Category Archives: Student Projects

Remembering How Good Readers Read – Guest Post by Brandon Wasemiller

Happy New Year, Three Teachers Talk! We hope your new year is off to a magnificent start. Hot off the presses from Franklin High School, my colleague Brandon Wasemiller writes about challenging our toughest students to value their voices and embrace the opportunities that reading can hold in their lives and their academic experiences with participation in The Global Read Aloud. 


We often talk about sparking the love of reading in our students. It is our daily, yearly, and career-defining struggle. Over the past few weeks, I tried something new because I was really struggling with a Tier II Intervention class (A class I have taught in the past but was reassigned to this year). I was giving book talks, getting to know the students, helping them with their books, teaching them how to be readers; but nothing was sticking. Most of them didn’t even try.   

It wasn’t until the second week of class that I came to a realization through a reading engagement survey, a pre-assessment, and a set of conferences. It was an idea that slapped me across the face and helped me guide the class. They’ve been nonreaders for so long that they have forgotten what it is to BE a reader.I have to re-teach these kids how to read.

And with that, I was off.

A fellow teacher, collaborator, and 3TT All-Star told me about a great project–The Global Read Aloud. A way for teachers and students in different classrooms (and most of the time different states) to collaborate and talk about the same book at the same time. So what was the chosen book? A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

(Listen, quick aside here,  but if you haven’t read A Monster Calls yet, what are you even doing?)

And so we began reading A Monster Calls. I tried to think of as many ways as possible to teach this book and make it fun and interesting. I started teaching them about active reading and about thinking while reading. I modeled for them how I read, and I had them track questions and comments throughout, but honestly, I felt like I was spinning my tires.

Then, one day, I pulled out the good ole Audible app and I played the audiobook. The chapters (The Wildness of Stories”, “The First Tale”, and “The Rest of the First Tale”) all feature two distinct characters. Conor, a young boy who is suffering through his mother’s battle with cancer, and a gigantic Yew Tree that turns into a monster at 12:07 to tell Conor stories. At the end of listening to all three chapters, we had a discussion as a class. To my sheer amazement, every single student discussed what happened and had amazingly in-depth responses to my questions.

So what was different? Why did the audiobook reach them better than some of my other activities?

And it hit me.

They are listening and experiencing a real and authentic reading experience.

They are actively engaged and plotting along with a READER who is emphasizing words, speaking in different voices for multiple characters, and emphasizing italicized and stylized words, all helping us as readers paint a picture of the novel in our heads. These are the qualities that good readers do independently. These are the qualities my students needed to re-learn.


I have a memory that I don’t think I will ever forget. I was probably six or seven, and I was at my grandma’s house. Every day, after nap time, my grandma would have story time and she would read from this book of Disney short stories. She would read us a few and she always did the voices. My grandma was Br’re Rabbit and talked in a thick southern accent, she was Mickey and squeaked her voice. My brother, sister and I were her captive audience. Our favorite story, however, was the Tale of the Headless Horseman.

One dark, rainy afternoon (I’m being serious, it really was dark and stormy) my grandma stepped out of the bathroom and her head was tucked inside a jacket and the jacket was zipped all the way up. The effect was that she seemed to have no head. She sat down to read the tale of The Headless Horseman as the Headless Horseman. She performed the tale of Ichabod Crane and his race to get across the bridge before losing his head.

That was not story time, that was an experience. I was there on the bridge racing to save my life, I was looking at the evil horseman careening towards me as I begged the horse to ride faster, I was there as the Horseman drew his sword and prepared to strike….

The idea for this unit came to me as I remembered that sometimes enjoyment in reading is lost because we lose what it is that makes us readers.

When you’re a kid, your parents read to you in different voices. When you read out loud to your parents or to teachers at a young age, they encourage you to read like they do. They help you sound out words, understand what a comma does in a sentence, what it sounds like to read a sentence as a question or exclamation; and then at some point–after the training wheels are off–we no longer read out loud.

So we have students who hate reading because it has been force fed to them for so many years. We get them into Workshop and spark the passion of reading, but they have forgotten how to read. My hope for this unit is that it will help those students.

And so, with this new realization, I decided to have my students tell a tale of their own using A Monster Calls as my mentor text.


Prep: Find chapters that will challenge the students to be readers.

