Anchor Charts aren’t just for Elementary School Classrooms

When I first started practicing with the reader’s workshop model in my classroom, I didn’t know what an anchor chart was.

The posters in my room were :

  • a large landscape of an unnamed beach in Thailand
  • a series on how to cite sources using proper MLA formatting
  • a poster of Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom
  • an old advertisement for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • a world map

Okay, as an overseas teacher, it’s understandable that I didn’t pack up posters that were on my walls when I taught public school, and bring them with me to Jordan. (In the weeks before I packed up and moved out of my old classroom, I gave many of those beloved posters away to students – and anyway, they weren’t anchor charts.) But I was starting my third year in this same classroom, and I should have had at least a plan to have something better than other teachers’ cast-offs on my walls.

I won’t beat myself up though; teaching is a process, and I’m still learning how to do it. Once I stop learning about teaching and learning, I might as well be done. Because I’ll never be “there.”

But I digress.

I did in fact learn about anchor charts this fall, and was immediately skeptical.

I didn’t understand how I could take an elementary idea and transfer it to high school. I know, I know, I’ve used that excuse for different initiatives my whole career. Haven’t we all? We see an example of student work that comes from a level that we don’t teach, and we immediately dismiss it and find excuses for why it won’t work instead of figuring out how and why it should work. I tell my students Don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can do all the time – perhaps it’s time to heed my own advice.

I really didn’t see how I could make an anchor chart with one class and make it meaningful for all of the students who are in my room throughout the day. There just aren’t enough walls.

But then I started thinking about how all of my classes, regardless of the grade level, have made some commitments. And I made my first anchor chart, pictured below:

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  • Read at least two hours per week.
  • Read to understand.
  • Choose a book you want to read.
  • Have a “books I want to read next” list.
  • Drop books you don’t like.
  • Save books for later.

This one is right by my classroom library, and I point to it all the time – I tend to go to the third and fifth bullet point the most – sometimes students forget that if they don’t want to read a book, they don’t have to. That they really should have some excitement about the book they are reading, and it’s okay to drop a book when it feels like a chore instead of pleasure. Continue reading “Anchor Charts aren’t just for Elementary School Classrooms”

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On Climate Change and Hard Days of Teaching…

Sometimes teaching is really hard.

But even when I feel like I’m in a rut as a teacher, or if I feel like my classes aren’t moving forward fast enough, or I worry that I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to do with my students, if I sit back for ten minutes and reflect on the first half of the school year, I have to conclude that things are going well.

Because yes, I feel all of those things as a teacher. Frustration about time constraints and that maybe all of my students aren’t reading all of the books I want them to read. Frustration that I haven’t motivated all of them to read their minimum two hours per week, and that some of them are reading books that might not be at grade level.

But when I start thinking about my students more as individuals, instead of the receivers of a prescribed curriculum, and remember that they are individual kids with fun personalities and individual learning styles, I’m encouraged rather than frustrated.

It’s because of the workshop model. It really is working. 

It just works slower on some days than others.

And that’s okay.

Developing the climate to be a culture of reading is hard and takes time, and I am giving myself permission to let it happen. To push it and encourage it. It’s not going to happen overnight.

And it’s not about me.

It’s about the students who are reading more than they did last year.

It’s about the students who didn’t think they liked to read, and are warming up to reading, slowly, in small bursts and then maybe having long lulls without a book they love. But they are making forward progress.

It’s about the girl who can’t wait to talk about the newest issue in The Kite Runner, and tells me that she can’t imagine that the book can get any more intense because “everything possible is happened already!” and she’s only 200 pages in. Continue reading “On Climate Change and Hard Days of Teaching…”

New Genre, New Learning

I have a student who is a reluctant conferrer. You’ve probably got one, too.

This student is a reader. A big reader. Like the kind of reader who reads 50+ books in a semester.

But up until this week, this student has been reluctant to talk about them, at least to me.

I think it’s my fault.

I’ve been expecting my student to meet me where I am.

One of the ways I thought I was a 21st century teacher was that I ask my students to respond to literature on Blogger instead of in a notebook.  But how can responding on Blogger be a better learning experience than in Google Docs or in regular reader’s notebooks? (I’ll think on that and try to up my game… more later. There must be an answer.) There’s more to being a 21st century teacher than using technology.

 

Let me get back to those 50+ books. I’ve never seen this student with an actual paper bound book in hand; it’s always the Kindle.

As a new-to-workshop teacher, I didn’t realize that the Kindle was one obstacle between me and a successful conference with a student. I guess it’s because it’s not intuitive to me — it’s easy to flip through pages in a book, but it feels intrusive to start swiping through someone’s device.

I’ll try to push through that now that I’m more aware of it. It might bring me closer to being a 21st century teacher.

Last week, I sat down next to this reluctant interactor and started asking some questions. Again.

This time, my student shared a little more than normal.

This student talked about litRPG.

What is that? I asked. Continue reading “New Genre, New Learning”

Using Conroy’s My Reading Life as Mentor Text

 

At the end of first semester, I asked students to write about how their reading lives had changed. We’d been doing workshop for a few months, I’d seen some growth and some good habits forming in many of them, and I really wanted them to recognize that they were better readers than they had been at the beginning of the school year.

I asked them to reflect on their reading lives, using an excerpt from Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life as mentor text. (I think this is one of the best mentor texts out there, so we have ordered enough copies for each teacher in our department as well as several for our classroom libraries. My colleagues are probably sick and tired of hearing about this book, but I feel strongly about it. It’s a great read and an amazing mentor text, all the way through.)

I gave the students this short excerpt from chapter one: Continue reading “Using Conroy’s My Reading Life as Mentor Text”

Don’t share your answers – share your thinking!

My thinking has changed since I started teaching using the workshop model.

I think my students’ thinking has changed, too.

I think that’s the point.

 

For the first seventeen years of my teaching, I was concerned about whether the students turned the assignments in on time, read the short stories and novels that were on the syllabus, and if they were generally compliant.

I assigned packets with study questions when we read The Great Gatsby together. (Big packets! Short answer questions with one right answer! Find it in the text!)

I asked my students to write letters that Huck and Jim might have exchanged after leaving the Phelps’ farm. (Bonus points for burning the edges of the paper or dipping the letters in tea to make them look old!)

I had students create their own real life versions of scarlet letters. (The ones that were made out of rice crispy treats and red M&Ms got an A for Awesome!)

Here are a few gems from past years.

For the first seventeen years of my teaching, I mostly asked all of my students to do the same thing at the same time. 

For the first seventeen years of my teaching, my students mostly gave me the same answers at the same time. 

At least, that was my hope (gah!) – I wanted them to get it! To come up with the same connections that I had! So they would “understand the canon!”

Maybe I’m too hard on myself. I know teaching and learning happened in my classroom before workshop, but I can’t help but think that things could have been better.

 

Things are different now. I don’t want the same answers from anyone any longer (or any more arts and crafts).

I’m not looking for answers, necessarily, either.

I realize now that I am looking for evidence of thinking.

I noticed this the other day in class. My students were learning about aphorisms (mentioned in an earlier post), and one of them asked if they could talk to each other to make sure they had the right answers.

I. Stopped. Everything. Continue reading “Don’t share your answers – share your thinking!”

Catch and Release with Online Notebooks using Hapara

The workshop model has absolutely changed the way I teach and think about students. I love the insights into their thinking that I now have, that somehow I never used to have with the traditional way of teaching literature.

But conferring is my constant challenge.

I talk to students all the time, yet I don’t talk to them enough.

The all the time is in the form of hallway conversations, the check-ins during lunch, and when I ensure that they have enough to read over the upcoming break or weekend.

It’s the mini-lesson, checking for understanding, making sure they “get it” conferences that I wish I could do more of, and I wish I could do better.

I did discover one strategy that works for me and my students, and I’ll share it here. Continue reading “Catch and Release with Online Notebooks using Hapara”

Book Talks When the Teacher is Out

An inevitable reality of teaching is that sometimes the teacher has to be absent. It’s part of life, so I refuse to feel guilty about it.

Mostly.

When I can plan ahead for my absences, I ensure that students are working on something which puts learning at the forefront, rather than having a “let’s take advantage of this poor substitute teacher” situation. That eases the guilt a bit.

Next month, I will attend the Adolescent Literacy Summit and I’m super-excited to learn from some amazing presenters. However, I’ll be missing three days of classes, and I want my students to be doing something worth-while and that helps them move forward with the development of their reading lives.

I’ve planned countless lessons over the years, so I’m not worried about the “lesson” part of the classes that I’ll be missing.

But this book talk habit is a new one.

It’s harder to plan for when I’m not there.

And book talks are an essential part of readers workshop. Kids need to get excited about new books every day!

That’s the situation I’m facing, and I’m exploring some solutions. Continue reading “Book Talks When the Teacher is Out”