Tag Archives: Reading

Building Quests for Independent Learning: Classcraft’s New Feature

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I am so excited for Classcraft’s new feature that allows teachers to build quests for their students. Classcraft states, “Quests enable teachers to turn their lesson plans into personalized, self-paced learning adventures for students to embark upon in the game. Your entire curriculum can take the form of an interactive map — each point representing an activity or resource that must be completed to go further.”

I have just put together a reading quest based on a social justice book unit. Students have a choice to read I am Malala, All American Boys, or Warriors Don’t Cry. Since students are reading books in small groups, the quest feature allows all students to work at their own pace to complete different “checks for understanding” assignments that will highlight their thinking about the text.

Here is a breakdown of the Social Justice Quest:

The Story – Throughout history there have been moments when people have been called upon to stand up for what is right. They have witnessed injustice, hatred, intolerance, and have decided that they cannot stand aside as a bystander. Who are these upstanders and how do they change the course of history for all of humanity.
Mission 1 – Perception Reading Expedition

You have read the backstory, been introduced to the characters, and seen injustice presented in the text. Now, complete this mission to unlock the journey of a true hero.

Answer the questions on the google form related to your social justice book.

Warriors Don’t Cry https://goo.gl/forms/X5HoTnSFU29nl2S92

I Am Malala https://goo.gl/forms/Pc6S1uFiAs9zmo1Z2

These Google forms include 20 basic comprehension questions based on the first 100 pages of the books. Student responses will be assessed using the Google Add-On Flubaroo

Mission 2 – Alliances

We often look to models and mentors for wisdom. These people’s lives are a testament that being an upstander takes strength and perseverance.

What aspects of Mahatma Gandhi are a model and mentor for your main character?

Articulate how your main character best exemplifies the philosophies and practices of Gandhi.

To learn more about Gandhi’s beliefs and complete this task click here.

Again, students will write a short response for this task on Google Forms which will be evaluated by the teacher. 
Mission 3 – Evaluator Mission

When we get to the end of a story our mind is filled with questions, thoughts, connections, and reflections.

  • What surprised me? What did I wonder?
  • What did the author think I already know?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

Before you make it to the end of the Social Justice Vision Quest, you must complete the Evaluator One Pager Mission.

One Pager Task: Your task is to showcase your understanding of your social justice book in ONE PAGE. Please follow the guidelines and check off each box as you complete each step.

  • Use a sheet of blank, white computer paper(8 ½ X 11).
  • Make sure the title of the novel is located on your one-pager. The title should STAND OUT.
  • Include a graphic representation on the part of the book you are focusing on (drawing, magazine picture, computer graphic, a symbol)
  • Your one-pager must include color (markers, colored pencils). No pencil is allowed.
  • Answer three (3) questions (see below) regarding the book and include two or more textual quotes to support your response.
  • Personal Response: A comment, an interpretation, a connection, or a review. Please do not include a summary.
  • Fill up the entire page
  • Place your name in the lower right hand corner.
One-Pager Scoring Rubric Points
Answers three reflection questions with  specific textual quotes to support response. 10
Graphic Representation that ties to the quotes. 5

+5 Awarded for Original & Unique Artwork

Thoughtful, well-written response 10
Title clearly stated… stands out 5
Presentation: Fill page, uses color, no pencil. 3
Name in lower right corner 2
Total (40 Points Maximum)

 

All American Boys – One Pager Questions

  1. Describe Rashad and Quinn. What makes them dynamic characters?
  2. What is your impression of Spoony, Rashad’s brother? Do you find him to be a good brother to Rashad? In what ways are these two brothers similar? How are they different?
  3. Quinn states, “On Friday nights, there were only two things on my mind: getting the hell out of the house and finding the party.” Why do his responsibilities at home make him feel such a need to escape? In what ways has the absence/loss of his father impacted how the family functions? Are they in any way similar to your own? If so, in what ways?
  4. For what reasons do you think Quinn begins to feel connected to Jill? How would you characterize their relationship, and how does it change over the course of the novel?
  5. Guzzo states, “People have it all backward. They do . . . I’m sorry, but my brother did the right thing. He has to make tough calls.” When his brother attacks Rashad, Guzzo is around the corner from the store, so he doesn’t bear witness to the assault. Why is Guzzo unable to come to terms with the truth about his brother’s actions?
  6. Consider the variety of settings for All American Boys; name the three places you believe to be most important to the story.
  7. Jill tells Quinn, “I don’t think most people think they’re racist. But every time something like this happens, you could, like you said, say, ‘not my problem.’ You could say, ‘it’s a one-time thing.’ Every time it happened.” Do you agree with her assessment?
  8. Quinn states, “And if I don’t do something. If I just stay silent, it’s just like saying it’s not my problem.” How does this moment show that Quinn is actively choosing not to be a bystander? Though difficult, do you agree it’s the right decision?
  9. How does the discovery of the spray-painted tag, “Rashad Is Absent Again Today” change the dynamics about how students at the high school are able to deal with the event? In what ways does this initially non-spoken symbol become an avenue for reflection and conversation among both the student body and the faculty?
  10. All American Boys is told in a dual first-person narrative. How would the story be different if someone besides Rashad and Quinn were telling it? Do you think changing the point of view would make the story better or worse? If you could, would you want another character’s perspective to be included in the novel? If so, whose?

 

Warriors Don’t Cry – One Pager Questions

1. What are 2-3 ways different white students respond to integration at Central High?

2. What role does peer pressure play in how white students respond to African American students?

3. Melba says she feels both proud and sad when she is escorted into school by federal troops. What do these feelings say about who she thinks she is – as a citizen and as an individual?

4 What role does Grandma India play? Why is she an important to Melba? Provide at least three (3) well substantiated reasons to support your assertion.

5. Explore the role Link plays. Why is he important in the book? Provide at least three (3) well substantiated reasons to support your assertion.

6. Why is the book called Warriors Don’t Cry? Which character or characters is/are the “warriors” in this play? Explain providing at least three examples.

7. How does Melba change as the story progresses? Be sure to clearly state your thesis and explain fully the instances where her behavior or attitudes change.

8. Based upon your reading of this book, what role do you think religion played in the Civil Rights Movement?

9. In the context of Melba’s story, what does it mean to be a warrior? What qualities does a warrior in this story need to possess? Provide at least two direct quotes from the book to help explain your answer.

10. Melba’s experience at Central High School happened more than fifty years ago. Why is it important to discuss it now? What could happen if Americans don’t learn about the struggle of the Little Rock Nine?

 

I Am Malala – One Pager Questions

1. Would you have had the bravery that Malala exhibited and continues to exhibit?

2. Talk about the role of Malala’s parents, especially her father, Ziauddin. If you were her parents, would you have encouraged her to write and speak out?

3. How does Malala describe the impact growing Taliban presence in her region? Talk about the rules they imposed on the citizens in the Swat valley. What was life like?

4. Mala has said that despite the Taliban’s restrictions against girls/women, she remains a proud believer. Would you—could you—maintain your faith given those same restrictions?

5. Talk about the reaction of the international community after Malala’s shooting. Has the outrage made a difference…has it had any effect?

6. What can be done about female education in the Middle East and places like Pakistan? What are the prospects? Can one girl, despite her worldwide fame, make a difference? Why does the Taliban want to prevent girls from acquiring an education—how do they see the female role? *

7. Talk about the Taliban’s power in the Muslim world. Why do you think  it continues to grow and attract followers…or is it gaining new followers? What attraction does it have for Muslim men? Can it ever be defeated?

8. Malala witnesses her immediate surroundings change dramatically within a short time period. Describe the changes to both Pakistan and Swat throughout I AM MALALA. How does Malala experience and respond to these changes? How is Malala’s character influenced and shaped by her surroundings?

9. Discuss Malala’s relationship with her mother. What influence does she have on Malala? In what ways does Malala’s relationship with her mother compare/contrast with her relationship with her father? Did it surprise you to learn that Malala’s mother did not know how to read yet her father insisted that Malala be well educated and learn all that she can?

10. In Chapter 5, after Malala does not win the class trophy at the end of the school year, her father tells her “It’s a good thing to come in second because you learn that if you can win, you can lose. And you should learn to be a good loser not just a good winner.” What do you think about this advice? How do you think it builds Malala’s character?

11. Would you have been as brave as Malala at this point in the story? In what ways do you feel like you relate to Malala?

 

Mission Complete – Reading Ace

Social justice means moving towards a society where all hungry are fed, all sick are cared for, the environment is treasured, and we treat each other with love and compassion. Not an easy goal, for sure, but certainly one worth giving our lives for!

Medea Benjamin, co-founder Global Exchange and Code Pink

We know that within our world and throughout history that not everyone has had equal opportunities or access to resources that should be a given right. Books have the power to help us see the world for what it can be and stand up for what is right. You are a reading ace and now you must make choices that show what you have taken to heart from the stories you read.

 

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Empathy & Compassion: YA Titles to Build Bridges

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that there are 917 Hate Groups in the United States. That means there are close to one thousand hate groups in the United States. Today in 2017.

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Photo from splcenter.org

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia this past week are disturbing and upsetting.  At the same time, as a teacher, I look to current events to guide my teaching in middle school.  As a teacher and a human being I promote empathy, compassion, and understanding among ALL people both in and outside of my classroom.

For summer reading I requested students choose any book they wanted to read that had a theme of social justice. Social justice and Reconstruction are where we begin in September. Students will participate in many conversations about social justice and injustice based on events that took place this summer as well as in the books they read while on break. We will continue to address social justice throughout our reading and writing units over the course of the school year because teaching students to be critical thinkers and compassionate people is just as much as a learning target and goal as any Common Core Learning Standard.

In response to Frank Bruni’s op-ed piece in the New York TimesI Am a White Man. Hear Me Out” (8/13/2017), Colette M Bennett’s blog Used Books in Class writes,

Reading provides the reader the experience of seeing through another’s eyes. That is the definition of empathy. There is research that supports the link between the reading of stories and empathy.  Therefore, my response as an educator to Bruni is that the bridges he seeks can be bridges that are built by reading stories.

Reading is at the center of my middle school English classroom and reading and sharing books is key. In response to building bridges, conducting conversations about current events, and promoting tolerance, here are four YA titles worth reading.

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Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) takes place in Mississippi in 1955 in a town next to where Emmitt Till was murdered. The protagonist, 13 year old Rose Lee Carter, is living with her grandmother, working in the cotton fields and dreaming of a better life. The writing is powerful and gets into the heart and mind of a young African American girl struggling between what could be and the violence of what is. This book can be used parallel to primary sources about Emmitt Till, Jim Crow South, and Brown vs. Board of Ed.
Alan Gratz’s Refugee (Scholastic, 2017) tells the story of three different young people who escape their home country for a better life and for safety. One story is of Josef, a young boy living in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994 hoping to safely make it to America and Mahmoud is a Syrian Boy in 2015 looking to escape with his family after the ongoing violence and destruction in his homeland. The three young people are connected in the end but the journey they embark on is harrowing. 9780545880831_mres

 

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer & Bray, 2017) is powerful and poignant. After reading Jason Reynold and Brendan Kiley’s All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015), I did not think there would be another book as honest, raw, and gripping for young adults about police violence and brutality. Angie Thomas exceeds my expectations. The book gets at the heart of matter and puts down on paper the difficult questions many are asking about race, violence, and humanity. f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f41mrnaqoygl-_sy344_bo1204203200_

 

 

American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad (Knopf, 2017) is a post apocalyptic story about a divided United States after the Second Civil War breaks out in 2074 and leaves America fractured. The protagonists is young Sarat Chestnut, a tomboy who comes of age during this frightening war torn time. There are so many parallels to what is happening in our world today that will leave the reader with disturbing thoughts about the direction we are heading.

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Good Game Reads: 8 YA Books for MetaGames & Gamers

Video games are their own literary genre driven by narrative and story. As my colleague and friend Katie Egan Cunningham states, “Stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.” Whether you are gamer in search of a good story or books to hook your gamer -students, here are 8 young adult books worth reading that tap into gaming, puzzles, ciphers, quests, and LARPs.

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It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett (Nerdist, 2016) is about two friends who get caught in a LARP (Live Action Role Play) gone wrong. Not long after the adventure begins, the friends find themselves transported from Earth to a world filled with both magic and danger. Suddenly, what Alison expected to be a weekend being geeky turns into a fight for survival against brigands, kobolds, and other nasty characters as the group tries to finish their mission or at least get back home.

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In Click Here to Start by Denis Markell (Delacorte Press, 2016) twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2012) has popped up on many high school summer reading lists and my students would tell you this book does not disappoint. Set in the year 2044, where reality is an ugly place, teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s in the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Steven Spielberg is directing a film version of this book that has a release date of March 2018.

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Laura Ruby’s book new series York: Book One the Shadow Cipher (Walden Pond Press, 2017) takes readers on an exciting treasure hunt through a city’s past to save the future. The protagonists, two twin siblings and their neighbor journey around New York and into the city’s past, both real and fantastical, as they encounter a henchman, delve into the bowels of the Old York Cipherist Society (a group of either learned scholars or paranoid cranks), and try to decide whom they can trust. Along the way, there’s action and peril, including a scene involving a giant mechanical insect that eats dirt and sometimes people; but at key junctures, it’s each child’s individual talents that lead him or her to solve a particular element of the puzzle.

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Looking for more adventure and games? Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books, 2017) mentions the game of life and love throughout this story about a dark carnival organized by the notorious Legend. Protagonist Scarlet and her sister sneak away from their father and their home to attend and play at the Caraval. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

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The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee (Penguin Random House, 2016), my FAVORITE book this year, is exploding with puzzles and adventure. After Sefia’s father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible. This November the next installment is out, The Speaker: Book Two of Sea of Ink and Gold — I cannot wait!!

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Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (First Second Books, 2016) is a graphic novel that explores the history of Tetris and unravels the complex history to dive into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce.

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Another graphic novel, Level Up (First Second Books,2016) by Gene Luen Yang presents a coming of age story of the dilemma of personal goals verses parental approval. More specifically, video games vs. medical school!

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Building Wordsmiths: 8 Activities for Teaching Vocabulary

Vocabulary is at the heart of the content areas we teach.  Each content has its own vocabulary unique to the understanding of the content material taught.  Some argue most vocabulary learning occurs independently. Most researchers would agree that you improve an individual’s vocabulary knowledge and comprehension through students immersed in a wide variety of reading and writing activities.

There is no one method for teaching vocabulary. Rather teachers need to use a variety of methods for the best results, including intentional, explicit instruction of specific vocabulary words. Teachers can also encourage creative approaches to spark enthusiasm.

Janet Allen, author of Words, Words, Words (1999), states, “Children and adults need to see and hear a word in meaningful context multiple times in order to know the word, somewhere between 10 to 15 times.” And with middle school and high school, variety is the key. Teachers cannot teach vocabulary the same way every time.

Reading is perhaps the most important element in vocabulary instruction.

So, how do I teach vocabulary in my English class?

Vocabulary is intertwined with reading and understanding a text. As a middle school English Language Arts teacher, I want to devise a way of teaching vocabulary in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of a text. 

Here are 8 vocabulary activities to build wordsmiths in my classroom. The ultimate goals of all vocabulary development is for students to become independent word learners.

  1. Prefix Pursuit – All seventh graders in my school learn “SPROOTS”- Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots. Every day the bell ringer or do now requires students learn 3 new Sproots to help students understand the structure of words and give them the tools to deconstruct complex vocabulary words. Create a prefix pursuit and have students collect the definition of the prefix from their classmates. For example, find someone who knows the meaning of “dis.” find a person who can use a “uni” word in a sentence, find someone who know the antonym of “anti,” and find someone who knows two words that begin with “cent.”
  2. Vocabulary Pre-Assessment – How well do I know these words? Post words on the SMARTBoard and have students put them in one of the columns that best describe what students know about each one. Columns can read, “Don’t know at all.” “Have seen or heard but I don’t know the meaning.” “I think I know the meaning.” and “I know the meaning.”
  3. Vocabulary Word Maps & Frayer Models – Graphic organizers are great tools to help students build a word bank of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words in the content area. Graphic organizers can require students to define the word, offer synonyms and antonyms, use the vocabulary word in a sentence, and draw a picture to help visualize the word.
  4. Alphaboxes – The Alphaboxes strategy (Hoyt) help students reflect on what they have read while engaging in vocabulary expansion. Given a grid with all 26 letters of the alphabet, students work together to find words for each box that relate to the reading selection. This activity generates discussion, questioning, and collaboration.
  5. MadLibs – This is a perfect strategy for math, science, and social studies content areas. Students are given a text passage with missing words to fill in, students apply content area vocabulary words to help the passage make sense. Include a  word bank to help students complete an accurate text.
  6. Vocabulary SudoKu – Create a grid so that every row, every column and every 3X3 box contains 9 different vocabulary words. Stack the sudoku boxes for more complexity.
  7. Magic Squares – Create a 3X3 grid for 9 vocabulary words and then write out a definition or explanation for each of the vocabulary words below. Students select from the numbered terms the best answer for each of the terms. If the students got the vocabulary words correct the total sum of the numbers will be the same across each row (horizontally) and down each column (vertically).
  8. Anticipating Content Through Vocabulary – This strategy helps to front load vocabulary in a reading or chapter. Give students a word bank of terms. Based on the words, have students make a prediction how the word will be used in the text. Then, have students write ten sentences that support that prediction. The sentences become a guide for their reading. When students are finished reading the text, students can go back to their prediction sentences and modify them so they are accurate in terms of the content of the reading passage.
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Notable YA Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again when people begin reflecting and recounting the best, the top, or the most of one thing or another. So many great books were at the forefront of 2016 but these are the books that have left a lasting impression on me. Stories that I shared with my graduate students and read with my middle school students. I wanted to share the best young adult books that I have read this past year as I look forward to many interesting titles being published in the year ahead.

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The Reader is set in Kelanna,  a place where written words do not exist and there is no written language, except for the few protectors of “the book.” Some believe that the book has magic and can “turn salt into gold.” Sefia is a orphan after her father is murdered and her aunt is kidnapped. Sefia seeks to find her aunt and understand more about the mysterious book that was her father’s. With the help of a stranger, Sefia goes on an adventure to seek revenge,  find her aunt, and learn more about the powers of the book.

I cannot rave enough about this book. The play on words and double meanings of this adventure tale evolves into a story about the power of literacy and learning to read. Traci Chee has hidden a series of secret puzzles and mysteries to solve. This is a book that once you get to the end, you want to go back to the beginning and start reading again.

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Another debut author, this book is a story of friendship and love. It is also about not letting your parents define you or who you can become.  This story is about three teenage outcasts who lean on each other in good and bad times. There is love, death, secrets are revealed, and although there is no happy ending, Dill and Lydia learn to move on from their pain. This is a great book for someone who has exhausted John Green and Rainbow Rowell’s novels.

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THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK, but I am going to include it anyway because it was fascinating. Most high school students are reading Holocaust historical fiction and I would consider using parts of this book for a select group of high school students studying the Holocaust. Pearl and Stasha are twin sisters brought to Aushwitz with their mother and grandparents during WWII. Due to the fact that these sisters are identical twins they are taken by Dr. Mengele, a physician who was known to experiment upon concentration camp prisoners. Stasha and Pearl are tortured by Mengele and meet other children who are part of his zoo. Told in the sister’s alternating voices there are elements of strength, hope, resistance, and deep pain.

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I can tell you exactly where I was on 9.11: riding a train into New York City for work that stopped short of the city to let out passengers due to the circumstances after the first plane hit. My brother had just started his first year of college at George Washington University, two and half miles from the Pentagon and was walking to class. My sister was flying in from California on the red eye. Game Polisner, author of Summer of Letting Go, writes another heart wrenching tale about two teens and an unlikely friendship. Kyle was in school when the planes hit the towers and walks home across the Brooklyn Bridge where he finds a young girl covered in ash. Kyle brings her home to help her and the two watch the tragedy of the day unfold.

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So many young adult books tell the story of young people who feel alone, are considered outcasts, or ostracized by their families. In David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, five individuals find each other and help each other each with their own personal struggles. Vic’s father died after battling cancer and now his mother has a boyfriend who is moving in with his family. Vic finds list of places where his father wanted his ashes spread and the Kids of Appetite help him on his quest to fulfill his father’s last wishes. This quest helps him to make friends, fall in love, honor the kindness of strangers, and open up to the possibility of living a full life without his father.

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Fans of The One and Only Ivan, will fall in love with Pax. Told in alternating voices between Pax, a pet fox and Peter, Pax’s owner. Peter has raised and domesticated Pax since the fox was a small pup. Now that his father has been called to duty he makes Peter get rid of Pax by setting him out into the wild. Peter runs away in order to find Pax. This is the story of both their journeys in the wild until they find each other.

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The highly anticipated sequel to The Red Queen; my students and I were in love with Aveyard’s first novel last year and couldn’t wait for book 2 to hit print. In this fast paced dystopian novel the demise of this crooked kingdom raises more questions than answers between the silvers and the reds. King Maven is a bad character who no one can trust. There are new characters with new special powers and tension between between Mare and Cal feelings for each other is not even close to being resolved. Mark you calendars now for King’s Cage February 2017.

What books would you include? Share your titles in the comments section below.

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5 Professional Books to Strengthen Student Learning

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading professional books published this year. Reading professional books about teaching allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look into new ways to support the learners in my classroom. All of the books   inform my thinking about literacy in order to strengthen students’ reading and writing.

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Let’s begin by throwing out everything you know and teach about the literary essay in secondary school. The formula for teaching essays in schools is not really an “essay.” Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them (Heinemann, 2016) shares some of the most beautifully crafted essays throughout her book as she calls for the need to revise what we think we already know about teaching and writing essays. Each chapter of her book takes the reader through the “essaying” process from reading closely to crafting powerful essays. Bomer defines essays as “nonfiction prose, whose author unveils a central idea about the world and its occupants and invites – with bold, sometimes lyrical exposition and interesting kaleidoscope of facts, observations, memories, anecdotes, and quotes from others – readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” (p.22) She argues the problems with standardized essays forms and supports utilizing the essay for the practice of “writing to think.” Bomer offers strategies to help get ideas down on paper and hones in on the craft moves of great essayists. The book includes powerful essays and essay excerpts from Brian Doyle, LeBron James, Roxane Gay, and dozens more.

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Fisher, Frey, and Lapp’s, Text Complexity: Stretching Readers With Texts and Tasks, 2nd Edition (Corwin & ILA, 2016) addresses the quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity so teachers can make instructional and assessment decisions to support students as readers. The authors discuss all the characteristics of the reader and a text to consider.  For example, when considering the reader teachers cannot ignore background knowledge, fluency, cultural knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge for text selection and teaching. When choosing a text, teachers must analyze the text for levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language and knowledge demands. These considerations allow teachers to “plan appropriate instruction and strategically guide the development of their learners.” (p. 67) The book contains a number of checklists and tables that highlight the strategies and skills needed to build students’ knowledge. Fisher, Fray and Lapp describe teacher led tasks like Think Alouds, Close Reading, Scaffolding, and Collaborative Conversations as examples of strategies to help students read more, read widely, and read deeply, in order to develop life long readers.

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Years ago I read a book by Robyn R. Jackson titled Never Work Harder Than Your Students (ACSD, 2009) which addressed having students do the difficult work of learning to build stamina and knowledge. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse, 2016) takes a similar vein to Jackson’s work and looks specifically at Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading in order for teachers to push students towards leading the conversations about books and reading. By asking students, “What could you try?” puts students in the driver seat instead of scaffolding, front loading, or telling students the answers. We want students be in the driver seat rather than autopilot in our classrooms to thinking deeply and construct meaning versus teachers constructing meaning for students. Constructing meaning should be done by our students and Burkins and Yaris offer strategies and prompts that make stronger readers. Looking to maximize our students’ roles, teachers become facilitators so that students can apply what they know and think.
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Both Who’s Doing All the Work? and Text Complexity address a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). As Dweck states in an article for EdWeek, “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

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Struggle is natural and learning can be challenging, it’s how students respond to challenge, struggle, and the hard parts is what really matters.  Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets & Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2016) is an ode to growth mindset in the classroom. Building on the works of Dweck, Angela Duckwork’s Grit and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Goldberg describes the new role of teachers as miners, mirror, models, and mentors to encourage a “stronger appetite for learning” among our students. Teachers must first admire their students, give detailed and effective feedback, show students what we do as readers, and then guide students towards ways of reading that work for them. Goldberg offers a visual tour of effective classrooms through pictures, descriptions, charts, and lessons.

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Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Robert’s DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (Heinemann, 2016) offered four teaching tools to bring into the classroom as scaffolds and supports for student learning. Teaching charts, Bookmarks, Micro Progression Charts, and Demonstration Notebooks are four visual tools that explain ideas, clarify, and illustrate skills and techniques so students can turn around and recall key ideas taught.  As a teacher who already uses charts and demonstration notebooks, the micro progression charts and bookmarks were two artifacts that I plan on bringing back to my classroom and utilizing with my students. The micro-progressions of skills chart articulates criteria for students the different levels of that skill and creates a model for each level. Below is a picture of an example of a micro progression chart.

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image from https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/565312636_295x166.jpg

We all have our favorite professional texts for teaching reading and writing. The books mentioned here offer great insight and teaching moves to support students as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

If you have any professional books you recently read and find helpful with teaching literacy, please share in the Comments section on this blog.

 

 

 

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#ILA16 Take Aways

In her essay “Beyond Bread and Cheese: The Artisanal Approach to Teaching and Learning” (2016, Moffly Media) author and Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, Meera Viswanathan describes a trend in education away from “industrialized learning” towards something that more personalized, relational, and authentic.

Good teaching is not mass produced and neither are best practices. Engaged learning is artisinally-produced. Viswanathan writes, “Rather than following dicta set by others without reconsideration, the craftsman aspires to something more ideal, a transcendent possibility in both small and large ways.” Hence, good teachers are personal, relational, embrace possibility, and are always perfecting their craft – “that each endeavor is not a replica of what came before, but rather creative experimentation within a limited framework towards some new possibility, something better, something approaching the ideal.”

Attending the International Literacy Association Annual Conference this past weekend encouraged introspection, self-reflection, and critique of artisanal teaching practices and intentions.

  1. The classroom is a place to introduce students to new worlds, worlds that we could not have imagined and imagine for the better. Key note speakers, Adora Svitak and Kwame Alexander emphasized the need for teachers and students to work on understanding suffering that is going on in our communities as well as the suffering happening around the world in order to help imagine a better world. Literature is a catalyst to transform the world. Teachers need to teach diverse books and tackle tough topics. We gain so much when we read and write.IMG_6720
  2. The classroom should introduce students to the possibility of deep sustained engagement and wonder with ideas, the world, and life around us. Students are more invested when they are engaged. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0” – Students have the power of technology to search and seek what they want to know. Learning in the classroom is not about the acquisition of information anymore. Our classrooms need to be places where students have VOICE and CHOICE to discover, explore, wonder about the world and their own interests. Reading and Writing Workshop, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all teaching practices that allow students to personalize learning and transcend what is. Technology has the power to expand the walls of our classrooms around the world and across the universe.IMG_6718
  3. Teachers and students must learn to question their own assumptions and recognize the limitations of their thoughts, thereby expanding horizons. Critique and self reflection are for the cultivation of alternative viewpoints and perspectives. Compassion and empathy are based on opening oneself up to others, ideas, and experiences. Students need to hear, read, and see diverse texts, genres, to learn about the world and what is possible. Engaging in conversations about the world and the recent events in our community can help empower young people. This can also help transform our classrooms into authentic, active, and relevant learning spaces all students want to participate and be a part of.
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Reading and Writing Workshop is Relevant in the Digital Age

When I first began teaching in New York City many years ago, I utilized the reading and writing workshop during the 90 minute literacy blocks I taught daily. Today, I still welcome the reading and writing workshop into my middle school English classroom, although my schedule limits class time to 40 minute periods. I offer gradual release into the reading and writing workshop as we dive into book clubs, independent reading, and whole class novels throughout the school year. My students maintain reader’s notebooks and write about about the texts they read as well as the topics that are important to them.

Below are a few ideas and technology tools that I utilize in my Reading and Writing Workshop to help deepen my students’ comprehension, maintain accountable talk, and build writing portfolios.

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Reader’s Notebooks Still Matter – Even in the digital age where many teachers have moved into Google Classroom, I use interactive reader’s notebooks — Yes, a marble composition notebook. Inside the notebook students maintain data about their reading life (Reading Timeline, information about themselves as readers, and their reading goals), interactive foldables on what they are learning, including mini-lessons and read alouds. The notebook also contains graphic organizers, sketch notes, and written reflections that highlight student’s application of independent reading in written form. The notebook is a space for students to process information and reflect on their reading.

Face to Face Conversations are just as important as Digital Collaboration – Students need to practice talking to one another face to face, read body language, and cues. Verbal communication is a necessary skill both in and out of school. Students need to get in the habit of meeting with partners and small groups to interact face to face and share their thinking about the texts.

Digital Collaboration is Beneficial – Students can collaborate digitally on a wikipage, blog,  or Google Doc to help them capture their thinking about reading and highlight the conversations and accountable talk that is happening about text. Students can use digital applications to record the conversations using tools like @Recapthat or @Vine to showcase insights, questions, and new thinking.

Google Classroom as a Digital Writing Portfolio – Students can utilize Google Docs to create a portfolio of their writing about their reading. When we ask students to write long or write literary essays about their reading, it can be showcased online and shared with QR Codes or even create a digital Flip Book of student’s best writing.

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Flip The Reader’s and Writing Workshop – After reading Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul’s Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (2016) I gained so many ideas to to create digital lessons that allow students to work at their own pace and target instruction to small groups and individuals. Creating a digital library of online lessons modeling writing strategies and setting reading goals help to free up more time for individualized instruction.

Here are a few trustworthy tech tools for Accountable Talk in Book Clubs and Reading Partnerships:

Backchannels:

Twitter

Vine

Today’s Meet

Socrative

Reflection Tools:

Recapthat (iPad and Laptops Only)

Polleverywhere – Utilize the new word cloud feature

Voicethread

Padlet

Do Ink

Collaborate Ideas in Written Format:

Google Docs

Wikis

Participate Learning

Blogs

 

 

 

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Do You Have GRIT?

