The Power of Our Notebooks

This is the third week away from my students and classroom, and it feels like three months. I miss my kids. I miss our daily conversations. I miss seeing that little spark in their eyes when that light bulb goes on. I miss just…well…everything. “Teaching” from home, though better than nothing, just isn’t the same.

Back on March 16th, I didn’t know where to begin. Sure, I had begun planning for this in my head, but my ideas were a jumbled mess. The two things I knew my kids needed? Daily reading and writing. I’ve read countless studies–like this one–that prove the volume students read and write has everything to do with their gains. Like with any sport, they need that daily practice to improve. We let our children choose the sports they want to play so they will practice more. The same should go for reading and writing.

As I continued my planning and searching, I found help in two very likely sources: Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. They put on paper what I had been trying to organize in my head. They also started daily “digital conversations” with one another that they shared via Twitter. (Click here to view the padlet that Penny put together.)

Once I had my idea, I pushed it out to my students, along with the beginning of my own notebook work. I was hesitant to do this at first, but, yes, I’m putting my own notebook on display. Though I have shared many entries with them in the past, I have never given them complete access to my notebook. This is a different time though. My students need me to be brave, courageous, bold. They need to see my struggles and mistakes, as well as all that I am proud of. More than anything else, I want them to feel like I am still there with them, for I am, but in a much different way.

So, after giving my students time to peruse through the guidelines, I posted photos of all my daily notebook entries, along with my “Reading Record” (pictured above) that shows them what, and for how long, I was reading. My students had a lot of questions. (I was ready for that.) They asked how I got my ideas. (I was ready for that too.) We even had a virtual chat so we could catch up, and I had a “think aloud” about what I do when I have writer’s block. (We all get stuck sometimes.)

Are there still kinks we need to work out? Sure. Are there students who I am still trying to connect with? Yes. There are so many road blocks in this very new process, but over time those blocks will begin to flatten. All we can do is keep trying.

Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

Teacher Communities

I have been struggling to write this month’s post. I intended on writing about synthesizing multiple texts and color coding as a strategy for middle schoolers. But right now, that no longer seems important or for that matter, relevant.

We are in unprecedented times of online learning and trying to connect and continue to build relationships with our students when we cannot physically be with them. We worry about their health and safety and overall well-being. In struggling to do all of this, we also worry about keeping our own families safe and healthy and for many, providing homeschooling for our own children.

This stress can take its toll on our own mental, physical, and emotional state. One of the things I have found that has helped me the most is keeping and building on-line communities with other teachers. Some days they are my lifeline when I need to talk to other people who are going through the same thing.  Other days it is just a time out of my day to laugh, to encourage and be encouraged, and to share our stories.

Teacher communities come in many different forms, but can be beneficial not only to our growth as teachers but also as humans, especially right now.

Here are a few communities that I am a part of, which you may want to check out.

  1. Teach Write – “The goal of Teach Write is to help give teachers the confidence and support they need to develop their own writing habit so that they can become stronger teachers of writers.” The founder of Teach Write has been hosting pop-up writing sessions where teachers spend 90 minutes writing together virtually. Teach Write not only helps to develop a writing habit, but they are just a lot of fun to be around.
  2. #100DaysofNotebooking – Michelle Haseltine started the #100DaysofNotebooking at the beginning of the year as a way to encourage people to begin a meaningful habit of writing and to discover the power of writing and the joy it can bring. When we started this challenge, none of us knew that by March, we would be in the current situation. As a result, the group has now become #100DaysofNotebooking and BEYOND! We will continue to write and share notebook pages throughout and hopefully, even after this crisis is over.
  3. Slice of Life – The “slicing community” is part of Two Writing Teachers. Each March they sponsor the Slice of Life Story Challenge where writers write a blog post that is a story, or a slice of life. Throughout this month we have shared our stories about life, families, teaching, taking care of ourselves, and struggles with this virus. After March, Two Writing Teachers continues with weekly posts on Tuesdays.
  4. Poetry Friday – The Poetry Friday community is a group of “children’s book aficionados and bloggers” who use their blogs and websites to contribute favorite poems or chat about all things poetry. Writing and sharing poetry has a way of bringing people together, especially in times like these.

Many educators and leaders in the field of literacy have been contributing by creating and sharing videos. Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher are sharing their notebooks, the books they are reading, and their thoughts each day, Monday through Friday. Here is a link to Penny’s Padlet, which houses all of the videos plus many resources. I call it my ELA teacher self-care Padlet.

These are troubling times, but we will get through them by taking care of ourselves, by lifting each other up and by working together. If you are part of a community that is lifting and encouraging you, please share it with us. We would love to hear about it!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay strong.

 

Leigh Anne is a 6th grade ELA teacher from Indiana and doing the best she can at this e-Learning thing. More time at home means more writing and reading and she would love to connect with you in her corner of the world @teachr4 or A Day in the Life.

Our Friends the Books Are a Way Back

As I’ve scrolled (endlessly, too much, really) through Twitter recently, I’ve stumbled across some teachers (even Carol Jago!) admitting how hard it has been to read as of late. This is understandable, especially so when many of our typical access points for reading are a barrage of news and opinions and stories of COVID-19. 

As for me, amidst the social distancing and the so many unknown’s, I’ve turned to my first and truest friends: books. When friendships proved difficult and sometimes elusive growing up, many adults in my life offered me books. Books provided companionship that taught me much about my own humanity and the humanity of others. Perhaps that’s why I’ve reached for books now and why I’m using them to connect in my home and to all of you. 

I’m including in this post a book that I am buddy reading with my fifth grader; books that my fifth grader has recently read; and books that I have read or am reading. There are friends that give me ways to share stories and grow with others. There are friends that challenge me, stretching what I’ve known into what I can know and become. There are friends that are old, inviting me back into their pages so that I can find solace and laughter. There are friends that will help me find my way back to all of you when next we socially convene. 

 

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 2.39.22 PMMy fifth grader and I are currently reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. According to the eleven year old (11yo): “I think it gives a really good idea of the history of racism and anti-racism, even though, as Jason Reynolds says, it is NOT a history book.” When I asked my 11yo what it does, he explained that it goes through every detail from the earliest period on and tells a really good story through it. Although we aren’t finished yet, he would recommend it to other kids and adults because “it shows how bad people have been.” One example is what happened to Black soldiers from the 25th Infantry Regiment: “they were kicked out of the army and some of them had been falsely accused of killing a bartender and wounding a police officer. These soldiers had been the pride of Black America and had done much for their country.” I recommend it as well, for fifth graders to adults. Jason Reynold’s remix of Stamped from the Beginning uses a conversational tone that shifts to sarcasm at just-right points to reinforce the gravity of the history and perspective shared. 11 yo and I take turns reading, and I ask him follow up questions. I wish I had this book to challenge and expand my worldview at his age. Yet, here we are, growing together.

 

Two other books the 11yo has read recently include Jerry Craft’s graphic novel New Kid and Nic Stone’s Clean Getaway. About New Kid, it focuses on seventh grader Jordan Banks who gets sent to a private school where all the students there are white, and it shows how hard it is to fit in when you are different than everyone else. The graphic novel makes it engaging, especially where it “includes parts from Jordan’s notebook” (11yo thought this was cool!) that he keeps to process what he experiences at school. New Kid is recommended too. Clean Getaway, in 11yo’s estimation, “tells the story of a kid who sneaks away and ends up on a road trip to Mexico with his grandma, where he learns more about his grandpa and his past on the journey. There are lots of surprises throughout and the pictures and point of view of Scoob make it exciting and fun to read.” Each of these books helps 11yo explore and engage with different perspectives. 

 

Two books I’ve read recently, in addition to reading Stamped, continue to challenge me to be a better human: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.  Just Mercy tells the story of the founding of the Equal Justice Initiative and its work to seek justice and mercy for those whom our system and policies consistently fail. I appreciate its call to action–that “all of us can do better for one another. The work continues.” In How To Be An Antiracist, Kendi interweaves his own story with critical history to distinguish between racist, assimilationist, and antiracist, culminating in a powerful analogy, one that should inspire us to do better. Both books are accessible to high school students and would be excellent reads for AP Language, AP Government, or AP US History classes. 

And, I’ve found myself thumbing through old favorites like Mary Oliver’s poems from Red Bird (and her other volumes), which remind me to look to the birds, look to the brilliance of their energy, look to all that’s thriving as spring blooms. Your students might respond to Spring, The Sun, Red Bird–each with their own light. When I’ve needed a laugh I reach for Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, excerpts of which you can find  here; the stories about the birthday cake and the dinosaur costume spark laughter for their graphic depictions as well as the persistence of the young Allie Brosh and the insistence of her memories.  I’ve found needed solace by re-reading J.K. Rowling’s(okay, and maybe watching the movie, too) Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, resting in Dumbledore’s assurance that “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Perhaps, as you connect with your students in the days ahead you will consider sharing the words on which you lean.

