Tag Archives: AP English

Will You Share Your AP Scores? Here We Go Again

I am not mean very often, but last week I was mean. Okay, not mean exactly, but certainly snarky.

I friend asked me about my AP scores. Innocent question. Struck a nerve.

I’ve written about AP English and AP test scores in the past, and I imagine as long as I teach AP English Language and Composition, I will continue to do so. I really do not mean to be snarky, but the more I talk with kids about their reading lives, the more I keep hoping more and more teachers Aim Higher — not just in AP classes, but in all English classes.

In the signature line of my school email, I include this quote by Emerson:  “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.”

I like that it helps me focus on what matters in my practice:  Teaching beyond a test. Always teaching beyond a test.

So what does this look like in my practice? Mostly, it looks like helping readers find their way back to a love of reading. After all, the best readers are usually the best writers, and the best readers and writers are usually the best test takers.

When Jessica asked me about my test scores last week, I know she was just working on building a case for choice books on her campus, a case for a workshop pedagogy. And while my scores did improve 50% the first year I moved to readers-writers workshop, no testing data captures the learning that happens in my classroom. No data shows an accurate picture of my students’ growth as readers and writers.

See for yourself:

For our midterm last week, my students wrote self-evaluations of their reading lives. Their words are much more valuable than mine when it comes to adding weight to the debate for time to read and choice of books in all English classes.

Leslie is a talker. She speaks with a beautiful Spanish accent and loves to use the new

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Giselle and Leslie, Nicola Yoon fans, dying for the movie!

vocabulary words she’s studying. I often have to hush her table because these girls like to talk about what they are reading during reading time. The fuss over Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon is on-going. They LOVE that book! Leslie writes:

“My reading goal for next nine weeks is seven books, I want to reach my reading goal and I will make it happen by reading more and do it because I enjoy it not just because I have to do it. I can gladly say that I love reading now, back then I used to be allergic to books and never touch them to read the beautiful stories that they have inside their covers.  After I become the perfect reader I intend to become the perfect writer.”

Giselle’s list of books she’s read so far this year reads like a spine poem. When she writes about whole class novels, she means our book club titles. I use book clubs to push many students into reading more complex books.

Lissbeth has been in the U.S. for three years. She titled her post “No Excuses for Not Reading.” My favorite line: “One of the things that I have learn thanks to my English teachers, is that reading is not just something you do for entertainment, it can also become a lifestyle.” Of course!

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Audrey’s Currently Reading list

Already a reader when she entered my class, Audrey explains her reading experience since last August:

I have learned some about myself as a reader. I’ve learned that I like to stay in my reading comfort zone, but with a little nudge I’m able to read other genres and enjoy it. I’ve learned that I’m always growing as a reader. My reading rate can always improve. My vocabulary can always improve. As a reader I know that with due time, and with a lot of reading and determination, I can read ANYTHING!” [Note: If you read Audrey’s full post, when she mentions me giving the class a list, she’s referring to our book club choices. I do not have a list of all the books in my classroom library.]

 

Some students are in my block class, so I’ve only had them since mid January.

Cheyenne, who has read 14 books since the beginning of the semester, feels pretty strongly

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Cheyenne’s book stack

about the whole class novel. She writes: “I definitely have a deep dislike for class novels. This has more to do with the fact that I hate being forced to read certain books by certain deadlines, for me, it defeats the thrill, if you will, of reading the book in the first place.”

This year was the first time since middle school that I have been excited to read in class, and that was because we weren’t assigned a class book to read and we got to choose a book we wanted to read,” Rachel writes.

If you don’t believe some students lose a love of reading because of school, ask them. Ask them questions about what happened. Every kid I know was once an excited reader. Few are when they get to me in 11th grade.

Reghan confirms this in her post. She writes:

From elementary school through middle school, I read every kind of book, big or small. From nonfiction books about the unsinkable, sunken ship: the Titanic, to fantasy books about alternate universes and dystopian societies, I was a reader.

“Until my freshman year of high school.

“Ninth grade wasn’t easy for me. A lot went on that year with my family and personal life, causing me to be unfocused on school, my grades, and reading…and my transcript made that very obvious. I don’t think I read even one book in that entire year, summer included. This carried into my sophomore year, as well as part of my Junior year too. Zero books read, many to go.

