Tag Archives: English Language Learners

Not Averse to Verse: Using Novels in Verse to Engage English Learners #ILA2019

This is a guest post by Dr. Helen Becker, and I owe her a big apology. I had agreed to run this post before her presentation at ILA. I have a million excuses:  None will do. So I publicly I say, “I’m sorry for not following through,” and if you are reading 3TT today, know this:  Helen is one of the smartest educators I know.   ~Amy

To understand the instructional power of novels in verse in the high school English classroom, you must first know a bit about my former school. Clear Creek High School, a comprehensive high school in Clear Creek ISD in southeast Houston, serves 2500 students in grades 9-12. According to Texas Academic Performance Reports (TAPR) published by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), in the last five years, the campus has experienced a steady rise in the number of English Language students. Many of these students have come from Latin American countries.

What you must also know is that our district advocates student choice reading in a reader/writer workshop setting. Furthermore, to provide students greater choice in reading material, the district invested nearly a million dollars to flood classroom libraries with high-interest books. Self-selected independent reading has become a constant in the changing school landscape at Clear Creek High School.

Fast-forward to my fifth period Reading class two years ago: a group of thirteen boys and one girl who, despite the best of intentions and instruction, had still not passed both End of Course (STAAR) exams in English. Enrollment in a Reading course, coupled with co-enrollment in grade level English class, was meant to close the gaps in their reading and writing lives. This is where the workshop model and classroom libraries intersected with my fourteen EL students. When the District ELA coordinator brought a stack of newly released novels in verse to my fifth period Reading classroom, the students devoured the books. Thanks, Billy Eastman.

And so began my quest to know more about the power of using novels in verse in the EL classroom. I knew I had found a topic that I needed to know more about – for not only my use in my classroom but use in the classrooms of others as well. While researching the topic further, I encountered a noticeable lack of research-based information about using novels in verse with EL students.

In fact, the only direct source of data I located was from Farish (2013) who writes based on her first-hand work as a librarian at a school with a large population of EL students. Farish writes in School Library Journal that the poetic form of novels in verse mimics folksongs and tales that are part of many foreign cultures. As a result, EL students feel comfortable with the novel in verse genre because of this similarity.  Farish (2013) adds, “Many who work with English-language learners and others who struggle with reading seek novels that promote fluency and a sense of competence in readers.” Verse novels accomplish just that. They can move fast and offer readers at any level a feeling of completion.

I broadened my research scope to consider the transferrable skills all students, not just ELs, could practice with novels in verse as an instructional medium. The arrangement of words and a sheer abundance of white space on the page makes these books, well, friendly and approachable. EL students have fewer words to decode. Furthermore, Young Adult novels in verse often involve a protagonist with the same issues the EL students themselves are encountering. In short, novels in verse promote student agency (Garud, Hardy, & Maguire, 2007; Oakeshott & Fuller, 1989; Tran & Vu, 2017), and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977).

But my experience with novels in verse really concerns one Fifth period Reading student in particular: Emerson. Emerson moved to our community from Guatemala five years ago and had difficulty finding books in English to read in my class. He experimented with books at a lower Lexile (I, for one, feel that Lexile level hinder rather than encourage literacy. This Literature Review from ALA provides data to support my stance on Lexile levels), but he was quick to abandon them, shrugging and saying, “They are boring, miss.” When I put Booked by Kwame Alexander in his hands, I totally mean it when I say that I didn’t see Emerson’s nose for a long time…it was in his book the entire time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Emerson read the book several times over. When I asked him about the book and why he liked it so much, Emerson said, “It speak to me.”

I cried those tears you cry when a student finally connects with a book.

As a result of my experience with ELs, I authored and co-presented a workshop at TCTELA on using novels in verse to engage English Learners in the high school classroom. In the session, fellow teacher and now Instructional Coach Megan Thompson and I delved into ways to leverage this popular genre to encourage reading comprehension and improve writing craft. I reworked the presentation for the International Literacy Association (ILA) conference this month in New Orleans, and Megan and I and invited our fellow teacher and TCTELA High School Section chair, Charles Moore, to join the presentation team. Both Megan and Charles brought their expertise as literacy leaders to the presentation.