 

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Finally, in my ever-expanding curiosity about instructional coaching, I chose to read Jim Knight’s Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other To Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. I appreciated the simple statement that “When trust exists, there is learning, joy, and love,” and this point seems most poignant as I think about connecting, face to face, sans screen. It won’t be just about physical closeness, but emotional, too.

Books remain steadfast friends, the friends I have that will lead me back to all of you, a better person, ready to do the work alongside you. 

Kristin Jeschke is, besides a reader, a mom to an eight year old and an eleven year old, who are also readers. That is to say, books are among our dearest friends. She also serves as an Instructional Coach at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke.

A great text for introducing analysis

Disclaimer: this is a non-Covid-19 post; I needed a break from it and from re-planning and re-organizing, though I’m sure some of it is adaptable to remote learning activities.

I’ve been using the following passage from The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan ever since I read it because it gets so many things right and it has so many uses in the work we do of urging our students to become more thoughtful consumers of information. The passage is stripped of context and can stand alone as one person’s argument:

I like to use a pretty simple frame to work through analysis with students: we start by figuring out what the text says or claims, we consider how it’s said, then we formulate our opinion or response to the text.

What she says: an argument for analysis

This is a perfect first-day-of-class reading to establish the kind of mindset we want students to have. It provides a language to come back to (avoid “the quick easy answer” and don’t sleepwalk) and sets a lofty goal. I’ve been using the text to introduce our analysis unit because Morgan defines the need for analysis so clearly–for slowing down to think and notice and not just consume. She essentially establishes the problem–our sleepwalking culture–and tees up the mental work of analysis as the solution. It’s a great way to set up why analysis matters in the big scheme of things, and why it should matter to us individually.

Once students understand her claims and position, we move on to noticing how the ideas are built.

How she says it: a chance to practice analysis

This passage is short but offers good entry points for discussing the choices authors make. For example:

  • Students can pinpoint the two most interesting words in the passage.
  • They can define the tone of the passage (and which word choices contribute).
  • They can identify the claims she makes, then argue the validity.
  • They can discuss and debate what elements are left out of the argument.

What do we say?: our response

I like the progression of moving from what an author says and how they say it to considering what we think about it. Once we have accurately interpreted or analyzed the message we can better decide if or how to consume it. This small excerpt can work as a mentor text by using a couple of different starters:

  • ask students to replace “sleepwalking” with a different metaphor to describe their culture
  • use the sentence frame “America has no greater ill than…”

The text could also be used to respond in an argumentative essay or students could write a short analytical paragraph. You can add a Covid-19 connection here…maybe something about whether or not Americans are mindlessly consuming Covid-19 coverage. Are we settling for easy answers?

A final idea is to use this text at the end of the year as a way to evaluate the course. Do students feel like our reading, thinking, and writing experiences have made them more awake? Have they been equipped with tools to think longer and harder, to become choosers and not merely receivers? Are they truly independent readers? 

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. He is currently reading the second book in the Wrinkle in Time quintet aloud to his kids while they are practicing social distancing.

In times like these…

I am not sure about the rest of you, but I am scared. I put on that brave front for my own family, for my students, for my colleagues. But, the reality is that I am scared. I am scared of this virus – how it is spreading so rapidly and we aren’t able to contain it. I am scared my family will catch it and someone will be hospitalized. I am scared that our economy is plummeting, my children’s college funds will disappear, and local businesses & companies won’t be able to recoup everything they have lost. I am scared that “social distancing” is going to cause an increase in the already high rates of depression and anxiety in our country. I am just plain scared.

When I start to feel this way, I am always grateful to see posts here on Three Teachers Talk that remind that my fears are normal and we will be okay. Friday’s post, It’s Okay to Not Know What to Do Next, hit me hard. Last week was rough at my school. Thursday and Friday we were in crisis mode. Small teams of coaches worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything in place for both students and staff if our schools shut down and we had to move to an eLearning model for an extended period of time. While we are a school that gives Chromebooks to all students, we have never believed in the philosophy that students in all classes, all day, should be using their devices. That being said this “new normal” is going to be hard on all of us. We weren’t prepared for this. Angela’s post reminded me that no matter how hard this will be, we can get through this together.