“Being in AP English this semester and having to work hard to stay afloat has helped me tremendously and it wouldn’t be possible without my teachers . . . I’ve read four books this nine weeks including: Paper Towns by John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foerand Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and I’m on my fifth: Columbine by Dave Cullen. That’s more than I’ve read in the last three years, combined. I’ve been introduced to books that I’ve never heard of and books that I never would’ve picked on my own. In fact, thanks to our assigned book clubs, I now have a new favorite book which is the aforementioned, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

” I credit Mrs. Rasmussen with my progress because of her belief that we as students are more likely to read if we’re choosing books that we want, not that our chosen for us. In my experience, any book that has been chosen for me by a teacher, has been uninteresting and/or hard to finish. Being able to choose has only helped me and there’s proof in the numbers. Not only has this freedom improved my desire to read, but it has showed me who I am and what I like as a reader.”

And then there’s Ciara, who wrote “The Oprah Winfrey (with a little twist) Show.” Here’s a reader I am still working on, but oh, her writing voice. And her taste in TV shows! (We’ve bonded lately over quite a few.)


So in a post with AP test scores in the title, I give you a post about what students have to say about their reading lives.

That’s gonna be my answer every single time.

I happen to be assigned to teach AP English Language and Comp, but what I teach is how to love reading to students who miss it. Most of them miss it.

What are you doing about it?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She also facilitates professional development for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

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AP English and Choice Reading

Last week Lisa inspired me with a post she called Books Can’t Be Bullied. Her last line:

“Let’s produce millions of resilient readers, hungry for truth, who will open books and listen, because a book is always ready to talk, and frankly, we could all stand to listen a lot more than we do.”

Then, a friend and colleague of mine wrote a post on her blog about the importance of choice in her AP Literature class, a topic near and dear to my own AP English heart. (I’ve written about choice in AP and how I feel about AP test scores quite a lot.)

And I knew I would share Amber’s testament to readers-writers workshop in AP English. She builds resilient readers, hungry for the truth, who open books and listen.

In this world of fake news and clickbait sharing, we might all want to evaluate how we can provide more opportunities for our students, at every level, to take more ownership of their learning and grow as resilient readers who are hungry for the truth.

Let’s stop saying choice does not work in AP English. It does. And it’s the students’ voices that prove it the most.

Here’s an excerpt from Amber’s post. I especially love the student comments:

. . .

I am currently in my fifth year of teaching AP Lit., and I feel confident that the feedback I have received supports the idea that choice and Advanced Placement courses are not mutually exclusive; in fact, choice might just be essential to our students’ future as readers. Not only have my AP scores supported this (I taught the class of 2013 using full-class novels which were chosen based on how many times they were referenced on the AP exam as well as the desire to cover all of the major literary eras, and my AP scores have increased, and have remained above national averages, since I began to offer students some choice in which texts they read), but my students have also provided positive feedback about how the ability to choose what they read has provided them with more incentive to thoroughly read and explore their texts.

I should probably note that the reason I felt compelled to write this post is because recently, I heard several well-meaning, experienced teachers express genuine concern that the classics “are not being taught anymore” and that “we should make students read them because if we don’t, they won’t ever choose to read them on their own.” Yes, that’s right – I clearly heard the words “make them read…” – because yeah, that works.

Here are a few snippets from students:

  • “Being able to pick our own book to read made the class even better, because we got to choose something to read that would fit our own styles instead of being forced to read something we may not like.” –Tiffany
  • “The book I enjoyed the most…are all the ones I chose to read. I had been wanting to read 1984 for a while and I got the chance. It was so interesting to me because my favorite books to read are dystopias. I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray because it’s different form what I’m used to reading. I like the fact that it was controversial. The Nightingale just had me feeling all kinds of emotions. It was hard to put it down because it was full of suspense. Although I loved 1984, Animal Farm was not for me. I was excited to read it, but it let me down. I don’t think it was the book itself, just the fact that it was assigned with a lot of work. Also, that we had assigned chapters every week, so I couldn’t read it and enjoy it at my own pace.” -Isela
  • “By you giving us freedom, we’ve been able to produce more creative ideas and products. You have definitely helped me prepare just a little bit more for college. Thank you!” –Kara
  • “I suppose I should designate Beowulf as my least favorite book that I had been assigned to read in the duration of my high school years.  I did not despise it entirely; it simply was not very appealing.  In addition, I never completed it.  With only a handful of chapters left, it is one of the few books I have not at least forced myself to finish.  Thus, it will always be a sore spot on my conscious. For my final remarks (at least my final mandated remarks, but I am not making any promises), I would like to state that I prioritized this class over my others even though from the grading perspective this made the least amount of sense.  I honestly felt the need to learn and not just merely make last minute memorizations.”  –Allison
  • “The book I liked best that I read for the class was Les Miserables because I liked it the best and because it was so long I cracked and got the audio book, and I enjoyed having the book read to me as I followed along even though it was a 12 1/2 hour audiobook. My all time least favorite book from my high school Englishes was Bless Me Ultima. It was plainly a boring book and the more I tried to read it the less I was interested in it. I didn’t even end up reading it, honestly. I just sat in class and listened to everyone else’s discussions and from that I got the general gist of the story and such.” –Clancy

