Tag Archives: Teaching Reading

Helping Students Read Between the Lines: Graphic Novels, Inferences, & Close Reading

Students have been reading three specific graphic novels this month that are historically based on people who dedicated their life work to speak out against injustice. The three titles are The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, and Run by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Now students might be thinking, how cool, what an easy book to read, and there is so little words but really this is a deeper reading unit that others.

Graphic novels have depth of plot, character development, theme, and lots of literary elements found in a prose text. It also has the elements of film we study with students, allowing them to develop literacy in the interpretation of image for meaning. When students combine both aspects to investigate a text’s effect on readers, they develop varied insights into how meaning is communicated and interpreted. It makes for a very rich literature study.

What started as a mini lesson on inferring, because a rich discussion about the messages the authors and illustrators made balancing the words and images to help convey a particular message.

Looking closer at the page from Faithful Spy together the students were able to recognize the double-page spread symbolically represents Germany’s decline from the stability of the early 20th century through the disaster of the Great War, then into the postwar years when Germany tried to gain her feet and reassert herself on the world stage.  It gives the reader a literal picture of how an opportunist like Hitler was able to take advantage of his country’s instability to seize power. Both Germany and Hitler are represented by the wolf which is ripping off its collar to represent Germany would no longer be following the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. History.com cites Article 231, commonly called the war guilt clause, which required Germany to accept responsibility for causing “all the loss and damage” inflicted on the Allies in WWI.

Additionally, students pointed out how the wolf’s eyes are white providing a lifeless, vicious animal that is driven by aggression. It is eating its prey represents Hitler’s desire to eat up all surrounding countries to accumulate power and anyone getting in his way.

To encourage students to go back into their graphic novels and look closer at specific panels and sections, I created task cards to help direct them to specific parts of the book and begin developing theories about their reading. This was followed up with a lesson on symbolism and possible theme ideas in the text. You can grab a copy of these materials here.

*They Called Us Enemy Questions are not my own but were found on this website.
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Literacy Call to Action

This week I started reading Forged by Reading by Kyleen Beers & Bob Probst.  

These authors are mentors to me and all of their book have shaped my teaching and learning. Kylene Beers, author and educator, is a past-President of the National Council of Teachers of English. She received an NCTE Leadership Award, held a reading research position in the Comer School Development Program at Yale University School of Medicine, and has most recently served as the Senior Reading Advisor to the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University. Robert E. Probst is an author and consultant to schools nationally and internationally. He speaks to administrators and teachers on literacy improvement, particularly issues surrounding struggling readers and meeting standards. Bob is Professor Emeritus of English Education at Georgia State University and has served as a research fellow for Florida International University.  

In their newest book, Forged by Reading they explore historic and timely topics through the context of literacy— literacy is the gateway to power and privilege. The book serves as  a call to action. Educators have a critical role empowering readers to think; to seek curiosity and skepticism; to shape themselves and their ideas through evidence and reason, vision, and imagination and; in doing so, to forge themselves and our world through reading.

As more and more students lose interest in reading visual and print text, there is space for misinformation and manipulation. In PART II of the text Beers and Probst explore power and how throughout history, reading and writing was used as a form of control and suppression. Discussing slavery, first nations people, Latino-Americans and education the reader looks throughout history to see how literacy was used as a tool to control and oppress.

Kylene and Bob help us understand that reading is a transaction between the author and the reader (Rosenblatt, 1995). Every time we enter a text, there is always the possibility that we will emerge somewhat changed by the encounter—with new insights, ideas, and understandings. And this is as true of fiction as it is of nonfiction. We want our children to read with open minds and hearts, alert to the possibility of learning something new that might sharpen and deepen their understanding—leading, perhaps, to questions that might, in turn, show the way to additional learning.

What does this look like in the classroom? Kylene and Bob (2021) suggest that the ideal reading environment for our children would reflect the following:

• “A rich diversity of literature that acts as the ‘mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors’ that scholar Rudine Sims Bishop wrote of decades ago.

