Category Archives: Angela Faulhaber

Real World Writing: A mini-unit using Chipotle as a mentor

I’m in Chipotle, munching the chips and reading the bag. I loved the essays from Aziz Ansari and Sarah Silverman over the past months. Today I notice something different. This essay was written by a high school student.

“Excuse me,” I approach the counter at Chipotle. “Can I have some bags?” I explain to the clerk that I work with teachers and want to use these bags in class. The teenager handed over a stack. I feel my heartbeat quicken, the way it does when a teaching idea starts forming. As a literacy coach, I couldn’t wait to share these with the teachers whom I was working. One of our favorite units of writing was born.

I’ve been training myself to read like a writer my whole life. I just didn’t always know it. I loved reading cereal boxes when I was a kid. I’d pour my milk and then pore over every word, reading riddles and puzzles, then on to the nutrition information. At doctor’s offices, I read Highlights. At the grocery store, I’d speed read Tiger Beat. I read everything.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much all that reading impacted me as a writer. And it wasn’t until I was a Fellow in Ohio Writing Project’s Summer Institute that I had a name for it: “Reading Like a Writer,” a term I learned when reading Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray.

As we began to think about how to use these Chipotle bag essays with students, I came back to what I know is true about writing instruction, a rhythm gleaned from countless professional texts (Penny Kittle, Ralph Fletcher, Allison Marchetti & Rebekah O’Dell, to name a few). My OWP colleague Beth Rimer succinctly captures this rhythm when she talks about the ideal conditions for writing:

  • Modeling: writers need to see the possibilities for their own writing by looking at lots of examples. And as often as possible, I want those mentor texts to also exist in the real world (See Writing With Mentors for support around this).
  • Ideas: writers need support to find an idea. As Don Graves said, “Unlimited choice is no choice at all.” Instead, writers need strategies to find the ideas they might explore (My favorite way to nudge writers is with Linda Rief’s Quickwrites books).
  • Drafting: writers need time to write, to mess around, and to get feedback (Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle changed my teaching life).
  • Revision: writers need explicit instruction about ways they might make their writing better (I love Revision Decisions by Jeff Anderson as a way to focus my lessons).
  • Feedback: writers need feedback in lots of ways — from themselves, from each other, from an “expert” (Jenn Serravallo’s book about Writing Conferences is a great place to start rethinking how we give feedback).

Every single time I find a piece of writing in the world that I want to share with students, I come back to this. I use it to build our mini-lessons, to decide on instructional days, and to remind me of what writers need. It might look like this:

Day One – Notice. Gallery walk the Chipotle bags. Talk about what we notice the writers doing. Make a list of possibilities for our own writing.

Day Two – Generate ideas. Once we notice that these essays are all about small moments connected to food memories, we might create a moment map, or a quicklist, or a sketchnote.

Day Three – Start writing. Mess around. Get dirty. Know that this doesn’t have to be perfect. Resist the temptation to give students a template and instead remember that writers need time to let a draft take shape. Confer with the writers in the room, nudge and get to know what they’re working on.

Day Four-Five – Teach. Look at what writers have been struggling with and teach more. Look at what writers have been doing well and put that up on the document camera.

Day Six(ish) – Publish. Sometimes we just turn it in. Sometimes kids can print their essays on paper bags and then have a gallery walk, leaving post-it notes of feedback.

This isn’t always what writing looks like in our classrooms, but we try to build in these moments of authentic writing so that students have a chance to stretch important muscles. They build fluency and confidence. They have the chance to work through the writing process quickly, therefore getting to do it more often. They have an authentic audience and see that writing is all around them.

I recently worked with a 7th grade teacher whose students wrote Two Minutes On essays as one of their first experiences. The products were amazing. Students took risks, they wrote from the heart, and they stretched themselves.

If you’d like to try this mini-unit, you can find the mentor texts here. What real-world writing has inspired you and your students? Share in the comments!

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, Ohio. She loves burrito bowls and is happiest when eating tortilla chips with her kiddos and husband. She works with teachers and students from grades K-12 and the scariest day this year was when she taught a group of adorable kindergartners a writing lesson.