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Read Amber’s full post Choosing Readers Over Texts with the whole of her students comments. You’ll get it.

What are you thinking? Please let me know in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

On In Defense of Read Alouds. Please, do.

At the end of a post I wrote last August called “My Classes are Only 45 Minutes — How Do I Do Workshop?” a reader named Andy left this comment:  I am at kind of a roadblock mentally and could use a push…I teach 8th grade reading in a building that still has both “reading” and “language” classes. While I am slowly transitioning to more of a workshop approach, I am still getting stuck on a few things. For our second semester, we have always read a whole class novel, but I would love to get away from that. Have any of you done read-alouds in your classes? I am beginning to think that maybe a better option would be to have students vote on a novel with a certain theme and do a read aloud and work on certain aspects of reading. My one concern that I can hear being brought up by administration is making sure I have enough assessments and grades…

First of all, I love that Andy asks this question and recognizes his need for “a push” as he wants to do more to engage his students than just another whole class novel. Not that whole class novels are necessarily bad, but those of us who have seen what choice can do in our students’ reading lives know:   if we only choose whole class novels, we lose valuable time developing readers. Giving students a choice as to a book to read aloud might just be a good idea.

I heard Steven Layne, author of In Defense of Read Alouds speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference this past fall. He quoted the research and the position statements from scholars of various grade levels on the benefits of read alouds:

  • Positive attitudes are fostered towards books.
  • Imagination is exercised.
  • Background knowledge is built.
  • Reading skills are improved and reinforced.
  • A model of prosody and fluency is provided.
  • Reading independence is promoted.
  • Interests in genres are broadened.
  • Cultural sensitivity is increased.
  • Listening skills are improved.
  • Exposure to a variety of text types is provided.
  • Reading maturity develops.
  • Reading happens.

Based on these statements, Andy, what do you have to lose?

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I offer a few suggestions though:  HOW you read aloud to children is as important as WHAT you read aloud. Layne suggests five key elements the teacher-reader must employ as he conveys an awareness of phrasing and word color:  diction, volume, pace, tone, and pitch.

To read aloud effectively, as to engage all listeners, the reader must be a performer.

Of course, what you read aloud matters, too. Offering students several choices and letting them vote is one way to foster trust in your classroom community. Students want to know we value their opinions. I’ve found with my AP English students, when I provide several choices for their Book Clubs, many students will choose to read the books not selected for their independent reading.

I would also suggest that you offer a choice of books that are not too long. I learned a few years ago when I read aloud with my 10th graders that even when they choose the book, attention spans are short. A full-length novel read aloud can cause the same negatives that a whole class novel study can. For this reason, I think it’s important to consider your main objective first and then plan backwards.

If I were doing a read aloud with those same 10th graders this spring, I would plan differently than I did before.

  1. I’d select several books with the same theme I want to build a unit around, and I’d plan to introduce the books by reading aloud from each of them.
  2. I’d think about the goals I can accomplish as we focus on the theme, and I’d think of several summative-type assessments in which students can choose to show they’ve accomplished these goals. Or I’d think about how I might invite students to create their own major assessments.
  3. I’d think about the skills my students need to master, and I’d pair mini-lessons with the ones I know will emerge through the reading. (These can serve as formative assessments.)
  4. I’d think about how I will get my students to apply these skills to their independent reading books, which could all be centered on the same theme (if I planned that well enough). (These can also serve as formative assessments.)

One of my goals with my AP students this spring is to do more read alouds. I’ve learned this fall that many of my students do not understand the different forms and structures stories can take. We are going to use children’s books to help with our understanding. The book Writers ARE Readers by Lester Laminack and Reba M. Wadsworth offers several suggestions on titles that will work with students of all grade levels.

So while I will not be reading aloud a whole novel, I will be performing read alouds and thinking through 1-4 above as I plan this unit.