• A rich diversity of response that promotes questioning more than answering and leads to a sharper understanding of ourselves, our students, and of the text itself.

• The acceptance of the student’s uniqueness, to allow each student to feel welcomed in the classroom, to be more fully present and, perhaps more fully engaged.

• A welcoming of a range of opinion and interpretation, providing an opportunity
to learn how to deal with differences and how to bring evidence and reason to bear upon assumptions and beliefs.

• And, perhaps most important, inviting students to see the act of reading as an opportunity to grow and change.”

Educator Kate Roberts reminds us, “Literacy is an essential element of freedom.” Too often, traditional, mind-numbing instructional practices diminish the robust power of literacy for our students. Too many children experience reading in the classroom as little more than extracting and recording information from the text, rather than a freeing intellectual exploration—reading as an invigorating and deeply satisfying cognitive and empathy workout that makes possible the joy of new learning.

Throughout the book a central idea is that we need to be both Responsive and Responsible Readers. In the simplest of terms, we have to be open to the idea that reading can impact us, lead us to think, create a sense of urgency to act and then we must act. We spend so much time teaching kids to read for information that we inadvertently teach them to ignore the feelings they encounter. Students are focused on completing tasks asking irrelevant questions at time to prepare for a standardized test and not recognizing the thoughts and feelings that we have around a text. I am reminded of a scene in the movie A View From the Top:

This is exactly what teachers have been doing when teaching reading: emphasizing accuracy, lexile levels, classical canon over critical thinking and personal reactions to the text. Bob and Kylene include multiple examples of interactions with readers that make us cringe because the teaching points at that moment ignored the student, what they can do, what they felt, how to support them as readers, thinkers, and someone with feelings.

In Forged by Reading Bob and Kylene expand on a great Framework that they gave us in Disrupting Thinking to increase the role of responsibility in reading. The Book-Head-Heart Framework is an amazing tool to help readers be more responsive, providing a structure to responsibly organize their thinking around a text and reflect on the importance to them. In Forged by Reading it goes a step further asking what we can DO. BHH-D asks us to take that next step and our students are ready for it when the opportunity is provided because our students want to talk about and work to make better the problems of the world.

The revised “BHHD” strategy, first introduced in their book, Disrupting Thinking, where students are asked:

  1. “What’s in the book?
  2. What’s in your head?
  3. What’s in your heart?
  4. What will you do now?” (p. 178)

Beers and Probst end with a call to action: “You, our nation’s teachers, have the power to help students become empowered readers and thinkers. You can help each student forge his or her life through reading. And so again, dear teachers, we turn to you” (p. 193).

As a middle school English teacher in a suburban school 25 minutes outside of New York City, I am seeing more and more parents challenge the work that I am doing in my classroom. Questioning literature choices and my agenda to provide contemporary young adult fiction alongside classical text that raise issues relevant today, so that my students have mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, and even telescopes in the fictional texts they read. My agenda is to support my students as critical thinkers of information and to promote kindness. When my students read I want them to “to think again and anew about significant issues, so they may see the world and themselves more clearly,” (pg. 16) and have the courage to realize their potential to help make a positive difference in the world.

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Intentional Word Work

I have written about teaching vocabulary often on this blog and share different ways to help students become word learners. Recently, my eighth grade students started reading nonfiction historical graphic novels with social justice themes and there are two dozen words that my students might not know. Some are specific the to historical events like legions, furor, and internment. Whereas other words provide vivid vocabulary like scrupulous and flabbergasted. In order to be more intention with student’s vocabulary building, I created a hyperdoc to help bring word work to forefront of the classroom.

When students do not understand an author’s vocabulary, they cannot fully understand the text.

Good vocabulary instruction emphasizes useful words (words students see frequently), important words (keywords that help students understand the text), and difficult words (words with more than one meaning).