Helen Charles Megan at ILA2019

If you were not able to attend the presentation but want more information on novels in verse in the EL classroom, reach out to me at hbecker@ccisd.net. I’d love to share my learning with you.

P.S. I gave my copy of Booked to Emerson as his graduation present.

For research citation see here.

Helen Becker has taught all levels of English Language Arts as well as AP Capstone Seminar in her seventeen years teaching secondary English. Today, Dr. Becker teaches Senior English at Clear Brook High School in Clear Creek ISD. Any day now, a suitable replacement for her will be found, so she can transition to her new job in the CCISD Office of Assessment and Evaluation. Until then, every day is a workshop day. Which means every day is a good day in Room 406.

A Question/Response to Whole Class Novels: This time for ESL

Recently, I found this in my inbox:

Hi Amy –

We exchanged messages a couple of years ago when I was at a different school, discussing largely AP students, if I recall.

Last summer, my husband and I moved, and I am in a new district with new “clientele,” so to speak. We are finishing Neverwhere, which went over better than I thought it would with this extremely reluctant bunch of readers. I won grant money and purchased a class set of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk Home, largely because I remembered that you recommended it.

Here is what I’m up against: I have regular seniors, most of whom are ESL. Most of my little darlings are low level and struggle with reading. Because I only have one class set for three classes of kids, we do some independent reading in class, and then we take turns reading it out loud. I pause them A LOT because I have to “interpret” what we read – especially when we read Othello, and even with Neverwhere. They have reading projects and journal prompts, we have class discussions.

But I feel like I’m failing them somehow. That I’m not doing enough.

If you have any resources for Billy Lynn that you can share, I would appreciate it. I’m questioning whether this is the right book to read with them, but since I have a good number who want to go into the military upon graduation, I think maybe I can grab those kids and then others will follow.

Thank you so much for any guidance you can provide.


A while ago, I wrote about Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk in two different posts. Once about how I added it to my book club list and loved the author’s craft and the other an excerpt for a craft study. I have never read this book with students as a whole class novel. I’ve never even been very successful in getting a lot of students to read it for their book clubs.

Just because I love a book, bless it, use a passage out of it, doesn’t mean my students will want to read it, too. That is the beauty of choice. It is also sometimes the struggle.

Am I surprised more students do not choose this book? Yes. Dallas Cowboys after all. But I get why they don’t — many of my students do not want to read books that are set so close to come — they cannot wait to get out of here. But that’s a post for another day.

This is my response to my teacher-friend’s email:

Hello,

Thanks for reaching out. I hope your move has proved a positive one. I know it is hard to change districts and schools.

Regarding Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk:  While I loved the book when I read it and found several passages I could use to study author’s craft with my students, I have never taught it as a whole class novel. So — I do not have any resources that go along with this book. I do have a few ideas that may help liven up your students experience with it though.

Teaching second language learners can be hard, especially seniors who want to check out of the learning so early. Pulling from my ESL training and my own experiences with students similar to those you describe, I’d probably do a few things, which you may already be doing.

1. Small discussion groups. Just like I do book clubs, I’d divide my students up into small groups. I’d give each group a short list of open-ended questions that relate to my skills-focus for choosing this book (theme, plot, characterization, etc), and I’d model how a discussion about literature might go — similar to how my friends and I talk about books in our book club. We would talk a lot. You mentioned that you already do journal prompts. I’d be sure that students write their thinking in response to these prompts before these discussions. Activate the thinking power.

2. Quickwrites. Besides journal prompts, I’d ask students to think about and write in

dallas_cowboys_stadium_05_by_jonzicow

jonzicow.deviantart.com

response to topics thematically related to the book. I might show a photo of Dallas Cowboys Stadium and ask students to think about attending a game there. What does it look like on the inside, what does it smell like during a big game, how many people work there? I may find data about how much the stadium cost, how many seats it has, something about the huge jumbotron. I might find a sports interview clip filmed within the stadium and ask students to watch it and respond to some component of the interview. Maybe I’d find a video of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (try outs, community service — not just game shots) and ask students to respond somehow. All these things will helps students understand and visualize the setting.

iraq-war

contempissues.wikispaces.com

3. Other Visuals. ESL students needs lots of them. And if we want students to understand more complex texts, we must give them the background knowledge needed to stick the new learning to. (I often forget this.) So — I’d use photos of young soldiers in war zones, as buddies, delivering first aid. I’d be sure my students know where Iraq is on a world map. I’d help them understand the idea of a “reality TV show” so they could visualize what this company of soldiers is dealing with at the stadium that day. This ties in to the multiple conflicts the book addresses:  Billy’s individual conflict — “Should I stay or should I go” and the conflict with the TV show and the “rich” businessmen-type attitudes.

