Tag Archives: Penny Kittle

Book Review: 4 Essential Studies by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher

What are the core units of study that you teach in your English Language Arts class? Essays, Literature, Poetry, maybe argumentative writing? In Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s newest book 4 Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency (Heinemann, 2021), there is a deep dive into teaching essay writing, poetry, book clubs, and digital composition.

Now for a disclaimer, I am a HUGE!!!!! Kittle and Gallagher fan. Ever since I participated in a workshop 18 years ago with Kelly Gallagher at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York I was hooked. I have read every one of his books, adopted Article of the Week in my middle school classroom, and even use many of his texts in the college classes that I teach. If I am at NCTE or ILA, I will go to a Gallagher and Kittle workshop because I know that the information they provide is practical and timely. So, this book was something that I was eager to dive in. Let me highlight the key points presented in each section.

The Essay

How do we as teachers bring students’ voices to the forefront of essays. So much of essay writing that is taught in school is bland, rote, and formatted in a constricting five paragraph essay. But that is not the types of essays that we read outside of school. Check out Sam Anderson’s essay in The New York Times, “I Recommend Eating Chips.” or John Green’s collection of essays in The Anthropocene Reviewed. These writers write compelling and insightful essays that make readers pay attention to the insight, perspective, and point of view. Teachers want to provide opportunity for students to write meaningful essays that honor and amplify their voice and agency. We might need to experiment with form — while throwing out the five paragraph essay template to write authentic essays that blend forms and hone in on craft and structure.

Some teaching moves one can make to help students with their essay writing include providing lots of model and mentor texts and have students complete a WRITE AROUND to notice and name the writing craft moves. Additionally, providing students with lots of TIME TO WRITE and low stakes opportunities to develop their writing and voice. Kittle and Gallagher write, “A volume of ungraded practice gives them opportunities to play with their ideas – some which they will develop into polished essays using craft moves they learn in this study. We know that the quantity of writing will move more writers towards proficiency.” (page 13) Teachers must MODEL THE WRITING PROCESS for students and write along side students. Have students read, analyze, and IMITATE WRITING PASSAGES, Kittle and Gallagher call this writing activity, “kidnap the structure and style”. Don’t forget to allow time for students to conference, work in writing groups, and opportunities to revise, reflect, and evaluate their own essays.

Book Clubs

Similar to writing, volume is key when teaching reading and readers. Kittle and Gallagher write, “Book clubs motivate us to read. They deepen our understanding of not only the book but how others read and interpret the same text. Books stretch out thinking, and they expose us to books and authors we may not have otherwise missed.” (Page 45) Students practice the habits of life long readers when they engage in book club conversations, books encourage readers to talk about the topics addressed in these texts. More importantly, “rigor is not in the book itself, but in the work students to understand it.” (pg. 47) It requires teachers to choose books that are relevant and provide opportunities for students to reflect and by writing daily in their Reader’s Notebooks.

Excerpt from Penny Kittle’s Notebook in response to reading. There are so many more beautiful notebook excerpts from student’s notebooks pages 65-72.

Poetry

“Professor Thomas C Foster notes, poetry “offers a window into the human experience.” (page 80). Kittle and Gallagher call poetry, “little mysteries.” There needs to be a balance in poetry analysis and poetry writing. Inviting students to create and write their own poems and “start with playing, wondering, free writing, reading and listening to poems, creating notebook lists and phrases, and imitating. ” (page 82) Again, volume is key when teaching poetry. For poetry lists you can find more on Penny Kittle’s website.

Here are two poetry writing exercises to try out with students and lots more in the book:

Spine Poems – students collect books from the classroom library or their own personal library and stack in combinations so that the titles on the spines make poems.

Crowd Source Poetry: Using a Google Form, a teacher can crowd source poetry lines to build a community driven poem about an event, person, theme, or central idea.

Additional poetry lessons and activities include teaching figurative language, having students emulate a poetry form, host a poetry tournament to immerse students in a poetry study by theme or genre. Host a poet of the day – I actually do something similar to this with my poetry playlists providing students with a menu of poets, poems, and poetry forms.

In terms of assessment, Kittle and Gallagher created an “Excellence in Poetry” Grading Menu where poems are not graded individually but students are provided with choices and each student turns in a poem for inclusion in a classroom anthology. There were also six different poetry analysis assignments/exams.

Digital Composition

We live in a digital and visual saturated culture and to think that literacy and texts does not blend digital media. Kittle and Gallagher state, “Digital composition is not just engaging, it is necessary.” (page 117) Let’s put our students interest first and support them as content creators and creative communicators while practicing digital citizenship. Possible digital composition assignments include: designing public service announcements (PSAs), create a movie from a notebook entry, make a podcast, and analyze digital texts.

If you are looking for practical ideas to implement in your English Language Arts classroom tomorrow than Kittle and Gallagher’s book with give you four unit of study that support deep students learning and at the same time help students to practice essential skills needed to be critical thinkers and consumers of information while at the same time honoring student voice, choice, agency, and creativity.