In improving vocabulary instruction teachers can help students by:

  • Activating their prior knowledge
  • Defining words in multiple contexts
  • Helping students see context clues
  • Helping students understand the structure of words (Suffixes, Prefixes, and Roots — SPROOTS)
  • Teaching students how to use the dictionary and showing them the range of information it provides
  • Encouraging deep processing — integrating new words into working vocabularies
  • Giving multiple exposure
  • Focusing on a small number of important words

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?

I use interactive foldables with my students and early in the school year I give them a foldable to remind them of effective word detective strategies. These strategies include:

Context Clues – Read before and after words that might help explain the words

Word Parts (SPROOTS) – Look for word parts that are recognizable. Students can decode words by knowing prefixes, suffixes, and root words

Connotation & Tone – Take the word and apply it to the character and what the character is doing in order to understand the passage. Does this word offer a positive or negative tone?

Outside Connections – Have I heard this word in a song, movie, or maybe world language? Connect the word with what you already know. 

In addition to the foldable that students have in their notebooks to refer to throughout the school year, I mix up the different ways that I teach vocabulary. Here are five additional ideas to teach vocabulary in any content area classroom:

1. Take a Poll – Using an online polling website like Polleverywhere.com I poll my student about a definition of a word. Students use their mobile devices to select the best definition for a word.

2. Idea Completions – Instead of the traditional “write a sentence using a new word,” provide students with sentence stems that require them to integrate a word’s meaning into a context in order to explain a situation.

3. Questions, Reasons, Examples –

What is something you could do to impress your teacher (mother, friend)? Why?

What are some things that should be done cautiously? Why? 

Which one of these things might be extraordinary? Why or why not? 

-A shirt that was comfortable, or a shirt that washed itself? 

-A flower that kept blooming all year, or a flower that bloomed for 3 days?

-A person who has a library card, or a person who has read all the books in the library? 

4. Making Choices – Students show their understanding of vocabulary by saying the word when it applies, or remaining silent when it doesn’t. For example: “Say radiant if any of these things would make someone look radiant.”

-Winning a million dollars. 

-Earning a gold medal. 

-Walking to the post office. 

-Cleaning your room. 

-Having a picture you painted hung in the school library.

5. Act It Out – Add some theater in your classroom and have students present a scenario or tableau that represent the word.

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.

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Scope and Sequence of 8th Grade ELA

As the end of the school year is on the horizon, it is a good time to reflect on what worked well and where the curriculum needs some editing and attention. I teacher recently asked me the scope and sequence of the school year and I thought to provide all my readers with a look at the reading and writing units that are in my curriculum.

The course study for 8th grade revolves around themes of Standing Up for What is Right with a selection of texts and focus questions within the theme. The goal is the provide curriculum that supports students becoming strong independent readers, writers, and thinkers.

Our first reading unit was specific to the overall theme “Standing Up for What is Right.” Whereas some teachers and parents took concern with the topic of social justice, these books highlight people who speak up and stand up against injustice. These books include I Am Malala, Internment by Samira Ahmed, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry. In this particular unit students wrote a thematic essay at the end of the unit. This was the first reading and writing unit of the school year.

Students then began writing an investigative journalism piece related to science and grounded in research. Students created infographics of their research and then recorded podcasts of their investigative findings. We looked and listened to lots of models and mentors of investigative journalism articles and podcasts to help develop our own stories.

At the beginning of January Animal Farm was an all class read. This short unit was three weeks and set up some key elements of dystopian fiction which students then selected book club choices of contemporary dystopian texts: Traci Chee’s The Reader, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind and Scythe, The Giver by Lois Lowry. Students wrote a literary essay about their dystopian novel showcasing the modern day connections in the dystopian fiction.

March Madness brings about mystery writing and students participate in a writing contest to write their own creative mystery short story. Students have a choice of reading Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious or Agatha Christie as mentor texts for their own original mystery story.

In conjunction with the social studies class learning about World War II, students participate in book clubs to read a historical fiction or non fiction text about World War II and the Holocaust. Book club choices include The Diary of Anne Frank, Irena’s Children, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Salt of the Sea and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, The Book Thief, White Rose, Refugee, and Librarian of Auschwitz. While students are reading these novels and discussing the elements of the book, they complete concrete found poems, a one pager, and smaller formative assessments.

