Virtual Travel with Authors- Creating a Reading Community with a Short Research Project

It’s not easy to come up with a short, creative, engaging research prompt that every student is interested in responding to, given that they are all reading different books (save for the three eleventh grade girls who chose to read The Kite Runner together).

It’s important to assign tasks that challenge students who are often looking to take things to the nth level, but that will also provide an opportunity for scaffolding and success with the students who sometimes struggle with research, reading, and writing assignments.

That’s why, when I saw this article about literary journeys on CNN.com today, I realized that I had found some virtual classroom gold.

The travel article 23 literary journeys with the world’s great writers is a list. It’s a list of authors, books, places, and potential adventures. And it’s the perfect mentor text for an in-class, community-building, short-and-sweet piece of mini-research writing.

Continue reading “Virtual Travel with Authors- Creating a Reading Community with a Short Research Project”

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Team Debate as a Pre-Writing Activity

I spent most of my weekend with over 200 middle and high school students at the World Scholar’s Cup Amman Round. It’s a fun event that has students participate in trivia and academic knowledge quizzes, a team writing competition, and a team debate competition.

There was a talent show after the competitive events and before the awards ceremony, when they gave out more medals and trophies than I ever thought was possible. You can imagine the energy was loud and high.

I accompanied five smarty-pants high school boys. It was a first for me and the students; I had read about it online, but had never experienced what it looks and feels like in an up-close and personal way.

I love that all of these students were so enthused about writing and debating that they spent most of their weekend (it went until 11pm on Thursday and all day Friday) competing individually and as teams.

The boys found success in different ways and in different events, and look forward to competing again. They all agreed that the team debate competition was fun and different from what they had done before, and that their anxiety level was raised just enough to keep them interested but not terrified.

Perfect.

So let me bring it around to teaching with the workshop model. Yes, the students were writing and debating this weekend and that’s not new or news. But the writing and the debating were especially cool because they were doing some heavy-duty thinking, and they were thinking and communicating as teams.

Here’s how the team debate works:

Students are split into teams of three. Teams are randomly assigned either the affirmative or negative side. Then they are given the motion, at which point they have 15 minutes to prepare. After the preparation is complete, each team member is given four minutes to argue his point, and the teams alternate back and forth. It’s a lovely example of respectful dialogue and persuasive speaking.

After the debate, before the winning team is announced, students are required to provide feedback to the opposing team. I love this part!

As judges, we were given scoring criteria and a script, so adjudicating was a simple task, and I was able to pay attention to what they students thought about some hypothetical situations, like whether or not Jordan should send a manned mission to Mars. With a topic like that, students had to look up some real-world information, process, synthesize, and argue their points in a very finite period of time. It was an opportunity for students to demonstrate their thinking and practice some organized speaking and listening.

I think this activity has a ton of potential, because I can modify the team debate event for classroom use, and then have a window into some complex student thinking.

I can see it used with some topics that are relevant to what students have been studying recently.

For instance, eleventh grade students can debate whether they think transcendentalism is still relevant in the 21st century. They have a depth of knowledge about the topic that they didn’t have before we started studying it together, and this would be an authentic way to assign group work while still being able to see the individual students’ skill and thought process.

Continue reading “Team Debate as a Pre-Writing Activity”

A Healthy Reading Life for All

It occurred to me that maybe my students don’t really understand why we talk about books all of the time, or what it looks like to be a mature reader. That while I’ve focused on the fact that they should read, set goals, and have a next reads list, maybe we haven’t discussed what all of those pieces add up to be. That all of our goals, conferences, independent reading time, and book talks should help support, encourage, and result in each student having a healthy reading life.

So we talked about it.

Last week, the grade nines brainstormed answers to the question What does a healthy reading life look like?

 

 

They came up with what I think is a well-rounded picture of what a mature reader does.

They recognized that a healthy reader should be able to pick out a book independently, but also ask for and welcome recommendations from others.

They noticed that a mature reader should put in effort, but enjoy the process.

They talked about setting aside time to read, or making a plan, but also reading in a more impromptu setting as well.

They realized that it’s important to be able to have thoughtful discourse about a book, but also to form their own opinions and not automatically agree with the author or other readers and reviewers.

These grade nines had insightful ideas about what it means to be a healthy reader. Continue reading “A Healthy Reading Life for All”

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”

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”