Tag Archives: high school

#Disrupting Texts in our Senior English Classes

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Stories that mirror the lives of our students are an important part of our reading lives.

Last year, due to a colleague’s illness, I ended up teaching a section of English 10 part way through the year. It had been years since I had taught English 10 and years since I had taught the main novel that our Grade 10 students study – To Kill A Mockingbird. While I hadn’t taught To Kill A Mockingbird in some time, it had been the subject of much of my professional development reading lately as there is a shift happening towards questioning some of the traditional texts we teach in North American and whether they are the best texts to explore issues of race and other complex issues. In particular, I had been exploring the concept of disrupting the texts we traditionally study in high school as outlined in this excellent series by Kate Stolzfus in ASCD’s Education Update. When we look at disrupting the classic, largely Eurocentric texts traditionally taught in schools across the country, we start to explore how the classic cannon does not necessarily reflect the experiences of the students in our class. Children’s literature scholar Dr. Rudine Simmons first explored the idea that children need mirrors, windows, and sliding doors in the stories they encounter. While windows and sliding doors allow children to look into or enter into the world of people different than themselves, mirrors in literature – where children can see themselves reflected in what they read are equally as important. While Rudine Simmons was talking about children’s literature, this is just as important in the literature we study with our young adults in our high school classes. When we look to disrupt the texts we teach in class, we look for opportunities to provide “mirrors” for all of the students represented in our class, as well as “windows and sliding doors” into the lives of others.

Because I was starting the class midyear, I was not in a position where I could change the books for the course, so I would have to teach To Kill A Mockingbird, but I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with teaching it in some of the more traditional ways I have seen it handled. Like any teacher faced with a new class with only a short time to prepare, I headed to the internet to see what inspiration I could find. What I found has become a valuable resource not just for my Grade 10 English class, but also for my other classes – #Disrupttexts. The #Disrupttexts movement is a grassroots movement started by teachers to disrupt the traditional cannon and to provide resources to do so. The movement was initially a Twitter movement and if you search #Disrupttexts on Twitter, you will find many valuable resources. As well, there is a website where you will find suggestions, lessons and unit plans that suggest alternate titles to the traditional cannon, or texts to teach in conjunction with them in order to bring in other perspectives.

While it may not always be possible or necessary to replace the traditional canon in our English classrooms, by shifting the way we looking at these texts and by “disrupting” our thoughts on the literature we share with our students, we help our students access the powerful experience of seeing themselves reflected in the literature they read.

 

Pam McMartin in English Department Head, Senior English Teacher, and Middle Years and Senior Teacher Librarian at an independent school in Tsawwassen, BC, Canada. When she is not disrupting texts in her classes and her school library, she is spending her time reading reviews and building her to-be-read list from all of the exciting new books from diverse authors coming out. You can follow her on Twitter @psmcmartin. 

An Authentic Connection: Literacy and Citizenship

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Room 369: The New Home of the Francis Gittens Lending Library

It is finally time for educators across the state of New York to head back to school. Here in the city, we have one day to organize, get our rooms situated, be professionally developed, catch up on the summer on-goings of our colleagues, and be ready to open our doors and welcome our new students full with promise – tomorrow.

So, as I let this ruminate; I find myself referring back to an article I was sent this summer to keep my mind whirling and my thinking on the edge.  Why are students falling off track?  According to this piece from Education Week the gap that separates students from achieving academic success is staggering.  This is not news.

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A moment of calm amongst the disorganization…

However, as I have had to arduously undergo this move of 3,000 books and their accompanied bookshelves (the entire Francis Gittens Lending Library) from room 382 to room 369; much has come to light.  I’m no stranger to believing that literacy is the key to access, opportunity, and self-worth; or that the Readers Writers Workshop is the venue in which to do so. Yet, this experience — this move, has taught me even more.

Literacy needs to be passed on.  It cannot remain only within our classrooms or the classrooms down the hall.  It must be infiltrated into the homes in which our students live; brought with them on public transportation where book covers are viewed by others; shared with siblings.  It must continually be invited and welcomed into places it does not often find an invitation.  That’s our job as educators.

