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Category Archives: Guest Post

Assessment Graffitti – Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

After a largely discussion and low stakes writing-based unit on Social Justice with three texts (Half the Sky, Hillbilly Elegy, and Ghettoside), I was contemplating a final activity to assess their understanding.  I wanted evidence of their thinking.  I wanted my students to show me, in any format, they “got” the unit–that they understood what injustices exist in the world, how they’re connected to privilege and access, and what solutions are necessary to equalize the playing field.  

But I didn’t want to have another seminar.

I didn’t want to give them time to write.

I didn’t want to read another article.

And, full disclosure, I certainly didn’t want cumbersome grading as we are in the final stretch and up to our necks in their year-long inquiry project.

I wanted something new, something we hadn’t done all year.  So, I decided to let my students do something forbidden–I equipped them with Expo markers and let them draw on the furniture.

Disclaimer:  I checked before to see that Expo markers washed off my classroom tables with a little elbow grease and Clorox wipes.  Please do so before!

I simply gave my students these instructions:

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Then, I stepped aside.  Students had about 30 minutes to complete their visual and were immediately engaged (likely because they were drawing on school property).  

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Dev and Lisa collaborating on a cause and effect analysis of Appalachia according to Hillbilly Elegy. 

As they were collaborating, students were discussing the issues we had examined throughout the weeks, Students talked about the values of the oppressors compared with those who are oppressed, and how those intersect with community values.  Students connected historical roots with the current issues discussed in their books, structures of power and privilege that exist, and what solutions should be invested in.  Their purposeful talk around the assessment proved they had read deeply, thought critically, and synthesized multiple issues.

The products were great–original and insightful.  Students gained more listening to their peers explain their group’s visual at the end of class because the conversation was extended and connected, again synthesizing ideas between the texts and our world.

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A live tree and dead tree representing opportunity and access for males versus females in Half the Sky.

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Graham explains his group’s problem-solution web for the violent community discussed in Ghettoside. 

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Emma explains the culture of have and have-nots that exist in other countries between males and females, emphasizing the barriers to equality.

While I ushered students out of the classroom, I heard the ultimate combination of compliments:

  • I feel like that actually assessed my thinking.
  • This unit was great, you should do it next year.
  • That was fun!

Mission accomplished.


Maggie Lopez has six years of teaching experience at large public high schools in Louisville, Houston, and now Chicago.  A graduate of Miami University, she had the pleasure of learning from the workshop masters and is on a continual quest to challenge, inspire, and learn from her hilariously compassionate juniors and seniors. 


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

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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.

 

The best books I read in 2017 – Guest Post by Adam Glasglow

I’ve been begging Adam to write a post for us since I met him at a training in CCISD just Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)over a year ago. I knew then he was not only a fantastic teacher but an accomplished writer. Last summer when we met again, Adam shared with me a couple of book titles I read and loved, so when I got this post from him this week, my heart did a wee flip.

As you can see, this is not a true guest post. It’s a re-blog of Adam’s Medium site. I’m claiming it here. I read A LOT, but I’ve only heard of one book on Adam’s list. Thank goodness it’s almost winter break — I’ve got more reading to do.

Take a look. Then, please leave a comment and add the titles of the best books you read in 2017.

The best books I read in 2017 – Adam Glasgow – Medium

 

Adam Glasgow spends weekdays spreading a love of reading and writing with his 10th grade students. On evenings and weekends he enjoys reading, writing, watching movies, learning about wine, roasting his own coffee, trying to get better at disc golf, and hunting for new obsessions. He lives with his beautiful wife in the Houston area along with their two cats, one of which used to live in a dumpster, and another named after a crazed murderer from a Stephen King novel.

On Poetry: A Guest Post by Charles Moore

PoetryQuote4_zpsa4587647.jpgI write a poem on my white board every day.  Students, teachers, and administrators can see it. It’s a practice I started sometime after the hurricane when I realized how much my students were reading poetry books as their self-selected reading and I thought maybe the kids and I could use another way to connect to language. 