Advertisements

The Power of Wonder & Mentor Texts (a post inspired by Kwame Alexander)

Last week my 12-year-old son and I attended an event with Kwame Alexander at our local book store, Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

You have never heard someone read a book like Kwame Alexander reads a book. This man takes his time. He lets the words fill up the air. He chews on a pause, taking his time, stre-e-e-e-tching it out. He understands the power of pacing and performance.

I’ve seen Kwame perform before; he and his partner Randy Preston put on a show. Randy plays guitar beneath Kwame’s words, punctuating, pacing, elevating the performance. Sometimes they break into song, or rap, or they just riff.

Sharing this experience with my son was important. Reading Crossover broke him out of a reading rut a few years ago and he’s devoured so many of Alexander’s titles. I’m looking forward to sharing the graphic novel with my other children, who are big GN fans, and with the students I see, who I know will love it.

But what’s really staying with me about this experience is what I found while wandering around the bookstore. Tucked in a back corner, I stumbled across this collection of poems, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, and illustrator by Ekua Holmes, have created a beautiful book and I can’t wait to share it. 

IMG_6447

I flipped through the collection and while I recognized many of the names —  Giovanni, Oliver, Hughes — I realized they weren’t the writers of the poems. Rather, they were the inspiration. The whole book is a celebration of poets, full of pieces written in the style of the poets themselves. I’d found a treasure trove of mentor texts!

For example, this one by Wentworth, “(Loving) The World and Everything In It”, inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem “My work is loving the world …”

 

The collection is broken into three sections:

  1. Got Style: where the poets imitate the style of a famous poet.
  2. In Your Shoes: poets imitate the tone and voice of other poets.
  3. Thank You: poets pay homage to their favorite poets, “sharing with the world how awesome we feel about the poet and the poem.”

I love thinking about being in conversation with poets and their poems in these ways. Wouldn’t it be powerful to give kids the opportunity to find a poet that resonates with them, or to explore different poems (maybe in a gallery walk like the one talked about here in Teach Living Poets). Then to let them choose a path to enter into dialogue.

Share with us the way you have students talk back to their favorite poems. (And we hope you have the chance to see Kwame Alexander on his upcoming tour.)Screen Shot 2019-09-29 at 9.20.36 PM

 

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, OH. She’s in the middle of having the honor of attending several amazing author events this fall: Angie Thomas and Kwame Alexander in September, and now Bryan Stevenson, Ruta Septys and Raina Tegelmeir in October. In her spare time she likes to ask her kids’ friends what they’re reading and making book suggestions to pretty much everyone. 

What Secondary Teachers Can Learn From Elementary Teachers: A Return

Three Teachers TalkJoin us for a summer series revisiting our top posts from this school year, and please “turn and talk” with us in the comments section each week!

Angela’s post from 2018 is full of takeaways the secondary readership can glean from elementary practitioners. 


I sat outside my son’s first grade classroom helping students practice handwriting skills one day when a lightning bolt hit me.

Kids were in and out of the room, going to reading group, using the restroom as needed. When I finished with a student, they’d quietly walk in, tap the next person on the shoulder, and out they’d walk. As a high school teacher, I was enthralled by the bustle.

When I went into the classroom to touch base with the teacher, I continued to look around in amazement. Kids were everywhere. More importantly, they were working with purpose and focus. Some kids were lying on bean bag chairs reading. Others around a kidney table with the teacher. Another cluster of kids were sitting at their desks, working on bookmaking, tongues hanging out in determination. It felt like magic.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 5.36.07 PM

I know it’s not magic, though. The teacher had made deliberate choices to nurture this environment. To be honest, though, it took me a moment to be open to this aha moment. At first, it felt like chaos. But when I took a step back, I realized that this wasn’t chaos I was seeing. It was productivity. It dawned on me that my high school classroom rarely had this kind of energy. I wondered, if these seven-year-olds could be taught how to work like this, could I create opportunities for older kids to do the same?

Some of my takeaways from spending time in elementary classrooms:

Classroom Set-up

Rocking chairs. Flip charts. Book bins. Cozy Rugs. Desks in clusters (rather than rows which Tom Murray recently referred to as “the cemetery effect”).

