I’ve been thinking…and thinking and thinking about Repeated Writings

During undergraduate studies (with Shana!), Dr. Alan Frager, a favorite professor of literacy at Miami University, assigning a repeated readings fluency experiment to my fellow pre-service teachers in which we had to have a peer read a poem multiple times and track their fluency improvements.  While During student teaching, I worked with a reading intervention group and later relied on the practice when teaching in my own classroom to improve student fluency and comprehension.  If repeated readings work to improve student reading–what about repeated writings?

I had a theory that if we ask students to write the same type of piece or over the same topic a few times, perhaps they would gain fluency in the mode or achieve more depth of thought with more opportunities to practice and process.  I noticed this to be proven true with my AP Literature and Language courses, as we practice the same style responses throughout the year, working to deepen analysis and improve craft but wondered what impact repeated writings would have on creative, analytical, and reflective pieces.  We do repeated readings or re-readings of texts to glean and gain more information. We ask students to practice their speeches, presentations, and pre-writings. We practice writing high quality, thoughtful questions for Socratic Seminars. Why not challenge students to “lap,” as Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher would say, around the same pieces?

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Photo by Mohammad Danish on Pexels.com

Throughout the past school year, juniors practiced quick writes, many from Linda Rief’s The Quickwrite Handbook and creative responses inspired by mentor texts.  We journaled in topic notebooks about our independent reading books.  I also assigned multiple iterations of the same writing assignment in the hopes that, like repeated readings, style and content would improve as students gained confidence.

The repeated assignments, usually chunked into 3 to 5 practices, created a series of thought and writing improvement that could be tracked throughout my informal study. During the year, students practiced writing responses about editorials in the news three times over three weeks to hone our argumentative skills.   We worked on literary analysis chunks that paired with choice novels which culminated in a mini-literary analysis when strung together. This spring, students wrote four reflective one-pagers that synthesized The Bluest Eye, the documentary “13th,” and their understandings of the world each week.  We reflected on growth with quarterly Reading Ladders, too.

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Repeated writings provided opportunities for improvement and depth.  Once students understood the type or style or writing, they were able to shift their cognitive focus to their ideas and voice versus the parameters, requirements, or purpose of the assignment with repeated practice.  I noticed students moving away from the five-paragraph essay and templates to infusing voice into their argument. I saw a synthesis of ideas across texts. I noticed more different syntax and academic vocabulary, as well as moments of writer’s craft rule breaking.  Most importantly, I saw students become more confident in their writing–there was much less “Is this right?” and more “I can’t wait for you to read my paper!” or “Can we share these in groups?”

While one must strike a balance between assigning the same task over and over again to the point of monotony, repeated writings worked like repeated readings with the most gains being in confidence and identity as a writer.  

 

Maggie Lopez is enjoying the slow mornings of summer break, sunshine, and endless reading time on the back porch.  You can find her on Twitter at @meg_lopez0.

 

“It’s the first time I’ve read a book with a character struggling like me” Guest Post by Billy Eastman

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If you advocate for student-centered learning via RWW, we’d love to have you as a guest blogger. Email Amy@threeteacherstalk.com

A year ago, Olivia launched a new school year of freshman English — classroom stocked with a library of over three hundred fresh titles. The first day of school was filled with getting to know her new students and getting them to know some of the books they could choose to read. She knew that all of her students wouldn’t find the right book on the first day, and she had planned regular “book tastings” over the first three weeks of school, patiently making plenty of space to build community and establish the routines of a student-centered Readers-Writers Workshop model of instruction and learning to invite choice and voice, and to distribute ownership to growing readers and writers in order to systematically build independent habits for reading, writing, communicating, and thinking.

However, on this first day of school, Olivia noticed a student named Mia slip into a familiar reading zone—a book had hooked her. While the other students in class spent time exploring several books, trying them out—frowning, smiling, confused, interested—Olivia noticed Mia turning page after page, lost to the classroom around her. Shyly, at the end of class, Mia asked Olivia if she could take the book home. Olivia warmly assented, marveling at the immediate connection Mia made to this book while wondering what exactly it was that sparked it.

