Sunday, September 21, 2014

Teaming Summer Reads

I'm reflecting on summer reading through October.
Link up if you'd like to join the conversation.

The tenth grade team had our first data meeting of the year with our principal last week. The team will meet every three weeks to review common assessment data and talk instruction. We are tasked with showing how students in a variety of categories perform on assessments. We disaggregate our data; then we meet and discuss it. For this meeting we talked about the essay we asked students to write about the one book on grade summer reading. Tenth graders read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. We only asked them to read the book.  The assessment the team devised was an essay prompt that asked students to explain how the novel develops one of three themes.

 We revised our assessment after previewing our state's new assessment. The team thought that by giving students three theme statements and a passage we would set them up for a successful writing experience.

We assumed:

  • students understood the concept of theme
  • students had written about theme in ninth grade
  • students knew how to use textual evidence in writing
  • students knew how to find evidence to support a given theme
  • students could embed textual evidence (paraphrased, summarized or directly quoted) in writing

In hindsight, we could have spent more time unpacking prerequisite skills. We could have also talked to the ninth grade as we planned our assessment. We thought students would be successful writing the essay in class.

What we discovered instead was that students did not know how to write about theme. They knew how to summarize the book. They knew how to use evidence from the given passage or the novel to tell the story, but most could not use evidence from the text to show how the theme develops.

This students' strengths include facility with words--a great vocabulary--and an ability to sequence events from the plot. My next instructional move is to help this writer use evidence to support the theme instead  retelling the plot.

Did students read? Yes. Were they successful on the assessment? For the most part, no. All six of us, retaught some aspect of the summer reading. The reteaching ranged from showing students how to embed textual evidence to how to structure analysis paragraphs. We all agreed that we will be teaching students how to do such writing well into the year.

When assessment does not match purpose students get lost. I think we know this, but it's a lesson we come back to time and again as we refine our practice. Still, we saw what students are able to do as writers who read.

My students are entering tenth grade with a host of writing skills. Students can:

  • paragraph
  • summarize
  • use figurative language
  • use a variety of sentence structures
  • use transition words to organize writing/ideas
  • write specifically about plot
  • sequence events 
  • loosely connect events to theme

There is a lot that students come to class knowing how to do. We're off to a good start. Now to build on it (and work as a team to on revising our grade-level summer reading for next year).


  1. I wander if using phrasing other than "theme" and the typical language of English teachers would have made a difference. I'm also curious about how much time has lapsed since the students' reading the book. That makes a big difference on one's ability to write about a book regardless of one's skills.

    1. I wonder, too, Glenda. I do think that time and the idea that students didn't do anything to hold onto ideas from the book played a part.

    2. I agree, Lee. I read for different reasons and know that when I read for pleasure, I often remember very little about a book once I finish. I have to make a conscious effort to retain a book for class purposes.

  2. I forgot to include the link to my post: "Born to Read: Developing a Reading Mindset"