Tag Archives: independent reading

A scaffold is a scaffold…

As a curriculum coordinator this time of the year gets blurry. I have begun to mold what our summer curriculum work will look like, so naturally I forget that it’s still the current school year and start thinking and feeling like we’ve already moved into next year. A question that I’m going to pose to our grade level curriculum writers is this: what are we going to do differently next year than we did this year? How are we going to continue moving down our path of becoming a workshop district? It’s hard. What do teachers need? Support? Resources? A scaffold? A scaffold!

When we teach our students complex or multi-step skills we break them down, right? Make it more digestible. Isn’t it the same when it comes to teachers implementing workshop in a classroom? Scaffolding workshop implementation expectations make implementation manageable and sustainable.

Maybe this is the time you flag this post and come back to it in May or June when your school year actually ends. Or, ask yourself what went well this year, and what you can do next year to make it even better for your students.

Best advice I received and try to share is this: be okay with organic or grass-roots growth. Just let it happen. Not everything needs to happen at once, or even in one semester, or in one year. I know that’s difficult to hear, especially for English teachers, but take a deep breath and repeat after me…it’s okay to go slow.

So, how do you add one more layer of workshop into your English classroom?

1.What “workshoppy” things do you already do? 

As a district team, we began with a list of “workshop” things. Teachers circled what they were already doing in their classroom and then chose ONE thing to commit to trying in the upcoming semester.

Our list included: Independent Reading, Independent Writing, Conferring, Mini-Lesson, Grammar Instruction, Vocabulary, Structure, Classroom Library, Balanced Literacy Model, Small Group Instruction, Notebooks, Share Time, Collaboration, Mentor Texts, Classroom Culture/Community, Goal Setting, Assessment

What I saw and heard is that our English teachers are already doing a lot. So when it comes to being a workshop teacher give yourself slack, give yourself grace, and give yourself credit. YOU are already doing great things for your students.

2. Where do you start?

I think you have to start by asking yourself what you believe and why you believe that. Shana wrote about some must reads for teachers considering workshop and for me personally this was a great place to start. I bought and read the books she shared. Amy shared a post: Citing the Research That Drives Your Practice. I read it and nodded, a lot. Then I dove in to what I thought my district could do.

⇒ Two key things: the first is independent reading

Our district was able to bring Amy Rasmussen and Lisa Dennis in for two days last summer (repeating this summer) where they shared and defined workshop with about 50 teachers. It was magical to say the least. My big takeaway was how important independent reading is within a workshop classroom. Because of that, we began asking teachers to incorporate 50 minutes of in class reading per week (break it up however you want/however it fits your classroom routine/structure).

I recently went to a PD led by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher where they shared their new book 180 Days which reinforced the work we’ve been doing. No surprise, I immediately bought the book and cannot WAIT to finish it and talk to all the people about it. In the book they share a chart regarding independent reading which shows that if students add basically no outside reading to their routine, but add 10 minutes per day in class (or 50 minutes per school week) they are able to increase their word exposure by 556%! Is there an easier way to increase word exposure than this? <– that’s rhetorical, of course. 😉

⇒ The second key is conferring. 

Same training with Penny and Kelly; I’m immersed in taking notes when Kelly begins to talk about why they sit down beside kids to talk with them about their reading and writing. At this point, I was so engaged that I stopped taking notes mid-sentence and just soaked it all in. So, please no judgement on this sure to be mis-quote. Kelly said something to the effect of conferencing doing more and telling you more than anything else can: it’s 1:1 teaching, it’s a response to intervention, it building relationships, and above all it tells you what kids know and what they don’t know. Wow! No program or worksheet or multiple choice test can give you all of those things.

3.Where do you go next?

If you’re not a part of a campus or district where workshop is an expectation or recommendation, start with your campus and/or district vision. What does your campus/district want the student learning experience to look like, and how does workshop instruction fit into that description? Keep digging into the Three Teachers Talk blog posts. There are so many different perspectives from all over the United States (and outside, too!).

And now, I leave this last nugget from the 180 Days PD with Penny and Kelly…

responsive teaching

If we are responsive to student’s needs they will be engaged in the work that we’re asking them to do. Maybe that means you start by incorporating choice in independent reading, or bring in relevant articles when studying nonfiction versus pulling out the same ‘ole file folder with the same ‘ole speech you do every year, or maybe it meanssitting beside students to talk about what they think.

With the end of the year rapidly approaching now is the time to really reflect on how this year went and what can be done better or different next year. What “workshoppy” thing do you want to try?