To end the school year, students are reading choice novels connected to themes of identity. Students are reading Poet X, Piecing Me Together, Everything Sad Is Untrue, Stars Beneath Our Feet, and The Truth According to Mason Buttle. To end this unit and the school year students will create a multi genre project as a means of reflecting upon middle school and how that has shaped us into who we are today. A Multi-genre Project presents multiple perspectives on a topic in order to provide a rich story and present a visually appealing product for an audience.

Here are the specifics: 

  • Students need to have a title page with a creative title.
  • Include an introduction serving as a guide to readers.  This will introduce the event you’re reflecting upon and help us understand why this topic is important to you.  Likewise, it gives you an opportunity to explain how we should read your documents.  This should be ½ to 1 page long.
  • Four separate documents from five genre categories:
    • 1 genre from the  Narrative Writing Category
    • 1 genre from the Persuasive Writing Category
    • 1 genre from the  Informational Writing Category
    • 1 genre from the Poetry Category
    • 1 genre from Visual Writing Category
  • An artist statement paragraph for each document at the end of your project answering the following questions in complete sentences:
    • What is the message of this document? 
    • Why did you pick this genre for this specific part of the story? 
    • How does this document show the larger theme of your story? 

Note that there is poetry, non fiction, video essays, and short stories included with each unit of study. I am putting together a document for students next year “The 100 Texts You Should Read Before Middle School” to update the battle of the books I created three years ago — I will share this on my blog soon. It will include all different titles and texts. I am also speaking with my science teacher about doing a collaborative unit on environmental justice and thinking about both sci fi titles or non fiction. Here are are few of the titles we are considering:

Pacifica by Kristen Simmons

Wargirls by Tochi Onyebuchi

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman

Orleans by Sherri Smith

Marrow Theives Cherie Dimaline

The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco


NonFiction:

Poisoned Water by Candy Cooper (Water)

Omnivoire’s Dilemma (Food/Environment)

Radium Girls (Chemistry)

Same Sun Here (Water)

What are the books and writing units that you teach? Do you offer book choices and book clubs or do all class readers? Are you able to change up books each year or are you still teaching the same books? I would love to know what other middle school ELA teachers are doing. Share your insights in the comment section of this blog. I am always looking to diversify and connect with other ELA teachers.

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Carving Out Time In Our Classes For Reading Is Key

This week’s blog post is a guest blog post that I wrote for Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo – Education Week Teacher as part of a four part series: “Give Students Choice When It’s Time to Read” with additional insight from Laura Robb, Pam Allyn, and many more.

I have reposted the post I contributed below but you are going to want to read the entire blog series on teaching readers and reading on the Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo – Education Week Teacher webpage.

There is nothing like a great book to engross the reader, travel to another time or  place, offer a new perspective on  history, provide another  perspective, bring new awareness, and hold up a mirror to one’s  own life. As an English teacher, reading is a passion and pastime for me. But it wasn’t always this way. When I was in middle and high school, I was a reluctant reader. I disliked so many of the assigned books I read in my youth. The classics and canonical texts filled the reading lists.  I found myself procrastinating summer reading requirements until days before school would begin again only to be faced  with more required reading of people I did not connect with. 

Today,  it is the complete opposite in my own classroom. Students are given choices when it comes to school reading. Whether independent reading or working through our thematic units of instruction, students have book choice, and this leads to an increased motivation to read. To help them choose a book that piques their interest, I read aloud excerpts from books, share book trailers, and play audio selections of popular and poignant books I want to share with my students with the hope to match the right book at the right time with a reader. I share with my students books I am reading, listening to, and that comprise my ‘To Be Read List.’  Students have time to read every day in our English classroom. My classroom library is bursting with advanced-reader copies (ARCs) I collected at conferences like NCTE, ILA, and NerdCamp. Plus I am always purchasing books on Amazon after I read a new book review and get a recommendation from my professional learning community. 

Educator and author of BookLove (Heinemann, 2013), Penny Kittle states that to motivate readers, students need choices, book talks, time to read in class, book clubs, access to books, and to see teachers passionate about reading. Literacy is a schoolwide initiative.  When students see the adults in their life reading, talking about books, and share their reading life, they have positive reading role models. Similarly, carving out time in our classes for reading is key. When we flip reading time during class time rather than assigning reading outside of school, we allow students to practice reading in real time, promote discussion, and apply reading in the classroom. If we are going to help cultivate students who are avid readers of text—print, visual, digital, audio—then it means we are intentional about creating a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms. 

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Effective Feedback for Student Growth

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Last week I wrote about Sarah M. Zerwin’s book Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (Heinemann, 2020) and how she maps out her assessment practices omitting grades and numbers from her classes. Her book is filled with tools and examples how she manages feedback to support student learning. Her online gradebook hacks help to effectively evaluate her students so they can grow as readers and writers.

Similarly, I just finished reading Matthew Johnson’s Flash Feedback: Responding to Student Writing Better and Faster – Without Burning Out(Corwin Literacy, 2020) and I am drawn to compare the two books that address teacher efficiency of feedback for student success.

“Feedback is about showing students how to rise to the next level by illuminating pathos forward.” – Matthew Johnson

Both Zerwin and Johnson utilize conferences, self reflections, checklists and rubrics to help create a culture of feedback that propels students as readers and writers. These teacher-authors focus on feedback that is positive, specific, and comes from multiple sources – teacher, classmates, and student. Johnson states that when reading and evaluating student writing, teachers are not editors and should not focus on every little error or mistake the student writer makes. Additionally, not everything that students write needs feedback.

Here are the key tenets from both authors about feedback:

  1. Feedback should help the student; the goal is not to improve the work but the writer (Zerwin). Remember we are “teaching the writer not their writing” (Johnson).
  2. Feedback is a conversation (Zerwin) and not a one way street.
  3. Feedback should cause thinking (Zerwin) and help students grow as writers.
  4. Feedback should tie to a student’s learning goals (Zerwin & Johnson)
  5. We don’t want to scare students or confuse students with so much feedback so less is more. Be a teacher, not an editor. Johnson suggests offer feedback on two features per writing assessment.
  6. “Feedback should provide a path forward, not an autopsy” (Johnson). I love this quote because it implies empathy when teaching and evaluating writing. Teachers need to focus on feedback that is positive and personable. When students see too many comments and negative comments, they shut down. This is not what we want to do, rather see our students flourish as writers.

To provide helpful feedback, Zerwin and Johnson utilize the following tools and practices:

Have students Color Code Drafts by highlighting statements, claims, data, and analysis. This quick exercise helps for the teacher to see at a glance useful information and for students to follow up with where they need to revise their work.

Use checklists or rubrics as a tool for guides and feedback. Then, have students score their own work based on the rubrics. Both Johnson and Zerwin are proponents of students creating their own rubrics. Check out Johnson’s rubrics at resources.corwin.com/flashfeedback

Peer Feedback when taught, nurtured, and modeled can be helpful for students. Zerwin describes “speed dating feedback” for students to take 30 seconds to explain something they are working on or thinking about and then 30 seconds for the other student to respond. Additionally she describes “peer feedback circles” which provides longer time for classmates to read, respond, and then pass the paper to the next reader with a particular focus.

Additional feedback strategies include mini-lessons, mentor texts, and examples of student writing. Both authors utilize Google Forms for reflection. Johnson has students complete a self reflection when turning in a writing assignment. Letter writing how students are doing, how they are doing with writing and reading are also helpful tools. Johnson and Zerwin speak extensively about conferences and using conferences to provide comprehensive feedback that is focused on actions for the students.

Writing is scary and difficult for many of our students and when teachers provide comments and respond to writing with empathy we are helping students succeed. This might include giving a tip or offering a path forward in addition to a criticism. Both these books shed light on grades, assessment, and feedback to support deep learning and focus on what we value most: growing readers and writers.