Best wishes to you, Andy, as you read aloud with your students. I believe this poem by Steven Layne is an important reminder to all of us who work with children:

Read to them
Before the time is gone and stillness fills the room again.
Read to them.

What if it were meant to be that you were the one, the only one,
who could unlock the doors and share the magic with them?
What if others had been daunted by scheduling demands,
district objectives, or one hundred other obstacles?

Read to them
Be confident Charlotte has been able to teach them about friendship,
and Horton about self-worth:
Be sure the Skin Horse has been able to deliver his message.

Read to them
Let them meet Tigger, Homer Price, Aslan, and Corduroy;
Take them to Oz, Prydain, and Camazotz;
Show them a Truffula Tree.

Read to them
Laugh with them at Soup and Rob,
and cry with them when the Queen of Terabithia is forever lost;

Allow the Meeker Family to turn loyalty, injustice, and war
into something much more than a vocabulary lesson.

What if you were the one, the only one, with the chance to do it?
What if this is the critical year for even one child?

Read to them
Before the time, before the chance, is gone.

– Steven L. Layne, from The Reading Teacher Vol 48, No. 2 October 1994

Do any of you have other suggestions for Andy about how he might structure and/or craft assessments for his read aloud? Please leave your ideas in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

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What’s the most important thing you think you’ll ever write?

I am good at setting reading goals. Good at helping students set them, too.

But I never really thought about the importance of setting writing goals until I decided I wanted to write a book and struggled to get words on the page each day. (I still struggle.)

Even with this blog, my writing goals seem fuzzy. Sure, we have a 3TT posting schedule, and more often than not, I make my mostly self-imposed deadlines. But I haven’t really considered these deadlines writing goals.

Today I am wondering why not.

And I’m thinking that this is probably similar to how my students view the writing tasks I ask them to complete. They look at the calendar I provide. They consider the writing workshop dates, the revision workshop dates, the writing group dates. Maybe they pay attention to the learning goals I write on the board and review each day — all valuable parts of our writing class routines, but I doubt they actually set any goals. (Okay, maybe they set the goal to actually complete the assignment. Maybe.)

But I want them to set writing goals. I want to set writing goals for myself this year.

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a gem of a goal by my friend Billy

So today as we go back to school and get back into our routines, we will talk about writing goals, not just writing assignments. We will talk about the reasons we write and how practicing our craft can help us accomplish those reasons.

I think we’ll start with this poem:  The Writer by Richard Wilbur. And then read “The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers” and maybe “9 Weird Habits That Famous Writers Formed to Write Better.”

Then, maybe I’ll ask this question:

What’s the most important thing you think you’ll ever write? Why?

I don’t know where the conversation will go, but I am okay with that. I’ll let my students know how I feel about setting some personal writing goals. I’ll let them know how I think this may change, or challenge, my ability as a writer.

I’ll write my goals as they write theirs, and we’ll share.

If you need personal writing inspiration — or just want to find some excellent short mentors to use as you write with you students — read this: “Ten Texts That Will Get Teachers Writing.” And, of course, we share lots of writing inspiration on this blog.

I’d love to know your writing goals for the year. Please share them in the comments. (P.S. I hope one of them is to write a guest post here in 2017.)

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

Writing When It’s Hard. Or School Should be Out Already.

Let me just say how cruel the school calendar is this year:  We have school through noon Wednesday. Kids are beyond crazy. Last Friday is typically the last school day before break, so it feels a bit like we are making up snow days for snow days that haven’t happened. It’s cold. And no one is going to want to be at school for the next three days. No one.

I’ve been toying with this post all morning. I don’t feel like writing. I just want to shop with my daughters who arrived in town over the weekend, and tend my five month old grandson who came to visit yesterday, and maybe bake some bread pudding in the crock pot. I do not want to write.

So what do I do to get myself to put words on the page? What do I do when I need students to want to put words on the page?

I look for inspiration. I help them find inspiration.

Lately, my students have been writing spoken word poems as arguments. They chose personal or social issues they care about, and they’ve crafted drafts that argue a position about their issues. Some are digging deep and writing with wondrous words. Others — not so much. But I’m not giving up.

I’ve learned that three things will help my writers when they sink low and cannot seem to rise back up. I must consistently —

Flood the room with beautiful language. In a spoken word poetry unit, this is easy. We watch a performance on YouTube most every day. “Spelling Father” by Marshall Davis-Jones is a new favorite. (I love the narrative frame and raw emotion in this piece.) If our goal is to help develop writers who intentionally craft meaning, we have to help students intentionally craft meaning. The more we recognize, analyze, and model the moves of writers, the easier writing with intention becomes.

