Category Archives: Kristin Seed

Moving from Assigner to Teaching Along Side My Students

Hi, my name is Kristin and I’m a recovering assigner.

I can easily blame the system that taught me. Numerous years of forced writing assignments, inauthentic essay prompts, and unfair expectations with little to no chance to confer.

What I am describing is not just my own experience of high school in the mid to late 90’s but even my own classroom (I’m a work in progress). It wasn’t until this group of wonderful educators and the amazing work of Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher did I even begin to understand there was more to writing than the pattern of assigning, “teaching”,  and correcting. It started slowly last year through personalized writer’s notebooks, engaging quick writes, and dabbling in mentor texts to help us grow readers and writers.  But I still didn’t feel “there”– I didn’t feel ready for the complete jump into writer’s workshop.

Fast forward to March– State testing is winding down and I have Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s new book, 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents in my hands.

Image-1 (1)

Their recent book takes a look at the question “How do you fit it all in?” but does it with such thoughtfulness, insight, and in a way that makes their readers stop and think about their own practice. For me, it really made me think about how I needed to move from assigning narrative writing to immersing my students in the art of narrative writing.

After reading 180 Days the first time (I’m planning on rereading with my PLC as a book study), I was struck by how Penny and Kelly take different laps during their writing units, with each lap building off the last until students have shown a deeper level of development of their writing than our traditional 4×4 setup (read a book, take a test, write a paper, and repeat each term) allows us to do.

So, how has my life changed?

What my narrative unit was before:

  • I would diligently create a beautiful assignment, even including criteria for success so the students knew exactly what was needed in their narrative.
  • Students were given some choice in what they wrote (but it was choice in disguise–it still had to connect to the novel we recently read)
  • I gave students time in class to work and would start each day with a mini-lesson but it was based on what I thought needed to be taught, not in a responsive way through conferring or using a baseline assessment.
  • Usually five days later, the narrative was due. Some students used their 43 minutes each day to stare at a blank screen and eventually passed in an attempt at a story. Some loved this type of activity but passed in a narrative that was underdeveloped or without any organization. Some didn’t pass in anything at all–they would rather take the zero than take the risk.
  • While they were writing, I spent my time catching up with my grading and walking the room, begging my reluctant writers to get something on the page.

What my narrative unit is now/moving towards:

  • We started last week with multiple low-stake narrative activities in their writer’s notebooks using engaging mentor texts like “Hands” by Sarah Kay, 36-word stories using Visa commercials (Amy R. wrote about a very similar activity here), and writing alongside excerpts from some great young adult books from our classroom library.
  • This week, students will choose which pieces they want to work with and during our work time to expand them based on the day’s mini-lesson and practice revision skills (especially since my students think their first draft in their only draft–still trying to break this habit). We’ll also continue using mentor texts but use them for imitation work– “borrowing” great lines or ideas from actual writers!
  • After a well-deserved spring break, we will take a final lap with narratives the last week of April. I’m still deciding this piece– I want to see how the beginning of this week goes and see where we need to go next as we move towards the break.  I’m trying to be more responsive as a teacher, which is hard as a Type A planner. At the same time, I think this will benefit both myself and my students because I’m teaching the kids and skills in front of me versus just assigning the same narrative prompt year after year.

Although it’s only been a week in, these are some of the things I know so far:

  • My students have never been this engaged (in terms of their writing lives). How do I know this? Their notebooks are out and ready to go each class. They are passing their notebooks around the room, asking their peers to read what they worked on in class. We end our classes with “beautiful words” and they fight over who gets to share this time.
  • My closeted writers are finally finding their space in my classroom. They are sharing their work with others, giving advice to their peers, and even sharing their personal work with me (I had tears in my eyes when one of my painfully shy students handed me her poetry journal she brought from home–she thought I would like to read them this weekend. Be still, my teacher heart!).
  • Where my students are! Skimming through their notebooks has helped me see where they are starting and where we need to go. In the past, I wasn’t seeing their work until the end, which Kelly Gallagher calls gotcha grading. Now, I know where I want to and need to go to help my students with this type of writing.
  • And the best part- I’m writing. Whatever the students are writing, I’m writing alongside them and using my document camera to show my students my typos, my revisions, and myself. Narrative writing can be so personal. To see my struggle but also share parts of myself and my life has helped us connect in ways only stories can.

Although I still have a long way to go to shed the title of assigner, I feel so much hope that I am finally moving in the direction I’ve watched so many other teachers move towards. I’m reminded of what a wise educator has said about teaching– it’s making your practice 5% better each year. In this little way, I feel that my practice is becoming better because of the resources I have at my fingertips (like this group) and finally making the jump into the deep end of the workshop pool. 

What are some of your favorite things to engage and move your narrative writers? What advice do you have for those who are moving from assigners towards writer’s workshop?

 

Kristin Seed has been teaching for ten years at both the middle school and high school level in Massachusetts. Her passion is reading and leaving piles of books in every room of her house. You can find her chasing after her five-year-old son and now a 13 week old Golden Retriever, Abby. Follow her adventures on Twitter @Eatbooks4brkfst.

Advertisements

Status of Class– How to Formatively Assess where your Students Are

You could hear the cliched pin drop in the room, even though we’re only a few weeks into independent reading. It’s one of my favorite moments in the classroom–heads tilted towards their choice books, eyes moving side to side across those beautiful words and sentences. It’s a moment that ultimately lasts until mid-October, where the shine begins to dull a little and students are either completing books faster than I can get them into their hands, or dropping books faster than I can keep up with (“What do you mean you want to drop Everything, Everything? You just started it yesterday!”).

In a perfect world–not always my 10th grade classroom at my regional vocation urban high school–students would be moving excitedly from one book to another, we would have brilliant classroom discussions about the various books we are reading, and there wouldn’t have to be accountability because everyone is completely engaged and on their way to becoming the bookworms they’re meant to be.

In reality, I’m putting out small fires here and there as the first term ends, trying to keep my head above water. Between helping a handful of students find a book because they either finished their first pick or were dropping their first pick and craving the need to circulate to eliminate any temptation of students, I needed something to hold students accountable (for my boss) but in addition, a way to formatively see where each student was in our inaugural journey into IR.

As I’m sure we all can agree, reading logs don’t work.  Shana summed up what I’ve been thinking for some time now.  All I can think of are my poor (now junior) students who had to endure a reading log entry every time they read with a sentence summary of what they read and a sentence reflection along with their starting page and ending page for those 10 minutes.

Every. Single. Time.

No wonder only my most studious students did it (fearing a bad grade, not because they wanted to or saw value in it). Not only that, but I dreaded grading them (or opening each one in Google Classroom and seeing them not filled out). A sea of zeros flooded my grade book.

Enter what I’ve been using: Status of the Class.

IMG_3974

Status of the Class is truly inspired by both my reading of Nancie Atwell’s amazing book In The Middle (which all teachers should read at some point in their career) and Donalyn Miller’s presentation at Write Now 2016 in North Conway, NH. Both ladies have taught me the beauty of organization in the workshop classroom and the value of short check-ins among the longer conferences I make with my students as they work on their independent reading.

It’s my way to formatively assess where my students are and the progress they are making in their independent reading book. As students are reading the first 10 minutes of class, I circulate the room and peer over shoulders so I can write down what page they are on (and for some students, the title of their new book). While not a traditional conference, this works well on the days (and sometimes it feels like the many days) where I need to do a quick check-in so I can help the handful of students who are either dropping books or finished their book and don’t know where to go next.

I also like using status of the class to keep a running tab of how things are progressing to use when I email parents or during progress meeting for my special education students. It’s also a great resource to use when I conference with Juana, who has dropped three books this month alone–the data doesn’t lie. It also helps me to see that although Paul has finished three graphic novels in a row over the last 6 weeks, it might be time to challenge him outside the genre and try something new.

An added benefit to the status of the class is the competitive nature it brings out in my students. One of my EL students, Marco, asks me for his progress every time I do a Status of the Class. The look of pride on his face when does the math and sees that his reading rate is improving, little by little, is priceless. For Stephanie, she finds the check-in reassuring. On more than one occasion, after a Status of the Class, Stephanie whispers to me, “Miss, I read more pages this week than I did last week.” Stephanie is rereading Room, because last year when I had her as a 9th grader, she fake read it and only made it halfway. This year, she can’t put it down.

I still haven’t figured out a way to make it more student-led in my short 43 minute classes. When we are in the middle of an Independent Reading unit this spring, after our Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test is over and the constant test prep pressure is off, I’m thinking of making the Status of the Class a digital resource, asking students to input via Google Form and holding students more accountable to tracking their titles and progress. By doing so, more students like Paul, Marco, and Stephanie can actively engage in their progress and see how far they truly come this year.

How do you track and hold students accountable in their reading progress? What advice or tips could you offer to teachers with shorter class periods?

 

 

%d bloggers like this: