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Category Archives: Shana Karnes

Everyday Activism: Enacting Change in Your Classroom

I’ve waged a war between sadness and hope this week in my teaching life. Sadness that yet again, another mass shooter took the lives of students and teachers. Hope that this time, the response would be different.

This is the first mass shooting I’ve followed news coverage of since becoming a mother, and accordingly, my sadness is magnified a thousandfold. I cannot imagine losing one of my precious children; I could imagine it even less before I had them.

But, my hope is greater after this tragedy, too. I’ve been so warmed by stories of students who survived the shooting mobilizing to enact change, like this one from NPR. “This kind of activism feels really different, compared with past mass shootings,” says journalist Brian Mann.

These passionate students-turned-survivors have spurred me toward activism, too. I don’t think there’s a simple solution to this complex, multilayered problem–and I don’t think our national conversation should attempt to polarize the issues of gun control and mental illness. I don’t know the right way to deal with either of those issues, but I do know a place where we, as teachers, can begin to enact change.

That place is in our classrooms, where students like Nikolas Cruz can sometimes go unseen for so long that they transform from lonely teenagers to angry gunmen before our eyes.

Our classrooms, where so often we have students so busy working toward meeting standards that they barely have time to meet our eyes, or one another’s.

Our classrooms, where, yes, great learning happens–but where teen realities like bullying, rejection, and failure happen, too.

Are you seeing these layers to your students’ identities? Seeing beyond who they are as readers and writers, and into who they are as friends, sons, daughters, boyfriends, and girlfriends? Who they are as social beings outside our classrooms?

We must see our students this way. We must make every effort to foster conditions of inclusivity, to teach in culturally responsive ways, to, simply, see our students as people and not just learners. When we do, we transform from spectators to activists.

Desiring to build community is no longer just a nice goal to have in addition to covering content standards. The ramifications of leaving students alienated are becoming more and more significant.

Inclusivity is no longer just a buzzword–it has become a matter of life and death.

Our teens are unhappier than ever, bombarded by apps that promise connection but in reality deliver isolation. They feel so lonely that they are spurred toward violence–toward themselves or others–in alarmingly increasing numbers. Nikolas Cruz is just the most visible product of this horrific trend.

There is so much we can do to see our students, to help them feel seen. Glennon Doyle writes here about a way her son’s teacher thoughtfully fosters inclusivity and interaction in her classroom by “breaking the codes of disconnection” she unravels when she really sees her students.

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I must have felt that message keenly when I planned my classes this week, since I packed in as many small-group or partner talk- and feedback-filled activities I could. My students wrote to one another–about having patience with and faith in our students–in their notebooks. They got into groups to talk about ways to individualize curriculum, and created anchor charts with their takeaways. They formed different groups to devise a list of creative alternatives to traditional tests, so every student could feel successful, on a Google doc.

My students also wrote their autobiographies this week, and workshopped them with a partner they don’t usually talk to. As I scanned through their comments on one another’s work, I was filled with joy:

“This makes my heart happy!” one student wrote in her response to a classmate’s heartfelt description of his fiancee.

“I feel sorry for anyone who will be Alex’s colleague–in a good way! She’ll be one of the best teachers at her school and will push her colleagues to be the best that they can be.”

“I’d love to work with a teacher like you.”

I watched my students read their peers’ comments, and little smiles stole over their faces.

A huge, happy grin stole over mine.

In response to violence, I drew my students closer–to one another, to our subject, to me. I wanted them to have the chance to see one another, to feel seen, and for me to see them more clearly as people and not just students. Workshops like these bring students together. They work, and if you’re skeptical, here are five reasons you’re wrong. When we teach into our students’ needs–both academic and personal–we make a difference. We enact change–every day.

And maybe, we save lives.

Please comment and share ways you help your students see one another and feel seen. We’d love to know how you do this important work.