Allow time for thinking. Waiting on students to think their way into writing can be hard. But I know that writing takes time, and when I rush students who haven’t had a chance to think about their ideas before they begin writing, the finished pieces rarely get the revision they need to be truly effective. Don Murray said, “Writing is self exposure.” It is. And the vulnerability can be immobilizing for some of us. Giving time and then waiting for students to make decisions about their writing pays off on the back end of the writing process. If we truly value student ideas, we have to give them the time to think of them.

Talk to students and keep them talking to one another. One-on-one conferences are a good idea any time, but during a writing unit, conferring time is essential. In large classes, we may have to stagger our live conferences with paper ones, and leave conferring questions, and “I wonders” on their pages. More than anything, students must know we are reading their drafts and offering feedback. I am working on getting faster at leaving quick notes. I find that when I zero in on one skill at a time students find my feedback a lot less intimidating (which is something I had to learn was even a thing.)

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Martina’s writing her poem about her culture. “I’m too white to be called Mexican, but I’m a Mexican.”

My plan for this week is to put these three things on a replay loop. We’ll start class with beautiful language, think and write and write and think — all the while talking to one another about our process and our craft.

We may just make it to Christmas break a little bit merry after all.

If you are still in school this week, what’s happening in your classrooms? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Better Teaching: Please tell me your story

I already knew they were hard workers. This group of girls spent a lot of time in my classroom after school. They huddled together at the far table, speaking in a language I did not understand. They asked questions occasionally, afraid of being wrong.  

“Is this right?” one would say, timidly showing me her iPad where she’d written a few sentences in the Docs app. Returning to her table, she’d share my response with her friends.

They held on in AP English by decimal points as each grading period ticked by. Lucky for them, I scored on improvement, not on the AP writing rubric.

In class we watched the documentary “A Place to Stand,” based on the book by the same name by Jimmy Santiago Baca who became a poet while serving time in prison. Baca’s story captivated my students. They identified and analyzed the argument: “Education matters. Fight for it. Words matter. Learn them. Write them. They empower you..”

Some students understood that more than others. These girls, for sure.

We read several of Baca’s poems. Although mine is primarily a non-fiction course by nature of AP Language and my syllabus, I know that it’s through poetry that my students more easily grasp the beauty and intention in an author’s craft.

The task was to re-read Baca’s poem “As Life Was Five” and to write a reflective piece in response to it.

These girls were struggling, so I finally joined them at their table.

“Tell me what’s going on,” I said.

“We just aren’t sure,” Biak said. She spoke more often than the others, although her English was only a little better.

“Can I see what you’ve written?” I asked, and she timidly passed me her writing, carefully penned on notebook paper.

She quickly broke into explanation:  “I wanted to write my own poem. I don’t know how, and I don’t know…” Words tumbled out, and she lowered her head, waiting for me to read the page.

I looked, and before I could read anything, the words “Burmese!! STUPID and CRAZY!” shouted at me.

“Wait,” I said, “I thought you were from Burma.”

Five voices rose in chorus:  “Yes, yes, we are from Burma, but we are not Burmese. We are Chin.”

I needed them to teach me. I’d never heard of Chin, and my knowledge of Burma was limited to the first few chapters of Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan I’d tried to read and abandoned years ago.

“Will you tell me your story?” I asked, looking closely into the small faces of these beautiful young women, similar yet so different in features and personality.

Biak began to talk.

“We are from the state of Chin in Burma. The Chin are the mountain people. The Christians. The Burmese hate the Christians.”

And then they all talk and tell me their story:

They fled Burma with their families, leaving grandparents and loved ones behind. Sometimes not getting to say goodbye for fear the secret of their journey would be told. They traveled in groups, mostly at night, walking, walking, walking, they said. Often barely eating food, and even then, mostly rice balls or an egg stirred into water.

Bawi told of a Buddhist monk who acted as their guide. “He wouldn’t let us pray,” she said. “Every time we tried to pray, he would knock away our food. ‘Pray to me,’ he’d say, ‘I’m the one who gave you food, not God.’ He was so scary!”

“I lost my shoes,” Biak said, “I walked for miles and miles with no shoes, and the.. What are those things?” she turned to her friends, motioning with her hands like claws, “…those things that stuck to my feets?”

“Thorns,” they said.

“Yes, thorns stuck in my feets, but I had to walk. Walk and walk.”

“Walk quickly and don’t let go,” Kimi said.

“There was a pregnant woman with us. She could not keep up. When we reached the border of Malaysia, she could not run. I do not know what happened to her.”

“I remember we heard the POW POW POW. We had to run as fast as we can to cross the border. I was so little. My legs short. I was so scared.”

Biak begins to cry. She bows her head and covers her face with her hands, “I don’t like to think about it. I remember my grandmother’s face. We barely got to tell goodbye. She cried so much.”

I look around the table. Their eyes shine with memories.

“You all left family behind, didn’t you?”

They nod, and I see Van’s chocolate eyes pool with tears.

“Did you travel together?”

“No! But we all have same stories. All Chin students do,” Duh says.

“Wow,” I say, “Just wow.” My heart throbs in my chest, heavy with the weight of these stories. Resilience takes on new meaning.

“So you must think it’s pretty lame when your classmates whine about having to work a three hour shift and that’s the reason they cannot do their homework.”

The tension breaks, and they laugh.

“What an amazing gift you’ve given me,” I say, “You need to write your stories.”

“I wanted to write a book,” Kimi says, “but I don’t know how.”

I smile. “We can work on that.”

My heart changed after that chat with my girls from Chin. I also felt chagrin. I waited three months into the school year to extend the important invitation:  “Tell me your story.”

I can come up with fourteen different reasons why. None of them matter.

Throughout the fall, I struggled with my classes because I focused on the skills needed to be successful in AP English instead of focusing on the individuals who needed to learn the skills to be successful in life. I forgot why I wanted to teach teenagers in the first place.

Perspective matters.

The most important conversation is the one that invites our students to tell us their stories.

Those young women from the state of Chin grew to trust me because I asked, and I listened. They told me later that I was the first teacher who asked them to tell me their stories — they had all attended U.S. public schools for at least four years.

I am sure other teachers assumed they knew. I thought I knew until I saw the emotion in five pairs of eyes. “We all have same stories,” Duh had said, but that is not true. They all have similar experiences. Their stories are uniquely personal, and they serve as cardinal prerequisites to the identities of each individual.

Identity matters.

How our students see themselves — as teenagers, thinkers, readers, writers, friends, students — matters, and to instruct the individual we must know what she believes about her abilities and her capabilities, both of which have been shaped in one way or another before she ever steps through our door.

Peter Johnston helped me understand the importance of identity in his book Choice Words. He reminds us, “[Children] narrate their lives, identifying themselves and the circumstances, acting and explaining events in ways they see as consistent with the person they take themselves to be” (23).

 

 

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Trust and esteem are imperative to effective conferring. They are imperative to effective teaching. They are two cornerstones of conferences that allow for the relationships students need with their teachers, the relationships students need to learn.

If our goal is to help our students incorporate reader and writer into their identities, we must build foundations that allow them to take on the behaviors of those who read and write. Equity and autonomy create balance in this foundation and become the other cornerstones.

All students must feel that we meet with them fairly and without judgment. They must know our goal is to inspire independence as they become more effective readers and writers — and of course, literate citizens.

Really, it all begins with the invitation:  “Please, tell me your story.”

my-chin-girls

Graduates Lewisville High School Class of 2016


THAT DAY  THAT DAY
by Biak Par
Far from my Home, my Family
When looking at the sky they seem so happy
But me,
Thinking about that day
Every word they speaks, every looks, every smiles, every laugh
They tear me apart, the soul sing Be Strong
That day
Every word they talk, it burn my ears like Hell
Its torture me every night, in intimidate me every day
When I see those similar faces
That day
Those word, those eyes         
Tear my heart into two pieces.
Those words are as sharp as a razor
They call me foolish, Yea, I don’t know them
Burmese!
That day
My body fills with wound and remorse.
It like drawing into the water, I could not breathe nor talk,
Walking to class
All eyes on me,
Looking down with hope that there is a place I can conceal
But the room seems so small
As I take a step to the room, the room seems colder
Like I was at Antarctica,
Very Cold
Looking at the room I was isolated for this people,
This entire people are strangers.
That day
Standing still
People examine me, like I am from the others planet
That day…
My tremble body, drum in my blood
Eyes fill with water,
That day
The word of Burmese, such as STUPID, CRAZY echoed through my ears
Stupid, crazy,
My mouth wants to shout, but my mouth feels numb
And makes my throat feels tight like I am being choked,
Almost tearful
Wanting to run away can’t bear the exposes of feeling being hunted.
That day
Eyeing for a place to seat
But none of them invites me or speak,
It like I am walking into a room full of a babies Dolls,
They do not talks
But their EYES,
Their evil eyes talk, its say get out of this room
That day
Head down, looking at the floors as I walk toward to the edge of the room,
Seat alone,
The room feels so dark, so lonely and scary
Even, I was surrounding by those people
That day
My silent cry, wishing I can revisit to where I’ll be safe
Because every second, every minute, every hours this place seems so hazardous
That day…
Hopes and dreams are fading away like the wave of the cloud fade, little by little.
From that day the world is never the same
That day, change my life
Made me feels like a woman, made me realize
That because I am different from them (Burmese) and I only speak
CHIN,
They destroy and killed my hopes, my thought, my believe,
The thought of what might come next. I am Scared.
But,
My soul sing to me, be strong. BE Strong Biak Par. Be STRONG.

