Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reading Not Accounting

Reading in class last week during second period.
The best assessment I have of students' as readers is our conversations about books. Sometimes these conversations are of the casual, in-between-class sorts of talk on the steps and other times conversations are more formal.  Sometimes the conversations have me pulling out my phone to take a picture of the book a student is reading because I want to add it to my own "to be read" list. 

This cover reminded me of Koch's The Dinner which I loved last year.
After talking to the reader, I knew I need to snap and save it.
Readers in community do that. We share titles and tell stories. 

I talk with students each week about reading journal entries. I have time in my forty-seven minute class period to confer with about half the class a period. I alternate weeks, so I confer with every student in class once every two weeks . Others, who need or request it, confer with me more often as  time allows. While students are reading I am either conferring with readers in class, observing readers, taking anecdotal notes about books and readers or reflecting by writing about the reading my students are doing.  I look at the Reading Record each week, but with more than one-hundred students, I do a quick look.

Tracking students' weekly reading on our Google spreadsheet has gone awry. Our Reading Record is a digital mash up of Atwell's idea of a Status of the Class and  Kittle's differentiated page goals recorded weekly. Our first quarter ends this week, so I have been doubling back looking at  the books and weekly page totals students recorded on our Reading Record in order to give students a grade for independent reading this quarter.  I have noticed several inconsistencies in how students are recording what they are reading. I've been matching those inconsistences with what I know about independent reading and readers. 

I thought about accountable talk (Harvey) and how high school students fake or avoid reading (Tovani, Kittle).  I thought about how teachers use writing to assessing reading (Reif, Gallagher).  I even considered the behaviors readers exhibit in the wild (Miller). Sometimes an issue surfaces in a particular class that can only be solved in the community of that classroom. As Richard Allington has said, research shows: "kids are different." The fun in teaching is figuring out what works for the readers in your room. 

This quarter, on our Reading Record, some students:
  • note the page number they end on each day that they record reading their novel.
  • note the total pages they read that day whether in their novel or in a textbook.
  • are only reading their textbooks.
  • are not calculating their total pages correctly. 
This Reading Record feels too much like accounting and not enough like pleasure reading.  I am not an accountant nor do I want to spend the time I could use to read or imagine or or learn or plan, counting pages.  It is only October. Sometimes the reading magic does not fully form until January. I often forget how long it takes to truly pull together as readers.

The Reading Record frustrated me enough that I knew we needed to talk about it as a community.

I printed out a sample page of the Reading Record, names removed, some titles altered. I re-calculated some of the totals in the total column and had the math right there in the column for students to see.

I added the column of textbook reading and tried to see who was recording what in terms of textbooks; I also refigured much of the math or added the 0s to note where pages were not totaled. To be clear, students do no receive zeroes as grades. 

We examined the data. We talked about reading and why it is important. 

 Pleasure reading is homework in my class.  When students read only textbooks (homework from other classes) they are not doing the work they need to do to improve as readers. They are not doing the homework for our English class.  Reading two to two and half hours a week, a book of students' own choosing, is one of two weekly homework assignments in my English class.  When students say they "don't have time to read." What they may be saying is "I am not a reader." 

We talked about the inconsistencies in how students recorded their reading work. I asked students to propose solutions. Students offered a variety of solutions: re-teach a standard recording format, keep titles and pages in our reading journals (and not on the shared spread sheet), keep a log that parents sign (No way, I wanted to cry out!), take AR tests instead (Yes, a student suggested that. I listened when I wanted to mount a rebuttal). My idea is to discontinue tracking pages altogether.

I thought about triangulation, anecdotal records, eaves dropping and kid watching (Goodman). We did not come to consensus on a solution for next quarter yet. I am confident that we will.

If my end goal is to get students reading--reading widely and often, books of a variety of genres, books that increase in complexity--in order to build stamina and skill. Then does counting pages read each week get us there? 

Perhaps another question is does tracking pages students read each week help me assess the readers in the room in the most efficient and authentic way possible? Maybe. Maybe there are better ways I can keep my eyes on readers. 

The Reading Record, over time, provides a rich reading history. If it's accurate. I can say a lot about a reader who's habits I have traced over weeks and months. 

If it isn't accurate, then it's all smoke and mirrors. If students are  working to comply to get a grade-- instead of falling in for books and gobbling up stories--  then we have failed. 

Reading opens doors of opportunities. High achievement, high test scores (today's currency when it comes to college admissions these Pre-IB students crave) are a natural consequence of reading life. I tell students that 

What do you think? I'm sure my students would appreciate hearing how you would solve this problem with our Reading Record or how you and your students monitor and or track their reading. 
Slice of Life is hosted by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Head over to serve 
up a slice from your day or help yourself to seconds.


Atwell, Nancie. The Reading Zone. New York, NY: Scholastic, 2007.

Gallagher, Kelly. Readicide. Portsmouth, ME: Stenhouse, 2009.

Harvey, Stephanie and Anne Goudvis. Interview: "Read, Write, Talk." Portsmouth, ME: Stenhouse.

Tovani, Cris. I Read It But I Don't Get It. Portsmouth, ME: Stenhouse, 2005.

Kittle, Penny. Book Love.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.

Miller, Donalyn and Susan Kelley. Reading in the Wild.  Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Reif, Linda. Inside the Writer's- Reader's Notebook. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Parents, Passion and Summer Slide

This is the penultimate post in my reflection series on summer reading. 
Link up in comments if you'd like to talk about it.

In this penultimate post reflecting on summer reading, I consider how the research and my community context influence summer reading assignments.

I'm an avid Science Friday fan. The show makes my Friday afternoon commute. Last Friday Science Friday hit a triple with segments on the "Live from South Bend" show: electric engines, forensic entomology, and art detectives (links below). Performances by the Notre Dame Glee Club between segments were happiness boosters--the song we heard about the Periodic Table, awesome.

"The 'First' Battle of Gas Versus Electric"

"Forensic Entomologists Hunt Down Insects to Help Catch Criminals"

"Is Your Priceless Painting a Fake"

The entomology segment with Dr. Anne Perez from St. Joseph's College reminds me how important parents' passions are to childrens' development. A hunter and scientist, Perez's father, kept a living fence (overgrown boundary area) on one side of their property. He was a hunter and he would put the heads of animals he hunted in the living fence area. Perez would visit the heads as they decomposed and collect the insects she found there. Children learn through observation and experience. Parents, teachers, coaches, the caring adults in the lives of children and teens are living lessons.

What lessons do students learn about reading and writing from the adults in their lives? What happens when adults must work two and three or four jobs in order to provide for their families? Adults working sixty, seventy, even eighty hours a week may not have the energy, not to mention time or resources, to model joyful reading. Not everyone leaves school a life long, joyful reader. Not everyone carries the torch for books and story. Not everyone is afforded the luxury of sitting to read a an hour or two a day. I believe reading and writing--modeling it, practicing it, doing it--with and in front of children is as necessary as food and shelter, but I have never lived the lives the working poor live. I can see how a trip to the public library between shifts or bus schedules may be a near insurmountable challenge.

Students who grow up in poverty also grow up in word-poor environments. Research on summer reading documents this, connects the phenomena to learning loss (the summer slide) and traces the gap or learning loss from elementary school to senior year.

So what, right? What does all of this mean for me and my students? If I serve students living in poverty, if I serve students growing up in word poor environments then I know I need to create a print-rich, word-rich classroom at school. In terms of summer assignments I need to realize that such students are likely home alone quite a bit. Many students tell me they do not have quiet places to read or write. Uninterrupted time and relative quiet are supports I have at home.  Many students at my school do not. Without relative quiet I have trouble with complex texts. 

Simulate the experience of those students. Turn on your least favorite television channel. Set the volume a number or two higher than you usually do and read a new-to-you, densely- descriptive page of a text someone else chose.

Did you try it? What happened?

I know what happened when I tried it. I snapped at the dog. I had to restart my reading a couple of times. I felt interrupted and annoyed. I could not have written a coherent summary or have done any sort of written assignment without looking back and re-reading.

I empathize with students when they are given assignments that are meaningless in the face of their lives. Yes, adults do need to read all sorts if texts. There are times we must swallow the bitter or the trudge through the boring. Those are not the texts that keep us connected or keep our skills as readers, writers or thinkers nimble.

What keeps us agile, what keeps us flexible and useful is practice over time. We are what we repeatedly do. We repeat what we enjoy. The brain seeks pleasure.

If the titles assigned for summer reading offer zero pleasure, our students will not read them.  Thus, the gap grows and stretches into school year's start.

Most of the students at my school come to us from Title I middle schools. These students need more choice not less. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the common read and several of my peers commented on the value of such an exercise. I love talking with readers about books we have all read. I believe students gain valuable experience, on many levels, from a common read. But I'm starting to think that the common read should happen in community, when school is in session. If we need to maximize choice to maximize engagement in summer reading then it seems as if the best time for a common read, a one book one grade sort of read is at school's start not during the summer.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reading and Practice

I'm reflecting on summer reading through the first quarter. There are two posts
left in this Sunday series. 
Join the conversation, add a link to your post in comments
I forgot my work at school. I pulled student samples of summer reading assignments that I wanted to write about and reflect on and I left them sitting next to the computer at school. It's been a busy two weeks with a common assessment essay assignment for tenth graders and a county-mandated essay. For me that meant scoring 300 essays in ten days using new Florida Standards Assessment rubric as well as maintaining the instructional momentum of our class' weekly reading journals, Socratic discussions and other written work (but that's another post).

Instead of writing about summer reading work, I'm going to share a student's reading journal entry. This particular student is enjoying content-area literature circles in her AP Environmental science class. She's been reading Hiaasen's Chomp, discussing it with her book group in science class and writing about it in her reading journal in my class. Cross-over course work makes such a difference in students' literacy lives. Instead of seeing such work as double dipping, I tend to see it as double time. be It works. The students who have rich reading and writing routines in courses other than English get the kind of practice they need to be successful on challenging assessments.

This quarter  students are practicing close reading and argument writing in their reading journals. Some students photo copy a passage from their independent novels,  others write a short passage or a collection of quotes on the left side of the entry. On the right students practice analysis and argument. I ask students to sustain their analysis or argument for two, front pages.  This is weekly practice work. More authentic than decontextualized worksheets, but less authentic than the writing workshop pieces students choose, craft and share. My student writers need both.  Once the practice has made the routine or thinking permanent, it will go away. I will release students' from the responsibility of writing in the reading journal. Until then, we work together on it.

In this writer's practice I can see purposeful annotation: cause and effect, sound imagery and notes about decisions the characters are making. On the right, the writer starts with a claim about the need for good decision making skills. She supports her assertion by paraphrasing a decision made in the passage she pulled for close reading practice. I can see the writer using a mix of paraphrase, summary and direct quotations. When we talked about the entry I praised her close reading and reviewed when page numbers are needed in text and when they are not. In the last paragraph on the page she used a parenthetical citation for a paraphrase but not the direct quote. Understanding how to cite work in text is a lesson that spans genres and weeks in my room. This is just an initial practice and I'm pleased to see the concept forming in this writer's work.

We are off to the beach this afternoon. There is a tropical storm off shore and good waves are a guarantee. Time to get some surf time in.

Have a great week!
Lee Ann