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Supporting Diverse Readers in Virtual Spaces and Remote Learning #EdTechTeam Virtual Summit

#EdTechTeam is hosting three Virtual Summits this spring. The first is Saturday, April 18, 2020. The objective of the Summits is to support teachers and district leaders as schools move to implement remote learning, improve practice, implement new tools, design better online learning experiences, and continue to build relationships with students and families.

The learning begins at 10 AM EST with a key note speaker, then participants can access  presentations throughout the four session times,  and at the conclusion, a demo slam. I will be presenting at 2 PM EST on Supporting Diverse Readers in Virtual Spaces and Remote Learning.” I have shared the slide deck below.

My goal as an English Language Arts teacher is to promote a rich literacy experience for ALL the learners in my classroom. Shifting to remote learning has allowed me to refine the reading units I create with my students and make texts accessible to all my students. All of the assignments provide scaffolds to help students reach higher levels of comprehension.

These scaffolds include

models

graphic organizers

frontload vocabulary

using lots of visuals

dividing texts into manageable chunks

It is important to remember when teaching and planning lessons that every students is unique and valuable. I don’t want students to fall off my radar and it is important that students have a voice and choice throughout their learning. Providing multiple pathways to learning will help all students reach excellence.

 

 

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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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Let’s Get Ready to Battle . . . Battle of the Books

For the past three months my fourth grader has been engrossed in Battle of the Books. This annual events kicks off the beginning of March with a book party and students receiving a special package of story maps, books, and a book list. The 100 fourth graders are sent off on a mission to read as many books as possible for the battle that occurs the end of May. Each class battles against the other to obtain the title of “Book Champion” by answering questions identifying the books and authors for the 80 titles in a spelling bee – like event that parents are invited to attend with a celebration at the end.

The day of the battle, the entire fourth grade had read more than 1,400 books in that time frame and my daughter’s class of 17 students was the top class to read 509 books. For three months she was determined to read 40 books. Every night we would read an hour before bed and talk through the characters and stories. She was on a mission and the night before the final count, at 37 books she came home from school to powerhouse through three books to meet her personal reading goal. The books ranged from picture books to chapter books. I suggested reading the easiest books first (those with the fewest pages) before getting to Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was intense the last week of the battle.

Amazed by the excitement in the air among the fourth graders the day of the battle, I thought how can I do this in my own classroom and make the Battle of the Books relevant in middle school. Already gamifying my classroom, why not add another layer with a school year long battle of the texts.

Battle of the Books

Click on the Image to view the entire book list for the Epic Book Battle

My list contains 100 titles – some still to be determined. The books are in order of the reading and writing units we have throughout the year. You will notice that I have included poems, books, essays, TED Talks, and even podcasts. Why not include a variety of texts for students to read and engage with. My students will have a notebook specifically for their reading notes and sketch notes. The directions for the notebook are below. I am using the directions from English teacher and podcaster, Brian Sztabnik Summer Reading Assignment for his students.

For every book you read you will keep two (or more) pages of notes/sketchnoting to organize your thinking about the text.  “How you organize those three pages is up to you. I know that this is vague and undefined, but look at it another way. I am empowering you to do what you feel is right. You have the freedom to do what you want. You can create whatever you want. All I’m asking you to do is create three interesting pages of notes about your reading experience. When there are little to no rules, the possibilities are endless. It is up to you to make it awesome!”

I am planning the last Friday of each quarter to hold a battle – of sorts. In Classcraft teams students will be asked questions related to the books. The team with the most questions answered correctly will earn treasure to use in class. The 4th Quarter the entire 8th grade class will battle all their classmates. The winning team of the epic battle will earn an even bigger advantage on your final exam.

For every 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 books read and notes completed, students gain XP and various prizes to be utilized in class for their benefit. The student that reads all 100 books . . .  well you will have to wait to collect your fortune! — As for my daughter’s class, there was one student who read all 80 books and won a $100 Amazon gift card. 

The energy and excitement during the battle among the fourth graders was contagious. I was amazed how many books the students read and their collaboration to work together during the battle supporting one another. This is something that I want to recreate with my students in the upcoming school year.

 

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Literature Circles for Today

Harvey Daniels’ book titled Literature Circles (2002) describes a procedure to organize student book clubs in the classroom. A stimulating and productive discussion on a text requires participants to focus on many different things: overall content and form/style, particularly important passages, vocabulary, imagery, and the connections between the material and personal experience. The more we put into our discussions on all these specific fronts, the greater our comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the text as a whole.

The idea behind literature circles is that students take on different roles and responsibilities as they are reading a text. Students are assigned different roles on different days (at random) and that no student will play the same role twice in a row.

Each student is assigned one of the following seven roles:

DISCUSSION DIRECTOR (a.k.a Curious George) – As the Discussion Director, your job is to develop a list of questions that your group might want to discuss about this reading. Additionally, it is your responsibility to make sure that all the other group members share their materials.

LITERARY LUMINARY (the Buddha of the book) – To be LUMINOUS means to shed light. When you are acting in the role of Literary Luminary, it is your job to “shed light” on the significant and/or difficult, possibly confusing sections of the reading by bringing them to the attention of the group and reading them aloud. The idea is to help people remember some interesting, powerful, funny, puzzling, or important sections of the text.

ILLUSTRATOR (our very own Bob Ross!) – As the Illustrator, your job is to draw some kind of picture related to the reading. It can be a sketch, cartoon, diagram, or flow chart.Any picture that conveys an idea or feeling you got from the reading.

SUMMARIZER (You make it short, you make it sweet) – It is your job as a Summarizer to put it all together. You should prepare a brief WRITTEN summary of the reading, noting all the main events, interaction between characters and more. The other members of your group will be counting on you to give a quick (1-2 minute) statement that conveys the essence of that day’s reading assignment.

VOCABULARY ENRICHER (like an apple picker) – It is your job as the Vocabulary Enricher to be on the lookout for a few especially important words in today’s reading. If you find words that are puzzling or unfamiliar, mark them while you are reading, and then later jot down their dictionary definitions). Not all words that you select need to be unfamiliar. Also seek out words that are repeated a lot, used in an unusual way, or key to the meaning of the text.

CONNECTOR (You help connect the dots) – You are the Connector. Your job is to find connections between the reading and the world outside. This means connecting the reading to: your own life; happenings at school or in the neighborhood or news; similar events at other times and places; other people or problems; other books or stories; other writings with he same topic/theme; other writings by the same author.

OBSERVER (you are the “eyes and ears” of the group, an informant) – You have no particular written assignment overnight other than to read through the assigned section of text. But you will be busy tomorrow! You are the secretary, informant, and synthesizer all rolled into one. You must record the participation and information covered and contributed by all the other group members. To synthesize means to bring together. You should try to gather together everyone’s contributions and ideas into a single understandable summary during and after the group discussion.

These are the traditional roles and many have been updated to include Character Commandant, Mood Maven, Insightful Identifier, Symbol Sleuth, Mind Muser, and Reactionary Revealer. 

When I first started teaching my students would receive a color paper detailing the responsibilities of his or her role. Then, I threw out the reading and literature circle role log/worksheets.

Technology has enhanced the literature circles strategy to another level with Google Docs and platforms like Padlet, Seesaw, and Flipgrid. Students can use these digital tools to share their reflections, connections, understandings, and discussions. Assigning each book group a classroom in Google Classroom, students can submit digital evidence in the form of Google Docs, BookSnaps and/or any other application chosen.

Here are the benefits of Literature Circles: Student Choice

  1. Book selection – Students choose the books they will read.
  2. Job assignments – Students decide which roles they will assume
  3. Chapters read – Students decide how much they will read for the next session.
  4. Digital platform used – Students decide which digital platform the group will utilize.

 

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