Category Archives: Readers Workshop

Incorporating Drawing into the Workshop Model so that Students can Show their Thinking

Teachers are adaptive. We are always ready, even when we feel never ready, and we approach new challenges with willingness and enthusiasm.

Even when the changes come as a surprise!

For the first time in many years, I am teaching middle school. I’ve taught high school exclusively for at least fifteen years, so it was quite a change to approach these students. I have been giving it my best attitude, attention, and effort, but somehow I knew it wasn’t enough. A few weeks ago I realized why: I was trying to teach my seventh grade students the same way as I was teaching my high school students, only changing the content.

While I realized that I have to approach middle school students differently, I wasn’t sure how. They aren’t just little high schoolers. They are in a different developmental stage, and I have to be attentive to that.

One of my classroom mantras has been don’t share your answers; share your thinking, and when it comes to talking to high school students about it, it seems like they “get it.” That’s not to say they always value the thinking and don’t look for the “right answers,” but they do seem to mostly understand what it means. share-your-thinking

With middle school students, I don’t always get that same feeling. I’ve experienced that they aren’t always sure how to show their thinking, but instead sometimes tend to want to parrot back my thinking, or the thinking of others.

When we’ve worked in our readers/writers notebooks, I’ve also seen that middle school students often ask if they can doodle and draw. I love it when my students get creative in their notebooks, no matter what grade they are in. I just noticed that my middle school students seem to especially enjoy this activity.

That led me to realize that middle school students can show their thinking through drawing, sketching, and illustrating, in addition to talking and writing.

I am introducing the Notice and Note fiction signposts this week, and instead of asking students to write about them, I’ve asked them to sketch and illustrate them.

middle school drawing

The buzz in the room while students were drawing, illustrating, and processing the different sign posts was fantastic. While circulating the room, I was able to interact with students in a fun and academic way. I learned that middle school students love to be creative, and I was able to get a window into their thinking. That was before I even saw their finished products.

Students have illustrated a couple of the signposts now, and I feel like I am on to something. Students are able to express their thinking through drawing, and even think about things more deeply than if they were only doing the discussing and writing. The illustrating has increased their processing, and I’ll keep using this strategy alongside the writing, reading, and discussing. Perhaps every other middle school teacher on the planet already understood this, but now I do, too.

I’m going to add more illustrating and drawing components to all of my classes now, no matter what level they are, from grade seven to AP Lang.

I’d love to hear how others have reached students who are in different grades and levels. How do your students show their thinking?

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

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Guest Post by Amanda Penney: The Workshop Classroom and YOU!!!

Note: This post signifies quite a milestone for the ELA 1 team I had the privilege of joining this year.  As of this morning, and thanks to the graciousness of this blog’s creators, the entire team has now published on this site.  To see a post by our department chair Megan, click here. Austin posted this summer, here. Sarah, our team lead posted a few weeks back, and my one year anniversary as a regular contributor is in January. This agency affords us power.  It gives us a voice in our fight for literacy.  To the creators of this blog, Thank You.

The workshop classroom is undoubtedly overwhelming to embrace at first. It is difficult to find information on how to properly implement this pedagogy, and there are many misconceptions of what workshop actually looks, for instance, on sites like TeachersPayTeachers. It’s a lot of work to be a workshop classroom. You actually have to read and write yourself if you want your students to benefit from this structure. You need to learn how to identify a solid mentor text from a variety of works and know what you can do with them successfully.

But the work pays off. It gives you, the teacher, so much more than you could ever have imagined. To keep your students engaged in their choice reading, you have to keep up with the never-ending influx of newly published works. You are forced to venture into genres of writing that you would not normally reach. For instance, I read Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here, and I can assure you, it is not historical fiction (my typical go-to). My students were writing about their foster care experiences and retelling their mishaps that placed them in alternate schools. Matt de la Pena provided an avenue for me to better understand these students, who in turn, helped broaden my reading interests.

For me, this shift has been monumental. As a workshop teacher, I actually get to read what I want to read and have picked up books I wouldn’t normally and enjoyed them! I get excited when I stumble upon a passage that might as well jump off the page and into my computer, so I can begin identifying my mini lesson and therein construct my fantastic lesson cycle. It is fun and exciting, and I have such a unique opportunity in my profession to be creative each and every day.

Writing has been the most exciting shift for me personally. I had lost a lot of confidence in my abilities as a writer when I entered college. I will never forget attending Texas A&M’s orientation for new students and the very blunt speech we were given. Simply put, the speaker stated that the five-paragraph-essay would lead to nothing more than a failing grade, so we better learn something new now or “See you later!” I was terrified, of course, because I had been taught nothing other than the five-paragraph-essay. The only piece I had ever written that did not follow that god-awful structure was my college admissions essay. Little had I known, I had “workshopped” my most proud piece of high school writing to which my first line stated “I am crazy.” However, one piece did not shake the terror I felt upon beginning my first day of classes the following week.

As a transfer student my sophomore year, I took an Advanced Composition course and a Shakespeare course. I held a solid A in my Advanced Composition class with helpful pointers and typically positive feedback from my professor. Yet, I could barely hold a low C in my Shakespeare class where I was regularly criticized for my writing style. I spent most of my time in the writing center, and at one point, the graduate assistant was so baffled by my C- paper over Shylock’s speech “I am a Jew” that he asked for the opinion of his “boss” who returned with a shrug and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why you got a C…. it looks like he just dislikes how you write and is grading you accordingly. Good luck.”

I spent the rest of my English degree pursuit frustrated and confused. I concluded that writing was a painful process, which would typically yield disappointment from my readers. I would never truly be able to improve because I, unfortunately, did not and would not inherit the mutant skill of mind-reading from Professor Xavier or Gene Grey.

Then, I began to teach. My first year, our campus did not have workshop at all, and teaching was painful day in and day out. My students really did not benefit from The Odyssey or the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, and to be honest, neither did I. My second year began with the introduction of workshop, which was difficult to understand, considering I not only had never taught this way with my meager one-year experience under my belt, but I also had not learned this way. So, I struggled through what I learned and still could not get my students to engage. They always referred to their “I give up” phrase of “I don’t know what to write about,” and it left me frustrated and exhausted each day.

I had heard about writing along with my students, but I was afraid to do this. I did not identify as a writer and had long since decided I wasn’t very good at it. My students could never know this of course… But I was getting nowhere, and it was time for a shift.

So, one day, half-way through my second year of teaching, I tried something new. I chose to write with my students. I had been flipping through the pages of Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and stumbled upon his “1 to 18 Topics” lesson cycle. I embraced my fears of writing with my students and took the dive head-first the next day.

I started safe with soccer and intended to choose a new topic to expand each class period. To my astonishment, every single student had their pens to their papers and were scribbling madly as if they had been starved of this freedom for too long. Conferring revealed a vulnerability I had not anticipated, and I became inspired to show my own vulnerability as the day continued. I realized I had a lot to say, and I wanted to “say” it through my writing. I had starved myself of this freedom for far too long, and I was eager to continue writing.

My third-year of teaching is when workshop really kicked off in my classroom. I was searching for an engaging mentor text that utilized simple sentences as my students struggled (and still do) with sentence boundaries.  An excerpt from Dune stood out to me and I was eager to write beside it with my students in class. The excerpt is as follows:

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Each student wrote for 10 minutes and were asked to begin their piece with “I must not __.” We then pulled a Penny Kittle and revised it to ensure it was only constructed of simple sentences. My students wrote some incredible pieces, and I am convinced their success is a result of my own enthusiasm for the lesson itself. Their writing inspired my writing and in turn began to reconstruct my identity as both a writer and teacher. I was embracing myself as a writer, and my students, in turn, began to embrace themselves as writers.

Workshop has transformed my perspective of writing and provided a unique platform for me to embrace myself as a writer. It has exposed a variety of genres to read but also has provided a variety of genres I can choose to write.

Prior to workshop, I used to hate poetry. Yes. I used the word “hate” … as an English major and teacher…. It was this daunting task and an awful entity that lurked in the dreary school hallways. My teachers never taught me to write beside a poem and always found the most difficult poetry to “interpret” in class. In Ohio, my freshman English teacher appeared to enjoy watching us squirm in confusion and insisted we leave his classroom never ever knowing what the author’s message actually was. I despised poetry’s very existence because of this and determined its purpose was a cruel joke on the reader.

Workshop completely shifted this perspective of poetry for me. I would never had guessed in a million years that I would currently be reading not one, not two, but THREE poetry books at once. The thought of writing my own poetry was a complete joke as well. Yet, here I am, writing beside poetry in my classroom and encouraging my students to do the same. It has a completely different purpose now than it ever did before. Its purpose is no longer to torment my being but to excite my creativity and provide an avenue for expression I never would have known existed if it wasn’t for workshop. The first poem I wrote beside was a Rudy Francisco piece and it looks like this:

Mentor Text:

When people ask how I’m doing

I want to say,

my depression is an angry deity, a jealous god

a thirsty shadow that wrings my joy like a dishrag

and makes juice out of my smile.

I want to say,

getting out of bed has become a magic trick.

I am probably the worst magician I know.

I want to say,

this sadness is the only clean shirt I have left

and my washing machine has been broken for months,

but I’d rather not ruin someone’s day with my tragic honesty

so instead I treat my face like a pumpkin.

I pretend that it’s Halloween.

I carve it into something acceptable.

I laugh and I say,

“I’m doing alright.”

-Rudy Francisco, Helium


My Version:

When people ask how I’m doing

I want to say,

leave me alone, please, now and forever while

my anxiety leaps and jumps throughout my body

and makes me cringe.

I want to say,

standing here is an allusion of sanity,

a trick I feel I will never truly perfect.

I want to say,

this fear is my only possession I have ever had

and I want someone to destroy it so it cannot return,

but I’d rather not burden someone’s day with the demon that encircles me

so instead I treat my face like a canvas.

I paint with bright colors.

I create something mundane.

I smile and I say,

“I’m doing alright.”

-Ms. Penney


I felt so freed of my previous misconceptions with this one piece, and as a result, my class and I enjoy our daily “Poet Moments” inspired by my colleague Charles Moore. I revel in this peace and tranquility and am grateful for workshop with each and every poem I have the privilege to write with my students. This joy has completely altered my initial definition of poetry, and I will forever be indebted to workshop and this genre of writing.

Workshop has given me the opportunity to grow as a reader and writer. It has given me a purpose and a drive to find new and exciting ways to engage not only my students but myself. I no longer feel as if writing is a painful process and the nagging frustration of how my invisible readers expect me to write has long since passed. I have a voice and a means of expressing that voice, as do you, every single day.

Amanda Penney is a bit of a perfectionist and is grateful for the patience that her colleague, Charles Moore, has for her and her ever-changing blog post. She plays soccer whenever she can and loves exploring nature with her only child (her dog who she considers her child) Shanti. She is a complete nerd when it comes to anything comic book oriented and is currently exploring the possibilities of her favorite series, The Uncanny X-Men from the late 1960’s, becoming an exciting and invigorating mentor text. She hopes this will be the topic of her next guest post, that is of course, if Charles is willing to embrace another bought of Penney and her procrastinating-perfectionism.

Lesson Cycle: How to Teach Collaboration

When I wrote several weeks ago about how we went about building a reader/writer workshop, one of the traits we focuses on was “Collaboration.” Our Lesson focus for that day was, “I want you to know that members of this workshop community…”

We started our 55 minute class with reading, briefly visited a poet moment, and then dove into three practical rotations with texts where we explored ways collaboration can help us be better readers and writers. We used three short excerpts that we had already explored in building other parts of our workshop.

First Rotation: Talking is rehearsal for writing.

Text: You Don’t Know Me excerpt from Sherman Alexie

1st Move: Read the following excerpt and think about what the author does that you don’t do.

2nd Move: Starting with desk 1, take one lap around your group, sharing what you noticed.

3rd Move: Find a place in your notebook near this piece and write about what you shared with your group.

4th Move: Think about how hearing from others before you write serves as rehearsal for your writing. 1 or 2 students share out to the class.

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A poet moment from one of the texts

Second Rotation: Writing is a rehearsal for talking.

Text: If I Were in Charge of the World

1st Move: Read the following poem and think about something in it that surprised you.

2nd Move: Find a place in your notebook near this piece and write about what you noticed in this poem that surprised you.

3rd Move: Starting with desk #2, take one lap around your group sharing the ideas about which you wrote.

4th Move: Think about how writing about something serves as a rehearsal for you to share. 1 or 2 students share out to the class.

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A different poet moment

3rd Rotation

Text: Ready Player One excerpt

1st Move: Read the following excerpt and think about how the last line of the third paragraph makes you feel.

2nd Move: Starting with desk #3, take one lap around your group sharing how the words in the third paragraph affected your feelings in relation to the piece.  Share in the opposite direction this time.

3rd Move: As a group, construct a sentence using Earnest Cline’s sentence as a model, that mimics the complexity of the feelings.IMG_4626

4th Move: Think about how working together can take us further than we can go by working alone.

 

Quick Write:

Write about how you can use collaboration to support your growth as a reader and writer.  Write so fast that your inner critic can’t slow you down.

This lesson cycle was all about teaching the students about collaborating, a crucial skill in a workshop.  Eight weeks later, they can zip around their groups, sharing their thoughts, asking questions, blessing each other’s writing, and they do so effectively and efficiently. This may not be the best way to accomplish our goal, but it worked for us.

Please comment below if you’ve had success teaching collaboration or if you just want to chat.

Charles Moore loves working with his students in their reader’s/writer’s workshop.  His divides his time between school, home, and his son’s robotics practices which are three days a week for a total of 11 hours.  He is currently doing a terrible job keeping his grass cut and his pool pristine.  He promises to work harder.  If you’d like to see his somewhat nicely written book reviews check out his book review blog and if you want to see his numerous and random tweets, check out his twitter.

Taking a chance on reading aloud

One of the most prevalent memories I have from my childhood is being read to.  Every week, my mom would load my sister and I in the van and head downtown to the library where we would practice returning, renewing, and selecting new books.  I can still see the orange carpet in the children’s library, the shelves that stood only as tall as a seven year old, and hear the crinkle of the plastic covers that protected each precious story like shrink wrap.  During the week, my sister and I vied for places on her lap as she read aloud each book. I wouldn’t say she was a theatrical reader, I don’t recall her trying on different voices or even pausing to ask us what we thought, but it was her voice telling a story.  Isn’t that the magic of being read to?

Read alouds in K-12 classrooms have immense benefits, although their usage and popularity have ebbed and flowed overtime, as discussed by Steven L. Layne’s book In Defense of Read-Aloud which Amy writes about along with practical strategies for implementation.  This summer, I began to notice much discussion around reading aloud in the adolescent classroom and my interest was piqued.  My challenge to myself this summer was to try implementing read alouds, not just think alouds, in my classroom.

Admittedly, I got a little scared.  Then I chickened out. 

Having just hours to submit a book list to the department chair and having never visited the school I was about to teach at, I was unsure how a read aloud would be perceived by my new students and new colleagues.  So, I played it safe and opted to start the year with a full class read aloud using one of the required texts, The Crucible (I work with a curriculum that includes highly suggested texts for English 3, American Literature in the state of Utah, which has led me to a balance the requirements while choice).  I put students at the center of the read aloud, hoping they would embrace and take ownership of hearing a story versus reading it.

Did I fear a lack of student buy in?  Yep. Did I wonder if my pedagogical reasoning would be questioned?  At some points. Am I planning for a class-selected read aloud in the coming weeks?  Sure am!

Students loved it.  

I loved it.

We laughed, we questioned, we build community, and we worked on critical reading skills. We also enjoyed the story–there is power in students hearing a story, even when they’re 16 or 17 years old.

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6th period was so into reading, they literally begged me to read the deleted scene between John Proctor and Abigail Williams once they discovered it at the end of the play–how could I say no?  While we were all entertained with Sam and Noa’s reading, we were able to discuss how the scene adds to and takes away from the text as a whole, in addition to making inferences about Miller’s choices.

Building upon Layne’s research, here are the benefits I noticed in my classroom:

  • Students received a foundation of reading strategies to start the school year.  As a play is essentially a “think aloud,” with the narrator teaching students to make inferences about characters, conflict, and the social setting. Prior to starting, we discussed our reading voices, what Chris Tovani has labeled as “Interacting” and “Distracting” voices in Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?.  The interacting voice is what makes connections and predictions, asks questions, develops an opinion, and identifies confusion as we are decoding words.  The distracting voice is what pulls a reader’s attention away from the text (Tovani 63). For struggling readers, the narrated parts and asides modeled this “interacting voice” and we implemented “Fix Up Strategies,” as defined by Tovani, when our distracting voice overpowered our interacting voice, leading to muddled comprehension. We paused to recap the plot, ask questions, and make predictions during our full class reading.  Students had permission to pause the read aloud and we implemented these strategies together and practice themselves.
  • Students made connections between the false accusations and lies of Salem and our current world.  I never had to answer the age-old English question of “Why are we reading this?”  Big win when students understand the relevance of a common text to their world.
  • Students became comfortable reading and sharing–many began taking on the person of the accused, answering using “I,” demonstrating they were engaged in the text and thinking like the characters. This has created an environment where their voice and opinions matter.
  • Students dug into their choice reads in their own time because much our class time, aside from writers notebook time, was dominated by The Crucible.  Without realizing, students began to develop the habit of reading daily on their own time. Sa-weet!
  • I gained incredible insight into my students’ preferences, personalities, and habits.  I immediately learned who participates in the theater program and who only volunteers when the role is small.  I learned who needs to be engaged fully to keep on task and whose brain wanders thus requires reminders to “enter” the scene.  I learned who likes to lead, taking charge in the scene as the main character, or play the mother hen and keep everyone “on task” as a narrator. You learn who always brings their book and who always forgets, who annotates and who ponders.  It was like watching a collaborative group unfold.
  • We built rapport.  I believe beginning with a play set the tone that our classroom environment is one where we work together and discuss literature–what we love, what resonates with us, what we can connect to.  Our classroom is one where reading is an enjoyable experience.

“One key benefit of a consistent read-aloud is that kids enjoy being with text; this affects attitude, and attitude precedes action. Kids don’t take books home and read if they never have any pleasant experiences w.jpg

I also wonder if their reading was deepened because we read together as a community, bringing 20+ backgrounds and ideas together to create a collective understanding.  Maybe the struggling students thought “I can do this” for the first time. Maybe the advanced student thought “Now I more time to read what I want at home” for the first time in a long time. Maybe other students simply thought “Huh, this wasn’t so bad.”

Part of a read aloud’s magic is its power to change student perceptions around books.  My goal, OUR goal, is to create and encourage readers. I encourage you to bring oral reading into your classroom.  I am going to be braver in the coming weeks and embrace a full class read aloud, so students can simply enjoy hearing a story for a few minutes each day.

Maggie Lopez has made the move west to Utah where the mountains are a gorgeous golden purple every day and ski season is around the corner.  She is indulging in promoting banned books this week with students and currently reading a student rec, Brain on Fire.  Follow her on Twitter at @meg_lopez0.

How We Built our First 3 Weeks of Workshop

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Look at Sarah’s room!

A classroom built around flexible seating is amazing for kids building their literacy.  Comfy chairs, tall stools, and bean bags take a student out of a “classroom” mindset and into a creative work space that encourages ideas to flow across boundaries that might have been impermeable with rows and rows of sterile desks.

It works just as well for teachers building a workshop from thin air. You can imagine how comfortable that tan couch felt on the last Friday morning before the start of school.

Sitting in that room for this much anticipated planning session felt as comfortable as if I’d been there for a decade.  Five teachers with a singular focus gathered their resources and experience to put together a plan that was student focused and built on the foundation of workshop.   I got to know this group well at the Literacy Institute but I’m still trying to learn the full extent of their individual and collective power.

It is important, on our team, to be intentional and explicit with our lesson design.  The kids should know exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it.  They should recognize the moves their teachers make and take comfort that those moves were selected specifically for them. There is no reason to keep the “why” and the “how” a secret.

On this team, we typically build lessons with an eye towards a learning focus that starts with something like: I want you to know that readers/writers ….. do something. (Thanks Amy, Billy, and the Lit Institute.)

For the first three weeks, though, we talked about using: I want you to know that members of a Reader/Writer Workshop….do…one of the six pillars.  You get it.

Our curriculum documents, designed by teachers, contain a section devoted to the six routines of workshop instruction and the following are the routines around which we built lessons:

The Reader’s/Writer’s Notebook

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop use a notebook to explore thier literacy.

Our “notebooks” look very different teacher-to-teacher.  Some of our classes will use traditional composition notebooks and some will use Microsoft OneNote in our explorations.  Either way, the point of having a safe and personal place to plan, draft, revise, reflect, etc. remains consistent across our classes.  Its not enough for us to ask the kids to have a notebook, they need to know the importance of having it.  Some of the kids struggled with following my set-up instructions because they were intentionally vague.

Student: “Mr. Moore, what categories do you want us to use to track our reading this year?”

Me: “That’s up to you.  Its your notebook.”

Self-Selected Independent Reading:

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop take ownership of their reading and writing experiences.

I remember back to last year, and how much the kids struggled genuinely connecting to a book. Maybe it was the hurricane sitting out in the Gulf or that they really only had one year of workshop leading up to their senior year.  What ever it was, we worked hard to take ownership of our reading, so much so that I wrote about it here and here. (Looking back at those words is like seeing the words of a different writer, but I digress…)

Mentor Texts:

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop use mentor texts to guide their learning.

We use mentor texts to teach kids how to read and write like a writer. The students need to know that we looking at the writing of others with specific intentions in mind. Its important to delineate the separate lenses of craft and content and constantly reinforce the importance and interconnection of both.

We planned for ways to write beside them.  When I write in front of my students it invites them to connect to a writer from their community.  This connection is between a student and a person that shakes their hand every day and smiles when they make eye contact. That’s an incredibly deep connection and one that I’ll leverage every chance I get.

Mini-Lessons:

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop look at specific skills that we want to learn and then apply those skills to their reading and writing.

The skills we choose to highlight are intentional and our students need to understand that they aren’t chosen at random.  Not only that, but we aren’t going to spend more than a few minutes in our mini-lessons before we move back into reading and writing, with an emphasis on those specific skills.

Collaboration:

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop listen to others share and provide feedback that supports their growth.

I can’t teach all 30 of them all the time and maintain any level of effectiveness.  We have to build a supportive community that  allows me to widen the feedback cycle from one, typically confident student, to 30 who are confident to share with their confidants. They need to know that the days of me asking a question and calling on one person for the answer are far behind us.  We practice the routine over and over. Ask a question, discuss in group.  Ask a question, practice their thinking through written response. Rinse/Repeat.

Oh, and they have to be trained not to shoot up their hands or shout out an answer when they are asked to notice something.  Instead, they will learn to sit in the silence and let their thinking wash over them in waves. Or maybe the metaphor is to peel back the layers of their thinking like an onion. Whichever you prefer.

Conferring:

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that members of this Reader’s/Writer’s workshop take advantage of opportunities to talk one-on-one with the expert in the room.

The importance of regular one-on-one conferences can not be understated. I’m not just “checking-in” on them while they read and write.  I’m digging into their thinking for places I can provide support.  We will explain to our students how important it is for them to be honest and open when we confer.  They can’t hold back due to nervousness or fear. Like Jerry Maquire said, “Help me, help you!!!” with that typically creepy look on his face.

 

Based on our planning sessions, impromptu secret meetings, and the genuine happiness in which we approach each other, I know this year will be my best ever and it is because of the work this team will do together to move our freshman class forward in their literacy.

Now, in all seriousness, lets cross our fingers and hope nature and fate don’t hit us with the same intensity as last year.  We all need time to heal a little more.  Let’s do it together.

Charles Moore had a quiet Friday night and went to all four of his son’s soccer games this weekend.  He passed El Deafo by Cece Miller back and forth with his daughter this weekend.  He put more than two thousand words to the page this weekend between his grad classes and this blog post; a new record.  He can’t wait to get back into the classroom Monday morning and learn alongside the students.  And he wishes you the same happiness he’s enjoying right now. Visit him on twitter or instagram.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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