Thursday, June 8, 2017

they taught me

Most people think that in education, teachers are the only ones doing the teaching. But in an equal amount of our work, it's the kids teaching us. As my 14th year has now wrapped up, I'm thankful to continue to learn from the adolescents who sit in the chairs in my classroom. Thanks to Pernille Ripp for the mentor text, I couldn't wait to write one of my own.

They taught me that how I appear to them on their first day is what matters most, and will certainly set the tone for the rest of our days together.

That they prefer to see me smiling when they come to class, and that even when I am totally annoyed by behaviors, I have to call forth even more patience.

That while it's important to read and write regularly, honesty, integrity, and kindness are always what is at the top of my list objectives.

That in light of a particular political climate, I have found that if needed, I would definitely do anything to keep them safe.

That in my classroom, all cultures, languages, family histories, and stories will be not only valued, but also honored.

They taught me to pick my battles, that having them in their chair rather than walking out my door is always more important, even if it means that they don't engage with me for part of the time.

That they prefer the classroom to feel like home, with different options for seating, and with reflections of themselves in the books in our library and in work lining our walls.

That I need to find far more opportunities for them to create things - to have the space and freedom to work - in an artistic way - from their hearts.

That I should not make up my mind about them so fast, that you can still be surprised by them in the best possible ways.

That it's okay to hug your middle school kids, because sometimes, that's just what is needed to calm some anxiety or show a student that, no matter what, you are there for them.

They taught me (again and again) that they're always watching, and my choices, my words, my actions tell them who I am and what our class is all about.

That consistency and unwavering high expectations really do make a difference, even if they cannot get to that understanding for a few years.

What have your students taught you?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

book clubs

Book clubs! Do you use them in your ELA classroom? Here's a down-and-dirty guide to how I pulled them off in the past few weeks, with a freebie to boot. And a chance for a give-away!

All year, students have had one homework assignment: Read 20 pages of their Just Right books. I track this every day with status of the class. I know who is reading what, who is finishing books, who is abandoning books, who is forgetting their books, etc. This assignment really helps build the stamina it takes to get through book clubs - because the reading and note-taking students do for book clubs mirrors the homework they've done all year with me.

In book clubs, first you have to pick your books. We just completed a Holocaust Unit and so my students read Jacob's Rescue, The Diary of Anne Frank, Night, Behind the Bedroom Wall, and Number the Stars. In order to prepare for the discussions, which happened for about 20 minutes each day, they did their reading and note taking at home the night before. They took notes on this Book, Head, Heart (BHH) Organizer I learned about from Beers & Probst's new book - Disrupting Thinking. Then, in class, I gave daily mini-lessons related to book clubs, and then they had their conversations.

But before they had their first conversation, we used the fish bowl strategy, so I could coach one group while others watched. I think this demonstration and coaching is so important. It also turned out that one of the other Literacy Coaches was in my classroom that day, and she gave me such great feedback on Author's Craft - which turned into great mini-lessons!

Once they saw what I expected book clubs to look like, I used my observations to come up with my teaching points each day. Here's the mini-lessons I gave for book clubs this year, one a day over the course of our book clubs, which lasted two weeks:

  • To participate in Book Clubs, students must come prepared. (We watched and evaluated the work of this book club group, and held a conversation about book clubs. Students also filled out a contract that broke down their due dates for chapters in their books together and also gave them more detailed instructions on preparations, which we went over.)
  • Preparation for book club conversations means taking notes on the parts you want to discuss with your group.
  • Accountable Talk Sentence Stems help us take a small idea and grow it bigger.
  • In book club, conversations are not finished until the time runs out. (Discuss strategies to help propel book club conversation: listening to think rather than to respond, completing notes to have more ideas, etc.)
  • When discussing, we pick one topic and stick with it for awhile by all sharing about it.
  • When a reader wants to share a comment about the book, they should ask all to open to the page, then read the part that prompted the comment, then share the comment for all to discuss.
  • Book club participants wonder, "Why did the author do that?" as they read the text. (Author's Craft - We spent a few days on this one.)
  • We read books to understand the world.
  • We read books to understand ourselves.

After mini-lesson, students met with their groups and discussed. I spent my time observing their work and taking anecdotal notes.

I'm currently working on a PD session about Backwards Design Planning and am in the process of rewriting my Holocaust unit with that framework, and in the next few weeks should have that up on TpT with all the documents associated with this project.

Give Away
In the mean time, if you'd like to read more from Beers & Probst and their book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters, I have a copy to give away! Please leave a comment or question below about book clubs and I'll enter you in the drawing! You can also read more about that book (which is a book about how students should be reading more than it is a book about book clubs here and here.) Comments on all three of these blog posts will be eligible for the give-away!