4. Movie clips. I am not always a fan of using movies in class, but this might be a great opportunity to compare scenes in the book with scenes in the film. What is similar? What is different? Why do the makers of the movie make the choices they do? Do they keep the integrity of the book?

5. Craft studies. I’d pull significant passages from the book to study for specific reading and writing skills — again trying back to why I chose this book for a whole class read in the first place. If my focus is theme, I’d find passages we can read and determine themes that relate to the over-all theme. If I’m using the novel to become better writers, I’d pull passages where the author does something interesting with language. We’d study the passage. Maybe write our own passage, mirroring what the author did.

Finally, I’d be okay with not reading the whole of the book. When I plan lessons, I focus on the skills [needed to get to the endgame whatever that may be for the unit.] Once I’m sure I’ve covered the learning targets, and students have learned what they needed to by reading this book, I’d be okay giving students the option to read the rest of the novel on their own.

When we focus on teaching a book instead of teaching the reader/writer, we can often get bogged down. I am in no way saying this is you, but it is a whole lot of teachers on my own campus and in schools where I conduct PD. We must focus on the learner and not the book. The best way I know how to do that is with a focus on skills:  modeling, mini-lessons, reading, writing, talking. A lot.

I hope you find these ideas helpful. I would love to know how your experience with Billy Lynn plays out.

Best blessings,

Amy

What ideas would you add to help a class of primarily English Language Learning students read and comprehend a whole class text? Please add your comments.

Amy Rasmussen teaches AP English Lang & Comp at Lewisville HS in North TX. She’s enjoyed the semester watching her student teacher face Teenage Angst, but he is good, very, very good, and will be a great teacher. Her next adventure is helping Mr. G build his classroom library. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass or @3TeachersTalk

#FridayReads: Poetry as a Gateway into Reading

Before I started reading novels in verse, I had no idea how important they would be to the readers in my classroom. So many of my students who say they hate reading will read these books of poems that tell a story. (Chasing Brooklyn is one of the girls’ favorites. The Crossover, of course, is one of the boys’.)

This week, Sung, one of my quiet students from Myanmar, asked for a recommendation for her next book. She reads far below that of an 11th grader in an AP class, but she’s tenacious and determined to catch up to her peers. She and I have focused on her fluency since the beginning of the year when in our first conference I learned she could read all the words in a novel, but she understood little of the meaning. (Similar to my ELL student who read every word of The Great Gatsby last year without comprehending any of it. This was before I clued in to her need to save face with their peers.)

“I am reading,” Sung said, “but I don’t know what’s going on.”

I’ve heard this before, and I always celebrate when my readers let me in on this secret. (It takes guts to be vulnerable, especially at 16.) In talking with high school students who struggle with reading, I’ve learned they usually have no idea why. Most of them think they are slow or dumb — or they simply claim reading is boring or dumb because it’s easier to say that than admit reading is hard.

The hard part for me is teaching them to read. My degree is in literature after all, and my Masters in Secondary Ed did little to prepare me for the adolescent reading crisis I face every day. So I teach reading by getting students to read. I talk to them about their reading and get them talking to me about their thinking.

8537327Sung had just finished her 8th novel in verse, her favorite so far, Inside Out and Back Again. As I conferred with this reader, she told me she wanted to try something more challenging that was a ‘real’ novel. What she meant was a story with more words on the page. (Last year I caught one of my ELL students at the book shelf flipping through books. When I asked him why, he said he could tell if he could understand it depending on the “thickness of the words.”)

I walked to my “Explore: It’s Your World shelf” and pulled a few books I thought Sung might like:  Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, In Darkness by Nick Lake, Copper Sun by Sharon Draper, Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, a book of short writings by various authors about human rights, published in association with Amnesty International, and several other titles I cannot remember now.

Then, I gave her time to explore.