Shana Karnes loves her work with preservice teachers at West Virginia University, with practicing teachers through the National Writing Project at WVU, and with her amazing thinking partners here at Three Teachers Talk. She is hopeful that this generation of students and teachers will be better, kinder, more open–and she will never stop trying to make that hope a reality. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

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Finding Teaching Inspiration in the Dark of Winter

I love to spend big chunks of my summer planning ways to revise and improve my practice.  The season is always so full of hope, with opportunities to reframe my thinking and help my students be more successful.

But when the school year actually begins, it can be overwhelming to attempt anything from a major overhaul of your teaching to a few key shifts in practice.  Every year, I read books, take classes, and obsessively jot ideas that never see the light of day when I’m faced with the reality of a fall full of fresh faces, administrative initiatives, and new courses to teach.

And now, in the dead of winter, I’m exhausted. It feels like I have no ideas. I’m looking for inspiration in my teaching, my reading, and my writing–inspiration I never seem to be able to come up with on my own. So I’m going back into my notebook and re-reading my summer entries, where I was full of ideas and energy.

This summer, I worked with a group of amazing teachers in Pipestem, WV during a National Writing Project summer institute.  As we read and wrote and thought and planned about argument writing, I jotted down two things in my notebook I could do that would withstand the crush of the reality of our profession and inspire me all year long.

Embrace the Wobble

Ounnamed_origne of our central texts for the institute was Pose, Wobble, Flow by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen.  This text makes lots of wonderful arguments for teachers to inhabit “poses” as more thoughtful, authentic practitioners through the metaphor of yoga.  The idea is that when we try new things as teachers, we are trying to get into a pose.  We inevitably wobble as we try to master this new stance, but eventually attain the flow characterized by doing this pose without thinking.

GODA (as one of our teachers refers to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen)’s key argument is that the wobble part of this process is not only a necessary part of becoming a better teacher, but a desirable one–we must live in the gray area, a zone of proximal development, disequilibrium, or whatever else we might call it.  “The P/W/F model is not about an endpoint,” GODA vehemently asserts; “it is a framework to help acknowledge how one’s practice changes over time and requires constant adaptation” (4).  It’s only by being uncomfortable, by trying new things day or week or year in and out, that we can improve as teachers.

What this looked like in terms of our theme of teaching argument writing was revising the way we think about the writing process to start from an inquiry-based place of research, then claim development, then argument articulation.  This new mindset required all of us to “wobble” as we tried to conceive of it, and we wobbled in even our understandings of its many moving parts–what revision is, or what an argument can look like, or how we can use argument as a genre for developing our opinionated writing voices.  As we were flooded with unconventional ideas, mentor texts, thought processes, and assessment measures, we all wobbled with the confidence we’d eventually reach flow.

This semester, as I wrestle with finding energy and inspiration in the wake of having two small children, the new pose I’m trying out is going gradeless. It’s reshaping the way my students and I dialogue about their work, but it’s still an uphill battle to wrestle them away from the temptation to wonder what their grade is…or my own inclination to compulsively give my opinion on their work in the form of a letter or number. I’m definitely in the midst of the wobble, but I’m hopeful that by the end of the semester, I’ll get closer and closer to the state of flow.

But whenever things do start to (finally) go smoothly, I’ll need to yank myself out of my newly-found comfort zone and get into a new pose, embracing the wobble of new learning once more.

This constant revision of our teaching is a simple way we can always strive to be better teachers–just embrace the wobble of continuous improvement.

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Become a Writer

Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen strongly advocate for the many student-centered benefits of writing beside our learners, but there are so many benefits beyond the classroom that become possible when we simply write.

Outside the classroom, GODA suggest that teachers might become more engaged in improvement by:

  • Sharing articles with colleagues
  • Commenting on education blogs
  • Participating in Twitter chats about educational issues
  • Joining organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English
  • Participating in local workshops

Taking one or more of these eminently doable steps can help teachers “enact agency and make an impact on the profession” (27).  These simple activities will not only expose you to ideas to keep you in the “wobble,” but they’ll let you meet and engage with like-minded colleagues as interested in improvement as you.

