Category Archives: Julie Swinehart

Layering Notice and Note Signposts over the Plot Triangle

Teaching seventh grade is both a challenge and a joy. Students are inquisitive, silly, maturing . . . and in the seventh grade. Until last year, I hadn’t taught this grade for about eighteen years, and I wasn’t expecting to. But, life can be unpredictable, and in a strange and wonderful turn of events, I have found myself teaching seventh grade students.

I couldn’t be happier.

Recently, because of some standardized testing they were involved in, the concept of the plot triangle was raised. My students, for the most part, stared at me blankly, not understanding what it was. I realized that the plot triangle is a simple diagram, but can be a difficult concept.

It was really perfect timing because we were starting to read some short stories together as a class, and we needed some common language for when we discuss and write about them.

I created a chart I and posted it on our classroom wall.

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As the students digested the ideas in the plot diagram, I was peppered with eager questions.

Why is the climax so close to the resolution? 

What is the falling action? 

How many events belong in the rising action? 

We talked it through, and students started to feel more comfortable with the ideas, but the next question was one that made me smile. Why does the plot triangle matter?

Fair question. Why? is always a fair question in my classroom, and I had a proud teacher moment.

In trying to explain why the plot triangle matters, I tried to share that a visual representation of a story helps us to understand more deeply.

We made the connection that the fiction signposts also help us to more deeply understand a story. Since we’ve been studying the signposts as we study short stories and narratives, it was a great connection to make.

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So, after class I annotated our wall chart with the fiction signposts. It took some thinking, and I’m hoping I got it right.

I didn’t want to limit anyone’s thinking by suggesting that a signpost might only be found in one part of the story, but I did want to let them know where they might start noticing them.

They started to create plot triangles with some of the stories we had recently read together, and then layering some of the signposts into the plot triangle.

  1. Charles by Shirley Jackson
  2. Thank You, M’am by Langston Hughes
  3. The Medicine Bag by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
  4. Fourteen by Alice Gerstenberg

Here are some examples of what they did right at first:

 

My students aren’t done creating their plot triangles, and they aren’t done thinking about how the layering of the plot diagram and the signposts complement one another, but so far their thinking is going in the right direction.

They are asking questions and making connections. They are talking to each other and challenging each others’ thinking. They care more deeply about the stories and the characters they are reading about.

I’ll call it a win.

Update: I had another “aha moment” and asked my husband to help add another layer to the wall chart. What do you think?

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Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school year in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Empowering Students by Celebrating Banned Book Week Any Time of Year

It’s banned book week, which means many of us teachers are highlighting books that have either been controversial in the past or are controversial now. I love that banned book week gets our students and colleagues talking about what we should all be allowed to teach, read, discuss, and learn about. It makes us all feel smart, in the loop, and empowered.

Because I displayed and highlighted some banned and frequently challenged books, students asked some great questions which have generated some important conversations. They felt smart and important when they learned about banned and challenged books.

When students express an interest in these books, or any book for that matter, I let them know that I appreciate that they are challenging themselves. Maybe they are challenging their thinking about a certain topic, they are exposing themselves to new experiences through books, or they are reading a complex text, but banned and challenged books can be problematic for many reasons, and those problems often lead to new learning and ideas. However, if a book becomes “too much” for any reason, whether it be their hearts aren’t ready for it (I explain that Marley and Me is still too much, several years after the death of my beloved dog, Bart), or the text is too challenging, or the words or situations make them uncomfortable (especially for the middle school students I teach), they can give themselves permission to drop the book or save it for later.

It’s empowering to be able to choose your own book. It’s also empowering to be able to drop it.

These conversations this week started because of a simple book display I put together because I was inspired by the fact that it is Banned Book Week. I used the ALA’s list of frequently challenged books as a resource so I could pull books from my classroom library shelves. A couple of my colleagues shared similar displays in their classrooms, so many students are curious, asking questions, and talking about censorship.

This is the type of display that can be shared at any time. Banned Books Week is a great time to start the conversation, but the conversation might take more than a week. In fact, I think it should.

Because that conversation takes more than a week, I’d like to suggest a unit around research, argument, and banned books.

Last year, a colleague and I did just that. We based it off of a Read Write Think lesson about banned and challenged books, and it went really well. Even thought Banned Books Week is in September, we worked on this unit in May, because talking about banned books is important all year long.

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Students researched, read about, discussed, and wrote about banned and challenged books.

