Three R’s of Summer: Reading, Researching, and Reflecting

Notes from the Classroom

Today I was at the library with a stack of books when I saw a little one from our elementary school. She recognized me, and her face lit up as she said hello. Then her eyes grew big.

“That’s a lot of chapter books,” she said, as she noticed my pile of books.

“Yes, it is,” I said, smiling. “I love reading.”

“I do too!” she exclaimed as her mother proceeded to check out at least 30 picture books for her and her brother.

Reading

My summer = lots of reading. I am always on the lookout for great reads. I have a list on my phone that I am always adding to when I get recommendations from friends. I also look at blogs, Twitter feeds, and summer reading lists that are published from a variety of sources. I try to balance this with professional reading: technology articles, trauma informed, social justice . . . just a few of the things we are working on in our district.

My personal favorite is reading books that I can recommend to students. Nothing is as powerful as putting a book in the hands of a child and saying, “I read this and I think you’ll love it. Read it and then we’ll talk.”

Researching

As I do my professional reading, it invariably leads me to research. After all, the more you know, the more you want to know.

In addition, I tutor students over the summer and am constantly seeking new information that might help me understand my students’ struggles and find ways to help them. Summer is a great time to follow link after link . . . to fall down the rabbit hole because you actually have the time to do so.

Reflecting

One of the luxuries of summer is having time to reflect on my professional practice. While we do this throughout the year, summer is a great time to look back and really take time to reflect and revise for next year.

I love to get together with other teachers and make informed decisions about changes going forward. Even more, I will often find myself taking notes on my phone when I’m riding in the car (not driving!) on summer trips. It’s as though my brain finally can relax and my creative thoughts can really flow.

Whatever it is that renews you this summer, do it. Teaching takes so much out of you–even though we all say it’s worth it. Maybe your three R’s are relax, rest, and recharge. (Mine will be for a few weeks at least!) Enjoy your time–you deserve it!

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Putting the L back in PLC

Notes from the Classroom

PLC–this acronym is known (and often not loved) by educators far and wide. For most, PLC time is a once-a-week meeting with their subject area or grade level that usually becomes consumed with to-do’s and data; very little professional learning is actually happening during these times.

As a result, teachers often walk away feeling like they have more to do and less time in which to do it.

So where does learning come in? This can happen during professional development offered by the district, through book studies at the department or building level, or through teachers’ attending conferences or trainings on their own. But this usually takes away the community aspect of PLCs. We all know how important it is to think and toss around ideas with other educators; it is this process that truly makes us grow.

This year I am in a new position and while we have a PLC time every week, I find that our time does not always lend itself to study and discussion. What I have noticed is that, to fill the gap, I find myself spending more time reading online, following twitter feeds and blogs, and engaging in both face-to-face and virtual dialogue with others to push my thinking. Even though I am just getting started, I am creating my own PLC and I love it.

Building a Community with Twitter

Twitter is an amazing resource to get you going on creating your own PLC. Be intentional. Find someone that you admire in education–from educators to researchers to authors such as:

With these feeds, you’ll find links to blogs, resources, and articles to stimulate your thinking and connect you to like-minded educators. This is also a great way to find materials to take back to your team to begin to create the PLC that you would like to have. I only use my Twitter account for professional content, so I only follow people or groups that are going to enrich my feed.

Finding the Time with Twitter

On top of everything else, it can be hard to think about work when you are not working. (Actually, work is pretty much all teachers think about when they are not at school!) I know that I will spend time on social media when I have a few minutes of downtime in the evening. There are usually posts on Facebook that I might save for later that are related to school, but when I click over to Twitter, I get posts of substance that elevate my thinking.

These Twitter posts lead me down paths to resources that I can apply to my practice and share. The beautiful thing about this is that it doesn’t take up hours. I suppose it could, but given the concise nature of Twitter, I have a pretty good idea right off if I’m going to click more or not.

But what about People?

While all of this is great, I have still found that the best collaboration and growth comes from face-to-face interactions. I have been able to work this year with our subject area coordinator for Social Studies and Science, and we have shared incredibly rich conversations and thinking. I attended Design for Deep Thinking at the Whole Mind Design Studio with a teacher from our junior high school, for instance; the event broadened my understanding of her work and the implications for our work at the elementary level.

If there are people in your district whom you respect, want to learn more about, or who make you think “Yes!” when you hear them speak at meetings, reach out. Make connections. You will grow and be happier. I promise.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

3 Ways to Work With Newby Teachers

Notes from the Classroom

I was walking out of school the other day with my colleague Emily, and as we passed a newer teacher, I said, “Man, everybody seems so young around here these days.” She laughed ruefully and said, “Yup. We’re the Old Guard now.”  

When I started teaching, “Old Guard” meant the teachers who had been there long enough to have it all figured out. They were the ones who made the decisions while the rest of us followed their lead.

I certainly don’t have everything all figured out, and I’m not really comfortable with this whole “getting older” thing, so here are a few ways I’m trying to hang with the newbies:

1. Learn with (and from) Younger Teachers

One of the things I love most about my colleagues is our teacher-led book studies.

Right now we are doing a study on The Teenage Brain, and at our last meeting, one of my favorite parts was hearing from Kaitlyn, a second-year Spanish teacher. She described how she’s slowing down her instruction so that she gives her students time to process.

I know kids need processing time. I’ve heard about wait time for years. But listening to her describe how it was working in her classroom was the reminder I needed. The next day, I could hear her voice in my head as I was rushing through a class discussion. Slow down, give them time to process. I did. And it worked.  

2. Let Younger Teachers Take the Reigns

I’m a bit bossy (bit is not the right word at all). I like to lead. So, naturally, when two new teachers started teaching AP Language with me, I was quick to tell them how we do things.

We were clipping right along when Gina started offering suggestions. Maybe we should change the order of how we introduce the writing tasks, she suggested. Insert horrified face from Hattie. What we’re doing is working so well, I thought. But–her reasoning was sound. Her idea was a good one. We tried it, and I’m happy to report that she was right. It wasn’t easy for me to give up what I knew had always worked, but it was good to push myself to try a different approach that might be better.

3. Listen to Their Questions

I’m lucky to be part of an awesome group of AP Lang teachers who share ideas on Voxer, a messaging app. This year an experienced AP Lit teacher who is teaching Lang for the first time joined our group.

A few weeks ago, she asked how we explain exigence to our students. Her followup questions, and the discussion she sparked, made me realize I’ve been explaining it poorly for awhile. It helped me think about why I was doing what I was doing, and pushed me to think about teaching it from a new angle.

Others’ questions, then, help me think about why I do what I do, which in turn helps me rethink my teaching.

Younger Teachers Keep us Fresh

It’s easy to settle into a professional identity based on experience. But pushing myself to connect with newer teachers is a way to keep myself fresh.

Don’t worry–I won’t go too far. I’m still good for teasing the pesky millennial history teacher for his strange hipster ways. But after I run him over with my walker, I might just pick his brain a little, too.

Hattie Maguire (@teacherhattie) hit a milestone in her career this year: she realized she’s been teaching longer than her students have been alive (17 years!). She is spending that 17th year at Novi High School, teaching AP English Language and AP Seminar for half of her day, and spending the other half working as an MTSS literacy student support coach. When she’s not at school, she spends her time trying to wrangle the special people in her life: her 8-year-old son, who recently channeled Ponyboy in his school picture by rolling up his sleeves and flexing; her 5-year-old daughter, who has discovered the word apparently and uses it to provide biting commentary on the world around her; and her 40-year-old husband, whom she holds responsible for the other two.

Using the Early Literacy Grant

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

interventions-that-workQuickly introduced to the intricacies of my new job, I was handed a well-developed grant plan to execute. The grant is known as the Early Literacy Grant and the funds must be used to enhance K-2 literacy instruction. From county-level conversations, I know that districts are using these funds in many ways, such as summer-school programs, purchasing formative assessment modules, and extended-school-day stipends. The plan in my district, written by my predecessors, has two components for 1st grade students and teachers:  

  1. Targeted intervention groups
  2. Enhanced professional learning for teachers

This blog is about our journey so far.

Targeted Intervention Groups

The targeted intervention groups include children with the lowest achievement on the Observation Survey, a series of six literacy observations including letter identification, word tests, concepts about print, writing vocabulary, hearing and recording sounds, and running records on leveled text. An Observation Survey of Early Literacy, by Marie Clay, is also one of the approved measures of achievement for the 3rd Grade Reading Law.

