Category Archives: Erika

Mini-Lesson Monday: The Power of “I”

Recently, Jackie humorously infused pickup lines and leads into her lesson to engage students in narrative writing.  It got me thinking.  While I am not nearly as funny as she is, I still needed to find a way to minimize the angst with starting a written piece.  Students deserve an opportunity to look at opening lines so they are innately thinking like writers.  Providing them the opportunity to authentically explore various ways to open their stories is key.  So, we gave it a whirl.

Objectives:  Students will recall moments in their lives that have shaped who they are today.  Drawing from their own life experiences students will distinguish what moments they are willing to chronicle in their personal narratives.  Students will construct meaning about their personal experiences by creating a written piece that utilizes author’s craft that has been studied and analyzed.

Lesson:  Let me say that I typically do not focus on opening lines, hooks, what have you until after students have written their pieces.  I find that students are able to more easily and comfortably play with their opening once they know where they’re going…or have gone… with their narratives.  Yet, I was curious to see how this would pan out.

 As we started to jog our memories for those defining moments that have occurred in our lives, we started thinking about questions that would help us dig deep into our own thinking.  A few included:

What do I believe?  (About life, the world, society, family, education, etc.)

What moment has occurred in my life that I am (still) confused by?

What is the most life changing experience I’ve encountered?  What decisions have I made during this situation that have shaped who I am today?

Who is important to me?  Who has made a tremendous impact on me (positive, negative)?  Do I find conflict in this?

What simple pleasures do I relish in when times get tough/stressful?

These questions, among many others, started getting our process underway.  Students had choice and freedom in picking what they wanted to write about – as we know personal narratives are sometimes brutal to compose: sometimes we want to forget what we’ve been through.  Yet, in order to foster the writers in room 369, these questions were written in the first person.  When we write questions for our writers in the second person (What simple pleasure do you relish in when times get tough and stressful?) we are providing them an opportunity to take a step back; to be a bit removed.  When we shift our curiosities to “I” “Me” “My”, it becomes personal.

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Then, we played with various different ways we could open our stories.  Each student played with concepts, moments, memories, and experiences after seeing how the authors of our independent reading books played with theirs.  Having heard about fifteen authors’ opening lines, students were willing to really dive in and try different ways to start: sounds, quotes, internal thinking, advice they’d been given, visuals, third person…

This visual represents our thinking at the very beginning of this school year.  Students are playing with this deep level of thinking and crafting for the very first time.  There is still some apprehension and hesitation, but for the most part students are willing to try…and play…and craft…and find their inner brave.

 

Follow Up:  Once students have created numerous ways to start their piece, they will narrow it down to two.  From there, students will start their narratives.  Yet, they are being asked to start their narratives using two different openings…

As writers we know that it takes much patience and practice to feel satisfied with our writing; specifically our opening lines.  Asking students to try writing their pieces from two different starting points allows us to see where our writing goes.  Maybe one start is stronger, prompts more thinking while the other falls flat.  Maybe they both prompt great confidence in continuing to see how they develop.  Maybe the best draft ends up being an infusion of both.

Regardless of where our personal narratives go, starting the process with options both in craft and experience, the pressure of writing is minimized and students feel more at home reliving some of the moments that would have never made it to the paper prior.

How do you foster the willingness to write when fear or apprehension stand in the way of our writers?  What techniques do you use as a writer that you channel to your student writers?

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An Authentic Connection: Literacy and Citizenship

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Room 369: The New Home of the Francis Gittens Lending Library

It is finally time for educators across the state of New York to head back to school. Here in the city, we have one day to organize, get our rooms situated, be professionally developed, catch up on the summer on-goings of our colleagues, and be ready to open our doors and welcome our new students full with promise – tomorrow.

So, as I let this ruminate; I find myself referring back to an article I was sent this summer to keep my mind whirling and my thinking on the edge.  Why are students falling off track?  According to this piece from Education Week the gap that separates students from achieving academic success is staggering.  This is not news.

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A moment of calm amongst the disorganization…

However, as I have had to arduously undergo this move of 3,000 books and their accompanied bookshelves (the entire Francis Gittens Lending Library) from room 382 to room 369; much has come to light.  I’m no stranger to believing that literacy is the key to access, opportunity, and self-worth; or that the Readers Writers Workshop is the venue in which to do so. Yet, this experience — this move, has taught me even more.

Literacy needs to be passed on.  It cannot remain only within our classrooms or the classrooms down the hall.  It must be infiltrated into the homes in which our students live; brought with them on public transportation where book covers are viewed by others; shared with siblings.  It must continually be invited and welcomed into places it does not often find an invitation.  That’s our job as educators.

