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

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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.

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.

Choice in reading–how, exactly?

2015-09-04 07.20.16There has been much written about student choice in reading–powerful, challenging calls to action from educational greats such as Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller among many others. I highly recommend that you take a moment to watch Kittle’s video, Why Students Don’t Read What is Assigned in Class?, and read Miller’s blog post, Let My People Read, if you haven’t already.  Kelly Gallagher writes an important piece on combining choice, limited choice and no choice in Moving Beyond the 4X4 Classroom.

I’m not going to try to say what others have already said, and much better than I ever could. Instead I am going to try to show why I believe in it for my sophomore 2015-09-04 07.07.38students and how choice in reading looks like in my classroom.

One year, a group of former students came back to visit me.  During our reminiscing, they began to joke about how they didn’t finish reading the books we studied when they were in my class.  I knew something had to change. I didn’t want students to come back joking about what they didn’t read.  I wanted students to come back and talk to me how much they were still reading.  So I began to explore the idea of choice.

I believe in giving choice, because I know how powerful it has been in my classroom with my students. This year I have focused on giving students choice in reading and allowing them to enjoy it by not assigning a certain number of pages to be read, lengthy responses, or mandatory written reading logs.

Just in case you were wondering, my students are doing this reading as well as a lot of reading in class.  To date we have read and studied in class 1 children’s book, 3 articles, 10 complete short memoirs,  10 excerpts from books, 3 complete short stories, 3 poems, and 2 short videos.

Some of the things I have done so far to foster this in my classroom so far this year:

  • Students were exposed to numerous books on the second day of school.
  • Students have been given time to read in class, at least 3-4 times a week.
  • Students set their own goals on Goodreads.
  • Students log their pages on Goodreads, but they have not been assigned a specific number of pages to complete.
  • Students are given the freedom to abandon books.
  • We have Book Talk Tuesdays. Often our media specialist and assistant join us.  I pin the books promoted to our Pinterest page so students can go back and look (and I can keep up with the titles).
  • Students are surrounded by books in my classroom and have easy access to them. They also have time to go to the media center.
  • I post what I’m reading in the classroom, as well as on Goodreads. Students can always see what I’m reading and how much I’m reading.

I asked my students to complete an anonymous survey (via SurveyMonkey) to gauge how the students felt about their reading this year. (Side note: I foster a safe environme2015-09-03 22.44.33nt where I value what students think and real feedback—with each other and with me. I’m not saying they always tell the truth, but they know I value truthful feedback.) Out of my 151 students, 145 completed the survey.

  • 63% believe they have read more this year than last year.
  • 61% have read 1 or more books since the beginning of school, August 3. Of that 61%, 24% have read 3 or more books since school began.
  • 82% prefer to choose their own books; 3% prefer to have a novel assigned; and 15% said they had no preference.
  • 53% almost never completed an entire novel when assigned; 7% said they never read anything assigned outside of class.
  • 86% said choosing their own books encouraged them to read more; 62% said using Goodreads encouraged them to read more.

Some of the student comments (in their own words):

  • I don’t like doing homework assigned with reading because it makes me feel as though reading is something forced rather than something fun.
  • I don’t feel forced. I can read at my own slow pace and enjoy my book without feeling like I have to cram pages in just for a grade.
  • The book goals give added purpose for reading.
  • Please don’t choose my books for me.

  • I just wanted to make a point that Goodreads has been the most motivational thing I’ve ever used to log reading and find new books.
  • When we got to read the blurb/skim through the many different books in the library, it gave me lots of options and helped a lot.
  • Having class time to read to get me going in my book [motivates me to read]

While I believe passionately in giving students choice, I also know the challenges. I asked some colleagues (thank you Laura, Elizabeth, and Suzy!) to help me brainstorm some of the questions and concerns teachers may have when beginning to give students choice in the classroom. Below is how I navigated (and am still navigating) these on my journey.

Where do I get enough books?

I used a lot of resources. Garage sales and local used bookstores have been a great way to collect titles for my classroom library. I am particularly partial to the Goodwill Bookstore in our area that also gives an extra discount to teachers once a week. I connected with our school media center. They help me throughout the year by having titles available, doing book talks, and making the media center an extension of our space. It does help that my classroom is super close to the media center.

