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Category Archives: Books

Trigger Warning – Whole Class Novels

Ideas don’t sneak up on me. They hit me from just beyond my peripheral vision like a swift backhand to the kneecap. I can’t possibly go on as I had been only moments before. The ideas explode onto my consciousness, and then my to-do list, and then leap onto my calendar, and then to most of my waking moments until I actually do something about them, or surgically remove them somehow from my obsessive brain.

Translation: I had been happily proceeding about my merry workshop way with the start of the second semester, until this weekend when I met Kate Roberts from The Educator Collaborative via her recent blog post “The Healthy Skeptic.”

And now I can’t stop thinking about whole class novels. Or the brilliance of Kate Roberts. Or whole class novels. Or nostalgically gazing in the rearview mirror of my career at some whole class novels.

However, it would be disingenuous of me to paint my work with whole class novels, even The Scarlet Letter, with rose-colored glasses (Sorry. Hester has enough to deal with. I shouldn’t try to make this punny). Self-reflection and engaging students in honest dialogue, often reveals that my students, like most students, were experts in the art of fake reading. We were experiencing texts together, in many cases for far too many weeks at a stretch, but few were reading.

So while the merit of the texts in and of themselves might be harder to shake, it was easy to admit that the value to my students was relatively low in comparison to the amount of time we took, form writing we constructed, and smiling/nodding (on a good day) that was had.

I wasn’t teaching the readers, that’s for certain. And if students aren’t reading, I’m not really teaching reading either. We’re unnaturally drawing out the process for avid readers at best, turning young people off to or supporting preexisting negative feelings about reading at worst, and going through the motions far more often than our nation’s tenuous relationship with literacy can afford.

Yesterday, I found myself in a nearby district sitting around a huge conference table with two administrators, one reading specialist, and a dozen or so high school English teachers. I had been asked to come in and talk about Franklin’s experiences with high school workshop as this department weighs their options in moving forward with balanced literacy, daily practice, and all the options to start parting ways with traditional, and explore the unknown. This group of educators had incredible questions, a healthy amount of skepticism I think, and most importantly, a sincere desire to do right by their students.

We talked a lot about the nonnegotiables of workshop, considerations when structuring daily lessons, the difference between engagement and compliance, fake reading, assessment, classroom libraries, and the notion that teaching students to be English teachers leaves far too many students on the sidelines, nodding along or possibly disengaging from reading once and for all.

Mostly we talked about control. How hard it is to let go. How necessary it is to work to balance the power in your classroom. How creating a “reading love fest” as one cross-armed gentleman yesterday suggested, really is the best way I have found to get kids seriously, joyously, consistently reading. Is it a personal savior for every single kid? Sadly, no. Does it solve some problems and create countless more, absolutely. But here is the bottom line in my book: Letting go of some control to hand it over responsibly to the students whose education we are entrusted to support is one giant step toward getting our students to value that education that so many take for granted, can’t afford to really embrace, or think they don’t need for one societal reason or another.

Letting go of some control and embracing the very specific needs of the students can come in many forms. Right now, I’m thinking about how it might impact the selection of a whole class novel.

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This needs to look different and it must be intentional in every class, and my estimation of what my students need is only going to take me so far. Selection of a whole class text must serve the purposes of addressing the specific needs of the students in front of me.

My ninth grade teachers know, from speaking directly with their students, that most read, but don’t necessarily challenge themselves. Additionally, many have had longer texts read to them (excellent!) but have rarely finished a longer piece independently (not good!). In this case, the team feels that starting the year with a pointedly chosen whole class text is needed to really help students see what they can be looking for, thinking toward, and discovering when they read on their own. Many simply don’t have that skill developed deeply enough yet, to really do the type of critical thinking we’re asking them to do. And if that’s the case, the changes that their skills will develop independently are markedly lessened.

At the upper levels, I now have students who have been working in the workshop for over a year. As evidenced by students with books across campus, there is more reading happening now than in years past. However, the push toward challenge is spotty and in some cases, the real depth of understanding when challenge is pursued seems even spottier. In this case, our AP Language classes are considering using Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates to not only tackle some recent unrest in our own school community but to work carefully together to analyze author craft across the main ideas of this dynamic text.

The key is to choose with purpose. To invite student input into that choice. To spend a reasonable amount of time working with the text (3-4 weeks is a general recommendation based on my recent experience and the advice of those far more seasoned than I). To have student-centered goals in mind. To celebrate the text without covering every inch of it, and possibly killing the book AND a student’s hope of becoming a reader in the process.

Our students deserve what our careful analysis of their needs would suggest we best use our limited class time for. The unifying study of a text can be just such an activity. Your professionalism, the unique make-up of your classroom, and the social events/factors that should drive national discourse – these are some of the most important factors in selecting any curriculum; however, the goal should always be the same. We want our students to value the power that comes with better understanding the human experience. Powerful books can take us there. Let’s read them together.


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her personal mission statement is a work in progress but needs to involve equal parts readers, writers, thinkers, believers, and dreamers. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum. 

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A Reading Conference with Tom Romano

I am fortunate to be on friendly-emailing terms with the great Tom Romano, from whom I’ve learned much about good writing instruction, multigenre, and student voice.

So when I received an email from him the other day, asking for book recommendations, I laughed aloud. My most excellent writing mentor, asking me what to read next?

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I admit, I balked a little at first. This was like having Tiger Woods ask you what golf club to try next. But then, I fell back on my tried-and-true reading conference strategies, which I’ve used countless times over the years with reluctant and prolific readers alike.

As with any student, I had much of what I needed in order to give a good recommendation between the request itself and my background knowledge of Romano. When students need help finding something to read, we’ll often meet at the bookshelf. As they stare blankly at the wall of books, one of the first questions I ask is:

“What are you in the mood to read?”

Often, students can give me a feeling–something fun, lighthearted, serious, or challenging–or a genre–romance, nonfiction, adventure. It’s even better when they can give me specific titles that relate to their preferences. I usually glean these titles by asking:

“What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

In his request, Romano gave me all the information I needed–he wanted something literary, something like The Nightingale (which I’d read after Lisa recommended it to me), Atonement, or All the Light We Cannot See. He’d also answered another question I usually ask readers:

“What’s your reading plan?”

Knowing where a student will be reading this book–at work in short spurts, at home in long stretches, or on a crowded bus on the way to an athletic event–impacts my recommendation as well. Here, Romano told me he’d be reading for long, uninterrupted stretches of time in airports, so I knew I could suggest something all-consuming.

So, I stuck with my usual formula:

I recommended three titles.

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Exit West is a title I’ve heard a great deal about and would love to read, but haven’t gotten to yet; The Secret History is an amazing hidden gem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt that I read about 15 years ago; and A Man Called Ove is a new viral title that made me sob hard over Girl Scout cookies and coffee as I finished reading it. My three recommendations usually consist of something old, something new, and something I haven’t read yet.

I wrapped up my pitch as I always do, with a clincher:

A promise of what the book will do for the reader.

A week went by, and last night at 11 pm, I received another email from Romano:

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“Loved Ove.”

A successful end to a successful reading conference, if you ask me…but of course, like any other conversation about books, I couldn’t let it end there. I just had to throw in one more recommendation, which I always do for my students when they return a book:

“If you liked that book, you should try ______________.”

This quick exchange of emails, like so many off-the-cuff conversations we have with students, was packed full of powerful data about a reader’s interests and abilities; a teacher’s knowledge of texts and titles, and most importantly, the transaction between the two parties–a shared endeavor to find a just-right book at just the right time.

All our words are imbued with purpose and power when we are discussing literacy. Reading conferences don’t need to be formal, sit-down conversations all the time. They have just as much weight when they’re held standing at the bookshelf, passing in the hallway, or from afar via email. This reading conference with Tom Romano reminds me: never take any of our talk about books for granted.


Do you have a what-to-read conference “formula?” What other titles might you recommend to Tom and me? Please share in the comments!

Shana Karnes is eagerly awaiting the end of flu season so she can go back to work without worrying about her two tiny daughters getting sick…again. When her family is actually healthy, she teaches preservice educators at West Virginia University, goes for long runs while listening to even longer audiobooks, and tweets about reading, writing, and school at @litreader.

And The Winner Is…

Greetings to you from the last day of school (Help me. Please, someone send help.), first (or second, you lucky devil) day of Winter Break, or the day you may be wearing two different color shoes. shoes

All of us here at Three Teachers Talk wish you the merriest of holidays, most enjoyable of breaks from school, and a fun, festive, and largely literary 2018. May the time you have with family and friends the next few days recharge your spirit, soul, and heart.

Leave a comment below with what you’ll be reading in the coming days! My to read list is four miles long, but a good recommendation is hard to pass up!

I am finally savoring the tragic beauty of Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days. It’s gorgeous, heart-breaking, and so cleverly phrased that I can’t wait to curl up and fly through the rest.

We are also tickled with holiday spirit to announce the winner of our signed copy of Tom Newkirk’s Minds Made For Stories!

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Derek Rowley – Maplewood Richmond Heights High School, St. Louis, MO

Congratulations, Derek! Thank you SO much for reading, sharing, and learning along with us.

Look for another giveaway in the coming weeks: Tom Newkirk’s Embarrassment is a must read on “the true enemy of learning – embarrassment.” Who will the lucky winner be?

Heartfelt wishes to you and yours for a joyous, and well deserved, break. See you in 2018!

