in the comments section each week!

This week’s post is from 2016. Amy Rasmussen’s viewing of a TED Talk left her with a reason for teaching, plus a bonus writing exercise. 


“People don’t buy WHAT you do;
they buy WHY you do it.”
~Simon Sinek, Start With Why

I first heard of Simon Sinek from my son Zachary. He came home from work one day excited to share a TED Talk he’d listened to during his break. I had not seen my youngest son so animated in months. Zach had big dreams, but he made some poor choices that led to him having to wait a while after high school to start making those dreams a reality. This young man needed some inspiration. Simon Sinek gave it to him.

At Zach’s request, I watched Sinek’s TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” and talked with my son about Sinek’s message:

“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us. Whether individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.”

Zachin Taiwan

Zach watched that TED Talk multiple times, and my husband pulled Sinek’s book from a shelf in our hallway. “You ought to read it,” he said.

“I want to be that kind of leader, the one who inspires,” Zach told me, and he began to make choices based on his drive to help people instead of what he thought he would get out of helping people. As I write this, Zach is in Taiwan. He gave up his cell phone and his friends and jumped into learning Mandarin Chinese. His 6’4” frame dons white shirts and ties everyday as he rides a bike through Taipei, serving a full-time two year Mormon mission.

My son found the WHY that Sinek inspires, and it changed the direction of his life.


Sinek’s book is about identifying why some leaders are able, not just to sell a product, but to create a movement. He explains his purpose: “to inspire others to do the things that inspire them so that together we may build the companies, the economy, and a world in which trust and loyalty are the norm and not the exception” (7).

That reads like a nice idea for educators, too, doesn’t it? I do not know a teacher who does not want “to inspire [students] to do the things that inspire them.” However, according to Sinek many in business go about it backwards. By extension, I argue that many in education do, too. We focus on the WHAT and the HOW– like making learning relevant, engaging our students, teaching them grit, focusing on achievement, calculating grades, teaching a specific book, giving them a quiz — instead of WHY we teach our students in the first place.

Sinek says, “All the inspiring leaders and companies, regardless of size or industry, think, act and communicate exactly alike. And it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.” They start with WHY.Instead of a focus on the WHAT they produce or sell, or HOW they produce or sell it, they focus on WHY they produce and sell it in the first place. Apple, for example, obviously sells computers. That is their WHAT, but their WHY is to challenge the status quo. It always has been. Stay with me here with Sinek’s explanation:

“A marketing message from Apple, if they were like everyone else, might sound like this:

We make great computers.

They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

Wanna buy one?

When we rewrite the Apple example again, and rewrite the example in the order Apple actuallycommunicates, this time the example starts with WHY:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.

The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly.

And we happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?

Apple doesn’t simply reverse the order of information, their message starts with WHY, a purpose, cause, or belief that has nothing to do with WHAT they do” (40-41).

Now, let’s think about this as educators:  Most of the time, we think and talk about WHAT we do. “I teach English,” or “I teach high school,” or even “I teach kids.” Sometimes we talk about HOW we do it. “I teach readers and writers in workshop,” or “I advocate for choice independent reading,” or even “I teach To Kill a Mockingbird, ” or “I teach Hamlet.” These are different from WHY we teach and have nothing to do with what motivates us to greet our students each morning, armed with carefully crafted lesson plans, and a smile.

According to Sinek, when we focus on WHAT we do instead of WHY we do it, we are like most of the businesses and companies in the world that drive their work with manipulations and punitive rewards, which might work in the short-term, but do not breed loyalty and long term change. We see this in education all the time:  threats of in-school suspension and failing grades, mandatory tutorials, new test-prep programs, increased numbers of safety nets designed to keep students from failing, changes in grading policies, and more. “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it,” writes Sinek. Most decisions we make to motivate students are based on manipulation, and we fail to inspire long-term change. No wonder we see the same students in the same trouble year after year. When we define ourselves, or our schools, by WHAT we do, that’s all we will ever be able to do (45), and that is not enough “to inspire [students] to do the things that inspire them,” or to build a world where trust and loyalty are the norm. We need what Sinek calls “inside out thinking.” To inspire lasting change, we must start with WHY.

Let’s take that example of Apple from before and apply it to our schools. If we are like everyone else, we might talk about our school like this:

We teach high school.

Our school culture is spirited and sound. Our curriculum is rich. Our test scores are high.

Wanna come here?

When we rewrite the example again, and rewrite the example in the order an inspiring school leader actually communicates, this time the example starts with WHY:

Everything we do, we believe in challenging our students’ thinking. We believe in genuine and individual inquiry.

The way we challenge our students is by making our school safe and innovative, with passionate and knowledgeable teachers who are caring and compassionate, who cater to the needs of all students.