I decided to use chapters featuring two distinct characters. Conor and the monster. Students had to create two distinctly different voices (yes, having a monster voice was a requirement) and they had to deal with sarcasm, anger, frustration, and other emotions throughout the chapter. brandon1

There were three chapters all about seven to eight pages long, so I made three groups of seven to eight students per group. Each group was responsible for a chapter, BUT each individual student had to read–out loud–one page. (Huge selling point here, I just kept telling them “It’s only one page!”)

Mini Lesson – Active Reader Annotating

I told my students that the goal for our first class was to focus on how characters speak throughout the chapter. However, for me, this was an opportunity to teach them how to be an active reader and note taker. I did the first page myself under the document cam.

brandon2I annotated after each line of dialogue for how the character spoke. “What emotions are being expressed here?”  I also told them that we needed to pay attention to italicized words and what they are there for.

We looked at the line “‘He’s been very good, Ma,’ Conor’s mum said winking at him from behind his grandma, her favorite blue scarf tied around his head” (41).

“So why is the word VERY italicized?” I asked. The class then talked about sarcasm and how his mom says it that way as an “inside joke” between her and Conor. “It’s so that Conor’s mom shows him that she gets that this is hard for Conor to handle. She wants him to know she is on his side” one student amazingly pointed out. These are the kinds of things I want them to notice. Not so much content, but style and sentence fluency.

Then they set off on their own! It was time for them to work in their small groups and annotate their chapter–together. I knew that I wanted them to collaborate together so I printed out each chapter on extra large (11×17 to be exact) paper, and set them up in areas that they could circle up and all work together. I gave them the space to work it out and let them discuss the dialogue. If they couldn’t get it, I encouraged them to read it aloud to each other and discuss.

I was amazed at how well they did in their chapter prep work. Often there are students who will push back because they are scared to read out loud, but I found that having only one page, and six other students doing the same thing helped them through their stage fright.

The last step of that day: I let them chose the page they will be reading aloud for the audiobook chapter.

 

Practice (Group and Individual)

I opened the next class by reading a chapter to them. I did my deep intimidating monster voice, I did my frustrated Conor voice, and I did my mean grandmother voice. I put myself out there and it made the kids smile (and yes laugh) but that is the point. Model for them what you are looking for, voices and all.

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I told them that they need to practice and become comfortable with their reading of the page and now is the time to do that. Armed with Screencastify (an easily downloadable Chromebook extension for most computers) and a copy of their individual page with annotations, I send them out to record themselves. After they turn the recording into me, I listen and give feedback. I did my best to coach them away from monotone reading, whispering, reading too fast, or too slow, or most importantly, NOT doing a monster voice.

Clearance and Final Recording

The students were set to go.  As one final step, I called each group into the hallway and had them rehearse the whole chapter, as a full group, for me. I gave them my last bits of feedback and sent them back into the room to do a final recording.


I am already looking forward to revising this unit–make it even better. I feel that it can work in any and all classrooms. So much can be learned by understanding how a book is meant to be read and it is our jobs to help the students learn that.

What do you think of reading aloud and making group chapters come to life? Do you see your students struggling to be authentic readers? How have you encouraged students to have authentic reading experiences in your classroom?


Brandon Wasemiller has been teaching a Franklin High School for the past four years. He graduated from the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin where he majored in Secondary English Education. When he is not teaching, Brandon coaches multiple sports (Girls XC and Baseball) and enjoys listening to audiobooks while at the gym.

 

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What It Means to Be an American – Student Poetry Can Change the World

Student voice is at the center of impactful, inclusive, and inspirational education. And sometimes, we are lucky enough to teach a student who embraces the power his or her voice holds. img_8361

In the case of Rameen and Isabella, I am blessed this year with two strong, passionate, driven, and now poetic, young women in my AP Language class. When they were asked what it means to be an American in their Government class, they were soon sharing and revising a poem with several members of our English department. And when I heard the final version, I knew I needed to share it with you.

Raising Student Voice is the focus of NCTE’s call for proposals for the 2018 convention in Houston. In it, Program Chair Franki Sibberson says, “Our students’ voices matter. Their voices matter in our schools, our communities, and beyond. As teachers, we want our students to discover their own voices. We want them to know the power of their voices. We want them to know the power of others’ voices, and we want them to know the power of their collective voices. Most important, we want to help them discover how their voices might impact our world and to be empowered to use their voices to speak out for equity and justice.”

