Tag Archives: Professional Development

Getting on the Boat: a New Teacher’s Swim into Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM

If you are an educator, navigating workshop, please consider sharing your story. Email amyprasmussen@yahoo.com

The metaphor of the last school year at Klein Cain High School seemed to be, “We’re all in the same boat.” However, I did not feel that way. Though we were all experiencing opening a new school together, navigating through unplanned and unexpected events (think Harvey, sharing our high school with an elementary school that flooded, and snow days), we were not experiencing it in the same way. Last year, I had the alienated feeling that all the veteran teachers were indeed in same boat, but I was treading water next to the boat, sometimes practically drowning, choking on water, struggling to breathe. I think many first-year teachers, new school or not, would agree with me.

It was a trying year to say the least, but I had many life preservers thrown my way. The summer before my first year, I had the pleasure of attending a two day professional development session about reader’s-writer’s workshop that built on the philosophies I had seen and heard in my student teaching. I was very encouraged to see that my district valued such practices. This knowledge became the lifejacket I held on to many times.

Because of that PD session, I became a disciple of Penny Kittle’s. I bought her books, studied them and implemented her strategies (though I butchered many of them). From her books, I learned about the Book Love Grant; I put a reminder in my phone for January, applied and actually received one of the 60 $2,000 grants! The books I have had the honor of adding to my classroom have been my life-raft, holding me afloat and helping me make it to my colleagues’ boat.

alexander-sinn-977744-unsplash

Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

Even though I had these things to hold on to, I struggled to truly implement workshop until this year. Instead of last year’s survival mode, this year I feel like I am in the lifeboat that is just next to the one all my colleagues are on. I’m close, but just not quite there yet. I have had many experiences that have brought me closer.

This year, I have co-teach sections, so I have a greater amount of students with autism and other special needs. At first, I was worried about trying out workshop with these kids, but, luckily, my co-teacher Mallory encouraged me to teach like I would with any other class. I am so glad she led me to that decision because we have had some true gems arise. During one of our quick writes, we watched the poem “Lost Voices” and started our writing with the sentence stem “You tell me you know what it’s like to be…” One of our students finished that sentence with “autism” and wrote a beautiful quick write detailing the difficulties from his point of view.

I have also seen self-declared non-readers with their noses still stuck in a book as they slowly make their way back to their seats during a transition from reading time; they just don’t want to put their books down. We have conferred, figured out book preferences, written more than I thought possible at the beginning of the year and we are making our laps (as Kittle and Gallagher write about in my teaching bible- 180 Days) toward better writing.

Since I have decided to follow my instincts and implement workshop in my classes, I feel closer to being on that main boat with the rest of the teachers at my school. I’m not in survival mode anymore. I’m not just filling time instead of I’m making all my lessons very intentional. Like Lisa Dennis in this last post, I got to participate in Amy’s professional development this summer and it rejuvenated me and encouraged me to truly immerse my classroom in workshop. This blog has been the most constant life preserver in my reach this year and last. This community keeps me going strong, so thank you for encouraging me constantly to keep working toward being on the main boat.

Rebecca Riggs is a second year teacher at Klein Cain High School in Houston, TX. She prides herself in being a wife, dog mom and professional development fanatic. Rebecca is just now learning to call herself a writer. She is living her best life because she gets to live out her passion everyday- learning from students she loves. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaLRiggs

An Intervention Change Up and a Plug for Summer Learning

brady-cook-314868-unsplash

Photo by Brady Cook on Unsplash

I bet I am more ready for summer than you. No, really. I am SO ready.

It’s not that I don’t like my job. It’s not that I am not having tons of great learning experiences with my students — they are doing beautiful things. It’s not that all things testing come crushing in this time of year (TELPAS, STAAR, AP) and make me daydream of working at a spa folding towels. It’s really none of that. It’s not even that I need a vacation — although I do. Did we already have Spring Break? (Oh, yeah, we did.)

It’s this:  Last summer I had one of the most amazing, awe-inspiring experiences of my teaching life. And I get a do over this summer.

Last summer I got to work with a powerhouse group of ELAR teachers in Clear Creek ISD with my friend and collaborator, Billy Eastman. I met Coach Moore who now writes on this blog and many other true blue educators dedicated to doing the work of workshop instruction and determined to do right by their readers and writers.

I could go on and on and on. But I won’t because Billy and I already did.

We wrote about our planning and implementation of that summer learning in this article “An Intervention Change Up: Investing in Teacher Expertise to Transform Student Learning,” recently published in English Journal.

I hope you’ll read it. Think about the intervention routines on your campus. Are they good for all students? Will they increase confidence in the hearts and minds of your readers and writers? Will they help students gain skills — or reinforce their lack of them?

And what about teachers? What’s in that work for you?

I’d love to know your thoughts. And if we can help, please let us know that, too.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP English Language and Composition at a large senior high school in North TX. She is grateful to the North Star of TX Writing Project and Penny Kittle for showing her the benefits of choice and challenge; otherwise, she would probably still be dragging students through Dickens’ novels and pulling her hair our over plagiarized essays. Thank God she learned a better way. Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk. And please join the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page if you haven’t already. Join the conversation and share the good news of your workshop classroom.

A Call for Real Opportunities to Learn — Not More Test Prep

Natl Literacy Trust Survey 2016

Of course, this data caught my eye.

My friend Gary Anderson posted it on Facebook with this link to the National Literacy Trust Findings from their Annual Literacy Survey 2016: Celebrating Reading for Enjoyment.

I had just spent the day working with teachers in Clear Creek ISD as they launched their two week STAAR Academy, a series of summer school-like classes designed to immerse students in authentic reading and writing — not the typical mode of tutorials often offered in the hope of helping students pass their state mandated English exams.

Billy Eastman, Clear Creek ISD High School ELA and World Languages Coordinator, is a visionary who believes in his teachers and in the students they serve. He knows that when students choose books they want to read, experience learning in an environment that validates their personal lives and learning journeys, and are given space and instruction that allows them to write about the topics that matter to them, students grow. They grow in confidence, and they grow in ability.

Thirty-five teachers met with me in a two hour institute this morning. We read and talked and wrote and talked. We built a community of teacher-readers and writers. We engaged in learning — all with a central goal:  How can we create a space for all students to advance as readers and writers?

Then, teachers planned. In teams they designed lessons intent on engaging students as real readers and writers — not just students reading and writing for a test.

After lunch, teachers facilitated similar community building activities with the roughly 250 students attending the academy.

With generous funding by his district, Mr. Eastman was able to provide books, lots of new high-interest YA literature, in which students could choose a book they want to read. This is the first step in “celebrating reading for enjoyment” and all the benefits that come with it.

As I visited the 12 classrooms this afternoon, I witnessed students writing and talking about their reading lives.

“I like stories okay,” one boy said, “but I don’t like to read.”

“I’m not really into reading,” said another.

“Reading isn’t my thing,” another boy said.

I asked one young man if he liked to read, and he told me: “Yes, I read a lot.” He had just selected Scythe, the new book by Neil Shusterman, and I could tell he was eager to get started reading it. He’d already read Unwind and quickly told me how much he enjoyed that series. The other three students in this boy’s small group were less enthusiastic about reading anything, but they were willing to try. One chose Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King, another Boy 21 by Matthew Quick, and the other Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez.

As I observed every classroom this afternoon, I noticed a few things:

  • The ratio of boys to girls in most every classroom was at least 4 to 1.
  • Boys want to read books that look “tough.” The cover has to captivate them.
  • Girls will choose books with male protagonists more often than boys will choose books with female protagonists.
  • Few students choose historical fiction — they seem drawn to realistic fiction and dystopian.
  • Many students chose books teachers might deem too difficult for them. (One of the most popular book choices offered today was All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.)

For the next nine weekdays, students will read their chosen books and spend time engaged in their community of learners. They will practice the moves of real readers and writers as teachers practice the routines of readers-writers workshop and read and write beside their students. Besides the obvious benefit for students, teachers will engage in the kind of professional development that truly matters, the kind that gives hands-on experience with students as they practice the art and craft of teaching.

I am excited for the outcome. I am excited that teachers are excited. I am honored to be a part of Mr. Eastman’s vision for his district.

So what does this have to do with the National Literacy Trusts’ Annual Survey? A lot.

As I read through the report this evening, I found nothing startling or surprising. Of course, there are advantages to reading for enjoyment.

But then I shifted my thinking and began questioning the why and the what. Why does the data say what it does? Why are their gaps in enjoyment between boys and girls? Why are their gaps between age groups? What is happening in schools that might be causing these gaps? What is happening in students’ lives that might be causing these gaps? What can change if we approach reading and writing instruction differently? What should change?

I challenge you to read the report and ask yourself similar questions. Then, I challenge you to take the next step:  follow Billy Eastman’s lead. Whatever your sphere of influence, how can you allow a space for reading for enjoyment? And if you haven’t done so yet: How can you change the model of instruction in your classroom, in your school, or in your district so all students have the chance to become real readers and writers who enjoy what they read and write?

Don’t all students deserve similar opportunities to learn — not more test prep?

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in the fall). She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy because it keeps her focused on her own improvement. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she’d love it if you follow this blog!

Light Bulb Moments: Igniting Students Interest in Their Own Learning

What is it you love about teaching? I have a few favorites.

More than anything I love to see the light bulb moments. You know what I mean — you see them, too. The thinking becomes almost visible like a thought bubble above a student’s head, then the thought spins a cartwheel, lands on both feet, and ignites some insightful murmur.

“Ohhh, I get it,” sighs the student.

I long for these moments.

I get them with my students, sure, but lately it’s teachers who have warmed my heart as they’ve come to embrace the philosophies of readers-writers workshop.

In December, I facilitated a workshop training in a district in my home state of TX. A little while later, I exchanged some messages with Candice Thibodeaux, an English department manager and English III teacher in Clear Creek ISD who attended that training. I asked if I could share her comments (although I am late in doing so) because I think they may speak to many of our readers who are new to implementing the moves of workshop in their classrooms.

Candice:  I wanted to say once again that it was a pleasure to meet you. I think why it was so easy to hear your message is because there was no doubt you understood where we were because you are in the same trenches we are each day. I was already convinced that I wanted to move my department to the workshop method, but you cleared up some fuzzies and gave me a lot of confidence. I feel like I am in the infancy stages of implementing it, but you have me so excited. I am worried I may not implement my thematic idea well, but I am going to jump in and take note of what works and what doesn’t. I feel it has the possibility to ignite the students interest in their own learning.

Me:  Your ideas for the thematic units are fantastic, and I think you will be so pleased with the responses you get from your students. And once your teachers see the kind of engagement and work your students produce, they will be more apt to want to join in the thinking and planning for workshop. Remember to be patient with yourself. There are just a few things that really matter: choice, time to read and time to write, lots of talk around books and writing, talking to kids one on one about all of it. I know we focus on the standards a lot in Texas, but really, good reading and writing requires skills that are reciprocal — and practice is what matters most.

Candice:  Thanks so much for the response! I am so anxious to get back to school because I

candiceclassroom

Ready for student talk. Candice’s new classroom set up invites collaboration.

did a whole lot over the break that will be so much fun to put into action. I changed my room so we can do group work easier. I cataloged all of my classroom library so students can check out online. I bought more books (which hubby was thrilled about and a little blown away as he helped me catalog almost 1,000 books, lol) and I created a quick PD for my teachers tomorrow based on my time with you and the reading I have done. I am very excited to see if I can light a fire with my teachers. My department is on board but for the most part is still very unsure what it all looks like.

Candice:  The themes I picked [for my units] are war, race relations, technology, self image, and a catch all of society issues (depression, teen pregnancy, drug use, crime, violence). I expect to get a lot of discussion, reading, and writing out of all that; plus, students will do their own video PSA and print ad. I am very excited and have written letters to parents reminding them about free choice reading and telling them about thematic units, and encouraging them to discuss what their child is reading/writing/thinking. So we shall see….

Oh, yes, you shall see! You’ll see more reading, more writing, more engagement, and tons of learning — for students and for you as their teacher.
That’s another thing I love about teaching:  I learn with my students. We share our thinking as readers and writers in my workshop classroom. I am not the sage on the stage, nor the keeper of the knowledge. We all are. We are all discovering the world through the texts we read, and writing about our world through the texts we write.
Last week Jessica wrote Readers-Writers Workshop: But, Does It Work? and Lisa wrote Looking to the Future: Students as Changemakers. Both address the needs of the students who sit in our classrooms every single day.
Candice is like them, and her light bulb moments moved me at that workshop training back in December. She is like many other teachers who know her students need more. And I cannot wait to hear how her thematic units go as she shares her love of all things literacy with her students. (Hey, Candice, are you ready to write that guest post yet?)
lisadennisquote

photo by Jayden Yoon

If you have ideas for articles, poems, videos, or more Candice might be able to pair with other texts in her units, please add your ideas in the comments. (Oh, there’s an idea for some pretty cool collaborative text sets. I’m gonna have to think about that.)

 

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.

 

#3TTWorkshop: Asking Good Questions When Making the Move into Workshop

IMG_1279

Book talks about NF like Columbine by Dave Cullen and talking about the writer’s research process capture many readers

Shana and I recently conducted a two-day professional development workshop in Franklin, WI — such inspiring teachers in Franklin!

Franklin administrators asked that we help their teachers move into a workshop pedagogy, which is, of course, a favorite topic at Three Teachers Talk. We shared the background of workshop, which stems from the work of Don Murray and Don Graves, and from the work of our mentor Penny Kittle, whose ears had to be ringing and ringing since we said her name a million times throughout those two days.

Franklin teachers caught the vision and the value of letting loose the reins and opening their hearts to choice reading and writing. They just needed to experience it themselves from the seats of their students.

The discussion covers five of the pressing questions teachers asked during our pd.

They:  Where are some great places where I can get resources for books and materials for my classroom library?

Us:  The good news for Franklin teachers is the buy-in from their insightful administrators who have reserved funds to begin building classroom libraries. Not all teachers who catch the vision for choice independent reading, and the need for engaging, well-curated classroom libraries, are so fortunate. We weren’t. But finding resources and is certainly possible. Shana wrote this great post awhile back about grants she’s been awarded and the many businesses that give funds to buy books. Amy’s had great success with Donor’s Choose, one of the options Shana mentions. Three grant projects funded there so far! Lewisville Education Foundation has also been a great resource for Amy’s students and the books they love. Be sure you check out the grants offered through your own EF.

Other resources besides books are important, too. We spent time watching and responding to spoken word poetry with our new friends, modeling quickwrites, and studying the craft moves of these poets. Some of our favorite spoken word poets are Shane Koyczan, Sarah Kay, Phil Kaye, Marshall Jones, and Amy’s new favorite Harry Baker. Search online, and you’ll find YouTube videos and posts with the texts.

Engaging non-fiction articles are an essential in workshop instruction. Mentor texts, craft studies, and pairings with literature all make for authentic engagement with thought-provoking non-fiction. Find interesting articles at NewsELA, Izzit.org, Essay5W, and The Learning Network at the NY TImes. And, of course, the excellent mentors curated by our friends at Moving Writers.

They:  How can I design units that foster inquiry-based outcomes for my students?

Us:  We lead teachers in a gallery walk activity where they explored ideas of what authenticity, modeling, dialogue, inquiry, and other workshop essentials look like from both a teacher and the students’ points of view. It was interesting for us to see the many iterations of inquiry these teachers listed and how closely they overlapped with authenticity. Yes, they should.

However, getting students curious about learning does not always happen instinctively — especially when they come to us hardened by years of sit ‘n git classroom instruction. We must provoke inquiry, pique imaginations, inspire curiosity.  Of course, the move to choice opens doors to many of these needs. Providing, introducing, and talking about highly engaging literature helps. But so does allowing students to decide how they want to read it and what they want to do with it to show they are learning from reading it.

Teachers have to let go of control. We have to trust that students want to learn. We have to stop doing all the hard thinking for them. What if we let them find the mentor texts that best suit their needs as writers? What if we give them chances to determine themes they want to study, and then let them take those themes into other genres and ideas?

Let’s invite students into authentic and on-going research, so we move far far away from the one-unit-one-major-research-paper. Shana’s multi-genre project and my students’ engaging in our multi-modal feature article unit are good examples of how we apply this thinking in our own classrooms.

They:  I write every day for my job, but I have never written a “persuasive essay” for my job. How do I design authentic instruction that mirrors what my students might have to write in the future?

Us:  Read like a writer. Look for mentors everywhere. And know your kids. 

We know, if the answer was really that easy, everyone would do it. Although we do believe every teacher could. One way we’ve found to incorporate authentic instruction is to conduct regular craft studies of a variety of texts. We read a lot, and we look for texts in which we can discuss with our students topics like structure, literary and rhetorical devices, tone, etc. We call this reading like writers.

Shana and I agree, we first learned the value of reading like writers from Katie Wood Ray in her book Wondrous Words. Here’s a great Pinterest board to get you started. Shana and I will post the craft studies we find and use with our students more often. You’ll find several we previously posted when you search the “craft study” category.

They:  How do we hold students truly accountable?

Us:  In a word, conferring. We must talk to our students often and with purpose. 

sticky conferences

Modeling Silent Reading Conferences

Amy remembers when she first started moving students into self-selected texts how her conferences revolved around the books students read. Eventually, she realized that if she wanted to truly move readers, she needed to talk more to the student — as a reader — than about the book she was reading. This is an important shift in mindset and practice.

If we only encourage students to talk about the plot, summarizing this or that, maybe describing the characters, we miss out on valuable opportunities to help the reader stretch and grow in the skills she needs to mature as an independent reader. Identity matters.

Teachers foster a love of reading not by focusing on the books but by focusing on the reader of those books and helping those students identify themselves as readers. If you need ideas on conferring, Amy and Jackie discussed conferring in this #3TTWorkshop post, Amy wrote about conferring in a crowded classroom here, and Shana wrote about a what to read conference here.

Another important thing to remember about accountability:  We can ask students to write about their independent reading. Shana and I both ask students to evaluate their reading lives — several times a year. We consider these summative assessments, and students provide thoughtful commentary on how they struggle, grow, and succeed as readers. Amy quotes many of her students’ evaluations here. They are honest and insightful.

img_0331

Speed dating with books increases student talk about books, which increases students reading good books

When we ask students to write about their reading, it must be a task they see as worthwhile — and one we see as a support to our ultimate goal:  developing life-long readers. Too often, we read about teachers who punitively assign tasks to “catch their students not reading.” If this is you, please stop.

They:  How do I create engagement not compliance due to grades?

Us:  Choice. Choice leads to engagement. Engagement leads to autonomy. Autonomy leads to independence. Independence is engagement.

Trust the process, and see for yourself.

 

Another NH Summer: PD with Reading Theory. Who knew?

Today my class Book Love, taught by Penny Kittle, at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute came to an end. My classmates have gone home, but my flight isn’t until tomorrow, so I find myself in the hush of the library on the eve of July 4 when the campus will be closed, alone.

There’s a quiet here like reverence in church on Sundays. A great time and place for me to reflect on my learning this week, and last.

Explaining to Penny Kittle how I finally feel confident doing research and citing sources.

It was anything but reverent. More like a fire hose without a turn off switch. In a word:  revitalizing.

I knew it would be. I came to this same institute last year and learned from Penny. But the powerful learning for me this year happened because she pushed us into reading theory.

Why did I never have to do that in my education classes? You’d think it would be at the top of every class syllabus.

In four days we read a stack of articles about the importance of choice in reading and access to books and the influence of a teacher in the reading lives of children. We read close to half of the essays in Making Meaning with Texts by Louise Rosenblatt. Penny calls her the leading reading theorist of the century, and after reading and discussing Rosenblatt’s work, I believe her. We also wrote three papers that reflected on and infused the reading into our own thinking about our the practice in our classrooms and in our schools.

I am inspired to keep doing my own research as I continue to write what I think will benefit other teachers as they engage their students in authentic and personal reading and writing experiences, a must Rosenblatt says.

I learned many things this week, and I have a list of Ideas to Implement in the back of my notebook that I am determined to carry into my new classroom in the fall.

Isn’t it great that learning continues, improvement continues?

That’s what I love about summer pd — the opportunity to reflect, learn, and get better.

My Ideas to Implement (which include those inspired at the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching.)

  • Skype in poets and authors to speak to my students about their writing and their works
  • Use “Go World” videos by VISA as mentors for mini-narratives; have students edit their first narrative into a “Go World” video
  • Ask students to analyze their writing process, write it out (perhaps creatively), and turn that in with every major writing task
  • Use My Ideal Bookshelf as a mentor when students complete their beginning and end-of-year personal reading evaluations
  • Watch for students with “social capital” and use their examples to promote reading
  • Be more purposeful in my conferences with students. I could have moved more students up reading ladders this year.
  • Include a reminder about vocabulary study within the books students are reading at least once a week
  • Bring in college syllabi to show students of their need for greater reading stamina
  • Create an anchor chart with a hard test that guides students in habits of complex reading
  • Do black out poems early in the year as a means of getting students to look closely at language and create their own meaning with literature
  • Select books for Book Clubs that are more closely theme related
  • Make topic writing notebooks (again) for a place for students to write casually about their choice reading
  • Remember story boarding will work for writing stories and for analyzing them rhetorically
  • Include Author Talks in book talks to introduce students to an author’s work without having to book talk each one
  • Create a reading sign for my new room:  YES! You have homework tonight:  READ!
  • Create a literary category wall, so as students finish books they write a Title Card and place it in the era the book is most like, romanticism, transcendentalism, etc
  • Read a poem every day, mostly just for the pleasure of it
  • Tell students it is okay to not like a poem; it is also okay to not understand it
  • Remember in revision conferences to use the phrase “What are the possibilities?”
  • Remember the peace you’ve felt here in New Hampshire in June

Thanks, my friends, for another amazing summer learning experience. Yes, experience. (It has new meaning now, doesn’t it?)

Erika Bogdany, Sam McElroy, Shana Karnes, Amy Rasmussen, Jackie Catcher, Penny Kittle

 

%d bloggers like this: