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Posts tagged ‘Tricia Ebarvia’

September Snapshot: Shared Reading to Build Community

As many elementary teachers know, a shared read aloud can be an effective way to set a positive and welcoming tone in the beginning of the school year. For many years, the first shared read aloud in my class was the course syllabus. I would pass out the copies of the syllabus and highlight the most important points, often to a room of blank or confused expressions staring back at me. This did little to set a positive and welcoming tone.

While it’s no doubt important to establish expectations for the course, building a sense of community—finding ways to communicate to students that they are seen and valued—is perhaps the most important thing and, really, the only thing we need to do in those opening days. Reading off a list of rules on the opening day also sends students the message about whose voice is valued (the teacher’s) and establishes a power dynamic that prioritizes what a teacher wants versus what students need. Consider the difference between a teacher reading a syllabus and teachers and students unpacking a shared reading: the former tells students, I will tell you what we will do while the latter communicates, Let’s read and learn about something together.

Two shared texts that I’ve found particularly useful in my classroom are Clint Smith’s TED Talk, “The Danger of Silence” and Dr. Margaret Wheatley’s essay, “Willing to be Disturbed.” Because we will likely discuss some contentious or controversial issues over the year, I begin the with both of these texts as a way to remind students to keep an open mind when engaging critically in issues with multiple perspectives.

The Danger of Silence


In Smith’s TED Talk, he outlines four core principles for students that he believes are necessary in today’s world:

  1. Read critically.
  2. Write consciously.
  3. Speak clearly.
  4. Tell your truth.

We watch the TED Talk in class and then discuss these principles. I ask students to write individually about what they think each of these principles mean. We then compile our ideas using sticky notes and large poster paper for each principle (Figure 3.8). After a gallery walk to view the posters, students return to their seats to write again; this time, I ask them to reflect on what they’ve read and to write a personal commitment to themselves about how they might abide by these principles. I also post these four principles on the wall in my classroom so that we can return to them throughout the year.

“Willing to be Disturbed”

In this essay, Dr. Wheatley argues that in order to foster a more civil discourse in our society, we need to start from the position of being open to being disturbed — in other words, to listen to the opinions of others with whom we disagree, even profoundly.

Before we read the essay, I first ask students to consider the denotations and connotations of the word disturbed. We brainstorm synonyms, and as you might expect, most students conclude that the word is negative, especially in the contexts that are most familiar to them such as “disturbing the peace” or “mentally disturbed.” We discuss how each of these instances prioritizes maintaining the status quo or what is considered “normal.” I then ask students to consider contexts or situations that might need to be disturbed: When might the status quo be harmful? When is disturbing the peace necessary? Why?

We then read aloud Dr. Wheatley’s essay as a class, with every student reading one sentence at a time. This shared experience not only allows all student voices to be heard, but my hope is that reading the words aloud, students may begin to internalize some of its key points. Students read it a second time quietly to themselves, this time marking the text for the lines that stood out to them as particularly powerful. Each student shares one line they found powerful so that we are able to hear what has resonated.

Here are just a few of the lines that students often choose:

Curiosity is what we need.

We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival.

When so many interpretations are available, I can’t understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another.

But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more dearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs.

But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused.

The beauty of using a shared text like “Willing to be Disturbed” and “The Danger of Silence” is that they become touchstones that we can return to throughout the year. When we begin our formal study on argument or when I know that we’ll be discussing an issue that is particularly contentious, I remind students of these texts and our shared understanding that we need to be “willing to be disturbed” if we are to “read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, and tell our truth.”

What other types of read aloud can middle and high school teachers use? Consider the type of community you want to build in your classroom and the issues or content you’ll discuss. What attitudes or dispositions will be necessary for students to be prepared to engage in those conversations? Is there a line of inquiry or essential question that drives the course you’re teaching? Then find a brief text—something that can be unpacked during a single class period or two—that invites students to think about these ideas and their application to learning.

From the Classroom: Using Listicles for Literary Analysis

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 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

From the Classroom: How do we challenge students as readers—and ourselves?

Like most English teachers, one of the things I love most about the summer is time to read for pleasure. While my favorite reading spot in the winter is that comfy corner on my sofa, in the summer, nothing beats sitting poolside, the sun warming my face as I escape into another world.

I know many of my students feel the same way, which is why giving students opportunities to read for pleasure during the school year and during the summer is so valuable. Choice matters. There are too many books in the world for students to be limited by the choices their teachers make for them.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that teachers are trying to limit students’ experiences. After all, the foundation of our work is to broaden our students’ horizons. And when we assign this book or that, it’s usually because we believe that the texts we choose will do exactly that—broaden their experiencesespecially if it’s a text students might not otherwise choose for themselves.

But what if, instead of choosing a specific title for students to read, what if we encouraged them to broaden their horizons by making choices for themselves. Read more

From the Classroom: Fearless Reading (and Analysis)

By Tricia Ebarvia

Ever since the NCTE Convention in November, I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme of advocacy. How can we advocate for our students—and the teaching practices that we know will best serve them? How can we help students advocate for themselves—on their own behalf and perhaps more importantly, on behalf of others? How can we help students advocate for issues that can help make their world and our society a better place?

As educators, we know the power of empathy. Just yesterday, as we finished up our unit on Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, my students and I discussed how important that novel is to our understanding of others around us who may be feel vulnerable or disempowered. Literature has the unique power to allow us to walk around in another character’s point-of-view, to broaden and deepen our own experiences so that we can become, ultimately, more understanding fellow human beings.

But lately I’ve been thinking that literature, by itself, may not be enough. If we read books, no matter how rich and wonderful and engaging they are, but we fail to expose students to study today’s relevant social issues, we miss an opportunity to help students to read the world. And in this era of #fakenews, reading the world may be more important than ever. Read more

Approaches to Argument in an Era of Alternative Facts

by Tricia Ebarvia

Given the state of today’s political discourse and the complex challenges presented by social media sharing (and over sharing), it’s more important now than ever for teachers to take an active role in helping students navigating the information and misinformation they encounter every day. At this point, many of us might be already familiar with the Stanford study published a few months ago that found that many students cannot discern the difference between stories that are real and those that are not. As the Washington Post reported, “Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website.”

And it isn’t just students either. Even well-educated adults fall for fake news stories. Just this morning, on my Facebook feed, a friend posted a news story that turned out to be false (someone in the comments had done a fact check). Unfortunately, too often fake news sites have become adept at posing as legitimate sources. Now, when I see a news story from an unfamiliar source, the first thing I do is try to determine where it’s coming from. As literacy teachers, we can no longer just teach our students the traditional Rs of reading and writing. We need to also teach our students about third R—Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the study of persuasion, and today, there are plenty of individuals, friends, family, interest groups, politicians, corporations, and any number of organizations trying to persuade our students—to buy this, believe that, do this, don’t do that. Information that seems purely objective can be interpreted (or manipulated) in the service of persuasion. Even the youngest students can (and should) be taught to analyze text to look for biases. Just a few weeks ago, my six-year-old came home and told me about how his class was learning the difference between fact and opinion. Of course, teachers have always done this work, but the times seem to call for more. So how? How can we teach our students be critical thinkers, especially of information that might feed into our own biases?  Read more

From the Classroom: On Prewriting Using Modes

By Tricia Ebarvia

My AP Lang students are currently working on their “On” essays—writing on anything they choose.

There’s a long tradition of “On” essays in the world… and by an “On” essay, I mean any essay whose title starts with the word “On…” (although, really, isn’t anything an “On” essay if it’s on a topic? The distinction for my purposes in teaching is really just technical). We read essays like “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion and “On Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner, which explore process. We read a contemporary essay like “On Compassion” by Barbara Ascher and a 19th century essay like “On Running After One’s Hat” by G. K. Chesterton, which delve into the philosophical as well as social commentary. We read “On Being a Cripple” by Nancy Mairs and “On Being Black and Middle Class” by Shelby Steele,” which focus on identity. We read essays by Lewis Thomas, whose essays,“On Warts” and “On Probability and Possibility,” are some of the best examples of elegant science writing—and writing in general—I’ve encountered. And still we read other essays whose titles don’t begin with the word “On” but embody the ethos of writing on what it means, ultimately, to be in the world—essays like “The Jacket” by Gary Soto and “Me Talk Pretty” by David Sedaris and “Salvation” by Langston Hughes.

We study and celebrate these writers and their craft. We ask ourselves questions that help us read like writers: What can I take away from this? What can I learn? What can I steal? Because my AP Lang students read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist for summer reading, we remind ourselves to embrace being artistic thieves. We look at the ways in which these essays explain, define, and describe; how they use anecdotes and allusions; how they feature both insight and curiosity; how they zoom in and zoom out.  Read more