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Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016) is filled with resourceful information for educators and parents regarding passion, hard work, and determination.

As the genius hour movement and passion projects storm through classrooms around the world, teachers like myself ask what is genius and how it is different from talent and mastery.

Teacher and parents emphasize talent is the deciding factor in a person’s success, but Duckworth argues that work ethic and effort is ranked higher than talent in measuring a person’s grittiness. Duckworth writes, “A preoccupation with talent can be harmful . . .by shining our spotlight on taken, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors – including grit – don’t matter as much as they really do.” (p. 31)

In fact, Duckworth’s formula for success is

2(Effort) + Talent = Success 

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement 

So, one “becomes a genius” and “acquires greatness.” She taps into Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours described in his book Outliers. “Consistency of effort over the long run is everything.” (p. 50) Duckworth describes “strivers as “improving in skill, employing skill, through hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.” (p. 51) Yes, to do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself, as the writer John Irving points out.

Grit is loyalty and dedication and “there are no shortcuts to excellence.” (p. 54)

Grit has two components, “passion and perseverance.” (p. 56)

Passion is a “compass – that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately you want to be.” (p. 60).

To find one’s passion or tap into one’s passion the question to ask is What is your life philosophy? What are you trying to get out of life? 

To help answer these questions, Duckworth borrows a three step strategy from self made millionaire, Warren Buffett.

  1. Write down a list of 25 career goals.
  2. Circle the five highest priority goals.
  3. Look at the 20 goals you didn’t circle. These are your distractors. Avoid them at all costs.

Then, ask yourself, “To what extent do these goals serve a common purpose?” (p. 68)

Grit grows and it begins with an interest, then practice – working daily and the discipline to skill driven practice. Then comes purpose and finally hope. Duckworth writes, “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then  lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) Play is necessary during the discovery phase. Once a passion or discovery is made, then comes development or “continuous improvement or deliberate practice” (p. 118) until mastery.

Purpose is also key, “the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.” (p. 145) NO matter one’s age, one can always cultivate a sense of purpose. Find inspiration in role models, think about how your current work enhances your core values, and reflect on how the work you are doing makes a positive contribution to society (p. 166).

“Growth mindset and grit go together.” (p. 181) Yes, the power of positive thinking. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you are right.”

Growth  mindset >> optimistic self talk >> perseverance over adversity

So what does this all mean for parents and teachers?

Demand high standards

Language is everything – What you say and how you say it matters

Offer Loving support and Trust

You are models

Allow children to cultivate interests

Failures are going to happen, how we respond makes all the difference

“Always reach for your best.” (p. 266)

Character is necessary to grow and flourish. Grit isn’t everything.

Genius is “working towards excellence, ceaselessly with every element of your being.”

Everyone has the ability to grow genius.

 

 

 

 

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Close Reading, Common Core, and State Assessments

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey define three phases of close reading and the aligned Common Core Standards in their text, Text Dependent Questions: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading (Corwin, 2015):

I. What does the text say?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

 

How does the text work?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6
Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

What does the text mean?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8
Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
If we look at the most recent test questions on the New York State Exam (ELA Grade 7), the questions asked on the reading comprehension section fit seamlessly into these three phases of close reading.
What does the text say?
What does _______ mainly represent to ______?
Which detail would be most important to include in a summary of the article?
Which line best reveals the change in attitude towards . . . ?
Which claim can be supported by evidence from the article?
Which evidence from the article best supports the author’s claims in these lines?
How does the text work?
What does the word ______ suggest about _______?
Why does the author most likely include lines X through X?
How do lines X most affect the meaning of the story?
Which quotation best supports the author’s claim?
How do lines X  through X develop the central idea of the article?
How des the setting affect the plot of the story?
How do lines X through X mostly contribute to the story? (By describing, revealing, suggesting, showing)
How does the author organize the ideas in the article? (By explaining, showing, relating, describing)
Why are lines X important to the article? (they explain, emphasize)
What does the text mean?
Which question best expresses a theme developed throughout the story?
Based on lines X, readers can conclude . . . ?
What is the main significance of the ______ in the story?
Which inference do these sentences best support?
What does the phrase _____ suggest?
These questions represent the New York State’s interpretation of the Common Core Standards and can be used to inform teachers and students of how the state portrays close reading. I am not going to address the ambiguity of many of the questions asked nor include the uninteresting reading passages that went along with the reading comprehension questions. Rather, I wanted to make public the questions that students are being asked on these standardized tests for teachers to utilize.
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