Some Thoughts about Voice and Choice in High School Readers Workshop

I remember when my school district was all about the Love and Logic model. It was the autumn of 1999, and it was my very first year of teaching.

We teachers were encouraged to offer “natural consequences” and to allow students an opinion when it came to disciplinary measures and classroom management. We were taught to offer choices to students, but choices that we adults could live with.

Love and Logic helped me get through my first year of teaching, no question about it.

I can’t help but connect the ideas behind the behavioral issues to those with readers workshop.

I offer choices to my students every day. I am transparent about it. For instance, I recently gave an assignment regarding their Week Without Walls travel. They were assigned, about six weeks or so before their travels, to read one text about where they were headed. The idea was that they would learn something new and have a more enriched experience while they were in a new country.

I explained to each of my classes that because I value choice so much, it didn’t matter to me what they read. Cookbooks, novels, travel blogs, poems, folk tales, memoirs, and most anything else were all on the table.

Because my students are expected to read at least two hours a week, these choices were absolutely okay with me. I knew that even if they weren’t reading something related to their travels, they would be reading.

Students ended up reading a variety of texts, genres, and forms, and we were all fairly satisfied with how it went.

The thing is, the choices I offered were choices I could live with, but more importantly, choices my students could live with.

I would have preferred that my students read longer texts like a memoir or novel about their destinations, but I had to be realistic about their individual reading lives.

Some students were entrenched in series and didn’t want to take the time to read a longer text between their preferred books.

Some students had healthy next read lists and didn’t want to prioritize something new over what they were looking forward to reading next.

Many students had valid reasons for not wanting to read a longer text, but were more than willing to read something shorter. This still allowed students to learn something new, and to create background knowledge about where they were traveling to, which was the point of the assignment.

policy preferenceSo as I reflected on it, I realized that my preference should not automatically turn into classroom policy. I should not only allow voice and choice when it comes to what they read, but in many other aspects of my courses. Continue reading “Some Thoughts about Voice and Choice in High School Readers Workshop”

ruBRICKS Part II – A Follow-Up

Blogging, writing, talking, being part of the conversation about what it means to be an educator in 2017, it’s all easier to do than to actually live it and breathe it and teach it. We can talk about theory, we can read our guiding texts, we can attend professional development conferences around the world, participate in twitter chats, and we can all talk the talk.

Walking the talk is the hardest part.

Theory doesn’t always meet practice. But we try. I try.
I recently wrote about the idea of rubrics

– that they should serve more as a foundation than a weight or a wall pinning students in. That they should allow for creativity rather than limiting imagination.

One way that I have tried to allow for student voice and creativity is with the most important thing I can help my students learn.

The topic is the habits of a healthy reading life.

If my students learn to read literary nonfiction, classic novels, and short stories, it will be fantastic. But it’s fantastic only if they actually choose to read these texts on their own. Most importantly, they need to have a habit of reading, to discover the reader within themselves.

This winter I realized that I wasn’t sure that my students knew what the endgame was. So we talked about it. We talked about what it looks like to have a healthy reading life, and we brainstormed the attributes of a healthy reading life.

I did my best to organize their ideas into categories and indicators that made sense. I used our school’s student profile to help with the organization. The six categories are Respect and Integrity, Global Awareness, Reflective Thinking, Critical Thinking, Creators and Innovators, and Communicators and Collaborators.

From that, I created a rubric.

I think the process for this rubric can be re-created with other standards and goals, and can be simplified to a simple yes/no checklist, or a one point rubric for student self-reflection.

healthyreadinglifeprofile-page-001

healthyreadinglifeprofile-page-002

I know, I know… There are still problems with the document. But I think the point is that the ideas in it originally were theirs. The ideas belonged to the grade nine students.

While it’s an intimidating double-sided checklist in its entirety, it is easy to split into the six sections, which means we can examine just one section of a student’s reading life at a time. At that point it becomes smaller and quite manageable, and it’s not a brick wall of text.

I can print just one section at a time, and use it as an exit ticket or as a prompt for a reflective quick write. It doesn’t weigh students down when they simply examine only two or three indicators about their habits of reading.

The document still needs to be refined, and maybe all of the Common Core standards I’ve attached to the indicators aren’t exactly right; it’s still a draft, a work in progress. But this rubric, one that could be revised to a simple yes/no checklist, has been the catalyst for some seriously authentic and relevant conferences with my students.

Because I used their criteria and ideas, it’s not a brick wall, and it doesn’t confine my students between narrow rails. Instead, it’s a conversation starter, a tool for goal-setting while conferring, and it’s something that shows my students what to strive for.

It shows them what this readers workshop is all about: healthy reading lives.

I think the takeaway here is that teaching is always a work in progress, as is learning. Setting goals is important for students and for teachers. Creating authentic scoring guides continues to be one of my goals. This year I created one about the topic that I think is the most important of all – the healthy habits of reading. Next year we will tackle the habits of being a writer.

I will keep talking the talk – that means I am learning and reflecting on my practice. I will also keep trying to walk the talk, which I think has to include student input, because student voice is so essential to readers workshop, and is of course essential to building the habits of healthy reading lives of students.

We can’t weigh them down with our “help” – our rubrics and scoring guides should serve as foundations for growth, which is what I think this one does.
Nothing’s perfect, and we teachers have to be okay with that. We will continue to read, learn, discuss, and to walk the talk. Walking it and living it is a work in progress, and our students are better because we keep trying.


Originally published as a guest post on blog Three Teachers Talk 
Follow Julie on twitter @SwinehartJulie

 

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)”

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:

IMG_9209

 

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.”

Encouraging Independent Readers – I can’t confer with them forever.

The whole point of this reader’s workshop adventure is to encourage and foster independent readers. Readers who pick up Ready, Player One rather than a wii controller. Readers who speculate about what crazy new events will happen to Shy in The Hunted, Matt De La Peña’s action-packed sequel to The Living (both of which, by the way, my own two boys recently devoured), rather than watching the latest youtube channels.

I wish for my students to feel the same excitement and confidence for YA novels that they did when they were littles for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and to feel that they are confident and capable enough to tackle memoirs like The Glass Castle any day of the week if they want to.

That’s the thing: when my 9th graders made reader’s timelines, there was a buzz in the room. They were excited and confident in their talk about the books they remembered from toddlerhood and childhood. They beamed when they talked about Curious George and Clifford, the Big Red Dog with a fondness I hadn’t heard from them en masse until that day.

I’m not sure they will all have that same buzz about books again until they are fully independent readers, so I’m making it my business to help get them there.

One of the things about the workshop model is that through offering challenge and choice, students can develop their own tastes and habits which lead them to being grown-up readers.

And arguably one of the most essential aspects of the workshop model is conferring with the teacher.

With the teacher.

But I want my students to be independent, healthy readers. So I have to teach them to remove me from the equation. But I have to confer with them to teach them.

Quite a dilemma. Continue reading “Encouraging Independent Readers – I can’t confer with them forever.”

Students are changing the world because they read.

On a cold day in February, I started class the way I always seem to do these days: with a themed book talk. I included a variety of genres and forms in this collection of books that centers around the big idea of poverty: YA, nonfiction, written in verse, novel, and memoir to name a few.poverty

Included in this collection was Banker to the Poor, a memoir about the birth of microcredit and microlending.

Below an excerpt from the official Banker to the Poor website which I think helps explain what a microloan is and how the idea came to be:

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.01.35 PM

 

One of my grade eleven girls quickly keyed in on this particular title, which came as no surprise. She has been a nonfiction-junkie this year, and the topic is right up her alley.

Time passed, we periodically conferred about her book, and then something happened.

Last week she insisted that she confer with me first, before any other students. She announced to me, “Mrs. Swinehart! I have big news that I think you’ll want to know about!”

She was right.

She went on to explain that she had received some money as a gift for her recent birthday.  Her big news was that because she was inspired by the book she was reading, she would use some of her birthday money to help fund a microloan.

What an empowering connection between the real world and the text she was reading.

Talk about proud teacher moment.

What if she hadn’t had the freedom of choice in her reading life? If she had been in a class that required her to read a shared text – perhaps a classic like The Scarlet Letter, which I’ve taught several times and has always been one of my favorites – but in a class that didn’t offer her choice? Or if the whole class had been required to read her choice of text? The magic would have been gone. Continue reading “Students are changing the world because they read.”