How do I know if my students are really reading?

Burning QuestionsTHIS IS A PART OF THE BURNING QUESTIONS BLOG SERIES. AT THE END OF EACH POST, YOU WILL FIND RESOURCE LINKS AND A LINK TO A ONE-PAGE PDF WITH THE INFORMATION IN THE BLOG — INCLUDING RESOURCES.

Kids are great fakers.  If I’m honest, I was a pretty good faker in school too.  I’ll never forget a teacher saying he was going to give us a super hard test on a book and if we didn’t read it, there was no way we would make an A.  All I could think was challenge accepted, dude.   

If I didn’t like a book, I knew ways to fake it to get the grade I wanted.  Students in my classes know the same tricks – and maybe a few more (and better) ones too. 

I’m a part of a professional group that recently asked the same question.  The answers surprised me – many were playing a game of “gotcha” with kids usually via some horrendous quiz.  

This brought back memories of another teacher who assigned a book – a book I loved and read every word!  His quiz included questions such as how long was the rope that the character bought.  I got the question wrong, and I had read the book.  The fact I remember that 20+ years later tells you the impact it had on me. 

So, if we know kids fake it at times and we know “gotcha” quizzes can punish students who actually read, what do we do? 

Here’s what the research and experts suggest isn’t effective: 

  • Reading Logs– While reading logs are okay for informal formative assessments or information for the reader, they should not be used as a grade.  DonalynMiller once said that reading logs only measured which parent had a pen on Friday morning.   
  • Jots– Again, jots are not bad.  Jots just should be about instruction, reading growth, and the reader. Assigning 15 jots of at least 3 sentences each does little to ensure reading; rather, it often has the unintended consequence of students worrying more about jots than reading and thinking about reading. 
  • Incentive-based Programs– Whether this is a purchased program or a “homegrown” created program, incentives can often lead to diminished reading in the long run.  There’s lots of research on this.  I suggest checking out Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards (1995). 

So then what’s the answer?  Here’s some thoughts on where to start: 

  • Talk to students – Conferring is arguably one of the best ways to know if students are reading.  If we are using independent reading time in our class, during that time, we should be talking to kids about their reading!  Students should know we are a readersby the way we promote books, make recommendations, etc.  They don’t need to see us reading.  They need us talking to them about what they are reading! 
  • Get students talking to each other – While the teacher/student conference is incredibly important, it is equally important to have students talk to each other about their reading lives.  This can be done through book clubs or informal book talks or partner talks.  Students talking about books and their reading has so many positive implications, it really is a priority to implement it in every classroom.  But implemented well and with intention and purpose. 
  • Access and choice and time – Students have to have access to high interest books they want to read and the time to read them.  If we get students hooked in a book, they will read.  But we know that not every kid is going to be “hooked” by the same book.  Students need to have choice — and to have choice they have tohave access to lots of different, high interest books that are mirrors and windows for them.  Then, of course, it follows, if students have access to choose a high interest book, they will need to have time to read it.  What we spend time on in our classrooms reflects our values as educators.

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Three Things Thursday

3things-thursdayHere are three things I read this week that moved me, challenged me, and encouraged me.  I hope they do the same for you.

 

1. Information Writing that is NOT the “Research Paper” by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell

From the authors of Writing with Mentors comes a powerful post on writing and research and our students.  Not only is this post challenging, but they also provide a wealth of resources to help!

Not only do we limit our students’ understanding of research when we limit students’ information-writing experiences to the extensive, academic writing assignment described above; we completely dumb down their understanding of the complex, multifaceted world of information writing.

2.  The Importance of Doing Laundry:  Maintenance Matters by Kate Roberts

Thank you, Amy Fouse, for sending me this post.  I love the new and the innovative, but Kate is absolutely right.  We must celebrate the maintenance because that is where most of the real work is happening.

I would argue we do not spend enough time talking about and celebrating the labor of teachers – all the maintenance it takes to get great and innovative ideas up off of the ground and into the world. And we do not spend enough time helping each other to find sustainable ways to practice that maintenance and keep it going.

3.  Open Conferring Notes (Or:  How a Case of Mild Hypochondria Helped My Teaching) by Katy Wischow

I’ve had the honor of being in Katy’s class twice — once at a Teacher’s College Institute and once at Homegrown.  Reading this blog post makes me feel like I’m right back there with her.  Katy’s reflective (and humorous) voice gets to the heart of why we need conferring notes and why we should share them with students.

But what if we started to think of conference notes not as teacher tools, but as teacher-and-student tools? What if we changed the purpose and intention and power of conferring and conferring notes? What if, in fact, we thought of them not as a tool at all? What if we thought of conference notes as a structure or a routine, like gathering on the rug or keeping a writing notebook, something that creates time and space for something we value?

 

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