Category Archives: Strategies to Add Some Zip

No More American Dream Essays, Please.

Qualifier for this post: It is not about RWW per se. Through my own fault, my AP Language & Comp students rarely have any choice about what they read and write (next year. sigh.) But I think what I describe in this post could be adapted pretty easily for the RWW classroom.

I’m teaching The Great Gatsby for the 17th time. Over the years, I’ve gone the route of color imagery analysis, character analysis, stylistic analysis, and yes, the novel’s commentary on the American Dream. The latter option, this year, fills me with nothing but dread for political reasons I probably don’t have to explain to anyone reading this blog. But my dread is also based in an ongoing (and growing) sense of complex arguments becoming grossly oversimplified: We either “Like” something, or we “Unfollow” it. Ceither-or-fallacy-with-examplesharacters are either “normal” (Nick), or they are psychopaths (George Wilson). You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists. Me Tarzan, You Jane.

Most ideas or issues are more complicated than simply “either” one thing “or” another. Obv, right? My AP students are learning the importance of making complex meaning from what they read and expressing their understanding of an issue in complex ways by qualifying their own or their understanding of others’ arguments. To that end, I’d like to recommend the process of “iterative collaging,” which I learned about at NCTE last fall from a session given by Andrea Avery, Nishta Mehra, and Courtney Rath.

As we’re reading, we’re discussing themes of capitalism and class structure, freedom and collage_stage1oppression, and the omnipresent concept of the American Dream. We’ve examined images from media as well as the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates surrounding these issues. Right now, ideas are plentiful and scattered. Ultimately, though, by arranging these images and passages in certain ways, students will compose a visual argument about the interaction of these issues in the America they know. But here’s the cool part — and the iterative part: Using some magic in the form of repositionable glue sticks (yes, those are a thing — see photo!), students can arrange and rearrange the items in their collage to explore the ways various juxtapositions can reveal new understandings.  AND — Maguire hopes — discover complex meanings beyond the reductive arguments that plague so much of our current discourse.

We’re in the early stages of this work — hence, the in-progress photo — but I will surely let you know how it goes. Has anyone out there ever used collage for argument (or, any other fun reason)?

Reading on a Snowy Monday and Canada Reads

We had a snow day last Monday. For those of you that know anything about Vancouver, Canada and the surrounding suburbs, a snow day is incredibly rare. I also know that those of you who live in more wintery climates may have been inclined to laugh at the amount of snow that constituted a snow day as I am sure it would have been considered a light dusting in many other areas of the world. In British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, however, a dumping of snow is a rare event and a school closure due to snow an even rarer event.

For my Monday snow day, I decided to take advantage of the unanticipated day off to do some reading. There is something to be said about being able to immerse yourself in a book and read it cover to cover in one sitting as snow softly falls outside your window.

marrow thievesThe book I ended up reading was The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, which is a powerful modern dystopian novel where the world has nearly been destroyed by climate change. The majority of the people who have survived the natural disasters that comes with climate change have lost the ability to dream with the exception of the indigenous people of North America who can still dream. Because of this, the indigenous people of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow because their bone marrow carries the key to recovering the ability to dream.

I picked up this book on that snowy Monday because I wanted the time to read it more closely. I had actually first encountered the book a few years ago when it was part of the CBC Canada Reads competition and have since added it to the rotation in my dystopian literature circle unit. Canada Reads is a yearly competition where several Canadian novels are nominated (each year the nominated books all centre around a theme). The Canada Reads website describes the competition as being like a “literary survivor” where each book is read and championed by a Canadian celebrity. Each week the champion of each book will debate the merits of their book and one book a week is voted off until the remaining book is declared champion.

While I have followed Canada Reads for many years, a few years ago I introduced it to my Honours English 11 class and had the students participate in their own version of Canada Reads. In groups, they each choose one of the Canada Reads novels to champion and they participate in our own “literary survivor” in class at the same time as the Canadian celebrities. Using the “literary survivor” model in my class has had a huge impact on my students. They have been introduced to some great Canadian reads, but have also become excited and analytical readers of their novels as they are debating for the survival of their chosen book each week. They love to see how their arguments stand up to the celebrity arguments (and I find my students’ arguments are often much better than the celebrity ones) and to see if the book that survives the longest in our class is the same one that survives in the Canada Reads competition. At the end of the class competition, the students have closely read a novel, analyzed it and debated it without feeling like they have done any work at all.

