Saturday, February 25, 2017

all american boys

It's so powerful what literature can do - take you somewhere, have you live moments you haven't experienced. That was how I felt as I read Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely's young adult novel, All American Boys. Except we have experienced the themes in this book to some extent. This book takes a look at police brutality and the movements that protest it. This is a story about racism and current events in 2017. I'd say it's reading all 8th graders and up should be doing, and also adults in our country. (My book club is reading it this month!)

The story is told by two narrators, Quinn, the white kid, and Rashad, the black kid. You get to know each of these characters personally as the narrator alternates between chapters. Quinn is an older brother to Willy, and son to a single-mother. His father passed away years before. Rashad is brother to Spoony and son to a mother and father, a father who is a police officer in the community.

The problem begins when Rashad is thought to be stealing from a convenience store and is taken outside and assaulted by Officer Galuzzo. Turns out that Quinn is within viewing distance, and he sees the whole thing happen outside. Rashad goes to the hospital where he finds he has a broken rib and a broken nose, among other scratches and bruises. Over the course of the week when Rashad is in the hospital, the news breaks, kids (and a few teachers) at school are left in turmoil, and a protest is organized as a response.

I think these authors did a really great job of representing both sides of the story well. This book isn't one that puts the work of our law enforcement officers down, in fact, does quite the opposite, and with a twist about a two-thirds of the way through, you can see that these authors were purposeful in creating a story that values the tough work our officers do each day, and also shedding light on what it's like to be an African American teenager growing up in the States. 

There are so many great conversations in the text, things that Rashad's mother shares with him that, unless you are an African American family in the United States, you might not realize have to happen. There is also a lot of internal dialog on Quinn's behalf, and some arguments between him and his white friends that illuminate the complexity of this issue. The theme of racism is presented well, and the reader is left understanding that yes, it does in fact still exist today.

This book is a Corretta Scott King Award Honor book and has received a new honor - The Walter - from Walter Dean Myers. I highly recommend it.

Deep into themes related to our current events and how they unfold for our young adults, next for me is American Street by Ibi Zoboi. I'll be back with another review when I get finished with that one.

Have you read All American Boys or anything else by Jason Reynolds? Please share!

Friday, February 24, 2017

my planning to the kids' papers

Today I taught my kids how to use a narrative lead in their introductions better than I ever had. I did more demonstration than I ever had, which made all the difference. Here's the scoop from planning the mini-lesson to delivery and beyond.

Planning Process
I grabbed my notebook and started to think about how I would draft the introduction of my essay with a narrative lead. Just explaining to kids what a narrative lead is and showing some examples (what I've done in the past) isn't enough, you need to actually demo the whole thing. So I got to thinking, how would I draft my introduction? Here's how I thought through the planning of this mini-lesson.

1. Write your claim. (Mine was, "I believe people create their own happiness.")

2. Make a list of things related to claim. (in this case, things that make me happy, including but not limited to glitter, puppies, tacos, teaching, friends, church, family, traveling)

3. Look back at your claim (creating *your *own happiness) and then choose something from the list that could go with it. I choose church.

4. Close your eyes and picture that moment. Think about how you feel, what you saw and heard, who was there. This makes the writer show rather than tell. On the anchor chart below, you can see my ideas in green.

5. After you have a list of ideas, quick write about that moment on your google doc.

6. Add your claim to the end of it and your introduction is complete.

Teaching Demonstration
When I did the demonstration, I created this chart with the kids. On the left hand side of the chart, I did the steps I listed above, first. The kids watched me. After I finished all the steps, I asked them to look back at my work and tell me the steps for this process, and so they helped me author the right side of the chart.

Which brings me to my Quick Writing, which I did on the third draft of my essay. I show you this picture below because I want to make clear that this first version of my introduction is definitely far from perfect. It needs some simple changes to make it better, but it's important for kids to see me create a first draft that isn't perfect, so they understand that I myself don't just arrive upon perfection.

After all of that (I didn't watch the clock but I'm guessing I did this in 10 or 15 minutes) the kids went to work on their own introductions. And again I was reminded, the clearer my demonstration, the more specific I get, the more I put myself out there for kids to see... the better they do, the less disruptions I get in workshop, the better quality work I get.

Teaching is such a journey, isn't it? I couldn't have ever even envisioned the teaching I'm doing today 10 years ago when I was just trying to keep my head a tiny bit above water. I wonder what my instruction will look like 10 years from now...?

What does your planning process look like for mini-lessons? Leave a note in the comments below!

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

loving warm fuzzies... as usual

Today a student said to me, "Thanks for making me like reading again."


As much as I would like to report that they came up to me and said this out of the blue, that wasn't the case. But, the activity I did with them today always draws compliments like this.

Behold, the Warm Fuzzy:

These little yarn necklaces entered my life when I was and 8th grader, when a bunch of high school kids from a group called Snowball put on a day-long activity to teach us about positive self-esteem, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and being kind. Warm Fuzzy necklaces were handed out to each student and we were instructed to compliment one another and with each compliment, give a little string from yarn ball.

Fast forward to teaching, and every Valentine's Day I do this activity. I *always look forward to it. This year, I had my middle school kids do some Quick Writing afterwards to collect their thoughts. Three minutes of writing on their behalf yielded (yielded?) these ideas...

"I enjoyed it. It shows how many people appreciate me and how I make them laugh, how I've been a true friend, and how nice I am to everyone."

"It's awesome because you tell people nice things about them and they feel happy and feel like people care about them and that we're all like a whole family."

"I loved the fuzzy activity because we could remember who made us laugh and thank you for doing the fuzzy balls for us, Ms. Brezek."

"I noticed when everyone would say something to someone, the person would smile. It's good to see others smile."

"The Warm Fuzzy activity is fun and I think it helps you to talk about your feelings to others."

"My friends mean so much to me and I couldn't get them all candy, but the strings showed even more meaning to it."

"I enjoyed the activity, it gave us a moment to realize the positive things we see in each other."

"The warm fuzzy activity made me feel good. I walked into class not feeling so well, but as usual ELA made my day."

After class, one of my students wrote a blog post about our activity, too. Check that out, here.

I seriously love kids and love teaching, especially on days like today. You should totally use the Warm Fuzzies for community building, on Valentine's Day or on any day. Check out this post that explains how to make them.

So, ELA...what am I loving? You guys, definitely. Thanks for sharing the love today!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

a day in my ela (class)

I teach an 88 minute ELA block each day. Eighty-eight minutes is a lot of time, but we have so much to do. Here's how I spend my time most days.

10 minutes: Do Now
Students start the day by working on a Vocabulary as a Do Now. Our building has created school-wide vocabulary lists, so as as they study words for the week, I take attendance and status of the class, pass back work, and answer any burning questions they might have.

2-3 minutes: Book talk
First quarter, I gave a book talk each day. Now that students are used to it, each day, one of them delivers the book talk. My students keep a "books I want to read" list in the front of their notebooks, so the goal here (as advised by Penny Kittle) is for kids to have books on deck, so when they finish a book, they know what is coming next.

10-15 minutes: Silent Reading
If you want students to read at home (I do, their homework is 20 pages a night) then you have to dedicate time in your class (preferably every day) so that they can read. These minutes are not free time for me. Now that kids are in a habit, I can confer with students about their books, but this time is also used for anecdotal observations. When kids are reading at home, they can easily get into their books for 10-15 minutes at a time in class, and quickly. Since I take status of the class, I know who is beginning a book, in the middle of a book, has finished a book and is writing a book blog, or who is spending time selecting books. There are no longer days when kids are wandering, swapping books every day, or forgetting books at home or in their lockers. These 10 or 15 minutes along with status of the class and conferring sends a message: In this class we read and finish books.

5-10 minutes: Poetry
Tiny packages full of big ideas. With poetry, kids are forced to peel back layers of meaning and determine what the poet is *really about. Additionally, it's time for me to read aloud to them on a daily basis, time for them to practice oral reading with a peer (after I read the poem to them, they read it with the person sitting next to them), time to determine meaning of unknown words, and time to be blown away by what poetry can do. Yesterday I showed them my favorite spoke word poem, Poet, Breath Now. I get chills every time I hear this poem. They listened, then they were give a copy of the text. Because they are used to reading poems with a peer or choral reading as a class, many of them were reading the poem aloud with the author the second time. After the reading and uncovering meaning, we then "say something" about the poem, what it might actually be about, what we're confused about, if we like or dislike it. This discussion part is still a work in progress, but with consistency, I'm hoping it continues to improve.

I usually share two poems each week, but in the case of Poet Breath Now, we'll probably spend a whole week uncovering meaning.

10-15 minutes: Mini-Lesson
Next we move into workshop. Mini-lessons are just brief teacher demonstration and direct teaching about a topic we are currently working on. This past week, we were reading argument articles and my mini-lessons included:

  • Vocabulary instruction on argument terms (claim, evidence, statistics, testimony, anecdotes, elaboration, counterargument)
  • How to do note-taking with argument articles (list claim, evidence, counterargument, and then tell if you think the argument is weak or strong)
  • How to locate evidence (look for key words: researchers, studies, universities, journals, scientists, etc)
  • Revision on argument note-taking: Instead of writing the claim first (How can you even do that if you haven't read the text?) list all the evidence first, then think about the claim and counter argument at the end.
  • How to make evidence mirror the claim - I had noticed some kids were listing evidence that was irrelevant to the claim they were hoping to cite, so we practiced sorting some evidence and deciding that if it doesn't necessarily fit with the claim you're thinking, you should throw it out
  • Remembering that not all of an argument article is just evidence, some of it is elaboration, too!
I am currently not working with a Calkins unit - middle school only has the writing units so far (they are writing the reading units, now, fingers crossed!) So, you might be wondering where I come up with the ideas for mini-lesson. It's all in the workshop and conferring!

