Category Archives: Readers Workshop

Helping our Students Develop a Reader’s Identity through Reflection and Goal Setting

It’s the time of year when it’s important for students to reflect on their identities as readers. There is so much growth to celebrate – whether it be in disposition, habits, knowledge, fluency, or attitude.

Even though I see their growth, it’s important for our students to own it themselves, and to develop their own sense of identity instead of relying on my impression of who they are.

So we spent a little class time thinking and reflecting.

I asked them some questions to get them started. Who were we as readers when we started the year? How do we identify as readers now, and where do we want to be as readers at the end of the school year? What might that look like?

Now remember, I live in Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes.

We have lake and volcano views from our school. It’s stunning, and it’s part of our daily landscape. It’s what we know.

As we discussed what it means to have a reader’s identity, some of my seventh grade students struggled. They weren’t sure how to describe themselves, and they weren’t seeing their growth over the first half of the year.

Somehow (some moments in teaching defy description) we got to the idea of volcanoes. That we can all be a different type of volcano, and that it can describe who we are as readers.

We discussed four types of volcanoes: extinct, dormant, active, and exploding NOW. We soon decided to toss out the extinct volcano as a possibility, because there is no one in the class who never reads.

We described the three remaining possibilities, connecting reading identities to types of volcanoes:

  1. Dormant — Rarely reads, but lots of reading potential. Might remember what it was like to be active and erupt (in other words, be excited and enthusiastic about books and reading), but it might have been a long time ago…

  2. Active — Sometimes/often reads in spare time, enjoys reading, and has preferences about books, authors, genres, topics, forms, etc…

  3. Erupting NOW (we first used the word exploding, but switched to erupting because it’s more of a “volcano word”) — So excited about a topic, series, author, or genre… can’t get enough and won’t stop talking about it! We realized this category isn’t sustainable – we should actually move between the active and the erupting categories often.

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This illustration helped student visualize who they are and where they want to be as readers. They started to reflect and set goals, and realizing that they have identities as readers, and that those identities can improve and evolve.

Some of the initial reflections looked like this:img_2716-2.jpg

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I took our class ideas and created a simple reading volcano infographic that now hangs in our classroom library:

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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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Adopting a Persona as We Move to Adopting Workshop

I am committed and inspired to move into true Reader’s Writer’s Workshop after NCTE and a near semester under my belt in a new school.  I left for the conference in Houston with a plan to read The Great Gatsby in December, and as much as I wanted to totally scrap it and start with a routine inspired by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher in 180 Days,  I didn’t.  

I paused.  

Although every classroom minute is precious and developing readers is the most timely need, I wanted to give myself time to process this shift, to think through how my classroom would run, and brainstorm how to help my students, who from my inquiries have only experienced the full class novel, navigate texts with more autonomy and independence.

Going from trained text regurgitation to full choice would have been a huge, potentially disastrous, shift for my students.  Since August, they have looked to me to create meaning, to judge whether their writing is “right” or “good,” asking what I think about the text versus presenting their own original idea.  These students will grow immensely from workshop, which makes me so excited for January, but I felt they first need scaffolding up to meaning-making and trusting their interpretation and ideas.

I created a Book Club atmosphere with students for our reading of The Great Gatsby, having students meet in “Discussion Tables” with their peers to process the text with each other.  As 180 Days suggests, I asked students to come with one question and one comment to their discussion tables.  Students were also responsible for close reading and annotating/sketchnoting key scenes of the text, commenting on development and language.  Their annotations served as a launch point for continuing and deepening the conversation. A Book Club-style approach allowed for a more structured release of responsibility to students while maintaining the shared experience of full class novels my students are accustomed to.  I stood back as an observer, listening in to their conversations, witnessing students make meaning together versus wait to be guided to a single answer or idea.

As the unit was primarily based on discussion and conversation, so was their culminating assessment, the “Persona Discussion.”  Students were given a choice of what character they wanted to embody, from the core characters like Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan to more minor characters like Mr. Gatz or Meyer Wolfsheim, even “background” characters like the party goers were an option for students.  The core characters provided limited space for interpretation while added characters, like party goers, allowed for more creativity in the persona. Students signed up for a character and prepared by thinking through their characters in their journals.

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The discussion works like a Socratic Seminar, where students are the drivers of the discussion and can be adapted for both fiction and nonfiction.  I created this assignment for AP Language students who loved to debate and discuss in Chicago–they adopted the persona of Henrietta Lacks’ family, doctors, and author Rebecca Skloot after reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  For Henrietta’s Persona Discussion, the central question of the discussion was a quote about medical ethics. 

Students felt that the smaller characters were given a voice, an idea we discussed earlier in the passage when examining the wealth and marginalization of “the other” characters in efforts to disrupt the traditional text.  

 

Maggie, who played Myrtle, said she liked feeling immersed in the book:  “At first, I felt like Myrtle would only ask questions to Tom or George, but as we all started being our characters, I thought about how Myrtle and Gatsby were actually more alike and could have been friends, and I wanted to ask Daisy about her marriage more.”  Jordyn said the discussion was better for understanding the web of deception because “…it was like seeing the book as a play or real life and it made our group discussions more real or, like, meaningful.”  After discussing the text as a reader so much, Riley, a reluctant reader who has learned, as he admitted, to “fake it,” said, “It was more fun to prepare to play someone than to think about the big ideas for a regular seminar.  It made me want to do well and really know Tom.”  

As we build into full workshop mode in January, students have a foundation for how to enter a text, methods for creating meaning, and more confidence in their thinking.  Students were engaged with this type of discussion and reflected about their enjoyment, so I am going to incorporate it into next semester, perhaps jigsawing the characters from students’ choice reading or book clubs together from different realms or as a way to review major characters and texts before the AP Literature exam.   We’ll see what other “personas” develop!

 

Maggie Lopez is enjoying Utah ski season while re-reading 180 Days as she preps for second semester, American Girls: The Secret Life of American Teenagers before bed, and The Poet X in class.  She wishes you a very merry, restful holiday season!

 

3TT Talks Gifts: What books will you give this season?

If you know me, you know I live by lists. I make them. I collect them. Sometimes I even stick to them. I raised seven children, you know. I had to keep track of who needed to go here, there, and everywhere and who needed what and what and what just to survive and thrive in our robust and rowdy family. Christmas shopping, often on a bone of a budget, gave me hives.

Gift-giving has never been my strong suit. Perhaps my practicality, and my history of stretching dimes into dollars, gets in the way of thoughtfulness. (Not even kidding, my kids got socks and underwear wrapped in cute paper. To their credit, they never complained–at least not to me.) I know it is possible to be both practical and thoughtful, but I am still working on that balance.

So what does any of that have to do with a blog about teaching readers and writers? Not a lot — except, I asked my fellow writers to help me craft a list for literacy teachers. Maybe you’ll find something to gift yourself, a colleague, a friend, or a perfect stranger. (I like the idea of gift-wrapping a book and giving it to one of the Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteers and saying, “This is for you.”)

Part 1 of this literacy teachers’ list is below. I’ll post about professional books, and favorite writer’s notebooks, pens, and other clever things for literacy lovers over the next few days.

BOOKS. What are the top titles students love in your classroom library right now? (Remember, we work with a range of readers from middle grades to AP Lit. There’s old and new, non-fiction, YA, and just some really good recommendations here, in no particular order, that would make great gifts for any reader or want-to-be reader or you-want-them-to-be a reader in your life. )

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Long Way Down Track Series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu) by Jason Reynolds
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Graphic novels (Ghosts, Smile, Babysitters… by Raina Telgemeier
Love that Dog/Hate that Cat/Moo by Sharon Creech
The 57 Bus:  A True Story of Two Teens and a Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson & the version adapted for YA
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood & the graphic novel version by Nan A. Talise
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Ghost Boys By Jewell Parker Rhodes
The CrossoverBooked & Rebound by Kwame Alexander
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The Greatest Stories Never Told:  100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir & the whole trilogy
Looking for AlaskaTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

NOTE: Get this book free with a donation to Book Love Foundation

We Should Hang Out Sometime:  Embarrassingly, a True Story & Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Because I was a Girl:  Trues Stories for Girls of All Ages by Melissa de la Cruz

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Martian by Andy Weir
1984 by George Orwell
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Charleyboy (editor)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

For more book-gifting ideas, check out the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2018; 15 Life-Changing Middle-grade Books; and here’s the School Library Journal list of best children and YA audiobooks of 2018.

Reading without Words

Too often, the purpose of reading in school is about grammar, vocabulary acquisition, organization, structure, mechanics, conventions, punctuation, figurative language, imagery, etc, etc, etc . . . There’s always a standard, a clear purpose, a takeaway for students when they read . . . but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

There is another important purpose for reading.

Reading is about stories, about discovering and creating our own identities, about realizing that others share in the same struggles as us. Reading is about being human, and being able to touch something on a page that tells our human experience when we are unable to find the words to tell it ourselves.

Reading is about stories, about discovering and creating our own identities, about realizing that others share in the same struggles as us. Reading is about being human, and being able to touch something that can tell our human experience when we are unable to find the words to tell it ourselves. 

Some of our students haven’t discovered this yet, and the reason is often because of the accessibility and relevance of books. We’ve all struggled with finding texts that are age and level appropriate for some of our students — readers who struggle don’t want to read what they deem to be “baby books” for a variety of reasons that are fair and legitimate. They need books that they can read and books that they want to read.

Recently I’ve discovered that there are some beautiful, poignant, relevant illustrated books that are decidedly not perceived as baby books, and which take a lot of thinking and reading in order to understand. But they are wordless, or at least almost wordless.

While I’m not giving up on teaching words and all of their beauty, I also know that wordless stories have a place in my classroom.

The book I’ve recently fallen in love with is The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It’s a wordless graphic novel, and it tells the story of a person who leaves his family behind in order to create a better life for them all. arrival cover

It’s the kind of story all sorts of people can relate to: Character endures separation, loneliness, and heartache because of hope, optimism, and desperation.

It’s beautifully complex and requires some attention to detail, some hard thinking, and some rereading in order to really understand and analyze it.

I’ve book talked it to several of my classes, and I’ve gotten some puzzled looks when students try to understand how a book can be both complex and wordless.

They struggle to understand how they could find fiction signposts, discover characterization, etc, in a wordless book, that is, until they get the book in their hands.

Students who don’t always have easy access to complex texts have found success with finding the Beers/Probst Notice and Note Fiction Signposts in this complex and detailed story.

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For example, this Again and Again signpost is an easy one to spot – the main character carries a picture of his family as he travels from his home country to his new land, and the photo pops up in many of the frames. It’s significant because students realize quickly that this man’s family is the most important thing to him, which is why he carries the photo everywhere.

Both boys and girls have read this book, and I’ve overheard conversations about what it might be about as they wonder and struggle through their thinking. This is the kind of talk I love to hear.

This morning, I discovered four boys reading choice books on a bench: one was reading this wordless graphic novel, another was reading one of the Harry Potter books for the first time, another was reading The Crossover, a novel written in verse, and the last one was reading a humorous graphic novel. All different forms of books, but all legitimate books that “count.”

The point is, all of these students had texts that were accessible to them. They were curious about their own reading, and were enjoying their books. Their brains were engaged, they were talking to each other about what they were reading, and most importantly, they were fostering a community of reading as well as their own healthy reading lives.

Graphic novels, with or without words, can be excellent bridges between teacher, student, and healthy reading habits. Students can learn valuable reading skills and strategies with all kinds of books – even the “extreme” examples that don’t have words. It’s not a place where I want my students to “live” — but I don’t want my students to “live” in any one genre or form anyway. They should build skills, stretch their brains and habits, find familiar and easier books, and then stretch some more. The wordless book have a place in their learning, and will always have a place in my secondary language arts classroom.

A few wordless/nearly wordless books that are complex and relevant to secondary students:

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • The Marvels by David Selznick
  • Unspoken by Henry Cole

One final idea: It’s a bit like teaching reading strategies with the Pixar short films. My grade sevens practiced finding fiction signposts in the short film Partly Cloudy last week, and they were able to point out signposts even though the movie does not have dialogue.

Studying and reading wordless books and silent films can build confidence and skills in our readers who struggle with more complex texts, and while we can’t ignore their decoding skills, we can also allow them to grapple with the complexities of stories that are developmentally appropriate for their growing identities as readers and human beings.

 

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

What are we going to do?

Attending any professional conference always leaves my brain buzzing with new ideas and a Christmas-morning-esqe excitement about delivering my learning to students.  NCTE was no different–it is a convention of crusaders that feels like the best (only?) staff meeting you never want to end.

And I needed it this year.

This year has been different, difficult at times, as I navigate a new school and new expectations, balancing between very traditional American Literature and AP Literature curriculums with the workshop work I know is impactful for students. Truth be told, I have been more of a good employee than an inspiring educator.  I have made choices that didn’t rock the boat and those choices often cut student voices. When I wrote about not being there, in retrospect, it is because I haven’t been fully committed to workshop this year.  Thus, students haven’t been fully committed to it either.

Chris Emdin, spoken word-educator-scientist,  asked, “Are you a good employee or an educator?

Penny Kittle, workshop Goddess, asked, “What are we going to do?

“Balance” won’t work any more. There is urgency to the work we are doing.  I have to make choices between what builds authentic literacy and what makes me a good employee.

My juniors are leaving for their post-secondary endeavors, majority of them to four years institutions, soon.  The end of their adolescent education is upon them and they face down daunting tasks. During her presentation, Penny shared a graphic featured in 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann 2018) which showcases the urgency of student literacy.

From a survey of college syllabi for freshmen English done by reDesign (2014) shows first year students will encounter:

  • 5,000 pages of reading
  • 75 text-based discussions
  • 20 argumentative or research essays
  • And 90-100 polished essay pages

A semi-stunned “Wow” is what I thought to myself as the sweet sophomore teacher from Texas audibly gasped as the data was shown, then unpacked through Kittle’s high school to college transition.

What am I going to do in relation to how much students read and write in my classroom versus how much they need to read and write to be prepared for the rigors of post-secondary school?  Am I going to be a good employee and assign The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before The Great Gatsby because that is what the curriculum guide says? Am I going to educate or follow?    

As Ms. Kittle discussed, we have to shift our thinking from one of victimization to one of urgent empowerment, from “Welp, what are we going to do?” to “What are we going to do?  What CAN we do?”

So much.

It is not too late to save the year.

I will say no (politely).  I will return to what works, listen to what students want, and make time for what kids need.  I will read with students and write alongside them.  I will use my voice and research to justify what many perceive as an “alternative path” to personalized literacy.  My duty is to get students on the road to being successful after K-12 by giving them the tools, stamina, and skills to navigate 5,000 pages of reading, text-based discussions, and various writing demands.

Chris Emdin defined teaching as being “the art of the remix.”  So come Monday, I am going to remix my approach and re-define literacy in my classroom, and be, first and foremost, an educator.

Maggie Lopez is currently hiking through the arches and right to the edge of cliffs in beautiful Moab, Utah while re-reading 180 Days. She is always grateful for the educators in her life, including the Three Teachers Talk community. You can find her @meg_lopez0.

NCTE: Sparking Hope, Equity, and Voice

Like so many educators who attended the 2018 NCTE conference, I am still reeling from the wealth of information and inspiration provided by some of the brightest and most compassionate people in the world. I listened with awe and determination as strong speakers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Elizabeth Acevedo stressed the importance of what we do as ELA teachers, and I carry with me a renewed sense of urgency about literacy instruction that empowers all students. No – not “empowers” – even that word has been transformed, as I now understand that it’s not my place to give them power; rather, it is my job to help students recognize and harness the power they already possess.1

The universal message of the conference did not so much present new ideas as it did combine them and clarify that we cannot wait any longer to act. We must reach each of our students where they are, provide them with the representation they need and deserve, and encourage them to add their own voices to the world. We have embraced diversity, equity, and representation in a variety of ways, but the time for the best practices to coalesce into purposeful change across schools is at hand.

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My book haul from NCTE 2018 – I can’t wait for my students to read these!

As I walked through the exhibit hall, admittedly searching for free books to take back to my students, I heard two main ideas – to quote Kylene Beers and Bob Probst – “again and again.” By absorbing the voices around me over the four days of the conference, I was able to discern what teachers, who attended a wide variety of sessions, thought. One of the most common ideas expressed was that NCTE presenters were “preaching to the choir.” Of course, this is true to a great extent. Teachers who love learning, who support choice, who engage their students in meaningful instruction, who believe in the power of writing workshop: these are the teachers most likely to attend the conference, and, more specifically, the sessions that explore these ideas. Teachers who believe in the humanities love the young humans we teach, and we will always seek to improve for their benefit and the benefits to society. This is no way diminishes the power of these workshops or their presenters, for they offer the keenest insight and carefully collected research to support best practices in teaching, and though I admittedly enter sessions predisposed to agree with much of what I hear, I always leave with new ideas scrawled in the margins of my notes. Like many others, I always leave feeling renewed, reinvigorated, and inspired, and I wish every ELA teacher could feel this way.

This brings us to the second most common idea expressed throughout the exhibit hall lines: how do we take these ideas back to our schools and inspire those who weren’t at the conference? I heard several teachers – both in sessions and while milling about – who said things like “I wish [so-and-so] from our department could hear this.” The truth is: we all know teachers who need to hear the messages from the conference, and the difficulty lies in how to offer the essence of what we have gleaned in a palatable manner. Some ideas are not well-received by teachers entrenched in established practices, and we must balance the urgency with which shifts need to occur with the tact and professionalism that our well-meaning colleagues deserve. I had the opportunity to speak with Amy Rasmussen about The College Board’s stance on shifting away from a focus on the canon to include more contemporary and diverse texts, and she offered an analogy that I wish all could hear: we don’t expect doctors to ignore research in favor of the practices they personally prefer, and when one of their primary research-based organizations like the American Medical Association or the New England Journal of Medicine offers guidelines, those are adopted as best practices. Can you imagine if they didn’t? We’d still have doctors bleeding us for pneumonia.

So, as I continue to synthesize all I learned at the conference and develop my own lines of inquiry, I leave you with these questions: why don’t we expect all ELA teachers to follow the research and vision of NCTE? Why can’t we confidently return to our campuses as ambassadors of ELA and NCTE and share what we’ve learned with our peers? Will we let the established system and soft bigotry continue to deny true equity to our students, or will we carry the spark of progress back to our campuses? I, for one, plan to stoke the fire.

1 I would love to offer due credit to the speaker who discussed the problematic idea of “empowerment,” but I cannot find the connection in my notes. If you can offer proper attribution, please add it in the comments.

Amber Counts teaches AP English Literature & Composition and Academic Decathlon at Lewisville High School. She believes in the power of choice and promotes thinking at every opportunity. She is married to her high school sweetheart and knows love is what makes the world go around. Someday she will write her story. Follow Amber @mrscounts.

NCTE 2019 Pregame- Gearing up our Action Plan!!!

Why am I so nervous?

The lights and the stage don’t scare me.  The topic of our presentation is something I’ve lived, day in and day out, for a few years now.  The faces in the crowd, the silence begging to be filled, the words I’ve rehearsed over and over…none of that scares me.

Is it because I want so badly for ears to hear our message? Is it because I’ve been afforded this massively important opportunity to share this message?

Late this afternoon, at the NCTE Conference, I will share the stage with some very important teachers.  These women, like me, believe that inclusivity is something that we must address intentionally.

I’ll spend every second of my allotted time sharing how I’m moving my classroom library from something that reflects traditional, mainstream texts to one that is more inclusive.  One that invites students to read books that give them a better opportunity to see themselves on the pages and a better opportunity to see themselves in this world.

Please join us this afternoon at 4:15 in 361 C.

NCTE 2018- shared slides

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