A colleague and I also did a school wide book drive. We asked different organizations, clubs, and sports to donate prizes. We received everything from t-shirts to tickets to games. Then we promoted the book drive through the English department and had letters to parents for Open House and community media outlets (see sample letter here). Students received a ticket for the prize drawings for each book they donated. We received tons of books this way.

How do I help students find the right book for the right student?

I don’t know if I can find right book for every student, especially early on in the year when you don’t know your students as well. I want the students to learn how to find the right books for themselves. I give them lots of opportunities to find books 2015-08-04 09.57.46through speed dating, book talks (and not just from me), and chances to peruse my classroom library, the media center, and Goodreads.

But what probably helps them the most is giving students the freedom to abandon books. Students didn’t feel pressured to pick the one book that they will like enough to finish it. They can try out a book, see if they like it, and then decide on whether or not they want to finish. For students to who don’t normally read to find a book they want or for readers to try new genre, they have to feel safe that they can try it and walk away if they don’t like it. All I ask is that they read 10 pages before deciding. Most of the time it only takes 1-3 tries before we find a book a student likes. One particular student from last year, it took 10 tries. But he finally found a book he liked.

Will students actually read outside of class?

Yes, most of them will actually read outside of class, but that doesn’t excuse us from not giving them time in class to read. If we think it is important, if we value it, we will make time for it in class. By the time students reach high school, an alarming amount of them, who used to like reading, don’t do it any more, or rarely read outside of class. Sometimes they just need the time to remember the joy of reading2015-08-04 11.12.34 and get hooked again. There are those who don’t like to read, even some who hate it. Requiring them to read, even a book of their choice, is not going to make them magically like reading. Chances are they don’t even know how to choose a book they like.

Just like I would do with any skill I was teaching, I am going to give my students lots of tools (speed dating, Goodreads, book talks, freedom to abandon, etc) to help find books and time to practice their skill (reading in class). I’m also going to talk to them about their books. I have reading conferences as often as I can with them.

What do I require of them?

There are a lot of different thoughts about this, and I’ve tried a lot of different ways. This year I had them set their own reading goals for the number of books they wanted to try to read this year. I asked them to update Goodreads once a week, but there were no requirements on many pages. Most of them update during class after we have read. I do ask that students read 10 pages before they decide to abandon a book. This is the least amount of requirements I have ever had, and it has been the most successful year.

When I required written logs and a certain number of pages each week, it felt more like forced choice reading—which wasn’t fun. Students often made up the logs right before they were due. I don’t know about you, but I hate assigning, reading, and grading work that isn’t real, probably as much as students resent it.   So I require that students always have a book in class for reading time. I require that they read during reading time. I require that they update Goodreads once a week. I require that they talk to me about the book. There are times I will ask the students to share in class conversation or in writing how a certain skill we are studying is being used in their books.

How do I hold them accountable for something I haven’t read?

Talk to them. You don’t have to have read the novel to talk about it. If you are a reader, you will know enough about books, characters, plots, themes, etc to ask questions about books you haven’t read. Ask them questions about their books—the characters, the plot, the title, themes. Have them show you parts in the text that are significant and meaningful. I find that when students know they are going to talk about their book, they read. Million Words Campaign has great resources conferring with students about independent reading and questions to ask (Making the Most of Independent Reading Using Student Conferences).

How do I hold them accountable? Grades?

I hold them accountable through talk, Goodreads, and asking them about how skills we are learning are showing up in their books; however, holding them accountable does not always mean grades. There is an expectation of reading in my class and tie to do it. Grades are something I am constantly trying to figure out and it is still evolving.

Right now, I grade on preparedness for our conferences or when I ask them to do a quick write showing how a skill was used in the book. I will ask students to do some written reflections on their reading but not every night or week. The Reading and Writing Project has a great resource of different reading responses that allows students to react to the text in a way that works for the student and is meaningful rather than having students write to a generic prompt. I’d love to hear your thoughts or ideas on this.

What if they choose something inappropriate (or that their parents deem inappropriate), but I didn’t know it was inappropriate (or that parents would see it that way)?

I try to handle this in my syllabus. I use the parent letter Kelly Gallagher shares in Reading Reasons. It’s a well-written piece to explain to parents the goals for reading and the purpose of the classroom library. I then ask parents to sign giving permission for students to check out books from my library.

I also ask parents to sign on whether they allow students to read any book they choose or whether they want to give permission for each book. Out of my 151 students, all parents gave permission to check out books from my classroom library and only one parent wanted to give permission for individual books. Find a copy of the permission page from my syllabus here.

Bonus Read:  Two Writing Teacher’s Dana Murphy provided a treasure trove of resources in her Back to School Post on TWT.  She includes resources for topics such as conferencing, conventions, minilessons, organization, read alouds, routines and so much more.  This is one to bookmark so it is easily accessible throughout the year.

Power of the Meeting Space in the Classroom

I was introduced to the concept of the meeting space through Teacher’s College work with my district’s elementary and middle schools a few years ago. While I was inspired and challenged by everything from Teacher’s College, I thought the meeting space was a neat idea, but a little too young for my high school students. A colleague reminded me of the research about movement and learning and challenged me to try it. So, a bit skeptical, I did. And it was pretty close to magic. It has evolved over the past two years into what I now call “meeting in the middle” Meet in the middlewith my students.

Here’s why I love this strategy:
1. It gets students moving. High school students sit a lot. By asking them to move to the floor, they are activating their learning. Also, they are moving away from the distractions of whatever may be on their desk.
2. It builds a community of learners. My desks are arranged in groups—small community of learners. When I ask students to meet me in the middle, the closeness of the class reminds us that the entire class is a community of learners.
3. It encourages a safe environment. In the meeting space, we listen and we talk briefly, only to practice what we are learning or to share out an example. It isn’t a place where students get called out or put on the spot. It’s safe there with us sitting together; it feels more non-threatening than sitting in the desks with the teacher standing above them.
4. It is a meaningful ritual and routine. Meeting in the middle is when we are learning a skill or listening to a read-aloud or something that is teacher-centered. Most of my class is student-centered, so this ritual of moving to the middle helps students understand the shift in behavior and listening they need to make for this type of instruction.  The routine is knowing how to do it quickly and effectively.
5. It keeps my mini-lessons mini. Students are only going to sit on the floor for so long. I have to be purposeful and intentional with my time during meetings in the middle.
6. It’s fun. The students love this throw back to elementary school, and I do too!  It brings something different to norm of the day.

The success of having a class meeting space in high school depends a lot on how you present it to the students. Here’s how I kicked it off this year:

I explained to students that research has shown that they spend most of their school day sitting in classes listening to someone talk to them, typically a teacher. They all seemed to agree on this point. I shared with them that one instructional coach found that this happened about 90% of their school day. Because we had so much to learn in this class, we were going to use movement to help us activate our learning and refocus their brains so they could pay close attention to what we were doing. Then, I called them to meet me in the middle.

I don’t doubt that some students internally groaned, but most were excited saying things like “I haven’t done this since elementary school” and “I hope she reads to us” — which I did. I shared the children’s book Courage,  then we turn and talked about how we wanted to be courageous this year. I asked for a few share-outs,  gave them instructions for their work session, and sent them back to their desks to work.

I plan to use 2015-08-04 14.54.13the meeting space for conferences as well. The open area makes it a great space to gather students for individual or small group reading and writing conference while I still can maintain a presence in the room during work sessions. I bought $5 small tables that I’m going to use as stools from Family Dollar (thanks to an elementary school teacher friend who posted this great find on Facebook). The stools/tables are stackable, so they easily fit under a table when they are not in use.  If you would like to read more on conferencing, To Confer is to Validate the Child offers a thoughtful discussion on its importance in the classroom.

Bonus Read:  I was really challenged by Used Books in Class’s The “So What” Conundrum post.  I will be using the So What? question more for reflection as a teacher and in learning with my students.


Follow-up on Day One Activity:

Although this activity is not perfect, it was so much better than previous boring first days. The questions and comments students asked gave me insight into their 2015-08-04 16.12.24personalities, their hopes and their fears. It amazed me that not one single class asked about grades. Instead they wanted to know about what we were going to read, if I was strict, and how we were going to improve their writing. I have to admit this activity made me realize what I thought students would think is the most important about a class was not. It also allowed for natural conversation about class instead of a formulaic spill about the syllabus. I will continue to do something of this nature in my classes in the future.

As mentioned, I chose to read the book Courage for the first day. It’s a simple yet powerful read that gave us the platform to talk about the courage we will need to examine ourselves through reading and writing and to share with others in our community of learners. When students shared out what courageous act they wanted to accomplish this year, several over the course of the day said they wanted to show courage by sharing in front of their peers. I had to smile, as I knew they had just taken the first steps to do that by sharing right then sitting on the floor in our meeting space.

Follow-up on First Week Impressions and Priorities:

2015-08-04 09.57.46I loved seeing students get excited and immediately wanting the book As Simple As Snow after the book talk.  For an important discussion on how we develop and protect students’ reading identities, see Stop Feeding the Beast–The Reading Myths We Pass on as Truths.  Speed dating with a book was a great success.  Students had about 70 titles to browse from various genres, topics, lengths, and levels.  Everyone found multiple titles to add to their “Books I Want to Read” list.  Now every student has a book in hand, and they had the opportunity to begin reading in class.  We are working on getting them signed u2015-08-04 13.07.45p for Goodreads.

I also had students write down the last time they read a complete book and their goal for the number of books they wanted to read this year.  I’m not really worried about what that number looks like, but I did want them to begin thinking about how they were going to challenge themselves as readers this year.  We documented it by taking a picture.  I plan to take another picture at the end of the year with their goal on top and number of books read this year on bottom.

First Week Impressions and Priorities

The first week of school is so important, so I’ve been thinking about how to make the most out of it–from the very first moment.

First Impressions

In just four days, I will stand outside my door, greeting students before they enter my classroom for the first time. As soon as they pass the threshold, they will make first impression judgments based on the way my classroom looks. Classroom arrangement is an extension of our educational philosophy. What2015-07-28 16.38.13 does my classroom say about what I believe? I hope it says…

  1. Reading and writing are important, encouraged, and fun.
  2. Talk is necessary.
  3. We are going to laugh.
  4. This is the students’ classroom.
  5. We will be doing in this class.

We Must Read

One of the saddest things students tell me every year is that they used to love reading but not now. This stems from a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, I want to change the culture of reading in my students.

  1. Students will create a “Books I Want to Read” sheet in their class notebooks (we keep our writer’s notebook and reader’s notebook in one binder).
  2. Start with a book talk:  I’ll start with Gregory Galloway’s As Simple As Snow. From the very first sentence many students are hooked on this ASASbook. One former student recently admitted via Facebook that he “took” a copy because he loved it so much. I’ll consider that a win. Galloway has visited students in our county twice; mailed students additional clues (which I’ve kept copies for students); and created a website with supplemental material.  (Side note: Book talks happen every week in my class. The media staff and I alternate weeks so the students are hearing from a variety of voices about a wide range of books. Other great ideas can be found here: 6 Simple Ideas to Get Kids to Read.)
  3. Speed date—with books: I will have 5-7 titles at each station. Students will visit each station for about 3 minutes, writing down titles of interest. Keep in mind that if I have 165 students, I need to think about the number of titles and copies of books I need so that 7th period has just as much and just as good of choices as my first period.
  4. After they visit all the books, they will check out a book. We will not discuss their Lexile score nor the Lexile scores of the books. This is about getting students hooked on reading, about giving them choice, about encouraging a love of reading.  For a powerful conversation about students who don’t read on grade level, check out My Child is Not a Struggling Reader.
  5. Students will keep their reading logs on Goodreads. This will be new to many of my students, so I will have them log on in class.
  6. Freedom to abandon books:  What makes me think that students who are not in the habit of reading are going to select a book they love the first time? Or why would I want to discourage readers from trying a new genre by forcing them to stick with something they may not know if they like? Students need to know that it is okay to abandon a book, but also the help to find a book they will like.
  7. Time to read–immediately: If students don’t have time in class to get hooked into their book, they are less likely to read it at home. If it is as important as I believe, then I have to make time in my class for it.

Bonus Read:  Donalyn Miller always challenges me as a reader and an educator.  Her post Patron of the Arts is no different.  There is so much in this post that you must read, but here is a little snip-it: “Our teaching goals would be better served if we read the text first, enjoyed it as readers, and then reread the text for instructional purposes.”

Up on Deck

Our first unit is a memoir unit. These are the professional resources I’ve been reading to help me think through this unit.