 

 

 

Goodbye Days: a Craft Study and a Gorgeous Grand Slam

I love language. I love sharing my love of language with students.

When I read a book, I often dog-ear the pages, thinking of how I might use a passage to help my writers. Sometimes a book just does me in — so many beautiful words I cannot keep up. It’s a bonus if the story does me in.

Like Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. 30649795

If you haven’t read this book, oh, you’ll want to. Zenter’s first book, The Serpent King, kissed my soul. Goodbye Days took a hammer to it.

In a good way.

I started marking passages at page 36. I think because I forgot to think about it. Just read the first line of this YA novel:  “Depending on who — sorry, whom — you ask, I may have killed my three best friends.”

Mini-lesson opportunity one (whom), two (parenthetical with the dash), three (participial phrase), and four (voice)– all in one sentence.

The first time I really thought about using language from YA novels to teach my writers was in a class at UNH Literacy Institute taught by Penny Kittle. She showed us mentors of sentences and passages, pulled from the books she introduced to her students. She talked about how these craft studies also could serve as quickwrite prompts and book talks. A triple play.

Since then, Shana (who sat with me in Penny’s class) and I upped the ante:  some of our favorite mentors are hard-hitting home runs. But the following passage from Goodbye Days –It’s a gorgeous Grand Slam.


Excerpt from Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (p36)

     I feel like I’m watching something heavy and fragile slide slowly off a high shelf. My mind swirls with mysteries. The eternities. Life. Death. I can’t stop it. It’s like staring in the mirror for too long or saying your name too many times and becoming disconnected from any sense of yourself. I begin to wonder if I’m even still alive; if I exist. Maybe I was in the car too.

     The room dims.

     I’m tingling.

     I’ve fallen through ice into frigid black water.

     I can’t breathe.

     My heart screams.

     This is not right. I’m not fine.

     My vision narrows, as if I’m standing deep in a cave, looking out. Spots form in front of my eyes. The walls are crushing me.

     I’m gasping. I need air. My heart.

     Gray, desolate dread descends on me — a cloud of ash blocking the sun. A complete absence of light or warmth. A tangible, mold-scented obscurity. A revelation:  I will never again experience happiness.

     Air. I need air. I need air. I need air. I need.

     I try to stand. The room pitches and tosses, heaving. I’m walking on a sheet of Jell-O. I try again to stand. I lose my balance and fall backward, over my chair, thudding on the hardwood floor.

     It’s one of those nightmares where you can’t run or scream. And it’s happening to me this moment in the dying light of this day of dying. AND I AM DYING TOO.


What writing mini-lessons could you teach with this passage?

10 Things We Did That Invited Initiative — and Growth

It is 6:00 am. I stayed up all night playing with this blog and our Facebook page and Pinterest and Instagram and exploring this app and that extension and whatever else called on me to click on it. I didn’t even realize I’d blown the night up until my Fitbit buzzed telling me to get up and workout. Thank God it is a holiday!

I cannot help but think (besides about how tired I will be all day) about engagement. I remember a while ago I read Danial Pink’s book Drive and then watched the RSA Animate video on motivation. We really will spend time, lots of time, doing the things we want to do be it reading, writing, learning a new skill, climbing a mountain, or sinking into the social-media–abyss. We just have to want to.

So how do we get our students to WANT TO do the things we know will make a difference in their lives, namely, read more, write more, communicate better, think more critically?

We keep trying.

i just finished a semester with my students. I wish I could say that every child read more than he ever has in his life, wrote better than she ever has since she held a pencil, learned to speak with ‘proper’ English and clear eye contact, and thought like a rocket scientist trying to get a man to the moon.

Some did. Some did, and honestly, the first few days of school, I didn’t think they would. But I kept trying.

Here’s a list of the top 10 things I kept doing, even when I was tired, even when I thought they weren’t listening, even when we all wanted to hide behind dark curtains and ring a bell for a cup of tea. (That will be me later today.)

We read at the beginning of class every day (almost — we had about six days throughout the semester when something somehow got in the way of that, i.e., fire drills, assemblies, wonky bell schedules, my car dying on the way to school).

We talked about books A LOT. Book talks, reading challenges, reading goals, tweeting book selfies, and more.

We wrote about our books enough to practice writing about our books. Theme statements, mirroring sentences, analyzing characters and conflict and plot — just enough to keep our minds learning and practicing the art of noticing an author’s craft.