 

Isabella and Rameen are prime examples of what beautiful thoughts, words, and actions can come from students raising their voices for right in this world. The fact that Isabella left class the other day saying she’s writing poetry on her own now, warms my heart beyond measure.

Please enjoy the incredible words of these two gifted young ladies. I could not be more proud of their efforts, their sentiments, or their ever-growing understanding of the power their words can have on the world they are already helping to positively change.

They speak from experience. They speak from the heart. They speak their own educated, inclusive, and compassionate truth.

What could be more valuable to promote both within, and beyond, the walls of our classrooms?


 

Isabella: Well, what does it really mean to be an American? Rameen and I decided to tackle the subject when asked this question in Mr. Belan’s government class. We both come from cultural backgrounds that are considered minority groups in the United States (I am half Mexican) and as Rameen said, it isn’t uncommon for a minority’s American-ness to be questioned. We decided to write a poem discussing the subjects of what it really means to be an American.

Being an American isn’t all about being born and raised in the U.S. but there is so much more that makes this country what it is and it’s people who they are. We often forget the history of this country. As amazing as this country is, we forget that it was built on the backs of slaves. Forget that our founding fathers included immigrants. Forget that we are a nation that worked our way up when other superpowers at the time laughed and were certain we would fail. But our success story thus far has only been with the help of every single inhabitant, no matter how big or small their role.

Rameen and I felt that we needed to remind people of our true American values and beliefs. The values and beliefs of what it means to be an American.

Rameen: Growing up, I heard questions such as “Hey Rameen, where are you from? No, no…where are you really from?” or “Hey, what are you?” more often than I care to remember. I very well know that people are intending to ask about my cultural and ethnic background, but the manner in which the question has always been asked is incorrect. I was never offended, but I wanted to educate people about the true meaning of their statements.

Asking me, where I’m from is asking where I’m born or where I’ve lived, which is and always has been the United States. I am a natural American citizen, born in Cleveland, OH. But what most people intend to ask is, “Where are your parents or your family from?” or “What’s your ethnic background?” Now this question, I would respond to with “My parents are from Pakistan,” but I always made sure to follow this with, “but they’re American citizens” because somehow my parents being born in a different country, questions my American-ness.

I, in a way, feel obligated to prove that my family and I are just as American as someone whose family has been born and raised in the States for generations. Despite my entire family being American citizens, we were often faced with the challenge of subconsciously feeling the need to prove to others that we were deserving of that label. We were always extremely cautious of what we would say and how it could be interpreted as being a brown person living in the United States. We were always careful of where we spoke Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.

Being a minority in America often feels as though there are more eyes watching what you’re doing.


Without further ado, we present to you, “What it Means to be an American”

What it Means to be an American
By Rameen Awan & Isabella Barnard

We live in a world where success equates survival.
Where every man, brother, sister, and child becomes your rival.
This is a nation propelled by our wealth.
A place where working for your family is more important than one’s health.
They say that we are a nation of dreamers.
That people flock to our borders in hopes of earning the support of the believers.

We live in an era categorized by numbers on a screen.
Where narcissists are obsessed, wanting their every move to be seen.
Crafting the perfect one-forty characters is everything they strive for,
Forgetting that when it comes to life, there is oh, so much more.
They forget the knowledge that can come from simple conversation,
And will speak with their neighbors with fierce hesitation.  

We live in a country where we are to believe that we’re protected by our rights.
But after hundreds of years, many are still fighting those same fights.
Many fail to realize the true struggles that some endure,
And how becoming united as a nation is our only hope for a cure.

We live in a nation with members still supporting the Confederacy.
Supporting the ideals and beliefs of the current U.S. presidency.
It’s as though our slow and steady progress is being completely reversed
It’s as though the change we’ve tried to make is under an inescapable curse.

*****

We live in a land where many claim that the man in office is “not their president”
However, those that concur proclaim, “He is if you’re an American resident.”
But what is one to do if we believe that statement untrue,
If we believe that “America is a place for everyone,” except for me, you, and you?

We live in minds that expand the definition of innovate
Minds that test the boundaries of what man can create
We even sent the first man to the moon so he could gravitate
Other nations try but just can’t seem to replicate

We live in bodies that have the power to shape the future
With precise hands that perform the most intricate suture
With each generation growing when valued is the teacher
With souls that are not afraid of any sort of venture

We live in a society of the best and the brightest
Are we perfect? No. Not in the slightest
But with a military named the strongest
And people that constantly work their hardest
Being an American means having the option of going on your own conquest

It means exploring things to see in which you yourself should invest
It means having the right of choosing if and how you want to be blessed
It means enduring the most in order to find success
It means no restrictions on your mind or your word when in distress

If what it means to be an American is what you are attempting to define
Go back and carefully reread and consider each and every line
You are entitled to your own thoughts but here you’ve heard mine
If you want to better America, do it. Just don’t run out of time.

Shifting Control to Invite More Learning

569059I admit to liking control. I won’t go far as to say I’m a control freak, but I am freakishly close. As I age I realize I like more and more things in neat little rows, even my To-Do lists must be lined up perfectly, so I can make tiny check marks with my Precision pen.

I am ridiculous.

The hardest part of teaching for me is letting go. It’s also been the best thing for my teaching.

To be an effective workshop teacher, we step aside so our students can step in. They want to know their opinions, ideas, and choices matter. They’re hungry for it. We’ve written a lot about choice reading on this blog, and I know many of us advocate for self-selected independent reading, protecting sacred reading time like an O line protecting our quarterbacks.

I wonder what other choices we offer our students. How else do we invite them to own their learning?

Recently, I read this post “The Inspiration in Front of Your Eyes” by George Couros. He begins:

Often when working with educators, I try to give relevant examples of ideas that can be implemented into learning but get very specific to either a class or grade level.  My focus is not adding something to the plate of an educator but replacing something they currently do with something new and better than what they may have been doing before.  For example, instead of a teacher spending hours searching a video to explain a concept in math, or even creating it themselves, why not have the students find the concept and say why it is powerful, or having the students create some form of multimedia to explain the concept themselves? The flip is putting the learning into the student’s hands, which can lessen the work for the educator.

Deeper learning for the student, less work for the teacher.  Sounds good to me!

Couros goes on to explain the importance of being observant and connecting ideas we find in the world, and reshaping them to facilitate deeper learning for our students. Of course, this resonated. This is how we find mentor texts like author bios and user manuals. But Mr. Couros got me thinking about shifting the finding to my students.

Then before school a week ago Monday, I saw Kristen Ziemke‘s Padlet, Take a Knee. And I got another spark to shift my instruction.

I’d never used Padlet before, so while my students shuffled in to first period, I quickly made an account and created a board. I put one thing on it:  Kwame Alexander’s poem, Take a Knee, which I knew was the perfect quickwrite for the day after so many NFL players knelt in protest.

After we wrote and shared and talked in small groups and as a class about the issue. One student said, “I just don’t know enough about it to know what I believe.”

The perfect intro!

I suggested we make a text set that could help us understand the why’s and who’s and what’s of this hotbed of a topic, and I issued the challenge:  As a class of individuals with a wide variety of beliefs and backgrounds, we’d search for articles that would address all sides. We’d use Padlet as our storage space. Then we’d use the text set we build together for our learning in class.

With their phones and iPads, students went to work, and in the 10 minutes I gave them in class, they talked. Students talked about where to find information that “wasn’t biased,” “would tell them the truth,” “will help me want to know more.”

I leaned in to these conversations, teaching terms, suggesting sites, encouraging objectivity — and why it is important for our understanding of human needs and desires.

Our Padlet What’s the Argument is not complete. We haven’t had a chance to return to it yet, but we will. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to ask better questions in preparation for whole class discussions. Maybe we’ll use it as we learn to synthesize information from a variety of sources. Maybe we’ll use it to spark ideas for the arguments we’ll post on our blogs. It doesn’t matter.

When we return to our Padlet, or even create another one that coincides with whatever peace-cannot-be-kept-by-force-it-can-only-be-achieved-by-understandinghotbed topic fires up the nation (sadly, there are so many), my students will know I value their input. They’ll know that helping them make sense of our world is as important to me as helping them love books and become good writers.

And maybe they’ll remember to look at all sides of the issues, to see into the hearts and minds of those we may disagree with so we can find a space for conversations.

If my giving up control makes space for that, I’ll take it every chance I get.

What ideas to do have to flip the learning into students’ hands, let go of control, and invite deeper learning? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen is a neat freak in her classroom but not her bedroom closet. She loves sharing books with student readers and reading students’ writing. She is the mother of six, grandmother to five, and wife to one very patient man. She teaches senior English and AP English Language at a huge and lovely senior high school in North Texas. Follow her on Twitter @amyrass

Have you asked students what they need? It is not too late

I am great at taking notes. I am lousy at looking back at them (a lot like my students).