 

#3TTWorkshop –Right Now Literacy

My 11th grade curriculum overview begins:  Unit I of English III invites students to explore multi-genre texts that reflect diverse perspectives through reading and writing. Students evaluate the credibility of different viewpoints and consider how the ideas of others strengthen their own voice.

I set out to design lessons that met these guidelines. I began introducing a variety of contemporary texts in a variety of forms — all about high interest, high profile topics. Good idea, I thought, for a never-an-empty-seat diverse class of sixteen year olds.

My plans quickly met resistance right there in the classroom, and I faced the terrifying conclusion:  My students are too biased to recognize bias, too emotionally attached to their own viewpoints, so they are blinded to the viewpoints of others.

Reminds me of a few of my “friends” on Facebook, a few of the people I follow on Twitter, a lot of the stories on pretty much any type of social media.

This fall as I’ve designed lessons, it’s been one puzzle piece after another as I’ve worked to meet the needs of all of my students in the limited amount of time they are with me. (Accelerated block means I have them only one semester.)

Then, the presidential election happened. The doublespeak, the false news, the protestors, the name calling, the ramifications, the incivility…on every side.

Obviously, my students are not the only ones who suffer from a suffocating bias that makes them blind.

And I am bothered. I know many of you are bothered, too.

So as educators, what do we do about it?

I wrote about this idea of Right Now Literacy in a post as I reflected on NCTE. I would love for the educators I trust most to help me think and expand this idea in a once a month post. The first Wednesday of each month, I’ll first get the ideas rolling and then ask questions to Shana and Lisa, and then we’ll run a post centered around my on-going investigation of right now literacy.

We invite you to join this conversation by voicing your own thinking in the comments. Here goes:

Amy:  We all attended some great sessions at NCTE, and we’ve all written posts with some of our reflections. One session that we attended together (thanks for saving me a seat) shines as a highlight for me:  The panel discussion called Expert to Expert: The Joy and Power of Reading with Kylene Beers, Pam Allyn, Ernest Morrell, and Kwame Alexander. (Lisa, I know you cried at least once. I would’ve slipped you a tissue if I had one.)

What was your biggest takeaway from that session?

Lisa: My biggest takeaway is that I should bring Kleenex to NCTE sessions. Rookie mistake. I had no idea how powerful this learning would be!

I wrote yesterday about Kwame Alexander’s insights that we must “be the manufacturers and purveyors of hope,” and that we must “help students become more human.” These ideas have propelled quite a bit of writing and reflecting in recent days as I reexamine my daily practice through the lens of developing my students as people as well as learners.

Early in my career, I was just getting my footing. I taught the way I had been taught and the way my collaborating teachers were teaching. It was pretty traditional. But about a decade ago, our department really started changing. More choice, more authentic assessments, more student voice. I learned to talk with my students instead of at them. Alexander’s quotes above reiterate this to me. Hope for the future flourishes when people take ownership of resolving problems with well reasoned and fair solutions. In this case, allowing students to take ownership of much of their learning fosters hope for their futures as critical thinkers and skilled communicators.

In that same vein, I’ve examined the resources I have made available to kids, because as Kylene Beers said in the same session, “If you don’t have kids falling in love with reading, take a look at the books in your room.”  All of these ideas together remind me that I need to consistently refine my role in the classroom to see learning through the eyes of my diverse students and their unique experiences. While my ideas, plans, and suggestions might guide our daily practice, it’s the students that fuel the inquiry and it’s their discoveries that we expand on to emulate in writing, debate as a class, and guide future reading selections.

Shana:  Pam Allyn is right up there with Penny Kittle and Tom Romano in terms of people who have impacted my teaching life profoundly.  She is brilliant and brave and I fell madly in love with her and her work at NCTE last year, when I sat next to her mother to listen to a similar session.  We got to turn and talk to our neighbors about a variety of topics, and at the time, I was pregnant with my daughter.  I’ll never forget Pam’s mother telling me about the books she’d read to Pam as a young child, and I think of that every time I read to Ruthie–look what a literary giant was borne of a simple indoctrination into a love of reading.

But, I digress.  Pam referred to the fact that the day she spoke was the anniversary of the Gettysburg address, a “hopeful story on a ground of despair.”  She mentioned this in the context of saying that “we’ve been enculturated to allow injustice to occur, especially in education.  We have to say when something isn’t working.

For me, that rang true.  I can’t sit back and listen to people discuss practices of blatant readicide, assuming someone else will speak up–they have been enculturated not to.  Instead of viewing this as a battle, though, I think standing up for what’s right is an act of hope.  As Kwame said, “Teachers, librarians, and parents are purveyors and manufacturers of hope.  We have to offer literature to kids to help them find, raise, and share their voices.”  That’s what I want literature to do for kids, and I have to speak up about it.

Amy:  When Ernest Morrell answered Kylene’s question about the kind of literature we should be reading now with the comment: “We are in a new classic movement in English Language Arts. It’s a need for right now literature.” I thought of a million reasons why a workshop pedagogy fits the immediate need of students today. It wasn’t seconds before my brain connected so many dots made bold by the election:  What we really need is Right Now Literacy, not just literature.

Here’s some of the thoughts percolating in my notebook (They may even work as chapter headings).

  • Story as an Equalizer — How do we give voice to every student’s story?
  • Audience Participation — How do we truly give voice if we are the only listener?
  • Communication as Compromise — How do we move speaking and listening skills to the forefront of instruction?
  • Reading as Literacy Presencing — How do we provide opportunities and encourage students to see themselves in the books they read?
  • Reading as a Bridge — How do we provide opportunities and encourage students to view multiple perspectives?
  • Critical Lenses — How do we teach bias, fallacies, multiple viewpoints, how to validate of sources, including a focus on digital literacy?
  • Design Thinking — How do we shift learning to designing? This is what employers want.

How do you define Right Now Literacy? What would you add or take away?

Shana:  Amy, you are so great at conceptualizing books as mirrors, windows, or doors.  I was thinking about this and realized that while I’ve heard those terms thrown around a lot at NCTE, I don’t know where they originated.  After some googling I discovered the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who pioneered the idea of taking these terms from architecture and applying them to the reading of literature.  Here are her words:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

So, those concepts to me are central to what Right Now Literacy is:  in an era of homophily and a lack of cultural responsiveness, we need to teach kids how to see not just literature as windows, doors, or mirrors, but also the stories of other people’s lives.  I’ll draw on the Tom Newkirk lovefest when Tom’s editor read aloud the first line of his book, Minds Made for Stories:  “Our theories are really disguised autobiographies, often rooted in childhood.”  She advised us to get curious about the stories that lead people to their stances and belief.  I don’t think kids know how to do this, and for me it’s a big part of Right Now Literacy.

Lisa: I love what Shana shared about literature reflecting the “larger human experience,” and how we seek ourselves in books. In addition to these ideas, I think what Amy referred to as “suffocating bias” is at the top of my Right Now Literacy Focus.

Literacy instruction can be daunting enough when goal is to help students gain the necessary skills to first comprehend, then analyze, and evaluate what they read. This is, of course, in addition to the self-affirmation piece Sims references. But now, it’s become downright demoralizing that teaching literacy must not only mean standing guard against bias, but evaluating sources of “news” for outright lies.  

But while it’s difficult to stomach that teaching these additional skills has to be a part of Right Now Literacy, and that we need articles like NPR’s “Fake or Real? How to Self-Check the News and Get the Facts,” this is necessary work in our modern world. Students need to be able to sift through the information around them, tossing out the misleading and sometimes incendiary “news,” if we are to hope that they can synthesize the perspectives and get back to the enlightening work of finding that self-affirmation referenced above.

 

rmmibfe4czy-jeremy-thomas

photo by Jeremy Thomas   Longmont, United States

Amy:  Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Lisa and Shana. Dear Readers, I hope you will join the conversation, too. What are your thoughts on a Right Now Literacy?

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