Tag Archives: Kelly Gallagher

180 Days Book Review

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).

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As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.

Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.

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Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:

Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”

There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”

Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.

Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.

Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”

Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).

Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.

Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,

Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.

Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.

The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.

This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.

 

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Book Review: Kelly Gallagher’s In The Best Interest of Students

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About eight years ago I had the opportunity to take a one day workshop with educator and author, Kelly Gallagher. It was write after he wrote Deeper Reading and since then, I have devoured every book (Readicide and Write Like Us) he has written. His writing resonates with so many ELA teachers and the classroom practices he offers throughout his texts are trustworthy and build literacy in rich and meaningful ways. Gallagher’s newest book, In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in ELA Classrooms (2015, Stenhouse Publishers) is no different. In this book Gallagher takes a closer look at the pros and cons of the Common Core Learning Standards specifically for reading and writing and offers 20-30 literacy building activities to support the readers and writers in our classroom. He reminds teachers, “teaching is not an exercise in checking items off a list of standards . . .good teaching is grounded in practices proven to sharpen our students’ literacy skills.” (Page 7) Here is a list of the good that has come out of the Common Core and where the Common Core learning standards are lacking.

The Good of CCLS:

Students are being asked to “do deeper, closer reading of rigorous, high quality literature and nonfiction.”

Essential reading skills include answering – What does the text say? What does the text do? What does the text mean?

Students must  read like writers – examine techniques used by the writer, the writer’s “moves,” and what makes something an effective piece of writing. Reading and writing is recognized as interconnected.

Recognize audience and purpose to clearly decipher the text’s meaning.

Writing is seen as a process and narrative, informative, and argumentative writing are valued the most. Students need to collect data, research, and see lots of models to write well.

Speaking and Listening are key skills students need to be working on always.

What’s Missing with CCLS:

Connections – Nowhere in the standards does it address making connections – text to self, text to text, or text to world connections. Students need to apply what they are reading to their understanding of the world.

Scaffolding – Students need to wrestle with the text but not at the expense of them losing interest and or getting lost. Students need important background knowledge and essential questions to frame their reading.

Reading for pleasure is nonexistent. There is nothing written about how much a student should read and the breakdown of how much  informational text versus literary text to be read is not equally distributed.

Differentiation is ignored throughout the standards

Argumentative writing is overvalued and narrative writing is undervalued. Students need to be able to write in other formats and go beyond the five paragraph essay.

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As the state tests loom over so many teacher’s evaluations theses days we need to remember that we are not teaching to a test, but we are teaching young people. Our classroom activities should help students build their reading and writing muscles in order to help them succeed throughout their schooling and life outside of school. Gallagher’s book gives a wealth of ideas to support the good and add the skills needed based on what’s missing within the ELA CCLS. Here are a few of the strategies I will be trying out with my students this month.

17 Word Summaries – Before teachers have students peel back the layers of a text, students must be able to decipher what the text says and clearly articulate their “literal understanding” of the text. Gallagher chooses one student to pick a number between ten and twenty and based on that number, all the students must write a summary using only the number of words the student decides. This requires students to think about writing a lot in a short amount of words for everyone to understand.

Analyzing Photographs to recognize Audience and Purpose. Gallagher asks his students to read photographs. First students share what they see (literal understanding) and then he gives some background about this photographer and what was going on in history the time the photo was taken place to then ask, “What was the purpose for sharing this photo?” Lastly, he asks, who did the photographer hope to see his or her photo? (Page 44) Gallagher talks through this activity using Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.

6 Things You Should Know About . . . & Other Writing Activities to practice more informative writing. Modelled from ESPN Magazine’s “Six Things You Should Know About . . .” students write their own.

Blending Story & Argument Together. A personal experience can strengthen an argument and Gallagher models how to weave a narrative into an argument paper through think alouds, LOTS of modeling, and text exemplars. Students collect data and then write their papers blending narrative into the paper to increase the effectiveness of the argument.

Writing Groups to Develop Young Writers. Gallagher has his students meet in writing groups once a week. The  writing groups includes five students of mixed writing abilities. Each week students bring a piece of writing (new draft or old piece that has been significantly revised) to share with their writing group. Each group member gets a copy of the writing piece to read and respond to. The group members have to “bless,” “address,” or “press” the writing marking up the draft that has been shared and write comments to the writer on note cards based on things marked up on the writing. The group members share their thinking aloud with the group while the writer listens.

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