They looked at Laurie Halse Anderson’s statement about intellectual freedom and felt empowered.

They read the NCTE statement on The Students’ Right to Read and felt empowered.

They watched Trevor Noah and Jason Reynolds discuss what it means for books to be mirrors and windows and felt empowered.

Essentially, when students researched and read about titles that have been censored, they felt empowered that they were able to access these books. When students saw the display of challenged and banned books, they felt empowered that they could access them in their own classroom libraries.

Teaching students about banned books empowers them. Banning books removes the agency from students and teachers, but exposing that censorship empowers that same demographic. My students feel empathy for those who have been denied access to these important and powerful books. They are also grateful that they have easy access to these same titles.

By exposing censorship, teaching about intellectual freedom, and providing access to all types of books, students, teachers, and communities are empowered.

Aren’t we all about empowering our students?

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school years in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Scaffolding an Authentic Reading Community with Multiple Copies in our Classroom Libraries

As the school year gets off to a great start, I am thinking about how I am going to build an authentic community of readers. My goal is that my students will be as independent and engaged as possible, which means I have to step out of the way and make room for them to do their thing. I’ll scaffold along the way, but I am hoping that they take ownership and come up with their own ideas.

Building an authentic reading community is our goal. I had a few students last year who decided to read books in a partnership, and they ended up having a great time. They read, talked, laughed, and ended up enjoying their books, I think more than if they had been reading alone. It’s always more fun with a friend.

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This memory of last year got me thinking about how to encourage this type of partnership without requiring it.

I realized that I purchased lots of multiple copies of the same titles for my classroom library, and I can simply make the suggestion. Students have asked for multiple copies of the same book before, so if I place them in my classroom library strategically, maybe they will take the bait…

So I rearranged a few books and remain hopeful…

 

I reorganized a few of the books in our contemporary fiction section and went from there…


 

Many of the doubles (and triples, etc) that are in the classroom library have already been checked out, but the ones that are left I shelved together with the suggestion that students might pick them up with a friend.

 

Last week our department invited all students to tour each others’ libraries, and as a result of that activity, three of my students decided to read Butter together. These books were all in different classrooms, but these students decided to read the same book anyway. It gives me hope that when I intentionally place books next to the suggestion of reading with a friend, they will start to read together.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how my students decide to move forward with this suggestion, and I’m hopeful because I’ve seen it happen before.

How do you encourage your readers to read together?

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school year in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

 

Summer Reading Recommendations : what to read and how to go public

As summer winds down and I am heading back to school, I am taking time to reflect on my own summer reading.

Summer is always busy: our family travels from our home in Nicaragua back to our home in Oregon to visit family and friends, and we don’t really have a “home base” throughout the summer. We are always so happy to spend this precious time with our loved ones, and we end up visiting late into the night quite often. This means I’m not reading as much before bedtime, and in the afternoons when I might normally be reading, I’m visiting and playing and participating in summer activities.

But just because I’m not reading on my regular schedule doesn’t mean I don’t value reading and books like I always do, and when my students return to school in a couple of weeks I want to be able to demonstrate to them that it’s important for me and for them to all have healthy reading habits.

I’ve written before about how important it is to be public with our students regarding our reading habits and values. I just don’t think it can be said enough — showing our students how much we value and appreciate reading is perhaps more important than telling them. But the questions is how… so I have come up with a few more ideas this summer about how to share with my new students in the fall.

  1. First of all, I will show them my own list of books I’ve read over the summer.IMG_5385IMG_5386I’ve kept track in the Notes app on my phone, and it’s super easy to keep track this way. I could have added how many pages were in each book, genre, authors, etc, but those are easy things to look up later, so I just included the titles in my own list.

I’ll share this list with my students, and then talk with them about the diversity of the list — books in verse, graphic novels, nonfiction, middle school level, young adult, etc. My reading life isn’t just about reading “on level” books; it’s about reading what I like, reading to learn, and reading for fun. I want to both model this and be explicit with my students about this fact.

  1. Secondly, I’ll share with my students that I’ve been public all summer long. I’ve shared many of my current reads on twitter and instagram, and while I don’t have a huge following on either of these platforms, I have gotten good feedback from others, and it feels good to have a conversation starter about books.
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A screenshot of one of my posts on Instagram this summer. Not only am I sharing what I’m reading, but I’m sharing that I read and it’s important to me. This leads to conversations that happen face to face!

 

 

My students can share their current reads in many ways – they don’t necessarily need social media, but they do need to see that a willingness to start a conversation about books and about reading is beneficial in creating a community of readers.

