Category Archives: Amy Estersohn

Getting Feedback From Your Toughest Critics

Remember what it’s like to be a student, constantly wondering if your teacher likes you, worrying about your next assignment and your next grade?

 

Me too.

 

I give out periodic “teacher progress reports” to my students to coincide with the progress reports I have to fill out for them.

 

These “progress reports” are an opportunity to hear raw student voices enter the way I think about our work together and the way I plan future lessons and future units.   Unlike your principal, students spend dozens of hours with you and aren’t trained to hand you a compliment sandwich.

recite-1hilvei

Here’s some of what I learned by going through student responses:

 

Students really, really, really like independent reading time.   It’s clear from student feedback that independent reading is an important routine to their days.  Some wrote about how they look forward to coming in from lunch to a silent classroom for some reading.  Others wrote about how they enjoyed the time to do something they enjoyed.  Many students asked me for more independent reading time.  Aside from giving out candy (most popular suggestion #1) and going outside to play for class sometimes (most popular suggestion #2), more reading topped the list.  Some students even ask me if we’ll ever spend a whole period reading.

 

They love to write when they know what I am — and am not — grading for. One of the beauties of setting up strong workshop routines is that there’s always a good sub plan in the wings.  If I am going to be out of class for a period or two, I assign a “free choice” writing assignment.  Students are responsible for handing in a writing piece on a topic or genre of their choosing, and they are graded only on their attention to the grammar and mechanics concepts that we’ve reviewed in class.  By making the assessment so literal, students play with form, content, and message: I collect memoirs, mob stories, text message conversations (with graphics!), screenplays, journal entries,  epic fantasies, and more.

 

Students love “ghost grades” on major assessments.  I give students the option of a “ghost grade” on a draft for a major project.  That grade serves as a) a minimum final grade, and b) a benchmark for future improvement with concrete feedback on what needs fixing.  Students enjoy making changes and watching that lower “ghost grade” improve in the final draft.  This ghost grade helps make some of their writing progress visible as far as the literal gradebook is concerned.

 

Do you do elicit feedback from your students?  If so, what have you learned from that feedback?

 

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  She will probably never give out candy, but she will, on occasion, give out emoji stickers, which students pretend not to care about.  (But they do.)  Find her on twitter at @HMX_MSE

Advertisements

Booktalk this now: THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER by Patricia McCormick

The story behind the story.  At this year’s ALAN workshop (you should go!!! free books!!!! lots of authors!!!!!!)  I heard Ryan Graudin, author of Wolf By Wolf, talk about her research of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  

 

Dietrich who??!!!

 

Oh, you know, this guy who was part of a larger group planning to publicize Hitler’s misdeeds to the broader world and to kill him.

 

Ryan’s book is all about an underground resistance that planned to kill Hitler.  Her book is fantasy.  

 

The Plot to Kill Hitler, Patricia McCormick’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is as real as it gets.

plot-to-kill-hitler

Whom this book is for.  Readers who have a basic, elementary school-level understanding of Hitler and concentration camps know enough to follow this story from beginning to end: McCormick takes care of readers from there.

 

The topic is heavy, but the short chapters and brisk pacing make this 150-page piece perfect for middle and high school readers as well as mature elementary school readers.  If your school already does a holocaust unit, this book will provide a new point of view.

 

More sophisticated readers will make connections between Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King and can debate the relative merits of a pure nonviolent approach to more direct and retributive forms of protest.  One of the most fascinating parts of this book for me was seeing how Bonhoeffer, a deeply religious emotional young man, transformed from a social justice scholar and Gandhi acolyte to a subversive and aggressive warrior.

 

How to booktalk it. Not too much preamble.  Just read the 2-page prologue out loud to the class, where Bonhoeffer knows he is about to be captured by Nazis and races to hide his incriminating papers in a ceiling panel and leaves a deliberately fake diary to throw the Nazis off his path.

 

You should also know… I struggle to match quality middle grades nonfiction with readers.  Some of the most fantastic middle grades nonfiction titles require a lot of patience and background knowledge.  Some are so laden down with information that there isn’t enough of a story to keep readers going.  Other terrific nonfiction titles are awkwardly sized and aren’t easy to carry down the hallway.  This book avoids all of those possible pitfalls.