I’ve been reflecting on this past year, and years prior, to recollect what I believe to be some of the most vital components of the educating that occurs within the Readers Writers Workshop – and I always come back to the same two elements: creating a love and thirst for knowledge through literature and fostering the creation of students’ voices through writing.  This was solidified when Daphtho (pictured above) matter-of-factly stated, “Ms. Bogdany, you don’t have to thank me for helping with the move.  It’s my way of thanking you for helping me receive my diploma.”

So when Daphtho and George (two recent graduates) offered to spend their time among the heat, lifting and moving and organizing and undoing and reorganizing and waiting (for me to make aesthetic decisions); they quietly schooled me.

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A moment’s pause amidst the move…

Through their actions they showed me that when we are relentless in supporting their thinking and ideas, when we foster them as individuals (not just students) they innately become the young men and women they are destined to become. They are willing to give back to their community (even if they are no longer going to be physically present). They understand what it means to feel safe to take risks, comfortable to allow vulnerability to surface, and the power of giving back.  And, are eager to pass it forward.

During the many hours of this move, there were quiet (if not silent) moments of understanding.  Albeit the towering stacks of boxes that needed unpacking, these young men stopped in their tracks as they found literature that spoke to them – and found themselves comfortable spaces in which to explore. Daphtho will be bringing literature home for his brother entering sixth grade as he works side-by-side with him on his literacy skills (knowing the importance of a strong foundation) and George decided on two pieces that were donated by a friend of mine from high school – ponderings and questions about taking the next steps in our lives.

So no, my urgency for, “Time is ticking” did not kick in.  But what did kick in was, “This is exactly what this time needs to be.  Us. Books.  Connection.  They are ready for their next steps.  How grateful I am to have borne witness to their growth and how wildly fortunate I am to know them as the citizens they have become.”    

What elements of the Readers Writers Workshop do you believe propels your students in becoming robust citizens?

 

Our Year-In-Review

As we round out the 2014-2015 academic school year, I would like share our Year-In-Review from us here at TTT and dedicate it to all of our loyal and contributing teacher friends who share in our experiences throughout the year.  Playing with the Reading Writing Workshop model is always exhilarating and fresh and exciting and freeing and thought-provoking.  It’s always propelling us, as educators, to break through barriers and teach with our most authentic teaching souls.

So, to capture the essence of how we have all explored the model this school year; here are highlights that allow us to celebrate the risks, the questions, the stumbles, the ‘ah-ha’s, the setbacks, and of course…the successes.  As we are all still progressing through this last month of our current school year, we hope that resurfacing some of our favorite moments will ignite the fire that keeps us all educating with fierce passion, deep inquiry, and continual evolution.

The calm zen of the RWW in Texas.

The calm zen of the RWW in TX.

First up: The lovely Amy Rasmussen who never ceases to amaze all of us with her wit, wisdom, and wildly insightful thinking.  Here is a woman who has taken the RWW by storm and has not looked back; the only time she does is to pick up, dust off, and gently guide those who are trying to find their way through the process.  She is an excellent mentor and extraordinary educator who ensures that her Advanced Placement students are gifted the wonders of the RWW. Here is a collection of how Amy has guided us through the intricacies of customizing the RWW for our own learners:

A Feedback Protocol for Revision Workshop

5 Reasons Why Reading Conferences Matter — Especially in High School English

5 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of School

 

A reminder of student movement and achievement.

A reminder of student movement and achievement in NH.

Next: Jackie Catcher’s name could not be more appropriate.  We know the catcher’s responsibility on the field is to guide the team to strategic success; Jackie does the same infield – in her classroom. She moves her students with her unyielding dedication through continual infused literacy by craftily customizing projects and lessons that engage students. She is a powerhouse who, through all the struggles and obstacles of a second year educator, never ceases to find innovative ways to educate and inspire.  Most importantly, she is always a learner first and shares her inquiry with others to not only think collectively, but to create success-driven solutions.  Here is some of her story:

Building My Library Around My Students

Unraveling the Mystery of Poetry

The Question That Changes My Students’ Writing

 

A bright and energetic learning environment in WV.

A bright and energetic learning environment in WV.

Thirdly: The always-invigorating Shana Karnes. Shana is a shining light to her students, yet her light shines brightly for the world of evolving educators as well.  She is open to sharing her passion, her innovative thinking, and the way she creatively customizes the RWW for her students in the throws of West Virginia.  Shana never loses sight of how vital piles and piles of literature are for the growth of her young readers and emerging writers.  She knows how to roll up her sleeves and do the work right beside her scholars.  It is through the sheer joy of all things literacy, that Shana explores the world of the RWW:

We Learn Facts from Fiction

Teach Readers, Not Books: A Case for Choice Reading in ALL Classes

The Value of Talk

 

The shelves where our identities are qualified, our ideas solidified, and our passion realized.

The shelves where our identities are qualified, our ideas solidified, and our passions realized in NY.

Rounding it out: Erika Bogdany.  Through the RWW I have challenged my students, and they in turn, have challenged me.  They push me continually with their own inquiries and want to be more fluid writers.  They challenge my writing by offering suggestions and insight that I have bestowed upon them; the gift of creating a safe community for all learners to read, write, risk, and share.  It is through the RWW that students find pride in their work, volume in their voice, crafted secrets in their writing, and beauty in themselves.  It is with passion and grace that students flutter and flop; yet learn how to fly:

All it Takes is a Tutu and Some Focus

Beyond These Four Walls

Today We Draw

 

We hope that our moment of reflection and celebration continues to provide you ideas and inspiration throughout the remaining time you have with your unique readers and writers this year.  We’d love to continue hearing your voices, feedback, and generous insight while we round out this school year…and look forward to the year ahead!

Behind Barbed Wires

sticker,375x360.u1In honor of the recent Holocaust Remembrance Day, I find it befitting to share Room 382’s shelf comprised of pieces in which those, who experienced the nightmare, share their stories.  Each piece on this shelf is dedicated to bringing awareness, and hopefully shed light on how history truly can repeat itself, if we do not prevent it.

While this shelf hosts stories of tragedy, suffering, and insurmountable pain and loss; it serves a purpose. Aside from the devastating, these pieces share with us the true essence of humanity.  Often, this is the first time students are diving into this 80-year-old genocide and trying to make sense of it. Many times we can’t; and other times we are able to connect over the beauty that surfaced. It’s all very complex.

Elie Wiesel’s story (and bravery) is shared via his trilogy starting with Night then moving us through Dawn and eventually through the Day.  See what he did here?

Anne Frank shares her experience as a young woman budding into adolescence in a time where her beautiful spirit defeated the confines of her attic.  Various types of literature have been compiled so IMG_20150424_083609students (and all readers) can experience Anne’s story in various ways: her published diary, actual footage restored via the Anne Frank House (a gift from a friend’s visit to Amsterdam), the play, and many others.

Maus, an incredible two-part graphic novel, utilizes the “Cat and Mouse” metaphor to portray the Nazis
vs. the Jews during the Holocaust.  This two part series is detailed and brings to life the realities of the inner workings; the emotional turmoil yet amazing perseverance of those living through this moment in history.

Those are three pieces among many.  There are books here (and ones that are currently signed out) that chronicle voices of the children of the Holocaust, novels that use real-life situations yet tell a fictional story, perspectives from a Nazi’s Jewish wife, the bravery of a journalist who swapped places with a Jew to ultimately expose the hidden…

Students are typically surprised, fascinated, uncertain, saddened and sometimes hesitant when it comes to this shelf.  Understandably.  This shelf asks us to inquire and then sit with our findings.  Yet, the conversations and rich discussions that float around this shelf are beautiful; truly beautiful and strengthen our understanding of what it truly means to be human.

 

 

Everywhere You Turn

Over the last three years, our Francis Gittens Memorial Lending Library has grown literally by thousands of books.  And, it’s a beautiful sight.  One in which provides comfort, challenge, and dialogue among students and educators.  It propels interest in reading and provides options and choice; students sometimes pull up a chair and use the edge of any given shelf to rest their Writer’s Notebook while they write and find inspiration.  It’s our staple here in room 382.

But, as more and more donations come through the door, I panic: Where will they all go?!  We are currently wall-to-wall with bookshelves (many that tower over us) and the remaining space is either wall-to-wall windows or full of technology.  So, I started to utilize every open surface: our computer cart, window sills, filing cabinets, my own desk.  Now, literally everywhere you turn, your gaze lands upon books…stacks and stacks of books.

Initially I felt overwhelmed by having books everywhere; I thought it felt chaotic.  But, the perceived chaos actually provides students even more choice and an innate awareness of their surroundings. Students have started to become even more in-tune with their reading journeys and have been feeling more compelled to explore.  For more reluctant readers they have access to books without it feeling as though there is the need for any sort of grandiose gesture; trekking across the room to the wildly overwhelming library.  It’s subtle yet powerful beyond measure.  Everything is within their reach.

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Books resting on technology…

Everything.  Even our mobile technology cart full of laptops. The books on top are stacked in four piles; they are our newest additions.  Because the cart find its way across the room, near different seats, and at various different spots depending on the day; it’s equivalent to an ice cream truck making its rounds – no one is to be missed.  These piles change as the new additions continue to stream through the door.  Many students, as they are accessing the cart for a computer, find themselves pausing for a moment because a book title…or cover…or piece they realized was on their next-to-read list…has caught their attention.  I love the irony that’s often captured here when a student is simply going to return their computer, hears the bell ring, and runs to their Writer’s Notebook to jot the title down; yet forgets to put the computer back!

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Here is one of three window sills adorned with literature – and some added nature.  During the winter months in room 382 the heat tends to be unbearable (hence the cactus) which is quite unfortunate.  Yet fortunately, students like to get a breath of fresh air.  So, while doing so they find themselves multi-tasking – breathing in the fresh city air while perusing through the new titles that greet them at the window.  Many times, a lesson or writing workshop will be interrupted with, “Miss Bogdany, I found another book about XXX!”

Books decorating ugly steel surfaces...

Books decorating ugly steel surfaces…

Many students have just recently begun to proudly embrace their love for graphic novels. Typically,they believe that they’re for ‘young kids’ because of ‘all the pictures and stuff’.  I whole-heartedly disagree.  So, in the vein of supporting students’ interest in visual literacy, many are found atop an industrial filing cabinet adding color, texture, and accessibility.  Because this surface is also used for additional supplies, students access it often.  Every time they are wanting to find their zen (see butterfly book box on the top left) they happen upon literature that excites them.  Many times, the zen garden and a new book escorts them back to their seat.     

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Exhibiting my literary interests. The left stack is comprised of pieces I want to read. The ones on the right are my absolute favorites. And, the ones in the middle are a fantastic mix of professional resources, gifts, and tools.

I know students will not produce work if they are not comfortable; both physically and in feeling safe within a community.  I create a visually stimulating space at my desk because it’s what fuels my passion for all things literacy. I also know, when a student needs their own unique space, they tend to gravitate toward wherever it is that I’ve set up shop.  It has been labeled ‘their corner office’ – and yes, they get right down to business!

There are other times when I conduct 1:1 conferences and ask a student to engage in dialogue in our bright back corner.  I watch their eyes drift from their writing to the options resting atop my wooden workspace.  Students will reach across the desk to pick up a piece they have never seen there before and while I try to get their attention refocused on our conference, sometimes the book they’ve chosen is much more convincing than whatever it is I’m trying to do.  I also think some of the intrigue is that students know that what they find there are pieces I can really talk about because I’m passionate about them.

So, as the year starts coming to an end and we start thinking strategically about how we are going to start minimizing our inventory and organizing it for our summer packing; please don’t!  Keep moving things around and keeping it fresh.  Put books in places you haven’t before – students will find them trust me.  Play around with what you have displayed in your area and invite students to engage in conversation wrapped around them.  But, most importantly, enjoy these remaining few months with our inquisitive and dedicated readers as they continue to look around our learning environments and find exactly what they didn’t even know they were looking for.

Where do you keep literature aside from your library shelves?  What successes have students found when they happen upon a book in the most unlikely of places?

 

Today We Draw

A Five Day Checklist:

Chancellor visit. (Check!)

Superintendent visit. (Check!)

A posse of outside principals observing. (Check!)

Our CBO (community based organization) pulled out = no counseling…or any other services…for students.  Teachers are now ALL of that. (Continual check!)

End of the Cycle (think semester) and the accompanied wildness. (Checking…all week long!)

*THIS WEEK.  Yes, in one week.  And, it’s Wednesday only.

 —–

The above is an email I composed to Amy, Jackie, and Shana in one of our most recent communications. In response, Amy wrote:  You’ve got the world on your shoulders this week, E!  And, it wasn’t until I was greeted with this affirmation that I realized it most definitely felt that way.  I was too busy moving through it to take a moment’s pause and acknowledge the intensity of it all.   The. Weight. Of. The. World.

It got me thinking.  If I felt this way, I couldn’t imagine how students were feeling as they were the reason for all of the visits.  They were the ones ‘on display’.  I just kept it business as usual with our Readers Writers Workshop flow; rigorous expectations, Writer’s Notebooks being utilized, Independent Reading occurring, questions being raised; chuckles here and there.  Yet, it felt off.  As I looked around the room, it occurred to me that students have taken on the weight of the world too.

They’ve been trying to articulate their thoughts wrapped around their chosen literature when the Chancellor asked them about their favorite books.  They’ve tried to be loyal to our collective work and answer the Superintendent’s question about rubrics (aside from the thought provoking work they’ve been creating) knowing that we are currently exploring with our pens and ideas sans a rubric.  They have tried to find comfort in their movement over the last six months, but these pressures have made them second guess themselves.  And the reason I know?  They’ve told me.

Yet, their resilience astounds me.  So, I dug deep.

We needed a collective breath.  With all of the tension and uncertainty swirling about Room 382, we needed a class period full of calming zen.  I channelled my extraordinary experience at #UNHLIT13, as I was guided by Penny Kittle in sketching an already created piece of art.  Aside from my internal voices loudly telling me that there was no way I was going to be successful at this; I tried.  And regardless of how my sketch came out I knew the most important lesson is that I didn’t give up.

Calmly, yet intensely, sketching.

Calmly, yet intensely, sketching.

So, today we draw.

The weight lifted immediately and you could feel the energetic life seeping back into 382.  Students were riddled with questions: Wait.  We’re just going to draw today?  You mean, no writing?  We can do that?!  

And, while some questions made me laugh and others prompted me to reflect, students were back.  So, everyone grabbed their newly sharpened pencils, chose the drawing that spoke to them most, and got to it.  I mean, really got to it.

Hoodies up.  Concentration in full effect.

Hoodies up. Concentration in full effect.

 

 

 

 

 

It was important for me to voice my intention: Folks as we partake in this together, I need you to know that I am wildly uncomfortable with all things drawing!  For the last six months I have asked you to find strength and courage in reading and writing that has challenged you to the core.  Today, I do the same.  (Deep breath)  Here I go…

While students zoned in, I followed their lead.  I sketched under the document camera so students could watch me struggle…and I mean struggle.  Yet, while drawing/sketching isn’t my forte, I needed students to watch me play with a level of discomfort they are not used to observing.  Students engaged in non-literacy conversation (as Shana brilliantly suggests here) while honing in on their focus.  Students approached me to lend their expertise on how to curve lines or align measurements or see the artist’s sketch with a different perspective.  It was exhilarating being the student!

