Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).
As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.
Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.
Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:
Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”
There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”
Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.
Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.
Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”
Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).
Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.
Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,
Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.
Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.
The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.
This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.