Recently, in a response email to a recent blog post submission, Amy challenged me to write about the poetry that I briefly mentioned in “Part II. Continuing the Crusade for My Readers.”  She called on me to elaborate on the authors that I use in my “Poem of the Day” selections and why I mentioned those in particular.  This took some reflection because an obvious answer didn’t leap fully formed from my head. I think there are several reasons: 

It’s what the kids are reading. So many of the girls in my classes read “Milk and Honey” and Rupi Kaur’s more recent book of poems, “The Sun and her Flowers.” They buy the books themselves and a few weeks ago, members of our dance squad feverishly passed my poetry books around.  Many of those girls don’t even have me as their teacher. They take pictures of the entries that speak to them and re-read when they think they’ve missed something or they want to experience those feelings over again. 

This style of poetry appeals to me.  I like it.  I like to read the poems and consider my own experiences and feelings.  Maybe I’m entering my emotional teenage girl phase, but sometimes these speak to me as strongly as they speak to the kids. 

Like everyone, time is precious for me.  My schedule is particularly tight with my football periods and no real time to plan or collaborate with my teaching peers during the school day.  Like everyone else, I find time when I can and when I’m working on my lesson plans, I make sure that I’ve selected, ahead of time, the poem for each day.  Choosing poems is easy. I try to pick poems that might be meaningful to 12th graders and not too long that I can’t write them on the board.  I might find these poems in the poetry books I’ve already mentioned or even on Instagram.  I have to dig a little, but #poetry produces gold often enough. I recently purchased a compilation of the poetry of Langston Hughes and I have books by other poets on the shelf behind my desk.  My wife even purchased a book of poetry for my classroom when one of her co-workers recommended it.  

 Another place I can reach for poetry is into myself.  I can take what I see and mimic it.  Structure is easy to replicate, but the themes are more difficult. The “notes” app on my phone is full of little thoughts and lines and poems.

 I guess the natural question is, “What do you do with the poetry?” The answer: it depends.  Sometimes the themes of the poems tie into the themes that we see in our reading selections.  Other times, we use the poems to jump-start a quick write.  Most days, we take a second to look at the poem on the board, and move on.

No matter what, I can say that I give my students a window through which to view poetry every single day, and that, I think, is an important opportunity for them and for me. 

A list of resources I’ve pulled from recently: 

  •  Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur 
  • The Sun and her Flowers – Rupi Kaur 
  • Born to Love, Cursed to Feel – Samantha King 
  • A Beautiful Composition of Broken – r.h.sin 
  • Identical – Ellen Hopkins 
  • The Princess Saves Herself in this One – Amanda Lovelace 
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes – Edited by Arnold Rampersad 
  • How Lovely the Ruins: Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times – Forward by Elizabeth Alexander 

Charles Moore teaches Senior English, coaches JV soccer and shuttles his 10 year old soccer playing son across town 2 days a week. Follow Charles on Twitter at @ctcoach.

After the Hurricane, a Crusade for my Readers — Guest Post by Charles Moore

Lightning woke me at 4:30 this morning. Friday is my “sleeping late day.” I usually roust Clear Creek ISD June 2017 (1)myself around 5:30 and head to the bus barn to pick up a bus for the varsity football game. The much needed rest was not coming today. Please forgive my anxiety with storms these days. It doesn’t seem to abate. Nor do my thoughts of teaching and coaching and facilitating our Student Council.

Last week was Homecoming Week in Charger Nation. This means dress-up days, a
parade and a carnival. Throw in a day of PSAT testing for fun. It was the end of the first nine weeks grading period; a grading period interrupted by something called Harvey. Heck, we can talk about my son’s soccer practice and robotics meetings. My daughter missed her dance class to be a member of the Homecoming Court. You’ve never seen a girl smile so big as when she rode in the back of that convertible holding a tiara on her lap for dear life.

There is a hurricane metaphor in here somewhere, but I can’t find it. The best word for last week is: chaos.

Chopra chaos quote

And yet…I never stop thinking, just like this morning, about my job. Really, I can’t stop thinking about how I do my job and how I can get better at it.

