Misreading Readers

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_561669964My youngest daughter is a wonderfully spunky first grader whom people often call “headstrong,” using that tone that suggests they’ll make sure and say a prayer for me later.

People make those casual remarks and we all have a good laugh, and I quietly cross them off the family Christmas card list. Just kidding. They’re right about her and I’m glad for it. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and she’ll never waste a moment of her life letting someone else tell her how to live it.

All of this is to say that she gave me a heart attack a couple nights ago when she announced at bedtime, “I don’t like reading.” I challenged her immediately by pointing out that she’s constantly reading Mo Willems books and Dog Man and all sorts of graphic novels.

Which led to this exchange:

“No, daddy, I don’t like reading THESE books,” Taylor said, tossing her bag of leveled-reading books at me in disgust. These are books she brings home at least a couple times a week to help make sure she’s reading in the right difficulty range and to help her continue growing. They’re good at that job, I think, but they’re about as interesting as potato salad.

“Oh. Buddy, those are to help you get better at reading! They don’t have to be your favorites,” I said.

Her response: “I don’t like them and I’m not reading them anymore.”

We eventually talked things out. But not before the episode got me thinking about Taylor as a future student in high school, and by extension, my own current students.

Willful Reading and Forced Reading

I suddenly imagined Taylor as the sort of student I see all the time–the type who lights up conversations and writing assignments when a text catches her fancy. Passionate about their favorite readings, these kids are equally passionate about their hatred for what they consider forced labor–any assignment related to a text they aren’t into.

No sooner did this “nightmare” occur to me than I realized my hypocrisy. I LOVE these sorts of students. They’re unwilling to “play school” but are more passionate–and much more knowledgeable–than students who do the work without slowing down to consider the value of anything beyond a grade.

shutterstock_568776415There are lots of conversations to be had about this intersection of student interest and assessment. But let’s come back to my daughter for a second. Imagine her ten years from now. Or just look around your own classroom and pick the half dozen or so kids this description fits: She continues to love a good book when someone hands it to her, but she shrinks from most of what a teacher assigns, assuming wearily that it’s more literature that someone else has decided has value–or is being used to test her. If she’s learned to “do school” then she’s compliant but uninterested. If she decides that there are better things to do than complying with assessments, then maybe she’s taking a pass on most of what’s handed to her in an English class.

Taylor will be fine–she has two teachers for parents and a reading-centered household. I worry more about the students I have in class now. How often do we give them opportunities to demonstrate their skills as readers and writers, unshackled from the separate (much less useful) skill of compliance?

Our curriculum’s standards help expose students to seminal works of literature, but we are often slow to recognize that analytical reading and genre exploration are absolutely NOT tied to those same texts. If a student is reluctant to engage with Shakespeare or Krakauer, have we accurately assessed their reading abilities when we write them off, based on an effort we know wasn’t indicative of them as readers?

Balance for the Forced

It would be enormously insulting of me to suggest that you should build alternative assessments for your entire gradebook to accommodate students who haven’t learned to tow the line sometimes. But I think sometimes there’s also room for balance: If one opportunity to demonstrate annotation skills presents itself during The Great Gatsby, a standards-based alternative might be fairly easy to build with Flipgrid or a quick conference about a scene from a student’s independent reading. If they’re reading books that are Lexile-appropriate (or complexity appropriate, if you’re measuring implicit meaning), then their ability to perform on the text they’re attached to should overshadow however they perform on the task related to a class reading.

This idea can be a tough pill to swallow. Many of us got into this profession due to a love for the classics and the notion that we are laying the foundations of culture in our English classrooms. Yet for every one of us who fawns over Faulkner, there’s another of us who never quite figured out why Salinger was such a big deal.

If a student in high school has the fundamentals down–if she can read a grade-appropriate text and tell you the tone and the mood and tie it to current events and posit motives for the main characters’ decisions–then we should be much more worried about how to get all of those A-plus students who never pick up a pleasure book to follow her lead and learn the value of reading itself.

Michael Ziegler
Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. 
He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

Ending with a WOW

Notes from the Classroom

makennaaddibookA few weeks ago I wrote about giving students choice in end-of-year reading and writing projects, in an attempt to maintain enthusiasm for learning into mid-June, which is a challenge no matter how motivated your learners are. I’d never done this before, but I decided to jump and gave the students a “Purposeful Reading and Writing” assignment.

Students had to design their own project that had to involve both reading and writing at a 5th grade level or higher. They were allowed to work with a partner, in a small group, or alone. I had no idea how or if this was going to fly. Idea sheets were submitted for approval, and then my students were off and running.

For the past two weeks I have monitored progress, given feedback, and watched as students navigated peer, technology, and learning issues–the scope was too broad, they needed more information, they were in over their heads, etc. There were days when I doubted what we were doing.