Pam McMartin is English department head and Senior School teacher librarian at a school in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. She is currently thawing out after our short burst of unusual winter weather and is looking forward to the return of more mild temperatures.

Follow her on twitter @psmcmartin

Enhancing Student Writing: Framing Editing as Choice

I am adding to the trend on the blog this week:  Editing!

I was inspired to re-read Everyday Editing and Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson after Charles wrote about inviting students to notice, note, and imitate last month and earlier this week.  His philosophy influenced what I wanted my students to take away from crafting their final narrative piece–choice.  Anderson argues that telling students what or how to edit isn’t always helpful as it may not be internalized–students may seek a check-list for what to edit versus considering choices and playing with language as a writer. Anderson explains, “We want students to make choices and decisions that create meaning. Not because they’re afraid of making an error. Not because of crapshoot-fifty-fifty chances, but because they are thinking.  We want them to have ways to reason through what’s in front of them, what they see, what it sounds like looks like, means. A thought process” (10). All writing starts with merely getting your ideas out, but revision and editing happen when a writer begins to examine the choices they are or are not making. Choice is ownership in writing and far more rigorous than editing from a checklist.

In American Literature, we restarted our school year with a focus on narrative–we dug back into choice reading and ran through numerous laps of narrative writing, studying the choices authors made in mentor texts and our choice novels. Based on the narratives we had been studying together, students came up with a running list of moves we referenced as we wrote, revised, and conferenced. These core components, which students deemed essential moves of storytelling, formed what their final narrative would be assessed on:

  • Interesting Structure of Scenes within a Larger Story
  • Dialogue or Internal Thinking to Reveal Character
  • Dynamic Shift or Growth that Illustrates a “So What?”
  • Writer’s Craft Language that Shows vs. Tells
  • Variety of Sentence Structure and Word Variety

For me, one of the most challenging practices to get my students in the habit of is revisiting and re-crafting their writing. We live in an instant society which I believe programs students to complete tasks versus sit and whittle away or tinker with their thinking. Hence, “Enhancement Rotations” were born (I didn’t want to call the rotations “edits,” but I have yet to come up with a better name, suggestions?). I asked students to bring in what they thought was their final draft–little did they know they would be producing a “new” final draft! My goal was for students to notice the impactful choices they had already made, but to stretch themselves to make more. To not edit grammar errors, but to re-craft with intention.

In summary, Enhancement Rotations consist of student drafts circulating the classroom and their peer experts suggesting ways to re-craft the outlined aspects of the writing assignment or genre (we used the list above), while also complimenting the elements present in the draft already. Students decide what component they want to be an expert on from our list, then spend the time suggesting and complimenting that element only. Once the draft has visited a group of expert Enhancers, the draft rotates to the next group. Eventually, all selections rotate to different experts and gain not only suggestions and perspective but a holistic, paper-based conference.

Here are my suggested steps in more detail:

  1. After students have worked the writing process, have them print at least two copies of their piece.  Having more drafts than students allows the Enhancers to move through the drafts at their own pace because no one is waiting on them to finish to have a piece to edit. I prefer students have hard copies of their piece without names.
  2. Divide your “look fors,” essential elements, rubric, etc. into sections or chunks where students can be the peer experts–invite students to select what aspect they feel confident in providing advice and suggestions about. Organize one element at one station of desks or tables.  I suggest color coding each element, as it helps Enhancers know what draft has already been to their station. Asking students to narrow their focus helps them move through more of their peers’ drafts, thus seeing even more samples of writing and voice, especially of peers they did not conference with or may not often select as a partner.
  3. Let the editing begin!  Similar student experts sit together and use the same color marker or pen to suggest directly on their peers’ drafts (I do ask that students write their name and focus at the bottom of the draft for Step 4). Before starting, we reviewed each key move of storytelling and recalled mentor texts.
  4. Towards the end of class, students retrieve their drafts and silently reviewed the suggestions and considerations for a few minutes.  The final 10 minutes are for conferencing with one another about the feedback, further questions, and of course, compliments.  I then charge students with creating yet another draft!

Paola’s draft when from a removed retelling to showing, including a fake iMessage text feature from the suggestion of a peer.

Abbey expanding on her feelings and emotions, moving her draft from a retelling a common experience to one that was more personal, adding depth to the experience and purpose.