The next day, Mia walked into class and immediately began reading the book again. 51738Olivia noticed that Mia must have been reading last night as well because she was nearly half-way through the book. Excited, Olivia sat next to Mia and asked her how she was liking the book and what really drew her to it. Quiet at first, Mia emotionally explained: this was the first time she’d read a book with a character struggling with an eating disorder — just like her. This gave her the courage to tell her parents about her own disorder for the first time, last night, after struggling with and hiding it for the past six years.

Mia went on to tearfully ask if she could continue to talk to Olivia about her experience in class, as she read the book and processed; she knew that this would be an emotional challenge for her. After a hug, Olivia explained that that was one of the most important things they would do in class this year:  talk and write and share (when ready, because—writers make choices about sharing) about the issues and reality that impact their lives and the world around them.

Books help us see, understand, and talk about things deep inside us that we either don’t recognize or try to ignore. Providing teachers and students with a robust classroom library may be the most meaningful support we can offer to this end.

Writers address real issues, and our student readers and writers can, too. When we put the books that contain the real issues—the authentic, relevant, enigmatic issues—that humans are not able to escape into our students’ hands, heads, and hearts, we teach our learners to confront them and give them tools that lead to empowerment.

Billy Eastman is a curriculum coordinator for English Language Arts and World Languages and Culture in League City, TX. He enjoys talking with folks and finding ways to make smart ideas happen. Follow Billy on Twitter @thebillyeastman

Q & A: Where do you find mentor texts for informational reading and writing? #3TTworkshop

Questions AnsweredHere’s the thing:  Finding engaging mentor texts, whether to integrate current events into lesson plans or use them to teach reading and writing skills, requires us to be readers of the world.

“I don’t have time,” I hear some thinking. Yeah, well, finding the time to read ourselves is the best professional development available.

Want to engage students more in independent reading? Read a wide variety of engaging and inclusive YA literature. Want to shake up literature studies? Read more diverse and award-winning literature. Want to bring real world events into the classroom for some critical discussion? Read a whole bunch of news.

There’s no secret to finding mentors that will work. We just have to do the work to find them.

We can rely on others to help. Kelly Gallagher posts the articles of the week he uses with his students — a good resource. Moving Writers has a mentor text dropbox — also good. However, what works for some students may not work for others. We know this.

We also know our students. We know the instructional goals we have for them, and we know what they need from us in terms of interest and ability (at least we should.)

So — read more. Read with a lens that will best meet your needs and the needs of your students. Sometimes we find treasure.

For me treasured mentors, particularly for informational texts — because they often get a bad rep — are those that are not boring. (In my experience, most students think info texts are boring.) Voice, format, and style = engaging real world informational writing.

I’m sure there’s more out there, but here’s three sources I read regularly. Sometimes I pull long excerpts, sometimes paragraphs, sometimes sentences to use as mentors.

The Hustle. “Your smart, good looking friend that sends you an email each morning with all the tech and business news you need to know for the day.” You can sign up for the newsletter here. Here’s a sampling of a great piece with imbedded graphs and data: How teenage hackers became tech’s go-to bounty hunters. This is a mentor I would love to use with high school classes.

The Skimm. (I’ve shared this before.) “Making it easier for you to live smarter.” Sign up for the newsletter here. The women who started this site are all about promoting and advocating for women. I like that. Their podcast is interesting, too.

Robinhood Snacks. “Your daily dose of financial news.” I’ve been teaching myself about investing for the past couple of years, so this one just made sense to me — the newbie-tentative investor. What I like is how the writers make the information so accessible — and they post a “Snack fact of the day,” which will often work as an interesting quickwrite prompt. Sign up for the newsletter here.

What about you? Do you have favorite resources to stay in the loop of the news or to find treasured mentors for informational reading and writing? Please share in the comments.