 

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  Despite her observations that nonfiction books tend to be harder to carry around than fiction books, she has seen students lug around the 10-pound “Hamilton” book — you know, the one with all the pictures of the original cast.    Since you were asking, she won lottery tickets to see “Hamilton” during its first week on Broadway.  Really.  Twitter handle: @HMX_MSE

5 Middle School-Friendly Fiction Books About 9/11

I was still a teenager in 2001, and an immature teenager at that.  On 9/11 I wrote a poem in my diary about watching people jump to their deaths on television.  By September 13, 2001, I was back to writing in my diary about getting the silent treatment and missing allowance money.  I didn’t have a way to process 9/11 back then. 

So it’s no wonder to me that I seek out middle school-friendly books about 9/11, because a middle school book about 9/11 is exactly what I needed when I was… you know… in middle school.

And, interestingly, all of these books emphasize the importance of connections to others in the face of tragedy — not just our family and close friends, but also those neighbors we never talk to, the strangers in our lives, and the people we don’t even know we know.  

 

Some notable 9/11 fiction books for teen readers include:

 

  1. Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskinnineten

Baskin’s lyrical, concise book follows four different young teens in the hours leading up to the terrorist attacks on the United States.  The emphasis here is on the importance of community rather than the tragic events, and our characters are removed from Ground Zero.  Given the brisk pacing, the age of the characters, and the gentle treatment of the terrorist attacks, this book is probably a best fit for readers in grades 5-6. However, the topic gives this book significant crossover appeal to a middle school or even a high school classroom.

 

 

 

 

  1. towers-falling  Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This book begins in present-day Brooklyn and works backward, as our main character Deja attempts to understand her father’s emotional fragility.  While younger readers will probably be surprised to discover Deja’s connection to the 9/11 attacks, older readers will be able to make reasonable predictions about where the story is heading from the generous hints Jewell Parker Rhodes gives us along the way.  I appreciate this book not only as a 9/11 book, but also as a book that brings in diverse characters, homelessness, PTSD, Islamophobia, and other social issues.  Recommended for grades 5-7.

 

 

 

 

  1.  Just a Drop of Water by Kelly O’Malley Cerrajust-a-drop-of-water

Before 9/11, Floridian Jake Green’s only cares in the world seem to be  becoming captain of
the eighth grade track team and his grandfather’s war medals.  But 9/11 affects everybody, even in this sleepy town, and all of a sudden Jake’s best friend’s father is taken into FBI custody.   Cerra presents a traditional middle school friendship novel introduces tough topics like the unfair detainment of innocent Muslims and the role of war in international relations.  Recommended for grades 6-8.

 

 

 

 

  1. memory-of-things  The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

On the morning of September 11 Kyle Donohue evacuated Stuyvesant High School, blocks away from the World Trade Center, and walked home to Brooklyn
with a large group of refugees.  On the way he sees a girl with angel wings who seems lost and confused and brings her to his apartment.  This dual perspective story (Kyle’s narrative is straight prose, the girl’s narrative is fractured poetry) is wholly immersive in 2001 period details and is more about people than politics.  Recommended for grades 7+

 

 

 

 

  1. All We Have Left by Wendy Millsall-we-have-left

Hand this book to the reader who wants to be INSIDE the towers as they come falling down.  Readers go back and forth between the story of Jesse, who is 2016 was only 2 years old when her older brother Travis died in the World Trade Center, and Alia, who in 2001 was one of the last people to see Travis alive.  This book is heavy, but its messages of healing and redemption make it palatable to a wide range of readers.  You’ve been warned: bring tissues.  Recommended for grades 7+.

 

 

 

 

 

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  Her taste in music is very 2001.  Visit her on Twitter @HMX_MSE

Booktalk this now: THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

The story behind the story.  I received an early review copy of this book when I attended the ALA Mid-Winter meetings in January and asked extra-nicely at the HarperCollins booth if there were extras.  

 

(Pro tip: Check to see if there are any ALA meetings happening near you and block those days off on your calendar now.  Free books.  Lots of them.)