Elementary classrooms feel different. There’s an energy, a flow. The room often hums. When I’m in my colleague’s elementary classrooms, I’m struck by how different they look from my classroom setup. It’s not just the posters on the wall, or the rugs on the floor. It’s that the room feels like it belongs to students. Books students care about are on the shelves. The rooms are a welcoming space, which leads to students engaging with the content differently. They’re not just receptacles; rather, they see themselves as much a part of the space as the teacher. And everything in the space has a purpose.

I’ve been loving the ways that teachers are incorporating flexible seating and I think that even if you haven’t won a grant or launched a Donors Choose campaign, there’s a way to get creative about the space. I know I sometimes worry that kids will talk too much, or goof off. I remind myself, though, that when students are engaged in workshop practice, then I’m coaching them into independence. And if I can easily move around the room, I can cut off much of that behavior.

To read more about how we might set up our rooms, check out Kristine Mraz and Christine Herz’s book Kids First From Day One.

 

Routines

I notice that in elementary school, teachers spend a lot of time explicitly teaching routines for how to utilize the spaces. They build on what’s happened in year’s past, reminding students that they come ready with a whole skill set. They focus on those rituals as much as they focus on the content, especially in the beginning.

Sometimes, we teachers of older kids fall into a deficit thinking trap. I sometimes hear teachers say, “My students can’t do that [insert collaborative/independent work here].” I wonder, though. When they were seven and eight they were doing that work. How might we channel some of that muscle memory from their early learning years?

What would happen if we teach our older students explicit routines for work time. Teaching them explicitly what the room should look like and sound like when they are independently working. And of course, we know that older kids are different. Reinforcing the routines reground them.

Conferring

We know that conferring is one of the most powerful tools in our teacher tool box. Carl Anderson reminds me to ask kids, “how’s it going?” Kelly Gallagher & Penny Kittle show me how powerful conferencing is in their work. An effective conference can be the most impactful thing we do all day.

I also know that this is really really hard to do. Not only because of time constraints, but also because when I’m conferring, other students feel like it’s free time. Suddenly there’s whispering and laughing. While I’m chatting at my desk with a student during a conference, I often find myself saying, “Hey, everyone get back to work,” disrupting both my conference and the students who might have actually been working.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 5.50.04 PM

What if instead I channeled the elementary teachers I know? I notice when I’m in their classrooms that their conferencing happens right where kids are sitting. They crouch next to students, leaning in, having whispered conversations.

This kind of conferring cuts down on transition time. Students aren’t walking across the room. Instead, they’re able to turn right back to their work and apply what they’ve talked about. And the teacher doesn’t have to wait on kids to gather materials and walk to the desk. Those minutes are precious, and I notice that when the teacher is where the work happens, more conferences can take place.

Small Group Instruction

Conferring isn’t the only way to have those smaller settings with students. Sometimes I forget that it’s not an either/or — we either work whole group instruction or 1:1 conferring. After having the same conversation three times in 1:1 conferences, I realized I needed to be more efficient with my time.

When I’m in an elementary classroom, I’m reminded of the power of small group instruction. I thought back to the way I saw my son’s teacher gather five students around her desk to teach them all the same skill. While the rest of the class was working independently, she was able to re-teach or extend the learning. I noticed too that she was able to target their needs in specific ways.

Whether it’s at a kidney table, or clustered around my teacher desk, I wonder if I could have students come to me in smaller groups.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that secondary students are different from elementary kids. They’re louder, bigger, and sometimes have checked out of school by the time they get to us. I try to remember, though, that they’re still kids. And when what I have been doing isn’t working with them, then I wonder if maybe it’s time to try something different. I think back to the students they once were, and I wonder if channeling some of those structures from their elementary days might make our days feel a little more magical.

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati area. She’s currently reading Greeting From Witness Protection by Jake Burt, based on the recommendation of her 11-year-old daughter. She’s also trying to figure out how it’s mid-October when it feels like school just started. 