I’ve been reflecting on this past year, and years prior, to recollect what I believe to be some of the most vital components of the educating that occurs within the Readers Writers Workshop – and I always come back to the same two elements: creating a love and thirst for knowledge through literature and fostering the creation of students’ voices through writing.  This was solidified when Daphtho (pictured above) matter-of-factly stated, “Ms. Bogdany, you don’t have to thank me for helping with the move.  It’s my way of thanking you for helping me receive my diploma.”

So when Daphtho and George (two recent graduates) offered to spend their time among the heat, lifting and moving and organizing and undoing and reorganizing and waiting (for me to make aesthetic decisions); they quietly schooled me.

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A moment’s pause amidst the move…

Through their actions they showed me that when we are relentless in supporting their thinking and ideas, when we foster them as individuals (not just students) they innately become the young men and women they are destined to become. They are willing to give back to their community (even if they are no longer going to be physically present). They understand what it means to feel safe to take risks, comfortable to allow vulnerability to surface, and the power of giving back.  And, are eager to pass it forward.

During the many hours of this move, there were quiet (if not silent) moments of understanding.  Albeit the towering stacks of boxes that needed unpacking, these young men stopped in their tracks as they found literature that spoke to them – and found themselves comfortable spaces in which to explore. Daphtho will be bringing literature home for his brother entering sixth grade as he works side-by-side with him on his literacy skills (knowing the importance of a strong foundation) and George decided on two pieces that were donated by a friend of mine from high school – ponderings and questions about taking the next steps in our lives.

So no, my urgency for, “Time is ticking” did not kick in.  But what did kick in was, “This is exactly what this time needs to be.  Us. Books.  Connection.  They are ready for their next steps.  How grateful I am to have borne witness to their growth and how wildly fortunate I am to know them as the citizens they have become.”    

What elements of the Readers Writers Workshop do you believe propels your students in becoming robust citizens?

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: What Will You be Book Talking?

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At the very beginning of the year, I relish in choosing the books that I want to expose students to via Book Talks to hook ’em, spark an interest, or at the very least; have them raise an eyebrow.  With over 3,000 books on our lending library, it can be a daunting and downright overwhelming process for reluctant readers to choose a book to kick off the year. To start their reading journey.  To be brave enough to try something they haven’t before. To simply engage in the process.

Sometimes a mini-lesson is about exploration; such is the case as students are trying to find their way through the minefields of endless books.  While it’s important to educate students on skills and techniques; it’s also just as beneficial to teach them how to authentically explore letting their interest and intrigue guide their process.

So, we pull back and take it slow…

Objectives – Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Students will draw from their own interests and personal experiences to predict the literature that will capture their attention and support their literacy growth.  Students will assess their reading fluency and stamina through analyzing their reading rates, commitment to completing books, and data that supports their movement.

Lesson: To kick off the introduction to the library, I choose a few pieces to Book Talk – share an excerpt, a few paragraphs, sometimes a page or two…but nothing too long.  I keep it short.  To keep the energy high and interest levels peaking, I want the process to flow and be completely full with variety.  (After all, at the beginning of the year, I am unfamiliar with who many of my students are as readers.)  I ask students to jot down titles in their Writer’s Notebooks that have caught their attention as to keep them in mind – now or in the future.

Next, we physically tour the library where I expose students to the themes (not genres) that categorize our books.  Fun ones such as:  No Sleep Till Brooklyn (compliments of the Beastie Boys – books on our favorite borough), Behind Barbed Wires (Holocaust affiliated literature), A Day in the Life (stories of all kind)…  Along the way I show students where I grabbed the books that were Book Talked.  This is essential because, if students are interested in a particular piece, this process provides them with a focus.  With so many books to choose from, initially narrowing down their interest to a section or two makes the process manageable…and quite enjoyable.

Once we’ve toured our library, students are given time to explore.  They choose books that have caught their attention.  Eventually, stacks of books are taken off the shelves and brought back to our tables. Students are then given an opportunity to interview their books of choice by having time to explore them – covers, flaps, table of contents, page 107; whatever they are drawn to.

To guide students along in this process I also provide them with The Six Steps to an Effective Book Interview:

1. Jot down the title and author of the book.

2. Study the cover.  Jot down some of your thinking… What do you think this piece may be about?  What do the colors and visuals represent?  Does the cover alone capture your attention?

3. Read the back of the book or the inside flaps.  What is this book about?  What is intriguing or off-putting about this book?  What questions do you have?