I can’t stop thinking about how I’ve changed as a teacher these last couple of years. Specifically, I’m thinking about how learning about workshop has made me a better teacher, coach, and Student Council Sponsor. My whole approach to this teaching life changed. I ask the kids to take more stake in their learning. I demand that they explore and discover and use me as a resource. It works.

This initial nine weeks was crazy. What with our natural disaster and the recovery and the fact that it was going to only be eight weeks long to begin with. Somehow we made it.

Workshop did that.

What workshop didn’t do was make my students readers. Most of them just didn’t read the first nine weeks of school and their teacher didn’t do a good job engaging them in their self-selected books.

I vowed to change that in the second nine weeks. I sat down with each class roster and noted the progress of every single student in each of my classes. I studied them. I conferred with them about their reading lives. Data emerged. I found that my students fell into one of two categories: Reader or Non-reader. Now that’s an earth shattering breakthrough, I know. The important thing about it is that I knew which one each student was.

So I went to work moving kids out of the books that bogged them down and into books that could engage them. To move them, though, I had to get into their heads and learn about their thinking. What interested them? Not just cars and cliques or dragons and swords, but what themes and what sorts of characters grabbed their attention.

I looked at their college essays and talked to them about what was happening in their lives. I engaged them in talk of who they thought they were. I assigned quick writes about their life as a reader and asked what appealed to their thinking. I checked the progress of my non-readers every day.

Constant Conferring was crucial. Every. Single. Day.

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Keeping a visible record of book talks

Also, I committed to book talks. Every single day.

This is hard for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to read during this time of year. But I found ways to get books in front of them. I might talk about a book on Monday and then read a short selection from it on Tuesday. Rinse and repeat.

I went down to the school library and checked out books that I’ve read that aren’t in my classroom library. They love it. I tell students over and over, “I need you to finish that one quickly because its on my ‘Next to Read’ list.” I have at least 30 books on that list.

Our results vary. Some kids jumped straight into a new book and took off while others still struggle to find time outside of class. Some students tell me how they find time to read on the bus to their cross country meet or at work at the tanning salon. Most of them are trying and I think that’s really the most I can ask of them. It’s not, however, all I can demand of myself.

I crusade to make them life-long readers and writers. I will not relent. I want them to find the joy in reading that I know is there and if we have to do the hard work together, then I’m all in.

Charles Moore is a senior English teacher at Clear Springs High School in League City, TX. He enjoys leisure swimming, reading, and coaching linebackers. Follow Charles on Twitter @ctcoach and read Charles’ other posts here and here.

Saying Something, Not Just Anything: Student Talk – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

Written in the spring of 2017, Margaret Lopez reflects on the value of purposeful communication and strategies to get kids to create questions that get at the heart of a topic and generate meaningful discussions. 

All year, my juniors and I have been workshopping writing and reading different texts for a range of purposes, pairing fiction and nonfiction for some whole class studies (Death of a Salesman and Outliers–a hit!  1984 and current events surrounding fake news and government–loved it!).  I realized a skill I hadn’t closely instructed, we had just “done,” was intentional classroom discussions.  As my juniors prepare to be seniors, Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMcollege students, and individuals in the workplace, they need to speak purposefully and ask intentional questions.  I want them to be able to say something, not just anything  From this reflection, and students’ interest in recent protest movements and community issues in Chicago, a social justice unit based mainly on speaking and listening with low stakes writing was born.

I selected three books for students to chose from, and those choices became their lit circle groups.  Students could chose from Half the Sky which discusses female discrimination across the world, Ghettoside which examines policing in a predominately African American community outside of LA told by a reporter who spent years reporting on crimes in the area, or Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir about growing up in Appalachia.

Throughout the unit, we have followed the same routine:  

Mondays are for lit circles, Tuesdays are for extension activities with nonfiction, and on Wednesdays, we discuss all three texts together in a Socratic Seminar.  My goal was a lot of low stakes writing and fruitful discussion.