But my student teacher is done with his semester, and am back reading and writing with my students each day. We’ve done a little AP exam crunch — our exam is today — and we are all ready for that test to be over. I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me. Fifteen days to solidify my students’ identities as readers and writers, not just students reading and writing for an English class.

It’s been a hard row with this group. This group, especially my brightest students who let grades motivate their every move. There’s a disconnect the size of the Mississippi when it comes to showing evidence of learning and whining about grades.

Maybe I notice it more because I haven’t been with them every class period for the past six weeks. But something’s got to give.

So I opened up my notebooks and read notes from the class Penny Kittle taught at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute in 2014. Don Murray leaped from the page:

“If you understand your own process, you stop fighting against it.”

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, but for the search for truth in which he is engaged.”

“If you don’t leave a conference wanting to write more, there’s a problem with the feedback.”

“We work with language in action. We share with our students the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, in choosing a true word.”

“Mule-like stubbornness is essential for every writer.”

“One teacher in one year can change a child’s view on reading.”

All reminders of what I love about teaching writers and what I hope for all my students. And I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me.

Recently, I read a great post by Tricia Ebaria titled “One Important Thing I Can Learn from Students.” This part resonates:

Rather than join the chorus of end-of-the-year countdowns, instead of giving in to fatigue (or cynicism), what if we reframed our thinking and asked ourselves: What’s the one important thing I can still do with my students? After all, it’s never too late to do work that is meaningful and important to our students and to the world.

Or how about this question: What’s the one important thing I can still learn about my students? studentswriting

So today I asked two questions to help me focus on students’ needs, and to help students focus on our need to keep learning:

1. Have your grown as a reader and a writer this year? And we talked about if the answer is no then we’ve both failed.

2. What’s one thing you still want, or need, to learn regarding reading and writing before your senior year and beyond? And students wrote their responses at their tables.

Some responses gave me pause. Others made me crazy. Many gave me hope that we still have time so every student can answer question one with a resounding YES.

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“Because we’ve really done nothing in class this year” is my first thought, right? But I have to wonder: Why does this students still feel this way?

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student want 8

student want 3

I’m celebrating the word PLAY.

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Hmmm. 

We have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to be willing to ask our students what they need from us as their teachers. If we don’t, we may miss the point of teaching them all together.

I learned valuable things about my students and how they feel about their growth. This lesson is enlightening and humbling. And frightening.

I am almost out of time.

So we started in our writer’s notebooks. Updating our currently reading lists and talking about the books we’ve read, we’ve started, abandoned, and we’ve finished. We updated our challenge cards and checked our progress.

I book talked Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, my new favorite (I wrote about it here), and American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and let students know I had a fourth copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All books I’d read when Joseph was teaching and was dying to share with kids. Students eagerly reached for them, even tussling over Zentner’s book. (TBH I shudder just a bit when I think about not getting these new books back with it being so close to the end of the year.)

Next, I showed them an idea for their end-of-year writing — a pretty monumental task for teens already dreaming of days out of the classroom. But I think I sold them on how it can answer my question #2.

Multi-genre. Thank you, Tom Romano, and Shana for showing me how a marvelous multi-genre project can light a fire within my writers and let them showcase their interest, their talents, and the learning they’ve acquired this year.

We looked at samples. We talked about topics and research and genres. We talked about how the topics we choose can potentially help us learn the things we still need and want to learn.

We got excited about writing. I think some even got excited about learning.

So with 14.5 days left in the school year, we committed to a pretty intensive end-of-year plan.

I have a mule-like stubbornness when it comes to teaching readers and writers. Certainly some of that will wear off on my students, and maybe someday they’ll look back on their notes and their writing from their junior year in high school and recognize they’ve learned and grown in their “search for truth” as a writer.

How are you utilizing your end-of-year time? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 at Lewisville High School. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. Facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy delights her. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

None of the Above: A Bubble-Free Final Exam

Remember Scantrons tests? The filling in of bubbles at semester’s end in order to prove your worth as a scholar? Many of my anxiety-cloaked memories of high school involve those hideous little forms, a No. 2 pencil, and hours spent hurriedly filling in bubbles to demonstrate my multiple choice understanding of the world.

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Once upon a time, I took this type of test. Early in my career, I gave them. Currently, I hate them. Or rather, as this is a company name I certainly wouldn’t dream of defaming, I hate the concept of a test format that negates creativity, deep thinking, or conveyance of personal connection to learning. While admittedly easy to grade, I don’t recall the last multiple choice test that left me satisfied with the assessment in any way.

Now, before I get myself in hot water, both with Scantron and my fellow teachers, there are realities associated with multiple choice testing that are inescapable, and if we want students to be prepared for the high stakes testing they will certainly encounter as a means to pass AP tests, seek admission to college, and succeed on many college campuses, then we must do our part in preparing students for this type of assessment and thinking. Applied Practice tests, for example, challenge students to dig into a passage and deeply analyze the author’s craft and style. That skill development and demonstration is a wonderful tool.

However, this post is about the opportunities presented to us as educators as we look to the end of a grading term and search for ways to have students think critically about their cumulative learning, their growth as readers and writers, and the

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Bailey’s reading insight.

connections they’ve made throughout our time together that will move them forward as educated citizens.

Many of these thoughts started well before my work with workshop when several years ago, our administrative team organized a committee to discuss our practices around final exams. Scheduling, format, exemptions, and weighting were all on the table. My biggest takeaway from those reflections?

I wanted my final exams to be reflective of student thought, synthesis, growth, and accomplishment to this point. In other words, I didn’t want any part of our “final” exam to be final in any way except that it would happen to be our last assessment together.

In other words, a final exam should showcase rather than stifle.

It should be an opportunity.

In years past, a multiple choice test showed a student’s regurgitated knowledge of the texts we had read and the literary movements we had studied. A written portion challeneged skills in supporting claims, sometimes providing text evidence, and timed writing.

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Amelia’s reading takeaway.

Again, these are valid and necessary skills to prepare students for future academic endeavors. Personally, however, I have grown to believe that if a paper isn’t going to receive some feedback, it’s power and purpose are lessened, or even negated.

 

We want students to grow as readers and writers throughout the year. This should include their final assessment opportunities as well.

exam 1With that in mind, my colleagues and I have worked hard over the years to provide more authentic assessment opportunities for students to demonstrate their growth during final exams.

Portfolios have replaced timed papers. Graded discussions have replaced short answer questions. Reflective speeches, projects, and writing have replaced bubble tests. And, with the advent of workshop, choice reading reflection has become my go-to.

In January, the teachers in my Honors English 10 collaborative group, organized an opportunity for our students to share the insights gleaned from an entire semester of choice reading. I was so excited by the project that I added some additional symbolic and reflective elements to it and used it with my AP Language students as well.

Students reflect on the texts

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A reflection from Josh.

they have read throughout the course of the term, select meaningful passages from that reading (many had been marking key quotes in their notebooks throughout the year), and give a talk about how the reading changed, moved, and/or developed their thinking with the support of visual cues and quotes to provide context for their ideas.

Illustrations of such deep thought include:

  • Abby learned that “we all struggle, but it’s how we handle those struggles that truly defines our character.” 
  • Errin suggested that “our world is only as vast as our perspectives allow it to be.” 
  • Tahseen claimed that “books help me solve the problems in my life.” 
  • Bailey, in his infinite wisdom buoyed by the most sincere character, pled with the class to not “let ignorance blind you. Knowing ignorance is necessary to keep creating and learning.”
  •  Rachel said we must “know yourself and use that knowledge to go out and know the world.” 

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Some student samples from Amelia and Josh

As the time for final exam planning in at hand once again, here is a link to the project. Use it as a springboard for your own great reflective projects and encourage kids to once again see the value of the choice reading they have completed this year.

How have your finals evolved? What will your students be doing to wrap up the year? Please share in the comments. 


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She fondly remembers dabbing chapstick on her Scantron to try and fool the machine. This was during her rebellious streak, which lasted about four days. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

I really like grading papers

I have something to tell you, and you’re not going to like it:

 

I enjoy grading papers.

 

I do.

 

miranda sings haters back off

I learned about Miranda Sings from paper grading.

When I grade papers, I learn about the world.  I ask questions I never thought I’d ask.  I become more informed.  Grading papers, when it is going well, is like reading a really, really, really long newspaper.

