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Posts from the ‘From the Classroom’ Category

From the Classroom: The Gift of the Writing-Reading Workshop

Lauren Heimlich Foley

I have learned that helping my students grow as readers, writers, thinkers, and people is the greatest gift I can give them. Choice has always been the most important factor in achieving this gift, but I identified another component this past fall.

Maire Lu, author of the Warcross duology, shared the following insight in “How Marie Lu Found out that Fantasy Books didn’t have to have White Heroes:”

Lu’s interview emphasized what I had read in research articles and seen in best practice presentations: the need for multicultural literature in the classroom. Although this knowledge had influenced the novels I read, taught, and book talked, I observed firsthand the power that books can have on students when they recognize themselves in the authors and characters they read.

Emika Chen, Warcross’s female protagonist, left an indelible imprint on Cynthia, one of my current eighth graders. The student’s name is a pseudonym. As a seventh grader last year, I watched Cynthia grow into a confident, young woman. She developed her voice as a writer and found the confidence to engage in conversations with her teachers and peers. As a returning eighth grader this fall, she read Warcross. This independent reading book fostered a new level of agency that I had not yet seen.

While our reading conferences appeared standard—discussing characters, setting, plot, theme, and craft—the novel’s setting and the characters’ names became particularly interesting to Cynthia. During one of our early conversations, she wanted to clarify the change in setting from New York City to Tokyo, and she brought up how Emika Chen’s name revealed her Chinese ancestry. She also wanted to look up the name Hideo Tanaka in order to pronounce it correctly.

As an avid reader, Cynthia has read, discussed, and analyzed many books since September 2018; however, Warcross was the first book that she voiced her interest in the novel’s setting and the characters’ race. Her interest moved beyond simply reading the book for enjoyment to investigating Lu’s style. By studying and understanding the craft and decisions of a fellow Chinese American writer, Cynthia found her own agency as a writer. Cynthia recognized herself in both the protagonist and author which inspired her to make similar writing choices. This influence became evident during our short story genre study, for Cynthia’s final piece revealed a correlation between Lu’s novel and her own writing.

In Cynthia’s previous writing pieces and school assignments, she left her characters’ races and stories’ settings as ambiguous. While I never thought much about this writerly decision—and perhaps neither did Cynthia—this changed after reading Warcross. Seeing Lu as an empowered Asian female writer and Emika as the representation and extension of that authority inspired Cynthia to develop her own writing in a similar fashion. In the weeks that followed her reading of Lu’s novel, Cynthia spent much time crafting her latest short story with Asian inspired names: Ayane Hiyori, Kaito, Ruka Kanon, and Chika Ronshaku. Moreover, the details she included such as “sakura hair pin” and “red and gold kimono” provided the reader with context clues to help them understand that the story took place in Asia. Not only did Cynthia incorporate Asian names and cultural details into her short story, but also she developed her main character, Chika, with similar director traits as Emika. The more power Chika possessed the more confident Cynthia became. She used her writing as an opportunity to explore her own agency through her protagonist.

The manifestation of Cynthia’s authority did not stop with our short story unit but continued to grow during the weeks that followed. In November, Cynthia brought in Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection and Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection, two Manga books. This marked the first time that she brought in Manga for independent reading. During our reading conferences, we focused on literary elements and craft decisions, and we explored interesting moves made by Ito in terms of the storyline and artwork. Knowing Cynthia is an artist, I asked her if she would be interested in creating her own Manga for her next Self-Selected Writing Piece. Excited about this prospective idea, she shared her Manga with her table partner. Immediately, the two girls became invested in the project. Together they researched drawing tips, began developing possible plotlines, and sketched character ideas. Additionally, the pair brainstormed character names, settling on Ying and Yang for their twin girl protagonists.

With this new writing piece, Cynthia is now sharing her agency with her peers. She is writing herself into existence and finding her real-life director’s role through her ability to create strong Asian female characters. Lu’s work empowered Cynthia to write and discover her own authority in the world.

Choice enabled Cynthia to select books and authors that reflect who she is, yet the invitation to produce and manipulate language gave Cynthia her power. To facilitate my students’ growth, I must support them as they find their voices. This guidance in tandem with choice become the greatest gift the Writing-Reading Workshop can offer, for it allows students like Cynthia to establish who they are and who they wish to become.

How are you empowering your students in your classroom? Please share below!

From the Classroom: Moving Beyond Lit Analysis

For years I struggled with the need to teach my ninth grade students how to write a standard five-paragraph literary analysis. I knew I was responsible for moving them up to their future English classes with this skill, but it was also torturous teaching the formulaic approach to this writing task.  As we moved through the lessons, students eyes would glaze over, my eyes would glaze over, and we all generally lost interest in writing. To make modeling easier, the essay prompts were all dictated by me in response to texts also selected by me. The result was bland, repetitive writing that lacked creativity or thought. This also made grading torturous.

Then, a few years ago when I started the C3WP approach to teaching argument and research writing, I experimented with applying this method to literary analysis writing as well. Accordingly, rather than reading one text together as a class then writing an essay analyzing some literary element within that text, we started to read many texts centered on a common motif and write in short bursts about the texts daily. After we had read and discussed around a topic for a while, we would revisit the texts as a whole and ask ourselves “so what?” These responses turned into a literary analysis that was developed after many days of thinking and pulled from several texts. As a result, the writing process and lessons got a lot messier, but the engagement and thinking grew exponentially.

Around the same time I started experimenting with this new approach to teaching literary analysis writing, I stumbled across this quote from Kelly Gallagher:

Reading helps us to enter the feelings, imaginings, and thoughts of others. We temporarily leave our world for theirs, and when we return, we hope our thinking will be expanded and strengthened. We hope to be enlarged intellectually and/or emotionally.

Now, whenever my students are gearing up to write a formal literary analysis, I share these words with them and prompt them to write about how the texts have enlarged them intellectually and/or emotionally. This prompt has much less structure than previous writing prompts that read something like “How does the plot development of this story communicate theme?” or “Identify a dynamic character and explain how their change influences the downfall.” As a result the thinking and writing is all over the place and the students are the ones putting in the hard work, with me there in the background to confer and support them along the way. I still model how I would approach the writing task, but my model often varies greatly from their writing and only serves as a support rather than a strict structure.

For example, we are just wrapping up a unit in which we studied a series of pieces dealing with the transitory nature of home for many people. While digging into this idea, we thought about and discussed a variety of texts: a poem called “Home” by Warsan Shire, a chapter from The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez, a short documentary called “Border Purgatory” from The Atlantic, and a book called Dreams and Nightmares: I Fled Alone to the United States When I was Fourteen by Liliana Velásquez. Students were also invited to find and read texts dealing with the topic on their own and to write and reflect on their own personal experiences with home.

The following is how one student, a recent immigrant from Venezuela and an emerging English language learner, introduced his essay:

sample intro paragraph 1.JPG And here is the introduction from another student in the same class:

intro 2.JPG

Both writers have made insightful observations and crafted well-written introductions to their essays. Rather than the dread I used to feel at taking home a batch of essays to grade, I am excited to read these and to see what everyone else’s takeaways are.

What are some ways you move your students beyond the basic literary analysis?

 

 

From the Classroom: Happy Picture Book Month!

While I use picture books all year long in my high school classroom, it is a happy coincidence that I use them almost daily during the month of November – picture book month. They make a more regular appearance this month because this is when we shift our focus to a short story unit and picture books are ideal for introducing students to literary elements and easing them into literary analysis.

I start the unit with a fun trip down reading memory lane by putting picture books on display all around the room and asking students to share their earliest reading memories. The excitement is palpable as students giddily share memories of gathering on carpets, or signing books out of libraries, or laying side by side with a parent and a good book. This year I used this article to prompt the sharing and had students reply with a classroom “tweet” on our discussion board.

After our discussion, students were excited (literally racing) to Read more

September Snapshot: Flexible Seating and Classroom Management

By Nicole Coppola

How can flexible seating be utilized to support classroom management? This September, I made some positive changes by incorporating flexible seating into my 6thgrade writing classroom.  The writing workshop model requires students to “come to the writing area” for instruction. Last year, students were dragging chairs to the instruction area from all over the room, creating chaotic transition times.  

Through a grant for flexible seating, from my district’s parent association, I purchased “Bolmen” bathroom step stools from IKEA, eight blue and eight white.  With the help of one of my district’s literacy coaches, I mapped out a routine and a seating chart for the transition to the instruction area. Designated students unstack stools and move them to the center of the instruction area, surrounded by benches and chairs.   The transitions have become calm and efficient routines. 

The IKEA stools also provide the students a choice to make their independent writing space more comfortable.  Because the stools are only about 10 inches tall, they are versatile.  Some students sit on the stools, lean against them, or use the stools as little desks while sitting on the carpet.  During partner activities, my directions are clear and simple, “The students on the blue stools share first. The students on the white stools listen.”  Student helpers stack stools at the end of each class.  Flexible seating has made a positive difference in my writing classroom. 

From the Classroom: Student Leadership Opportunities During Mini-lessons, Book Talks, and Quick Writes

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

8th Grade English

Over the last few years, my students and I have experimented with using independent reading books as individualized mentor texts. While students studied their books individually or in small groups, I wanted the entire class to benefit from the rich examples of word choice, conventions, style, and craft. I also wanted to highlight exemplar student writing.


What I Did

From October 2018 to December 2018, I invited students to help teach mini-lessons based on their individualized mentor texts and writing pieces. When deciding what skill to teach when, I considered several factors: students’ writing needs and strengths, their Self-Selected Writing Pieces, upcoming whole-class genre and novel studies, and curriculum requirements. As I read student drafts and conducted one-on-one conferences, I noticed techniques that would benefit the entire class. Occasionally, students volunteered a specific skill that they wanted to share.

After asking students to present, I met with them as a small group to practice what we would say and decide who would read the mentor texts. These pre-meetings took place during independent reading or writing time.

During the co-led lessons, each student shared an excerpt from their book and talked through their observations. If a student used the technique, then they discussed their example and writing process. Usually, two or more students taught the mini-lesson with me. As students presented, I helped explain the technique and provided the examples for the class on our Learning Management System (LMS).

Below are two examples of co-led, student-teacher mini-lessons from last year. All names are pseudonyms.

In early October, repetition emerged in my students’ writing pieces, so I asked them to co-teach a mini-lesson with me. During our sixth period class, Emily shared how she repeated “I’ll come back for you” three times with the font getting smaller to mimic the father leaving his daughter. She wrote, “My mind flashed back to Papa’s words, ‘I’ll come back for you . . . I’ll come back for you . . . I’ll come back for you.’ I remember him fading farther and farther away from me, until his voice disappeared into the darkness.” She wanted the visual to help her reader hear a fainter and fainter voice. Next, Elsa included repetition to emphasize a scary scene in her story: the moment a Nazi soldier captures the main character’s sister. She hoped the reader would feel the intensity as the crunching leaves got “louder. Louder. LOUDER.”

In seventh period, Jack employed repetition to emphasize the impact of his character losing an important object: “Oh no. No No No NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! Where is it? I swear I put it right here! Where is it?!” For Pat, he repeated “No mercy” to reveal the struggle his soldiers experienced during the battle in his sci-fi story: “‘Get to the guns. No mercy,’ he says. We run forward, hopping into the seats, powering on the cannons. I hear a loud boom then a scream. . . . The words no mercy ring in my mind. No mercy, no mercy, no mercy.” For these students, repetition established voice and emphasized specific moments. By sharing their craft moves with the class, they took on leadership roles, increased their confidence, and served as writing role models for their classmates.