Within your classroom, becoming a writer is equally valuable.  If you read nothing else of Pose Wobble Flow, I encourage you to read the chapter on “Embracing Your Inner Writer:  What It Means to Teach as a Writer.”  These pages are chock full of suggestions for not only reasons to write, but ways to do it.  From a survey designed to help you find your identity as a writer, to practical methods for joining writing communities on Twitter, Facebook, and even NaNoWriMo, to the ways the act of writing beside our students changes our teaching, this chapter is awesome:

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Because “the changes that come about within our classrooms and with our students start with ourselves,” (80), writing is a necessary first step to becoming a better teacher.  It is a fight, with two kids under two plus a job and a household to keep up with, to find time to write, to read, to engage. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve missed a Twitter chat or skipped notebook time to tend to a crying child, fold some laundry, or cook a meal. But I find that whenever I can eke out 10 minutes of writing time, meaningful Twitter conversation, or professional reading, I feel better. I feel inspired.

I hope, like me, you’ll make an effort to keep a writer’s notebook, blog regularly, and write beside your students every time you see them in class.  Beginning to inhabit the pose of a writer–although I experience wobble within this identity almost daily–is doubtless the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my practice as a teacher.

As you find yourself wondering, in the dark of winter, how to get excited and inspired once again, try these two things: wobble and write. Here’s hoping for a speedy end to winter and all the joy and optimism the spring always brings…as we work to become better teachers every day.

Shana Karnes teaches in the College of Education at West Virginia University, writes in her notebook whenever she can squeeze in the time, mothers two daughters under the age of two, and reads voraciously at the oddest moments–at the gym, during middle-of-the-night feedings, and at stoplights. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader, or read more of her writing at the WVCTE Best Practices Blog, where a version of this post originally appeared.

 

A Reading Conference with Tom Romano

I am fortunate to be on friendly-emailing terms with the great Tom Romano, from whom I’ve learned much about good writing instruction, multigenre, and student voice.

So when I received an email from him the other day, asking for book recommendations, I laughed aloud. My most excellent writing mentor, asking me what to read next?

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I admit, I balked a little at first. This was like having Tiger Woods ask you what golf club to try next. But then, I fell back on my tried-and-true reading conference strategies, which I’ve used countless times over the years with reluctant and prolific readers alike.

As with any student, I had much of what I needed in order to give a good recommendation between the request itself and my background knowledge of Romano. When students need help finding something to read, we’ll often meet at the bookshelf. As they stare blankly at the wall of books, one of the first questions I ask is:

“What are you in the mood to read?”

Often, students can give me a feeling–something fun, lighthearted, serious, or challenging–or a genre–romance, nonfiction, adventure. It’s even better when they can give me specific titles that relate to their preferences. I usually glean these titles by asking:

“What’s the last book you read that you loved?”

In his request, Romano gave me all the information I needed–he wanted something literary, something like The Nightingale (which I’d read after Lisa recommended it to me), Atonement, or All the Light We Cannot See. He’d also answered another question I usually ask readers:

“What’s your reading plan?”

Knowing where a student will be reading this book–at work in short spurts, at home in long stretches, or on a crowded bus on the way to an athletic event–impacts my recommendation as well. Here, Romano told me he’d be reading for long, uninterrupted stretches of time in airports, so I knew I could suggest something all-consuming.

So, I stuck with my usual formula:

I recommended three titles.

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Exit West is a title I’ve heard a great deal about and would love to read, but haven’t gotten to yet; The Secret History is an amazing hidden gem by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donna Tartt that I read about 15 years ago; and A Man Called Ove is a new viral title that made me sob hard over Girl Scout cookies and coffee as I finished reading it. My three recommendations usually consist of something old, something new, and something I haven’t read yet.

I wrapped up my pitch as I always do, with a clincher:

A promise of what the book will do for the reader.

A week went by, and last night at 11 pm, I received another email from Romano:

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“Loved Ove.”

A successful end to a successful reading conference, if you ask me…but of course, like any other conversation about books, I couldn’t let it end there. I just had to throw in one more recommendation, which I always do for my students when they return a book:

“If you liked that book, you should try ______________.”

This quick exchange of emails, like so many off-the-cuff conversations we have with students, was packed full of powerful data about a reader’s interests and abilities; a teacher’s knowledge of texts and titles, and most importantly, the transaction between the two parties–a shared endeavor to find a just-right book at just the right time.

All our words are imbued with purpose and power when we are discussing literacy. Reading conferences don’t need to be formal, sit-down conversations all the time. They have just as much weight when they’re held standing at the bookshelf, passing in the hallway, or from afar via email. This reading conference with Tom Romano reminds me: never take any of our talk about books for granted.


Do you have a what-to-read conference “formula?” What other titles might you recommend to Tom and me? Please share in the comments!

Shana Karnes is eagerly awaiting the end of flu season so she can go back to work without worrying about her two tiny daughters getting sick…again. When her family is actually healthy, she teaches preservice educators at West Virginia University, goes for long runs while listening to even longer audiobooks, and tweets about reading, writing, and school at @litreader.

Conversation is Our Most Powerful Teaching Tool

After two months of being cooped up in the house with two kids under the age of two, we finally went back to school yesterday.

Hallelujah!!

To open my class yesterday, I asked my students to get up and get talking with one another–about nothing in particular. Each student had written her name on a note card, and after thoroughly mixing and redistributing them, each student had to go find her card’s owner and get to know him or her. Once we got talking, the room was never silent, and after we were all seated again, I asked students what topics they used as conversational entrees.

“Well, I’ve been in a lot of classes with people in here before, but never knew their names, so it was helpful to just start with an introduction,” one student volunteered.

quote-negotiation-and-discussion-are-the-greatest-weapons-we-have-for-promoting-peace-and-nelson-mandela-81-33-16I was flabbergasted–how could these students not even know each other’s names?! What sorts of classes were being taught that didn’t allow for dialogue and collaboration at this most basic level!?

But then I realized that this was the norm, and often is for our high school students, too. This statistic was even highlighted in the first page of the article we were reading for class: “Less than 1 percent of instructional time is devoted to discussion that requires reasoning or an opinion from students, according to researcher John Goodland.”

I think we can all agree that reasoning and opinion should be at the forefront of student dialogue, and a central goal of any curriculum. But if we’re spending less than one percent of our time on these things, we’re nowhere near where we need to be.

After my students listed ways they began conversations with one another–clothing choices, majors, the weather, how was your break–I asked them how they planned to get to know their students.

“I’m going to give them an interest inventory,” one student said. “I’ll do a learning styles survey,” another claimed. Facepalm, I said.

 

No one said, “by starting a conversation just like we did today,” which is what I was hoping they’d jump to. Conferring is our most powerful instructional and assessment tool, and it’s the art of a conversation made critical. Not only is it important for teachers to get to know our students through simple talk–not with the barrier of a survey or paper between ourselves and students–but it’s important for students to practice the skill of conversation, first with us, then with one another.

Because perhaps less than 1 percent of instructional time is devoted to discussion not only because of how traditional classrooms are structured, but because of how little space in our culture there is for conversation these days. I’ve written about the value of talk before, but I’m coming to believe that there is more value in conversation. The exchange of ideas is much more valuable than the simple act of articulating one’s own, and needs to be our end goal.

The moves we make as teachers and thinkers will help our students reach this aim–first to help them read critically enough to develop their own nuanced opinions, then to help them write and talk to draft out their thinking, and finally to help them share and grow these ideas through conversation. Not to defend their own ideas, which remain only theirs, but to help their thinking evolve through discussion.

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Oprah Winfrey, in a speech that I hope will be close-read by millions of high school students as a mentor text this week, reminds us that “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have,” and that our truths have power when someone “chooses to listen.”

Speaking and listening are much more than just standards for us to cover–they are the tools our students need to change themselves and the world for the better.

Shana Karnes is a mom of two daughters, a teacher of preservice educators, and a writer of hopes and dreams–in her notebook and here on Three Teachers Talk. She is delighted that winter break and maternity leave have ended and that she’s back in the classroom with her tribe. Find her on Twitter at @litreader.

I Have a Newborn…and So Much Time to Read YA!

Karnes November 2017 (20 of 23)

Jane Elizabeth arrived on November 13! (See how much she sleeps?!

Ahhh, the second kid. The kid where you can take advantage of just how much a newborn sleeps, just how much free time your maternity leave affords you, and just how tired you can be. Way too tired to create anything sensible (sorry, NaNoWriMo), but definitely not too tired to consume something interesting.

Enter young adult literature.

(Well, re-enter, actually.)

I left the high school classroom about a year and a half ago, and since then I’ve only read a few YA novels. My purpose for reading YA used to be to inform my students about the latest and greatest in high-interest lit, but now it’s shifted. I’m as distracted as any perpetually tired, academically overwhelmed, hormonally imbalanced teenager, so now I’m the perfect audience for all the best YA.

Here are a few of my recent late-night, early-morning, even-while-in-the-hospital YA reads that I think you and your students will love, too!

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – I so loved this book. I enjoyed everything about it asI read it in chunks at 2 am while feeding the baby. I loved the narrator’s voice, the hilarity of the supporting characters (whose ethnic, sexual, and gender “diversity” weren’t the main points of the story, but just a normal part of the fabric of the narrative, which I really appreciated), and the writing itself. If you or your students enjoyed the twins in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, the frank discussion of body image in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, or the awkwardness of Colin in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, definitely give this one a try.

51nDUibFLjL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – I chose this one strictly based on cover appeal–because it’s really a gorgeous cover–and ended up reading it throughout labor, finishing the last 20 pages a few hours after Jane was born. I was sucked in immediately by the plight of Alex, who’s seventeen and schizophrenic and never quite sure what’s real or made up in her everyday life. Every character, object, or experience had my skepticism as I read, and my wariness was heightened as I grew more and more attached to each development, worrying that it’d turn out to be fake. There are twists and turns worthy of Gone Girl in this book, but ultimately, it’s a fantastic YA read that’s more coming-of-age than suspense or mystery genre.

John_Green_Turtles_All_The_Way_Down_Book_CoverTurtles All the Way Down by John Green – Have you read this book yet? If you haven’t, is it at least pretty high on your TBR list? If it isn’t, have you been living under a rock!? John Green’s newest book–and his first release since The Fault in Our Stars–did not disappoint me. I purposely avoided reading anything about the book before I got my hands on it, and I was glad that I hadn’t been spoiled by spoilers. Its plot is driven by a typically slightly unbelievable Green-esque set of characters, circumstances, and adventures, but I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for the likes of John Green, so I was undeterred. I quickly empathized with narrator Aza, who struggles with OCD, and appreciated Green’s sensitive exploration of mental health in the teen landscape.

61d6DhRCBSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Jackie told me about this book years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since–and it was worth the wait. A true YA classic, it blends a dystopian reality with the sinister machinations of a true supervillain (in this case, an entire corporation) and unlikely heroes and plot twists throughout. If you like The Matrix, the 80s, video games, or any of the above, you’ll like this book. It’s a great piece of fiction, and I appreciated Cline’s restraint in not turning it into a trilogy or series. I loved it as a stand-alone book full of everything I like in a page-turner.

32930819The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn – This isn’t YA, but it’ll definitely be of interest to any of my fellow Jane Austen lovers out there (and if you are one, then you’ll notice my aptly-named newborn daughter, above). In the not-too-distant future, time travel is a reality and true Austen fangirl Dr. Rachel Katzman has been selected to visit 1815 and Jane herself. Her mission is to retrieve a lost Austen manuscript, diagnose the mysterious illness that ended Jane’s life far too early, and try not to alter history too drastically along the way. I loved this book for its historical accuracy, its constant allusions to Jane’s works, and the depth of emotion I felt from every character.

And, because all good readers have a plan, here’s what’s next on my library holds list:

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz
  • Artemis by Andy Weir
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

What do you recommend for my next high-interest read? Please comment with some titles that will keep me awake through late-night feedings, a teething toddler, and my exhausted 8:00 bedtime!

Shana Karnes is now mom to TWO beautiful baby girls–Ruth and Jane–wife to a very patient husband, and teacher of thoughtful preservice educators at West Virginia University. She’s enjoying new mom-of-two life and surviving it thanks to the twin distractions of reading her students’ work and reading YA lit. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

What Will You Teach Into?

I am a week away from bringing my second daughter into the world, and after yesterday’s horrific shooting in Texas, I find myself revisiting the same fears I’ve often had when I consider my progeny. Primarily, I wonder: what kind of world am I bringing my children into?

As I fretted about this to my husband last night, he reassured me with statistics about how unlikely it was that either of our daughters would ever be involved in a shooting, an act of terror, a horrific trauma.

That’s not what I’m worried about, I told him–not that they’ll die or be injured by one of these awful events. I’m much more worried about the world they are going to have to live in, day in and day out.

A world where a 26-year-old makes a conscious decision to attack a church full of people. A world where this incomprehensible event has become common enough that it is, less than 24 hours later, already being reduced to a sound bite: “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem.” A world where a conversation about terror and murder has become more binary than complex. It is; it is not.

I don’t want my girls growing up in a world that doesn’t know how to talk about, seek to understand, or attempt to solve these unexplainable problems–problems that certainly cannot, to me, be boiled down to a single cause or effect.

do want them growing up in a world where we try to talk about these things. A world where these conversations are never taken for granted, where they continue to happen, no matter how difficult and painful, as Kylene Beers writes in “Once Again:”

“Honestly, though, I don’t want tomorrow to be easier. My fear is that this day you face tomorrow has become too easy. My fear is that your students won’t expect that this horrific killing will be discussed. My fear is that tomorrow is just another Monday.”

As a teacher, a mother, and a citizen, I cannot agree more with Kylene. I feel more powerless in the latter two of those roles than I do in my work as a teacher, though, for I feel that teaching is where I can make a difference. I feel it is where we can all make a difference.

This week and every week, I hope teachers are having difficult conversations with our students. I hope we are not shying away from the ease of ignoring our nation’s pain in favor of teaching about comma splices or symbolism or character development. I hope our time with students is deliberately geared toward talk about these incredibly complex, nuanced topics. Kylene says it well:

“No one ever told you that you’d need to know how to sit with children or teens to talk with them about people in churches getting killed by a gunman or little kids in a school getting killed by a gunman or families at a concert getting killed by a gunman. No one. And you didn’t sign up for that. You didn’t. But they will watch you and they will listen for what you say and what you don’t say.”

I hope you are grappling with this and asking yourself:

For what purpose am I teaching?

And I’m talking about a larger purpose than the day’s essential question or the target content standard. I’m talking about how the day’s lesson fits in with the culture of the classroom, the messages we want kids internalizing day in and day out, the life lessons we want them to learn as painlessly as possible.

One of the texts my students and I study that helps us learn to frame instruction this way is Peter Johnston’s excellent Opening MindsIn class on Friday, we discussed Johnston’s closing claims (p. 123-124) about research-based instructional design:

 

  1. Our singular focus on academic achievement will not serve children or their academic development well.
  2. The individual mind is important, no doubt, but as the center of the academic universe, it is overrated.
  3. We have to take seriously the fact that the adult is not the only teacher in the room.
  4. Children’s social imaginations should be taken more seriously. They are the foundation of civic society.
  5. Our interactions with children in the classroom influence who they think they are and what they think they’re doing.
  6. Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We spent time unpacking each claim, wondering how to apply it to our varied content areas and age groups, but dwelled on the last claim:

Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We were reminded that none of us became teachers so we could fix comma splices. We became teachers because we wanted to change the world–our world, and our students’ worlds–for the better.

This Monday morning, I want us to keep that goal in mind as we teach and plan and reflect on how we’ll spend our time with young people. How will we make sure that our work together is meaningful?

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If you don’t already see your work as a teacher as powerful, if you don’t see your role as one of an agent of change, try looking at this familiar work in a new way. Your interactions with children in your classroom influence them in powerful ways. You have the unique power of being able to help them develop their social imagination, their empathy skills, so they’ll never reduce a tragedy to a single cause with an unimaginable effect.

You have the power to choose: what will you teach into this week? Making meaning? Or making life meaningful?

Shana Karnes is a worrywart in the best of times, but an idealist in the worst of them. She is grateful every day to work with amazing preservice teachers at West Virginia University, to be mom and wife in a beautiful family, and to be able to write and think and learn with her friends here at Three Teachers Talk. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader

Story, Self-Generosity, & Student Success: #3TTchat with Tom Newkirk

For our inaugural #3TTchat last night, we were privileged to be joined by the great Tom Newkirk. This bright light of literacy scholarship talked with us about reading, writing, and assessment in the context of two of his most recent books: Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational Texts and Embarrassment: and the Emotional Underlife of Learning.

Just as his books are, Tom’s tweets were full of one-liners of wisdom and wordplay as he engaged in the chat with teachers, instructional specialists, and writers:

Many of us, in thinking about this question, highlighted the importance of identity in our reading lives–how do I see myself in books? How do I find myself in books?

Our next question asked how we taught students to do this very thing: make connections between people’s stories and their stances and beliefs:

As we pondered this question, many of us offered up the value of having students read books that they couldn’t see themselves in–moving from mirrors to windows. We connected this to moving from recognition to empathy.

Q3 focused on specific reading practices to help students view their reading lives dynamically; Tom encourages his readers to hone in on beginnings:

Book clubs, multigenre projects, studying mentor texts, modeling our reading lives, and crafting reading and writing autobiographies were all journey-focused practices chat participants offered up.

As we shifted toward talk about writing, we wondered how we might best help students read like writers in order to strengthen their own written products. Tom offered his view that variety is key:

Avoiding becoming stuck in one genre was a theme of the night–mixing narrative with nonfiction, blending story and poetry, lab reports and literary devices, all through studying provocative, unconventional mentor texts and practice, practice, practicing imitating their craft moves.

Q5 wondered specifically about genres of writing that might help students do this, and Tom replied that any genre containing “trouble” was a good place to start:

Ideas included memoir, commentary, op-eds, origin poems, author bios, annotated lists, letters, and straightforward exposition and essays. In short, the opportunities for emphasizing narrative are endless!

We shifted toward thinking about assessment, and our conversation focused on celebrating student successes rather than emphasizing shortcomings:

We railed against grades, but honed in on emphasizing process over product, using student work as mentor texts, and teaching students to have a growth mindset when it comes to goal-setting and their reading and writing lives.

Finally, we wondered about takeaways, and Tom’s just about made us weep:

His ideal teacher voice is one of kindness and encouragement, as were so many of our chat participants’: “writing is a living process;” “your voice matters;” “everyone has something to say that matters;” “there is no one correct way to write.”

Together, #3TTchat told a story of leading students to success in reading and writing through encouragement, patience, and self-generosity.

All we can say is thank you to Tom and our many participants for helping us write that story.

We are so looking forward to talking more about the role of narrative in informational reading and writing at NCTE this year. This topic has been a long time in the making–starting with some thinking at NCTE in 2014, then growing with our reading of Minds Made for Stories, and growing some more when we took a class with Tom Newkirk at the UNH Literacy Institute. We hope you’ll join us in St. Louis for more thinking about this important topic!

Shana Karnes, unfortunately, will NOT be able to attend NCTE this year, breaking her 8-year attendance streak for the important reason of having her second baby. While waiting impatiently to meet Baby Jane, Shana teaches preservice teachers at West Virginia University, works with practicing teachers through NWP@WVU, and participates in Halloween festivities strictly for the candy. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or find more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices Blog.

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