We wrote about topics we care about. With the exception of the first essay students wrote, which was all the junior English teachers committed to as a pre-assessment, students chose their own topics or wrote their own prompts. Donald Murray in Learning by Teaching says the hardest part of writing is deciding on what to write about, yet we so often take that hard thinking from our writers. The worst essays my students wrote was the only one in which I gave a prompt, and before you think it’s just because that was their first essay, nope, I asked them. They just didn’t care — and that is the worst way to start off the year in a writing class.

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We read mentor texts and learned comprehension skills and studied author’s craft. I chose highly engaging texts about current events in our society:  police shootings and being shot, taking a knee during the national anthem, race relations, our prison system, immigration issues — all topics that make us ask as many questions as the writers answer. Inquiry lived in our discussions.

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We talked one-on-one about our reading and our writing. I conferred more than I have in the past, taking notes so I wouldn’t forget as students told me about their reading lives and their writing woes. We spoke to one another as readers and writers. We grew to like each other as individuals with a variety of interests, backgrounds, ideas, and dreams.

We shared a bit of ourselves — mostly in our writing — than we ever thought we would. Abusive mothers, alcoholic fathers, hurtful and harrowing pasts and how we grow up out of them. We talked about respect within families and how we can hurt the people we love the best when we ignore their love because it’s masked in fear and strict parenting.

a slice of Daniel’s semester exam essay

We celebrated our writing by sharing what we wrote, by performing spoken word poems, reading our narratives, or reading our quickwrites. We left feedback on sticky notes and flooded our writers.

We grew in confidence and that showed in our work. I held students accountable with high expectations — and lots of mercy. Most rose to the challenge, even those in their first AP class and those far behind who needed to catch up. Most exceeded their own expectations.

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We joined communities of readers and writers on social media, building a positive digital footprint that shows we are scholars, students who care about their literacy and want to go to college. We wrote 140 character book reviews and explored Goodreads and shared covers of the books we were reading. #IMWAYR #readersunite #FridayREADS #FarmersREAD

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I will miss the juniors in my block class who are done with English for the year. They were a joy, although a challenge, pretty much every day. And my AP kiddos, they are ready for the kind of learning we will do to face down that exam come May.

We will keep doing what we do: Whatever it Takes to Grow as Readers and Writers (even if it means a lack of sleep.)

What do you do to motivate your learners? Please share 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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Mini-Lesson Monday: Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

It’s the end of our nine weeks. Well, kinda. I have one class of English 3 students that are at midterm since they are on accelerated block, and I’ve got two classes of AP English Lang who I share with AVID every other day in a year-long class, so they are at about the 4.5 weeks mark. Talk about crazy trying to keep the pacing straight and everyone moving.

One thing I know:  All my readers need to revisit the goals they set for themselves the first week of school. We’re going to start with independent reading. I’ve seen a little too much of this lately:

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Taken after exams when I suggested students use the time to read.

and not enough of this:

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Daily routine: 15 minutes of independent reading

I set the standard high and ask my students to read three hours a week. This is difficult for busy teenagers who are not used to reading (and if we are honest, many are not used to completing any type of homework).

We will read this article this week “Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?” and create our personal reading challenge cards. But before we do, I want to get students thinking about themselves as readers and what reading can, and should, mean to them and what they hope to accomplish in their lives.

Objective:  Interpret a quote on the importance of reading and connect it to my own reading life; construct a plan to help me meet my reading goals.

Lesson:  Students will select up two literacy/reading quotes and glue them into their writer’s notebooks. They will then think about their reading habits over the past several weeks of school and write a response to the quotes that connects their reading experiences (or not) and begin constructing a plan on what they can do differently in the upcoming weeks to either continue to grow as readers, or start to.

Follow-up: Later in the week we will also read “The Insane Work Ethic of Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, and 15 Other Powerful Leaders” and write a synthesis-type response using the two articles and their personal goals for reading.

Please share in the comments your ideas for getting and keeping students developing their reading lives.

Try it Tuesday: Partnering Up for Reading Conferences

Sometimes inspiration strikes at the most opportune times.

One day last week I had the honor of hosting two small groups of teachers from a different high school as they observed my classroom, one class period in the morning and another in the afternoon. Many of the teachers on their campus have been exploring and practicing with the workshop model for a while now, and they wanted to see my workshop classroom in action.

After each lesson, we met to debrief and hold a kind of question and answer session. Talk about an awesome experience (except for the voice in my head that kept saying “When did you become the expert on workshop? Yikes.)

