Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sick Daze

It was Project for Awesome week when a teacher-friend and Mom to one of my students stopped by my classroom. Her daughter, a tenth grader, delightful, studious and hard working, her daughter had the flu. "Influenza type A," she said to me between classes while I stood on the steps to my classroom. "She had the swab and everything." 

Really? Really? 

 I'd gotten a flu shot and a tetnus shot just the day before. I punctured my head with a roof nail getting Christmas down from the attic. My last tetnus shot was more than a decade old and the nurse talked me into the flu shot as bonus protection. The shot would not "go live" for seventy-two hours the nurse warned. Seriously? 

We disinfected the classroom. We used two containers of Lysol wipes (family sized). We wiped keyboards and chair backs and tables and book shelves. We washed hands and sanitized pens and pencils.

It was like some sort of don't-get-sick voodoo. 

Fortunately, I have time to make soup and breathe steam and sleep on the couch ensconced in quilts my mother made. I have plenty of books laid in, a cuddly puppy and holiday left overs. 

Even sick, winter break is glorious.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Students Rocked P4A

Slice of Life is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
Click over to their comment stream for seconds or to serve up your slice. 

We had an amazing Project for Awesome this month. Now in its eighth year, the Project for Awesome is a global charity drive founded by Hank and John Green that happens on YouTube. A team of dedicated people organize and launch the annual fundraiser: programmers, web designers, code writers, entertaining hosts and more. This year the Project for Awesome raised 1.2 million dollars for charity!

This year, many students started thinking and planning their projects during our Thanksgiving break. Some even got in touch with their charities then and began corresponding. I am delighted with the work they did. For many students, these were the first videos they had ever created and uploaded to YouTube. There were 1,000 videos created globally for the Project for Awesome. Our students created 41 of those thousand

There were a lot of great moments this Project for Awesome, but the moments that show cased my students' learning just sparkle. One student group's video was featured during the Project for Awesome live streaming event. The live stream event is like a virtual telethon variety show. Think Jerry Lewis meets YouTube without camera cuts to the call center. Laura, Sira and Samantha’s video in support of Three Avocados garnered the attention of thousands during the live stream and encouraged many to vote in support of their charity. Straight forward, well-structured and original, see their video here.

Samantha, Laura and Sira were amazed at Nerdfighters' comments. Amazed and at first a little confused. Their class period on Project for Awesome day was over before the live stream began, so they did not have a clear understanding of how listening to the live stream and commenting together on videos worked. I explained that Nerdfighters have conversations with each other and the live stream hosts in comments, so that some comments are talking to those audiences and other comments are actually aimed at the video creators. The comment that sticks with me is one from Josh who wrote: "further proof that you don't need high production quality to make a great P4A viceo. Clean writing and a lovely style." Yes! 

Everyone in class cheered for the girls: spontaneous outbreak of applause equals awesome. Not only did students' efforts at script writing pay off, so did their work promoting their videos. Not every group reached out to the organizations they chose, but several did. Students who made those connections came away from the project with deeper understandings. 

 Kamisha worked with Sara, Katelyn, Abida, and Fernando to create a Project for Awesome video featuring The Prem Rawat Foundation TPRF. They contacted the charity, the charity posted and promoted their video on Facebook. The foundation posted their video multiple times and students were amazed at the response from the community. They earned more than 5,000 likes on Facebook and more than 100 shares--that's more than the population of our entire school! 

Kamisha communicated professionally and enthusiastically with The Prem Rawat Foundation. With original photography and video clips as well as excellent voice over work and writing, see their video here.

It gets better. The Board of Directors contacted Kamisha this week and invited her to speak to an international gathering of organization members via video conference call. She is looking forward to the opportunity. And what a great opportunity it will be to speak about how she and her group members are working to make the world a better place. 

Authentic audiences, real-world work, purposeful use of digital tools to share and publish written arguments, take away lessons from the Project for Awesome give back to us all year.  It takes us out of our selves and focuses our attention on issues with real import. 

Thank you John and Hank Green and the Project for Awesome team. Thank you Nerdfighteria. Thank you DFTBA volunteers. Thank you to the Foundation to Decrease World Suck. Thank you, thank you. My students rocked Project for Awesome this year. They, and you all,  just amaze me. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

NCTE, I Love

NCTE, I love

I love a lot of things, a whole lot of things.