I think there is a reason that discussion is a central component of the English classroom, as it builds community, facilitates deeper or new thinking on a topic resulting from other perspectives, and is a college and job skill we have the duty to foster and refine in our students.  However, students need to speak, listen, and ask purposefully.  My students know how to talk–at my small school, where classes can be between 6 and 16 students, class stalls if they don’t have anything to say.  The awkward silence lingers.  Then someone says any random thought they have just to break the silence.  But there is difference between saying anything and saying something.  To elevate students to say something about the injustices across the texts, not just anything so that awkward silence doesn’t linger too long, I began with questioning skills.

Magnifying Glass - Questions

It is challenging students to take the idea they’re wondering about and want their peers to contemplate and thinking about it backwards, writing a question that doesn’t give away their opinion, lead peers right to the answer, or simply confuse others.  

We began by running through the list of essential questions from this school year and reviewing their quick writes on the topics from throughout the year.  I asked students what they noticed about the questions, many came to the conclusion that the questions are BIG, meaning they have more than one answer, but those answers aren’t definitive or “right.”  From there, we looked at a list of plot-based questions I made about the first chunk of their reading to compare the lists of questions.  They easily noticed these questions were the opposite of essential questions, meaning they had a limited scope of what response could be correct or on the right track.

Great, they can notice the difference.  Now to teach them to apply this to their own questions. Thank the teaching gods and goddesses for Jim Burke’s What’s the Big Idea?.  I used his entry points into teaching questioning around three types of questions:  Factual, Inductive, and Analytical, having students label their own questions as one of the three types.  Then, we worked on revising after I modeled some examples.   I challenged students to move beyond the factual so we could get to the big ideas and scale up Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Jacely revised her questions to get to the heart of her concern, which was why law enforcement doesn’t seem to care about women that are in trouble:

  • Factual:  On the very first page of chapter 2, what does Nick ask the Officer about regarding trafficked girls?  
  • Inductive:  Kristoff asks an Officer about what exactly they look for and then mentions if they look out for trafficked girls and the officer mentions there isn’t much to do about them. Why do you think these officers seem to not care about this huge issue?   
  • Analytical:  What implications does this have on the community?  Women’s futures?  Are there issues with law enforcement in the communities in your books?

Mishawn revised to include more perspective and connection:

  • Factual: Why is the crime rate so high in Watts?
  • Inductive:  What allure do gangs have for the young people in the community?  How does this create a cycle of violence and crime?
  • Analytical:  What factors, both historically and recently, have lead Watts to become a breeding ground for criminal activity?  In your opinion, which factor is/has been the most detrimental?

I also provided students with question stems as a guide and encouraged students to use these until they felt comfortable framing their questions.  By the end of the unit, student questions were synthesizing the three texts and major ideas.  I noticed students would lead with a question geared more towards their text, then extended the question to the other two text, thus inviting in more conversation and fluidly moving between inductive and analytical questioning.  The discussions moved from inner to outer, from focused on one book to all three books.

Jordan:  How does Leovy expect the reader to believe in the good homicide detectives while at the same time giving examples of racist and uncaring detectives?  What contradictions exist in your book’s community?  Do these lead to an imbalance of power or other injustices?

Ben: Isolation is discussed by Vance as one reason leading to a disconnected, stalled hillbilly society.  How are the people in your text isolated, whether by location, proximity, cultural norms, or otherwise?  Does this perpetuate the problem or is it a solution that hasn’t been capitalized on?

To springboard Wednesday’s seminars, we often pre-thought through the big ideas for that chunk of reading as a way to anchor thinking and create a common entry point into the seminar, and also, so students had something to say.

  • Google Doc Quick Collaboration:  I posted some initial questions on the google doc to get students thinking, then watched the entire class collaborate on 1 document–so cool!  I limited this pre-thinking to about 3 minutes so students didn’t type all of their discussion points.  I also left this projected during the seminar, serving as an anchor chart and inspiration for more questions.  So easy. Minimal prep.  Great results!
  • Discussion Tables:  I made three table tents at three different tables in my classroom, each with a common idea and thread that occurred during that chunk of reading.  I gave students two minutes to discuss how each topic related to their book.  After two minutes, they moved to a new table and could shuffle up their group.  Again, minimal prep and 6 quality minutes of pre-thinking.
  • Essay Highlights:  Students wrote for 20 minutes about the central injustice in their novel, justifying why that, out of all the intersected issues, is the most pressing for the community in the book.  I then typed the major argument from each student’s essay and used it as an entry point into a Wednesday seminar.  Students were able to see the something their peers had to say, understand how perspective and perception shade one’s reading, and make connections across the three texts.
  • Pass Around:  I asked students to write a line from their book that really just hit them in the gut and explain why.  Then, students passed them around the room, spending a few seconds reading what their peer had been most impacted by and why.  I actually couldn’t stop students from talking. Across the table, students were making “OMG” eyes at each other, whether it was a connection with their lit circle peer or shock over what a peer had written about from another text, the conversation was immediately started.

As I have listened to each small group discuss the same texts, it was amazing to hear how the conversation differs from class to class.  I wanted students to experience that, to give them a chance to expand each others’ thinking.  I assigned two digital seminars using our school’s digital platform, and while this is nothing crazy innovative, students posted and responded, I noted many benefits from this type of “discussion”:

  • Students experienced new perspectives and interpretations of the text from their peers in other classes, and I found more students sharing personal anecdotes–students were sharing their personal experiences with discrimination and inequalities.
  • Shy students or those that need more process time were the space to contemplate, revise their thinking, or deepen their response by not having to think on the spot as they would during an oral discussion.  I have many exchange students from around the world (China, Spain, Thailand, and Italy), who have the extra task of interpreting, decoding, and thinking in two languages  By writing, students had more time to think and contribute at their pace.
  • Students were more thoughtful in their responses and more likely to use text evidence to support their argument or open their classmates’ eyes because they aren’t so “on the spot.”  Students used evidence from the book, as well as other articles we had read, thus adding rich context to the discussion.
  • Students had another opportunity to practice practical writing for college.  Many college courses require blog post or digital contributions, and the reality is that most of my students will take an online course at some point in their academic or professional lives, too.  
  • Students received real time feedback on their questions.  If no one responded, maybe the question was unclear, too narrow, or too broad.  Student-led formative assessment–a new trend?
  • Students had a time and space to learn about digital etiquette and practice, something very important as Snapchat and Twitter become accepted means of communication.  As students move into their post-secondary endeavors, they may be communicating with bosses or professors via email and must communicate clearly, without a misinterpreted tone.  We discussed how to politely disagree and how to ask a follow up question instead of answering with bias, as well as the time and place for proper mechanics.
  • I made time to write beside them, contributing to the discussions, too.

Although these strategies were successful in moving my students beyond saying anything at all to fill the void, the best part was how moved my students were by the injustices that exist in our world.  They spoke with such compassion and concern for those suffering they no longer seemed to be kids, but young adults.


Maggie Lopez has six years of teaching experience at large public high schools in Louisville, Houston, and now Chicago.  A graduate of Miami University, she had the pleasure of learning from the workshop masters and is on a continual quest to challenge, inspire, and learn from her hilariously compassionate juniors and seniors. 


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

Diving In: My 1st Week of Readers/Writers Workshop – A Guest Post by Gail Stevens

September 4, 2017

School started for me last Monday, and with it my journey into Reading Writing Workshop.  Lucky for me I have three colleagues who were ready to try something new, too.  Why try Workshop? So many of our students were not reading. They were Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMdisengaged, and so were we. We were feeling  discouraged and something had to give.

At the end of the school year, we invited anyone in our English department who was interested  to join us to discuss the possibility of implementing Reading Writing Workshop. Attendees discussed why we wanted to try this method, and teachers had time to ask questions and voice their concerns. We left that meeting feeling excited and energized by what could be,  and committed to reading and studying about Workshop over our break.

Over the summer, we read Penny Kittle’s Book Love, participated in the Book Love Summer Book Club, and read everything we could get our hands on about the ins and outs of running a workshop in the high school classroom.

Fast forward to last week. With summer over we met back at school to figure out how this workshop thing was going to actually look in our classrooms. We quickly realized that we needed to make peace with being uncomfortable and tolerating the ambiguity that comes with the territory of trying something radically new. We are pioneers, and we have each other and a host of mentors online via Twitter and some amazing professional blogs like this one to guide us in our first steps.