Some of our masterpieces!  My attempt at creating a balcony.

Some of our masterpieces! My attempt at creating a balcony.

All said and done, here’s what I know.  The RWW is about so much more than always reading and writing; it allows the space to explore, mess up, build community, redefine rigor, and just enjoy.  On this given day, the latter is my favorite.

How do you find ways to calm the tension within your learning environment using the Readers Writers Workshop model?

 

 

Landscape of Workshop: We have arrived!

Nine years in. I know what certain murmuring really means. We all do. The murmuring of students when they are conferring about their writing. The kind that surfaces when boredom is creeping into our classrooms. The murmuring of confusion and frustration. The one that starts to get louder and louder as passion starts taking shape. Today, is that kind of murmuring day.

Christian: Why? No, really. Why? Why is it that all we do is read and write in here allllll day, Ms. Bogdany? Ev-er-y-day. (Yes, with that level of emphasis.)

Swallowing my smirk, I calmly start explaining the reasons, rationales, and importance again to Christian. Yes, we’ve had this conversation many–a-time. And clearly others’ patience with this subject has become depleted.

Norris: Man, why are you even asking that? We’re in English! It’s what we do!

Christian: No, but I mean seriously. It’s all we do. In my previous high school we used to watch movies and relax. This is crazy.

Norris: That’s why you’re not there anymore! You chose to be educated here. We’re at a transfer school. Here it’s more focused and we’re learning.

Deja: Oh, listen to you, Norris. Telling Christian all about what’s right…you always think you’re better than everyone!  We breathe the same air you breathe!

Hakeem: Norris, you haven’t walked in my shoes! You don’t know! Last period, you were the one that lied and got caught! Now you’re acting like Christian’s father.

Here, in my Writer's Notebook, I capture voices speaking their truth.

Here, in my Writer’s Notebook, I capture voices speaking their truth.

Here is where I sit back and start listening; very intently. I am becoming quieter and quieter as the room gets more and more animated. (I was hoping to become invisible, truth be told.) Because, this is what happens when students are invested. They challenge each other. They hold each other accountable. They start discussing their level of comfort or lack there of.   They express their inner feelings. They question motives. And yes, sometimes their word choices can be a bit crass, but isn’t that authenticity at its best?

They give me exactly what I need as their educator.

I need to understand who they are, what fuels their fire, how they feel about injustice. How safe are they feeling in our learning community? Well, I can’t always answer all of the questions swirling around in my mind, but today I was able to answer this one confidently: students are feeling wildly comfortable in our shared space. Because when students are brave enough to confront their peers (those that are their roughest critics) I know we’ve arrived. We’ve arrived as an evolving community of learners; as a team not willing to silence our voices when they need to be heard; and we are most definitely letting our guards down as we are emerging ourselves even more deeply in the work of the Reading Writing Workshop (RWW).

I also know that while Christian is literally shifting around in his seat, stretching all of his 5 feet 9 inches; he is moving – physically and as a writer. He doesn’t necessarily see or appreciate it just yet, but it’s there. I see it. I know. And, just like the murmuring that propelled this dialogue in room 382, Christian is pushing boundaries and uncomfortable. Yet, I believe Christian is more resilient than he even recognizes. And that resiliency pushes me to continually find ways to engage Christian in this work. Even, if it means having the same conversation again — because it will resurface.

As I head down to the nation’s capitol to be reunited with my PLN – my nationwide pedagogical lifeline – I take this experience with me. Regardless of how much traffic I may encounter on the trip from Brooklyn, this tipping point (as Malcolm Gladwell would argue) is buckled tightly in my back seat and promising to remind me what I am bringing with me to #NCTE14 – the moments that the RWW affords us when we listen to our learners, their needs, and previously dormant desires.

I cannot wait to further this conversation on Saturday at J.44 starting at 2:45pm. I hope you join us for an hour full of deep thinking, classroom anecdotals, and the energy that attendees from across the country bring to the conversation. See you there!

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