Like when my friend Lee lands, back in the States from Japan and we're at different airports doing the same things. So we text and send stickers and pictures while we wait on bags and arrange shuttle transportation and it feels like elementary school but with an electronic playground and we are laughing and jumping and waving and hugging.
Let me tell you, I love how Lee laughs. In person and in writing she makes people feel cared for and smart and cute too. Honey, that Lee makes me feel so lucky to call her friend. 

The day  was long for Lee, not so much me, Lee stayed awake so many, many hours and ate lots of meals and still had good hair and  energy to explore.  The hotel and convention center is on the water. There is a marina and a Ferris wheel and the cold air sparkles blue. 

Inside there are Christmas trees too and a glass walled atrium. From the lobby we can see rows of twinkle light trees, guardians of the magic that is NCTE. Honey, let me tell you, I love a twinkle-y tree and NCTE. 

I love laughing while learning at NCTE. Lester Laminack's amazing sequence of hilarity that juggled ginger, bourbon, and poles while pointing to read aloud's utmost importance. Brilliant. Honey, I loved listening (and drawing and noting and tweeting and seeing and sharing).

NCTE, I loved the first day.

Here are a few of the things folks said that I will be holding tight for a while:

"If you already know the answer it's not authentic--it's not real'"- Kylene Beers

"Talk that checks for understanding (Monologic) versus talk that creates understanding (dialogue)." - Kylene Beers

"I think she had a bedazzler at home, she always chose to make a trifold." -Donalyn Miller sharing anecdotes for each of Tomlinson's points of differentiation (content, process, product, learning environment).

"Students read 50-60% more in classrooms with adequate libraries." -Donalyn Miller (Allingon, 2008; Morrow, 2007; Neumann, 1999)

"It's got nothing to do with everyone or anyone or all or nothing." - Bob Probst

"Read with the zeal of a street performer! Do it with the attitude of a drug dealer!"-Leater Laminack 

"We may not have much money, but there is nothing my children will lack if we have a library card." - Gary's mother from Kylene Beer's story of her first trip to D.C.

"Segregation in this country by intellectual rigor is just as shameful as segregation by color; every time we focus on skill and will, we are keeping kids impoverished." - Kylene Beers

Friday, October 31, 2014

Poetry and Face Painting Friday

Turning Back by Sara Holbrook

October light
turns in by six
and night
comes early in the forest,

This weekend we will turn back the clocks. Halloween is a turning back for the teens in my classes--the holiday provides good cover for kids that want to turn back into kids, if just for a little while.

Teenagers can be quite serious. So serious that it's easy to forget that they like to be kids too.

Today we are writing for the Yes Magazine essay contest. The contest prompt asks students how they combat world suck with awesome digitally or otherwise. The prompt extends from an article about empathy, teens, the Green brothers and Nerdfighteria featured on the Yes Magazine site.

To prepare for writing we read and discussed the article. We watched the Nerdfighter F.A.Q. video. We brainstormed how we build strength and support in real life and online and we've planned how we could use a variety of details to shape our pieces.

I wrote with students this morning and I began my essay with an anecdote about painting a little girl's face at Give Kids the World Village.

After I wrote my lead I remembered that I had my face painting kit in the classroom. I usually paint students faces for our homecoming football game, but I didn't get a chance to do that this year. I was at a conference on that Friday. So after writing, I broke out the face paints and said I'd paint some Halloween cheer. Students were so cute. 

"Is it free?"
"Does it cost money?"
"You're going to what?"

They were delighted and the first boy that sat down. Well, he decided he wanted me to recreate the unicorn dolphin. 

I love working with teenagers. 

Have a Spooktacular Halloween!

Lee Ann

Sara Holbrook's feature poem for October "Turning Back" is on her website. Zoom on over there to read the entire piece.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Papertowns Moment

Sunday a John Green  tweet  read "In town for Papertowns. So excited."

What if both Green brothers were in town for the filming? What if the brothers decided to take a break and visit local classrooms, surprising teachers and students? Talk about awesome. Imagine the door opening.

Portable classrooms  in Florida, are stand-alone rectangles, strung together by  side walks. The portables open right to the outside.

As the classroom door opens, the sun shines in. The class sees the door-shaped sun patch stretch across the floor. Students  blink at  the bright light. We turn toward the door. We see only shadows at first, two, tall, lanky shadows, likely jean-clad. It wouldn't take a minute for us to recognize such celebrity guests.

Can you imagine?

That was my teacher day dream today. A day dream I shared with a student who'd written about Papertowns in her reading journal this morning. The student was telling me about talking to her agent about the Papertowns movie. I shared my day dream based on Green's tweet. For a minute we were fans together talking about a book we love. We were having the kind of excited conversation that the rest of the room quiets down to listen to.

When I looked up everyone was listening. Jessi and I shared a smile and right then the door flew open.

The wind caught it and sun spilled into the room. It was as if we all held our breath at the same time. Could it be? What if?

Everyone turned to the door, eyes wide.

In walked the fire marshal with a custodial escort. We laughed. Perfect timing

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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lesson Planning

At my school we are required to turn in our unit and lesson plans via Share Point. This is the second year we have been asked to submit lesson plans. Administrators have been charged with giving five teachers per week lesson plan feedback. All of us are still working on meeting these expectations.

My lesson plan folder on our School Collaboration site.
Here's the page I use to introduce my plans to my administrator along with links to the calendar files.
Are you required to turn in lesson and unit plans at your school? I'd be interested in hearing what you, your school and or your district does. If you have a minute, share in comments or send a screen shot of your plans my way on Twitter

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Audience matters when writing lesson plans. I use an instructional calendar for myself to paint a big picture of the focus, goals and texts I will use over the course of units and quarters.  The focus calendar files are named:

Pre-IB English 2: focuscalendar_2014 ib_quarter 2                    

I write daily and weekly plans for students.  I publish lesson plans online for students and parents. I try to link documents and resources students need to participate in class (in case they were absent or in case they need support outside of school). Such transparency helps me communicate with students and keep parents informed about what is going on in English class.

I update the daily/weekly plans as needed based on what happens in class.

Because I am writing plans for students to use, the material they most need to be able to do what we are doing in class is noted first:  daily learning targets and the agenda items as well as assessments, reviews and homework.  Then below the orange line I note items administration has requested: Marzano’s instructional elements, Florida Core standards and other professional requirements.

My daily plans are tabbed web pages. Click the dated tab on the webpage to go to the week. Links to each week are also provided below. Please note that though I plan units and map out the quarter for students ahead of time, daily plans are usually written out one to two weeks at a time based on needs assessed during classroom instruction. Plans change. Instruction adapts to students' needs.

I welcome feedback about my lesson plans. To receive such feedback in the past I have blogged about my planning processes.   Feedback in the form of comments from other educators is one way I learn and refine my practice. You can read my past reflective posts on Portable Teacher, my blog here, here or here.

I look forward to talking with you about my lesson plans.

Lee Ann Spillane

Pre-IB English II
A.P. Language & Composition

Week 11:
Week 12 (exams):

Week 9 & 10 (break):
Week 12 (exams):

Pre-IB  English II  Plans
AP Language Plans

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Open House

The sky blushed at sunset and a purple evening has settled across campus. Tonight is Open House. We began at 6:15 and will end at 8:40. Parents will walk their child's schedule with ten minutes between each short class periods. 

There have been years when I have students run open house. I have had small groups stand and show their work to parents and talk about our instructional routines.  I've had parents write to their children and children write to their parents. I've had students run centers during Open House and even read or perform poetry. I wish I'd planned a creative piece for this year, but I didn't. The most engaging piece of the evening has been thing we've done is look at a students' latest essays to give parents a clear picture of our new assessment

We have new standards and new high-stakes tests. We have new textbooks and our school is in the middle of a thirty-month remodel. This year I'm doing the talking though now that I've talked through five class periods I can honestly say I wish I'd put something more student-centered in place. Ten minutes is such a short meet and greet time. 

Still, it's been a pleasure to meet my students' parents. I've loved telling them how great their children are this evening. Sharing how students shine tops my list of teaching perks.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

7 Summer Reading Connections

I'm reflecting on summer reading through the first quarter. There are three posts
left in this Sunday series. 
Join the conversation, add a link to your post in comments 
Is it ever too late to connect or reconnect to texts students read for summer reading?  If we've chosen well the one-book, one-grade title becomes a touchstone, an anchor text. Formal discussion or lessons may run the first few weeks of school, but connections to the text are ongoing. 

When I taught ninth grade years ago our shared text was Ender's Game. One reason I loved it was because it was a series that appealed to the students enrolled in the technology magnet. There were years when students would walk into class having read most of the series. We hit a sweet spot with that common title. The same happened with Firestorm. We used Klass' text to talk about the hero's journey and to build bridges to the dystopian society Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. With eleventh graders reading Of Mice and Men,  we connected initial readings to the American dream and classics and historical events that shaped the literature of that time period. We used it to talk about discourse communities and the AR-C (argument construction). Summer reading can be a rich field in which to sow seeds for future learning.

