Cultivate Your Garden

I love the advice given by Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy: Find your Marigold.  She writes that new teachers should find “positive, supportive, energetic teachers” and stick close to them, ask them for help, advice, and support. I couldn’t agree more.

I only recently discovered this particular post, and it resonated. Loudly.

As a veteran teacher, though, the advice to new teachers to find their marigold still applies. Everyone needs a marigold.

I immediately knew who my marigold was when I read that post. It’s the teacher-librarian I’ve been friends with since the day we met. She’s the one whose family my family has shared the last two Christmases with, she’s the one who pushes my thinking when she disagrees with me about some educational theory or practice, and she’s the person I can go to when I need to smile.

I told her right away that she’s my marigold.

She’s also the person who first asked me, oh-so-casually, “Have you thought about trying the readers workshop model this year?”

Jess (@jtlevitt) has been my go-to coworker and friend as we have explored readers workshop in my high school English classes this year. She’s encouraged, pushed, nudged, and challenged at the right times, in the right ways, and has helped our students discover their own personal, healthy reading lives this year.

I couldn’t have, and wouldn’t have tried or found success with this model without her.

Everyone needs this person in their lives.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same luck and friendship and help from the universe that I have had. Some people work in small schools, or feel isolated, so there are other places we can explore to find encouragement and help.

Three categories, in addition to the marigold you will (hopefully) find in your workplace are: expert/consultant, guiding text, and blog. I think it will vary from person to person, but some combination of these categories will probably serve. Continue reading “Cultivate Your Garden”

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Do’s and Don’ts of Implementing Readers Workshop (Part 2)

Since I wrote my first post regarding Do’s and Don’ts for Readers Workshop, I have felt a positive response from my small online community. I have more ideas to share, so keep reading if you want some additional beginner’s workshop advice.

Do confer with students on a regular basis. I know in my previous post I wrote that student choice is the foundation of workshop, and I do mean it. But conferring is, too. If you can meet with about four students each day, and keep the conference time to three to four minutes, then in about fifteen minutes you’ll get the job done. The rest of the students should be reading or working quietly, and might even overhear what you are working on during the conference time. That’s totally okay.

Keep a record of who you confer with, how often, and a quick note of what you discussed. I simply use a spiral notebook, which I think is a great way to start with note taking. I might try something new next year – maybe some sort of pre-made form or checklist to make it even more streamlined and easy, but honestly, the spiral notebook system is fine.

Simply put your students’ names at the top of every other page so you have plenty of space to write throughout the year, realizing that you will staple in pages, use post-its, and sometimes even forget to take notes about the occasional conference.

It’s okay.

The conferring is what matters. It’s about the talk. About the exchange, and the relationship you will build with your students. You’ll get to know your students quicker at the beginning of the year, and by the end, you’ll have a more authentic, individual relationship with each of your students because of the conferring. It’s rewarding and they will do better because of it.

Often, students look forward to conferring, and want to share their thoughts with you about what they are reading. Other students will try to avoid it, and that’s why it’s important to keep track of who you confer with so you can even out the time you spend with your students. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to spend the exact same amount of time with each student – some kids need more than others  – but be deliberate about how you make those decisions. Continue reading “Do’s and Don’ts of Implementing Readers Workshop (Part 2)”

Three Do’s and Don’ts of Implementing Readers Workshop

 

I’m just wrapping up my eighteenth year of teaching English Language Arts.

For the first seventeen, I taught in a pretty predictable, traditional manner: assign a book, a reading schedule, give quizzes, poster projects, assign essays, administer exams, and show the movie.

This year was so different.

In September, I started the workshop model in my two grade eleven classes.

By October, I was so convinced that it is the right way to teach students to read, write, talk, and think, that I implemented it in all of my classes.

I became enthusiastic, almost to the point of fanaticism, with readers workshop. It works! I read about it, tweet about it, started blogging about it, and can’t stop talking and thinking about it.

I attended the Adolescent Literacy Conference in Bangkok last month. I heard Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Tom Newkirk, Kylene Beers, and Bob Probst talk about literacy and the workshop model, and I was even more convinced that what we are doing at our school, that what I am doing in my classroom, is the right thing to do, perhaps the best thing to do for kids right now.

So, as someone who is still relatively fresh to the practices of readers workshop, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned in a simple list of do’s and don’ts.

Do offer choice to your students. It’s the foundation of the workshop model. Students will read more, read better, and read deeper when they have the feeling of agency and choice in their reading lives. I really feel that it’s non-negotiable.

Give students control over their own reading lives – they are at the age when they should be making more, rather than fewer, independent decisions. This is a pretty safe way to offer trial and error, risk, failure, and success as options for teenagers.

Don’t let them make all of the decisions. If the standards suggest that students should be reading American dramas, then require it. Just offer choice within those rails. Offer students choice with their deadlines, or with their assessment options. Let one group choose between A Raisin in the Sun and Fences, and another choose between The Crucible and Death of a Salesman. Just offer choice to the students, and make sure you can live with the options you present.

Do a book talk every day. I like to group titles into themes, often including all types of levels, forms, and genres in the mix. Including novels written in verse, graphic novels, middle school level books, nonfiction, and contemporary classics ensures that there is most likely a title for everyone in the grouping (see how I incorporate choice, even in the book talks).

The theme pictured above, “secrets” was so popular that I had to do a “round two” because so many in the first group had been immediately checked out by students, and my later classes would not have had enough books presented to them in that grouping. What a great problem to have.

However you decide to do your book talks, it’s essential that your students see you talking about books, excited about books, and pushing them to read titles that they didn’t know existed. A nice side benefit to this practice is that you will become more familiar with your school library’s collection, and in turn you’ll be able to match students to books with more confidence. Continue reading “Three Do’s and Don’ts of Implementing Readers Workshop”

Design Thinking and Choice in Summer Reading

Summer reading assignments are a hotly debated topic this time of year, especially when it’s tough to reconcile the workshop model’s foundation of student challenge and choice with something like a required reading program. What’s a teacher to do?

It’s a given that students need to read over the summer. When teachers and students have built a culture of reading over the course of a school year, it is essential to capture that momentum and carry it onwards in order to avoid the dreaded summer slide, but it’s also equally important to balance student choice.

Our school implemented PLCs this year, so we have “late-start-Wednesdays” during which small groups of teachers meet and plan around goals we set in the fall. My PLC focus is around student reading goals, and yesterday we posed a question to each other about how we could celebrate the progress our students have made over the course of the school year.

Individually, they are better readers than they were in September.

As a group, they have helped to foster a school culture of reading that is more robust than it was in the fall.

Some examples: our school library’s circulation numbers have dramatically increased over the school year, and students are regularly overheard “book talking” favorite titles or asking about each other’s next reads lists.

This change is worth acknowledging and celebrating, no doubt.

As a PLC, we also have a concern that once they are out the door in June, some of them will forget what it’s like to enjoy a healthy reading life, so we want to make a plan for that.

What we want to avoid is something like the summer reading programs from when we were kids, the well-intentioned ones that we remember our local libraries promoting. Remember the t-shirts and sticker charts? The programs that encouraged extrinsic rewards rather than finding focus in the intrinsic motivation that arrives when students discover favorite titles, authors, and genres?

I think those old-fashioned reading programs are the result of too many adults trying to figure out what kids like. Yes, kids like puppets and lollipops and popcorn. But those extrinsic rewards won’t turn kids into life-long readers.

Continue reading “Design Thinking and Choice in Summer Reading”

Surfing Lessons and Jungle Hikes – Getting rid of the podium.

When we lived in the States, spring break was often a time for slow-paced days at home, sleeping late, organizing the kids’ closets, and taking care of some outside chores. We might have gone to visit friends or family for a weekend, or even braved the Oregon Coast, where unpredictable weather forecasts forced us to pack our suitcases for all seasons.

Now that we are living and teaching abroad, spring break is a whole new experience, that quite frankly, I had never even dared to imagine. Sri Lanka for spring break? No problem! We decided to split our week between the jungle and the beach, we exercised and we relaxed, and we learned about ourselves and the world around us.

Below is a map I saw at a local Sri Lankan school:

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At the tender ages of ten and fourteen, my boys still love to travel with their parents and each other. They willingly and enthusiastically embarked on a 21 kilometer jungle hike, during which time the temperature and the humidity agreed on a number: about 90. The UV index was around 12, but because we were below the forest canopy, we didn’t worry about getting sunburned as much as we had to constantly check our shoes and socks for invading leeches.

The boys didn’t complain when we arrived at our destination: no roads, no electricity, no beds. Just delicious jungle food (including wild pineapple!), a cozy campfire, heat lightning that might rival the Northern Lights, and the magic of fireflies. Here’s where we slept that night:

My boys were open to new experiences, were willing to hike up slippery leech laden trails, and sleep on concrete right along side us.

And I think that’s the key. We, their parents, mentors, leaders, the adults in the room, were willing to do all of the things that we asked the children to do, right next to them. Sometimes offering a balancing hand, an encouraging word, or help with a pack, but always next to them, working on the same tasks. Taking the same journey together.

I couldn’t help but see this hike as an analogy for teaching. As an educator, I must be willing to work and learn right along side my students. To be uncomfortable, to struggle, to pick myself up from missteps, and especially to celebrate successes while I’m next to the kiddos. I can’t lecture them about what to do from a podium at the front of the room and then expect them to find success in an authentic task. I have to talk, demonstrate, model, teach, and learn with them.

And that’s when teaching and learning are especially rewarding. Continue reading “Surfing Lessons and Jungle Hikes – Getting rid of the podium.”