Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Small Reading Group Conversations #2

As I wrote in my last post titled, Small Reading Group Conversations, I have been giving my students in grades 7 and 6 time to engage in small group conversations about books and reading. The latest iteration of these small group conversations in grade 7 has resulted in students selecting their own groups.

Today students in grade 7 met in self-selected groups based on the following categories: fantasy, the Divergent series, graphic novels, Percy Jackson, and realistic fiction. As I stood back and watched the groups engage in their discussions, I was encouraged by the buzz in the room. Every group exhibited a charge of sorts as students talked with each other. Some students said they would want to stay together but many others said they preferred to change on a daily basis. The grade 6 students weren't able to get themselves in groups that made sense to them and to me. So, we have postponed making any changes for another time.

As I walked around today, I heard my grade 7 students remind each other to comment on what someone else had shared before moving forward. I heard authentic conversations among kids about books. I saw kids cover their ears as others shared spoilers from books they have yet to read. And, I observed some kids standing back looking sullen or disinterested. I don't expect perfection or total buy-in. Nevertheless, there has been progress. This little experiment is working.

I will keep watching, listening, asking.

Next time, I will bring my students voices to the fore to share their perspective on this new modality in our classroom.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Small Reading Group Conversations

   
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/327073991664852654/

     This year, I have spent too much time and energy trying to manage a silent 10 - 15 minute daily independent reading time in my grade 7 classroom. I haven't given up because I value independent reading: I know this is the best way to get reluctant readers to love to read. At this point, you may be entertaining two conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, you may be thinking that silent is unrealistic and, on the other hand, that 12- and 13-year-olds should be able to sit and read for less than 30 minutes without having to be redirected. A disclaimer: I believe that asking grade 7 students to read silently for 10 - 15 minutes, without getting distracted, shouldn't be an unrealistic expectation. But, alas, that is not the case. However, to be fair, I am only talking about 5 or 6 of my students, or 1/3 of the class. Although this is still a large percentage, it's rare that all of these students are distracted at the same time. Let's just say they take turns...in pairs.

Source: http://www.ultimaterob.com/2009/10/21/reading-the-disc/

     You may have already guessed that these 5 or 6 students are boys. At the beginning of the year none of them could stay with a book for longer than a few minutes before getting distracted or distracting each other. Although this situation has improved greatly - they are now able to find books they like and are rarely dissatisfied with their choices - I would predict that, if given the choice, they would still rather do anything else than read. That's OK. My goal for them was that by the end of the year they would like reading a little more than they did at the beginning of grade 7, and that they could identify books and/or authors they enjoy reading. Some now have a book or two on their to-read list.

     Nevertheless, I recently stumbled onto (and, yes, stumbled is precisely how it happened) a way for us to have our cake and eat it, too. I discovered that by incorporating just 10 minutes of partner reading conversations after independent reading, students could talk about books in a relaxed but focused environment. Admittedly, the first few times, students were at a loss as to what to talk about; they are gradually finding ways to keep the conversation going. To help them do this, I guide the class through focused reflections at the end of every partner conversation period. We talk about was hard and/or what went well. In this way, much like adult problem solving conversations about how to have an effective book discussion, we brainstorm solutions to stumbling blocks such as, not knowing what to talk about and avoiding spoilers.  For example, my students suggested, and we adopted, having groups of three instead of pairs as a way to increase the talk on books. During our last debrief, several trios talked about how they had piggy backed on another student's talk rather than immediately sharing about their book. So, they are learning to extend conversations and respond to each other rather than simply sharing without engaging in a true dialogue.


     Many adult book groups have a group created question or two to guide discussions. I plan to teach my students how to create generic questions for their book talks since they will be talking about different books. A possible next step could be to allow students to self-select partners based on having read the same book, series or author.

     I'm not sure if the no-talking-reading-all-the-time expectation has gotten better or not, but I find other aspects of our literacy workshop have improved. For example, more students are writing reading responses based on that day's group discussions of books. Their reflections, as a result, are more interesting, to them and to me, and provide a natural formative assessment opportunity. Also, the level of student conversations and what they are getting out of them has improved. One of the biggest payoffs is that they are recommending books to each other. As summer approaches, they are using these suggestions to make mental plans for their summer reading.

Source: 
https://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/07/12/summer-reading-global-voices-french-contributors/

   




Tuesday, 12 May 2015

It's the little things...

It's the little things that matter.

The unsolicited hug from a student...

The student who watches me intently,
trying to read my mind or having already read it,
in order to decide how she can revise
and adjust her group's presentation for the next day.

The very simple question, "What was hard about this activity?"
And, the very profound and honest responses
that lead to revisions and improvements in learning.

The collegial conversations, formal and informal,
about assessment, attitudes, unit planning,
and all the other issues that occupy teachers' work space.

The student that I still can't figure out,
though I've tried,
who suddenly talks about liking to read.
He writes about the first time he understood
what it's like to be disappointed
when the book you really want has been checked out from the library.

The birthday gift from the student who others have mostly given up on.
Despite many setbacks, he is still eager to learn.

The laughs, inevitable and so important in middle school,
that say,
"Everything's going to be all right."

At the end of the day,
I sigh and feel good about what I have accomplished,
and think ahead to the next day's learning,
and all the little things waiting to happen.
None of this can be measured but all of it is valuable.

It's the little things that matter.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Stuck, stuck, stuck

This Slice of Life March Challenge is not going well this year.

I've had issues with internet connection.
I haven't been able to keep up with my students' slices.
I'm not finding small moments to write about every day.
I'm experiencing what many of my students go through every day: I don't know what to write about.

I know that one of the best ways to get past writer's block is to power through it until you come out the other side.
I know that giving up too early can be a mistake.
I know that this is temporary even though it doesn't feel that way.
I know how important it is to write every day.
I know that there are always small moments worthy of reflection.

And, I'm behind on commenting on the posts of others.

I know all of this and yet I'm stuck.

I'm going to take a and-this-too-shall-pass stance. We'll see where I am tomorrow.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life, March Challenge, Day #11


Sunday, 8 March 2015

No WiFi

Missed two days of writing.
The WiFi in the hotel was not working when I needed it.
So, I had to admit that I was going to miss slicing for two days.
I had to let go.
It's not about the prize.
It's about the challenge.
Pushing myself to write more.
I am behind on commenting, as well.
So, now that I've commiserated with myself,
I'll pick myself up and just start again.

Another day.
Another opportunity to get it right.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge, Day #8

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Sampling of Student's Slice of Life Stories

Yesterday I blogged about how students were resisting the Slice of Life Story Challenge this month. Today, after a full day at the #innovategraded conference in Sao Paulo, I opened up their Google docs and discovered a treasure trove of amazing slices. Please respond in the comments. I know my students would really appreciate that!

Slice #1 - Go eat dinner
“Wendy, dinner is ready!” Mom yelled out.
OK. I’m coming, just one little piece to work.” 
I don’t want to miss the thing.
“Well, be faster.” Then, she turned to do her “job”.
Finally I finished, but I don’t want to move my poor body anymore. I’m like a snail moving so slowly. My legs are like full of the iron so I couldn't move it, but still I get into the dining room and get ready to have my dinner.

Slice # 2 - Selling and Buying
My dad and I were eating dinner when suddenly he proposes that our family sells our house in Houston and buy a different one. I said, “OK...How about we get the new house in California?” Then, my mom replied, “Yes! But, not L.A. How about San Diego?“ “Ooh, or maybe San Francisco!” I replied. But in the end my dad said, “I think we’ll just keep it in Texas.”

Slice #3
Today we went to a school called Einstein for an orchestra practice. The orchestra rode on a loud bus until finally we got there and tried to play the song we have been practicing for weeks. It’s a crazy mash up of different songs like Bullfight

I got ready to play. I took a deep breath and looked over at S, the only other cello player. One, two, three. One two, three. I tapped my foot along with my mental counting. After all I was just practicing. "NOW!" I thought. My bow made a soft movement on the string. SNAP! Went my string. Well, it wasn't the first time.

Slice #4 
Life is like basketball you pass by people and also people hurt you. I like basketball because it helps me take out stress. I get in the zone and forget the world around me like I’m somewhere else. Like also the feeling of the ball brushing my fingertips and I dribble. I like the wind blowing in my hair.

Slice #5 
“For the first 20 minutes you’ll do independent reading,” the substitute for our absent teacher said. “And then we’ll go down to the computer lab to do you reading MAP testing.” The whole class gasped. We weren't notified of this test. Several people groaned.
            
MAP testing is a test all middle school students do at the beginning and middle of the year. There were two tests - math and reading. I liked the math one better because it was just easier for me.
            
When it was time for the test, I focused really hard and blocked out the sounds of chairs squeaking. I started to get a rhythm in my mind: to read the passage, look at the answers, and click on an answer. Read, look, click….Read, look, click….
            
Finally I was done, and I have to say that I was pretty impressed and pleased about my score. It was above average. I clicked done and enjoyed the last few minutes of class reading The Maze Runner.

Slice #6
I bounced on the seat as the car drove. My music was bursting in my ears, but that’s how I liked it. As I was looking through my phone to pick a new song, because I didn't want to listen to another Fall Out Boy song, I noticed I had three unread text messages. Then I saw the people who sent them. All people from New Jersey. "Wow," I thought. "I haven’t texted these people in a long time. Might as well text them." I responded to all three people and then decided to also text three more. I turned off my phone and sat listening to my music, Sarcasm by Get Scared. After a while someone responded. It was Mary Louise, one of the people who didn't text me first.
“Hey,” she replied.
“How life in NJ?” I asked.
“Snowing now.”
Although the conversation started boring it became more interesting. Then someone else responded, Sasha. Sasha was one of my closest friends in New Jersey. She was the first friend I made when I moved to New Jersey.
“HIIIII” she replied.
“Dude it’s March 3rd. I’m coming March 27th,” I answered excitedly.
“ya. IKKKKK”
“Sooooo excited!!!!!”
“Me tooooooo!!”
As we kept talking we came to new topics and discussed many different things. I was so happy to be able to talk with my old friends.

Slice #7
Today I was going outside of Ms. Milla`s class and I found Pardo playing el burrito. I said, “Pardo, let's play." “Yes,” he screamed happily. Then, we were passing the ball until they threw it right into my nose. Plack!!!!!! It sounded.  I heard people laughing. Hahahaha, it doesn't hurt a lot. Then, Mr. Muenker said, “David, I think you should`t stop it like that," and I hear more laughter.

Slice #8 - The Accident
I was running. My eye was on the ball. I could see how it went up in the sky. I jumped to get it, but I didn't feel the ball hitting my head. I felt as if a rock had collapsed in the right side of my forehead. “I feel bad coach,” I said. He looked impressed. “We need to go to the nurse,” he exclaimed. Then, when I looked in the mirror I saw two big balls on my forehead.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life, March Classroom Challenge, Day #4

Project Based Learning with Suzie Boss

Today was day #1 at the #innovategraded conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

This conference is all about innovation in education, and how to start this process both in your classroom and at your school.

Today I attended a day-long workshop with @suzieboss on Project Based Learning (PBL).

Here are my top 10 takeaways:

  1. The teacher must plan and implement the driving question, the end product, the first day lesson, and the learning engagements along the way.
  2. When teachers are new to PBL, it's critical that they design many parts of the project for students. 
  3. The driving question should be action-oriented and appeal to students' interests. 
  4. The initial activity must grab students' attention. 
  5. The audience for this project must be authentic and add value to students' learning.
  6. PBL is inquiry based and allows for students' individual questions.
  7. PBL is not the same as projects because the latter often do not have lasting learning value.
  8. It is not necessary to do PBL all the time. Depending on a teacher's particular situation, once or twice a year may be all that she can manage.
  9. It is important for colleagues to collaborate with each other on the design of a PBL project even if not everyone will be implementing it in their classroom.
  10. Finally, it is important to scaffold students' learning through mini lessons and check-ins along the way.
Tomorrow there will be many 30 - 90 minute sessions on a variety of topics. I look forward to continuing on this learning journey.

If you have experience with PBL, I am particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on developing an effective driving question, ongoing and final assessments, and PBL timelines.