I think one of the best things we can do as teachers is invite others into our rooms to watch us teach. Talk about keeping on the A Game. That’s a Try it Tuesday suggestion all in itself.

Here’s another one:

During one of those debriefs, one teacher asked about the conferences I conducted as my students read for the first 15 minutes of class. “What questions did you ask?

I explained that it depends on the student.

If I go with “How’s it going?”

My students answer, “Fine.”

If I go with “What are you thinking?”

My students answer, “Nothing.”

So I usually lead with “Tell me a little something about …will ya?” And then I listen to see what direction the conference might take.

That’s pretty much the genesis of every conference with my readers.

Another teacher mentioned that she and a colleague had been thinking about asking students to bring a question, thought, or problem to their reading conferences. You know, kind of like we ask students to do when we meet with them about writing. I’d never thought about it for a quick reading conference though. She wanted to know if I thought it was a good idea.

The image of this book came into my head. I found this copy of The Fault in Our Stars at a thrift store. It looked just like this:  plastered with sticky notes that reflect the student’s thinking. Now, I have no idea why this book is tattooed with notes, but I can imagine a not-so-great idea.

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I hope a teacher didn’t assign this book and ask students to bring ideas to a reading conference. If that happened, I doubt this student got into reading flow. I doubt this student enjoyed this lovely, heart-wrenching book. I doubt she felt the beauty of the language and felt the loss of a beloved character. Maybe all that happened, but it wouldn’t have happened for me.

I want my students to love to read. I think we have to be careful with what we ask them to do with their independent reading books besides fall in love with the story and the language. Sure, they may recognize craft, they may recognize characterization. But the important thing is that they recognize that they are liking to read. That is so important to so many of my readers. They have to realize they like reading.

I do believe we can, and should, ask students to revisit passages — and maybe even the whole of a book — from time to time, even quite often. We can teach many important reading and writing skills that way, but we have to temper our desire to teach a book to death, even the books students choose to read themselves.

What I told my inquiring friend:  What if before independent reading time, on any given day, we ask students to read for a specific purpose.

Read to find interesting figurative language. Read to notice clever imagery. Read to discover how the writer shares an insight about a character. Read to find a beautiful or startling sentence. Or maybe a sentence that’s not really a sentence.

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Fabian before class sharing his awe at the writing style of Jonathan Safron Foer in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Isn’t this what readers do? I do. When I read a passage that strikes me in some way I want to share it. And let me tell you:  When my students start to do this on their own? That’s celebration time.

“What about the student who cannot find anything to share?” you might ask.

Well, that’s important information, isn’t it? I don’t know, maybe like the kind we might discover in a one-on-one reading conference.

Right?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. What ideas do you have that work for your reading conferences? Please share in the comments.

Big thanks and shout out to @Sean_G_Hood and @mrs_friend and the inspiring teachers at Hebron High School!

 

Mini-Lesson Monday: First and Last Lines

In the spirit of all the books we’re giving away (winners announced tonight!), today’s mini-lesson is one of my favorites to do with independent reading books.  It celebrates the beauty and power of language, no matter the text–poetry, nonfiction, YA, award-winners, graphic novels, and more.  It also celebrates the pure joy of discovery; the launch into a new world attained only by opening to the first page of a new book.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will identify patterns in opening and closing lines of texts, synthesize their noticings, and draw conclusions about a text’s craft and structure.

primcacyLesson:  “Have y’all learned about the concepts of primacy and recency in psychology yet?  Who can refresh us?”

A student reminds us that the concept says that the first and last items in a series are easier and more likely to be committed to memory.

“Well, this concept isn’t just for psychology.  It applies to books too.  The first and last lines of books are the most powerful, and the most likely to stick with us.  Let’s talk in our table groups about why the first and last lines are so powerful.”

I wander the room for three minutes as students discuss, in groups of 3-4, these concepts.  They conclude that the first line often sets the tone, introduces a new world, or hooks the reader with some mystique.  The last line, they say, helps keep the reader wondering, or solves a lingering mystery, or even makes you cry.

I write these conclusions on the board, or elicit them from groups if necessary, so that we’re all on the same page.

“Okay, let’s take a look at some of our current reads and see how they can grab our attention.  Open up your independent reading book and read the first line again, and then read the very last line, too.”  (There’s always some anxiety about this, but I reassure them that last lines rarely contain plot giveaways.)

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(OMG, have you read this? It exploded in popularity the last few weeks of this school year. Read it!)