Looking forward to hearing your ideas on book clubs! I'm always reminded how much better we are working together than on our own little islands :-)

I will choose a winner for the copy of Disrupting Thinking on Sunday, May 21st, be sure to leave a comment by then!

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

after 14 years

It's May and my eighth grade students are at the end of their year and I'm totally feeling the teacher fatigue that comes along with the end of another school year. I've been finding myself becoming less and less patient as the days go by and it just isn't working for me. So when my students came in upset about their end-of-the-year activities (or lack there of because they haven't met expectations) I realized I wasn't going to get anywhere with my plans without letting them be heard.

So I set aside the poem I had in mind for the day and asked them to raise their hands to share.

At first it was just talking over one another, and I had to reiterate a few times that everyone's voice is important, everyone needs to be heard, but then they started listening better, and so could I.

They were upset that their privileges (Six Flags, Dinner Dance, possibly the promotion ceremony) were being taken away. They needed to vent, to let it be heard, so that's what happened.

And then I responded.

Your choices.

Your choices determine your consequences, good or bad.

One student said, "Why couldn't they let us know about the point system earlier in the year? I could have been more prepared." 

To which I replied, "You've got a compliment and then reality check coming your way. Ready?"

She nodded.

"We all know how smart you are, there's no question about that."

She smiled, and I continued, "So don't act like 3 or 6 more months of the points system would have made one bit of difference for you. You would still make the choices you continually do. Your attendance would still be what it was. Your choices about how to respond to teachers would still be what it was, because it's not the system, but that your choices are now preventing you from having what you want."

She did not sit there quietly reflecting. She and her classmates had a hundred buts, most of which involved pointing to someone else. To which I found myself continually responding, "point your finger back at yourself."

Worry about yourself.

Take care of yourself.

Your choices.

No, really.... your choices.

I know it's the age, but it's the hard lessons. There aren't a million chances. Each action in our life has a set of consequences, good or bad. You have to live with the choices you make.

So what's the point of all this? It's not like this is some new revelation - middle school kids wound up at the end of the year.

For me, this was the first time I stopped and let them have time to speak their piece. This was the first time I - purposefully - set aside my objectives and gave time to hear them out. It was the first time I  realized that I didn't want to make myself miserable trying to persuade them to do what I wanted when they had too much on their mind to talk about first.

And after 30 minutes of this conversation, they all got to work. They were doing research... on May 12.... and they all got to work. Even my one kiddo who hasn't had the best time in my class lately, came over to my conferring table as he was supposed to. Huge win.

In fourteen years of teaching, I have learned that if you don't let them be heard, you will not get anywhere with your plans. So give them 30 minutes, (including a dose of reality to their objections) and then they will be able to get to work on your plans.

They will even oblige you with a class picture, and the two students who refuse to come over will be prompted - not by their teacher, but by their peers - to be a part of it too, because it's incomplete without everyone.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

disrupting thinking: bhh framework

I just got through the second part of Disrupting Thinking - all about their BHH framework and I'm so excited to share it with you! (Check out part one of my review here.)

But first, something I loved, something I'm taking to heart. (I'm practicing the strategy!)

I really appreciate the teacher researchers, Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst who came up with this strategy and are sharing it with all of us in their new book for a multitude of reasons, but first because they are vulnerable and funny, and it's so refreshing. As they began to share the story of how their BHH framework came to be, they talked about the first instances when they tried - and failed - at it with students. On page 62, they shared how their first lessons went with kids, and how they didn't work.

This was so refreshing to me because it's so teaching. You have this idea, and you want to experiment. You try it out with kids and it totally flops - we've all been there. It takes weeks and months and years to refine our craft, and so it's so nice for me to see that I'm just like them in trying new things out and seeing them fail sometimes. And I'm especially engaged by their writing, as it comes with words from the mouths of babes - responses to their first attempts at sharing these lessons with students: 

Will you be here all week? one student inquired.
Is this for a grade? another asked. 
I  love the vulnerability they show, which translates to me, a teacher thinking, "Hey, Michelle, it's okay to try new things even if they fail. That's how we get to greatness..."

And now that I've shared my heart, we can get on to the framework!

BHH is Book, Head, Heart.

You share with kids that good readers consider what's in the book, this work coming from many teacher researchers, but my faves to the likes of Fountas and Pinnell and Kelly Gallagher:

  • What's this about?
  • Who's telling the story?
  • What does the author want me to know?
Next, you teach students to think about what's in their head, this work coming from Lousie Rosenblatt, Nancie Atwell, and Donald Graves:
  • What surprised me?
  • What does the author thinking I already know?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?
  • What did I notice?

