For over a decade I began the school year by administering a multiple choice test to my students on their summer reading. And for over a decade I questioned this practice as I entered dismal test scores. The testing was not reflective of my classroom practices, did not accurately measure whether students actually completed their reading (some adept test-takers could pass after only studying the SparkNotes version of the novel while other less-skilled testers would bomb despite reading and annotating the entire book), and worst of all it only solidified a distaste for reading rather than encouraging the habit of reading.
After many years of questioning this practice, my colleagues and I were finally able to pilot a new approach. While designing our new plan, we kept circling back to the essential question: what is the goal of a summer reading assignment? Keeping in mind that we ultimately want students to use it as an opportunity to continue to build their reading identities and strengthen their independent reading habits, we realized two elements are key: 1. Choice 2. An evaluation method that celebrates (rather than tests) the reading.
This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Tricia Ebarvia, PAWLP Fellow and high school English teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Tricia’s post, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.
GRADE / SUBJECT
Grade 9, World Literature
1-2 class periods
Whenever my students and I come to the end of any novel study, I’ve always struggled with finding that perfect and elusive “closing” activity—the lesson that can somehow do justice to our novel study before we move on to the next text. While we often do some sort of writing that helps students synthesize their ideas, I don’t think that we always have to write the traditional literary analysis paper in order to engage students in higher level thinking.
In recent years, I’ve shifted my reading and writing practices to try to be as authentic as possible. Whenever I revisit my approach to a text, I ask myself: How authentic is the learning we’re doing? In what ways is the work we do in class work that’s done only in school or work that reflects the type of reading, writing, and thinking that’s out in the world, beyond our classrooms? Read more
*** This week we decided go back to archives and reshare this wonderful post by librarian Chris Kehan, which originally appeared on our blog two years ago. Below, Chris shares how community is something that can be nurtured and grow beyond the classroom walls―and especially how our libraries can be at the center of that growth.
By Chris Kehan
For the past four years, setting up my classroom has been different than it was for the previous nineteen years. Having taught in the regular education classroom for those nineteen years, I made the leap into library media specialist. While I still see myself as a classroom teacher, my classroom just grew in size and so did my number of students. Creating a space where students, teachers, and parents feel welcome and safe to take risks is extremely important for librarians. Most libraries are situated in the center of the school; hence it’s the hub of activity. “Entrance through our doors admits one to infinite worlds, magical kingdoms, and the treasure trove of knowledge created by our world’s best thinkers, artists, and scientists.” (Grimes, 2006) Read more
By Rich Mitchell
I have a theory about novels. As a high school teacher, I assume that the dim, damp, locked bookroom across the hall from my classroom is similar to many if not most high school bookrooms around the country. Copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and Heart of Darkness, line the shelves, some tattered, some new; some Everbound, some paperback. My theory is this: We teach books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and Heart of Darkness because our schools own them. They’re great books, don’t get me wrong, but aren’t the true reasons we use them financial and practical? Do we not order ten new copies of The Great Gatsby annually because we already own so many other serviceable copies? Can we deny that we work with To Kill a Mockingbird because it’s easier and cheaper than finding a new book, written by a living author, with similar, yet more current themes, and no SparkNotes? Read more
by Nora Ziegler
This summer I began to worry about how I needed to change my teaching strategies to help my third grade students meet the challenges of the Common Core, so I did what I always do – I found a book chock full of great ideas I could implement in my classroom. That book was The Core 6: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core by Silver, Dewing, and Perini, published by ASCD in 2012. What a goldmine! As Heidi Hayes- Jacobs says in the forward, this book is actually an edu-toolkit with instructional strategies that should be implemented at all grade levels. Here are briefs on each of the strategies: Read more
By Lynne R. Dorfman
Kate Roberts, Maggie B. Roberts, and Chris Lehman engaged a rather large audience in their interactive workshop session about close reading texts and close reading lives at the 103rd Annual NCTE Convention in Boston. They gave us some practical advice and helped us define close reading in terms of what it should not be and what it could be. Read more