Category Archives: Readers Workshop

3 Ways This Year Will be the Best Ever!!!

Can you feel it coming?  Do you smell new books and old desks?  Are you imagining the sounds of students shouldering their way through the halls and into your classroom like bees through long un-mown grass? (I’m a huge Oscar Wilde fanboy!)

Are you ready to hear a deep breath or quiet giggle interrupt a totally silent self-selected reading segment? Are you ready to mop up tears in buckets and heal emotional wounds with book bandages?

If not, you better get ready.  You may be starting school today, or maybe next week.  It doesn’t matter; time to get your mind right.

I’m ready to launch from the best summer of my life into the best teaching year of my life.  Happiness breeds happiness.

So here are three thoughts I have that will help me be the best teacher I’ve ever been.

  1. Book Talk like my teaching life depends on it…because it does.

If the number one tool in my belt is my classroom library, my number two is my ability to “sell” books.  We all know that we need to be able to sell books both informally and formally.

Informally, we confer with readers and talk about books with individual kids (and adults!) who are in the market for their next reading relationship.  This is the easy back and forth that comes with being a reader and contributing to a literacy rich classroom culture.

The formal moments, in my mind, are those points in time you carve out to stand in front of your class, or some group, and give them the hard sell on a book you’ve decided was worthy of their attention.

To me, these two different bookish scenarios require different thought processes and the latter is example is the one to which I plead my case.

Obviously we have to consider “how” we present the key information that we think will engender interest in deserving books.

But also, we have a massive burden to present books that offer a cultural variety of information that will allow our readers the “windows, mirrors, and doors” that Rudine Sims Bishop wrote about all the way back in 1990.

I took a step forward on the Sunday of the ILA conference and chose to attend a session featuring LGBTQ writers and their books.

Over and over, the panelists describe the point in their lives when they first encountered a character in whom they saw themselves.  Ashley Herring Blake, a primary grade teacher and middle grade writer from Tennessee talked about how she was 32 when it happened to her.  We have to be more pro-active when it comes to offering students windows, mirrors and doors.  Book talks are an opportunity in which we can’t afford to play it safe.

2. Love the kids like their learning lives depend on it…because it does.

I said it before: I will be 100% this year in telling my classes I love them before sending them out the door each period.  I’ve already been practicing with the Student Council kids that I hung out with at Fish Camp.  It was our first time to work together and as the day ended, I told them too. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

But I’m not just going to say it to their backs as they sprint out of the room.  I’m going to say it to their faces as they enter and I’m going to write it on their papers.  Reading and writing culture revolves around love: of texts, but more importantly the readers and writers.

3. Empower the students to read and write in a massive volume like our world depends on it…because it does.

We know how important volume is in a student’s growth.  We have to let them read and write more than we can ever think about grading.

Also, we have to give them room to read and write in ways that let them explore their place in the world. Anything less than this, and I’ve failed. I will not fail.

Charles Moore will, for the first time in many years, teach Freshman English this year. His bleeding heart required him to volunteer to sponsor Student Council at this new school. You can follow his antics on twitter at @ctcoach

 

 

 

 

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Guest Post: Why I Want My Classroom To Run Like Zappos

I like shoes. Like many 20 something teachers, I want some variety in what I wear to 9d67eecb760e5f2da5199c53ffd5e85awork (heels, flats, boots, hand-painted Tom’s with Shakespeare’s quotes…) which means I’ve spent a lot of time perusing, purchasing, and inevitably returning some of those online shoe purchases. Hands down, their company is one of the easiest to return or exchange those shoes that don’t quite match that new blazer, I also bought online. All that aside, that isn’t why I want my classroom to run like their company.

For the last few years, Zappos has consistently shown up on the best places to work list. But why? This company has recently touted movement toward a “holacracy.”  This term, initially dubbed by the political writer, Arthur Koestler, focuses on the importance of individual autonomy and self-governance. Zappos prides itself on letting their employees be their own boss. Who hasn’t at one point or another dreamed of being their own boss?

Zappos’ move toward a holacracy is one that we’ve been slogging toward in the academic world for years. Author of multiple New York Times best-sellers and Ted-Talk Famous, Daniel Pink’s research on behavioral science, especially that on motivation, has verified what we as teachers have known for years; when we let the students be the boss, the quality of work often shows a shocking improvement in both output and originality.

Jumping on the Genius Hour bandwagon, with guidance from peers, I integrated this concept into my 12th grade English course. Once a week for twelve weeks, students researched and created a project that was their choice. In our district, people more powerful than me pushed for this concept to be a “real” part of our 12th-grade curriculum: the capstone of their high school experience. Through new curriculum development and alignment, this new course came to fruition. Relying heavily on Pink’s tenets for motivation, I’ve found that the level of work submitted to my “College Prep” English 12 classes often surpasses that of their Advanced Placement counterparts. Students have dazzled me by turning their ideas of starting a nonprofit organization into reality. Students who’ve written business plans for an online venture they want to begin in college.  Students who’ve created and launched their own drop-shipping companies and websites. Students who mastered specific aspects of Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing style. Students who analyzed the psychology of repetition changing the neuroplasticity of brains. Students who completed a statistical analysis of data where they collected and disaggregated data on whether standardized test scores are representative of student GPA. Students who have designed and coded games of their own creation.

Students who don’t consider themselves “lovers of English” find success in this class. Students with special needs find success in this class. Why? Because, for once, they are their own boss.

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 10.53.17 AMWe start the trimester by exploring Pink’s research using excerpts from Drive and Dan Ariely’s book Payoff while also viewing Pink’s RSA Animate video. While my favorite part might be the Back the Future references, what we actually discuss are the ideas of companies like Skype, Wikipedia, and Atlassian. As a class, we dissect how each of these companies fulfills the concepts of purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

The conversation inevitably leads to the question: How are we going to do that in a class? From those big ideas (no, I don’t expect you to start a fully functional company), we scale back. What can students realistically complete in twelve weeks?

After brainstorming and project tuning, I become more of an instructor on educational pedagogy than the traditional English teacher. Each student is responsible for creating their individual learning plan and personal curriculum. Some days I slip on my curriculum boots and help kids write their own essential and guiding questions, explore (and explain) the Common Core State Standards, climb up Bloom’s Taxonomy and wade through Webb’s Depths of Knowledge. Students know these educational researchers and can articulate how their research and projects are fulfilling these expectations for curriculum. On other days, I tie on my English teacher tennis shoes and help students improve their research skills, encourage networking for action research, and determine the structure for research writing, revising, and editing.

Encouraged by the holacracy of their working environment, Zappos team members might set the record for longest and friendliest customer service calls. They might send you flowers when they make a mistake on your order. These employees go the extra mile not because they must, but because they want to.

In my classroom, I want students to go that extra mile: give an hour-long expert presentation on their learning, start a nonprofit, paint a mural in an impoverished community, teach their peers self-defense, create, design and 3-D print a new product. What does that mean for me as a teacher?

I compare it to watching my niece learning to tie her shoes. Even though it would be so much faster for me to tie her shoes for her, it is essential to explore the process and allow her to move at her own pace. Sometimes you’ve got to let her figure out if bunny ears or loop-swoop-and pull works best.

I want the same experience for my high school seniors. No matter the age, people learn best when they can be their own boss. Though it is easier said than done, we need to think about our identity as educators in an ever-shifting perspective. We need to continue to revise what it means to be a teacher. There are moments when you are needed to be the expert in English, literature, language and writing, but in a class that thrives on Genius Hour organization, you also have to accept that you are not the expert in every single avenue of research your students will take. As the teacher, you do your best to learn alongside your students and model what it means to be inquisitive and passionate about learning.  It takes time and a willingness on our part as educators to take a step back from being the “sage on the stage” and allow students to explore and engage in new content in a way that is meaningful to them.

Hayley McKinney is an English teacher in Birmingham Public Schools where she primarily teaches 10th and 12th grade English as well as public speaking classes.  She coaches forensic and debate in her spare time. She recently completed a Masters of Arts in Educational Leadership.

 

Fitting It All In: The Think-Aloud Book Talk Combo

One of the questions I often hear about the workshop model (and truth: that I have often had myself) is how do I fit it all in?

We are “supposed to do” quick writes, independent reading, notebook work, small group discussion, whole-class discussion, think-alouds, read-alouds, writing along with students, conferring, anchor charts, building writing stamina . . . the list goes on.

Oh, and we need to do that while mastering assessment literacy, fostering positive relationships with students, offering timely and relevant feedback, developing units beginning with the end in mind, finding time to do our personal reading and writing, participating in our PLNs, developing collegiality with our coworkers, and staying current with our own professional development and practices.

It’s overwhelming to look at the list of “musts” and think that teachers are expected to do it all. The good part is that we don’t have to do it all every day. However, there are two things I find non-negotiable on a daily basis.

One of the non-negotiables is time in class for independent reading.

We do this every class period after the book talk. It’s predictable to my students that I will say “If either of these books sound like something you’d like to read, put them on your next reads list.” And then they start their silent reading.

book talk lists

Every book talk title is written on poster paper so that students can look back at them later.

The above exchange between teacher and students implies that we always have book talks, and that is in fact the case. But I find that book talks take more time than I want to take when I do them justice . . . three to five minutes can go by fast. I tried to speed them up, but I felt less engagement from my students, and fewer books were being checked out. So then I decided that instead of speeding it up, I’d try to incorporate some other “musts” into the book talk time, thereby getting “more bang for my buck” when I spend important class time.

I decided to try doing a cold read-aloud/think aloud as a book talk, sharing my thinking, questions, connections, and wonderings as I read the inside flap, discussed the cover, and read the first paragraph or so aloud.

I started with statements like, “I picked up this book because the cover caught my eye, and I don’t know anything about this book.” Or, “I am wondering about this book because I know it’s written by an award-winning author, and I’d like to know more.” Then I would deconstruct the cover, noting any awards and/or endorsements it might mention on the front or back cover, along with graphics, pictures, and blurbs.

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1421 The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies

Then I opened to the title page, checked the publication date, talked about the implications of the time during which it was published, mentioned any dedications, forwards, prologues, and prefaces.

1421 mapCharacter lists, timelines, family trees, and maps are also useful to talk to students about, and I would share my thinking as I went through these pages. (This is where the document camera is handy – projecting a larger image of some of these pages is quite helpful.)

 

 

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I read the first few paragraphs of Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brian recently. I was able to explain to my students that while I know the author, I am not familiar with this particular text. I talked about what I know about the National Book Award since it is mentioned on the cover. I essentially just talked about what I can learn from the title, author, and cover before I even open the book.

My students liked the vulnerability I showed because I honestly didn’t know everything I should know about the book. But the exercise helped them to understand that they don’t need to know everything when picking out books, and that it’s okay to ask questions, be unsure, and to take risks.

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 6.17.12 PMAnother title I picked up was In the Long Run by Jim Axelrod. No one had picked it from the shelf all year, and it still sat there as a brand new book. I asked students what the cover could tell us, and we started to guess that it could be about marathons, cross-country running, or anything else. They didn’t realize that Axelrod is a journalist, but as we read the back cover together, we learned a lot. I had a student take it and read it that day.

Developing lesson plans has to be prioritized because the reality is that the kids will show up every day. When we prioritize book talks, we usually think we need to get ready for them, to prepare for them in advance. I assert that it’s not necessarily true each time we share books with our students.

It’s why I think the cold read-aloud/book talk combo is useful. Students have a window into the thinking of a “master reader” as we choose books and talk about them authentically.

***My one caution is that as teachers, we have to know a little bit about the book we are reading from (being careful not to learn too much in advance in order to stay authentic). But I will admit I recently had a small embarrassing mishap when reading the first few paragraphs of So Anyway . . . by John Cleese. Be forewarned.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the world to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Guest Post – Chronicles in Conferring

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I was so excited when Charles Moore asked me to write a guest post for The Three Teachers Talk community.  After meeting Amy Rasmussen and reading posts like Writing Heals. Writing Assignments Do Not and How to Confer Like a Ninja, I continue to learn solid strategies for engaging my students in authentic writing activities that matter to them.  I am an avid reader and writer; so, it is no surprise that my favorite part of this job is conversing with students about their own reading and writing lives!

In the past, my conversations with students tended to be informal and sporadic; I would only focus on the more traditional feedback like formatting, conventions, and organization. But, with no end-goal or clear means to measure if these conferences were improving my student’s abilities to really think like writers, I would often feel lost and underwhelmed.

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Luckily, I found some real direction after reading, Minds Made for Stories, by Thomas Newkirk and Writing with Mentors, by Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti.

Both books inspired me to weave together genuine writing advice with mentor texts the students could use as unique needs emerged during their writing journey.

I am so thrilled to share my experiences with other teachers because I love workshop now, and each day is a new opportunity to promote passion and purpose through writing. Charles Moore showcases some great resources for similar strategies in his post, Formative Assessment Works!!! 

A Look Inside My Classroom; Conferencing & Sharing Mentor Texts

Setting the Scene: Sarah, a music enthusiast, has been working on a song analysis essay for a few weeks and she started getting frustrated with her lack of progress. I met with her on several occasions, narrowing her choices in artists and songs, until she had a solid

2plan for her draft. Suddenly, she felt like “it just wasn’t going anywhere,” and she was ready to abandon the project entirely. I think we’ve all seen this before; it was a classic case of “I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it.” She was also suffering from the mind-numbing effects of having more material than she could manage. What to do?

The Intervention: In response to Sarah’s crises and hearing similar angst from other students, I decided to have them all conduct a peer-to-peer conferencing activity. Students would read each other’s drafts and provided feedback that both praises the connections made and presses the writer to stretch a little more.

The Sharing Magic: Sarah decided to exchange her draft with another student who is really into writing poetry and has published several poems during Workshop this year. The two writers discuss, and Sarah is immediately rejuvenated by her partner’s comments and recommendations.  Her partner suggests that she use lines from the songs she has analyzed to write her own epic poem.

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My Teachable Moment: As she is emphatically exclaiming her eureka moment, I turn to the bookshelf behind me and grab an annotated translation of Dante’s Inferno. I hand her the book, explaining how Dante created elaborate allusions in his poem that are illuminated by the translator’s detailed footnotes.

I never get tired of having moments like this with my students! Sarah now had a mentor text to help guide her through the treacherous depths of poetry composition and analysis.

The next day I brought her a copy of  Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill.  A portrait of the poet’s life told in a collection of verse. Each poem includes insightful footnotes that Sarah could use as a model for her own writing.

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The Final Act: I was so happy to see a copy of Dante’s Inferno and Your Own, Sylvia on the desk of a student who had spent the entire first semester fighting me to read anything other than mystery novels. Not only is she growing as a writer, she is also growing as a reader. Funny how it works like that.

 

 

 

 

Jenna Zucha teaches English II Pre-AP at Clear Springs High school. She is currently reading Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and is looking forward to spending more time with her dog, Scout, and devouring her summer reading list! Follow her on twitter @MsZucha and There’s a Book for That

Using Technology to Extend Reader’s Advisory

While I do teach one class of Senior English and one class of AP Capstone Seminar, the majority of my job is actually as the Teacher Librarian in our Senior School (Grades 6-12). As a Teacher Librarian, I spend a lot of time focusing on Reader’s Advisory as students stop by the library looking for a book to read.

Reader’s Advisory can take some time and is often about asking the right questions. While some students come to the library with a clear picture of what they want to read, more often than not, students have a vague notion of what they are looking for or have no idea at all. Sometimes when students enter the library they have a clear goal in mind, but more often I come across students mindlessly wandering the shelves because they want a book (or have been told they have to get a book), but really have no clue what they are looking for. These students may be in a reading rut and nothing is inspiring them. When I encounter these students, I always start with questions such as: what is the last thing you read that you really enjoyed? What did you like about that book? What didn’t you like about the book? Sometimes the questioning period is short and I have just the right book for the student, but sometimes the process can take much longer with every suggestion I give being turned down. While my role in Reader’s Advisory can be an important one, often the best advisors when it comes to helping students find their next great read is not me, rather it is their peers. While it is important that we as teachers and librarians are reading the books our students are reading and while it is important that we are able to recommend books to students, it is also equally as important that we are creating a culture of reading in our libraries and in our classrooms where our students are sharing the books they love with their peers and where they are engaging in Reader’s Advisory by recommending books to each other.

To read some more great ideas about creating a culture of reading in your school and your classroom, check out Melissa Sethna’s post on the first steps you can take in transforming a culture.

While some of the best Reader’s Advisory between students happens in the casual conversations in the library or in the classroom or in the excited moments when a student just has to share this amazing book he or she has been reading, technology can also help us extend our reading culture beyond the walls of the classroom and the school itself. At our school, we have been using technology in an exciting way to help extend the conversations around books beyond the school walls.

Over the past few years, our English department has been using Biblionasium and Goodreads to broaden our reading community and to help our students engage in discussions about reading and to connect to Reader’s Advisory moments in larger communities.

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Some of our Grade 6 and 7 students using Biblionasium to write reviews and recommendations about their favourite books.

 

With our Grades 6 and 7 students, we have introduced Biblionasium. Biblionasium is a free social book sharing platform for younger students (there is a paid version, but the only real added feature to this version is that it allows you to link your Biblionasium class with your library catalogue). It allows teachers to create online reading communities. At our school, our Grade 6 and 7 students all belong to our online Biblionasium community that has been set up by their English teachers and by myself. On Biblionasium, students can log the books they have read by placing them on their own virtual bookshelves, can write reviews of these books, can place books on the group’s virtual book shelf to allow other students to see them, and they can also recommend books to other students. As well, the teachers in the group can send book recommendations to the whole class or to specific students. Because it is a program designed for elementary students, Biblionasium confines students to the class that was set up by the teachers and students can not interact with other users on the site. This allows students to engage with their classmates in their Biblionasium group, but does not open them up to a larger community of strangers.

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Page 1 of many (we have had this group going since 2014!) of our Grades 8-12 Goodreads reading group Recommended Reads bookshelf.

With our Grades 8-12 students, we have moved from Biblionasium to Goodreads, another free platform. While many teachers use Goodreads for their own reading, they may not realize that is also allows you to create groups that you can use in your classes. It is this feature we use with our students. We have created a private group for our Grades 8-12 students and for teachers at our school. Much like the Biblionasium group, this group is a place for our students to place the books they have read on their shelves, to share books on the group shelves, to recommend books to each other and to write reviews. The group itself if private, which means only our students and teachers can access it and our shared bookshelves. Unlike Biblionasium, however, the reviews that the students write on Goodreads are visible to the larger Goodreads community. While this may not be ideal for younger students, for our older students it has extended their Reader’s Advisory community in many profound ways. When they write book reviews for the Goodreads community, they are contributing to a larger global discussion about books and when they are looking for book recommendations, they can tap into the reviews and suggestions of a huge community of passionate readers. This not only gives them the experience of writing for a real audience, and access to many amazing mentor texts for book reviews written by other people in the Goodreads community, it also gives them membership into a vast group of people who love to talk about books. This year one of my Grade 11 students discovered that Emma Watson, her favourite actress, is extremely active on Goodreads and, in fact, runs her own feminist book club through the site. My student quickly joined this club and was soon reading her way through Emma’s reading list and engaging in amazing online conversations with other members of Emma Watson’s book club. She was soon bringing these conversations into the classroom and quickly had a whole crew of students – male and female- avidly reading Emma Watson’s recommended books and debating them every chance they could get. I tell you, there is nothing as exciting as walking into a classroom full of students planning their Alias Grace Netflix binge watching session because they just finished reading the book with Emma Watson’s bookclub and they need to watch the Netflix series to see if it did it the book justice in order to join in on the conversation going on in the Goodreads group on this very topic.

Using technology to extend the classroom reading community can have some challenges and does require a certain amount of work with students in regards to interacting with others in the digital environment. The use of technology through reading community sites like Biblionasium and Goodreads can be a powerful way to have students extend their reading community, explore new books and recommended reads, and share their recommendations and critiques with a larger community.

Pam McMartin is a Senior English Teacher, English Department Head and Senior School Teacher Librarian in Tsawwassen BC, Canada. She is also addicted to Goodreads and spends decidedly too much time stalking people’s virtual bookshelves in search of her next great read. She is always looking to expand her Goodreads family, so feel free to add her as a friend. Besides on Goodreads, you can follow her thoughts on Twitter at @psmcmartin.

 

It’s better with Verse! Short and sweet book clubs encourage readers to try new format.

Student voice and student choice have been the priority this school year as we try to foster healthy, robust reading lives in our students. They have been introduced to many titles through plenty of book talks and book recommendations, so they know there are a ton of choices out there for them, but this level of choice also means we haven’t had too many shared texts.

This spring I thought it might be fun to squeeze in some shared texts and build up our reading community with deliberate talk about books. I wanted us to be able to finish in just a couple of weeks, so we are engaging in book clubs with books written in verse.

In keeping with the priorities of student voice and student choice, I provided many titles for students to choose from as they entered into this short unit. These are all books that we have multiple copies of and can be found in our classroom libraries.

Before spring break my students were given a little time to get to know a book they hadn’t seen before, and then share that book with a partner. It took just a couple of minutes for each exchange, and then both partners switched books and started again. After a few rounds of sharing books, I allowed students to flip through the remaining titles that had seemed interesting but they hadn’t had the chance to hear about yet.

 

 

They had handouts for note-taking during this activity, and when we were done, they put the notes in their readers/writers notebooks so they would have easy access after the break.

book club notes - verse

When we returned from spring break, students reviewed their notes and listed their top five choices. I assigned and handed out the books, putting between two and four students in each group.

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These are the titles students chose from.

The assignment was pretty straight-forward.Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 3.37.17 PM

Students were directed to annotate for the fiction and/or nonfiction signposts found in Notice and Note and in Reading Nonfiction, (depending on their titles) the Book Head Heart framework and questions found in Disrupting Thinking, and some poetry vocabulary (listed below).

 

 

After they started reading, but before they were too many pages in, a few students had questions about how to annotate a book written in verse. They had annotated other texts before, but for some reason this type of text had some obstacles. IMG_7697 2

I decided to do a quick, fun example of annotating a narrative poem with a simple children’s poem by Shel Silverstein. Cloony the Clown has many of the fiction signposts, poetic devices, and we talked about the Book Head Heart framework. Finding the signposts and annotating together was fun. It took less than fifteen minutes to share the example in class, and my students seemed much more comfortable with annotating their book club books when we were done with the activity.

Students then used their annotations to spark discussion, and regularly use them during the week to practice their sustained conversation.

They will be assessed next week in the form of a video-discussion, where they will meet in their book groups. Using iPads, they will record their thoughtful discussions, referring to annotations, making connections with the text, and sustaining academic conversation for around twenty minutes.

What I’ve heard and seen so far has been encouraging. Students are sharing, referring to lines and stanzas, and feel accomplished that they have read a complete text in such a short amount of time. Some of them are on their second or third-draft reading, which I think is a great strategy and habit to reinforce. They are truly getting to know their books, and in the process learning about story, poetry, and close reading.

 

 

 

Some students were able to read their book club book in an hour or two, and then get right back to their other choice reading. Others are encouraged by the progress they are quickly making in a full-length book because it often takes them longer than a few days to read most of a book. That’s one of the many great things about books written in verse – it doesn’t take a long time to read them, but they are rich with language, story, character, and they hold student interest. With the variety of types and titles, there really is something for everyone.

 

 

 

I borrowed an idea from this amazing post from Buffy J Hamilton regarding connecting text to the world around us. Next week, as one of the finishing activities in this short unit, students will each bring in a current event article which somehow relates to their books, and use these articles to launch new conversations about their books, connecting the text to themselves and to the world around us.

I’m pleased with the way these books clubs are progressing. My students don’t seem to feel intimidated by the length or weight of the books, and they tend to agree that the books are relevant and thought-provoking. While some of them have enjoyed books written in verse before their book clubs, for others this is one of their first experiences with a book written in verse. So for some students, this unit validates and supports their reading experience, and for others, it opens a door to a new form.

I encourage others to try some “unconventional” types of text for book clubs. Graphic novels, short stories, and poetry collections are all ideas I’m kicking around for future book club units, and I’m wondering how other teachers have incorporated different types of texts in their classes, and encouraged new conversation. Please leave your ideas and experiences in the comments below!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Formative Assessment Works!!!

For those of you who haven’t taught Seniors, trust me on this:  Formative assessment during the second semester is challenging.

If you’ve taught seniors, then you might understand where I’m coming from:  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they aren’t grasping a concept, or they are just too tired of school to have the energy to engage.

I hurts my heart to even consider that my precious learners are worried about bigger issues than Comparative Literary Analysis essays or finding examples of bias in their self-selected texts.  Prom looms five days away and graduation seven weeks after that.  They work, they compete in extra curriculars, they deal with the adults and peers in their lives.  I forget, sometimes, that their plates are filled with important thoughts.  I remind myself I’m not doing their stress levels any favors by point out that we still have important work to do before June 2nd.

Last Monday we reviewed an excerpt from Niel Schusterman’s Thunderhead as a mentor text for practicing literary analysis through all the lenses that should be crystal clear to these literate learners.  I needed to assess their understanding and thinking so that I could make decisions about the instruction leading up to the summative assessment.  That’s the point of formative assessment; to “form” a plan for instruction.

I read the short selection with them, and asked them if they would, please, mark their thinking on this first lap through the text.  They should, as they’ve done many times before, underline or highlight what they noticed about the words the author chose through the lenses of diction, bias, author’s purpose…literally anything they noticed within the realm of literary analysis. It’s the last nine weeks of their public education career. They should be able to look at a text through a variety of lenses.

Some of them made some marks on the page while others wrote notes next to highlighted lines or words.  Others, though, marked nothing.  [Alarms wiggle and stir in my head. Something’s not right.]

I asked them to share within their groups what they noticed.  Muted whispers of ethos, tone, and metaphor struggled out of some groups, but again, most said very little.  Very few connections were being made. For them and for me, the picture was as clear as mud. This, by itself, is important formative assessment. This wasn’t working. [Def Con 55- Full tilt klaxons at maximum volume!]

Yet, I refuse to blame them.  I fully believe that it is solely on me, the teacher, to facilitate engagement with the text.  Somehow I need to do a better job inviting them to take all those useful tools out of their tool belts and dissect this very meaningful text.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

I bear a striking resemblance to Tom Brady.  Photo by Keith Allison

In football parlance, I needed to call an audible in the middle of the game. What I had hoped they would do; they won’t or can’t.  It’s time for me to jump in and scaffold this concept to a place where they can see the connections they can make and I can assess their thinking.  I’m not going to put them in a position to fail on the summative assessment if I know they aren’t ready for it.

In a whole class mode, I read over the text, mark what I notice and verbalize my analysis.

Now I ask them to talk about what they notice.  There it is…an increase in discussion, an inflation in dialogue. The alarm volume turns down a notch, but it doesn’t turn off.

I wrap the class period up with an invitation to write about what moves the author is making and as they do I confer with a few students who seem completely flabbergasted.  The bell tolls, signaling an end to their literary torture session.

 

Thus was the source of my salvation:

book

I only saunter.

Jumping into this book reminded me of a few important tenets of writing instruction that I let myself forget:

  1. Give them choice- I was allowing no choice in the subject of their analysis.  I know better than to restrict their reading and writing experiences and I let my, and their, end of the year exhaustion affect my decision making.
  2. Show them, not tell them, what you want to assess.  I wasn’t showing them examples of literary analysis and again, I know better.  I was expecting, wrongly, that Senior English students would confidently engage in literary analysis and move forward with their thinking in a way that shows me they can write a response in essay form.

After school, I tore up my lessons plans for the next four days and re-wrote them to reflect what I SHOULD do to support my students in this exploration.

On page 5 of their amazing new book Marchetti and O’Dell introduce a mentor text written by Joe Fassler from The Atlantic.  His recurring series “By Heart” is a collection of responses from a diverse group of thinkers and writers and is an amazing resource.  A simple Google search returned a link to this series of essays. I scanned the list of the titles and discovered an article from September titled, “What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon.”   In it, Celeste Ng describes her feelings of the children’s book and how it “informs” her writing.

Perfecto!!!

This checked so many of the boxes of what I was looking for in a mentor text.  And…I get to read a children’s book to “big” kids.  I know enough about my students to know they will love this.

Also, I used Marchetti and O’Dell’s five part descriptions of literary analysis on pages 11 and 12 to create a glue-in anchor chart for their readers’/writers’ notebooks that helped to clarify what exactly we should look for when reading and writing literary analysis.

Confidence restored! Disaster averted… kind of.

We Ng’s reflection and discussed how this was a perfect example of literary analysis.  They asked questions, we laughed about Goodnight Moon.  I saw their confidence grow and I knew we were back on track and ready to move toward our essay.

Thursday, we started the drafts and I hope to see many of them tomorrow.

Being responsive and intentional is a crucial part of the workshop pedagogy.  I can’t stress enough how this one piece can make our break my teaching.  My lesson planning skills have finally reached the point where I plan for and anticipate opportunities to change up what we are doing to match what the students need. This was an opportunity for which I hadn’t planned, but we made the adjustment and made it work.

Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Let me know in the comments below when you’ve had to make big changes on the fly to support your students’ learning. I know I can’t be the only one.

Charles Moore is neck deep in Children of Blood and Bone.  He’s spending the day taking his daughter to school and then having lunch with her.  It might be the best day of his life.  His summer TBR list is growing uncontrollably; feel free to add to it in the comments.

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