 

Some of the things I’ve learned from student papers:

 

  1. Superstar quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t a top draft pick back in the day.
  2. The NFL has a lot of strange rules and has an even stranger escalating fine scale for the strange rules.  
  3. In some states there’s a different minimum wage depending on whether you receive tips or not.
  4. The Denver Broncos have a home field advantage because they are used to breathing in that Mile-High air.
  5. The Jets had a miserable season and we’re still pointing fingers all over the place as to who is to blame.
  6. Disney Channel shows are NOT what they used to be.
  7. It will be difficult, but not entirely impossible, for Donald Trump to build a wall against the Mexican border.
  8. Caffeine has some health benefits.
  9. There are child YouTube celebrities.

 

It’s fun to grade papers when students know they have something they want to share.  Getting students to that point, however, requires some heavy lifting.

 

 

  • I model and post my brainstorms.  If I am asking 100 students to come up with new ideas, I have to come up with some fresh ideas, too.  I share my brainstorming at the beginning of a unit and continue to post and share brainstorms throughout the unit, and students who feel stuck take to or modify my original ideas.  This is not unlike the editorial meeting where the editors toss out a variety of ideas and writers pick up the assignment.
  • I try to develop a “yes” culture that empowers risk-taking.  My students are age-young and experience-young.  They don’t know that there are culturally hip, feminist publications like Teen Vogue or analytical commentary pieces like those in Vulture.  They don’t know that The Economist blends news pieces and opinion pieces.  Or that published writers often figure out what they want to write as they write it.  I have a lot of teaching to do around the words “Yes,”  “Try it!” and “Other writers already do something like this.”
  • I meet writers slightly above eye-level.   As teachers, writers, and readers, I think it’s partly our responsibility to share knowledge and resources with our students.  If they wrote about cell phone addiction last year (and they all did, they all do), then this year I have to talk to you about privacy and apps on your phone.  If you’re reading the MARCH graphic novel series, I have to tell you about the time a Harvard professor was arrested for trying to break into his own home.  When they ask me “Is that real?” “Did that really happen?” I know I’ve struck writer’s notebook gold.

 

 

How do you help students brainstorm new topics so that you aren’t reading the same paper hundreds of times over?

 

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  She defers to her students’ judgment on good YouTubers.  She tweets at @HMX_MSE

10 Things Worth Sharing Right Now

I love the little ripple of a thrill that runs through to my fingertips when I find something that I want to share with my students. That borderline codependent excitement that comes with wanting to share a book, an article, a statistic…immediately.

“They NEED to see this,” I think, fumbling around on my phone to figure out how and where to save it.

“They NEED to read this,” I say to my husband, as I make him pause his own life to listen to yet another passage of my latest read.

“They NEED to know about this,” I mutter, linking wildly to our syllabus (just another in a long line of moments where I’m grateful that life happens and we share it in class).

So today, I’m taking a page from one of my newest obsessions, the newsletter put together weekly by the brilliant, inspiring, and wildly creative, Austin Kleon. Each week, delivered to your inbox, arrives a list of “10 things [he thinks are] worth sharing.” Simple. Intriguing. Very, very useful in the classroom.

I’m honestly not sure how I stumbled on this one, but in the month since subscribing, I’ve used three of his images to inspire quick writes, and book talked (loosely) the newsletter itself, suggesting to students that they should subscribe in order to broaden their horizons to current happenings, inspiring visuals, and commentary on books, shows, and cultural phenomenon. In other words, link up to something that delivers items to keep you reading texts other than social media updates (“Made a sandwich guys…bet you’re all jelly. Get it? Jealous, but jelly instead.? God, I am such a genius”).

  1. Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter
    Kleon reflects on a central image each week, along with linking to intriguing articles, a poem of the week, ear candy audio, eye candy visuals, and other noteworthy insights from across the vast expanse of the internet. If someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, did you see…?” chances are Kleon will have it linked on his list for the week.
  2. The Power of Exemplars
    A few weeks back, I was bemoaning to my fellow Three Teachers Ladies, how disappointed I was in a recent project my sophomores had completed. My vision for a poster that brilliantly illustrated their insights on their latest reading, was met with large sheets of paper with haphazard cutouts of text, crudely taped across the page, accompanied by printed book covers in black and white, and the occasional hurried pencil addition to the project (last minute insight for forgotten components). Needless to say, I was frustrated AND without any way to hold students accountable for the quality of the visual they submitted (not the central point, for sure, but a consideration certainly). Take pride in your product, and all that, had fallen short. In my irritation, I searched in vain for something in the Common Core that might suggest students consider carefully how they convey their ideas.

    Then, I took a deep breath. I realized I had what I needed, I just hadn’t used it. See below the power of exemplars. My AP students were completing their community visuals (which I wrote about last year in a reflection on the use of essential questions), and I had no rubric for this work either. However, the power of suggestion, in showing them some of the brilliant work from the year before, was more than enough. They knew the expectation, saw what I thought was praiseworthy when it comes to presenting their insights, and we enjoyed some brilliant symbolism in the presentation of these visuals. Amen.
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  3. Musical Genius
    One of my groups took a creative leap for their community unit visual and put together a musical. Franklin’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opened this past weekend. Several members of the cast in my first period class asked if they could complete the project in a slightly different way. Their project would still include analysis, present their ideas to the class, and involve audience feedback after the presentation, but…there would be singing.

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    Francesca, Joe, and Parker

    Since I always joke with my kids about presenting their ideas through interpretative dance, this musical idea intrigued me. Their mini musical included several skits that detailed life within the community of a musical cast/crew. Watching students sing their way through a summative, I was reminded that my vision for a project is rarely as broad and brilliant as what students can come up with on their own. My exemplar pool had just expanded in verse.
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  4. Bag o’ Books
    Remember to beg for books. Want to build that classroom library? Get down on your knees and remind your students of how good it feels to give back…to you.Maija recommend the book Dangerous Minds a few weeks back. When a fellow student was at the bookshelf looking for it the other day, I asked Maija if she’d be willing to bring it so, AJ could borrow it. I even turned on a sweet smile and said, “If you don’t need it anymore, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.”

    The book was outside my door the next day, in a bag with a sweet note and several other books. Score.

  5. Amy Poehler on Writing
    I’m training for a half marathon. Without audiobooks, I might not make it. Seriously. I need to get lost in a story to pound out the miles. So, when I started 10 miles on Sunday and realized my Overdrive audiobook had expired, I had to quick download something new. Ugh.Enter, Amy Poehler’s Yes, PleaseI smiled for nine miles (it takes awhile to download when you’re actively running down the street). Poehler’s voice is sincere, relatable, and funny as all get out. Easy to book talk.

    Here’s the golden ticket: The Preface. I heard it and knew I needed to play it for my students. Poehler writes with undeniable voice about writing. She says of her text and the writing process that she “had no business agreeing to write this book” and wrote it “ugly and in pieces,” because “everyone lies about writing…they lie about how easy it is or how hard it was.” She says, and students really related to the idea, that “writing is hard and boring and occasionally great, but usually not.” In reflection afterward, students also noted her use of stream of consciousness, aside, and self deprecating banter to tell her story, not just inform her audience about what the book would be about. Classes agreed that they could really get behind her idea that, “Great people do things before they are ready.” Amen, Ms. Poehler. Let’s all put pen to paper.

  6. langchat#17
    I recently started following the brilliant Elizabeth Matheny on Twitter. Her AP insights and resources have helped fuel my work recently and her AP Language slow chat last week was a great opportunity to have my kids practicing analysis with students across the country. I’m thinking of several things to extend this activity:
    – Have students organize a slow chat for peers
    – Get students to live tweet peer feedback during speeches or discussion
    – See #7 below
  7. Tweeting Authors
    I tweeted Angie Thomas to tell her that her book The Hate You Give is stunning and I’d be getting into the hands of as many students as possible.She liked my tweet.Fangirl moment.img_1024
    Have your students reach out to authors. They often reach back.
  8. Creativity Visual
    I love what this suggests to students about the power they possess.
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  9. Get it to the Big (or small) Screen
    My students often buy into the idea that great books are made into (sometimes great) movies. The Underground Railroad is being made into a series with the director from Moonlight. Having just finished this intriguing read myself, I book talked the text this week and shared the movie plans.
  10. Quick Write – Psychopath
    This came across my Facebook feed the other day, and I tossed it on my PowerPoint. As is the way in educator, my students surprised in noticing it, and we ended up doing a quick, quick write about changing social norms. AP Language test prep comes in many , many forms.
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    What would make your list of 10 things we need to see and share this week? Add your ideas in the comments below! 

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of English educating gods and goddesses at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She loves lists, especially lists with links to beautiful thoughts and ideas. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

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