 

Amy Rasmussen spends a little too much time reading daily newsletters and checking her most recent stock purchases. Her favorite investing apps:  Robinhood, Stash, and Acorns. Really, if she can do it, you can, too. Amy lives, writes, and loves her family in North Texas. Follow her @amyrass

End of Year Musings

I’m amazed, sometimes, by how quiet this room can get.  Lights dimmed, soft piano music playing, I slowly shift papers from one stack to another as I pour over the thoughts and words of this, my first class of students at my new school.

Pausing for a moment, aware of the unusual peacefulness, I glance around the room. Everyone who visits complements the view through the big picture window overlooking the courtyard studded with live oaks. I, for once, appreciate that view before continuing my scan of our sacred space. Everywhere my eyes land,  I see evidence that students populated this space.  Someone taped snowflakes made of empty gum wrappers to my bookshelves. Another person wrote “HEYYY” on a sticky-note stuck to the built-in shelves.  Some creative soul splashed hearts and stars across the small whiteboard. Paper, wrappers, and empty water bottles litter the floor and remind me that I need to pick up a little before I turn off the lights.

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Hundreds of colorful pennants decorate the space above the book shelves; a reminder that as we struggled through our literacy lives this year, we covered vast expanses of literary territory. Upon closer inspection, I notice names, titles, and authors scribbled on each scrap of paper – evidence of books loved, hours of silent satisfaction, and reading identities.  These little flags wave reminders at me of the hard work, joy, and successes we’ve shared.

Books laze haphazardly on shelves overloaded, wondering where their friends have disappeared to. Shifting my eyes towards the door, I see the book nook stacked high with  books waiting for a magic book fairy to shuffle them back into their places in the classroom library before school lets out.

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My thoughts move to the front wall, draped in sagging and fading anchor charts, and I remember when two intern teachers – confident and comfortable – created their own “vortex” (more on that another day) and hashed out a lesson cycle like they’d been doing it for years.

My professional library brings up thoughts of lunches spent silently scouring the words great thinkers, and roads traveled; places left to visit or re-visit.  Kittle, Gallagher, Newkirk, Romano, Anderson and many more, remind me of monumental tasks I faced each day and remind me too, that I signed up for this.  Above, those books rest, (on the shoulders of giants, one might say) mementos, pictures, action figures and even a giant check left over from days of football past.

Too often, thoughts grades, lesson plans, assessment, and skills consume my mental calories. Not near often enough do I take the time to reflect, piano music drifting softly through the air, on our work here in this room.

This year was far different from all those that proceeded it.  The end-of-day rush out the door wasn’t a mad dash to football practice or to the parking lot just before driving a bus full of teenagers across town to a soccer game. Instead, I rushed out the door to get home in time to meet my daughter at the bus stop before picking up my son at school. There were no serious talks with students facing graduation, warning them how much it hurts to have life after high school hit them square in the face.

Instead, these freshman taught me as much about teaching as I taught them about reading and writing. They forced me to face struggle as much as I forced it upon them.  They made me look at my craft with fresh(man) eyes and change the way I moved through workshop routines.  I’m better for it.

Graduate school, too, reinforced the importance of life-long-learning and ripped the cover off the academic writing skills I’d boxed up almost twenty years ago.

In one year, I won a #BookLove grant and presented at the district, state, and national levels.  Recently, I was asked to contribute to the ILA magazine, Literacy Today, based solely off of a piece I posted right here back in July. Not bad for a an old ‘ball coach.

Being asked to chair the High School Section for TCTELA has been both an honor and an eyeopener.  I’ve never experienced the feeling of fear that came over me when I realized how much the members of this section needed outlets to amplify their powerful voices, and I didn’t know the first place to start. To even begin to think about conquering these tasks, I leaned on the lessons that have come before this, in times of vulnerability, and I looked at those around me who handle their struggle with grace and composure.  Oh, and those inspirational educators are the people with whom I’ll travel to Louisiana, for ILA 2019, to continue to spread our love of literacy.


Charles Moore looks forward to new challenges and growth opportunities even in his old age.  He’s trying to rebuild his reading habits and write as much as possible.  If you are high school teacher in Texas, and would like to help out with the High School Section of TCTELA, please email Charles at mooreliteracy1@gmail.com.  He wishes everyone a peaceful and relaxing summer and promises to post as many twitter selfies as possible.

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

5 Things Students Say That Give Me Life

It seems like each year of teaching is more intense than the last–the highs are higher, the lows are lower, and the chaos is more…chaotic. This year was no exception, and as my 7th and 8th graders leave the classroom this week, I am an exhausted mix of relieved and saddened to see them go.

Each year, while the bureaucracy of school politics, students’ disengaged behavior, and the heartbreak of kids who slip through the cracks drags me into despair, my students are the ones who pick me back up again. They, in their own words, give me life. Here are five standout things students say that lift me up when I’m down.

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JC creates a blackout poem from a dictionary page.

“This is fun!” The surprise and delight in a young teen’s exclamation about learning being fun never fails to bring a small, secret smile to my face. Learning is fun, engaging, and challenging in equal measures when students have choice, agency, and confidence in their work. My students created blackout poems as part of their final multigenre projects, and many students wrote in their final reflections that this was one of the most memorable activities during our time together.

“Can you conference with me about this?” After leaping right into reading and writing conferences with students when I met them in April, the verb “confer” became a standard in our classroom. Conferences about choosing which books to read, about how to improve a piece of writing, or even about those pesky grade questions take on more gravity than a simple comment here and there. Students learned that conferring was a time for one-on-one conversation, during which the participants were not to be interrupted. With the simple introduction of the term “conference,” the culture of the classroom shifted to one where talk was still vivacious, but was also more focused and productive.

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Logan shows off his final multigenre paper.

“I’m proud of this.” My middle school students are boisterous at their most basic level, but each time they submitted a best draft of a piece of writing or turned in part of a project they’d worked hard on, they became suddenly shy. They’d look at me, almost confidentially, and tell me quietly, “I’m proud of this,” as they slid their work into a turn-in folder. Their multigenre projects this year were some of the longest and most complex pieces of work they’d created in their middle school academic careers, and Logan’s shy smile sums up their feelings of pride and accomplishment about their pieces.

“You should be proud of your daughter.” During my plan period one afternoon, I was chatting with my mom on speakerphone. A few students walked in with a question, and I told them I was on the phone with my mom and asked if they wanted to say hi. They greeted her and said, “you should be proud of your daughter. She’s an awesome teacher.” This mark of respect made me tear up and embarrass the two boys, but nonetheless it restored my faith in the sensitivity and manners all teens are capable of possessing.

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“Now look at me.” My students’ final self-evaluations are some of my favorite things to read each year. Page after page of student writing is filled with students assessing their accomplishments and detailing their own growth. I ask them always to tell me how they’ve changed–something they don’t always know until they begin writing about it–and this year I was floored by one student’s response. Her struggles with addiction began at a young age, and as she found a more stable home and her life improved, she transformed herself into an avid reader and writer. This powerful self-assessment–“Now look at me! I’m a writer, a poet.”–floored me. It was a forceful reminder that literacy saves lives.

As difficult as a school year can be, I just keep coming back for more–and the students are really what keep me in the classroom. Each May, as my will wilts from the stresses of testing and schedule interruptions, my students’ energy and vitality give me life at the end of each year…just when I need it.

What do your students do to give you life? Please share in the comments.

Shana Karnes teaches in West Virginia, but only for three more weeks. She’ll be moving to Wisconsin with her family, her books, and her love of teaching. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

How do I keep my students reading throughout the summer?

Questions Answered

Let us know if you have questions about readers-writers workshop. Throughout the summer, we’ll be posting answers. 