And we happen to graduate honorable and educated citizens. Wanna come here?

Does that example make you feel a little different?

As I read Sinek’s book, I kept imagining what his argument looked like when applied to education, but more specifically, I kept imagining what it would look like applied to me as a literacy leader in my classroom. The way I talked about teaching was like everyone else I knew; I focused on what I did as an educator instead of WHY I did it.

I taught AP English Language and Composition. I taught skills to pass a test. I taught students to love books and to like reading. I taught students to write.  Although I had changed my instruction from when I first began teaching, from whole class novel studies with little writing instruction, to readers and writers workshop with choice, modeling, and mentoring, I still struggled. I struggled until I turned my thinking inside out. I took that example Sinek uses to explain what makes Apple such an innovative force in the market and applied it to my belief about myself as an educator and how I make that belief happen in my classroom.

See how I start with WHY:

WHY:  Everything I do as a teacher, I believe in helping my students identify as citizens, scholars, and individuals whose voices matter. I believe our world is better when individuals understand their value, believe in their capacity to cause change, and take action to better the world around them.

HOW:  The way I challenge my students is by making my classroom safe and inquisitive for my individual learners, with instruction that centers on trust, esteem, equity, and autonomy. Through the rituals and routines in my workshop classroom, students gain a sense of belonging, identify themselves as readers and writers, develop their voices, advance in literacy skills, and take risks that have the potential to change their worlds and the world around them.

WHAT:  And I happen to teach English by modeling my reading life and writing life.

It works.

My readers and writers advance because they know we are in the business of learning about ourselves and our world — together.

Simon Sinek is right:  “[Students] don’t buy what we [teach], they buy why we [teach] it.”

My challenge for you:

Follow Sinek’s model like I have above, and write your WHY. Please share it in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in North Texas. Follow her on Twitter @amyrass — and if you are not already, please follow this blog.

How do you read enough to match students with books? #3TTWorkshop

Questions Answered (1)The verb is the key. How do we read enough in order to help students find books they want to read? We read. We have to read — a lot. And we have to know our students.

The reading part is fairly simple. Well, as simple as carving out the time for it, which I know can be a challenge. Maybe it’s a matter of belief. I have to believe my time reading books I may not normally choose for myself will be worth it. I have to believe that YA literature has substance. I have to believe that my students will read, and most likely read more, when I can recommend books because I have read them.

We find time for the things we value. Simple as that. If we value our readers, we must do the things that help them want to read, and reading books that appeal to adolescent readers is a major part of it.

Book Stack

My Current To Read Next Stack

Personally, I like books in print because I like to save favorite sentences and passages that I might be able to use for craft lessons as I read. But audiobooks are a time saver I trust. I usually have at least two books I’m reading at any one time, hardcopy and in Audible. (I started The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater yesterday; I’m halfway through listening to There There by Tommy Orange.)  And honestly, there are some books I just can’t finish, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read enough to know if I might have a student who wants to give it a try. I can read enough to know if a book might engage one of my readers.

I have to know my readers. The best way I know to get to know them is by talking to students one on one.

Again, the time issue.

Short personal writing can be a real time saver, especially at the beginning of the year or a new semester. Lisa’s Author Bio idea is one of my favorites, ever. I also like to use Meg Kearney’s Creed poem and have students compose their own. Writing like this gives students permission to show themselves, and it gives me an invitation to see into their lives. This is what I need to help match students with books.

A follow up question to the How do you read enough . . .? is often:  How can I find books my students will want to read? or What are some great books for seniors? for 7th graders? for sports enthusiasts? for dog lovers? for a student born in Pakistan? for a group of kids into becoming Insta famous?

I don’t know.

Your school librarian will, most likely.

(Really, I may have some ideas for a few of those questions….but that’s not the point.)

Create a partnership with your school librarian. Hopefully, you still have one. This person loves books and advocates for books and readers. This book expert is a friend to self-selected independent reading, and this professional has access to book lists with descriptors and synopses. (And sometimes funds to add books to the school library.)

Of course, you can find all kinds of book lists online:  Pernille Ripp posts great lists on her blog. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) shares picks. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has Best of the Best lists. Edith Campbell recently posted a list of 2019 middle grade and YA books, featuring and written or illustrated by Indigenous people and people of color. And, of course, this list I crafted before Christmas — all recommendations from the contributors on this blog.

To make self-selected independent reading work, which is a vital part of an authentic literacy focused pedagogy, we have to do the work. We have to read, and I wish I could remember where I heard it first:  Reading YA literature is a powerful form of professional development. Isn’t it?