4. Open the book to any page of your choosing.  Read three consecutive pages.  

5. What do you foresee being an obstacle when reading this book? (Language, vocabulary, author’s point of view, etc.)

6. Are you interested in reading this book either now or in the future? Will it be going on your Next-to-Read List?  Explain your rationale.

In the meantime, I am conferring with students all over the room: the ones at the library scoping things out, students who seem a bit disengaged, those who have chosen a piece at lightening speed, ones already interacting with The Book Interview and everyone in between.  There becomes a buzz in the room which signifies the learning process has begun!

Before class rounds an end, I ask students to bring at least one book home with them and read for 45 minutes.  This is a process.  Some students are psyched about their choosings and others are disappointed that they didn’t find ‘the one’.  We talk it through.  It’s imperative for each student to leave with literature, yet we also leave with an understanding that if it does not feel like a right fit after they’ve had time outside of class to ‘play with it’, then we go back to the drawing board again tomorrow – knowing just a bit more about why it wasn’t the one. And the cycle of collecting data on students’ interests and needs commences.

Follow-Up: As the year progresses and students and I learn collectively what they enjoy reading (and what they are willing to be challenged by), Book Talks become more tailored to student interest. Sometimes they are done with specific students in mind, other times they are presented based on big ideas/themes (love, injustice, the power to overcome, etc.).

The beauty of this process is that although Book Talks remain a constant all year, students do not bore of them; every day they are different.  And, students become more in-tune with what they enjoy, are curious about, want to challenge themselves with, etc.  Typically by mid-year, students are no longer needing to use the The Book Interview because, by that point, it has become an innate part of their process.

What initial strategies do you instill in your classroom to make the rest of the year’s learning fruitful?

#FridayReads: Some of the Classics

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Alice in Wonderland pop-up book – full with rich colors, adventure, and 3D visuals.

“Oh, one of your students is reading Alice in Wonderland?!  I love that.  Are they captivated by it?  I wrote my entire master’s thesis on that piece.”

Last year, a colleague of mine was through the roof to hear about some of the children’s classics that my students were engaging in:  E.B. White’s pieces, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, The Tao of Pooh, Alice in Wonderland – which holds a very special place in her heart.  But, for some reason students across the board have been guided away from these treasures.  Why are we steering them away from the simplicity of tapping into their inner nostalgia, re-entering times in their lives where there was quiet innocence and a simplicity that innately dissipates as we mature?

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In between reading The Classroom and The Cell and I Am Malala, this young man enjoyed the layered themes of a charming classic.

Charlotte’s Web was just as powerful for me as a thirty-something adult as it was as a seven-year-old little girl.  The latter was an opportunity to finish a chapter book full with robust (animal) characters and an opportunity to connect with Fern, the moralist. The former was a rich experience as I explored the theme of love, relationships, sacrifice, and an understanding of death (as I had recently lost my grandmother).

One of the important elements of the Readers Writers Workshop model is the idea of roller coaster reading. As Penny Kittle adequately puts it; adults read books on all different levels based on interest – students deserve the same.

I couldn’t agree more.

Think back to a time you dedicated your reading to a piece that was difficult – for you – for whatever reasons affiliated with that experience.  Often times, we decide to ‘take it easy’ once we’ve conquered a book of that caliber.  We’ll play with levels and genres and graphic novels and page numbers…and any other factors that play into our decision making.  But, we typically veer from the intensity.

Until we’re ready to try again.  And, we typically are ready at some point because we experienced the pride that comes with such a challenge.  It just may not be our next book…or the one after that…  But, we will find ourselves back there because it’s important to do so.  Students will too.

Roller Coaster Reading : All readers should have the luxury to go on such a ride!

Roller Coaster Reading : All readers should have the luxury to go on such a ride!

And while there is the push for lexile reading, and all of the other ways to monitor student reading, we must let students read what their souls ache for.  Whether it be luxuriating in a time of childhood innocence or challenging their vocabulary with a much more difficult piece.  When we provide space for students to explore (and yes, children’s books included) students find the roller coaster that suits them – a bit of scare and intrigue balanced with comfort and adventure.

A wonderful way to provide students the opportunity to monitor such reading is through the creation of a Reading Ladder.  (Scroll down to Q1 and Q3 to find information on how to create ladders and see examples.)  Simply, by reading various books on differing levels, students have the opportunity to review their learning, progress, fluency, and stamina…all the while having choice.

This year, I intend to watch our I’ll Always Be A Kid shelf grow as more and more students find themselves drawn to some of the classics from their childhood.  A handful of students love this shelf because they reminisce about reading (or having that book read to them) while others are exploring children’s literature for the first time.  Our adolescent parents are intrigued as they scope for titles that they want to bring home to read to their own little ones – because passing on the gift of literacy is priceless.  Regardless of the rationale, students end up falling in love with the magic.