A few minutes later, Sung held two books in her hands and quietly told me she wanted to read them both. She left the room with Karen Hesse’s award-winning book and the anthology of stories by writers like these: Paulo Coelho, Yann Martel,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ishmael Beah, and more. These are not difficult books. They are not complex. They are way too easy by most high school standards. But they are exactly what this young woman needs to not only grow in confidence as a reader, but to grow as a citizen of her world.

And an interesting insight? Quite often it takes more inferencing skills to understand the story in a novel in verse than it does with a story written in prose.

_________________________________________________________________

For a list of other novels and verse, see this post.

Here’s a highlight from my most recently read novel in verse, Audacity by Melanie Crowder. I think it will make a nice quickwrite at the beginning of the year as we build a reading community:

alight  22521938

I passed my Spelling

and Mathematics exams!

 

I hurry after work

to the free school

to check the schedule

for the next round:

Geography

History

And Trigonometry.

 

The thing that separates

rich from poor

in this world

is knowledge.

A person can rise up

 

if she can read

if she can think

if she can speak.

 

I cannot attend

every class

every lecture

but if I share what I learn

with the girls in my shop

in between bites

during lunch

 

ff Pauline shares

with the girl in her shop

in between bites

during lunch

it is as if we all

Were there together.

 

I see

these lunchtime lessons

spreading like fire

skipping from one box of tinder

to the next

across the shops

through the slums

until the entire city is alight

with small

fierce-burning flames.

#FridayReads — Oh, Mercy! Have I got a plan for this mentor text

Usually I read about four books at a time. This makes for a mess on the bedside table, the coffee table, the kitchen table. I rarely use bookmarks, which is a shame because I have quite a lovely collection.

I end up leaving books split open and sound asleep right where I left them –sometimes just so I can remember the parts I know I want to use in class. I refuse to read on until I capture the sentence or passage that gives me pause. Such is the case with my new now bent-spine-copy of Just Mercy, a Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I’ve been stuck on page 18.

Here’s a portion of the passage I will use with my AP Lang students. You will, of course, find the rest of it when you buy the book, or here.

     When I first went to death row in December 1983, America was in the early stages of a radical transformation that would turn us into an unprecedentedly harsh and punitive nation and result in mass imprisonment that has no historical parallel. Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison: one in every three black males babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.

     We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row. Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we’ve sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve. For years, we’ve been the only country in the world that condemns children to life imprisonment without parole; nearly three thousand juveniles have been sentenced to die in prison.

     We also make terrible mistakes. Scores of innocent people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death and nearly executed . Hundreds more have been released after being proved innocent of noncapital crimes through DNA testing. Presumptions of guild, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.

…..

     We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and — perhaps — we all need some measure of unmerited grace. 

 

Before we ever read the text, and I did pull much more of it than I’ve posted here, we’ll spark our thinking with an image like this, posted at The Sentencing Project, and then write our initial responses in our writer’s notebooks:

Next, we will TALK. I know my students will want to share what they think about this graphic. Many will identify personally with it because they know a family member or a friend who’s served prison time.

When I introduce them to Stevenson’s text, I’ll give them a purpose for reading — besides just comprehending the message (identifying the purpose is a breeze since he tells us the reason he writes the book) — I want my students to notice the structure, the progression between ideas, the repetition and patterns they will see in the language. All the clues that build the tone.

I will ask them to mark the text, noting their thinking about these things. Without a purpose for reading, too many of my students struggle with the stamina they need to make it through even a page when I ask them to read critically.

Next, we will TALK. Talking will help some students understand what they read. It will help other students clarify their understanding. Some students will have noted what I asked them to notice as they read. I will rely on them to help the others — skill level is just one way my students are diverse.

I will also hand them a stack of questions that prepare them to write. They will read something like this:

What do you know about the writer based on what he writes?

What is the Stevenson’s purpose? Why does he come out and tell us so plainly?

What are the facts in this piece? What are opinions? How do you know?

What do you notice about the structure, any patterns, repetition? What do they do for the message?

How does Stevenson move between ideas?