The connections we make in my classroom to summer texts are not just curricular, whole-class sorts of conversations. Students make connections too.  Students bring the books up in conversation with table mates. I especially like overhearing them say things to each other during reading workshop time that go something like this: "Well, if you liked Firestorm then you'll like... (fill in similar title here)." Students capitalize quickly on the shared text. They use it to talk about style, genre and reading preferences. Listening in on such conversations gives me initial data about students as readers.

Today I am thinking about ways I have and ways I can connect to summer reading. Here are seven of my favorites.

7 Ways to Connect to Summer Reading at Year's Start

Word Study. Pull vocabulary from summer reading texts. Have students' choose words from list collected from summer reads and  work with the words. Students will end up with unique word collections they can incorporate into conversation and writing. Assess students with open-ended questions that ask them to use a vocabulary word to discuss an aspect of the reading. A question I have posed is: use one of your vocabulary words to describe a character or conflict from our summer reading title. In their short response, I ask students to use the word, the word's synonym or meaning and support their response with two details from the text. 

Writing routines. Use summer reading as the context for establishing writing routines in class. Together write the first entries for a reading or academic journal. Or choose model text from the summer title to imitate and teach from.

Speaking routines. We do a weekly discussion in my classroom. Using a passage from our summer reading as one of our first texts enables me to teach the process. The cognitive task becomes the speaking protocols  we are using and not the text we're exploring.  

Literary Analysis. Introduce critical approaches and have students work in pairs or small groups to apply an approach to a scene from the shared summer reading title. 

Character Anlysis. Have students compare characters from a shared summer title to characters in books chosen for reading workshop. Discuss, write about or chart how author's develop characters in similar and different ways. 

Poetic connections. Have students read poetry to find a piece that connects to the situations, settings, characters or events from the summer reading title. 

Arts integration.  At FCTE last week I met an art integration specialist from a nearby county. Her story during a writing workshop session reminded me that arts integration is much more than crafts in the classroom. Blend concepts from the arts with reading content. Arts integration enables students learn about art content--styles, artists, media, periods, techniques and more--in the context of a content area. Build students arts background knowledge. Find an artist whose work connects to summer title. Mimic the style of an art period and create pieces that capture a scene. Investigate dance or music as it connects to character or theme(s) of the works read. Browse Edutopia's art integration round up for ideas

Summer reading is not a one and done assignment. It is a starting point, an initial assessment, a shared memory, a story that sustains and connects us. 

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Three more posts to go in this series.   While it feels a little long, like I'm stretching for topics, I still want to assess a piece of student writing, review summer reading research and share students' voices and opinions. It seems as if I've only touched on items from my original list. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to reflect on summer reading with me. I appreciate learning with and from you all. 

Lee Ann  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

These Tests

Today we administered a school-wide writing prompt to students in grades nine through eleven. Students have roughly ninety minutes to read the passages and write to the prompt. My district has mandated three such practices prior to the spring assessment that will be administered state wide. Students in tenth grade must pass the test in order to graduate from high school in the state of Florida. For the first time such standardized tests will count as up to thirty percent of a students' final grade for English.

I serve the students in my class. I serve their parents and my community. While I would love to protest the test, to walk out of my double-wide portable, to walk down the three cement steps leading to the door, to walk in the street that even now construction vehicles travel as they renovate our campus, while I might enjoy that moment,  that fist-in-the-face, forget it protest, that would not serve the twenty-six students sitting in my classroom. Walking out or opting out on  students would not help them. Lee County attempted  to opt out of state required tests but rescinded their vote just days later. While I do believe we must fight against the misuse of standardized tests, we must take that fight off of our campuses and out of our classrooms.

It feels like a lose-lose situation some days. I could rave about the narrowing of the curriculum. I could rant about how the misuse of tests creates a "working class" of citizens in our state who have not educational opportunities beyond a test they cannot pass. I could wax vitriolic,  but I won't. Not today.

I am committed to the twenty-six students sitting in my room during testing. Today, I can manage to frame the situation as a learning experience.

So today, I wrote. I got a copy of the passages and the prompt. After I read the testing script aloud (in my best imitation of Professor McGonagall because our shared laughter released a lot of tension), after I circulated and made sure students had gotten started, I too wrote.

I annotated the passages--judicial opinions no less. I made note of the mode required by the prompt. I planned. I charted. I wrote and wrote.  I cited textual evidence. I embedded direct quotations. I used parenthetical references. I worked hard during my writing time. I spent an hour and ten minutes of the ninety we were given writing and revising. 

I emailed my essay to district personnel and asked for it to be scored with the rubric the district provided. If I get it in a timely fashion, the feedback will be useful. We do not have anchor papers. We have never used this rubric as a faculty.

As a teacher, if I am to do right by the twenty-six students in my room  and the fifty-two parents behind them, then I need to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. As a citizen, if I am to do right by the children in my state,  I need to engage in the political process. I need to vote.I need to speak up. Outside of the school day, I need to write letters, call law makers, share resources.

I need to invite people in power into my classroom and get their eyes on students. (Is that even allowed? Surely a school board member or the members who serve from our district would be welcome on our campus. We'll see. I'll have to ask.) As a parent educator I keep thinking that the glass could be half full. I imagine that if law makers knew more about students, classrooms, teaching, learning, assessments and testing they may revise current policies and practices. Of course, that likely depends on the businesses in which they have personally invested. Charter schools are big business in my state. The issues are complex much more so than I want to address today.

These tests may have been created during the eleventh hour. These tests may be a money-making machine for those in power. These tests may damage public education. These tests may guarantee a working class for the service industry in my state. These tests may be used for despicable purposes under the guise of good intentions. These tests may limit the freedoms of those recently achieving citizenship. These tests may be unfair. These tests may punish those at lower socioeconomic levels. These tests may do all of that and more.

No matter now. No matter at this instructional moment. I must show students how to succeed on the assessments others demand.  To do any less would be akin to saying students can't. That is not a judgment I am ever willing to make.

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.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Overcome Obstacles

I'm reflecting on summer reading through the first quarter.
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Yesterday I got up early and intended to write all morning. I had finished my first cup of coffee, had put in a load of laundry and was just scanning social networks before I got started when I heard the trumpet alert from my cell phone saying I'd gotten a text message. My friend Beth was heading to the American Mud Race. She was meeting up with folks from Camp Gladiator, a boot camp we've done together, but she didn't have a specific race partner.  Sure, when the going get tough, the tough get going, but going it alone is an obstacle not many over come. Knowing the race was near my house at a local track, I called and said I'd join her. Last minute, no plans, just get dressed and go.

The American Mud Race is a three mile course filled with obstacles: mud hills, a swamp swim, climbing walls, tire pits and even fire.
The last third of the course with the slide, fire jump and barbed-wired crawl finish.

Summer reading can be rife with obstacles. Access to books, an obstacle about which many have written (Krashen, Allington and McGill Franzen) is just one obstacle.  At my school we address that obstacle by purchasing books students can check out for the summer. Having more than one-hundred copies for check out, helps. However, if a grade level changes titles too often, our budget for buying books cannot keep pace. Some obstacles you just have to walk around.

I walked around a couple of the obstacles during the mud race. I can't do pull ups. Though my rotator cuff repair has held, my right shoulder is not as strong as it once was. I baby it. I am mindful of my limits. So during yesterday's race I walked around the monkey bars and at least one of the walls. I knew my should could not do it without injury.

Some students feel like they cannot do what we ask them to do for summer reading. More often than not though, they can, they just do not want to. Apathy is wall that is hard to scale. Resistance is too. We see it at all course levels. Even in students' social media streams:

Is it human nature to complain or resist being told what to do? Probably.  Could we turn this around by changing how we approach summer assignments? Yes.

How do we overcome the obstacle? There's got to be a way to support students working through assigned texts and choice texts. During the mud race people helped each other.

One leg of the race was a walk through a swamp. Not being able to see what is under the water can be scary. Some might have been thinking alligators, snakes or amoeba. I know I was thinking bacteria. I figured gators would leave a big crowd alone. I was more worried about my friend's new knee (she had ACL replacement surgery last year) than I was critters. People supported each other by calling out the hidden logs and holes. Strangers offered hands and arms to steady those behind them. We shared strategies--swimming or floating through the rough spots worked well. Encouragement and support got us through that swamp.

Pictures from American Mud Race facebook page.
Next time I'll know to bring to the water camera or Dad's GoPro.

If we are going to assign summer reading I am convince that our support and encouragement must start in May. We've got  to get students ready to do the work on their own. We can't just set them free and say "do it."  Assigning isn't teaching. Assigning will not keep students connected to text. It won't enable students to practice the  academic habits we'd like to exercise during the summer.  When we do that students return results that do not meet our expectations.

We are stronger than we think. Especially when we work together--with each other and with our students.

Beth Scanlon and I after the race.