I ask a few students to give me examples:

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen,” and ends with, “We rowed faster.”  
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany opens with “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meaney,” and ends with, “I shall keep asking you.”
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August begins with “The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996,” and concludes, “Instead, for those few days you have left, you are mortal at last.”
  • Room opens with “Today I’m five,” and ends with “Then we go out the door.”

I ask students to write for a few minutes about all that they can learn from the first and last lines, based on what they already know of the text from reading.  This is key–the lesson is much different than a simple craft study of a text they’re not already invested in, because they’re bringing lots more prior knowledge to their text analysis.

7937843I quickly model with Room, whose plot is simply explained and well known from a recent booktalk.  “I notice the sentence structure first–both lines are short, simple sentences.  Then I get a sense of the narrator’s voice, as he is obviously five years old, and that shapes how I’m going to view the text.  I also know that while they start out trapped in Room, they manage to escape somehow, either literally or figuratively, because of the last line.  I’m intrigued by all of these things, and it sets me up for what sounds like a pretty good read.”  As I talk, I note on the board the kinds of things I’m noticing–craft, tone, characterization, theme, plot, sentence structure.

Students write for five minutes about these topics.  Because they’re midway through these books, they have more knowledge of the text than just the first and last lines.  After a few minutes of writing about what they’ve noticed, I ask, “Now, how does revisiting the first line, and looking ahead to the last line, shape your reading of the text?  What do you find yourself thinking about?  What do you predict might happen?”

Follow-Up:  After students have written their reflections, I ask that they pass notebooks.  They’ll read all of their table mates’ entries, providing 2-3 mini-booktalks–a variation on speed dating.

This lesson could also be a great companion to Jackie’s mini-lesson on writing leads.

This lesson also acts as one of a series of lessons leading up to the students’ writing of a craft analysis of their independent reading books.

Mini-lesson Monday: A How-to on One Way I Teach with Short Texts

“Hey, Mrs. Rasmussen, I noticed this passage when I was reading,” Geovany said after class as he flipped a few pages in The Kite Runner and read a few lines. “That just really make me think, and it’s really nicely written.”

“And this is what I want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father's remorse. Sometimes, I thing everything he did, feeding the poor on 
the streets, building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all 
his way of redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, 
Amir jan, when guilt leads to good.” ~Khaled Hosseini

That might have been the passage. I don’t remember exactly, but I do remember the moment. It’s one of my favorites of the year.

Geovany did little work in my class until these book clubs. I’m not sure he finished reading even one book all fall. Although bright and capable, he is busy. He works 20 hours a week changing tires at a local auto shop, plus school with at least one AP English class. Mine. I know Geo has big hopes for his future, and I know he wishes he had a dad. He’s written a few times this year about how he wishes he had a father to mentor him, care for him — be a dad to him. So when Geovany showed me that passage in The Kite Runner, and when he explained that he’d made a connection to it, I knew all my talk about reading and noticing how authors craft language was working.

I will keep doing what I know works.

This lesson is an example of how I use what my colleagues and I call a triple play. We got the term from Penny Kittle. A triple play is when we find a passage that allows us to do three things with it:  1. have student write a personal response to the passage, 2. talk about an engaging book students might like to read, 3. study the author’s craft — not necessarily in that order. This lesson uses a passage from Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. (Actually, there’s two passages because I love them both!)

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels, students will make observations about a text, write a response, discuss and analyze the author’s craft, and construct meaning of their own modeled after the writer’s.

Lesson: First, to give students a glimpse into the book, I introduce it by reading the cover, 18075234which has three interesting quotes:  1. “A brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frieghtening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak; then two from the book:  2. “The bottom is only the beginning.” and 3. “My feet are on safe, solid ground, but that’s just an illusion.”

I ask: What do you think this book is about? After we read a passage from this book today, analyze a little bit, and write a little bit, I hope this is a book you will want to read.

Next, I give students a copy of the passage. I read it aloud first and ask students to pay attention to anything they find interesting that the writer does with language. They almost always find the literary or rhetorical devices I hope they will. Sometimes they do not know how to name it, so this is where I teach academic vocabulary. We discuss the effect of the devices on the meaning of the passage or why the writer might have made those choices when constructing meaning. We almost always talk about tone. Depending on where we are in the school year and how much we’ve done with analysis, I may ask students to write an analytical paragraph that answers the craft study question.

Finally, I ask students to read the passage again to themselves and then write a response. Some suggestions for response prompts are at the bottom of the passages. Students have about 10-15 minutes to write. I always ask students to read over what they wrote and then revise before they share. Sometimes students share at their tables. Other times we share out as a whole group.

Follow up:  Throughout the school year, I use a variety of texts I pull from books I read from my classroom library. You’ll find other passage I’ve used if you search the categories for craft studies (or just click there).

A few times a year, I ask students to find significant passages in the books they read. Sometimes they construct their own “craft study” questions. (I especially like to do this when we read in our book clubs.) Sometimes students answer the questions they construct in formal response one-page essays.

The goal is to help students learn how to identify and analyze the moves writers make to craft meaning — and to help them practice writing using these moves as models for their own craft.

And just maybe they will make connections to a text like Geovany did to The Kite Runner.

 

Talking About What Matters by Catherine Hepworth

guest post iconWe’ve all been there. The conference room is crowded. It’s too hot. Every third person is clicking away on their laptop, answering emails or checking their phone, answering their kid’s plea to bring their forgotten gym socks to school. The presenters drone on, flipping through slide after slide on a fairly average power point. At the front of our minds, a constant throbbing pulse: how will I ever use this in my classroom?

There is no interaction between presenter and audience. There is no spark. All of us wonder: is it too soon to take another bathroom break?

Fortunately, this is the exact opposite of what we experienced when Amy and Shana came to teach us how to implement the workshop model at Franklin High School on two dreary days in February. The time working with them inside our little classroom was anything but dreary.

And teach is the key word here. The most important realizations I came to at the end of the second day were:  I can do this…and, I was treated as both a student and a teacher.

It invigorated me.

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I’m in the plaid, exploring a possible independent reading book during “speed dating with a book”

We were exposed to a variety of activities for getting students to think, write, and talk about what they read and wrote. To really know how something will work in the classroom, you have to try it out for yourself. A big idea in the workshop model is that you must read books and write stories and essays alongside your students. As part of our two-day workshop instruction, we were reading and writing as if we were the student, so we could feel how each activity might go from the student perspective. Then we were allowed ample time to discuss and reflect on these activities as professionals.

Amy and Shana’s presentation modeled everything a teacher is supposed to do with a class of students.

Objectives were evident right from the start.

  • They gave clear directions.
  • They listened intently and attentively when we spoke.
  • They circled among us so they gave ample time to each group during small group discussion.
  • Their enthusiasm was palpable.
  • They made me feel like I mattered. They made me want to go out into the world and be somebody.

At the end of the day, isn’t this what we all wish for our students?

The best reading workshop strategy Amy and Shana taught us was one that engaged students in reflecting on their independent reading as well as talking with a friend about what they read. It all took less than 10 minutes.

First, students grab a post-it and write one insight they had about a character and provide a quote from the book that helped them achieve this insight. Then, students find someone else in the room (preferably someone they have not talked with recently), and share their post-it with that new student. The listener paraphrases what the student says and then they switch roles. The teacher collects the sticky notes from everyone, comments on the sticky notes, and hands them back (either within the hour or the next day).

As a “student,” this activity was really fun for those of us who like to talk about what we read. Because we are seeking a peer instead of being forced to talk to someone, it makes talking about what we read fun too. Lastly, each student must practice active listening skills. I especially like that Amy and Shana explicitly stated that the listener must paraphrase what they hear. I’ve already tried this activity with my students, and when we were done, several of them exclaimed, “Wow – it’s so nice to talk to others about what we’re reading; we need to do this again!”

For anyone who wants to change things up in their classroom and get kids more engaged, switching to workshop is it. The best way is to start small – dedicate 10 min of your class time to reading. Don’t think of it as “we have to read,” instead, think of it as “we get to read.” (This was an old trick used at Girl Scout camp. We didn’t tell campers “You have to collect firewood; rather we’d say, “You get to collect firewood.” It seems sneaky, but it’s not; it’s just a lot more appealing).

So teachers, think of it this way: you get to talk to your kids about the books and writing that matter to them, and those conversations will matter to both of you. Keep reading this blog for ideas and inspiration — it definitely helped me and my colleagues at Franklin. If you have the opportunity to invite Amy and Shana into your classroom/district, make it happen. We’re glad we did.

Catherine Hepworth has been teaching for 10 years; she currently teaches English and coaches Forensics at Franklin High School in Wisconsin. In the summer, when not reading books or frantically sewing historical clothing, she participates in living history events around the Midwest. Check out her living history & sewing blog at https://catherinetheteacher.wordpress.com/.

4 Monthly Challenges to Beat the Winter Reading Slump

New England winters lend themselves to steamy mugs of cocoa, plush blankets, and chilly evenings curled around a book.  Despite the ideal environment, halfway through the year, some of my students hit a reading slump.  The initial momentum of the reading initiative subsides, leaving students a bit more lackluster come second semester.

In turn, here are four challenges I plan to integrate over the next three months to beat the winter slump and reinvigorate students’ passion for reading.

1. January: Reading Bingo and Challenge Lists

The New Year, or for us, the second semester lends itself to fresh reading goals.  Goal-setting and self-reflection aside, I love reading challenges that push students to step out of their reading comfort zone and delve into new genres.  This year I comYA-Reading-Bingo-Challenge-2014piled a variety of reading challenge lists that I’ll be printing out on bookmarks to provide to my students.

I personally love the #26BookswithBringingUpBurns challenge, which has readers fulfilling challenges like reading “A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit” and “A book with a color in the title.”  I’m also enjoying Rebeccah Giltrow’s BookaShelf 2016 Reading Challenge, which has participants base their book choices on the alphabet.  For example, “A” stands for “a book with an apocalyptical theme.”  Finally, Random House’s “YA Reading Bingo” is the perfect way to get students reading through rows of books while competing with one another to fill in a bingo card.

2. February: Book Trysts and Library Dates 

February lends itself to romance with Valentine’s Day, so to celebrate our book love, students will set up blind dates for some of their favorite books.  They will cover their choices in brown packing paper and write “dating profiles” including intriguing qualities readers will hopefully fall for.

In addition, students will participate in a library “date” with a friend from class.  Inspired by this “date night at the library” post by The Dating Divas, I created a list of entertaining and useful tasks and challenges for students to complete.  From “finding a book authored by someone with the same name” to “finding a book that has been made into a movie,” this friendly competition will put books in students’ hands while also promoting conversations revolving their reading.

3. March: March Madness and the Literary Hashtag Challenge

As March Madness approaches, my basketball students will be building teams and taking bets.  I know little about basketball…but I do know about books, which is why I’m hoping to create a March Madness that looks similar to Shana’s last year.  For those looking to create student-based teams, Principal Justin Cameron’s “Fantasy Reading League” at Frederick W. Hartnett Middle School gets the entire school involved in the competition together.

Finally, in March I will launch a new literary hashtag challenge that asks students to IMG_1801.PNGexhibit their reading lives outside of school.  Students will e-mail a Twitter or Instagram class account with literary images that include the following hashtags: #LiterarySwag (a hashtag for fashionistas who know books can serve as a stylish statement piece for any outfit), #Shelfie (a hashtag for beautiful bookshelves), #IReadEverywhere (a hashtag to highlight reading in unique places), and my favorite #BookFace (a hashtag that pushes people to be a bit more creative with their book covers).

By putting new books in students’ hands, I’m hoping to inspire a little competition, a lot of conversation, and a passion that will turn them into lifelong readers.

 

How do you reinvigorate students’ passion for reading?  What tips do you have to make it through the winter reading slump?

 

#3TTWorkshop — Making Workshop Work in AP English Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post — a conversation between Amy, AP Language teacher, and Jackie, new AP Literature teacher

Do you think it’s important that students read classic literature in an AP class?

Amy:  In an AP Literature class, yes. In classes leading up to AP Literature, yes, in sound bites and shorter texts. However, balance is key. Do we give students some say in what they read for our classes — not just what they may choose to read on their own? Are our students reading and growing as readers? Do we approach the text with the goal to help them do so, or do we approach the text and teach the book instead of the reader?

In a conversation the other day, one teacher said she likes to use classic literature because the conversations around the complexity help even her struggling students learn. Of course, that is probably true, but learn what? Those conversations will not help those students become better readers. The only way to become a better read is to read. If students are not reading the books we choose, we have to be okay with that. We have to admit that perhaps our goals for that specific unit, and that novel, are different than choosing the book because we know all students will read it. We have to decide we are okay will students not reading. I wrote a pretty long post about this whole debate here.

Jackie:  In AP Literature, yes, my students must read classic literature.  Because the AP Literature test Jackieclassroomboysis centered on the canon of “higher literary merit” books, I do teach set texts like Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and Othello, but I stress from the beginning that in this course we are continuing to develop our reading lives as both academics and hobbyists.  Fortunately, many of my students arrive at my door with a passion for reading, but as I saw at the beginning of the year, far too many of them haven’t read a book for enjoyment since their freshman year.  Their lives become too busy and the first thing that seems to go is reading.