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#NCTE 2021:  4 Resources & Takeaways

NCTE 2021 was virtual this past fall and although the in person experience of the conference feeds my creativity and teaching practices, there were still many gems online that I am still musing over. Below are the top four take aways that interest me right now.

1. Opening Session with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Americanah, and much more, offered a hopeful beginning to this year’s Convention at the opening general session. Here are some of the amazing quotes and ideas she shared:

“To be a good teacher is often not just about teaching the curriculum. It is also about those things that are harder to quantify: teaching confidence; making a child feel seen as an individual. Because when we value a student, we teach that student to value herself.”

“I want to argue that it’s important for us to make peace with discomfort. That there’s something perverse about expecting always to be comfortable. Life is messy. Sometimes discomfort opens us up to growth and to knowledge and to meaning.”

“There’s a certain kind of excessive ‘safeness’ that concerns me about what we think children should read or not read. We don’t need to be overly safe. We can afford to be uncomfortable.”“There’s something wonderful and affirming about reading about your own reality and reading what is familiar to you. And that particular pleasure should never be denied anyone. But it is equally important to read about people who are not like you.”

2. Story Telling Through Art with Bisa Butler & Dr. Gholdy  Muhammad

One of my favorite artists today is the fabric artist, Bisa Butler. She participated in an engaging webinar with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, author of Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. These women spoke about teaching culturally and historically responsive education through 5 pursuits:

  • Identity – teaching students to know themselves and others;
  • Skills – teaching students the proficiencies needed across content areas;
  • Intellectualism – teaching students new knowledge;
  • Criticality – teaching students to understand and disrupt oppression; and
  • Joy – teaching students about the beauty and truth in humanity.

Muhammad recently wrote a curriculum for Butler’s work available on webpage linked above. You can also make a copy of this activity I created based on one of Butler’s Quilts and segregated baseball in America.

3. Poetry with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher
Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher just published a new book which is a MUST READ for all English teachers. The new book, 4 Essential Studies covers essay writing, poetry, book clubs and poetry – discussion of this book is for a different department meeting. Kittle and Gallagher spoke on a poetry panel and here is a list of their favorite poems to check out. Why poetry? It’s short and accessible for students. Don’t just teach students to read and analyze poems but to write their own poems and emulate/imitate craft moves and styles of poetry. Here is what Kelly learned when Penny challenged him to write a poem.

4. Using Digital Texts to Deepen Understanding: Elevating Critical Thought

It is not about digital vs. print text, teachers need to read and create a variety of texts. Let’s consider multimodal texts for our English classrooms that include podcasts, digital text, and visual texts. Brandon Abdon (@BrandonAbdon), Alice Wu, Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn), and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) discuss how to use “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” from The New York Times as a multimedia mentor text, as ways to give students a choice in topic and approach. Although this was geared for APLit and APLang teachers, it is relevant for all teachers to help students prepare for the thinking process. Communicate ideas in digital ways to diver audiences beyond the walls of our classroom for civic engagement.

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Engaging & Empowering Readers with Penny Kittle & Kelly Gallagher

I have been waiting all week to write this post because I wanted to share the insight I gained from a workshop today with Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher sponsored by Heinemann Professional Development.

As literacy teachers, our goal is to make kids better readers and writers. What does that entail? Everyday practices of reading, writing, studying creating, and sharing. 

Kelly Gallagher began by referencing Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at UCLA  who said we are asking the wriong question. Rather, “We need to ask what can we do to challenge and stimulate our students?”

Both Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle talked about moving towards generative reading and writing vs. task oriented reading and writing. “We want students to generate their own thinking first.” When we ask students to answer specific questions about a text they are answering our questions and focused on the task at hand.  Students are getting too immersed in tasks. Tasks are getting in the way of rigorous thinking and what is the value of this text.  If we are to encourage and engage students in deep thinking about reading and writing students need time to read and talk about reading IN CLASS. 

Richard Allington, “Reading is less about ability and more about opportunity.” The volume of reading is key. How much and how often students read affects their lives in crucial ways. 

As teachers, we need to focus on:

Time — Choice — Access

In Gallagher’s classroom, there are three goals for every reader:

  1. Increase volume of reading
  2. Increase Complexity
  3. Develop an allegiance to authors and genres

When it came to talking about how to motivate readers the following practices are in both Kittle and Gallagher’s classrooms: 

1. Their Own passion

2. Choices

3. Book Talks – Start of every day is a book talk to help students find books they love. Why? It creates a willingness to practice outside of class. Read aloud a piece of the text everyday in a book talk. 

4. Time to read in class –20% of class time devoted to Independent reading and conferences. Gallagher mentioned it takes a couple of weeks for most students to get into 10 minutes of sustained independent reading

5. Holding Reading Conferences – In conferences, students learn how to have meaningful conversations in a safe 1:1 setting with a teacher who can move their thinking.

NCTE's Position Statement on Independent Reading

As NCTE defines “Independent reading is a routine, protected instructional practice that occurs across all grade levels. Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. “

 

As for writing, low pressure writing is a daily occurrence in both their classrooms. Students write quick writes daily and after 10 quick writes in their notebooks the students decide which one they give the teacher permission to read. Students are reading and writing everyday in class. 

Students use their writer’s Notebooks based on what Donna Sandman describes as

A workbench – a place to practice 

A place to stumble on ideas – a collection place

A place you go to do work – a playground 

Both Gallagher and Kittle shared their own writer’s notebooks. They spoke about writing alongside students and allow students to see you struggle as a writer.

Additionally, they talked about the importance of daily flash revision. Allowing 90 seconds a day of tinkering and polishing your writing. Rather than peer editing, they have students,  “Tell your writing partner one thing you did to make your writing better.” Revision is kept in a writer’s notebook. Students put a sticky note on one page they want us to look at. Notebooks are meant to support the writer, not evaluate her. Students are given ten minutes to craft one page of writing. Gallagher tells his students, “You have stories to tell, that only you can tell the story.”

Penny Kittle broke down some old way of thinking about teaching writing versus new thinking about writing:

OLD Thinking NEW Thinking
1. Kids should produce one big paper over weeks of work
2. Tell students what to write and how to write it, which makes writers dependent on the teachers (Checklist)
3. Writing process is defined as prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and final drafts graded with a rubric – Students work mostly under teacher direction throughout unit
1. Opportunities to practice the same skills multiple times (Laps around the tracks) in different contexts which makes writers more flexible and skills transferable
2. Students decide on a focus for their writing and how to organize their ideas effectively for an audience which increases confidence in applying what they learn as they struggle with these decisions in other rhetorical situations. 
3. The writing process includes generating ideas through quick writing to poems, infographics, photos, editorials, etc. These quick writers are revised as regular practice. 

Both Kittle and Gallagher shared tons of book titles and poems to use with students for reading and quick writes. These texts provide a seed that will spur thinking. Students are encouraged to grab a word, grab a line, grab a hot spot and then write off it. 

Here are ten poems shared in the workshop and used for quick writes:

“Camaro” by Phil Kaye

“what the dead know by heart” by Dante Collins

“Hair” by Elizabeth Acevedo

“Kitchen Table” by George Ella Lyons

“Deer Hit” by Jon Loomis

“Native Tongue” by Micah Bournes

Kwame Alexander: Take a Knee

Rigged Game by Dylan Garity

“B” by Sarah Kay

Lastly, a piece by Matt La Pena worth checking out.

“Why we shouldn’t shield children from darkness” by Matt La Pena

Here’s a complete list of spoken poetry shared by Kelly Gallagher

 

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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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NCTE#17 TakeAways

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I am in St. Louis, MI to attend NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and it is always empowering to be among thousands of English Teachers, Literacy Coaches, Researchers, and Authors. From 7:00 AM through the wee-hours of the night we are listening, learning, networking, collaborating, discussing, sharing, and inspiring each other. This annual convention is one of the best in-person professional development opportunities for someone in the English Language Arts and Literacy field.

Yesterday the kickoff included a meet up for Middle School Teachers with Ignite Keynotes from Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Chris Lehman, and author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich addressing the role of Middle School and literacy in shaping student identity. This morning the power of poetry was the theme with Jimmy Santiago Baca and youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.

The first session I attended was with Penny Kittle on “Creative Structures for Organizing Writing: Beyond the 5 Paragraph Essay.” She mentioned that the five paragraph essay is nothing that students have to complete in college so why are we using this limited writing structure to teach writing. Breaking free of the 5 Paragraph essay structure allows for more authentic writing like Op-Ed pieces, reviews, profiles and Public Service Announcements. Show students the models and mentors to help them succeed in writing these types of texts and build their writing repertoire. Her handouts are available on her website under NCTE.

Kelly Gallagher spoke about Fake News and helping our students develop world knowledge and being critical readers. Too many people accept information for what it is where a website, news story, or text and don’t ask questions about who is writing the story? What is their purpose? What is being left out? Who is the audience? Does it pass the CRAP Test – Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose? He argued that maybe we need to put literary analysis aside in order to bring to the forefront the value of the reading experience.

I was one of the presenter in the next session on Igniting Wonder in the Classroom along with Laura Robb, Kristen Ziemke, Carol Varsalona, Blanca Duarte, Laura Purdie Salas, and Wonderopolis. I presented on Quest Based Learning to spark wonder and play in the classroom. My slide deck is below.

Since there are so many amazing authors at NCTE, I could not forego seeing a few outstanding YA authors including A.S. King, Somon Chainani, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Andrew Smith, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. Let’s just say, these are a few of the badass authors who write great YA fiction. They addressed social justice, humor, and tackling tough topics with their readers.  For all of them writing has been “freedom, power, and voice.”

Dropping into the exhibit hall, a few ARC copies of soon to be released books were shared and cannot wait to start reading. New titles that tackle historical fiction and zombies, dystopia, and poetry.

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