Managing Feedback: A Tool for Teachers

Whenever I talk to a group of teachers about writing instruction, we talk about the core elements of writing workshop: choice, time, and teaching. We hone in on this idea of how much practice writers need. As Kelly Gallagher writes in his blog post “Moving Beyond the 4 x 4 Classroom,” volume is essential:

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.21.40 PMWithin 30 minutes assessment comes up. “How do we grade all this?” teachers ask.

I think what we mean when we say this is “How do we manage all this feedback?” We know that feedback is key to supporting our writers. If we want students to grow as writers, we must figure out ways to offer them feedback that is both actionable and timely (Wiggins, 2012). 

Enter ProWritingAid  (with thanks to Jennifer Gonzalez’s post). This online platform has been a game changer for me as a writer, and I think could be for our students too. There’s a free version, along with a paid subscription. I’ve only used the free version, but even with the limitations, it has impressed me.

How it works

Writers paste a piece of writing into the text box, then run a summary. Through the magic of algorithms, the site creates a report on the writing. And I have to say, it’s a good report. You get information about the general readability of your writing, along with more detailed feedback.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.33.20 PM

The above report is from the first draft of this essay (yikes!).  As a writer, though, I find this report helpful. It gives me a goal to work towards — I want to get those yellow scores to green, and the red one to at least yellow. I’m not recommending that these numbers correlate to a grading scale. Rather, they tell me about areas that I can strengthen as a writer.

One of my favorite areas of the report is the section on Sentence Structure. I love how this section graphs out my sentence length. I can see if I’m using a variety of lengths, as well as where I need to focus my attention if I notice an overabundance of long (or short) sentences.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.36.44 PM

Another part of the report addresses what they call Sticky Sentences. I love the way this tool talks about the elusive fluff. We all know writers who tend to be verbose, or who fill their writing with words that just kind of take up space (apparently, First Draft Angela is one of those people).

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.38.45 PM

This overall report is only part of what ProWritingAid analyzes. Using the toolbar at the top of the page, writers can drill down into specifics.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.34.51 PM

Based on my initial report, my Style score was pretty low, so I start there. I click on the Style button and the screen below shows up. When I hover over the underlined areas, I’m given specific recommendations. Eliminate adverbs. Change “which is different from” to “differs from”. The recommendations don’t change the message of my writing; rather, they strengthen it.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.42.25 PM

I love this tool. I’ve noticed that the feedback it gives me as a writer is similar (if not a little better) than what I would give students. And the best part is that it puts the ownership back on students. I love that I know what to do after looking at this report. I have specific, actionable steps. And honestly, it’s fun. I like revising and then running the scan again to see if it’s better.

After I’ve looked at the suggestions from the site, I choose which suggestions to accept and which to ignore. I own my writing. I notice that most of the feedback focuses on my use of adverbs. I need to, as Tom Romano says, weed the garden. After revision, my scores increase considerably.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.55.13 PM
How I might use with students

Conferring: I can imagine asking students to run a report on their draft and to bring it to a conference. What a great place to start talking to students about their writing. The report summary would help us focus on areas students might want to ask me about, or it might help me know what a good teaching point would be for that writer.

Reflection: I have been thinking about asking students to print their full report and attach it to the final draft of a piece of writing (or to screenshot it and insert with their doc). I would love for students to highlight places where they’ve made revisions and then reflect on how their writing changed and what impact those changes had on the writing.

Peer feedback: I think this would be a great talking point for students to talk to each other in partnerships. I struggle with peer conferencing because students don’t always know what to say to each other. With this, though, they begin to internalize a vocabulary around writing that will elevate their conversation.

Independence & Transfer: My biggest hope for our student writers is that they leave our classrooms with tools they can use their whole life. This tool gives them a place to go when they need help with their writing. Because that’s what real writers do. They’re not always going to have us and our red (or purple) pen to tell them what to do next as writers. Instead, I want them to know they have some places to go.

Try it. Before you introduce to students, take a piece of your writing and run it through the algorithm. Better yet, do it in front of students. Show them how easy yet powerful it is to utilize this tool. And then, enjoy the gift of time you have. Use that time to confer with students, to talk about mentor texts, to increase the volume of writing that’s happening in your classroom. 

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH area, where spring is showing off every day. Currently she and her three kids are fascinated by the robin’s nest in the tree out front. It’s up to four eggs today! You can find Angela on Twitter @WordNerd.

A Word About Test Prep

If you are like every teacher I know, you are feeling … stressed. It results from many things: stacks of papers to grade, reading responses to catch up on, blog posts to comment on, your own life to organize, spring break taking too long to get here.

And, probably, The Test.

Whether it’s the AP test, the state test, the SAT test, I’m noticing that the words most on everyone’s lips right now are “but what about the test?”

Usually, I say, “Don’t worry about the test.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 11.06.29 AM.pngToday I say, “I get it.” Because a few weeks ago I received fall test results on my third grader. The state labeled him “Basic.” This kid who at 9 earned a black belt in martial arts. Who competed in a chess tournament for the first time, who carries a Big Nate book with him everywhere he goes. The state was telling me, a mother who is also a teacher, he barely met the 3rd grade benchmark. Well, I freaked out.

Even though I work with teachers and reminding them that their students are more than those test scores …when I saw these numbers, I forgot myself for a moment. And so I called his teacher. And she so beautifully, gently, and wisely reminded me: “He’s is more than a test. He’s doing great.”

I share this to say that even though I am not currently in a classroom, I get how these numbers can make us forget ourselves. I know we’re going to worry about the test. But, also, can we stop? Can we please remember that we’ve been doing the dang thing all year?

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 11.15.56 AMScreen Shot 2019-03-20 at 11.16.07 AM

Today, this week, next week it’s not the time for “test prep”. We’ve been prepping. Perhaps we should rename this window of time Test Transfer?

What does this Test Transfer look like in action? I love the ideas Lisa Dennis writes about in her post 5 Ways To Avoid the Trap of Test Prep. These are excellent routines to put into place all year to help you feel more prepared.

I love too how Nancie Atwell suggests treating test writing as its own genre (see Lesson 56 in Lessons That Change Writers for a great example).

Standing on the shoulders of these folks, along with work started at the Ohio Writing Project with my colleagues Beth Rimer and Megan Rodney, we have been approaching these weeks as a chance to show students how to transfer their learning to the test:

Demystifying The Prompts

Using chart paper, we print out the writing prompts only, allowing students to walk amongst the prompts and think about what they notice (these are easy to grab in a screen shot from your state’s student practice test site). We ask: What do you notice a writer has to do when they show up at this writing? We outline the steps together, even making a game plan. First, we do this. Next we do this. Then we write.

Then we practice just the planning part. We project another writing prompt, and we again practice the planning. We get faster and more fluid. It becomes no big deal because the students see, “oh, we’ve been doing all these steps. Now I get to show it off.”

Thinking About Our Thinking

One of the things my colleague Kelly Taylor started to notice is that her 6th graders weren’t necessarily missing questions because they didn’t know the answers. They just weren’t reading the questions correctly. Duh, right? But once she began showing just questions and talking about how she would go about thinking about how to answer it, kids slowed down. She pulled the curtain back and helped kids develop a vocabulary for thinking about their thinking. We often assume they know how to do that. They didn’t.

We don’t want to send students blindy into a testing situation. That’s not fair to them, and it doesn’t set them up for maximum success. Instead of just giving them a bunch of practice tests, I like how Kelly is taking apart those tests, just like we do with any genre, and holding it up to the light.

Relaxing, Kind Of

We are trying to remember that in every core class, in every grade, we are up against a “BIG TEST.” And the kids are picking up on that tension. What we don’t want to do is do so much test-prep that by the test comes along, kids are completely burnt out. So, we’re reading more poetry. We’re looking at picture books. We’re collecting novels in verse for a book club that will take place during testing. We’re remembering that for six months we’ve been hard at work teaching these kids how to read, how to think, how to write.

Last week we played Minute to Win It games as we reviewed questions. In between questions, we played games. We laughed. We worked hard. We transferred learning.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 11.44.21 AM.png

a group of teachers playing Minute to Win It games as a form of Test Transfer

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a moment to look back at the post I wrote last year about teachers. Our students are as ready as they’re going to be. Trust yourself that you’ve done the work. Cheer them on as they head into the testing season.