20-35 minutes: Workshop
During workshop, kids do the work of the day...remember, whoever is doing the work is doing the learning! Each day last week during workshop, a group of students meet with me and another group meet with my co-teacher. Students who are left work independently, but because of my low numbers and two teachers, kids are lucky to see an adult every other day:

Conferring schedule - I have four different ones that alternate every day.
 So kids come to confer with me. Sometimes I confer one at a time with the four or five kiddos seated with me and sometimes we work as a group. But through these conferences or group work, misconceptions about what we're doing really stand out, and I'm able to do some note-taking of my own, which informs my instruction. And even better than finding misconceptions, is when kids share ideas about their thinking that are even better than my own thinking. This week, as we were talking about evidence from an article, one kiddo said, "Well this sounds like it's going to be evidence to support the counterclaim, so should we write it at the end of our notes?" Such brilliant thinking!

I think many times, us adults are limited in our thinking, we're not as free and creative as kids are because we've been around longer. I would have never been able to draft the set of mini-lessons I delivered without the kids working at my side.

I'm lucky also to have some alternative seating, so the independent kids are free to move around and work together, after all, there's really 20 teachers in the classroom, not just the two adults.

3-5 minutes (or 1 minute if I'm being honest): Share Time, exit slip, homework
I need to be better at share time. It's so important for kids to share the work they did, but many days the time slips by and we, in a hurry, just get the homework out. (Homework is always the same - read 20 pages and write two blog posts a week.) 

Some caveats
  • On Mondays, my schedule is different. On Mondays, they have more time to read independently, like 20 or 25, and my mini-lesson is always focused on blogging. Again, I can't expect kids to write two blogs a week if I don't give them any time in class to accomplish this work.
  • In order to accomplish Reading & Writing Workshop, I teach them by weeks. We just spent a week in Reading Workshop reading argument articles. Next week, we will switch to Writing Workshop and write argument papers. To me, this makes the most sense and flows best.
  • Sometimes poetry time get absorbed into other things we have going on, but I try my best to share at least one poem a week.
  • Sometimes I get stuck in a rut and don't even realize it until I visit classrooms of my colleagues, like my Vocabulary Do Nows - I've had them doing this work in their notebooks, but then I was just in a room and they have them on google slides. Making that change on Monday, don't know why I was missing that. This is one of many reasons it's so important to visit classrooms of your colleagues! (Check out the Pineapple Chart on this post if you're unfamiliar.)
  • Sometimes kids don't want to come work with me in our group during workshop. In this instance I pick my battles - if they conferred with me recently and are doing well, I'll let them work independently.
  • On the other hand, sometimes kids are not on my conferring list and *ask to come join our group. This is awesome when it happens, but I also want to build their sense of independence, too.
  • Sometimes it's an off day - either I'm off with some anxieties unrelated to ELA or the kids are off for a multitude of reasons. Once in awhile you could stop by my room and I'm not conferring and kids are not working together. We're human and this happens at times, I'm not going to sweat it though. I teach in real life ELA, not a perfected version of reading and writing.
So that's my day! It's taken me about 5 months to get the routine going, but I think it's effective for the kiddos and me! What about you? Are you block scheduled? How is your pacing similar to or different from mine?

Happy Weekend!

Monday, January 23, 2017

favorite quotes

This week, students in my ELA classes will be writing about their favorite quotes. Here are a few of mine.

Maya Angelou spoke these wise words. I think they are so true. Personally, I can remember back to middle school, and I have no idea what we were learning, but I just remember that I had this awesome homeroom teacher named Mrs. Poe. I knew she really cared about me.

Another teacher I can remember that fits this quote is Ms. Thompson. She was my senior government teacher. I have no idea what we learned about in government that year, but I do remember that she was interested in my life and made an effort to talk to me and joke with me. She is still one of my very favorite teachers.

Moving on, here's a second quote I really like, that has came to my attention within the last six months.

I like this one because what it's telling us is that we need to do things we are scared of. We have the ability to make any dream we have come true, but that doesn't happen by just doing what we've always done. We have to "jump out of our nests" to try new things, and who knows where that will take us!

What are your favorite quotes?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

devos funnies...but first a call to action

By now I'm sure you've all seen the hearing with the Senate and Betsy DeVos. What a train wreck! In case you haven't called any of the senators, you should definitely do that. Here are a few numbers to make it easy:

Senator Burr. NC (202) 224-3154
Senator Lisa Murkowski (202) 224-6665
Senator Lamar Alexander (202) 224-4944
Senator Enzi (202) 224-3424
Senator Isakson (202) 224-3463

Or, if you prefer to leave a signature online, you could go here to do that.

Please don't just stand by - sign a petition, write a letter, call a Senator!

So much for draining the swamp, right? Now that Trump is in office, Truth Trump comes out. There's no draining the swamp at all. Bunch of millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet, Betsy DeVos is a perfect example: over the course of years past, her family has donated upwards of $200 million to the Republican party.

I always thought that people in government were there because they wanted to make our country serving others. I thought they were people who worked in the best interest of everyone, like, they thought not only of the insanely rich, but also of the many who live in a state of poverty. And the middle class. And also, I thought they would be highly qualified to do their jobs.

But it seems that some believe we should privatize public education, because it's "failing." (Perhaps they've found that if you privatize and let charters operate with less oversight, there's extra money there, and maybe some left over for the people running the biz.) But, newsflash! If you fully funded public education, the very thing that makes our country amazing and beautiful and special, and you leveled the playing field in the poor neighborhoods, we'd have progress.

So while we might not have a Secretary of Education who has one iota of knowledge related to the job she is more than likely going to take on, at least we can have a laugh.

So start here with Trevor Noah's complete clip on Betsy. It's awesome.

And then you'll get these funny memes that came out...

Friends, let's not let tomorrow be the day we give up. Get out into your communities. Volunteer! Walk in a march! Send some donations to the organizations that will need in most in the coming years. Make your voice heard! It's not the time to sit back and be quiet, it's the time to act. And let it start with laughter.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

(re) designing argumentation writing units for grades 5-12

Last week Ashli from Solution Tree emailed asking if I'd like a copy of a new book that was just released: (re)Designing Argumentation Writing Units for Grades 5-12. Now, there are many things I do well and know about writing and teaching writing, but argument is not one of them, so for my own selfish reasons, I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" right away!

Yesterday I took at look at the first two chapters and I love it so far. It's already been super helpful in building my understanding of argument writing - both writing it and teaching kids how to write it.

The first chapter begins by just explaining all the key ideas a teacher would need to know about argument. First, there's discussion about how argument is a subset of persuasion, and explains what makes it persuasive writing and also what is different about argument. Then it launches into the characteristics of argument, explaining each in detail: claims, audience, style, reasons, evidence, elaboration, counterarguments, and citations. It ends with structuring an argument paper, and I found something I was especially thankful for in this part.

Many times, writing teachers give students, for lack of a better word, formula, for writing. Like it has to be five paragraphs or it has to have so many words. While this can be helpful for less experienced writers, it can be problematic for advanced writers who have been a part of a Writing Workshop for a few years. For my first 10 years as a teacher, I didn't write. Once I started blogging, it opened up so much more insight for me as a writing teacher, and I'm glad to see that reflected in the content of this book. I wanted to share a quote I found particularly insightful:
"The simplistic structure is comfortable and well intentioned, given the demands to help ensure students perform well on standardized tests. However, subjecting advanced writers to a lockstep structure whereby they are mandated to use a formulaic approach may do them a disservice in which they focus too much on form rather than content. An overly restrictive structure that largely relies on prescriptive phrases and paragraphs can make all papers appear too similar and discourage any student from deviating from the set frame.This mandate can limit their creativity and sophistication as writers, squashing a potential gem of a piece."
Personally speaking, prior to blogging, I did this exact thing as a writing teacher - I dictated which paragraphs included which kinds of information, rather than giving students some freedom. The five paragraph essay is a perfect example - I taught students how to write them but it was so structured the kids never had any chance for creative freedom at all. Then just a few years ago, after I had been blogging awhile, I heard someone say, "Parts, not paragraphs," meaning that students should have an introduction, three parts (and each part may have had one or more paragraphs), and then a conclusion. This kind of knowledge about writing is so important for teachers - writing is a space to create, and when we limit our kids' work to a super-specific set of parameters, they aren't fun to read, they do seem formulaic, and they probably aren't fun for the kids to write, either. We need to find ways to give students some freedom so they can engage their creativity, but at the same time, have students understand the parts of an argument paper, and make sure to include each of those.

Chapter one of this book was fantastic, and in chapter 2, the author launches into how to plan a unit with a Backwards Design framework. She shows an example of how to break standards down by what students should Know, Understand, and be able to Do (KUDs). There's a detailed example of standards breakdown for an 8th grade argument paper that really illuminates how to think through the standards; after all, the more clarity you have about the standards, the more clarity you'll have when delivering instruction to students.

I'm only two chapters in but highly recommend this book. With all the knowledge Kathy Tuchman Glass has about the genre of Argumentation, it's a great tool to have at your side when it comes time to teach your argument unit.

What other fabulous argument resources do you all keep in your back pocket? Leave a comment below and let's keep the conversation going!

Happy Sunday!
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