 

I started reading it about 6:10 AM over breakfast before leaving for school.  By about 6:50 AM I was reluctant to leave the house and get to school.

thehateugive

The book talk. I told students that this was the rare book that made literally want to drop everything and read.  Starr is at a spring break party when gunshots go off and she and childhood friend Khalil leave the party by car in search of safety.  Police pull Starr and Khalil over and end up killing Khalil in what might be a case of mistaken identity.

 

Why do you think the cops had reason to be suspicious of Khalil?  I asked.

 

Students responded:

Well, he’s a teenager and the people who were at the party were teenagers too.

He was near the scene of the crime when it happened.

Was he speeding away when cops pulled him over ?  (The book makes it clear: he wasn’t speeding.)

Was he black?

 

That’s when I covered up all but the first letters of the acrostic so students could read the title down the page: The Hate U Give or THUG.  

 

“Ohhhhhhh,” students said.  “Khalil was probably stereotyped because he looked like a thug.”

 

Building empathy and understanding for the Black Lives Matter movement.  While this book covers a lot of tough teen topics, be ready for readers to proke, prod, and question its support of Black Lives Matter.

 

Be ready for readers to say, “What about all the cops that keep everybody safe?  You can’t be anti-cop.”  And “I don’t understand why Black Lives Matter people have to make it about black people.  What about white people who just want everybody to get along?”  Thomas pre-emptively responds to these readers by giving this book a strong moral core, where there are supportive police officers, kind family members, a grassroots nonviolent community organization, and a terrific white boyfriend along with some villain characters of both races.  

 

Starr is a teenager of the moment.  She’s a tumblr addict, she wants you to know that she considers Beyonce a cousin, she nae-naes and hits the quan.  She embodies contemporary teens in general and contemporary black teens in particular.  In 25 years she’ll appear fuddy-duddy, just as her Jodeci and Juvenile-loving parents are right now.

 

Patience and stamina.  The action happens in the first few dozen pages, and what follows is reaction and rebuilding.  This book felt more slowly paced to me than readalike All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.  Some readers, particularly middle school readers, might find the pace discouraging, so if you include this in a classroom, I’d recommend that readers find a book partner to talk about the book as they read.  

 

Where to buy it.  You can buy signed copies from Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi.  The book goes on sale tomorrow!

 

Amy Estersohn is an English teacher in New York.  There are as many seasons of Survivor as there are books in her To Be Read pile.   Follow her on Twitter @HMX_MSE

How to Make 28 Teens Feel Special Immediately and Simultaneously: Or How I Manage Conference Notes

One of the most difficult parts of setting up a workshop was figuring out how to use and organize notes.  Those videos that show elementary school teachers walking around at leisure, seeming to write a paragraph on each child?  Not even possible, not even under the best circumstances.

img_20170110_165650101-1

Wall space can also be temporary storage for conference notes and for giving you a “status of the class” picture of student progress.

What follows is a step-by-step guide to How I Workshop.

  • Figure out what you, as a teacher, are out to accomplish.  Are you trying to do a quick check in with each student, or are you going to do extensive work with 2-3 kids?  You need both kinds of conferring styles, I’d argue, but you also know which mode you are using, when, and why.
  • Write down 1-2 words in conference, add notes later if you need to.  When I sweep and chat to each student, as I did today, I’ll scribble in a few more notes after class if I need to.  
  • Notice patterns.  I like using my post-it notes to “snapshot” where students as a whole are and where I need to teach something the following day, especially if I find myself repeating myself over and over again in conferences.
  • Diagnose and select students for extended follow up.  If I notice that a student is working on an issue that involves more conversation, I’ll prioritize them for the next day.
  • Save and document information.  I can pop these post-it notes into a plan book.

How do you manage your conference notes?

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  She never met a Post-It Note she didn’t like. 

 

Heinemann

Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop

Literacy & NCTE

The official blog of the National Council of Teachers of English

kelly's blog - Kelly Gallagher

Mentors with Insights, Ideas, and Resources for Secondary Readers & Writers Workshop

Moving Writers

Move the writing. Move the writer.

Blog | The Educator Collaborative Community

Voices of Educators Making a Difference

The Paper Graders

Teachers thinking about teaching, education, technology and anything else that bugs us.

Ethical ELA

conversations on the ethics of teaching English

%d bloggers like this: