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.

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The Family Legacy

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

fullsizeoutput_42c9

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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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.

I could have written a better paper

2015-12-02 15.15.29I’m in the middle of grading 152 literary analysis papers. As I’m reading these papers, I’m proud. Not because they are perfect—they aren’t. This isn’t even the best set of literary analysis papers I’ve received from 10th graders during my teaching career.

No, the best literary analysis papers I’ve ever received may have been from those students years ago who I heavily guided (probably somewhat mercilessly) with preselected text, a thesis developed by the class and then tweaked by me, and a plan I had constructed for them to flesh out the predetermined structure. But why shouldn’t they have been the best? I was the best writer in the room, and I did most of the thinking work in writing the paper.

There are numerous problems with this teaching practice, which I have worked relentlessly to change over the years.

Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, says, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, it’s a recipe.” I think the same is true for student writing. We can’t keep giving our students all the ingredients and the recipe for their work. They don’t have to think, or at least not a lot, 51yvxpuquxl-_sx258_bo1204203200_when we do this.

Right now our ELA department is doing a book study on Reading and Writing Project Staff Developer Christopher Lehman’s Energize Research Reading and Writing. He talks about research being “messy and exciting” (9) and says that

“handing students topics and preselected sources removes a natural and important step of learning to do anything: making errors. If we are developing students to be creative, flexible, independent learners, then we cannot scrub away opportunities for mistakes to be made and corrections to be learned” (10, emphasis added).

While literary analysis may not be considered traditional research, Lehman’s challenge here was at the heart of designing this unit. (For more on this unit, see literary analysis post and writing boot camp post.)

Students had almost complete control over their choice of short story to analyze. While during the reading part of the unit I gave students many lenses on how to analyze a text, they decided which ones they wanted to 2015-11-16 09.52.08use in their writing. We looked at tons of mentor theme statements and practiced finding themes, but they developed their own theme statements for their papers. They were never locked in—several students completely changed their story and many changed their lenses as they began to work out their thinking in their writing. One student remarked, “I have to go back to my text because now that I’m writing I realize none of evidence I collected really works.”

This type of learning takes courage—for me and for my students.

I’m not a parent, but I imagine the feeling of not wanting to see your own child fail is similar to the feeling I have about my students. It was hard not to jump in and tell them that I thought they were going to have a hard time with a particular story, or lens, or the evidence gathered. It was a bit scary having students write in such a formal manner about stories that I had not read.

It took courage for the students to work as hard as they did on 2015-11-18 13.40.32independent reading and writing. They were brave in the way they rehearsed their thinking and changed their ideas about the literature and their writing as they went through the process. There were no right or wrong answers to make them feel safe.

So as I sit here grading the 152 literary analysis papers that I could have done a better job writing, I am beaming with pride. I have that “mama pride.” I see their authentic work, their own thinking and voice coming alive on the paper, their depth of understanding that went so much further than when asked to simply plug and play. Not to mention, I was not bored by reading the exact same thing over and over in slightly different words.

Most 2015-12-01 16.20.30importantly, though, my students are proud. Many have said they are turning in their best paper they’ve ever written. Some commented on how they finally figured out how to write about literature. One student, who I’m often lucky if I ever get his work by the due date, turned in his paper on time proudly, saying he even skipped playing basketball to work on his writing.

There is power in giving students choice and ownership. There is power in allowing students the freedom to make mistakes. There is power in students finding their voice through independent writing.

Bonus Read: If you are like me and could not attend NCTE this year (or even if you did and you want to relive it), there are lots of blogs worth checking out. Sarah Zerwin’s daily NCTE blog with an additional top takeaway post is a great place to start. Thank you, Elizabeth, for introducing me to this blog on your Links I Loved Last Week.  Also, check out her Top Ten List about NCTE15. To Make a Prairie gives thanks to NCTE with a beautiful post of inspiration and challenges.

I survived writing boot camp!

2015-11-16 09.48.58This week all my students are participating in writing boot camp during class. What makes writing boot camp different than just a week of writing instruction? It’s very focused. It’s intense. It’s about the mindset.

Doing a little internet research, I found several keys to running a successful fitness boot camp. I think these apply to an academic writing boot camp as well.

  1. Research: Spend time finding out what skills students need additional focus and which ones they already know how to do.
  2. Start with good management: Figure out how to divide the skills across the week, how much time to spend on the skills, and what resources are needed.
  3. Craft the boot camp so it offers something new or different: This week 2015-11-16 10.47.31has to feel different from the other weeks in class; it has to be special. It may be that students are allowed to bring in snacks/drinks or spread out on the floor. It may be that all instruction is focused on this type of writing. It may be that music will be playing while they write.
  4. Focus on quality class structure: Students have to buy in to the boot camp. The first day is the most important. They have to feel like they really accomplish something and are encouraged to do the hard work in the days to come.
  5. Invest in marketing: Build it up in the weeks prior to the boot camp. They should know a challenge is coming but feel excited to meet the challenge.
  6. Invest in resources: Make sure there are mentor texts, access to writing materials, and other handouts for quick teaching of a skill.
  7. Start small: Students have to feel that they have accomplished something (as do you!), so start with something small on the first day that they can use to build on the rest of the week.
  8. Time class properly: Boot camp has to be structured. Time every part of it so that the pace is consistent. Use phrases like, “You have 10 minutes! Ready! Set! Go!” It should feel like a mental workout!
  9. Create a feeling of camaraderie: This is a group experience. The teacher should be walking around reading, encouraging, guiding, gently correctly. The class should celebrate each others work and 2015-11-16 10.02.12improvements.
  10. Structure class like group personal training: Make class adjustments for each class period: change length of times, resources, or focus skills as necessary. Give as much personal and small group attention as possible. Reflect not only on each day but each period.
  11. Reward: Make a big deal about completing boot camp and the accomplishments/growth made during the week.

This is a general overview of our writing boot camp.

We have 50-minute class periods (except Wednesday which is 45 minutes).

Previous to Boot Camp (see more about this in last week’s post):

  • Read three short stories (of your choice, must be approved) and write journal entries on each.
  • Choose one short story and complete close reading lens analysis with six lenses.
  • Establish a theme statement for the short story.
  • Write a 100-words on author bio, context, and summary of short story.
*The minutes indicate quiet student work time and do not include the instruction time in between.

2015-11-18 13.00.27Monday
1. Collect and review all previous work, data, evidence. (2 minutes)
2. Write a flash draft (or quick write) about theme in the short story. (5 minutes)
3. Revise or reword theme statements, as needed. (5 minutes)
4. Deciding on best lenses to prove development of theme (all analysis is a form of argument). Choose three out of the 6. (5 minutes)
5. Write a thesis statement; focus on active verb. (7 minutes)
6. Gather information for context in the introduction. (5 minutes)
7. Write a working introduction (subject to change). (10 minutes)

Tuesday
1. Finish introduction– make it tight. (3 minutes)
2. Focus on one lens and gather appropriate evidence. (10 minutes)
3. To use a quote or not to quote? Summary, paraphrase, and quotations (mid-workshop teaching point)
4. Flash draft for first lens. (5 minutes, 1 minute break, 6 minutes, 1 minute break)
5. Writing partner review. (10 minutes)
6. Brag about something your partner did.

Wednesday
1. Look at mentor text for writer’s craft moves for literary analysis. Chart.2015-11-18 13.02.24
2. Discuss possible structure of body paragraphs (write about each lens separately or blending lenses).
3. Work on body paragraphs (7 minutes, 1 minute break, 10 minutes, 1 minute break, 12 minutes)
4. Share out best sentence.

Thursday
1. Discuss strategies for conclusions.
2. Continue writing paper—work on whatever is needed. (10 minutes, 1 minute break)
3. Work with a writing partner to discuss writing and trouble shoot problem areas. (10 minutes)
4. Continue writing. (15 minutes)
5. Make a goal list for final boot camp day.

2015-11-18 13.40.32Friday
1. Discuss revision and proofreading strategies.
2. Write independently. (10 minutes)
3. Work with peers and conference on final touches. (30 minutes)
4. Reflect on boot camp and name the one thing you are most proud of from this week.

 

What my students said:

Overall, students appreciated the experience, even if they didn’t all love it. Some really struggled with the timed parts. Next time, I will be clearer of how they can use their time and that they can finish later what they don’t finish in that timed session. However, I will not change using timed writing sessions. Our students have to practice timed writing and many of students will take AP the following year. It’s good practice for them, and I believe it kept my students more focused and productive.

Another concern several students raised was that they felt unsure about what they were supposed to be writing. I think this came from not being given a formula to follow. I will not give a formula, but I may do more small group sessions during some of the time writing stages or offer small groups before or after school for more direction, in the future.

As for the positives, I’ll let you hear their voices:

  • I loved that it pushed me to do more in my writing than I ever thought I could.
  • I liked the examples and text given to us in order to aid in our writing.
  • I liked how it pushed me to think faster and write more thoroughly.
  • I’m learning to fix mistakes that I habitually make in my writing.2015-11-16 10.48.04
  • I liked having the option of asking any question right when I had the problem in my writing.
  • I am most proud that I have been about to identify errors in my own paper and identify good things in my own paper.
  • I liked that we had the opportunity to revise our papers as we were writing them.
  • I have learned to weave lenses into my writing the correct and efficient way.
  • The fact that I was able to write for a long time made me happy.
  • I liked the freedom of choice.
  • Writing boot camp has helped me know how to analyze a piece of text.
  • Writing boot camp helped me realize that I could do a lot better.
  • Writing boot camp has helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses in writing. It has also helped me learn to pull information from text.
  • I think writing boot camp was great! At first, I thought it would be just terrible, but it turned out to be really fun and challenging in a good way. I love that we had a chance to really analyze a story.

I think this idea is a keeper. Now just to get some “I survived writing boot camp” t-shirts…

Bonus Read: I really liked Katy’s post (Not) Going Fishing on the Turn and Talk Blog.  One, I am just a Katy fan, and I really liked her voice in this blog.  But most importantly, this post challenged me to think about how and when and why I question in the class.  One thing I learned through this writing boot camp process was how much time I actually do have in the classroom.  Now that we are finished with boot camp, I want to make sure I keep maximizing my time.  Becoming effective with questioning is a way to do that.  Effective questioning is purposeful.  Thanks Katy for the fun metaphorical reminder!

Literary analysis through close reading of picture books and short films

A month or so ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Lester Laminack at the Georgia Association for Curriculum and Instruction Supervisors Fall Conference. He is brilliant and I could write about all I learned from him for many blogs. At the heart of Lester’s presentation and his new book, Writers ARE Readers, was the message that every reading lesson can be flipped into a writing opportunity. Brilliant, right? But also, so common sense…when he says it! 🙂

A few week ago, I attended our system ELA Vertical Team meeting, where the amazing Cheryl Daniels, our system’s 6-12 ELA Instructional Coach, presented on how to use picture books in centers for theme work. It was beautiful. The picture books were powerful and had layers of meaning. The task cards gave students enough scaffolding to help them do the work in groups, but also enough depth to encourage rigor in student thinking. Cheryl graciously agreed to let me share a sample of what a station task card might look like. You can see that here.

2015-11-09 12.01.22As my colleagues and I sat down to plan our literary analysis unit, these professional development opportunities were at the forefront of my mind. I knew I wanted to give students tools to help them learn to do the work of literary analysis independently. But to do that I knew I couldn’t start with hard, inaccessible text. I needed to teach the ways to analyze text. I needed to give students a reason to go back to the text. I needed to give them a protocol so they could learn to do it independently. (See my last posts on how anchor charts support independence.)

So here’s what we did:

  1. We started with an argument protocol from Teacher’s College. You can read more about that here (be sure to check the links at the bottom). Our last unit’s focus was argument, so this felt like a good way to introduce the new unit. We debated whether the theme of Margaret Wild’s Fox was more about loyalty or overcoming obstacles. (I’ve also used the short film Mr. Hublot and debated whether the theme is more about sacrifice or friendship.)
  2. This led into a discussion on how there are certain lenses we can look through to discover the theme of a text, and the closer we look through the lens the more we will understand about the text.
  3. Then, I introduced the close reading protocol from Christopher Lehman and 2015-11-03 15.20.36Kate Roberts’ Falling in Love with Close Reading.
  4. We decided to look through the following lenses in our unit of study (in no particular order): setting, symbolism, characterization, diction, mood, perspective, and figurative language.
  5. I did a mini-lesson on each lens, practicing with short videos and picture books. Cheryl Daniels was incredibly helpful in helping me find texts. The ones I used plus other options are listed below and on my Pinterest board.
  6. We are still working on lenses right now, but the next steps for us will be writing a literary analysis on a short story of their choice. They will do a little research on the author and context for the story, and then choose three lenses to 2015-11-10 13.17.58analyze their story. This will be the pre-work and thinking before beginning the writing process.

What I like about this is that the students are learning ways to analyze text on their own—they have tools. Then they will be able to choose which tools are best to analyze a story of their choice. They will be building independence instead of the teacher telling them what to write about and how to format their papers. They have ownership. And that ownership will help them far beyond the time in my classroom.

Lenses and Possible Texts(for links to all books & videos and other resourc2015-11-10 13.15.18es, see Pinterest)

Thank you, Cheryl Daniels, for providing picture book titles. 

Starred titles are what I used for mini-lessons. 

Setting

  • Jane Cutler’s The Cello of Mr. O
  • Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side
  • *Chipotle’s The Scarecrow

Symbols

  • Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt
  • Eve Bunting’s The Terrible Things
  • Sherry Garland’s The Lotus Seed
  • *PSA: The Bystander

Point of View/Perspective

  • *Donald Hall’s I am the Dog; I am the Cat
  • Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park
  • Cris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants

Characterization

  • Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum
  • Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge
  • Joan W. Blos’ Old Henry
  • Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box
  • *Joseph Oxford’s Me + Her (short film)

Structure of Text

  • *Allan Ahlberg’s Previously
  • Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel
  • Christopher Myer’s Wings
  • Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey

Diction

  • Debra Frasier’s Miss Alanius
  • Graeme Base’s The Sign of the Seahorse
  • Julius Lester’s John Henry
  • *Christopher Myer’s Wings

Figurative Language

  • *Robert Burleigh’s Langston’s Train Ride
  • Julius Lester’s John Henry
  • Avery Wood’s Quick as a Cricket

Tone and Mood

  • Margie Palatini’s Piggie Pie
  • Judith Viorst’s Earrings
  • *Movie Trailers & Recuts – see Pinterest for examples

Bonus Read:  Friday our school received some test scores from a high-stakes, statewide test given last year.  The conversation about test scores and what they mean and don’t mean buzzed.  I was reminded of Amy’s post 7 Reasons to Stop Asking about AP Scores.  I loved what she said in this post about student learning and test scores.  This is a must read and reminder for all educators, not just AP teachers.

I have nothing to wear (aka Why anchor charts matter)

2015-11-03 15.20.36It was Sunday night. I was getting everything ready to start a new week at school—packing lunch, gathering papers, and finding an outfit. Laundry was done, and all my clothes were hanging in my closet. There were a lot of clothes, but I still stared at my closet thinking I need to go shopping because I have nothing to wear.

I finally decided to take out each pair of pants and each skirt, one at a time, and match it with a top. Turns out, I had plenty to wear. I just needed a system, a way to look at what I had, to find what I needed.

It made me think of my students. They learn a lot of skills and have lots of tools to access those skills. Sometimes this comes in a piece here and a piece there; sometimes we give several tools for the same skill. And then we, as teachers, ask them to use these tools and skills throughout the year again and again—using the tools or developing the skills with different text or different writing assignments (building different outfits each time).

I think students can often feel like I did standing in front of my closet. Overwhelmed. Having no clue where to look or what to look for. It’s not that they 2015-11-03 15.20.31don’t have lots of tools or lots of practice with the skills. It wasn’t that I didn’t have lots of clothes. They just need a system, a way to see what they have and access the tools when needed.

For me, this is the purpose of the anchor chart. It helps my students access the tools they need to do what they need to do.

I didn’t always use anchor charts. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of anchor charts. I just thought they took too much time (It was easier to use PowerPoint); I thought they were too difficult to display (that chart paper never sticks to my painted brick wall); I thought I didn’t have room (I have to display all my pretty, colorful posters and sayings); I thought it was a little too elementary (I teach those very grown up 10th graders).

This year I’ve used them, but most importantly my students have used them. I see students pointing to the anchor chart that helps them when they are working in groups, or I hear students referring to it during discussion. I can direct them to anchor cha2015-11-04 15.42.20rts, and then they can do it themselves. It builds agency in the students.

All the reason I didn’t use them seem silly. Why wouldn’t I give my students a way to access the tools to use the skills I spend so much time helping them learn? Why wouldn’t I help them figure out that they have outfits they can wear, instead of leaving them overwhelmed thinking they have nothing to wear?

Someone once told me that my walls should be useful for my students or its wasted space. I think my walls are finally starting to talk the right talk.

I challenge you to try it, if you don’t already. Just do one or two and see how it works out. Maybe your students will be like mine and realize just how many tools they have at their disposal.

PS– These pictures of anchor charts are from my current literary analysis unit.  My next post will be on this unit, but the lens idea and structure is from Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading.  A must have in your professional library!

Bonus Read:  Two Writing Teachers are doing this amazing blog series on Diving into Informational Writing.  Each post is incredibly helpful, and they provide lots of information, helps, and resources.  Two of my favorite from the series are Using Qualities of Informational Writing to Guide Students to Set Goals and Allowing Student Choice Within Informational Writing.

Rising above the rubric expectations

2015-09-28 12.09.14I believe in giving students mentor text. I believe in modeling skills. I believe in setting goals and using progression charts. I sometimes do not believe in the effectiveness of rubrics.

Don’t get me wrong—there is a time and place for rubrics. I use them for some assignments. But I’ve also seen where rubrics have crippled creativity and making in a classroom.

Unless the rubric is crafted well, it can often be read as the least you need to do to get a certain grade. I don’t want my students thinking in those terms. So for some assignments, I set out my expectations in a different way. In a way that allows students to know what they need to do without putting them (and myself) in the “least you have to do” box.

For example, recently we studied logos, pathos, and ethos, and their use in argument. I wanted to know if students understood logos, pathos, and ethos, and I wanted to know if they could use each effectively in an argument. There were lots of ways this could have been done, but, for fun, I created a scenario about the world ending (see below), and they had to take on the persona of a superhero and argue for the honor saving the world. In their arguments, they had to effectively use pathos, logos, and ethosUnit 2, as well as some of the other elements of argument we had learned.

I could have created a rubric for this assignment, but instead I asked the students to be very convincing and surprise me in a good way. We have built a culture of high expectations in my classroom. Students know that I expect quality work. But how do you put creativity or leadership or collaboration or curiosity or self-efficacy or so many of those other skills that are hard to quantify on a rubric? How do you put going above and beyond on a rubric?

So I didn’t make a rubric. It wasn’t a major grade in the grade book. I just wanted the students to have fun and show me what they learned (the quantifiable stuff) in a way that worked for them.

When they presented their work. I was amazed. I would have never even thought to ask them to do the things they did in the ways they did it. They did surprise me in a2015-09-28 14.18.29-1 good way, because they had the freedom to do so. Here’s one example:  Superhero News Cast

I’m not saying do away with rubrics for everything, but I am saying maybe we should consider the boxes rubrics can create.

Bonus Read:
Sometimes I get frustrated just when I hear the word differentiation.  It’s not because I don’t value it, use it, or believe in it.  It’s just become one of those educational words that is overused and often not used correctly.  It was refreshing to read Pernille Ripp’s An Easy Yet Powerful Method for Differentiating Instruction. Even more than that, I felt challenged to allow my students to make differentiation choices for themselves.  And perhaps best of all, it is something that I can use immediately in my classroom.

This class is real life

As a student was leaving my class the other day, she remarked, “This class is real life.”

“Reading and writing is life,” I quipped back.

She smiled. “You know what I mean. Classes aren’t always like real life.”

And I know she is right. So many times what we do in class is in a bubble—it’s things that we deem important but have little or no direct connection to students’ present lives, nor their future lives outside our four walls. (By the way, Justin Tarte has an excellent post on why we should stop using the term “real life.”)

I’ve made a very concerted effort this year to make class more reflective of life. I want my class to be an extension of life, a space to examine life, and a safe place to try out our ideas about life.

Below are 5 examples of what we’ve been up to in Room 2414. Some ways I’ve tried to doFacebook Page 3 this are new this year; others have been tweaked or changed from previous years.

Social Action: Three years ago, I was challenged to have my students use reading, writing, and speaking to do something to selfless to impact their world. Mary Ehrenworth says, “We have to teach toward social justice & personal empowerment or there would be no reason to teach at all.”

So I developed a multi step social action performance task that my sopho2014-12-09 12.27.43mores complete throughout the course of the year. You can see an overview of the assignment here.

If you are wanting to implement something of this nature, I suggest using the following books as references: Randy Bomer and Katherine Bomer’s For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action; Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice; and Barbara Lewis’s The Teen Guide to Global Action. I’ve also posted other resources on my Pinterest Social Issue & Justice board.

Each year I am so moved by the comments students make in their final reflection. A few of their comments are below. I also included three of the culminating videos from former students (Domestic Abuse and Feeding the Hungry video links are here). I agree with Mary; this is why we teach.

  • In my opinion, most projects are just for a grade to be put in, but this was more about opening yourself up to the truth in life. I think it was about finding out who you really are and how to use your positive traits to make a difference.
  • I realize that the point of this project was not only to help benefit those in need, or to change how people view an issue. It was so much more than that. The project was to show those in our class that we are all people, we all have feelings, and all of us go through struggles, both big and small. It helped me realize that I’m not the only one who has struggled with their self-image and that even when I thought I was alone, there will always be people, somewhere, willing to listen.
  • Probably about a week ago, we were setting a date and time to go drop our donations off at Loaves and Fishes and I had a sort of epiphany. I realized that what we’re doing really does matter and even though it may not seem like we’re doing a lot, we are. We can’t just sit back and wait for the next guy to do it just because we aren’t the president or Senate. We aren’t even eighteen yet and we can still take action!
  • When we asked people at our school to leave an encouraging message for someone with suicidal thoughts, I honestly was expecting crazy messages. In high school, you always have those people who are going to have immature and rude things to say regardless of the purpose, but shockingly most of our messages were so sweet and inspirational. These messages included bible verses, inspirational sayings, and even personal experiences sharing their own suicidal thoughts and how they were overcome. It really opened my eyes to know that some of my fellow [students], people I might see in the hallway five days a week, actually shared some of the same concerns we discovered in our research.

Relevant application text: We’ve been working on argument this unit. I’m a HUGE fan of George Hillocks’s Teaching Argument Writing. The book (you can get a sample chapter here) gives several ways to teach argument through progression of relevant texts and situations. My students have been engaged in learning, have a deeper understanding of arguments (and the importance of each part of argument), and are more effective in developing and analyzing arguments.

In his foundation chapters, Hillocks discusses how crime shows and court cases exhibit the work we are teaching students. I took two of the texts he mentioned, CSI (season 1, episode 3) and the Supreme Court Case Scott v. Harris, and created extension lessons. You can access the transcript online, or you can use a condensed version (with instructions) I created for my classes.

Students loved using what they we had learned about argument in analyzing these text. There was much rich discussion about claims, evidence, warrants, counterclaims, rebuttals. Both of these text provided complex, rigorous examples that required the students too look closely, go back to the text, and think about the way claims were made and evidence presented. They learned so much more than if they had looked at an artificial text that neatly displayed each element of argument. And, dare I say, they had fun doing it.

Other texts we have used in the argument unit can be found on my Pinterest Argument Text Set board.  More to be added here as we continue through this unit.

Audience: I find providing an authentic audience for my students is hard sometimes, but I also feel it is incredibly important. It is something that I am working hard to do in my class this year. After we completed our memoirs, I had students share their memoirs with an adult and asked the adult to share some written comments with them. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Students asked a variety of adults, including parents, grandparents, former teachers, and even administrators. The adult feedback has been meaningful, instructive, and even humorous at times.

File Sep 23, 1 28 46 PMOne of my favorites was when a student shared her story about an ambulance ride. The student had leukemia when she was very young, but she doesn’t tell people. She doesn’t want to be seen as a victim or have people treat her differently. She asked for a former teacher to read and comment on her story. When she got his comments back, she immediately came to my room, crying. She was so moved by the support she received and realized she could be a support for others.

With this type of response, I don’t know how I could ever go back to being the only audience for their work. I will be exploring ideas and ways to connect students with authentic audiences throughout the year.

Article of the Week: I totally took this idea from one of my heroes, Kelly Gallagher. He very clearly articulates the power behind using an article of the week on his website. He also posts links to the articles he uses. I use this website, Newsela (which allows you to change the Lexile level of the same article), and other articles that I come across. I post articles I use to my Pinterest Articles board.

At the beginning of the year, students often struggle with sharing their thoughts on the subjects. We learn how to talk, to support or disagree respectfully, to listen, and how to dig deeper on topics. I am often surprised at how little my students know about the world around them, and I feel this is an excellent way to connect world events with what we are studying and to help them become more educated citizens of the world.

Choice in reading: I’ve written about this in a previous post, so I won’t say a lot here. It is just so important for students to have authentic reading experience—not forced, shallow responses, made up logs, or artificial conversation. If I want my students to be lifelong readers, then I have to help them establish habits of a reader.

Bonus Read: If you read my last post, you know I am a huge Kylene Beers fan. Her blog post about Rigor and Talk Checklist for Nonfiction text is very timely. In this post she responds to a teacher’s question:

“How do you know if they are talking at a surface level or really digging deeper?”

She even includes a checklist that will be in her and Probst’s new Reading Nonfiction Notice and Note book that is coming soon.

Giving students what they need to access text

2015-09-11 07.31.44I remember pretty vividly a lesson on annotation I did several years ago.

I was very excited. I had selected Kate Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby, a text I knew to be rich with lots of examples of, well, just about everything. There would be no end to what we could highlight and scribble notes about in the margin. Plus, there was the added bonus–this was a text I knew the students would love.

As I began to model, marking every craft move Chopin made, the students scrambled to keep up. I just knew their busyness was a sign of engagement. I would stop and ask questions about the text or ask students why they thought Chopin made this comparison or chose this word. Students would oblige and guess (and guess and guess) at the possible reason.

After I made a particularly brilliant comment about something great Chopin did in the text, a student asked, “How did you do that? I don’t see what you see at all!”

Once finished annotating Desiree’s Baby to death, I gave the students another Chopin text to do on their own and set them off. I’m sure you aren’t surprised that I didn’t amazing results. Students were frustrated when they couldn’t make sense of writer’s craft and their purpose (or even at time understand the text).2015-09-11 07.27.46

I mistakenly believed that my thinking was transparent to students and if I just talked about it, they would get it. I did not take into account that I was an English major in college and had even studied this text in one of those courses. What made me think that these sophomores were going to make that leap without learning skills to access the text? The truth is I didn’t really think about skills or access to text at all.

My mentor gave me Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note. I thumbed through the pages, thinking it might be a little too childish for my sophisticated sophomores. But the cries of confusion from my students haunted me. I decided to give it a try, and my world was changed. Well, at the very least my teaching practice and student learning in my class.

Notice and Note gives six very specific “signposts” to help students notice important moments in a text. In other words, it gives students access to the text. It showed me how to teach skills that students can use in any texts they read, which they now do in their independent novels as well as text we use in class.

Notice and Note was the beginning of my change. Other books such as Kelly Gallagher’s Deeper Reading and Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading are must have resources. There is also a Facebook group for Notice and Note that has so many resources you could spend days going through it.

In Write Like This, Kelly Gallagher says, “The Wizard of Oz would have been a lousy writing teacher.” He would be an equally lousy close read teacher.

Bonus Read: Zackary Kirk did a series of posts on doing high school differently. His last one, Teach Like a (Master) Teacher!, is a call to stop teaching like anything other than a really great teacher. He challenged me to be reflective while also giving lots of additional reading to keep me thinking.