In turn, while I teach multiple whole class texts to fulfill the needs of the test, I also make space for independent reading.  The vast majority of my AP Literature students are seniors, and I know that this is their last English class before they move onto college.  In turn, my greatest goal beyond providing them with the necessary skills for deep critical thinking, is to reinvigorate their passion for literature and love of books.  

Where does teaching writing fit into your AP curriculum?

Amy:  I tell my students:  Ours is primarily a writing class. Before we even get settled in, students know they will write a lot — in all kinds of different modes and to a vast audience they build themselves. When I first changed my approach to teaching, I began with writer’s workshop. I’d heard Penny Kittle present, giving ideas from Write Beside Them, and that book became my curriculum guide. Today, I urge teachers who are thinking of shaking up their teaching, to take the first wobbly step into writer’s workshop. Depending on your book shelves and your library, it might be easier. Of course, it depends on your own confidence, too. If a teacher isn’t comfortable teaching writing, it’s probably because she hasn’t practiced being a writer herself. That has to be step number one. Write. Write beside your students so they see you struggle. Read articles and books on writing by writers. I’ve been reading the works of Donald Murray, a suggestion given to me personally by Penny Kittle. Murray’s books have enriched so many aspects of my writing life — and my teaching life. Try Learning by Teaching, and you will know exactly what I mean.

Jackie: It’s funny that you say your class is primarily a writing class; for me, AP Literature is primarily a reading class.  At the beginning of the year, I challenged my students to read 25 books…and I don’t just mean books of higher literary merit.  I wanted students to fall in love with reading again, which can be quite tricky when it comes to a class centered on analyzing books.  Even today during a mid-year progress presentation, a student talked about how he initially felt guilty picking up a YA book, but how this book helped him fall in love with reading again.  As you said, I too practice my craft alongside my students, only this year, it’s all about reading beside my students, which I do every year, but it’s fun to analyze many of the pieces for the first time with my students.  I don’t hold back when it comes to admitting my own questions about a text.  Learning beside my students makes the social process of the workshop model that much more authentic.  

Amy: Besides teaching my students to write arguments, since that is what the AP exam is all about, I also teach my students to write everything. We start with narrative, move into information, determine the difference between persuasive and argument, and practice research and synthesis as we go. My students write on their blog, usually about topics they read about in the news, although I’m going to try to mix this up in the spring and open their topics up to ones they find in their independent reading.

Diego and Tia deep into discussion around revisions.

Diego and Tia deep into discussion around revisions.

Blog writing is practice writing. I read as many posts as I can get to, and I try to leave feedback that helps the writer grown. The whole process starts out rough. Students think they they can pour out their thoughts on the page and then publish without doing much revision. We talk about this. We talk about audience, purpose, form. We even explore what Bloggers do to appeal to their audiences, and we try to build a readership (although I need to do a better job and take more time on this.) The whole point is to expand the classroom — to give my readers a reason to write that is other than Mrs. Rasmussen said so. Does every student buy in? No, but I get many more students to buy in to becoming writers, and many of them ask me if they can write on their blogs more than I require.

Of course, we also move through process papers, using mentor texts, studying the moves of writer’s, mirroring and modeling his or her craft, practicing revision and revision and revision before finally publishing. This year we’re writing about four of these essays a 9 weeks, which isn’t as much as I would like, but it’s a good amount for my writer’s this year.

Jackie: I am building from the bottom up this year.  With the help of a phenomenal mentor, Sheridan Steelman, I am learning how to marry the workshop classroom with the traditional AP Literature curriculum.  AP Lit is all about recognizing the beauty of language and the craft moves an author makes as they frame an idea or concept.  I’m that weird teacher that is so moved and excited by my students recognition of beauty in a piece that I jump out of my chair and cheer.  It’s okay though, I’m surrounded by word nerds!

During the first half of the year has involved analyzing writers’ craft to gain a better sense of the author’s goals and purpose.  We do write plenty of analysis essays, some being short timed pieces while others are lengthy explorations of deeper themes.  We also co-write papers in small groups, which forces students to rely on one another as they tackle the writing process.  Next semester I look forward to exploring more creative writing outlets as students mirror some of the craft within their independent novels.

Above all, my favorite writing my students do is the writing in their critical reading notebooks.  I love thumbing through the raw reactions to students’ YA literature and personal reading novels as well as the the pages of scribbled notes on characters and connections from their novels of higher literary merit.  
Join the conversation. What ideas do you have for a balance of choice and required in an AP English class? How do you manage the writing?

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