Keeping it Real…

Yesterday afternoon as I was stumbling for words to finish this post, I opened up Amy’s post, Early Morning Thoughts and a Couple of Ideas, took a deep breathe, and thought about all that I am grateful for – there is so much that brings me happiness during this time of uncertainty.

  • My family – My husband is a teacher and we are supporting one another (and many of our colleagues) as we figure out eLearning. We are getting outside, taking our pups for walks, and enjoying movies and tv shows we never have time to watch. My boys are finding ways to deal with the “social distancing” and the cancellation of their sports and team events. They aren’t complaining and are enjoying these days of sleeping in and being together.
  • My colleagues – I love the group chats I am part of. We reach out to share ideas and to just check in with one another. We are social creatures and while it is nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever we want, we got into this job to help kids. COVID-19 has just made that a bit more complicated.
  • The sunshine – here in northern Illinois we have not seen the sun much these past few months. It has been dreary and cold. Looking out my window at blue sky brings a smile to my face.

So what am I doing to help my colleagues and students during this time?

As Amy posted yesterday, there are so many great resources available to teachers who are being asked to teach students online. Companies like Newsela, NoRedInk, and Zoom are offering free subscriptions to teachers. That being said, in my English classroom my co-teacher and I are keeping it simple for the next few days before spring break. We are asking our students to read and write. (And we threw some grammar practice in there to see if anyone would take us up on using NoRedInk).

As you plan your lessons for the next few weeks, remember….

Our students work very hard for us when they are in school. They don’t have the distractions or responsibilities that they may have at home. eLearning is a completely different experience and they didn’t sign up to go to school online.

We need to give students more time than we would during school. Some will need it. They don’t have their normal support system by their side to encourage them that they can do it.

That some may not read as much (and some might read more.) It is important to find ways to get more books in kids hands. With libraries closed, share articles, podcasts, TedTalks, and links to get ebooks on their phones. Anything to keep them reading and engaged.

Technology is going to fail and some of our assignments won’t go as expected. IT IS OK! Really. Our kids will be okay. They just need to know we care more about them as humans than the work that they may or not get finished.

In a group chat a few days ago, my colleague reminded the group, “While kids need routine and reassurance, I think we should exercise an abundance of humanity during this time.” He is 100% right. Let’s give ourselves some grace. We will get through this… fears and all.

Melissa Sethna lives and teaches with her husband in Mundelein, IL. On a regular school day she is so busy coaching teachers and planning professional development (along with co-teaching her English class). Under this mandatory school closure time, when she isn’t helping her colleagues, she is catching up on her to-read list, listening to “Today’s Easy Hits” on Apple Music, and making time to workout at a normal hour. You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter @msethna23.

Early Morning Thoughts and a Couple of Ideas

I don’t usually notice things like Netflix Top Ten, but I couldn’t help it as I clicked my tv on this morning. It’s not really a surprise that Pandemic showed up as #7 in TV shows and Outbreak as #7 overall in the USA. I do think it’s a little curious that both lined up in the lucky 7 slot on St. Patrick’s Day.

I doubt too many of us are feeling lucky or wearing green or worried about getting pinched today. There’s just too many other things to worry about, if worry is your thing.

I’m not letting it be mine.

This past nine weeks I taught my first ever science fiction literature course. My students and I read a lot of stories and articles about the genre, and we watched a lot of sci-fi movies, followed by meaningful discussions about humankind and the characters’ actions and reactions to a variety of conflicts. A few ideas surfaced again and again:  the will to survive, the courage to sacrifice, the need for innovation, and the strength to persevere.

And now we are here:  Covid2019, self-distancing our way through what should be science fiction.

So what do we do in such stressful times?

I think we have a choice:  we can hunker down into the drama–joining in with the complainers and the I-don’t-wannas–or we can hike up and embrace the adventure of it all. I think our students need us to see it as an adventure. And every teacher I know knows how to turn a stressful situation into a less stressful one. Yes, we are living in a time of crisis, and, yes, we can use it to do what we do best. Teach.

If you’re already teaching remotely, or if you’re like me (finally on spring break) and gearing up for it, there are tons of resources that will help.

You’ve probably already found the lesson plans and YouTube videos and flipgrid Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle have shared.

Maybe you’ve seen the resources Caty Dearing posted. Or the pandemic inquiry Shawna Coppola created.