What hesitations or fears surface when thinking about high school students reading children’s literature?

3 Creative Resources to Ignite a Writer’s Notebook

As I mentioned in Contagious Creative Concentration: A Week in Reflection on Tuesday, there is so much to gain when we infuse creative outlets and ample time for students to stretch their minds during the learning process.  Amy’s posted comment, “I imagine I am guilty like many others of thinking: “If I only had the time.” Seems time is the enemy of creativity, or at least it is if we let her rule our lives. Thank you for this reminder about inviting creativity into the classroom. Coloring on the edges. I like that,” relates the learnings from the week at UNH’s Literacy Institute to the significance of infusing the Readers Writers Workshop model into our learning communities.

Jackie’s post from yesterday 3 Ways to Jump-Start Reluctant Writers also provides three concrete ways to joggle ideas for our student learners.  And to conclude our weeklong focus on the Writer’s Notebook, tomorrow Shana will be discussing more ideas on how to make them a (creative) staple in all of our classrooms.

So, as the four of us here at Three Teachers Talk continue to write and think and process through the importance of the Writer’s Notebook and our excitement towards implementing them on Day 1 of our new school year…we invite you to do the same.  Here are some resources to spark and intrigue learners of all ages and to support them in embracing their inner originality and individuality:

Lynda Barry’s works are phenomenal.  I suggest you hop onto her website to take a look at her thinking, pedagogy, and resources…and to also enjoy an interactive look inside her books. (Some pictured here.)

Syllabus

What it isPicture This

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Coloring

 

The Mindfulness Coloring Book is a coloring book that provides page after page of innovative visuals to be colored however the user so wishes.IMG_20150727_211908 While doing so, one’s stress decreases and focus increases.  Here’s a peek at how I utilized it while taking a graduate course this summer – in an attempt to balance the workload with an element of zen.

 

 


Art-of-Zentangle

 

The Art of Zentangle explores the artistry and creativity for those looking for a bit of a challenge – as so many of our students are, yet it is incredibly accessible for doodlers of all levels.  There are a plethora of tutorials on youtube.com for you to start your hand at zentangling while also sharing the process with students.

 

 

 

I hope these resources have inspired you to think about lessening stress levels; providing students an outlet that ultimately drives their focus and concentration; and how to organically and authentically let students explore their inner-most thinking through the art of creating.  And, if you happen to find (or already know of) resources that students are thoroughly enjoying, please leave the titles and anecdotes in the comment section below.  The list of creative resources truly does go on and on!

Contagious Creative Concentration: A Week in Reflection

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Creative concentration is most definitely contagious!

This summer at the University of New Hampshire’s Literacy Institute while Shana, Amy, and Jackie were studying with Tom Newkirk in their plight to dig deep into the lives of males and their literacy (needs), I was across the hall studying with Penny Kittle (and other fabulous educators nationwide) in a course titled Contagious Creative Concentration.

The ledges were lined with pieces exposing the truth about doodling, coloring, sketching and zendangling.  The truth is that while reading and writing is foundational to all literacy

The Art of Zendangles: Unique repetitive patterns infused with creativity and focus.

The Art of Zendangles: Unique repetitive patterns infused with creativity and focus.

movement, there is also much need for the art of creativity to be infused into the Readers Writers Workshop – regardless of grade level.  And while we had the opportunity to “play” alongside the rigorous workload we were collectively engaging in, there was a calm that permeated throughout the entire week.  There was color.  There was focus.  There was deep level of inquiry.  Yet, there was rarely a moment that colored pencils or adult coloring books were not being utilized during the process.

An article published in The Atlantic: The Cognitive Benefits of Doodling explores the benefits that enhance one’s performance.  The studies and stats are real – exposing educators everywhere to understand the importance of this type of creative play.

Two women writers who, not only holistically believe in the ideas outlined in the above article, but shared their knowledge and creative process with us during our time at #UNHLIT15 were Lee Ann Spillane @spillarke and Linda Urban @lindaurbanbooks.  Both published authors who embrace the creative process as a means (and a journey) to authentically design and originate their work.

Work in progress

Work in progress: My own thinking

While we were exposed to those who have been finding success throughout their personal creative journeys, we were also asked to think about utilizing collage work to demonstrate our own creative process.  (For educators who employ the format of the Writer’s Notebook suggested by Penny Kittle, it is dedicated to this element of creativity.)

Last March I posted Today We Draw chronicling the day students and I needed a break from the constant push and rigor of our daily work together.  At that time, I recognized the importance of breaking for us to explore a creative outlet, yet what I’ve learned this summer is that it is downright unfair to carve out days for creativity and exploration.  It needs to be a daily constant in all of our classrooms.  Students need to have the freedom to doodle on the corners of pages, zendangle on a post-it, or engage in some good old fashion fun equipped with a coloring book.

So, as I start to plan for the upcoming school year, I find it imperative to ensure that pencils (of all colors) are sharpened, coloring books are displayed, and doodling is not only encouraged but a constant in our community.

What are your thoughts wrapped around the idea of creativity (in all its forms) being invited into your classroom community?  What success have you had in doing so?  

 

Our Year-In-Review

As we round out the 2014-2015 academic school year, I would like share our Year-In-Review from us here at TTT and dedicate it to all of our loyal and contributing teacher friends who share in our experiences throughout the year.  Playing with the Reading Writing Workshop model is always exhilarating and fresh and exciting and freeing and thought-provoking.  It’s always propelling us, as educators, to break through barriers and teach with our most authentic teaching souls.

So, to capture the essence of how we have all explored the model this school year; here are highlights that allow us to celebrate the risks, the questions, the stumbles, the ‘ah-ha’s, the setbacks, and of course…the successes.  As we are all still progressing through this last month of our current school year, we hope that resurfacing some of our favorite moments will ignite the fire that keeps us all educating with fierce passion, deep inquiry, and continual evolution.

The calm zen of the RWW in Texas.

The calm zen of the RWW in TX.

First up: The lovely Amy Rasmussen who never ceases to amaze all of us with her wit, wisdom, and wildly insightful thinking.  Here is a woman who has taken the RWW by storm and has not looked back; the only time she does is to pick up, dust off, and gently guide those who are trying to find their way through the process.  She is an excellent mentor and extraordinary educator who ensures that her Advanced Placement students are gifted the wonders of the RWW. Here is a collection of how Amy has guided us through the intricacies of customizing the RWW for our own learners:

A Feedback Protocol for Revision Workshop

5 Reasons Why Reading Conferences Matter — Especially in High School English

5 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of School

 

A reminder of student movement and achievement.

A reminder of student movement and achievement in NH.

Next: Jackie Catcher’s name could not be more appropriate.  We know the catcher’s responsibility on the field is to guide the team to strategic success; Jackie does the same infield – in her classroom. She moves her students with her unyielding dedication through continual infused literacy by craftily customizing projects and lessons that engage students. She is a powerhouse who, through all the struggles and obstacles of a second year educator, never ceases to find innovative ways to educate and inspire.  Most importantly, she is always a learner first and shares her inquiry with others to not only think collectively, but to create success-driven solutions.  Here is some of her story:

Building My Library Around My Students

Unraveling the Mystery of Poetry

The Question That Changes My Students’ Writing

 

A bright and energetic learning environment in WV.

A bright and energetic learning environment in WV.

Thirdly: The always-invigorating Shana Karnes. Shana is a shining light to her students, yet her light shines brightly for the world of evolving educators as well.  She is open to sharing her passion, her innovative thinking, and the way she creatively customizes the RWW for her students in the throws of West Virginia.  Shana never loses sight of how vital piles and piles of literature are for the growth of her young readers and emerging writers.  She knows how to roll up her sleeves and do the work right beside her scholars.  It is through the sheer joy of all things literacy, that Shana explores the world of the RWW:

We Learn Facts from Fiction

Teach Readers, Not Books: A Case for Choice Reading in ALL Classes

The Value of Talk

 

The shelves where our identities are qualified, our ideas solidified, and our passion realized.

The shelves where our identities are qualified, our ideas solidified, and our passions realized in NY.

Rounding it out: Erika Bogdany.  Through the RWW I have challenged my students, and they in turn, have challenged me.  They push me continually with their own inquiries and want to be more fluid writers.  They challenge my writing by offering suggestions and insight that I have bestowed upon them; the gift of creating a safe community for all learners to read, write, risk, and share.  It is through the RWW that students find pride in their work, volume in their voice, crafted secrets in their writing, and beauty in themselves.  It is with passion and grace that students flutter and flop; yet learn how to fly:

All it Takes is a Tutu and Some Focus

Beyond These Four Walls

Today We Draw

 

We hope that our moment of reflection and celebration continues to provide you ideas and inspiration throughout the remaining time you have with your unique readers and writers this year.  We’d love to continue hearing your voices, feedback, and generous insight while we round out this school year…and look forward to the year ahead!

Heinemann

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