Then, at the beginning of November, I asked students to observe the em dash in their independent reading books. Three weeks later, I approached a number of students who had experimented with the technique in their writing and located the em dash in their books. Ten students participated in the co-led mini-lesson (four in one class and 6 in another). The students shared their examples and explained whether their em dash cut off dialogue, interrupted an idea, accentuated a point, or replaced a comma. Sam read the following example from This is Where it Ends, “The silence from the auditorium is tense and loaded. Except it’s not silence. All around me there are sobs, prayers, and curses—friends are trying to calm each other” (Nijakamp 62). From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Brad added, “‘I heard you speaking Parseltongue,’ said Ron. ‘Snake language. You could have been saying anything—no wonder Justin panicked, you sounded like you were egging the snake on or something—it was creepy—you know’” (Rowling 196). All the examples were available for the class to review on our LMS. After the mini-lesson, the class worked in groups to practice adding em dashes to their own writing. The student presenters acted as leaders within their small groups, guiding their peers’ writing process.  

My Plan

These co-led, student-teacher lessons prompted my students to take a front-row seat in sharing their writerly observations and explaining their writing process. Overall, these lessons and procedures proved successful, but I wanted to increase the number of co-led mini-lessons while streamlining the collection of student writing and mentor texts. I also wanted a way to collect titles for book talks and excerpts for quick writes.

Step 1: For the 2019-2020 school year, I am in the process of creating an assignment that will ask students to submit text excerpts for mini-lessons, book talks, and quick writes.  They will collect and post their observations by the last day of each month in our LMS. Students will submit in one of the following four categories:

  1. Independent reading book mentor text excerpt
  2. Student writing mentor text excerpt
  3. Independent reading book excerpt for quick writing
  4. Independent reading book for a book talk

Step 2: During the month of September, students read like writers, completed quick writes, and listened to book talks. We also reviewed MLA In-Text Citation and Works Cited. The first monthly assignment will launch in October and be due on October 31st. Students will be able to submit their work during class or at home. If they find more than one excerpt, technique, or book that they wish to share, they may do so.

Step 3: Each month students will submit a reflective assignment that includes:

  1. The category they chose
  2. The except from the text or their writing (either typed or a picture)
  3. The reason (specific technique, craft move, idea) why they selected the book and excerpt
  4. Works Cited

Step 4: As students share their work, I will schedule the mini-lessons, book talks, and quick writes as they fit into our Writing-Reading Workshop. I will approach students a few days before their lesson to review their assignment submission and prepare them for their book talk, quick write, or co-led lesson.

Step 5: Before the selected students present their findings to the class, I will upload the necessary materials to our LMS. Depending on the mini-lesson’s content and the class’s ability, the co-led mini-lesson will require varying levels of teacher support. Students will be able to present their book talks and quick writes independently.     

Next Steps

I am excited to see where this new initiative leads. The LMS should streamline my ability to collect student work. The assignment puts more onus on my students because they submit their mini-lesson, book talk, and quick write ideas. As they assume these new leadership roles within our workshop, I hope it builds confidence in their abilities and offers opportunities for peer collaboration. I will continue to model successful book talks and quick writes as well as share texts that foster their abilities to read like writers.

If you have tried something similar or have questions, please share your thoughts below. I would love to hear from you! Take care for now and have a great school year!

September Snapshot – Classroom Scavenger Hunt

Happy September and welcome back to school! In an effort to tap into the wealth of knowledge our PAWLP team has to offer, we are running a regular feature focused on sharing ideas about how we start the school year. Please check in daily to enjoy our September snapshots. If you are interested in contributing one yourself, please contact us!


The Classroom Scavenger Hunt

For years I, like many teachers, spent time early in the school year telling students about the various resources available to them around the classroom. I wanted them to feel comfortable and orientated right from the first week. However, for years, I had students asking where to find the bathroom hall pass in October, or how to sign a book out of the classroom library in November, or where they could sharpen their pencils in December.

So, a few years back I designed a classroom scavenger hunt. As you can see from the image, the hunt invites students to study a map of the classroom, move around the space themselves, and discover through investigation where and what resources are available to them.

scavenger hunt.PNG

I gamified this activity by borrowing an idea Read more