Amy Rasmussen reads a ton of books on the porch, in the yard, by a pool, on her bed in North Texas. She will be spending a lot of her summer with teachers facilitating PD around readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Her favorite. She’s also going to be doing a lot of writing. And a little poetry study at the Poetry Foundation Summer Teachers Institute in Chicago. Follow her @amyrass

 

Making the Micro, Macro: An End-of-Year Mixtape Musing –Guest Post by Anne Barnhart

The soundtrack to the end of any school year for me includes musical bytes of all kinds looping through my brain. This year, cue the part of Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride” when they repeat “I’ve been thinking too much.” Big facts, Tyler Joseph, big facts.

I’ve been thinking about (as I’m sure we all do) what I could, would, should have done. What I can, shall, will do next year to make it all better, to rectify all that went wrong or undone. The end of each year benevolently gifts the space to sit and interrogate our year, ask it questions, contemplate its potential answers, revel in the hope of possibility of its wisdom.

In the Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop world, there is a LOT to think about and…I’ve definitely been thinking too much (help me.) In all of this thinking, I’ve been asking myself a seemingly simple question — What is working on a micro level, something that emerged spontaneously, that can be applied for macro impact, becoming a part of my larger set of routines and systems?

I (and my students) use mixtapes often in our Writer’s Notebooks.  Here, for example, is a class-created model we made together for our class read of Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian after a visit to our local Tomaquag Museum. We use them to make connections to theme & character, across time & literature, with each other & our own selves–but no matter how we use them, they help us to analyze and to reflect.  

So, in the spirit of mixtapes, here is my Spotify mixtape of songs and ideas of what works in small ways in other parts of my practice to make a big impact in the workshop model–I invite you to listen as you read…

mix tape

Screen Shot 2019-06-13 at 2.17.56 PM

  • Patience [with Meeting Ourselves Where We Are]” by Tame Impala-I meet kids where they are. It’s part of my daily teacher mindfulness practice, my ability to zoom out to look at the whole learner, my understanding that these kids (like all of us) are “Just growin’ up in stages[…]Livin’ life in phases.” But sometimes the weight of learning objectives, success criteria, and common assessments threatens the integrity and philosophy of the Workshop model. I find myself wondering–How can I more intentionally balance living in both worlds in order to ensure that I honor my meet-ourselves-where-we-are-right-now across all workshop spaces?

 

  • “Go [Explore Unique Spaces to Write]” by The Black Keys–Participating in and Places.pngfacilitating the Rhode Island Writing Project’s Open Air Institute and listening to David Whyte’s discussion of genius loci on his On Being interview in 2016 helped me grow my practice of place-based writing in Creative Writing by encouraging something as simple as facing the window, occupying a stairwell, sitting somewhere else in class, writing somewhere on campus. The power of writing in new spaces is something I have come to understand profoundly myself and hope to share it, but I’m left wondering: How can I heed the advice of the Black Keys and remind myself, “You gotta go” explore new spaces so all students can experience the transformative nature of “place”?

 

  • “Missed Connections [Within Writer’s Notebooks]” by The Head and the Heart I love connections. They’re the stuff of learning. I encourage them through MsBmy Barnhart Brownie Points system which creates class to class, class to self, class to whatever connections (check out my system here), but I cannot help but imagine (and “I get the feeling [some of] you’ve been here before/From a missed connection” like I have) what impact they might have within our own Writer’s Notebooks themselves. How might I leverage more purposefully and systematically how students engage with their entire body of work to look for connections in theme, in craft, in insight?

 

Feel free to reach out via social media or email (see bio below) to help me explore my questions, but really I want to end with a little remix of John Dewey and propose this:

“To be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal [Writers Workshop space]” — What is one song and question that would play from your mixtape? What micro moves that you already do could make a macro impact with your ever-evolving Workshop model?

Tweet it out, tag @3TeachersTalk #3TTWorkshop, and continue the conversation!

Together, we’ll get by because, like Mavis Staples and Ben Harper sing, “We get by with help from our kin/We get by through thick and through thin.”
Anne Barnhart spends her school years facilitating learning of and learning alongside some amazing Rhode Island teenagers at Westerly High School and some amazing Rhode Island educators through The Center for Leadership and Educational Equity. Summers? She spends reading, writing, and growing with the Rhode Island Writing Project. Follow her @Ms_Barnhart on Twitter or contact her abarnhart@westerly.k12.ri.us with suggestions, questions, or resources.

Rethinking Summer Assignments

black and blue plastic pen non top of black covered notebook

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Ahh…Summer reading…

For some of us, summer reading means lounging by the pool reading something that isn’t school related. Maybe we’re soaking in the rays and the books that, if you’re like me, have been piling up on our dressers all year long while we reread Gatsby for the 100th time. (If you’re looking for a great summer pleasure read, I have to suggest Daisy Jones and the Six. It was fantastic. Definitely listen to some Fleetwood in the background while you read the novel.)

For others of us, summer reading means sitting down with our arsenal of sticky notes and highlighters and InkJoy Gel Pens to catch up on some professional reading because, you know, we spent the year rereading Gatsby for the 100th time. Gotta love that green light and the bae across the bay plotline! (If you’re looking for a solid professional summer read, I highly suggest Why They Can’t Write. It’s prompted some interesting conversations and some thoughtful reflections for me.)

I plan on partaking in both kinds of summer reading – the more traditional for pleasure books and the I can’t stop thinking about teaching for pleasure books.

For our students, however, I wonder how many of them look forward to their summer reading. I wonder how many of them find value in their summer assignments besides the assignment just being a hoop to jump through.

I do think there’s value in summer reading assignments. Summer slide is real, and I like my classes to come in to the first day with something more to discuss than the syllabus. I also teach at a highly competitive magnet school, and summer work is one of those unstated expectations for AP classes.

So all of these ideas were running through my mind when thinking about my summer assignment for AP Seminar – a new course we’re offering for the first time next year. I knew that the students were expected to complete something over the summer. I knew that I wanted their assignment to have some choice involved. I knew that I didn’t want the assignment to take all summer, but that it should be meaty enough that we could start discussions at the beginning of the year. A lot of boxes to check. The brilliant Hattie McGuire came to the rescue. She posted her ideas of offering a summer writing invitation instead of a summer reading assignment. After talking with her, I tweaked some of her ideas to fit my environment.

Here’s the assignment:

I wanted my students to continue to think critically and inquisitive about the world around them, to take stock of their surroundings and experiences and to try to push their thinking further by asking themselves, “I wonder…” until they couldn’t wonder (or in some cases, wander) anymore.

So in an attempt to spend part of the summer writing and to cultivate a researcher’s mindset, each student will create 42 entries in a “Curiosity Journal.” Each entry will catalogue an observation/problem/question about their day and an attempt to take that observation/problem/question as far into “I wonder territory” as possible. We’re calling this part “further implications.”

A sample entry might look like this:

I observed that the extremism of Marie Kondo’s method of cleaning was very cathartic for me personally, and the house does feel less cluttered, but I wonder what good I’m truly doing by donating all of my unwanted junk to Goodwill.

My further implications for this observation might be: In participating in this behavior and in giving my stuff to Goodwill, I’m making the assumption that other people want my junk. I wonder if I’m doing good with my leftovers. This makes me think of disaster relief efforts and how often we send out crappy sloppy seconds to people who are truly in need. We do offer our stuff because doing so makes us  feel better, makes us feel useful, but I wonder if it’s actually useful for those people in need. I also wonder if it’s better to just throw all of this stuff away in a landfill. I wonder if there are other, better options for donation besides Goodwill. I find that the trend of minimalism goes against the consumerism of American society – it’s counterculture but it’s also pop culture, which is interesting. We’re overwhelmed by our stuff, which should make us question why we have all of this stuff to begin with in the first place. I also wonder how long I can keep up this minimalism streak until I’m back in Target buying another throw pillow. I also notice that there’s a lot of privilege present in even being able to KonMari my home. I wonder what the implications and effects of this privilege are?

So after a run of seven observations, students will choose one problem or question to pursue a little bit further by finding one external source that deepens their understanding of the issue, offers another perspective, or adds to their further implications. They’ll write about this new piece as well.

We’ll begin our first day of class discussing our favorite observations and, hopefully, the rabbit holes our observations led us down, maybe sparking a conversation about research and questioning. I’m hoping to find trends in the kinds of problems/questions/observations my students noticed that could begin to facilitate a conversation about what all of this says about who we are as people or how society works. I plan on using their Curiosity Notebook as a jumping off place for our individual introduction conferences that will happen during the first two weeks of school.

Mostly, I’m hoping that this assignment will keep students writing and reading and thinking over the summer about ideas that they’re interested in.  I’ve linked the assignment here if you’re interested.

Happy reading – whatever you’re reading, I hope it’s good!

Sarah Morris teaches AP English Language, AP Seminar and Film as Lit in Middle Tennessee. She’s currently enjoying her first summer as a married woman, spending her time travelling with her husband. You can follow her @marahsorris_cms.

 

Defining Readers-Writers Workshop: A Return

Three Teachers TalkJoin us for a summer series revisiting our top posts from this school year, and please “turn and talk” with us in the comments section each week!

This week’s post comes from 2017, when Amy Rasmussen dove into defining the term workshop–the umbrella that envelops all we do. 


“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.

workshopquestion

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!

%d bloggers like this: