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Category Archives: Pedagogy

Why We’ll Read More Than an Article of the Week in Senior English

I wish I were kidding. I am still laughing, but this is not funny.

Last week was my first week back to school. We had five days of shifting classes; schedule changes like shuffling cards with every student vying for their winning hand, or at least two out of four classes stacked with friends.

This is my first year to teach senior English (I still have one section of AP Lang), and I felt a mixture of excitement and dread all summer. Twelve years of reading, or not. Twelve years of playing the game of school, or not.

How do I get students to want to read, want to write, want to explore and question and challenge when it’s possible they just want to be done with school? I am pretty sure that’s how I felt senior year. Granted, that was a loooong time ago, but I do not remember any teachers’ names, any books I read for school, anything I learned the year before I graduated.

I wonder if that’s normal. Somehow I don’t think it should be.

But I do not want my seniors to remember me. I want them to remember learning something that adds value to their lives. I want them to remember learning something that adds value to my life as they vote beside me for elected officials, move into my neighborhood, become my doctor, or perhaps teach beside in the classroom next door.

I know the routines of a workshop pedagogy will help me do that, of this I am certain.

We’ll read and think and write and talk. We’ll share our thinking and our writing in small groups and as a class. We’ll talk about books and the themes that resonate and why that might be so. And we’ll write about the things that matter in our lives.

We started all of this in five short days.

I also got a little panicky.

If you are familiar with Kelly Gallagher’s work, you’ve probably heard him talk about why he started Article of the Week. He said he’d given his students, seniors, an article to read, and while circling the room and checking in with small groups, he asked a couple of kids how their reading was going. “Okay,” they said, “except we don’t know who this Al Quaeda guy is.”

Uh huh, seniors. Seniors who had no idea what was happening in their world.

I’m not too sure mine do either.

2017 Face Palm Experience #1:

We’d just looked at images of the destruction from Hurricane Harvey. We’d done some thinking in our notebooks about how these images made us feel and what we could do to help in the efforts to aide our fellow Texans. I walked the room, listening in as students read from their notebooks. Then, I heard this:

“Can a hurricane happen on a lake?” Student A said, “I mean like would a hurricane ever happen on Lake Lewisville?”

I stopped. Wouldn’t you?

Student B answered, “Uh, hurricanes happen on an ocean.”

“So what ocean is by Houston?” said Student A.

“That’s the Gulf of Mexico,” said Student B.

And Student A asks “So what ocean is that, the Pacific?” as she reaches for her cell phone.

I wish I were confident she planned on looking up information about hurricanes and oceans and weather patterns. Somehow I doubt it. I’ve asked her to put her phone away 47 times in five days. (So far phones have not been an issue except with this student.)

Now, I am left wondering:  Will whatever we do in room E111 be enough to prepare my students for the world beyond the halls of our high school? The responsibility is a lead weight on my shoulder.

I sure hope I can carry it.

 

Amy Rasmussen is the mother of six amazing young adults, grandmother of five smart and sassy little people, and wife to a brilliant marketer, sales exec, life coach, and dog lover. She teaches readers and writers in AP Language and English IV in North TX and facilitates professional development on the workshop model of instruction at every opportunity. She loves God, her family, the U.S.A., and all humans everywhere. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass

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A Reader’s Manifesto

After a hectic summer of being well behind my fellow Book Love Book Club readers, I finally finished Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s latest book, Disrupting Thinking.

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Yay for me!

Its ideas had been disrupting my thinking since page one.  I loved its premise, which centered around two questions the authors returned to again and again–what needs to change?  And in order to make those changes, what assumptions need to be challenged?

These questions are as good an acid test for our teaching as Louise Rosenblatt’s 1956 article of the same name.  Too much of education today rests on the status quo.  To disrupt that status quo, “good teaching sometimes feels like a rebellion,” as Penny Kittle wrote in our book club chat this summer.

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Sharon’s slide on transactional reading

Rebelling has always come naturally to me in teaching.  It’s no different now that I teach at the college level, but I’m lucky to have many like-minded peers to work alongside at WVU.

In our collaborative planning meeting last week, my friend Sharon shared her thinking about a different kind of reading and writing she really wanted our preservice teachers doing–the work of transacting.

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The BHH framework from Disrupting Thinking

“It’s from a book I read this summer,” she explained, and I exclaimed, “Yes!  I read it too!  I was just wondering how we could bring Book, Head, Heart into our weekly readings!”

Our students are proficient readers and writers, and it’s easy to assume that they don’t “need” a technique like BHH to help them interact with a text.  But to me, helping students of all skill levels become responsible, responsive, compassionate readers is the point of teaching reading.  Who cares about comprehension without understanding?  What’s the point of decoding if we don’t connect to the ink on the page?

Sometimes my college students forget that reading is more than a means to an end.  During my whole reading of Disrupting Thinking, I wondered how I could remind them about the aesthetic rather than the efferent purposes of reading from Rosenblatt’s transactional theory.

Because the truth is, the book, head, heart framework–or the aesthetic stance, or helping readers become responsible, responsive, and compassionate, or whatever you’d like to call it–is more than a guideline for students just learning to be strong readers.  It’s a manifesto for all readers.

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My notebook jots on the book

We’ve gotten away from teaching kids WHY we read and focus too often on simply HOW to read.

And that’s the problem–how to read is too simple a standard.  Yes, learning how to read is difficult.  Teaching kids how to read is hard, too.  But how to read, like so many standards we must adhere to, can be measured.  There’s a formula, an algorithm, a process:  first you decode, then you do the mental work of meaning-making, and sometimes in there you need some fix-up strategies to help you scaffold the story into your schema.  Just employ all those buzzwords and voila!  You’re a reader!

But when I shirk a pile of grading on a Sunday afternoon to finish a book, it’s not because I’m all about practicing my phonemic awareness.  And I didn’t spend an hour googling “Hurricane Harvey” at 4:00 this morning because I wanted to try out my word recognition skills, either.

Our highest standard is to help our students become real readers and writers.

It’s a standard that’s difficult to measure, but so are all of our most important, difficult goals–and it’s scary to teach all day, all week, all year, and feel like you can’t prove on paper that you’re making a difference.  The fear that we might be asked to offer evidence of our effectiveness might be what keeps teachers teaching novels and prevents them from teaching readers.  It might be why teachers persist in teaching essays instead of teaching writers.

Any good self-assessment will give you all the data in the world about how important and effective your instruction is, so if that’s what you need, again I say voila.  But if you’re searching for a way to make reading meaningful and engaging for your students, check out Disrupting Thinking, the book-head-heart framework, and their roots in Louise Rosenblatt’s work.  You’ll find a reader’s manifesto that truly shows you that why we read matters most–at every level, in every grade, across every content area.

How will you frame reading in your classroom this year?  Please share your strategies and ideas for helping students become engaged, authentic readers in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a somehow-energetic surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, sugar, and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Rewriting Our Definition of Writing

9780874216424I really don’t think there’s anything more invigorating than learning with other teachers, and this week, I’m doing just that.

I’m feeling lucky to be encamped in the mountains of southern West Virginia at Pipestem State Park, working with National Writing Project teachers on the College Ready Writers Program.  This isn’t my first NWP workshop, but it’s my first time leading one, and the thinking and planning and writing that have surrounded our work has been absolutely energizing.

(“You’re like a wind-up toy,” my co-leader remarked yesterday as we planned over dinner.  “You just never stop!”)

It’s true–all week, I haven’t stopped thinking, connecting, writing, reading, and wondering about our course topic, which is argument writing.  One of our central reads, Joseph Harris’ Rewriting: How to do Things with Texts, has been inspiring and informative.  Harris has gotten me to revise how I think of writing and its purpose in a classroom.

Writing, in my experience, is a process of discovery.  We write to learn, to help us grow into ways of thinking.

When we frame writing this way for our students, the entire writing process as we usually approach it must be revised.  There can be no more, “brainstorm an idea, then write a draft, then revise it, then turn in a final draft.

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Make sure you show me you can do ______ throughout.”

Instead, the process needs to become one of starts and stops, of constant learning and revision of thinking, and a process that is never completely independent of other learning.  What I mean by this is that we can never just write for writing’s sake–we will always be writing to learn about our topic: the reading we’re writing about, the questions we’re asking, or the craft moves we’re making.

Writing is never separate from its subject.  It is always both art and craft, both structure and content, both phrasing and approach.  When we rewrite our notions of what writing is, we see that the way we approach, assess, and value the writing process must reflect those beliefs.

Harris asserts that students are often asked to assume the roles of disciples as they write, adopting the moves and beliefs of another thinker (often the teacher or the author of whatever text they’re studying) rather than adapting them.  “Little new knowledge is created.  Instead the disciple simply shows that the master is correct,” (74) in this type of teaching.  I’ve seen, and experienced, this kind of writing in classrooms.

How many of our students’ writing experiences have stifled their voices?

Just one is too many.  Our students do enough of this posturing.  They’re teens, for crying out loud, constantly adopting the moves and beliefs of others.  We need to help them find their voices, and not just their writing voices–a voice in which to sing a song of themselves.

All this thinking only reaffirms my belief in a writers workshop approach:  one in which a community of students can safely take risks, engage in high volumes of low-stakes, choice-driven, mentor-text-rich, craft-study-laden writing, confer with a practiced writer about their growth, and take on the identity of a writer themselves.

If you’re interested in working toward a classroom that values this kind of writing, I highly recommend reading Joseph Harris’ Rewriting, and continuing along with us on our readers-writers workshop journey here at Three Teachers Talk.

How might your classroom look this fall if you rewrite your definition of writing to match Harris’?  Please leave us a comment and share!

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

Want to RENEW! Get the book by @ShawnaCoppola

I have never written a book review. (Okay, maybe that’s not true. I think I remember writing one in 4th grade over a biography of Marie Curie, the first biography I ever read.)

I have never written a review of a teaching book. But I am going to try.

I am a teaching book junkie. I have stacks of them, but I rarely read the whole of them. I cannot even tell you why, and I admit there is great irony here because as I write this, I am also trying to write my own book for teachers (I have been for four years, sigh.) If I ever get it written, I hope you’ll read it.

In the mean time, I have to tell you about Shawna Coppola’s new book RENEW!

I read the whole of this book in one afternoon! Thank you, Shawna, for writing so much of my own thinking about “Becoming a Better — and More Authentic — Writing Teacher.”

Shawna’s voice sings with passion and positivity. She paints the pages with possibilities! I know, I am gushing (and that’s probably too many p’s.) But here’s the thing —

I know so many ELA teachers who do know know how to teach writing. I know many more who are not confident teaching writing. I know even more who are not writers themselves, so it’s no wonder that teaching writing is difficult. Teaching writing is hard. A book like RENEW! not only gives us a starting place, it gives us desire.

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I am doing a lot of thinking lately around the idea of transcending. How do we go beyond our limits into something more, something better, something real and sustaining?

Let me share with you some of the passages I marked in RENEW!. I think you’ll see why this book is a must read for any teacher who needs a bit, or a lot, of renewal when it comes to teaching students to write.

“. . . if we are truly willing to honor the individuality of our student writers, the RENEW!uniqueness of each community of learners, and the ever-changing nature of our global landscape, we must continually rethink, revise, and renew our practice. Otherwise — to paraphrase Dewey — we rob “today’s students of the tomorrow today’s students deserve” (10).

“Broadening our ideas about what writing “is” can be scary, as if we are opening up a Pandora’s box. But in all reality, continuing to teach our student writers through a narrow, outdated lens — one that, in overvaluing written composition, does not accurately tell a story about the world of writing beyond most schools and classrooms — harms their development as writers by limiting the kinds of composing they are exposed to and encouraged to practice” (51).

“Teaching our writers how to develop their own tools is infinitely more sustainable than using preexisting tools. Quick survey:  How many of you use the graphic organizer your sixth-grade teacher taught you to use to write a persuasive piece? That graphic organizer may have been helpful to you then (although I doubt it was helpful to 100 percent of your classmates), but how useful is it you now?” (62).

“What message or “story” are we sending our student writers with a single overall score? Not only does it imply that their worth as a writer can be whittled down to one letter or number (which itself can mean different things for different teachers and even within different units of study), but that the worth of writing itself can be whittled down this way” (73).

“. . . readers of writing are human, an done person’s response to a composition may not perfectly align with another’s (If it did, what a drab, boring world we’d be living in!)” (79).

“Which is more likely to help students learn:  offering them specific feedback about their work, behavior, or performance, or slapping a score on a piece of paper?” (82).

“. . .when we engage in a semi-regular habit of writing, we can much more genuinely speak to those incredibly fantastic moments that writers experience on occasion, like the amazing feeling of completing a particularly difficult draft or writing something that makes a reader spontaneously laugh out loud. Anyone who’s ever taught a group of students of any age knows that when we are faking our way through something, or at the very least “phoning it in” by only engaging on a superficial level with what we are purporting to teach, students can smell our lack of authenticity a mile away. They know, even subconsciously, that they are being sold a decidedly moldy bill of goods” (92).

That’s all well and good, right? But here’s the beauty of Shawna Coppola’s book — she gives us the research that supports each of her positions AND she gives charts and graphs and resources to help us rethink, revise, and renew our approach, instruction, and practice as we become better teachers of writing. This book is chock full of everything good when it comes to writing instruction. It is a book I will return to again and again.

I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll share it with every ELA teacher you know. Really, it is just that good.

 

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!

Defining Readers-Writers Workshop

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

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

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

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

workshop definition

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

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

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

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

They will — if we let them.

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

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

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

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

What about writer’s workshop?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Summer Snapshots

Happy Summer, teachers!

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We’re looking forward to a season of rest, rejuvenation, inspiration, and ideas just as much as you are!

We hope to start a conversation this summer about ideas and best practices and inspiration through posts here, on the Facebook page, our Instagram feed, and on Twitter about a variety of topics:

  • What’s in our notebooks
  • What we’re reading
  • A shelfie from our home or school library
  • Favorite poems
  • Professional literature we’re reading
  • Plans we’re making for classes in the fall
  • Summer learning/teaching/PD that we’re doing

To put a bit of a multigenre spin on our writing, we’re hoping to just share photos and short written snapshots of these pieces of our summer thinking–and we’d love to see yours, too!

We hope you’ll let us know what you’re engaging in for a reflective summer, and how you might use what we all share to inform your practice beginning in the fall.

Until then, please ENJOY a wonderful season of hitting the pause button so we’re all ready to start strong in August!

Our best,

The Three Teachers Talk Summer Team
Amy Rasmussen, Lisa Dennis, Shana Karnes, & Jessica Paxson

Student Gratitude – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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