Finally, you add a third component, my favorite part! Penny Kittle, Georgia Heard and others help us look at what's in your heart:
  • What did I learn about me?
  • How will this help me to be better?
  • What life lessons did I learn?
  • What did I take to heart?
  • How did it make me feel?
So part two of the book includes a few chapters that call up past work that led Beers & Probst here, strategies that fit with BHH, samples of student conversations from first, fourth, eighth, and college freshmen, a sample for you to try out on your own with a poem, misconceptions that were revealed as they did the work with students, examples of anchor charts, funny anecdotes... definitely enough to cause me to think about how I can try this out...and I did, yesterday!

The more I read from this book, the more I continue to feel that it's a great framework for helping students think through text, thinking that includes their own feelings and thinking that can make them more compassionate people, which will lead us to create even better citizens.

Do you have a copy of the book yet? If not, I have a book to give away! If you'd like to be considered for the give away, leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas about this framework, or a response to one of my favorite questions from this part of the book:

Do you think its important for students to think about how a text is changing them? Do you share with students how reading changes you?

Leave your thoughts, let's keep the conversation going!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

review: disrupting thinking part 1

So excited that Stephanie from Scholastic reached out to me to review Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kyleen Beers and Robert E. Probst. I'm only through the first part, but it's coming to you *highly recommended.

So let's start with what I'm loving about this book. First of all, the book is beautifully put together. I love the colored pages, the quotes that are set off in the text, the conversations that are included between Kyleen and Bob and the students, and the funny anecdotes from the authors, like this one...

If I can speak for a moment about the conversations that are included with the text, I have to impress upon you how powerful they are. The Opening Comments to part one include conversations between students and either Kyleen or Bob about how students feel about reading. They begin with a first grader and continue with a child in third, fourth, seventh, eighth, and a college freshman. The change in the children's thinking as they grow... it's disheartening. It will certainly cause you to pause and consider the counterproductive methodologies we are using to instruct children in reading, and lead children to be young adults who can read but choose not to.

Beyond that is the philosophy that this work is grounded in, that of Louise Rosenblatt. She wrote the Transactional Theory of Reading, which states that when any person reads a text, a transaction takes place, one that will be slightly different from the next person's because each reader brings something different to the text. I was thrilled to come upon a heading, "From Extracting to Transacting" and a thorough explanation of efferent vs. aesthetic reading.

I'm only through the first part, which is theory based, but I'm loving it. It discusses the readers we want in our classrooms - responsive, responsible, and compassionate. I was particularly excited to see, in the chapter on responsible readers, that part of that work is responsibility to others, which then gets into fake news and social media's role in perpetuating that. In the chapter about compassionate readers, they lead with the recent political climate of the 2016 election cycle, and after a discussion about what a compassionate reader is, they end the chapter this way:
And perhaps, as adults, they will enter into conversations with one another with more civility, with more generosity, with more kindness toward one another.
Seriously. Swoon. 

I'm so happy we have yet another example of research in the literacy field that reaffirms what I believe about teaching reading - we're not here to teach kids to pass a test. We are here to help children not only see the joy in reading, but also guide them how to use what they have read to become better people and make our world a better place. We want students that are responsive to the texts they read, who are responsible about reading - who do not fall for alternative facts and students who are also compassionate people, who have an emotional reaction to what they are reading, so they can become better people who create a strong democracy here in the United States.

I'm only a third of the way through this book and I'm already in love. I know you will be too, and I have a copy to give away! To be eligible for this giveaway, be sure to comment on this blog, and the other two that will be coming in the next two weeks.

At the end of each chapter is an option to turn and talk about ideas within the text, so share with me you thoughts on one of my favorite questions from chapter one:

In this country, we kept slaves from learning to read. Additionally, for a while in our history, you were adequately literate if you could simply sign you name - or even just make an X. In developing countries today, girls are still educated less than boys. What do these situations suggest about the potential power of reading?

Can't wait to hear what you think and I'll see you back in another week!

Friday, March 31, 2017

sol17 #31: thirty-one

What can 31 days of writing do?

It can allow a window into each other's lives, which helps us develop a better understanding for one another and also see our interests. (I feel a writing walk coming in our future!)

It can show you how wise your middle school students are.

It can help you find ideas a little bit easier.

It can create a space to compose your best work and some not so great posts, too, and the understanding that it's okay to publish stuff that isn't awesome.

It can help a writer find some NEW, FUN ways to craft text.

It can really elicit problem-solving skills, commitment, and creativity.

It can show you how compassionate your students are.

It can give you a voice, with your words on a mic to which others are listening.

It can create an opportunity for one student to inspire another.

It can help students find their writing interests; see one of my kiddo's who loves to write about sports, herehereherehereand here.

It can inspire you to complete next year's challenge (and maybe even create a challenge of your own!) hint, hint :-)

It can create a writer.

We made it! 31 days! I'm so proud of each of you, for writing once, five times, or 31 times. Just got an email from Mrs. Hauer, and she hopes that you will keep on writing, she's loving reading your writing! (So am I!) Cheers to you, writers!

I was writing when you sent this, Betz, and it made my day, thank you!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

sol17 #30: lots of emotions but mostly pride

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I sat on the bus to the Holocaust Museum with my class. They listened to music and talked quietly. I showed them how I left my self tanner on my hands too long and they were now orange and they laughed. I sat there, in the last seat, watching over them, thinking about how much I cared for these kids, and feeling so much

gratitude for this life's work.

And when we got off the bus and went through the entrance and down the stairs, our docent talked to us briefly. The first question she asked the kids had them standing there all quiet, too shy to share. And so I reminded them that they could turn in a ticket every time they participated, and so then they did. After the docent learned of the ticket situation, she remarked that they must have a good teacher and I remarked that I must have good kids and in that moment I was

proud to be with them.

And then we ate lunch - so fast, like in 10 minutes - and a few kids were at vending machines even after I asked them not to be and we didn't have enough time to eat and we were frustrated because of that but they didn't know what they were about to experience. And so even in our discontentment we got ourselves composed and cleaned up and started off on our way and I just felt

excitement for what they were about to encounter.

Our docent began a conversation with my students, sharing about why this museum exists. She asked if they knew what an Upstander was and they all raised their hand to share, and one student also added the definition of a bystander. And in that moment there was that

pride yet again.

We went into the first gallery and looked at all the pictures of Jewish life prior to the Holocaust on the wall. We saw families and birthday parties and business openings and holidays and we learned that this group of people who suffered the first genocide were people who were just like us. And knowing what was coming,

uneasiness began to creep in.

We continued on, learning about how Hitler came to power, watching videos, seeing real artifacts and pictures, walking across a floor meant to symbolize Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Our docent told us how they took away and murdered Jews under 15 years old and over 40 because they were unable to labor. She said, "I would have been done for, I can't pass for 40, I'm a grandma!" and one of my students said, smiling, "Yes you could have!" and we all laughed and he was a cheeseball but in that moment

there was that pride again.

We continued on our way, and saw a model of a ghetto packed with thousands of people inside. Barbed wire surrounded this particular gallery and my kiddos pointed it out to me. We saw a model of the extermination chambers and were told how the Jews were tricked to believe they were taking a shower, but in reality, they were gassed. We stood inside a cattle car - pitch black - and thought about how 100 people or more were crammed into them to move the Jews to the camps. And thankfully we were standing together as we imagined all these atrocities and wondered how it could have ever happened and so being together make the fact that our

stomachs were turning a bit more okay.

Finally we heard a survivor speak. Ruth told her story of how, once resettled in the ghetto, her father bought illegal passports for her and her mother to save their lives. They went on to live on a train for 6 weeks and then tried to find work but lived in a constant fear that they might be found and killed on the spot. About how she finally made it to America only to be called names and made fun of by children in her new class, but finally, after yet another move, she found a place in Chicago that was home where she fit in and could live in peace. And her story will forever be with us, but in the moment she found peace, we found a bit of


This story reminds me and should remind all of us that we must look out for one another, we must not be silent when we witness injustice. We must stand up for our neighbors and groups of people who are targeted and push back against those who spew "alternative facts" and not just be idle in these moments because silence is

the most tragic problem of all.

Many emotions filled my day yesterday: joy and love for my students, complete bewilderment at the thought of a Holocaust, wondering how events like this continue to still happen, a bit of embarrassment at how our country has not been more welcoming to refugees in need, annoyance at traffic on the way home, but through all of it, there are no other people I'd rather share it with, because watching them learn something that can empower them to make our world a better place brings me

so much pride.

We have one more day, you made it! Congratulations to each of you, I'm so proud! Could you do me a favor for your last post? Could you write about what you think about writing now? Now that you've completed so much in the way writing, what do you think about writing now? Did you find a new hobby? Does it help you relax? Will you keep on writing? Write a post about... writing!

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