Don’t you just love this question so much more than “What do you do for summer reading?”

Of course, we know to get to the “keep my students reading” part, we have to do a lot of work — sometimes a whole lot of work — to get some student reading throughout the school year. And those of us who give so much of our time to this heart work of reading, can feel sad, anxious, and exasperated when our students leave us and get “assigned” a book, or more than one, for summer reading.

For several years, my AP Lang students, many who were second language learners who took a courageous leap to tackle an advanced English class, would read stacks of self-selected books, and grow exponentially as readers, only to get handed at the end of their junior year a summer reading assignment and a list of study questions for AP Lit. Beowulf. This is problematic on so many different levels — but entirely out of my control. What could I do?

The only thing that made sense at the time was to encourage my students to form their own summer book clubs. I suggested they might set some goals to read their assigned text first, and then meet together to talk about it — similar to what they’d done in class in the three rounds of books clubs we’d done throughout the year. Then, they could choose another book and meet up again. Students took it upon themselves to circulate an interest form, and most students wrote that they were interested.

It didn’t really work. I was too busy in the summers to commit to keeping the idea alive. And we all know soon-to-be-seniors, or many teens for that matter:  Procrastination is their BFF.

I still love the idea of summer book clubs, and I know some schools are having great success with them. Hebron High School is one of them. The English department at Hebron is doing amazing things to cultivate a culture of reading, not just during the school year, but throughout the summer as well. They open the school library every Wednesday afternoon, so students can select books — and get coaching for college essays. They’ve got book clubs scheduled with teachers and coaches. They’ve got a wish list for books circulating within their community. Really fantastic ideas to keep the focus on the power of reading.

Scholastic recently released a report about summer reading trends. The report states that 32% of young people ages 15-17 read zero books over the summer — up 10% in two years. The report also states that “53 percent of kids get most of the books they read for fun through schools—so what happens for that majority when school isn’t in session?”

It doesn’t take much to know the answer. So what can we do? Besides following Hebron’s lead, here’s a few ideas:

  • Talk up your public library! Invite a librarian to come visit your classes, and get students to sign up for library cards. One of my biggest regrets at my last school is that I didn’t take my 11th and 12th grade students on a field trip to the public library. We could have walked — the library was that close. I know the majority of my students had never been inside, and every year I thought what a great activity this would be. Every year I didn’t do it. #ifIcouldgoback
  • Cull your classroom library, and let students take home books. I know. I know. Many of us invest so much time, energy, and money building fantastic classroom libraries, and we lose enough books throughout the year without giving them out freely at the end of it. But, really, what can it hurt? Every year I’d pull books that I felt I could give up and put them on the whiteboard rails for students to take home for the summer. (Sometimes they even brought them back.) It didn’t matter. I’d rather have books in kids’ hands than hidden under butcher paper in my closed up classroom. Kristin does, too:tweet about giving books
  • Give students access to lists of high interest and award winning books —  and free resources. Pernille Ripp shares her students’ favorite books each year. YALSA has great lists. And a cool new Teen Book Finder. BookRiot published “11 Websites to Find Free Audiobooks Online.Audiobook Sync gifts two free audiobooks all summer. Great titles, too!
  • Invite students to talk to you about their reading. Yes, even during the summer! Lisa does this in a slowchat on Twitter with students who will be in her classes in the fall. Students tweet her updates about their reading lives. She tweets back. It’s a great way to build relationships and share book ideas.

Every year I feel like I could have done more to keep my students reading throughout the summer. The truth is — we can only do what we can do. Sometimes it touches the right student at the right time. Sometimes we just keep trying.

I’m sure you have more ideas. Please share them in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives, gardens, and rides her bike in North Texas. She will be spending a lot of her summer with teachers facilitating PD around readers-writers workshop in secondary English classes. Her favorite thing. She’s also going to be doing a lot of writing. And a little poetry study at the Poetry Foundation Summer Teachers Institute in Chicago. Follow her @amyrass

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