And remember the words of my son’s third grade teacher: You are more than a test. You are doing great.

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH area. She is on her first day of spring break today and reserving all the books from the library to devour. 

 

Wrapping Up: A Look at Conclusions in the Workshop

What do you think is the hardest part about teaching writing? I’ve always had strong lessons on introductions and felt confident in supporting writers to explore genre and style. But, man, teaching emerging writers how to close a piece…that has always felt extra hard.

I was encouraged to know I’m not alone when a 5th grade teacher emailed me earlier this month:

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 1.27.47 PM

If you’re like me, you’ve maybe said to students, “Just sum up your big idea. But don’t say it exactly the same. And try to leave the writer with something to think about.”

Huh. Not helpful, let alone instructive.

For a long time I felt frustrated. When I looked at real writing, I couldn’t find any examples of the kinds of conclusions I thought my students were supposed to be writing. Then I had a lightbulb moment. If those kinds of conclusions didn’t live in the real world, then maybe I needed to shift my thinking.

I know, I know. Duh.

So I let go of “should” and embraced more of the “could.” The lessons were in the mentor texts I was using to introduce writing to students. Instead of going on a Sunday night Google goose chase, I went back to the mentor texts. I asked myself, “What do I notice these writers doing? Could my students try this?”

That’s exactly what we did earlier this month in that 5th grade classroom. The students were working on informational reports and we talked about how important it is to “wrap it up.”

Conclusions in the Real World

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 1.31.57 PMProjecting a picture of Collins Key, we started by talking about texts they’re familiar with. I asked them to consider how the youtubers they love wrap up their videos.

“Sometimes they tell you to subscribe to their channel,” one student volunteered.

“Ah, I like that. Sometimes they give you a next step or something to do,” I said.

The kids nodded and shared other examples of how they’d seen that.

“You know, that’s something we can do in our own writing,” I told them. The student helper wrote that on chart paper as the kids copied it in their notebooks. “Sometimes when you’re wrapping up your writing, you can give the reader a next step.”

Unpacking Mentor Texts

Then we looked at articles from NewsELA. We focused just on the conclusions, thinking about what we noticed the writer doing. Together we came up with a list.

When wrapping it up, writers sometimes:

  • Tell the reader a next step
  • Describe a little story related to the topic
  • Give some new, interesting information
  • Circle back to the beginning

That’s a pretty good list, right? With little nudging, the kids noticed and named these moves.

“Writers,” I looked at them, “if we can notice it, you know what else we can do? We can write it.”

Practicing in Small Chunks

I passed out post-its to each student, instructing them to think about the big Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 1.39.27 PMidea of their writing. What did they most want readers to take away? That helps us figure out what to write about in the conclusion. They turned and talked to a partner, verbally rehearsing what a conclusion might sound like about that big idea.

I noticed the kids were unsure at first, so I pulled them back together, modeling how each conclusion might work about tsunamis, their teacher’s topic. They nodded and turned back to their conversations.

Then it was time to write. We invited the students to go back to their work spaces and in either their notebooks or drafts, to try out two different conclusions, using our list as a guide. For about ten minutes students revised, drafted, and collaborated with their writing partners. At the end their teacher asked students to share. It was incredible to hear how these 5th graders were able to craft new conclusions that raised the quality of their writing. And they knew it. You could see it on their faces as they read their writing.

My favorite moment of the whole experience didn’t actually happen that day, though. It happened a week later, when I received this email from the teacher:

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 1.56.02 PM

Really, isn’t this what we want for ourselves and for our writers? To begin to read the world like a writer, and notice how writing exists all around us. That’s the power of a workshop approach to writing instruction.

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH area. She’s currently reading Dare to Lead by Brene Brown with the #cleartheair community, and a cheesy romance novel whose title shall remain a mystery. 

 

 

 

Leaning Into Teaching With Book Clubs

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 8.15.42 pmI read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones recently. It’s a powerful book. I couldn’t put it down and inhaled it in a weekend.

When I finished, I wanted to talk about it, like, now. So I did. I texted my cousin. I read reviews. I talked to anyone who would listen.

