Three Things Thursday

3things-thursday

#1:  Matt de la Peña: From Reluctant Reader to Best-Selling Author

In my community, we don’t respect males who are sensitive, but what these guys and boys don’t realize is we need it more than anybody. We need to learn empathy through watching characters in a novel.

Okay, okay, I know this is really a podcast, BUT it’s Matt de la Peña!  This is such a great podcast on his journey from a kid who didn’t want to read to becoming closer to his dad through books to becoming a best selling author.

#2:  Kwame Alexander on How to Excite Kids about Summer Reading

I have this mantra that I believe: Books are like amusement parks, and sometimes you gotta let kids choose the rides.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Kwame Alexander.  You can read the interview or listen to it or both.  Every time I hear Kwame Alexander I walk away inspired.  I love his honesty, his humor, and his enthusiasm.  Enjoy this lyrical interview!

#3:  My Big Fat Secret to Holding Kids Accountable for Reading by Justin Stortz

So I guess my big fat secret to holding kids accountable for reading is realizing that you can’t. Not really anyway. Teachers can’t make students read. I think kids need to know that. It’s what gives them the power and responsibility.

I found this blog post via another blog post on Read Write Reflect blog post which referenced Teri Lesesne’s blog post about student engagement which referenced another post on this blog post about reading logs.  I agree with a lot of what they all said.  Honestly, though I like a reading log; I keep one myself on Goodreads. But the reading log is for me — not for a grade.  All of these posts pushed me to think about how I can take away the artificial feel of reading logs and make reading (and reading logs, if you so choose) more organic.

Three Things Thursday

three-things-thursdayI’m a big fan of reading for pleasure.  And while I think that is incredibly important for everyone, I also believe we need to read to grow and to be challenged in our profession.  As educators we influence the lives that sit in our classrooms.   It is our responsibility to make sure that influence is positive.

We’re also busy.

Hence, the idea for Three Things Thursday.  I’m putting in one place three things I’ve read during the week I thought were worth sharing and, hopefully, worth taking a few moments to read.  To make us better.  Together.

#1: The Heinemann Podcast: Cornelius Minor on Building Your Teacher Team

So designing the time requires great sacrifice. So the first thing you’re doing as a team after you’ve identified your superpowers, is you’re actually making a sacrifice together that we’re gonna commit to a specified amount of time together, and here’s how that time is gonna go.

I’m a huge fan of Cornelius Minor.  I highly recommend listening to all his podcasts, following him on Twitter, reading his blog, and generally stalking him.  No shame here.  This particular podcast struck me as super important as professional learning communities are back in the educational spotlight.  The best teams I’ve ever seen are the ones who like each other, do life with each other, and support each other in the work in honest ways.

#2: Promoting the Pleasures of Reading: Why It Matters to Kids and to Country by Jeff Wilhelm

Pleasure reading is more powerful than parents’ educational attainment or socioeconomic status. This means that pleasure reading is THE way to address social inequalities in terms of actualizing our students’ full potential and overcoming barriers to satisfying and successful lives.

Many of us are champions of choice reading and pleasure reading.  This blog post helps us articulate the research showing the power of what we know is right for kids.  It also helps us think about how to be more intentional in our teaching using pleasure reading.

#3:  How to Teach a Young Introvert:  interviews Susan Cain

…the idea is just to maximize choice.  … The same kid who might not raise their hand in class might write something really interesting into some kind of classroom app or blog.

As I read this, I thought how many of the idea Cain discusses, such as working in partnerships, are very much a part of the reading and writing workshop model.  It also made me think about the quiet kids who were in my class and wonder if I provided enough option in my class to meet their needs.

If you are going to buy a book . . .

We have 7 weeks of school left in my county.  Wow!  Is that right?  This year has gone so fast.  I haven’t posted on my blog like I should have this year.  But I’m going to make an effort to get back to posting more. . .  So to that end, here is a (very) short list of new-ish books I recommend for the 6-12 classroom that I shared with teachers today.

Professional Books:
Jennifer Serravallo’s The Writing Strategies Book

9780325078229*This book is a companion book to her The Reading Strategies Book.  Both are amazing.  They are great for making tools to use in conferencing small groups when students need additional support.

Kylene Beers & Bob Probst’s Disruptive Thinking: Why How We Read Matters81t8vhpu43l

*This book is hot off the press.  As in released on March 31, 2017.  While I have not read this book, Beers and Probst have posted several previews, and it promises to be as awesome as Notice and Note and Reading Nonfiction.  This book is all about strategies to help students become responsible and responsive readers with deep and critical understandings.  It also promises to challenge us as educators and disrupt our thinking.

Katherine Bomer’s 9780325061580 

*The book spoke to my soul.  It is a beautifully written book about the journey of essay writing.  There are tons of strategies, but perhaps most important, is the way she reframes the writing process and how we should approach it with our students.  This is a much needed resource for all our writing instruction.

Mentor Text Books:

Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics

*One of the best books I’ve read this year! It is too long to read aloud the entire book, theboysintheboatbut sections work beautifully to illustrate how narrative skills can be used in nonfiction writing.  Additionally, Daniel James Brown’s word choice makes for excellent mentor sentences.

Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover 

*We all know I’m in love with some Kwame Alexander, but that aside, this book is amazing. It’s a great read aloud book because 51njdbh2axlof its lyrical nature.  I would definitely practice before reading in front of the class though.  I would use this book as a realistic fiction and poetry mentor text.

R .J. Palacio’s Wonder wonder_cover_art

*While this book is at a lower reading level, it is so beautifully written and touching that I think it works for any grade level.  This
is a great example of realistic fiction, but I think the best leverage for this book as a mentor text is the character’s voice and the multiple points of view.  The book is written from several character’s points of view.  Palacio does an amazing job of bring each character to life.

The Family Legacy

Thanksgiving week I received the following text from my cousin, Katie:

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My grandmother, Betty Wall, was an amazing woman. She lived a life of servitude. People often remark how my grandmother made them feel like they were the most important person when they were with her. That’s because, to my grandmother, they were. She knew little things matter.

So my cousin’s comment is true. All of Betty Wall’s children and grandchildren find that there are ways in which we are our grandmother. She lives on through her family, through the things we do.

23c049c900000578-2861606-the_finish_this_is_a_team_this_is_a_family_this_is_target_he_con-m-1_1417744063359Recently Omeleto posted this video of a manager who clearly understands motivation is important–especially right before your retail doors open on Black Friday. As I was showing this video to a group of teachers, this manager’s use of the word family stuck with me. While this clip is the only glimpse into his leadership style I have, I would guess he has instilled a sense of family with his workers, and his enthusiasm and sense of purpose–we are doing something important–lives on in the way his employees treat customers and each other.

fullsizeoutput_42caThis is our first week back to school since NCTE. In the three days I’ve been at work, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve referenced something from the conference—a quote from a presentation, an author who shared, a text that was mentioned, a challenge that issued, Kwame Alexander’s amazing library scarf… My extended NCTE family lives on through my work in my small part of the world because of how so many of them let me in their lives through their writings, presentations, tweets, videos and more.

And my small part of the world is where I can make a difference.

So I wonder: What of me is living on through my professional family? I say a lot of things are important (and I’m sure they are), but what do I do that will be passed on to others?

This is my first year as a system literacy coach and out of the classroom. I wonder what do the students who sat in my classroom do that if they thought about it would say, “That is Ms. Wall to the max.” Would it be something that makes me smile from pride? Would it be anything at all? What about my newly inherited family of teachers I work with now?

img_2842What am I passing on?

My grandmother didn’t get to leave a list of the things she would like for us to do so her legacy would live on, but I’m pretty sure she would be proud of my cousin, Katie, and the other things our family does that is grandmother to the max. I want the same to be true of my life and my educator legacy.

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Teacher Toolkit Party!

Conferrinimg_2394g is one of the most important parts of our class period. Research is overwhelming on the benefits of real time feedback. And while I believe in the power of research, I was really sold on conferencing when I saw the difference it made my students. It is one of the most powerful moves I can make to help my students grow in reading and writing.

As I’ve learned more about conferring, I’ve come to understand that the teacher and student tools I use must be purposeful and strategic. After professional development opportunities–particularly with Teacher’s College, some friends and I decided we needed timcwsb2jowaaao0l3e to build the tools together.  So our district organized a 6-12 grade teacher toolkit party!

The goal of this party was to gather resources for teacher tools and give time for teachers to work together building toolkits.  We had around 30 teachers join together on a Wednesday from 3:30-5:00 pm to work together.  It was amazing!

We were particularly grateful to Jennifer Serravallo and Kate and Maggie Roberts for not only all their published resources, which are without a doubt some of the best out there, but also for taking time to send us some advice for our party.

cwsnauuxyaarh3fSince our main goal at the party was to create tools and toolkits, I did not give as much introduction to conferring and the use of tools.  Teachers were all in varying places with conferring work, so I’ve added more information for those who would like it.  Below is what we used at our party, as well as the additional resources (with links!) for conferring work.  Or you can view the informational Sway.

I would love share ideas from others who do something similar to toolkit parties.

Conferring Toolkit Basics

“Conferring is not the icing on the cake; it is the cake.” -Carl Anderson, aka Conferring Carl

“Real time feedback is the number one thing that is going to close the achievement gap.” Cris Tovani

Why confer?

  • Conferring with students is the heart of workshop.
  • It allows teachers to give timely feedback to students.
  • It allows teachers to build relationships with the readers and writers in their classrooms.
  • It builds community in the classroom among students.
  • It helps give students the tools they need to lift the level of their reading and writing immediately.

Types of Conferences:

  • One-on-one (teacher and student)
  • Partnership (teacher and two students or student and student)
  • Table (teacher and students sitting together in one group)
  • Small Group (teacher and strategically pulled group of students)

Conferring Resources:

What is a teaching tool?

Tools …

  • improve our students’ work*
  • help our students build agency and independence*
  • make teaching clear by answering:  how do readers and writers actually do that?*
  • help organize and bring clarity to the strategies in your classroom*
  • keeps strategies front and center and allows students to refer to them even after the lesson is over*
  • they help learning stick*

Tools …

  • are visual*
  • make the abstract concrete*
  • encourage repeated practice*

Tools are not …

  • simply handouts
  • worksheets
  • too wordy

*taken from Kate Roberts & Maggie Roberts, DIY Literacy

Types of effective teaching tools…

  • Charts
  • Demonstration Notebooks
  • Micro-progressions of skills
  • Bookmarks
  • Model Notebooks
  • Mentor texts
  • Student writing
  • Tips/strategies to leave with student
  • Mini-charts
  • Student tools

**Some of these overlap and some can be housed within notebooks.

Teaching Tools Resources:

What is a toolkit?

A toolkit is where you house your teaching tools. Teacher toolkits will have different tools depending on the teacher’s goals. There is also a lot of flexibility in how the teacher decides to house the tools.

Another toolkit that might be used is a student toolkit. This would be where you house tools for students so they can easily access them.

What might go in your toolkit?

  • Color code (with sticky notes) a page of text to know what to use or lenses (green—sentence structure; pink—craft moves; yellow—structure of text; blue—example of a try it)
  • Color code an essay (green—structure; purple—craft; black—grammar)
  • Craft cards in bags
  • Prompts to leave behind
  • Checklists
  • Progressions—broken into sections like leads, elaboration, evidence, etc—points with a sticky note of examples
  • Marked up mentor texts (student text, professional text, teacher text)
  • Demo writing at different level
  • Mini-charts
  • Leave-behinds (prompts, reminders…)
  • If/then pages
  • Assessment items (rubrics, checklists, etc)
  • My reader/writer notebook
  • Sticky notes, highlighters, markers, etc.
  • Anchor texts

How could a toolkit be organized?

  • Categories—Structure, elaboration, craft, conventions
  • Writing Process Stages—generating, developing, drafting, revising, editing
  • Folder system, binder with page protectors, sketch book, pony folders

**Tools can be housed electronically, as well. Suggested resources: Evernote or OneNote

Toolkit Resources:

We will be posting examples we’ve made on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #hocoela #toolkit — keep checking to see if your toolkit or tool has been featured!

Twitter: @hocoela and @WallChristie

Instagram: @elacoachwall

The Essential Struggle

This weekend I 14224960_1129373007131241_6981254197435218770_ngot to hang out with my 10-day old, most awesome nephew, Maddux. When he was born, the doctor realized Maddux was having trouble breathing. Immediately, a plan of action was devised and over the next 7 days, Maddux was cared for by an amazing team and then released to come home—tube and wire free, breathing just fine.

Something that struck me through all this was the systematic way the medical staff worked a plan based on constant data and then used new data to inform every decision they made.  They also let Maddux struggle.

As it turns out, the struggle was good for him. It helped him learn and grow, and eventually, he became an independent breather, who no longer needed the help of the machines. Even so, it was hard to watch, particularly for my sister and brother-in-law.

There are some parallels to my nephew’s first days and my days in the classroom. I, too, used data to inform my plan of action to help students. I, too, had a goal for students to learn and grow14322325_1227557657265008_2558212819383732400_n and eventually become independent. I, too, watched students struggle—just not always very well.

When students couldn’t quite figure out how to organize their essays, or the importance of a writer’s word choice, or the theme of the text, I had a hard time letting struggle for longer than a few minutes (or even less than that). It was painful at times, to be honest, to see their scrunched up faces (or blank stares). I could tell by the clenched teeth and furrowed brows, they needed me!

Students do need their teacher, just like Maddux needed the doctor and nurses. They needed me to see what they could do on their own, provide a scaffold or give them a tool or teach a skill, and then let them try again. What they didn’t need is for me to do it for them.

Also, just like medical field, we have an obligation to do no harm. When the medical staff allowed Maddux to struggle to test his lungs, they were right there to step in when needed. We can’t let students struggle alone, while we sit behind our desks. They have to know the we are here if it 14310518_1134203783314830_4838295706442931632_obecomes too overwhelming, too hard, to the point no learning is happening. We have to be responsive to the needs of our students.

Students need to struggle so they can grow towards Independence. We, as teachers, need to be purposeful and intentional in allowing students to struggle. We need to be responsive to students needs and give students tools needed when the struggle is too much.

It was a matter of life for Maddux. And it’s a matter of living that life independently for our students. We can’t always be with our students—on the high-stakes test or in life outside our classroom.

We need to let them struggle in the safety of our classes, so they can be confident in their independence outside of it.

Finding reward in the hard work of revision

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately. Particularly revisions. While I’ve been thinking about this, one moment from when I was writing my dissertation and turning in draft after draft keeps coming to mind.

IMG_8634It was one of the many nights a friend and I met at coffee shop to work for hours upon hours. I was reading the notes from my chair and researcher and making revisions. At one point, I looked at my friend and said, “I just wish they would tell me exactly what they wanted.”

The words caught in the air and I laughed. I was pretty sure a student or two of mine had made a similar plea to me when talking about their writing in class.

To be clear, my committee was awesome. I don’t have the horror stories I’ve heard from so many others. They were just pushing me, making me take ownership of my own writing and my own thinking. That is hard. And downright frustrating at times, to be honest.

The hard work, though, is the rewarding work.

While my own experience made me more compassionate, it also made me more determined to help students understand the value in the struggle.  When the work is hard, when they may be a bit frustrated, when they just want us to tell them exactly what to do, that is when they are right on the brink of meaningful work.2015-08-19 12.09.55

We can’t mark up students’ papers and tell them exactly what they should change.  Then the work becomes ours and it takes away the student’s voice.  We can’t ask leading questions in writing conferences that encourages only our thoughts about how the student should write his or her paper. Then the student is more worried about doing it the way the teacher wants instead taking risks and finding their own voice.

We have to let students struggle, so that they can be empowered as writers. I know because I’ve learned this lesson as a writer too.

Recap of GCTE in Tweets

IMG_9156.JPGThis weekend I got to spend time with some fabulous Georgia educators at the Georgia Council of Teachers of English conference at gorgeous Lake Lanier. Learning with a community of passionate educators is inspiring and revitalizing!

As our conference was ending, the Dublin Literacy (#dublit) conference was beginning. Kylene Beers, one of the keynote speakers, started with praising Twitter as one of the best free professional developments out there. I know this because I saw it on Twitter.

So in that spirit, I’m recapping GCTE with my top ten tweets and the top ten tweets of other attendees.   I hope you find some inspiration as well as something that makes you reflect and question.  And maybe you’ll find some innovative educators to join in the Twitter community as I have.

Tweets are in no particular order.  You can view more by searching #gcte16.

My Top 10 Tweets from #GCTE16

  1.  Celebrate diverse authors bc they write from rich tradition & provide uniqueness to landscape of Am lit – not just bc of the “month” #gcte16
  2.  Diversity does NOT mean a diverse character used for “decoration” in story. Look for complex, central diverse characters-Dr Flowers #gcte16
  3.  Find what’s alive on the page. That’s what you keep. Dr. Judson Mitcham, GA Poet Laureate #gcte16IMG_9159
  4.  I can’t wait to tell my Ss that the GA Poet Laureate has been working on a poem for over a year! #gcte16
  5. Students can’t develop style, voice, or craft if the only writing they do is a major paper once every 6 weeks. @cwatersELA #gcte16
  6. Change in education can’t happen w/o Ts in the classroom. No ivory tower posses this power, only Ts have that power. @cwatersELA #gcte16
  7. By focusing on writing, Ss will have to read for deeper understand bc u can’t write on it unless you’ve read it deeply. @cwatersELA #gcte16
  8. Use film as an intro to teach Ss to ask why the author/director does what s/he does? w @spruillschool #purposeful #authorscraft #gcte16
  9. Film in class is text and should be purposeful. @spruillschool #gcte16
  10. If we don’t teach Ss to critical evaluate visual literacy, we are doing them a disservice. -Kyle Jones #gcte16

 

Top 10 Tweets from Awesome Attendees of #GCTE16

  1.  Dr. Sylvia Spruill ‏@spruillschool:  “Poetry Props” w/@susanclaireb “It’s ok to walk away from a poem with questions.” She encourages us not to kill poetry for our Ss! #gcte16
  2. Dr. Sylvia Spruill ‏@spruillschool:  “We can’t ask students to leave who they are at the door. If we do, we’ve lost the battle.” Powerful reminders @GCTEnglish conf! #gcte16
  3. Dr. Sylvia Spruill ‏@spruillschool:  “All language is anchored in a moment.” – Darren Crovitz #gcte16
  4. Julie Rucker ‏@jrucker8:  Poetry reading is a performance… Provoking a desire in listener to experience the poem in silence, on the page–Judson Mitcham #gcte16
  5. Julie Rucker ‏@jrucker8:  What is important is that somehow, writing can be learned.–Judson Mitcham @GCTEnglish #gcte16IMG_9169.JPG
  6. Julie Rucker ‏@jrucker8:  “English teachers, you are necessary, you are valuable, you are doing vital work!” Judson Mitcham GA poet @GCTEnglish #gcte16 @ncte
  7. Steven Landry ‏@horsesandwhales:  “Remixing is writing. Writing helps students share the silence of their voice.” – Ana Martinez @GCTEnglish #gcte16
  8. Krista ‏@englishkunkle:  #gcte16 @ncte Addressing needed skills will spark a fire students didn’t know they possessed.
  9. Susan Barber ‏@susanclaireb:  Sometimes you have to do what’s wrong if it’s what’s right for students @ncte #SusanHouser #gcte16 #studentsbeforepolicy
  10. Marla ‏@MarlaDelores:  When teachers give each other supp help &love they grow in their ability to change not only the lives of students, but their own too #gcte16

Bonus Read:  YOU MUST READ THIS POST!  Jennifer Serravallo totally nails it with her powerful post, Supporting Independent Readers and Independent Reading.  She challenges us while providing practices to support readers with independent reading time.  YES to everything in this post!

Please, please, please. Enough with the multiple choice quizzes. There are other ways to check in with readers in ways that holds them accountable while also supporting** them and making them more excited about reading. Instead of outsourcing this to a computer program, teachers can regard independent reading time as instructional time. -J. Serravallo

Students give advice to us (English teachers)

2016-02-09 10.08.13I’m at the Georgia Council Teachers of English Conference (#gcte16) this weekend (more to come on that next blog post). As I was telling my students yesterday, I was going to be out for a conference, I had an idea. I asked them to write what advice they would give if they were speaking to a room full of English teachers.

That’s it.

It was one of those on the spur-of-the-moment ideas—just meant for me to see what they thought was important. But as I began to read them, I realized the power in what they had to say, and I wanted to share.

Here are a few of their responses for your enjoyment and reflection. (I’ve only edited for clarity or to remove personal information.)

  •  Don’t kill good books by overloading them with assignments.
  • We’re all young people trying to find ourselves. Nothing hurts more than to hear or feel that our opinions don’t matter. Let us know that our opinions count and you’ll be amazed at how many people raise their hands when questions are asked.
  •  English teachers need to know that not all of us have time to read but still love to read.
  •  Some students are introverts, so I think school should be open to different personalities rather than having everything to the advantage of extroverts. I think there should be more ways to showcase your thoughts without having to embarrass yourself.
  •  We sit the whole day listening to teacher after teacher. Most students would like a change in routine. My advice is to not always talk and we listen, change things up a bit.
  •  Reading is amazing and we need more ways to get involved, such as book talks and more time to really enjoy books!
  •  Literature is a blessing. It helps us understand the meanings of life and many students neglect that. Help make literature interesting so students don’t take it for granted.
  •  The books we are forced to read only appeal to a small minority of us dependent upon the book. I hated Of Mice and Men and loved Fahrenheit 451. Other people had different opinions. Since you can’t make everyone happy reading the same material, allow them to pick the book they read. It’s more difficult to grade but it produces better writing because students actually care. Also, let students pick their own writing prompts when analyzing literature. Everyone has unique thinking when they read the text, so they can best come up with an essay displaying their actual thoughts if they’re allowed to. Prompts limit thinking.
  •  Teach by example and give choices.
  •  We don’t come to school knowing how to write a perfec2016-02-09 12.38.21t paper. We need step-by-step guidance and useful tips in order to write successfully.
  •  Allow students to rewrite papers so we can learn from our mistakes.
  • Remember that students have other classes and homework, so don’t give too much homework because they can become overloaded.
  • Sitting in groups everyday helps me brainstorm and ask questions with other students.
  • Writing a paper with a bod prompt is miserable. Choices are good and good choices are great. Writing a paper about a topic you don’t hate is much more enjoyable.
  • Show students that you are willing to put in the same amount of work as you assign your students. I know I would stay up to 5 am if necessary to write a great paper or create a meaningful project if I know the teacher puts in the same effort to grade and give feedback on my work.
  • Give students room to be creative in their writing.
  • I really enjoy learning so sometimes I feel like if we rush through lessons or books the importance of learning is no longer there and it is as though teachers are more concerned with meeting the deadline than actually getting us to learn.
  • We’re not professional writers and you’re going to have to help us.
  • We like to read and write about what we actually want to write and read about. It is no fun being forced on books that bore us.
  • Teach advanced concepts but use simple vocabulary. We want to learn but sometimes it is hard for us to understand.
  • To really teach us it is so important to give us time to get things done. Without time our work won’t be good.
  • Teachers must let students read individual novels more.

Bonus Read:  Amy is always challenging.  Many of the things I try in my classroom are sparked by her honest reflections of her own classroom.  This post titled, “Choice Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Personal Connection: A reflection for a do-over,” is no different.  I think any teacher who has every tried choice or wants to try choice needs to read this.

When we fail. . .

2016-02-09 09.53.18I took a hiatus from my blog during January to work on my dissertation. My chair told me I needed to have a complete draft by the end of January to graduate in May. I didn’t make the deadline. (I am now shooting for completion by April to graduate in July.)

This is the season for college applications, which means the season of writing lots of recommendations and editing lots of admission essays. A question I see that keeps popping up for college applicants as well as job applicants—in some manner or another—is name a time you’ve failed and how you overcame.

In my English 10 classes, we are working on our Shakespeare themed units. I wanted to do something different with this unit, and I wanted to provide choice. I planned what I thought was a great structure to do that. I would be lying if I said this unit had been a success. There was something lacking in the unit.

Failure has been on my mind.

What do you do when you are a teacher and you feel like you didn’t succeed, or more 2016-02-09 10.58.18bluntly put, failed at a lesson or unit? Reflect, self-assess, make notes and adjustments, learn, and do better.

But also, be okay…no be more than okay, be proud that you took a risk, you tried something new, you learned, you grew as an educator (and probably as a person) and your students will benefit from this. Celebrate that!

We have a responsibility to our students, to our profession, and to our future to reflect on our practice. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are reading current research, engaging in proven professional development, and learning from a community of leaders in our field.  We have a responsibility to make sure that we are growing as educators and we are putting that into practice so that our students are growing as learners and citizens.  But if we are doing that, if we are measuring ourselves by the best education has to offer, if we are stepping out of our comfort zone to do what is right, then we also have a responsibility to let ourselves fail, reflect on our learning from the failure, and go back the next day ready to try (with tweaks) again.

I was quite bummed about my unit. I had been so excited about it, and I was frustrated that it didn’t come to fruition as I had envisioned. I was talking with a colleague about my frustrations with the unit. She asked me why I thought it didn’t go like I had envisioned. I responded with something like, “I don’t know. Something just isn’t right.”

The question haunted me. I needed to really reflect: What was it that specifically that went wrong? What was I not happy with? Why did it not go like I wanted? How could it have gone different? AND what did go right?

I realized timing was a bit of an issue with this unit. Since timing became an issue, I didn’t focus as much on reading and writing skills to make up for loss of time. Choice was another issue. Although I didn’t dictate how students wrote in this unit, I felt I forced them into the box of one particular lens for too long. I should have started with the teacher-directed lens and then let them explore others on their own.

Now that I named the failure, I know what to do differently, what to do better next unit.

But I also had to think about what went right. Students’ final tasks as well as their online discussion about the texts showed a real sense of understanding—way beyond the surface level. Students weren’t just reading a Shakespeare play because we always teach a Shakespeare play. They had purpose and direction. Students were able to discuss themes across texts—they talked about the impact of the theme of deception not only in the play they studied for this unit, but also in their independent novels, informational texts, and other Shak2016-02-10 11.14.40.jpgespearean plays.

[Side note: One thing I did make sure we did was have 10 minutes of class reading time for independent novels three to four and sometimes five days a week. After I commented on how I loved seeing a particular student with two books in hand, she said, “It’s because of you. You made us read, and now I can’t stop.” That’s a success.]

Mary Ehrenworth once said something to the effect of it is worse to keep teaching as we’ve always taught than to try to do right by students and not be perfect. I was far from perfect in this unit, but I know I tried to do right by my kids, and in doing so, the failure unit helped my kids grow more as readers and writers than by not doing anything different.

If you want to see some of the end results from this unit, look at these examples and this student created music video.  The final project (which accompanied a paper, a online Socratic discussion, and reading journals) was a creative piece on how a character they studied viewed deception presented from the character’s point of view.  This part of the unit was successful.  Many of them also discussed other themes in their interpretation.

Bonus Read:  Pernille Rip seems to continually challenge me with her thoughtful posts.  And she always seems to know what I’ve been discussing with my colleagues.  I love her openness to conversation about hot topics and her fearlessness in tackling them head-on.  If you have found yourself in a discussion on whole class novels, I suggest you read her post, “So You Teach a Whole Class Novel – A Small Idea to Help.