I have two ideas to add: They are a bit light-hearted (something I think we all need).

My family is a funny bunch, and we use an on-going Snapchat thread to crack each other up. Yesterday, my son-in-law who is now working from home and daycaring my almost 15 month old grandson, shared this series of photos:

thirstymilkgone

watchingashowewbath

For visual story telling, I gave my son-in-law an A+ (as a dad, too!). And I think this might be my next model text. Think about the stories students can create with the cameras in their phones–Covid-19 crisis related, or not. Maybe even pair visual stories with found poems or other poems, stories, or articles they find online–anything that helps them make connections and think critically.

Another thing my family Snaps at each other is memes. Every single day. And if you don’t think memes can be used to teach social commentary, sarcasm, irony. . well. . .

meme2typesofpeoplememehowdoyouwishtopaymemep&gmemthoughtsprayers

There are tons! Check out Memedroid for more. Our students can even make and upload their own. Imagine an online discussion board where they share and then evaluate their creations.

Our students need to laugh. They need us to laugh. It’s so much better than crying. Or being scared. Or feeling anxiety. Or. . . hoarding toilet paper.

Thank you all for reading this post and this blog. You are the best of the best, and I appreciate all you do for children every day. Know that my prayers are with you during this troubling time. I’ll leave you with my early morning thoughts strung into a little poem:

This too shall pass

Relax

Enjoy family

Read a good book

Go for a walk

Outside

Listen to Mozart

Look up Mozart

Water some plants

Dig some dirt

Dirty some clothes

Outside

Learn something new

Try a paint brush or a brush pen

Pen a letter

Mail it

Bake bread

Breathe

This too shall pass

 

Amy Rasmussen lives and teaches in North Texas. She’s a fan of positivity and purposeful doing, and she really wishes she’d packed up boxes of books from her classroom library before spring break and brought them home for the neighborhood kids since the public library is closed. She may just put her personal collection of picture books on the porch and post a sign that says “Borrow books here. Free Clorox wipe when you bring ’em back.” You can follow her on Twitter @amyrass

Learning How To Embrace The Ambiguity by Shelby Scoffield

My first teaching job was at a brand new high school in California. Not only was I trying to figure out how to teach, I was trying to figure out how a high school actually functioned.

Because we were the first high school in our district, basic rules and procedures were not set in stone. Because of this, there were so many questions about absolutely everything. 

When my principal was asked a question that he didn’t know the answer to, he would just respond with: “Embrace the ambiguity!”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase. 

Despite the frustration that answer often caused, that phrase was one of the many things that transformed my teaching style. That year, I learned what it really meant to “roll with the punches” and to “go with the flow.” Most importantly, I learned to be okay with not knowing the answers. 

With thousands of schools facing unchartered waters next week,  I think the phrase “embrace the ambiguity” couldn’t be more relevant. As I go into my own experience with distance learning, here is what I am keeping in mind:

I need to be ready for chaos. I think it is safe to assume that the upcoming weeks will be a little bonkers. But then again, teaching is a gloriously bonkers profession. I got this. 

I need to help my students understand what is happening in the world. Before my school was temporarily closed, I made sure to have conversations with my students about the coronavirus. We read and annotated articles and I gave them a safe space to express their opinions. Because of the constantly dynamic situation the world is in, I am preparing to continue these conversations with my students online. 

–I am going to have to experiment and be prepared for some failures.  A couple of weeks ago I went to a craft store called Board and Brush. It is a three hour workshop where you make your own wooden design. During the lesson, I screeched because I messed up with the paint. I seriously thought my sixty eight dollars was down the toilet. But one of the employees came over, calmed me down, and fixed it for me. That is exactly what I plan on doing for my own students in the next couple of weeks.

— I am going to have to keep it simple. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I plan on using the tools I know and am familiar with to keep my students virtually engaged.

— I am going to be encouraging my students to read and write.  I plan on scrapping some old assignments and making room for reading and writing about current events. This is a significant time in history and students need to write down what they are experiencing. 

— I am going to make sure I am taking care of myself. It is a scary time friends. But let’s remember that we are not going to be able to take care of our students if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So let’s embrace the ambiguity folks because…..

Shelby Scoffield is a high school English teacher at Mountain House High School in Mountain House, CA. She would love to hear how you are “embracing the ambiguity” at your own school sites this week!

It’s Okay to Not Know What to Do Next

Today feels weird. 