And then we will write. Maybe I’ll give a prompt like this: Based on the text, and our discussion, is Stevenson’s opening argument effective, why or why not?  Maybe I’ll ask students to come up with their own analytical-style question to respond to. (I like this idea a lot.)  [see Talk Read Talk Write]

That’s probably enough for one class period, but my mind is still stirring:

  • What if I ask students to problematize the issue? Who are the stakeholders? Think all the way around the issue. Why do they care? Why do we care? What kinds of questions do we have about the claims Stevenson makes? What kinds of evidence do we need to convince us they are valid? How and when could anything regarding this issue change?
  • What if I ask students to identify just one of Stevenson’s claims and then research it? I assume the author provides support throughout the book. I’ll know when I keep reading. But what if students did a bit of research and then collaborated on substantiating Stevenson’s claims. Collaborative writing can be a powerful learning experience.
  • What if I ask students to brainstorm other issues Stevenson’s text suggests? We could probably create a pretty elaborate bubble map of ideas. These could lead to student choice in research topics.

What do you think? Any other ideas?

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

My Classes are Only 45 Minutes — How Do I Do Workshop?

It’s a movement, you know — this instructional practice called Readers and Writers Workshop. More and more educators are catching the vision and clarifying their focus as English educators. (There’s also a lot of nay-sayers, which I think means they are afraid. Let’s be patient with them.)

I received an email that asked a question that I wish I would have had answered for me years ago when I made the leap into choice reading and the workshop pedagogy. It’s important, so I knew it needed to be a post on this blog:

English I teacher asked:  I have a question for you about classroom routine. I felt I needed to ask someone who can answer with authority about this because there is significant resistance from teachers on my campus to the whole idea of workshop, especially from my department chair. For various reasons that I won’t bore you with, we need to do a “by the book” implementation. We will be under a lot of negative scrutiny no matter what we do, but things will go better if we are following some sort of precedent on certain details.

I’ve found specific information about block schedule and the frequency of in-class silent sustained reading, but I haven’t found anything for non-block schedules. We are non-block with 45 minute periods. I think I read on your blog that you used to use Workshop in a non-block schedule. When you did that, how often did you do the in-class reading?

I am glad you asked about non-block scheduling for workshop instruction. Yes, it is doable! I taught class periods of 50 minutes five times a week prior to moving to my current school. When I was first trying to figure it out, the best advice I got was from Penny Kittle. She told me:  “You choose to do this, which means you choose not to do that.” Here’s how I interpreted that:

If I have 50 minutes with my students each day. Every minute matters, so I must be intentional in the choices I make. 

I used to choose whole class novels and read at least part of the novels in class. I used to assign students guided questions to help their understanding of those novels. I used to give lists of vocabulary words and ask students to define, write sentences, create images. I used to give writing prompts and writing homework. I used to expect students to read and write outside of class without ever showing them the messiness, the thinking, the discovering of ideas and emotions and writer’s moves on the page. I used to make all the choices, and I expected my students to go along for the ride.

Some did. Many did not. It finally started to dig at me that many was so much greater than some.

I choose not to do any of those things now.

Now, my students and I choose to read books we find interesting, engaging, and important to our lives. We read, discuss, and write about how the ideas inside these books are windows to the world outside our own, and how they are mirrors into the joys, aches, and heartbreaks we see inside ourselves and within our families.

I wrote about 7 Moves in My Workshop Schedule a while ago. These moves are non-negotiable:  read, confer, talk, write, revise, share, mini-lesson. 

To make these workshop moves work, we must also include these tools as non-negiotables:  writer’s notebooks, mentor texts, high interest books.

As you begin to plan for your 50 minutes, think about this:  How can you ensure that all students read, write, listen, and speak in every class period? (These are best practices for English Language Learner’s, which in my experience means they are best practices for all students.)

You specifically asked about the frequency of in-class independent reading in a class period of 45 minutes.

Read every day. Every day. Every day.

If you want students to become voracious readers, time is the greatest gift you can give them. Students need to know that you trust reading as your ally. If you believe that through reading students will grow in fluency, stamina, vocabulary acquisition, comprehension… and empathy, which has been written about here Scientific American and here Psychology Today you must make it a priority. So how might this look in your classroom:

She asked for a book that would help her learn science and accomplish her reading goals. Students will challenge themselves if we let them.

She asked for a book that would help her learn science and accomplish her reading goals. Students will challenge themselves. Really, they will.

Read at the beginning of every class period — 10 minutes. You do not need a bell ringer or any other focusing task when students know that the expectation is to come in the room and get to reading. The first chapter in Steve Gardiner’s book Sustained Silent Reading offers some great information — and quotes Nancie Atwell on the importance of choice. Encourage and challenge students to read outside of school. Help them create goals, and them help them hold themselves accountable to reaching them.

Confer when students are reading. Make this a norm. Conferring moves readers workshop instruction forward. And students want and need us talking to them about their reading, about their thinking, and about their lives. One-on-one instruction happens here, and it is through this teacher move that belonging, identifying, coaching, challenging, and empowering happens.

When you create a classroom culture of reading, discipline begins to care for itself. It’s a matter of setting expectations and then being consistent with them. If I have a student who refuses to read, which happens at times, especially early in the year, I make sure she knows that she has that right, but she does not have the right to interfere with anyone else’s right to read. Sustained Silent Silence instead of Sustained Silent Reading gets boring after a while.

You’ve read, and you’ve conferred. Now, you make other choices about what to include in your instruction. These are ideas that work for my students:

Write about their reading. Now, I’m not advocating for dialectic journals or questions about plot and setting, but it is important that students become reflective about their reading. Find a balance here. We do not want reading to turn to work, and demanding that students write about their reading way too much may turn them off to reading.  Think about the books you and I read. How often do we have to write an essay about a novel we read?

The topic notebooks in my classroom. We write in them about every three weeks. This is a fun way to share our thinking about our books.

Penny Kittle taught me about topic or “big idea” notebooks, and I’ve had a lot of success with these. (That link is to Penny’s Book Love handout, which has other great ideas for students to write about their reading.)

Teach skills in mini-lessons. I decide on mini-lessons based on two things: 1) my standards, 2) student needs based on what I learn in conferences.

Say I need to teach them about using the appeals in an argument, I may teach a mini lesson on logical appeal one day. Then I will ask students to do some flash research and find evidence of this appeal in either their independent reading, a news article, or an online text. We’ll share our findings and do a lot of talking — Why’d the writer use that appeal? How does it contribute to the argument? etc. Then, students will know I need to see them use that appeal in their own writing. We write (and confer) for the rest of the class period. Or, we share our writing in our writers’ groups.

Or, say I’ve conferred with half the class about their reading. I’ve found that half of those students are having trouble finding books with enough higher-level vocabulary to add to their personal dictionaries. I know I need to teach a mini-lesson on text complexity and what it means to challenge ourselves as readers. I may choose a few books with similar topics or themes and show my students a reading ladder:

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

Dopesick by Walter Dean Meyers

Homeboyz by Alan Sitomer

Tyrell by Coe Booth

The Absolute True Diary of a Part time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Letters to an Incarcerated Brother by Hill Harper

We’ll talk about why one book may be more complex than others. I might challenge students to read all of these titles and then tell me if I have the ladder right. (I may not, I haven’t read every one of these books, but I think I’m on the right track.) I’ll teach students about syntax and how that impacts text complexity as much, or more, than vocabulary. Then, I’ll challenge students to keep track of the complexity of the books they choose, not only by keeping their personal dictionaries up to date, but by adding codes to their reading lists. E – easy, C – comfortable, D – difficult. I show them my writer’s notebook and how this tracking helps me understand my reading habits.

Allow time to work. The greatest indicator that workshop works in my classroom is student engagement. When I allow students time to complete writing in class with me available to talk to and ask questions, they engage in the writing process more efficiently and effectively. I’ve let go of wanting a product, and now we enjoy the process of writing. We discover as we write. We revise because we know our writing improves as we revisit it. We share our writing because all voices in our classroom matter. The only way to accomplish these things is to build time to write right into the class schedule.

I wrote Choose to Become a Classroom of Writers a while ago. I still believe focusing on writing creates the smoothest transition to workshop instruction. Why? Because writers are readers first. Check out this post of 40 Inspiring Quotes about Reading from Writers. (Just a little proof.)

But that’s probably another post for another day.

Best blessings to you as you take off on this wonderful adventure with your students. Write any time: for support, for clarity, for whatever you might need. You’re blessing the lives of children. Our future –our society — needs educators like you.

Press forward (nay-saying department manager and all).

Warmly,

Amy

Dear reader, any advice you can offer our friend?

 ©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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