Most of the grant money is being used to pay substitute teachers to enhance this targeted intervention. With the assistance of a 1st grade assigned substitute, each 1st grade teacher has 45 minutes daily to run interventions with this group of children, for 90 days. The intervention typically runs for 20-30 minutes with the additional time used by teachers for formative assessments (progress monitoring) to set goals and next steps for the individual students.  

Using consistent data sets, like running records and checklists from Interventions That Work, by Dorn and Soffos, the teachers know if a student is progressing toward grade-level independence–or possibly if they have reached independence with the intervention. In this way, the groups are malleable. Students may remain in the group or move out to the general classroom groups.  

In December reflections, following 18-32 days of intervention (dependent on substitute start date), teachers observed that students were growing in their literacy skills, based on common assessments. Many teachers reflected on the wish for this opportunity with children whom they had last year. I always assure them that we can only be our best that day and we can always hope to grow, which most would say that we’ve done with this program.  

Enhanced Teacher Professional Learning

Other important uses of this grant money are days of professional learning, because the best way to enhance achievement in a district is to increase the professional capacity of the teachers. We conducted three days of learning for each teacher throughout September and October, so that teachers could start this practice in a common way. Teachers have remarked that the learning days were valuable and something that they look forward to. One teacher notes, “Leaving kids at the beginning of the year was hard, but the rewards are there; learning new practice and implementing the learning has had the biggest impact. I am happy to have been trained and been able to use that to impact students.”

Additionally, in conversations across buildings on our learning days, teachers see the value in common practice and the common language of practice while having professional dialogue, and they hope to increase that capacity among their kindergarten and 2nd grade colleagues in the coming years. The topics that we have covered so far include observation surveys, progress monitoring, and specific training on Assisted Writing and Guided Reading Plus intervention groups from the Comprehensive Intervention Model portfolio (Center for Literacy UALR). As we continue with the year, I will continue to reflect with teachers, and we will have additional learning days. I’ll let you know how the story turns out, but so far the journey is powerful.

pic 2Amy Gurney (@agurney_amy) is an ELA and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for Walled Lake Schools. She has a Master’s degree from Michigan State University in Educational Administration and is currently pursuing an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership at Oakland University. She is a current Galileo Leader. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.

 

Reflect. Reinvent. Renew.

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

daybook-titleMy daughter is turning three and my house is a disaster area. There is papier mâché residue on the carpet and ceiling from the piñata we decided to make today. The sink is piled high with half-filled milk cups I haven’t gotten around to emptying.

I look around and wonder if this is the best environment for a three-year-old to live in, considering we have decided to keep her home from pre-school next year. And that’s when I realize: I’m reflecting, and it feels good.

Reflect for Yourself

One of my favorite things I used as a teacher was Jim Burke Teacher’s Daybook Personal and Professional Workshops. Burke is a trusted English high school teacher who helps teachers try to balance their work and home lives. I tried to make a habit of doing his Beginning of the School Year Workshop–which was easy. But I didn’t always make it to the End of the School Year Reflections. I was too busy closing up my room or grading finals or just plain exhausted from the year.

What I know is that I always felt better, and had more closure maybe, in the years when I made the time to reflect.

Reinvent One Area of Your Teaching Life

I’ve adapted to my role as mom, as my daughter has grown. In the beginning, I was basically a source of nourishment and comfort. Now I’m that, but I’m also a disciplinarian, a television and internet censor, a teacher, a nutritionist, a coach, a problem solver, a storyteller, a fort builder, and a small toy detective.

OWP logo copySomething I miss from my teaching years is the opportunity each new school year afforded me to try something new. Maybe it was something small, like a new desk arrangement. Maybe it was something big, like the Oakland Writing Project, seeping into my teaching and changing the way I would look at myself as a teacher and writer. But each year, I could decide to change, and I would get a new batch of students to adjust with.

Some questions to reflect upon: What will you change next year? What worked this year? What flopped and why do you think it did?

Renew Your Love Affair with Teaching

My daughter loves hearing stories about herself. We started a bedtime tradition of reading a book and then telling a story about the day, or the last trip we were on together, or the time we went to a favorite place. I was just starting to tire of the same old stories about the zoo and the bookstore. Then last week, genius struck, and we retold the story of the day she was born. And we all were excited to remember.