 

As an aside, I can heartily recommend all nine of the books pictured above. Actually, I can recommend all of the books on my list above — it was such a great summer of reading! 

  1. Thirdly, I’ll share with my students that while I wasn’t reading, I was often shopping for books for our classroom library. I shopped our local thrift shop, the Goodwills in my area, the St. Vincent de Paul, and some other local new/used bookstores. I even found a few copies in some little free libraries around town. I found treasures without having to spend too much money. Most of my book purchases were fifty cents apiece, and I made it a rule not to go over three dollars a book unless it was something I had to have. Even then I only went over the three dollar mark about three times, and most of my books were under a dollar.

 

I purchased multiple copies of the same titles so I could organize book clubs and book partnership units and activities, and so some of my students can organically decide to read the same titles together. (I was so happy to find about ten copies of Seabiscuit, for example, and I didn’t pay more than two dollars per copy.)

I understand that it’s not feasible for every teacher to purchase books, but that’s not the point. The point is that I want my students to see that I value reading, books, and their access to books. As teachers, we can demonstrate that priority in countless ways. In fact, last year, I built my classroom library from scratch with no money out of pocket at all. I just needed to make sure that I could immediately put books into the hands of my students, and I’ll keep doing what I can to make that happen.

I wonder how other educators will model their values as they get to know their students this fall? Please share in the comments, as I know there are some really good ideas out there, and I oh-so-selfishly want to hear them!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school year in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Three Ways to Go Public with Your Reading Life

We all know that part of building a community of readers in our classrooms and in our schools requires modeling the behaviors and habits we are trying to promote.

The question for me, though, has been how? How do we model our reading lives at school when we do most of our reading at home, on vacation, or while in the waiting room during our own kids’ orthodontist appointments? Our students certainly don’t have access to those moments, so modeling a healthy reading life can be a challenge.

Of course, we do read at school sometimes. But school is busy, and while our students are reading we are submitting our attendance records, welcoming in the occasional tardy students, and conferring. It’s difficult to model the behavior we want to see in our students because of all of the tasks teachers do.

This past school year, our school tried three different easy strategies for sharing our reading lives and habits with our students. They aren’t revolutionary, new, or difficult, but they worked, and I think they are worth sharing.

  1. We put laminated signs on everyone’s classroom doors. Sticky notes and scraps of paper were used for posting our current titles, and students regularly noticed and commented on different titles throughout the year. 65535402_2081290802172377_7501378884630216704_n2. After finishing our books, we took the sticky notes and scraps of paper and posted them in the secondary office of our school. This is a place where students and teachers are in and out every day, and it was on a highly noticeable wall. This bulletin board was a great place to get “next reads” suggestions, and sparked conversation between students, teachers, and other staff. 65977219_652574388573414_1805783836705947648_n
  1. Some teachers kept a list posted in their classrooms. I kept mine on my classroom door right next to my current reads sign so that when I changed out the titles, I could easily add it to my list.

One of the benefits of going public with our reading lives like this is it has motivated me to read through many of the books in my classroom library and in our school library. As I read through my classroom library, I got to know the books better, and I was more deliberate about book talks and about recommending titles to individual students.

While posting titles isn’t exactly the same as modeling the reading behaviors and habits we are trying to instill in our students, it’s close. It’s a visual reminder to our students that we read. It’s a way to show students that we aren’t asking them to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves, and it’s a great conversation starter when it comes to building next reads lists and encouraging independent reading habits.

Next year I will use these same strategies, and in addition I might try to get my students involved in the same type of board — a “What are the students reading?” bulletin board in our classroom where students can share titles and recommendations with each other.

How do you model a healthy reading life to your students? I’d love to learn about more strategies and ideas!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon,  four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school year in Managua, Nicaragua. 

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Summer Reading: One Answer to this Big Question

By now we all know that we don’t want our students to lose any of the healthy reading habits they have been building over the course of the school year. We’ve all worked too hard to build them, and to give these good habits over to the summer slide seems like a really bad idea.

So we need a plan. We know that if we don’t plan for a positive summer reading experience, that’s the same as planning for many of our students to not read at all… While many of our students will continue to read over the summer because they’ve established their reading habits quite successfully, others are still burgeoning readers and haven’t established these habits in the same way.

For example, I have one student who has resisted reading literally the entire year. She regularly told me that she doesn’t like reading. That reading is boring. That she doesn’t like books.

I kept responding with one word: Yet.

About three weeks ago, she changed her tune. She found a book she loves. She told me it was good. She liked it! (This is another argument for student choice when it comes to reading, but that’s a slightly different post.)

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Her book is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

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This respect for books and reading is new for this student. The reading habits are fragile, and her disposition could change over the summer. Nobody wants that… It’s too important to ignore.

It’s just one of the many reasons why our school has decided that summer reading is something we have to expect and encourage.

We want to honor our students and their individuality. They are all over the place when it comes to where they are in their reading journey, so there is no one-size-fits-all plan for summer reading.

Here’s the we-hope-it-works-for-everyone plan we came up with: Students will choose their own titles, their own number, and even the language in which they read. We’ve told them they need to read books in both Spanish and in English (we are in Nicaragua, so this is entirely appropriate). But no one is telling the students what books to read, how many to read, or what ratio their English to Spanish books needs to be.

  1. Students choose their titles based on next-reads lists, talking to each other, book talks they’ve liked, and what sounds fun for summer reading. Some will choose three, some five, some ten… we don’t give them a minimum number, we simply ask how many they think is a reasonable number for the summer. (We do try to get them to agree to at least three, though.)
  2. Students confer with their current ELA teacher, and that ELA teacher “nudges” them to possibly add something to their lists, or help them make decisions, but only if they need it. We try to avoid student frustrations from choosing books that are too hard over the summer, as they won’t have regular conferences with teachers, for example. We try to make sure they’ve chosen “enough” to read over the summer, based on what we know about them as readers. But all of this is based on student choice and preference.
  3. Students fill in a quick google form that will be shared with next year’s ELA teacher. This form will help next year’s ELA teacher with the first reading reflection, the first conference, etc. This is where the summer reading accountability is built in. No one will be “in trouble” for not reading over the summer, but it will be the basis for the first honest reading conference of the school year. Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 8.54.00 AM
  4. Students email their parents their summer reading choices with an explanation of the summer reading program. At that point they can check out their books from our school library (YES! They really can check out books over the summer! I love this so much!)Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 8.53.27 AM

Our summer reading plan really is just four easy steps. However, these steps are based on an entire school year of implementing student voice and student choice when it comes to reading. Students have a good idea about how much they could potentially read over the summer because they have just completed semester/year long reflections and recognize their growth and learning when it comes to reading. They have inspired themselves!

This plan will be implemented with this year’s current fifth grade students so they will enter sixth grade knowing that they are respected for who they are and what they like, but there is also an expectation that they will read. It’s a grade six through twelve summer reading plan, and I do think it will work. I’m excited to talk to my new students in the fall already about how their summer reading goes.

What does your school do for summer reading? I’d love to hear other ideas!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, and are loving their new adventure.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

One Pagers as End of Year Reading Reflections

Ending the year should be a ton of fun. Once the standardized testing season is over, it’s not time to let the days drag. It’s time to continue the learning, the fun, and the reflecting. As Angela wrote, it’s important to end the year strong, and on a positive note!

I think one-pagers are a great answer to some of the end-of-year-dilemmas we teachers face.

The possibilities for one-pagers seems to be endless. They are fun, they are hands-on, reflective, and what student doesn’t want to use markers and crayons in the classroom?

I’ve shared some of my experiences with one-pagers before, and I thought I’d share another idea or two here now.

At the end of the first semester, I asked my AP Lang students to reflect on their reading habits and experiences. This was our last assignment of the semester, and it was so fun and positive to grade. What a way to wrap up!

The requirements for the reading reflection one-pager were as follows:

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I modified this assignment from one a colleague shared with me. It originally focused on one book that a student would read for independent reading, so when I modified it into a semester reading reflection for AP Lang, I was unsure, yet hopeful, about how it would turn out.

One of the big differences between doing a one-pager for a book vs a semester reading reflection is the idea of What’s Your Number? I told students they could use any unit of measurement they wanted: pages, hours, books, chapters, inches, pounds, it didn’t matter. It just needed to represent their reading for the semester, as it acknowledges the accomplishments!

I was so happy with the results.

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I plan to ask my AP Lang students to do this again in a couple of weeks, but to focus on either second semester or the entire year, whichever they like.

It’s a positive way to end the year. It’s a celebration of learning and reading and growing, and it puts a smile on all of our faces.

How else have you used one-pagers in your classroom? I’d love to read all about it!

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, and are loving their new adventure.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

 

 

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