Weirder than a normal Friday the 13th, full moon, week after time change. 

If you live in Ohio like Angela, you might feel like the world is burning. If you live in WI like Shana, you might feel like, what is happening?

Image result for what do i do next

No matter where you live, we want to remind you that it’s okay not to know the answers today. It’s okay to take a deep breath, close your eyes, and wait a while until you begin to try to figure out next steps. 

It’s okay to give kids an (air) hug and send them on their way with excitement in your voice. That’s what they need. 

It’s okay to keep up your usual lunchtime rant sessions alongside colleagues instead of maintaining “social distance.” It’s okay to worry about where we might send our own children if their districts close and ours remain open. It’s okay to continue to allow large gatherings of students to gather in our classrooms for lunch. Normalcy isn’t necessarily a bad thing right now.

I’m in a school today and hear teachers saying, “Have a great spring break!” And as soon as the kids leave, teachers are gathering work, finding chromebooks to send home, and collaborating on next steps, preparing for the worst.

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe it’s okay to wait until Monday to see what unfolds. 

We want to create space as a community of teachers here at Three Teachers Talk to support each other. How might we figure out ways to eventually deliver instruction to kids remotely? It’s not enough to just assign StoryWorks, or send links home, or hope our kids have access to Schoology or Flipgrid. How can we continue to create space for our student communities to support each other? How can we make those experiences meaningful…ish? 

But that’s a post for later. 

Today we just want to join together in a collective hug deep breath gesture of support that doesn’t involve droplet transmission of any kind. 

Because we’re teachers. And we got this. 

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Shana Karnes teaches in Madison, Wisconsin. Together, they support one another’s practice, reassure each other about political, social, and healthcare upheavals, and keep each other motivated to write through the use of witty text messages and snarky GIFs. May you find an equally like-minded teacher friend to help you survive and succeed in these trying times. Connect with us on Twitter at @wordnerd and @litreader, respectively.

Experimenting with reading portfolios

Fake reading and readicide have been well documented as the enemies of English teachers everywhere. The workshop model does a nice job of thwarting each by offering students choice and ownership over their reading lives. In a previous post Shana suggested that if the reading is authentic and student-centered that it can even be independent from grades. Finding the balance of autonomy and accountability is still a challenge, though–how do we turn students loose to explore books while still gathering evidence of their mastery of the reading standards?

This year I resolved to rely less on quizzes or study guides that are averaged into a grade as a way to solve this dilemma. The last few years I’ve been moving more toward a combination of one-on-one conferencing and informal reading check-ins that gave students space to respond to what they’re reading while also demonstrating some skill mastery. This year I decided that I would experiment with reading portfolios in my junior English classes and ask students to gather evidence of their reading in one place that would comprise a quarterly reading grade. It is a more holistic approach to considering their reading work. This is the rough progression we’ve followed:

Goalsetting

At the top of our collection doc I asked students to consider their reading lives and to set a goal for that quarter. You can see a quick example here:

A student’s reading goals from Bell 1
A student’s reading goals from Bell 1

Delineate the types of reading

  • Volume (independent reading, pleasure reading) skill focus: development of ideas and themes
  • Speed (for ACT-type scenarios) skill focus: comprehension
  • Depth (close reading, annotations, classroom discussions, etc.) skill focus: comprehension, style analysis

Each type of reading requires something different from readers. The task was to find good evidence of each type from each unit. This allowed students to choose our reading check-ins, pieces we annotated or discussed together, or to build other ways to interact with their independent reading. The goal was to learn what strategies make sense for each type of reading that we do and to develop strategies for annotating short works versus tracking information in longer works versus reading to find test answers. 

Gather artifacts and experiences

Once we understood the different types, I was able to better organize classtime to meet those goals. Our reading workshop time was mainly spent on volume, but occasionally we’d do a check-in that asked students to reflect on their books that they could use as evidence of depth. 

For speed we would periodically test our comprehension using ACT or AP Comp/AP Lit practice passages. We simulated the pressure of time and discussed test-taking strategies, test-making strategies, and what it means to read a short text with rigor. I never counted these as actual scores, only as experiences they needed to complete. This took some pressure off and enabled them to engage with learning how to learn.