Do you remember why you got into teaching in the first place? Do you still hold the passion you did when you first started?

Spend some time reflecting on the first-year teacher you were and the teacher you are now. What has changed? What hasn’t? What do you wish you still had? What do you wish you could leave behind?

You are probably already signed up for a workshop or a course this summer. If not, you probably have plans to grow and change in some area of your teaching. Maybe this is the summer you figure out how Twitter can expand your professional reach. Maybe you decide to research UDL and find out what it stands for.

Or maybe you could start to explore MiPlace and all that it has to offer. What about joining Camp NaNoWriMo this July and deciding to get your students involved in November? You might take the entire summer just to be with your family, and promise yourself you will only go back in the fall on the day that the school requires you to be back to set up your classroom.

If you’d like to spend time with deliberate reflection, you might try a Thinking Routine like “I used to think…but now I think…” Or you could check out what this guy from Edutopia has to offer.

Whatever you need to do–to renew your teaching life or your personal life–make sure you do it this summer!

File_000Caroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University.  She lives in Berkley with her husband and their two year old daughter.

More Than One Way To Skin a Cat

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_240744010My mom always used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

I’d never really thought about that disgusting idiom until I used it in class one day and the kids were rightly horrified. It’s awful, but it addresses a core principle of good teaching and learning: there is more than one way to do something well.

For the past seven years or so, our English department at Novi High School has been on a journey through that principle. As we have attempted to align to the Common Core State Standards, we have moved toward an aligned curriculum with shared texts and common assessments.

This has prompted a debate about the difference between common experiences and common assignments. Must we be lock step, or can we skin cats however we choose? Okay, that’s gross. I’ll stop.

This year, my professional learning community has finally hit its stride and figured out how to preserve teacher autonomy while still providing a CCSS-aligned curriculum for all 500+ tenth graders at Novi High School. How’d we do it? Skills based, aligned common assessments.  

As we head into summer and start thinking about changes for next year, perhaps our model can give you some ideas for how you can better align with your colleagues but still maintain your autonomy.

Before A Unit Begins

This is a key to success. Prior to starting the unit, everyone needs to know where you’re going so you can get there however you’d like. We look at our district curriculum in Atlasand we revisit the five to six very specific learning goals for the unit. Then we make sure our assessments are measuring the students’ abilities with those skills.

For example, in the third unit for the year, we worked on five learning goals:

  1. reading info texts critically
  2. analyzing dramatic structure
  3. maintaining argumentative claims
  4. presenting effectively
  5. using varied syntax

Our PLC talked about what proficiency in each of those standards looks like, and started imagining how students could show us that proficiency. For each standard, we decided on one common skill-based assessment that we’d give to our students. We made samples of what the proficient work would look like, and agreed to use formative assessments with each standard to help students monitor their learning. That’s it. We all agreed on the end point and then went our separate ways.

During the Unit

This is where the freedom came in.

Some of us started with informational reading, while others jumped right into the unit’s anchor text (a play). We shared things informally as we moved through the unit, but the pressure to do the same things and move in lock step was off completely. At our PLC meetings, we shared what was going well, where we were struggling, and worked together to come up with solutions.

After the Unit

shutterstock_410136730This was the most important part, I think. After the unit, we shared our different approaches and what had gone well.

The language standard, for example, was a bit of a mess. Some of us had tried to give students formative assessments in a writers’ workshop with writers’ notebook checks, and quickly found ourselves overwhelmed. Other people had done one-on-one conferences and liked them, but struggled to squeeze all the kids in.

One teacher, on the other hand, had developed a short-answer written formative assessment that had worked well for her and seemed very manageable. For the next unit, we all decided to use her method.

Wait, you’re thinking. I thought this post was about more than one way to do something well!

It is! I promise. Good teaching is about experimenting and testing and figuring things out. That’s what this new structure has allowed us to do. We all tried different ways to teach the language standard and, after that experimentation, we found a way that works best. Had we not had that freedom to experiment, though, we might have never landed on the best way at all.

With some of the other standards, we found that we all did things very differently, we were all happy with with what we’d done, and our kids performed the same on the common assessment. The key is that this structure has given us a way to stay aligned to what’s important–clearly defined standards and assessments–without shackling us to agreed upon daily lessons.

As you go into the summer and think about everything you’d like to change next year, I’d encourage you to consider where you and your colleagues can make agreements about being the same, and where can you leave yourself a little room for creativity. I think you will find that agreeing to give each other a little space to experiment will ultimately help you see that there are many ways to…um..do things well.

Hattie profileHattie Maguire is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her fifteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition and English 10. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

Executive Function Skills for Success in the Classroom: Recommended Resources

 The term ‘Executive Function’ is used to describe the skill set required for setting goals, carrying out organized steps, and modifying a plan to complete a task successfully, all of which are vital for academic and social success in elementary and middle school classrooms.  Strategies can be implemented in the classroom to improve the executive functioning of all students for task completion.  These strategies help students:
  • Increase their awareness and tune in to what is happening around them so they can understand how information, events and their actions will impact their goals and objectives, both now and in the near future.
  • Develop a memory for the future so that they can set personal goals and  use self-initiated organizational strategies to achieve those goals.
  • Improve self-awareness skills so they can “read a room” and use higher-order reasoning skills to “stop, think and create” an appropriate action plan with anticipated possible outcomes.
  • See and sense the passage of time so that they can accurately and effortlessly estimate how long tasks will take, change or maintain their pace, and carry out routines and tasks within allotted time frames.
  • Organize their homework space and personal belongings so they can create and use strategies to track and organize their materials.

 

Recommended Readings, Videos and Tools:

Smartbutscattered

Read a sample chapter by clicking HERE.

FallDown

Recommended Reading

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Poster

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 Recommended Reading

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Video Brief

Video for Kids

Recommended Video

Recommended Video

 

Sarah Ward Resources:

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech-language pathologist and national speaker on developing and supporting executive functioning skills. Sarah has facilitated multiple educator sessions and a parent session at Oakland Schools to provide practical, hands-on strategies to build executive function skills for success in the classroom. This web page is designed to connect educators and parents with resources that support the strategies Sarah has shared in our county.

 

To hear Sarah describe some of her strategies for supporting executive functioning in students, check out these short video clips:


Strategies for Students

Tools for Middle and High School Students

Parent Tips

Resources for Parents

 

Oakland Schools Consultant Contacts: 

 

“Hacking” School Culture

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

imgresLike most teachers in Michigan, last week I spent two days proctoring the state’s SAT and ACT Work Keys tests. I collected the box of tests, read from the script, made sure there were no errant marks, and was generally absolutely bored.

The students, on the other hand, were completely stressed out by the experience, and walked away from the testing center looking like Walking Dead extras.

After spending this first day in SAT-land, I attended a workshop hosted by School Retool. School Retool is a professional development fellowship the helps school leaders redesign their school culture, using what they call “hacks.”

A colleague and I drove to the Wayne State University campus to meet a group of educators from across the state—there were two teachers from Grand Rapids—who had fled the confines of standardized testing to talk about how to change school culture.

The folks at School Retool say it’s about “hacks.” Hacks, according to them, are “small scrappy experiments” that help redesign school culture. Instead of being intimidated by the “big picture” and the things beyond my power, like standardized testing, hacking asks me to look at the levers I have in front of me, the small, scrappy changes I can make.

Don’t like the culture of my classroom? Then do something, a small thing. Pull a lever!

Changing Culture with Small Steps

Like most of the teachers at the workshop, I’ve been hacking in my classroom for some time, but I didn’t have a name for it. 

shutterstock_320401619My earliest “hacks” came when I moved the focus away from the teacher, me, as the primary audience for students’ writing, and went looking for an authentic audience. I ditched the five-paragraph essay. I replaced tests with Harkness-style discussions, and let students read whatever they wanted. I’ve tinkered with curriculum and “required reading,” while looking for more effective ways to help my students become better writers. 

These are all small experiments, scrappy ones to be sure. But they’ve changed and continue to change the culture of my classroom and my department.

My takeaway from the event was a challenge I’ve been wrestling with for awhile now. What levers do I have that I can push to affect my school’s culture? 

I walked into the workshop feeling, as I usually do during Test Week, exhausted and small. But listening to what other teachers were doing, or thinking about doing, started to work its magic on me. I felt my own culture and attitude changing.

Isn’t this what professional development is supposed to feel like? What am I going to hack next? What are we all?

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.

Mentor Texts: Reading Like Writers

Book Reviews Common Core Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_151419089Secondary teachers continue to switch from old units designed around novels, to new Common Core State Standards units focused on skills and genres. As they do so, an instructional method that can support this shift is the use of mentor texts to “read like a writer.”

When a class reads like a writer, the teacher takes a descriptive approach, rather than a prescriptive approach, to instruction. It might help to think of this as an inquiry-based lesson. Instead of a teacher saying to her students, “Your essay must contain a thesis statement that sounds like this,” she might guide her students as they read another text, asking questions like, “When in this paragraph does this writer tell us what claim he’s making? How does he do it?”

It is clear that the secondary ELA world is catching on to this instructional method. It’s deeply rooted in our Common Core State Standards. Rather than requiring just the comprehension of texts, our anchor standards require students to analyze texts for word choice, structure, or “how purpose shapes the content and style of a text” (R.6). This analytical reading goes hand-in-hand with the descriptive approach taken when classes are reading like writers.

As our state makes the switch from ACT to SAT, the focus on analysis is even more apparent. The Teacher Implementation Guide produced by the College Board includes in its recommended instructional strategies the direction to “ask students to investigate the ways authors use word choice, structure, and other techniques….” Likewise, the new SAT essay does not simply ask that students be able to write their own persuasive essays; it requires that they analyze another writer’s argument.

A Book Focused on High School

It’s clear that this inquiry-based approach to reading and writing is profoundly important to secondary teachers. This is an enormous instructional shift for many teachers, especially for those in high schools. As they tackle new units and new assessments, they’ll need support. Some of our go-to mentors like Kelly Gallagher and Jeff Anderson have been writing about this instructional method, but the vast majority of writing that’s been done around mentor texts has focused on elementary classes.

41dIMvzIynL._SX395_BO1,204,203,200_That’s why it’s so exciting to see the recent publication of Writing with Mentors, by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell. So many other great mentor-text resources have left secondary teachers like myself to adapt the work for my high school students. But this book is written by two teachers with a decidedly high-school lens.

As the authors put it in their introduction, “This book was written to help you understand the potential that writing with mentors has for your students.” The book starts with the writers’ understanding of the use of mentor texts. Throughout the subsequent chapters, the book transitions to students’ understanding, use, and ownership of mentor texts.

The first two chapters offer the most foundational support for high school teachers who are making the paradigm shift, from prescriptive instruction to reading like a writer. These early chapters outline the classroom essentials needed to foster this instructional approach. The authors describe creating conditions, space, and time for reading and writing, as well as the concept of choice.

The second chapter digs into how teachers should approach the planning and internalization of this method, or as the authors call it, “Developing a Mentor Text Habit of Mind.” This chapter offers concrete suggestions for the finding and building of mentor-text collections, as well as for storage, organization, and planning. It is essential reading for secondary teachers who are just starting to get their toes wet in this kind of analytical reading and writing.

A Book for Novices and Veterans

The subsequent chapters focus on how to use mentor texts throughout the writing process, from planning to publishing. Throughout the book, the authors include plenty of resources to support teachers at all levels of understanding. Included in these resources are examples of texts that the authors have used as mentors for various genres and purposes. These texts are explained throughout the chapters and again collected in an appendix, complete with URLs and QR codes for quick access.

I’ve only had this book since its publication this fall, but with all of my highlighting, markings in the margins, and sticky notes, it’s already looking pretty well loved. It seems like every time I turn around, I’m recommending it to someone new.

That’s because whether you’re a teacher who has been using mentor texts for years, or one who is just starting to grapple with the new units and standards, this book offers valuable support for a trusted instructional approach, one that’s guaranteed to help our students grow as analytical readers and writers.

Resources

Gallagher, K. (2011). Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts. Portland: Stenhouse.

Gallagher, K. (2014). Making the Most of Mentor Texts. ASCD , 28-33.

Marchetti, A., & O’Dell, R. (2015). Writing with Mentors: How to Reach Every Writer in the Room Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Ray, K. W. (1999). Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English.