 

The best books I read in 2017 – Guest Post by Adam Glasglow

I’ve been begging Adam to write a post for us since I met him at a training in CCISD just Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)over a year ago. I knew then he was not only a fantastic teacher but an accomplished writer. Last summer when we met again, Adam shared with me a couple of book titles I read and loved, so when I got this post from him this week, my heart did a wee flip.

As you can see, this is not a true guest post. It’s a re-blog of Adam’s Medium site. I’m claiming it here. I read A LOT, but I’ve only heard of one book on Adam’s list. Thank goodness it’s almost winter break — I’ve got more reading to do.

Take a look. Then, please leave a comment and add the titles of the best books you read in 2017.

The best books I read in 2017 – Adam Glasgow – Medium

 

Adam Glasgow spends weekdays spreading a love of reading and writing with his 10th grade students. On evenings and weekends he enjoys reading, writing, watching movies, learning about wine, roasting his own coffee, trying to get better at disc golf, and hunting for new obsessions. He lives with his beautiful wife in the Houston area along with their two cats, one of which used to live in a dumpster, and another named after a crazed murderer from a Stephen King novel.

Book Giveaway!

‘Tis the season to give gifts, yes?

Well, in the spirit of our upcoming days off from school, Three Teachers would like to spread a little holiday cheer. img_8347

After the honor of presenting with the incomparable Tom Newkirk at #NCTE17, we are giving away a signed copy of his incredible book, Minds Made for Stories.

There are five ways to enter the giveaway:

    • In the comments section of this page, leave your name, school name, grade level(s) taught, and your plans to keep students reading over the holiday break. 
    • Using the hashtag #3TTbookspost via Twitter a picture of what you plan to read before 2017 comes to an end. 
    • Like our Facebook page, then post to the page your ideas for incorporating narratives into your classroom beyond a traditional narrative writing unit. 
    • Subscribe to 3TTT. That’s it. Simple, yes? ☺️
    • Share this post via email with someone who you think should subscribe to 3TTT too! Invite them to join the fun. Copy me on the email at Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

Feel free to enter as many times as you’d like!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Three Teachers Talk readers–for being with us on our teaching-writing journey every day! Happy Holidays!

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On Poetry: A Guest Post by Charles Moore

PoetryQuote4_zpsa4587647.jpgI write a poem on my white board every day.  Students, teachers, and administrators can see it. It’s a practice I started sometime after the hurricane when I realized how much my students were reading poetry books as their self-selected reading and I thought maybe the kids and I could use another way to connect to language. 

Recently, in a response email to a recent blog post submission, Amy challenged me to write about the poetry that I briefly mentioned in “Part II. Continuing the Crusade for My Readers.”  She called on me to elaborate on the authors that I use in my “Poem of the Day” selections and why I mentioned those in particular.  This took some reflection because an obvious answer didn’t leap fully formed from my head. I think there are several reasons: 

It’s what the kids are reading. So many of the girls in my classes read “Milk and Honey” and Rupi Kaur’s more recent book of poems, “The Sun and her Flowers.” They buy the books themselves and a few weeks ago, members of our dance squad feverishly passed my poetry books around.  Many of those girls don’t even have me as their teacher. They take pictures of the entries that speak to them and re-read when they think they’ve missed something or they want to experience those feelings over again. 

This style of poetry appeals to me.  I like it.  I like to read the poems and consider my own experiences and feelings.  Maybe I’m entering my emotional teenage girl phase, but sometimes these speak to me as strongly as they speak to the kids. 

Like everyone, time is precious for me.  My schedule is particularly tight with my football periods and no real time to plan or collaborate with my teaching peers during the school day.  Like everyone else, I find time when I can and when I’m working on my lesson plans, I make sure that I’ve selected, ahead of time, the poem for each day.  Choosing poems is easy. I try to pick poems that might be meaningful to 12th graders and not too long that I can’t write them on the board.  I might find these poems in the poetry books I’ve already mentioned or even on Instagram.  I have to dig a little, but #poetry produces gold often enough. I recently purchased a compilation of the poetry of Langston Hughes and I have books by other poets on the shelf behind my desk.  My wife even purchased a book of poetry for my classroom when one of her co-workers recommended it.  

 Another place I can reach for poetry is into myself.  I can take what I see and mimic it.  Structure is easy to replicate, but the themes are more difficult. The “notes” app on my phone is full of little thoughts and lines and poems.

 I guess the natural question is, “What do you do with the poetry?” The answer: it depends.  Sometimes the themes of the poems tie into the themes that we see in our reading selections.  Other times, we use the poems to jump-start a quick write.  Most days, we take a second to look at the poem on the board, and move on.

No matter what, I can say that I give my students a window through which to view poetry every single day, and that, I think, is an important opportunity for them and for me. 