Inviting writers to notice and note the choices their peers are making serve to strengthen their writing, too, as we know more exposure leads to more thinking and understanding. My writers are beginning to notice the craft and creativity writing offers. Additionally, sharing writing and conferences continues to build the community of writers, and revisers, we are striving to become.

Maggie Lopez teaches American Literature and AP Literature in Salt Lake City, UT. She started reading Educated on her snow day last week, the first in 30 years, alongside Everyday Editing. You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

Using Scrum in the Classroom

As we shift many of our educational practices towards more inquiry focused learning, we must also shift the skills that we focus on in our classrooms. In many of my classes, I have students engage in long term learning experiences that emphasize important skills including communication and collaboration. One issue I have consistently come across, however, is that students often lack the project management skills required to be successful in this type of learning and that we often launch them into assignments that require planning both their task and their time without providing them with the tools the need to be successful. How many times have we given students “a work block” and set them free only to be frustrated by how poorly many of them use their time?

One of the classes I teach is AP Capstone Seminar. In this class, as part of their AP exam score, students are placed in teams where they have to collaboratively produce a problem/solution style research presentation. Because this is considered part of their assessment for their AP exam score, the CollegeBoard requires that I as their teacher am not allowed to provide them with assistance (similar to if they were writing a sit-down exam).  It quickly became apparent to me that for my students to be successful with this collaborative project in their live assessment, I would need to provide them with strategies to help structure their time and that is when I stumbled across Scrum.

Scrum is a technique that has been used in schools in the Netherlands and has been adopted by many schools world wide. It is a style of project management that originated in the computer design world and that has been adapted to help support students manage long term learning tasks.

When using Scrum with my class, I help guide them through the following process:

1.) Set the end term goal for the project – what is the final product you are trying to produce, or what is your final goal? What date must this be finished by?

2.) Break this final goal down into shorter goals that we call sprint goals – essentially what are the smaller tasks that first must be accomplished in order to succeed in the end goal? By what date must be finish the sprint goals in order to achieve our end goal?

3.) Once students have set their end goal and their sprint goals, they are then asked to create their “flap board”. This flap board is where they will break their sprint goals down into the individual tasks they need to complete to reach their sprint goals, they will assign that task to members of the group, and they will track the progress the group has made on the task.

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The flap board for one of my AP Capstone student groups on the first day.

A flap board can consist of many elements depending on the task, but I have simplified it into the following categories for my students:

1.) Task Backlog: This is where students brainstorm all of the tasks that must be completed in order for them to achieve their sprint goal. These tasks are always written on sticky notes so they can be moved. If a task is in the Backlog area, it has not yet been started. This helps students visualize the volume of work they need to complete.

2.)Week Column: Students divide this section into the number of weeks (or classes) they have to complete the task. This allows them to visualize the amount of time they have to complete their work.

3.) “To Do”, “In Progress”, “Done” columns: these columns are where students track their progress on a task. When they are ready to start on a task from the Task Backlog, they move it to the “To Do” Column and place a coloured sticky note on the task indicating which student will be responsible for the task. Once the student has actually started the task, the move it to the “In Progress” column and when they have completed it, they move it to the “Done” Column. We usually have to come to an agreement within the groups as to what they would constitute as “Done”.

4.) Impediment Backlog: This section of the flap board is for when students hit a roadblock that impedes their progress. For example, a common impediment in my AP Capstone class is that the student has started to research their topic and has realized there are few reliable sources on their topic. If this is the case, they move the task to the Impediment Backlog section.

The Scrum Process:

At the start of each class where students have a “work block”, each group meets with their flap board and takes stock of their tasks. We call this meeting a Scrum and a Scrum should take no more than 5-8 minutes. In this Scrum, students move any of their tasks that they have completed before the class into the “Done” column and then set their goals for the class period. This may involve moving tasks out of the Task Backlog into the “To Do” Column, or moving tasks from the “To Do Column” to the “In Progress” column. As well, if any tasks have been moved to the Task Impediment section, this is the time to address the problem and to come up with an action plan. In these five minutes, students are taking stock of their progress and setting goals for tasks to be completed during this class period. At the end of each work block class, students will hold another 5-8 minute Scrum where they take stock of the progress they made in class, move tasks to the appropriate column, and set their goals for the next class.

A class Scrum is an easy and quick process, but it has revolutionized the way my students accomplish collaborative tasks that require long term planning. When students take five minutes at the start of the class to set their goals for the block, they are more productive and when they take the time to chunk a larger task down into smaller pieces in a guided manner, they are learning how to manage projects, how to collaborate, and how to problem solve to achieve their goals.

For more information on using Scrum in the classroom watch this, video showing it in action.

For more ideas on how to teach the specific skills required for collaboration, check out this excellent post.

Pam McMartin is a Senior English Teacher, English Department Head, and Senior Teacher Librarian in Tsawwassen, British Columbia. She is always looking for ways to apply the project management techniques she tries to share with her student to her own life in order to help manage the chaos. So far, this has been a work in progress. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @psmcmartin.

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

“A Sea of Talk”

“Writing floats on a sea of talk.” – James Britton.

ocean waves

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

If you’re an avid 3TT reader, I’m sure that’s not the first time you’ve read that phrase. In fact, Amy mentioned it here just a few short days ago, and we’ve definitely discussed how to get students to talk to each other on this website before. For me, I didn’t hear of James Britton or this idea of a “sea of talk” until I joined my local Writing Project. (As always, I can not speak highly enough of how the Middle Tennessee Writing Project changed the trajectory of my career and the practices within my classroom. If you aren’t involved with your local Writing Project, I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek out those groups and immerse yourself into that community.)

Shameless plug for WP over… I found myself for two weeks straight during my Writing Project ISI starting each day with a little bit of writing, then some variation of turn and talk before returning to our writing. That process – write, share, write some more, share some more, write some more – was presented to us in multiple ways over that two weeks but all of those activities at their core were some variation of that process. And it’s one I’ve taken to heart.

Of course, our ideas are stronger after we spend some time with them in conversation, after we hear feedback from our peers. Of course, just the simple act of speaking out loud is sometimes  enough to jumpstart an idea or solve a problem. In the programming world, this process is called Rubber-ducking. Of course, it would be ridiculous to assume that our students should only ever write in isolation when they have so much to say and share. So, it’s our responsibility to just get out of the way in the classroom and allow that “sea of talk” to rise and fall, ebb and flow. A former sage on the stage teacher, I had to realize that my voice alone wasn’t enough to create a “sea.”

The latest iteration of this rising and falling in my class literally involves rising. In doing some research on how to make argumentation a more natural and low-stakes part of the classroom, I stumbled upon Dave Stuart Jr.’s blog where he discusses Pop-up Debates. I fell into a deep rabbit hole of links upon links, occasionally shouting at the dog, “This is great!” and “Oh, man! This is going to be good.” B was just as enthused as I was. He’s supportive like that.

The Pop-up Debate works like this: Explain the concept of the pop-up shop and relate it to the pop-up debate. Encourage everyone to participate. Students command the floor by ‘popping-up’ at their desks and beginning to speak. If multiple people pop-up, students politely yield the floor. There are no declared winners because everyone wins when the conversation is lively and intelligent. Encourage students to debate all sides – nothing is so boring as a circle of agreement and repetition.

And that’s it. It’s a simple practice, highly adaptable and extremely engaging.

For our first pop-up, I asked students to respond to a question about honor codes that I pulled from an old AP Language synthesis prompt. They wrote on their own for about ten minutes before test-running their ideas with a partner. Then, they popped for about 17 minutes. I found it fascinating to hear how their conversation grew and moved and evolved as they examined new facets of the conversation. Students who are reluctant to raise their hands stepped up to discuss with no prompting from me at all. Students questioned their peers’ assumptions, asked clarifying questions, raised new points, offered counterarguments, moved from specific evidence to social implications, made their points passionately. In short, as a class, we practiced several of the skills required for good writing collectively in a very low-stakes environment.

Then, we turned back to our notebooks and wrote again before debriefing as a class about how the conversation changed or added to their thinking. Simple and powerful.

Pop-ups can easily be used as a means to practice all manner of writing skills while also working on speaking skills. For example, for our second pop-up, we discussed the extent to which the study of philosophy was useful in modern society. Here, we focused on using accountable talk at the beginning of statements to show relationships between ideas – a skill we’re practicing in other ways for the synthesis portion of the AP exam. This week, when we pop-up, students will track the flow of the conversation in their WNs, and we’ll use this to jumpstart mini-lessons on counterarguments.

I hope that this method is one that you can take to your classroom and use right away. I’m always interested in how others keep that “sea” churning in their classrooms. Please share in the comments or on Twitter.

Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. She is reading Mary Oliver for the first time and considering what being a “bride married to amazement…[a] bridegroom, taking the world into my arms” will look like for herself. She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.

 

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!

 

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