MKortlandt2Megan Kortlandt (@megankortlandt) is a secondary ELA consultant and reading specialist for the Waterford School District. In the mornings, she teaches AARI and literacy intervention classes at Waterford Mott High School, and in the afternoons, she works with all of Waterford’s middle and high school teachers and students in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment department. Additionally, Megan works with Oakland Schools as an instructional coach for AARI. She has presented at various conferences including the Michigan Council for Teachers of English and Michigan Reading Association annual conferences.

Collaboration with Design Thinking

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

At the start of December, I attended a workshop at the Detroit Port Authority Lofts, which, it turns out, is an event space, not a place where ships check in. I’ve lived in southeast Michigan my entire life, and spent many, many hours in the city. But I didn’t know this place was there. I thought, The city of Detroit is like teachers: there’s so much good stuff happening, but no one knows about it, or the ones who do know treat the information like it’s secret.

Teachers are terrible networkers. We don’t collaborate very well, and we tend to keep ideas to ourselves, especially the really effective ones. It’s not all our fault, though, and it doesn’t have to stay like this. But we do have to make more of an effort to reach one another, to build relationships—professional and personal.

Professional development can help. Take the event I attended in Detroit, which was cohosted by the Henry Ford Learning Institute and Teacher2Teacher. The event introduced teachers to the principles of Design Thinking. We ate and talked and were lead through what is called a “rapid cycle design challenge.” That’s a short activity that introduces the elements of Design Thinking in an interactive way. Participants use Design Thinking principles (Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype/Feedback, Reflect) to redesign something for their partners. We talked to one another, worked together, and learned how Design Thinking works.

Considering the Audience

Design Thinking is a set of moves developed at the Design School at Stanford to solve problems and to design products. At first blush, it sounds like it would be limited to an academic setting. But as I’ve worked with it over the past few years and seen it in action, I’ve discovered how well it fits with other effective teaching practices, like feedback, formative assessment, and audience-driven writing.

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Members of the Avondale English department talking to students about the logos they designed in Mrs. Schupbach’s Geometry class.

One of my colleagues, Dawn Schupbach, a math and science teacher, came away from the professional-development session with some great ideas. She took what she learned at this event back to her classroom, where she turned her Honors Algebra 2 students loose on a challenge: to use Design Thinking and conics to redesign logos for the different departments in Avondale High School.

In the past she’d had the students design logos for businesses. But one of her takeaways from the professional development was the importance of audience, empathy, and feedback. It’s important to know that those are key moves that my colleagues in ELA have been working with over the past few years. 

With the idea that everything needs to be designed with a user—in ELA we say audience—she sent her students out to find what the members of the departments (the users/audience) thought about their respective disciplines—not what they wanted in a logo, or what they thought about themselves as a department. This is called Empathy in Design Thinking, and it’s vital. How can you design or write for someone you don’t understand?

Teaching Across Disciplines

Math students—let me say that again, math students—came to English and science and foreign language teachers, in order to talk about design. Look at all the cross curricular connections being made, all of the opportunities for teachers to talk to students about their disciplines. I know it sounds like a joke. “A math student walks into an ELA classroom to talk about design . . . .” But it’s really a model for what we ought be trying to build into our curricula. I want to teach writing and reading in ways that make students better at math and science and art. And I want my students to take what they learned from Mrs. Schupbach’s Geometry class into my writing class.

In the end, her students took the feedback back to their math classroom and combined it with what theyIMG_2324 were learning about conics. With that, they created logos for us to vote on. Most of my department picked the logo shown on the right. It reflected our desire to have a design that opened a conversation, by provoking a person to ask about the logo. The shapes are meant to represent aspects of our discipline and practice. We didn’t want books or pens or apples. Too cliché.

Everything that’s great about the project—collaboration, Design Thinking, cross-disciplinary work—these things happened because a good teacher had the chance (and the drive—she attended the workshop on her own time) to learn from other teachers. She not only took what she’d learned about Design Thinking back to her class. She took the way she learned it—collaboratively, interactively, cross disciplinarily—and created a rich experience for her students and, I’d argue, the whole school. That’s what happens when you put teachers together and give them time and space to learn.

RICKRick Kreinbring teaches English at Avondale High School in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His current assignments include teaching AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition. He is a member of a statewide research project through the Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative partnered with the MSU Writing in Digital Environments Program, which concentrates on improving student writing and peer feedback. Rick has presented at the National Advanced Placement Convention and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. He is in his twenty-third year of teaching and makes his home in Huntington Woods.