In short, I did the work of a reader. As a teacher of readers, I’m reminded of how important it is for us to create space for students to experience this same magic and urgency, to have space to do the work.

That work is about so much more than just the physical act of reading. It’s about wrestling with tough questions, thinking about themes and the way the big ideas relate to our own lives, looking at the way characters change over time.

As a literacy coach I’ve been working with teachers to design book clubs where students can build their literary analysis skills while engaging in reading communities.

Some of our core beliefs around this work:

Book Tasting

Yesterday I spent the day with my colleague Emily and her freshman students taking part in a book tasting. Emily and I curated a list of about 20 young adult titles with the help of lists from Nerdy Book Club, Project Lit, and our local librarian. We stacked books on tables and invited students to come to our Book Tasting.

screen shot 2019-01-10 at 1.42.18 pm

books ready for tasting!

The first round, we asked students to find a book that looked interesting. I held up Time Bomb by Joelle Charbenneau and read the first page. I asked them to do the same with their book — just read the first few pages. What’s your gut reaction. We then asked students to rate the book on a scale of 1-5 on the menu they had (you can find lots of these all over the web).

For the second round, I book-talked Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Students moved to a new table and grabbed a new book. We set the timer for three minutes and let kids take a taste of the new book.

We worked through several rounds, letting kids talk to each other about books periodically (book-talking Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore). The goal to “taste” at least five books. Then we asked students to fill out a google form where they shared their top three choices, which we used to put students in groups (most of them got their first or second choice).

Teaching: Mini-Lessons

For a long time, I struggled with what teaching looked liked within book clubs. I understood letting kids read books they’d chosen. I knew students needed time to talk about their reading. For too long, though, I relied on the “role sheets” as outlined in Harvey Daniels’s book Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. (Daniels himself has since lamented teachers over-zealousness around the role sheets).

But, role sheets didn’t do enough. I didn’t feel like I was teaching and more importantly, I didn’t feel like students were growing as readers and thinkers.

It finally clicked when I read A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts. I realized that there was space within book clubs for the mini-lessons that work so well in writing workshop. In fact, they were necessary. I’ve also had the opportunity in the last year to work with districts that are adopting Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Units of Study for Reading, which has helped inform my thinking tremendously. I realized that when we’re planning the teaching, we need to think about three things:

  1. Name the skills we want students to be able to do better. What’s the unit’s focus?
  2. Find a short text we can use as a shared read (we’ve been using Pixar shorts, children’s books, and short stories).
  3. Keep the mini-lessons mini. And give kids time to practice.

Planning

One of the keys of success for our books clubs has been in our planning. We’ve adapted Roberts’s thinking about how to spend time. We’ve started calling them A-B-C days.

  • A day: students have time to read (many of our
    Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 9.56.21 PM.png

    from A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts

    students do not read at home, or we have limited copies so kids are unable to take books home)

  • B day: book club meeting where students talk (we like using Conversation Cards if kids get stuck).
  • C day: we teach a mini-lesson and then give students time to practice applying the skill to their book club book.

With these rhythms in mind, we start to map out our time. A week might look like:

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 10.01.16 pm

Assessment

There are so many smart ways that teachers assess the work that happens in book clubs. During the process, we are talking with students all the time. We listen to their conversations. We engage in small group teaching when necessary.

For summative assessment, we’ve been thinking about having students do podcasts, or write blogs. Emily plans to have her students write multigenre projects about their books. Another colleague asked her students to create slide decks to share their learning.

We’ve also been thinking about how we might give students a chance to transfer their learning to a performance task. What if we give students a “cold” read and ask them questions that relate to the work they’ve been doing in book clubs? It mimics what many of our students have to do on state testing, and lets us know what we might need to re-teach in the next reading unit.

Book clubs have been transformative for so many of the students we’ve been working with. Kids who haven’t read a book in a long time find themselves thinking and reflecting deeply on the texts they’ve chosen. Some students read more than one book in the 3-4 weeks we spend in this unit. They were talking to each other, trying to figure out meaning.

They are doing the work of readers. IMG_4093.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: