Tag Archives: Readers Writers Workshop

The Seemingly Small by Jessica Paxson

url.jpgSometimes, in teaching, you just need a day.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  You have all of these beautifully planned lessons, but there are always scraps and pieces that don’t seem to quite fit perfectly into any single day.  Sometimes these tiny scraps need to get done, but cannot be just tossed anywhere for fear of interrupting that creative flow.  Creativity ebbs and flows, and so should lesson plans.  

It was the week before Thanksgiving and I needed a little of that ebb, so I planned a station day.  We began the day just like any other, with SSR followed by writing in our notebooks.  The rest of the period was intended to be spent tying up loose ends.  Here’s what I had on the docket:

  • Find a reading quote from the pile that speaks to you.  Glue in notebook and “write-around.”
  • Recommend titles for the Library of Paxsonia (classroom library).  Enter titles in the Google Form along with why this book stuck out to you.
  • Confer with Mrs. P./Reading Reflection: Mrs. P. will call you up individually.  Complete the reading reflection as you wait.
  • Writing Folders: Find graded work and organize neatly in your writing folder.
  • Reading Accomplishment Poster and Photo Booth: Make a page-sized poster detailing your accomplishment and growth as a reader this semester.  What makes you proud?  
  • Take a photo at the photo booth and send it to Mrs. P. for our Thank You Package.

As I began to circulate and chat with students, the conversations I heard were incredible.

Student 1: I’ve read an entire book for the first time in 4 years!

Student 2: I finally found a book I didn’t have to lie about reading.

Student 3: I finished a book in one weekend and asked for another one.

The day went on, and the students, of course, needed a bit of clarification.

Student: Mrs. Pax, if I haven’t finished a book, but I’m close, can I put that I finished a whole book?

Me: Remember, not what are you GOING to accomplish, but what HAVE YOU accomplished?

Student: Okay, can I put that I’m not finished yet, but can’t wait to get to the end?

Me: There you go!

Here are a few more of my favorites:

“I finished one and a half books in one semester!” -Sydney

“This is the first time I’ve finished a book and actually enjoyed it.  Thank you for such amazing books to read!” -Lacey

“I’ve finished one book in this semester and I’m proud!” -Dipo

“I finally finished the last three pages of a book.” -Edgar

“5 books down!” -Lauryn

“Mrs. Paxson helped me rediscover my love for reading.” -Zoe

In developing readers, it’s absolutely essential to remind them that it certainly doesn’t happen overnight.  Becoming a reader is a lifelong pursuit–as is becoming a writer, a leader, or someone who stands up for what she believes, for that matter.  

Unfortunately, there’s no TEK or Common Core Standard that says: Students will be able to celebrate the seemingly small accomplishments on the journey to becoming a better reader or writer, and recognize them as the big stinkin’ deals they truly are. (Disclaimer: If I wrote Standards, they’d have a bit more sass and spice.)

If we have to take a break from the “real stuff” to recognize the REAL STUFF–our growth as readers and learners–so be it.

This day turned out to be one of the most productive in all the ways that are not reflected in our daily objectives, but that are essential to building a reading culture in the classroom.

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX. She also attempts to grapple with life and all of its complexities and hilarities over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

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Teaching and Planning with Purpose

It’s 2017, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some optimism.

2016 was hard for me, though it shouldn’t have been, by society’s standards.  I left the high school classroom, became a new mom, and began a new career as a college instructor.

All great new things, right?  But, I didn’t deal with those changes very well.  I constantly worried and wondered about what could go wrong–would we have enough money to live once I quit teaching?  Would Ruthie be okay if she didn’t finish her bottle?  Would I have trouble with my students respecting me because I was so young?

I framed everything in the negative.  I constantly fretted, and I knew no joy in my life.  Amy noticed this when she said, “you know, I haven’t heard you sing your words in a long time.”

I didn’t sing much in 2016.

But, it’s a new year, and I’ve come to terms with some things.  I’ve stopped framing my identity as a woman whose life got sidetracked by motherhood, for one.  I’m a mom now, first and foremost, and the rest of my life distracts me from that identity.  And I love that: I think having some intellectual outlets that keep me busy–teaching, writing, reading, exercising–make me a better mother.  And I am happier.

I’ve been reading a lot about purpose vs. happiness, and I want to reframe my thinking and my teaching around this concept.  Purpose and meaning take a long time to foster, unlike happiness, which rewards us with instant gratification.  But that gratification is fleeting, in life and in learning.  It’s better to think longer.

51vcZ1QSrLL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI’m going to try to be purposeful in how I plan and teach my courses this spring.  My students and I will read Visible Learners by Krechevsky et al, which focuses on cultivating a learning environment that is “purposeful, social, representational, empowering, and emotional.”  I want to craft that kind of classroom, and I want my students to craft that kind of classroom, too.

So, in terms of planning my five courses this semester, I’m beginning my thinking by wondering how my preservice teachers, their students, and I can feel purposeful.  I’m structuring my courses to include lots of dialogue, writing, and low-stakes assignments.  Opportunities for talk, revision, and choice abound.

I want to approach this whole year–the semester, and 2017 as a whole in terms of being a mom–with a more positive perspective, thinking more about my purpose and less about the negative.  I’ll ask myself, with every lesson I teach or assignment I craft or text I select: how will this help my students, and their students, and me, be purposeful?

I’ll think long.  And I feel so optimistic about that.

How will you plan and teach with purpose this year?  Please share in the comments!


Shana Karnes lives in West Virginia and teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

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

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

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

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

Today I am wondering why not.

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

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

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a gem of a goal by my friend Billy

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

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

Then, maybe I’ll ask this question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survival Strategy: Return to Structure

The Google calendar that the Three Teachers share has us on a rotating schedule. Fixed days with suggested ideas around types of posts and the three of us cycle through clock_stockeach week. Today, my friends, the suggestion is “strategy,” and boy do I need one.

After this lovely break from school, my daughter’s sleep schedule is a mess, I think I’ve put on five-ish pounds of cookie related belly weight, and the house is an unmitigated disaster zone of new toys without homes, student papers I’m placing around the house in an effort to combat “out of sight, out of mind,” and the organized chaos that comes with putting away all the holiday decorations while my daughter yells, “But we CAN’T put the tree outside! It will be lonely!”

So, what I guess I’m suggesting with all of that is that, although it has been legitimately lovely, I need to return to some structure or I’m going to lose it. I can’t watch The Grinch one more time, or I might pop Cindy Lou Woo in her tiny little nose. Bah! Humbug!

Was it really only a little over a week ago that I sprinkled unbridled joy across the blog in my Holiday Poem? My…how the Merry has fallen.

handsPlease don’t get me wrong. I’ve had an amazing break from work. Many aren’t able to share in the blessing of having such a richly restorative holiday from their employment, and I am grateful. I spent time watching my three-year-old revel in the magic of the holidays. We shared time with family and friends, laughing, toasting, and just generally enjoying one another’s company. I stayed up late reading. I rediscovered the thrill of flying down a sledding hill, shrieking like a teenager and giggling with my daughter. I even had one day where everyone was out of the house. I napped. On my own couch. Without having to block out Dory telling me to “just keep swimming” for the six millionth time.

However, while summer affords one the opportunity to release from the stresses of work and still find plenty of time to get on a schedule of chosen activities, winter break is a whirlwind, from which, many feel they need a vacation.

So, here is my strategy. A strategy to shake off the crazies and get back to some workshop non negotiables to send us back to school with a renewed enthusiasm around structure:

Step 1. Get back to school. Easier said than done, I’m sure. That alarm is going to go off tomorrow at 5:15 a.m. and I am not going to be happy, but this past week has reminded me that without consistency, I start to lose it. I need more purpose than Netflix programming selection. Much like workshop, I need consistent components of purpose in my everyday. They give me a roadmap to achieve goals. Goal one, get out of bed for work tomorrow.

Step 2. Read with my kids and then talk with them about what they read over break. I’m guilty of getting away from reading/conferring with my kids in the past few weeks. In the flurry of planning, preparing for exams when we return, fifty meetings after school, PD time to plan for, and countless other distractions, I started to let the few precious minutes at the start of class slip back to menial task time. Check email, organize papers, finalize workshop activity, etc. Our first day back, I’m going to read with my students at the start of each class (Warning! Shameless plug for #3TTBookClub to follow: Perhaps I’ll choose East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Between the World and Me by Tah-Nehisi Coates, or  Assessing Writing, Teaching Writers: Putting the Analytic Writing Continuum to Work in Your Classroom by Mary Ann Smith and Sherry Seale Swain. All fantastic choices for the month of January). The next class period, and those that follow, I need to talk with my kids at the beginning of the hour. Their only homework was to read over break. I want to hear about it.

Step 3. Set reading rate goals with my kids (another practice I slipped away from over the weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break…talk about a need for resolutions. If the past paragraph didn’t indicate my own failings at upholding a major tenant of workshop, this one sure will. I never slip on giving my kids time to read. We have 82,793 things to work through in a class period, but I don’t take their reading time. It’s just that important. However, holding them accountable for their reading outside of class? That’s a never ending battle. I’m going to get back to students setting goals in their notebooks, then I’m going to employ my newly favorite technique: Have students snap a picture of the page and email it to me. Stacks and stacks of notebooks are occasionally necessary, but they also give me hives. An inbox full of messages is somehow a challenge, as opposed to a stack of notebooks which is somewhat of a burden, meaning I end up collecting them far less than I would really like to.

Step 4. Get back to writing. We religiously write in class each day. Over the weekend, I wrote thank-you cards and last Wednesday, I wrote down my Jimmy John’s order for a friend. On the drive home from my in-laws tonight, I looked out at the last of the Christmas lights on passing houses and smiled at the memory of the big, old fashioned lights on the bushes outside the house where I grew up. The memory was quickly followed by an ache to write about it. I miss writing when I let myself feel “too busy” to do it, so I need to take William Wordsworth’s advice: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Tomorrow, we will write about what makes us ache.

Step 5. Reconnect with kids. In one of the many moments I allowed myself to be distracted from work today, I saw a Tweet from literacy specialist Shawna Coppola, who said, “Relationships with students are more important than any curriculum.” Please see step 2 above and repeat that daily during workshop, drafting, small group work, experimentation, last 30 seconds of class, time.

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The New Year is a time to move forward with renewed vigor. My final exams this semester will ask students to reflect on their growth as thinkers over the course of the first half of the school year and discuss specific takeaways from our work. They will then be asked to make suggestions as to how they will apply that learning during second semester.

In much the same way, I’m reflecting on how a lack of structure makes me more tired than teaching, parenting, and living combined. I was certainly ready for a break, but I’m also ready to get back at it.

The strategy is simple: Get back into workshop WITH your kids, and refresh that commitment to do what works each and every day.

Happy New Year, All. Welcome back!

Lisa Dennis spends her school days teaching AP Language and Honors/Pre-AP Sophomores, while also leading the fearless English department at Franklin High School, just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Though loathe to discuss herself in the third person, she does delight in hearing her daughter ask for ‘just one more chapter,’ dreaming about European vacations ala Rick Steves, and sitting in the snugs of authentic Irish pubs. She is a firm believer that a youthful spirit, a kind heart, a big smile, and a good book can ease most of life’s more troublesome quarrels.
Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum.

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Join the #3TTBookClub

We’ve probably all seen a ton of posts about the “best” books of 2016, and our To Read Next lists and wish lists and carts in numerous online book shops have grown like crazy. Thankfully, I have some grant money just itching to be spent on new books for my classroom library. Here’s a list all in one place, if you want to take a look. Thanks @shawnacopola!

We’ve also probably set reading goals for ourselves. I played in my new planner, setting some goals that I will share with my students when I ask them to create their new challenges.

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If you are looking for a way to spice up your reading in 2017, consider this:

Join the #3TTBookClub on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page.

Why #3TTBookClub?

In the introduction to her book Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller writes: “I want my students to enjoy reading and find it meaningful when they are in my class, but I also want them to understand why reading matters to their lives. A reading workshop classroom provides a temporary scaffold, but eventually students must have self-efficacy and the tools they need to go it alone. The goal of all reading instruction is independence. If students remain depends on teachers to remove all obstacles that prevent them from reading, they won’t become independent readers.”

How do we help our students become independent readers if we are not independent readers ourselves?

I am often surprised at how many English teachers I meet who admit to not reading. I wrote a bit about that in a post last year, and I extend the same invitation:  Are you walking the talk in your content? (The invitation to guest post on this blog stands as well. Every teacher’s voice matters. Your voice matters.)

How will #3TTBookClub work?

We batted this one about a bit, but it didn’t take long to decide that even when it comes to book clubs, choice matters. Each month Shana, Lisa, and I will choose a book. We will introduce our books on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page and invite other readers to read along with us. Read one of the books, two of them, or all three (My personal goal, but, you know…time… and all that feedback to leave on all those papers.)

We will share ideas on how we might book talk certain books with our students, share insights from pedagogy books we read, share ways we might use excerpts to teach craft, and just overall share our deep and abiding book love.

What have you got to lose?

We hope you will join us in #3TTBookClub in 2017 — and please, use the #3TTBookClub hashtag and invite your friends. See you on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page.

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Follow Three Teachers Talk on Twitter @3TeachersTalk, on Instagram at 3TT.us, Pinterest at Three Teachers Talk, and Facebook @ThreeTeachersTalk. Oh, and remember to subscribe to the TTT blog, so you never miss a post.

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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Making it Easier to Be Smarter

I am always looking for ways to help my students write. Write more. Write more effectively. Write with more voice.

Not too long ago, I came across The Skimm, an online news source I read every weekday morning. It never ceases to make me smile. Witty and smart just about covers it.

In an effort to help my students stay tuned to what is happening in the world, I’ve asked them to sign up to receive the Daily Skimm. Besides learning the basics about what events headline the news, we will discuss author’s craft, effective summarization skills, using links to build our credibility in online writing, and what ever else we happen to notice in these daily news sound bites.

If you want, follow The Skimm on Twitter, but really, you will want to subscribe. It’s just that good, and like the Skimmers say “the Skimm makes it easier to be smarter.”

Who doesn’t want that?

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Me every day during winter break.

Happy Reading, my friends.

And Happy New Year!

‘Tis the Three Teachers Talk Holiday Poem

My dad was an 8th grade Social Studies and English teacher for well over 30 years, and his joy (and frustration) as it relates to education, inspired me to work in the classroom as well. I grew up on stories of my dad’s intelligence, humor, creativity, and passion in the classroom. This and other tales of how I’m pretty sure my dad was incorporating elements of workshop in his classroom in 1968, in a future post.

But it’s not only my choice in profession that was influenced by my dad, it’s the writing you are reading right this very moment. Dad has a gift with words. People are still talking about how clever and touching his speech was at my wedding…almost nine years ago. He has a way of turning phrases to make them as sharp as his wit and as beautifully deep as his heart. I’ve always wanted to write as powerfully as my dad.dad

So, early on, my writing filled with passive voice and right-clicked thesaurus words (the nuances of which I was not skilled enough to use correctly), I wrote. And I often wrote utter crap.

When I would ask my dad to read it,  an old school sea of red comments would flood the page. Arrows, strike-outs, question marks. It was harsh, but fair. And though I was often too stubborn at the time to admit it (a trait I certainly, thankfully, and ironically in this case, inherited from him directly), his insights pushed me to add clarity, depth, and insight to my craft.

Earlier this week, Amy wrote about writing when it’s hard. She spoke of filling the room with beautiful language, getting kids to keep talking with one another, and allowing time to think.

I humbly add to Amy’s list the idea of helping students to find what or who inspires them to write. With the mutual understanding that my “brilliant” quick write ideas aren’t always going to cut it and not everyone is lucky enough to have a writing mentor at home to inspire them, we need to help our students find inspiration. In essence, as their teacher, I need to be that writing mentor by sharing brilliant published writing, encouraging students to share their writing with one another, and in (sometimes with a knotted stomach) sharing my own.

I’m inspired today by both the last day of school and, again, by my dad. For years, Dad would take traditional poems and rewrite the lines to match the happenings at his school. Christmas, the end of the year, retirements…Dad would craft witty quips about teacher’s lounge antics, administrative frustrations, student silliness, and more. He has a gift for playing with the written word.

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So, dear readers, Dad, and Robert Frost, forgive me as I try my hand at a holiday poem to warm your workshop hearts. It’s all in the name of holiday cheer.

Stopping By a Workshop Classroom…

Three Teachers write here, I think you know. 
Ideas of workshop and reading to sow;
We read and write each day without stopping
To keep our students’ brains and pens hopping.

Some colleagues certainly must think it strange
To bring to our classrooms such a great change.
A room full of books and pages of scratch;
Such delight when a book with a student we match.

They may even, with concern, their heads firmly shake
To suggest that there must be some grave mistake.
But lives as readers and writers we give
For choice and challenge in our classrooms do live.

This workshop gig can inspire, uplift, and “readicide” it can mend,
But break is here my old dear friend.
So go on and with your family some happy time spend,
Because this week of school is finally (blessedly) at an end.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year to all, and to all, a great break. I’m hoping to settle in for a long winter’s nap.

Who or what inspires your writing? How will you be spending your well-deserved break?
Please share in the comments below!

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