But last week, on a hot Thursday afternoon, someone walked in my room and said, “Whoa, what’s going on?” I asked what they meant. “Look at them–they are all engaged.” I looked around and realized they were. Without me, without any fun distractions, they were all engaged with their own projects.

It was beautiful.

Students’ Soaring Ambitions

Monday was our peer showcase. Projects were laid out and students were instructed to go around with post-it notes, leaving positive, specific feedback and wonders, which is a nice way to say, “I’m wondering about this and didn’t see it in your project…could you tell me more?” I was (for the most part) incredibly pleased with the results and, in some cases, completely blown away.

loyalopProjects ranged from Google Presentations on the Holocaust to a 175-page book, complete with a companion text of biographies of the characters. There were board games about topics of interest, and there were poetry anthologies. The students were proud and so was I.

This is definitely something I will do again next year. Of course, I will tweak it and have more scaffolds in place to bring up the quality of projects for those students who can’t manage an independent piece on their own.

I learned a lot from the past few weeks, but the most important lesson is this: when students are ready to take on their own learning, when they have the knowledge and tools necessary, and when they are passionate about what they are doing, amazing things can happen.

Happy end of the school year to us!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Student Design Yields Great Results

Notes from the Classroom Uncategorized

shutterstock_300056177After writing last month about giving my students a “free day,” I began to contemplate the end of the year. It is always such a crazy time: special events, end-of-year celebrations, and unexpected happenings inevitably interrupt instruction so that anything we are doing does not seem to be done well. Students lose their enthusiasm and often their ability to focus.

To counter this trend, I decided to try to harness the excitement of the free day and allow my students to design their own end-of-the year reading and writing project.

Taking a Leap

I told my students what I was thinking: you design a purposeful reading and writing project for the end of the year. You may work alone, with a partner, or in a group. Each project must contain a reading and writing component. If you are using mentor texts, you have to write at least a paragraph explaining how the text helped you with your writing. You also have to design a rubric, using previous class rubrics as a model. Finally, if you can’t come up with anything, I will assign you a text I think you’ll love, and you can read it and write a literary essay about it.

We brainstormed lots of options on the board and then they had time to think. I have to say, I was a bit nervous, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised and, in some cases, astounded.

I’ve had parents tell me that their children have come home saying this is going to be the best end of the year ever. They are excited about their projects and are taking ownership of their learning. Every day they come in ready to get to work, asking me about new aspects of projects, and digging for more information. There is energy and excitement in the room . . . in late May. Wow.

Project Ideas

The best ideas are coming from the students, of course.

One of my favorites comes from three girls who are working on writing fantasy. Two of the girls have been working for a while on a book outside of class. They wanted to bring in the third girl and decided that she would write a companion text, creating biographies of the characters and maps of the worlds in which they live.

shutterstock_392389606Two other students are working on a poetry anthology, analyzing mentor texts and trying copy changes–all the way down to abstract concepts and syllabication. Students are creating board games, informational picture books, and websites. It is a bit chaotic, but totally worth it.

Capturing the Power

I want this kind of excitement and energy all year in my classroom. But how? How do I meet the needs of my learners, deliver the required curriculum, and have the same level of student engagement? I’ve learned a little about Project Based Learning, which seems to fit, but I need to learn more.

This will be the question that sits in my mind all summer as I read and plan for next year. Rather than the best “end of school ever,” I want every year in my classroom to feel like the best learning ever. I suppose that is the never-ending quest of all teachers. Right now, I’m going to enjoy these last few weeks as I watch the thinking and learning in action, and allow this to inspire me for the future.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Supporting Students w/ IEPs

SE PL The mission of the Oakland Schools Special Education Professional Learning Unit is to facilitate a continuum of responsive professional learning with special educators to increase student engagement and achievement.  Professional learning aims to facilitate access to and progress in the Common Core State Standards for students with IEPs.

Comprehensive professional learning, resources, and networking opportunities, all with an emphasis on evidence-based instructional practices, are available to assist school staff in providing high quality intervention and specialized instruction for:

  • The 1% of students with IEPs who have, or function as if they have, cognitive impairments and whose IEP Team has determined that general assessments, even with accommodations, are not appropriate. These students take alternate state assessments of learning.
Teachers of the 99%

Professional learning opportunities support educators who deliver specialized instruction and interventions for students with IEPs (99%) who participate in general education state assessments of learning.

These students receive core English Language Arts instruction aligned to the Michigan Standards, and their learning is accelerated when special education supplements the classroom core literacy program.

 

Teachers of the 1%

Professional learning opportunities are offered to support educators of students with IEPs with the most significant cognitive disabilities (1%) who participate in the alternate annual state assessment of learning.

These students receive their academic instruction, including English Language Arts, aligned to the essential elements of the Michigan Standards, in their local school districts or county centers for all.  The goal of instruction for these students is acceleration of learning, so that students progress through emergent and conventional phases of literacy learning.

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