A list of resources I’ve pulled from recently: 

  •  Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur 
  • The Sun and her Flowers – Rupi Kaur 
  • Born to Love, Cursed to Feel – Samantha King 
  • A Beautiful Composition of Broken – r.h.sin 
  • Identical – Ellen Hopkins 
  • The Princess Saves Herself in this One – Amanda Lovelace 
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes – Edited by Arnold Rampersad 
  • How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times – Forward by Elizabeth Alexander 

Charles Moore teaches Senior English, coaches JV soccer and shuttles his 10 year old soccer playing son across town 2 days a week. Follow Charles on Twitter at @ctcoach.

“Did you know Gucci has a book?” I do now.

“Hey, Miss, did you know Gucci has a book? I want to read it.”

“Really? You are telling me you actually want to read book?”

“Yeah, but only that one.”

I go to my computer, click on Amazon, and look for a new book by Gucci. I find:

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These cannot be the books Daniel is talking about. I know this kid. He was in my junior English class last year — part of the class with the tissue issue, and now I had him as a senior.

“How do you know Gucci has a book?” I asked.

“I saw it on his Instagram,” Daniel said, showing me his phone.

Dear Reader, you are ahead of me on this, aren’t you?

I admit to being on the edge of old. I had no idea before this conversation with this student that his Gucci was not handbags and luxury leather goods. Because Daniel tends to mumble, it took me a while to figure out he was referring to Gucci Mane.

Daniel’s favorite rapper had a new book.

So I bought it.

When I first met Daniel, we had trouble. He sat in the back of the room, fake reading, sleeping, tossing pencils, goofing off so others laughed. I moved him to the front, and he slid low in his chair and sulked. Every day. And every day when I conferred with readers, I leaned over Daniel’s shoulder and asked what I could do to help him want to be a part of my class.

Eventually, he responded. He told me he’d read Gary Soto’s books in 10th grade. I wasn’t sure I could believe him, fake-reading tough guy and all, but I passed him the two Soto books I have in my library. He read them both.

Then, he started reading Matt de la Pena’s books. Ball Don’t Lie took Daniel a long time to get through, but he finished it and started Mexican Whiteboy. I’m pretty sure he read four books that semester — more than he’d ever read in his 16 years.

In conferences I asked Daniel about his life outside of school. He told me he wanted to work on cars like his brother and that he took the bus to the career center after my class every day, so he could take courses in auto mechanics. Based on our conversations, I do not think another general ed teacher had ever talked to this young man about what mattered to him:  cars.

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Source: Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses On Achievement. Routledge.

In education, we hear about the importance of building relationships a lot, and my experience with Daniel is a testament to the power of taking the time to get to know a student. Because he knew I cared, Daniel started to care about his English class. He began asking for help and coming to tutorials. He started showing up in spirit and not just as a warm body slumped in a chair. He felt like he belonged.

Did Daniel excel? Not exactly. But he passed, which was something a bit surprising to both of us after his I’m-too-cool-for-school-to-do-anything rocky start.

Flash forward to this year. I moved to senior English, and Daniel got his original schedule changed so he could be in my class. He walked in my room the first day with the same too-cool attitude. (Appearances are everything, and I know this game.) Again, I gently started conversations.

When Daniel scored an A on his first essay, he pretty much called me a liar. On his

Reading Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Reading Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

next essay, he told me he stayed up all night so his brother could help him, so he wouldn’t show up to class empty handed. When we did a project on careers, and he presented to the class, Daniel spoke with confidence and detail about the field of auto mechanics. He’s read at least two books this fall and a lot of articles in The Wall Street Journal. This past Friday he came to tutorials for an hour, so I could review what he needed to do to pass his last state exam so he can graduate this spring. I don’t know if he will, but I sure hope so.

 

There are thousands of young men like Daniel in our schools. I wonder if teachers have the time, resources, and energy to give them the attention they need. There are 28 students in Daniel’s class this year. There were 32 in his class last fall.

There is one of me.

I cannot help but think of the famous starfish story. You know the one that ends with “I made a difference to that one.” I know I’ve made a difference to Daniel. I still call him a punk. He still mumbles when he talks to me. But he knows I like him. I really like him. And he even let me interview him, so you can like him, too. (The smile at the end is the best part.)

Choice matters! If you are reading this post, you probably already believe that as much as I do. I hope you do. Daniel’s story is not unique. We make a difference to many young people just like him when we open spaces for talk, engage in real conversations about what matters to them, and allow for self-selected reading in our instruction.

I would love to hear the stories of your Daniels. Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP English Language at a large senior high school in North Texas. She spends a ton of money on books with the hope of helping every child develop as a reader. And while she does not listen to rap, she does learn a lot from those who do. Follow her @amyrass 

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