Finally, when we read poems, articles, or other short texts together as a class I always point out that if they choose to annotate or reflect on the piece that they can use it as a piece of evidence for depth. Most will take me up on it. This gives some choice and ownership over the annotation tasks instead of me requiring post-it notes on every chapter of Gatsby. In reality I can tell from one or two artifacts whether or not a student is actively engaging the text in effective ways. You can see a few images below of how one student collected the artifacts:

Discuss quality of the artifacts

Because I didn’t want the portfolio to simply be a completion grade we tried to attach some traits to strong reading responses, specifically for depth. I essentially trusted what I saw in daily reading workshop times and some informal check-ins for volume, counted the practice tests as completion for speed, and then used depth as the category to focus on assessing. I used an informal rubric that focused on the specificity and complexity of their interactions since those are the two words/skills we’d been focusing on, but you could adapt to the specific traits you’re hoping to capture in their reading work.

The end products are not pretty (Student example from Q1; Student example from Q2)–I’m sure there are better technology solutions to explore–but they do offer me a decent picture of what each individual student is up to as a reader in a way that I wasn’t able to see when I collected and averaged quizzes and study guide questions. It’s improved the vocabulary of our discussion about tasks. And ultimately it has helped continue the shift of ownership over their reading life from me to them, which is the end goal of workshop. 

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. He is excited to start reading the final installment of the Wolf Hall trilogy.

AP Lang Students Read a Variety of Texts: Student Voice and Student Choice Increase Both Volume and Love of Reading

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The Firm; Congo; The Tipping Point; Under the Banner of Heaven; A Deadly Wandering; Crazy Rich Asians; All the Missing Girls; Blackberry Winter; Memoirs of a Geisha; The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Unbroken; In the Time of the Butterflies; The Power of One; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Inventing Human Rights; Where the Crawdads Sing; The Time Traveler’s Wife; Blink; The DaVinci Code; How to Stop Time; Thinking Fast and Slow; Girls and Sex; One Hundred Years of Solitude; There is No Me Without You; Dark Money; Deception Point

I recently asked my eleventh grade AP Language and Composition students to share with each other their “favorite” books from the school year. I explained to them that they didn’t have to choose just one, and they didn’t have to pick the top book of the year if they couldn’t decide. They just had to list some favorites. They were happy to oblige!

The variety of topics and genres was a lot of fun to see on the list.

Some of the nonfiction that was popular wasn’t necessarily a surprise. I’ve loved some of these titles, too.

I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last summer and loved it so much that I bought four copies for my classroom library. I thought it was a great book for many reasons – it appeals to students who love science, history, ethics, and great writing. Several of my students have read it this year, and it made the list of favorite books.

One of my students read Inventing Human Rights during the first half of the year, and she’s still not over it. She went on to read A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because she was feeling inspired.

Another one of the titles that I have heard several students talk about this school year is Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex.

 

Because of their interest and thoughtful conversation about this book, I ordered a copy of Orenstein’s new book, Boys and Sex for next year’s new classroom library books.

 

AP Lang titles

The Firm; Congo; The Tipping Point; Under the Banner of Heaven; A Deadly Wandering; Crazy Rich Asians; All the Missing Girls; Blackberry Winter; Memoirs of a Geisha; The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Unbroken; In the Time of the Butterflies; The Power of One; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Inventing Human Rights

My students aren’t just reading nonfiction, even though that is the primary focus of AP Lang.

Congo and The Firm are some classic thrillers that some students have nearly inhaled, they’ve read them so quickly. All the Missing Girls is a more current well-loved title, and it’s not just a thriller; it’s written so the timeline is backwards, which makes it a bit more complicated to follow, and I love that my students are tackling this kind of challenge.

Another work of fiction that doesn’t ever seem to be on my shelf – it’s always checked out – is Crazy Rich Asians. I made sure to order another copy as well as the rest of the trilogy, so next year I’ll have some happy students.

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There are quite a few titles that have made the list of favorites, and most of them are from my classroom library rather than our main school library. I truly believe that the immediacy of availability along with the daily book talks are what have made these books interesting and intriguing enough to my students that they try them out, take them home, and declare them as favorites.

Immediacy of availability along with awareness of their existence, plus the expectation and option of student choice become a powerful combination. Authentic readers like wildly different texts sometimes, and other times love the same titles, but are ready for them at different times. The poster with the titles is helpful for this because students can find recommendations as they are ready for them, and can choose their own timing.

The fact that sixteen and seventeen-year-old students have favorite titles makes me happy. The fact that these titles are smart, thoughtful, and challenging is even better.

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for more than 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

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