The Three Teachers Talk blog has been a godsend to us. Every day there are thoughtful articles, engaging lessons, and practical tips on doing workshop from real teachers who are teaching real students. The authenticity of this work shines through every post as well as the encouragement we get from teachers who are doing what we aspire to do.

So how’s it going so far?

AMAZING!

We just finished our first full week with students and the four of us are feeling so energized and excited about our first starts at establishing workshop classrooms. Some background on the range of classes we are teaching this year:  I am teaching four year-long sections of English II Honors (on an A/B day schedule). All of my students are also takingAP Seminar, the first AP class in theAP Capstone program. Capstone is new to our school this year, so again, more new territory for us as teachers. I work closely with my students’ AP Seminar teachers and my plan is to support the work my students do in that class in whatever way I can. I also co-teach one section of ESL Sheltered English I. My workshop colleagues are teaching English III & English IV inclusion and honors sections. Here are some of the reading/writing activities we used to begin establishing community in our classrooms:

Day 1 was  “Book Speed Dating” in the Media Center. Students had a chance to “speed date” at different tables (each table was set up with different fiction genres). All students left with a book that day.  We wanted students reading from Day 1.

Day 2 Students began their independent reading at the start of class.  Students read for 10 minutes and recorded the number of pages.  Next, they filled out their Independent Reading Record sheets to calculate their weekly reading goals (using Penny Kittle’s formula). We will use these records when we confer with students to help them design their reading ladders and to guide choices for next books.

workshop one

Students also completed aReading History Timeline. This is something I’ve used before but haven’t done in a while. I like seeing a visual timeline of my students’ literacy development. Students were supposed to choose 8-10 events that helped shape their reading lives. Positive events were to be placed above the line; negative events below the line (some students forgot this part, so I had to have them clarify for me). Students placed their completed timelines on their desks and we did a gallery walk. Afterwards, we discussed common themes, beloved books, shared experiences with literacy. One common theme was students’ loss of interest in reading as their lives have become busier. Almost all mentioned a lack of time to read as being a major contributor to this problem. This only reinforces my belief that if we intend to help students grow as readers, we must give them time to read in class.

workshop two

workshop three

Day 3 we created aPersonal User Manual. I  loved the idea of students writing guides to what matters to them. I shared the mentor text, and then wrote my own User Manual to share with students. I explained to them that I would be doing all of the writing assignments (and setting my own reading goals) with them. They loved this idea!

I am only halfway through reading my students’ Personal User Manuals, but so far I am thrilled with the results. Notice the voice that is evident in their work. This is such a great beginning to the year to be able to identify a student’s voice and encourage it right from the start.

What insights I have gotten into my students after only the first week of class!

Here are some student samples:

workshop four
workshop five
workshop six

All of these activities helped us to get to know each other as well as build community and excitement for books and writing from day one. A great example: even my most skeptical student, a young man I taught last year in English I, found a book he was willing to read. This is the message I received from him this morning that made my day:

workshop seven

What’s next? Students will be experimenting with writingAuthor’s Bios. I plan to have them include their picture with their bio, and I will print these out and post around the room.

Student response to these first steps into establishing a Reading Writing Workshop have been overwhelmingly positive so far.

Thank you Amy Rasmussen andThree Teachers Talk,Penny Kittle, and all of the amazing Workshop teachers out there who generously share their work and enthusiasm for this practice. My colleagues and I are encouraged by the changes we see in our students and ourselves, as we are more engaged and energized than we’ve been in a long time. We hope to inspire others around us who are curious about workshop but are not ready to take that next step.

I look forward to sharing more adventures in Workshop with you.

Gail Stevens


Gail Stevens teaches 10th grade Honors English & 9/10 ESL Sheltered English at Cary High School, in Cary, North Carolina. This is her 18th year teaching, third in high school, after teaching middle school for 15 years. You can email her at gstevens@wcpss.net or follow her on Twitter @jerseygirl_1021.


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