The Importance of Joy

Notes from the Classroom

Joy, Inc.I don’t generally read “business model” type books, but when one of our Board of Education members began passing Joy, Inc. out to anyone and everyone who would take a copy, and my fellow curriculum coordinator was texting me passages from the book, I thought it was time to move it to the top of my “to read” list. 

Joy, Inc., by Richard Sheridan, details Menlo Innovations’ journey to build joy into every facet of their company culture–from how they organize themselves, to how they delineate responsibility, to how they work with clients. Fluffy sounding, I know. But the more I read, the more I started to think about how this concept of joy can–and should–be part of our classroom, building, and district culture, and how, too often, it isn’t.  

When you look at the table of contents, you might actually think you are reading a book meant for educators, with chapter titles like:

  • Freedom to Learn
  • Conversations, Rituals, and Artifacts
  • Rigor, Discipline, Quality
  • Accountability and Results

Although this is a book written for companies, it’s really a guidebook for how any organization might rearrange its culture to allow for more freedom, learning, quality, and ownership–all things we want students to possess.

How Classes are Organized

Many classrooms today look the same as they did 50, even 100 years ago, with rows of individual desks facing the teacher’s space at the front of the room. The desks are cumbersome and hard to move when we want students in a different configuration. Additionally, we generally expect that students will be quiet and work independently on the task.  

The same can probably be said for many office spaces: employees are working mostly independently from one another in cubes or offices, and it is often quiet, as the general thinking goes that people need this to be productive.  

Joy, Inc. turns these ideas on their heads. At Menlo, they have purposefully torn down the walls. This allows all of the employees to work in one giant room, at easy-to-move tables that are often rearranged. This “reengerizes everyone and builds [their] mental capacity for flexibility” (41).  

As we think about what classrooms should look like, we begin imagining flexible seating choices that are easy to change, depending on the task at hand, and that naturally create a culture of collaboration and creativity.

Embracing the Noise

The lack of walls at Menlo also means that the room is not silent; it’s actually quite loud because “the noise you hear […] is the noise of work” (45).

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard teachers with an apologetic tone saying, “They’re noisy, but they are working,” as if they were ashamed of the “noise of work.” It’s time we embraced that noise as evidence of learning taking place.

Towers of Knowledge

Richard Sheridan, Menlo’s CEO, and the book’s author, doesn’t have a huge, closed-off corner office; his desk is right in the middle of the room, where he can hear the conversations of the programmers–and they can hear his. Sheridan often cautions against what he calls “towers of knowledge.” These are the people who have a vast knowledge of something that no one else in an organization has, making it feel like they are indispensable. These people become burned out, and others feel like they won’t survive without these people.

In some ways, teachers have traditionally been the “towers of knowledge” in their classrooms, dispensing information that students don’t have in lectures. This is no longer a sustainable way to teach if we want students to thrive in a world that values innovation, collaboration, and creativity.

All schools and school districts are involved in continuous improvement processes, and all too often, building joy into the culture isn’t a priority with everything else we are required to do. But as Richard Sheridan and Menlo Innovations prove, joy and all of the other work we have to do are not mutually exclusive. In fact, building a culture of joy can actually help make those other things work better.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PM Jianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District. Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher. She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and is an Oakland Writing Project Teacher Leader. Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

Edulastic: Authentic M-STEP Prep

Formative Assessment Literacy & Technology Oakland Writing Project

M-Step-Logo_473059_7With test prep season beginning and the M-STEP looming, teachers can become frustrated because there are not many M-STEP released items to use with students, in order to help them practice the item types. The items that are released are likely not related to the content being taught at the time, and, therefore, feel very out of context and inauthentic to students.  

I recently came across a web tool called Edulastic that helps address this problem. Edulastic allows teachers to create assessments that mimic the look and feel of the M-STEP; they include online, technology-enhanced formative, interim, benchmark, and summative assessments. Some of the features of Edulastic include:

  • Instant and real-time data on student performance, in the form of many types of reports
  • The ability for teachers to create their own technology-enhanced items (30+ question types, including embedded multimedia items)
  • Google Classroom syncing
  • An item bank of over 80,000 standards-aligned items, some of which are user created, and some of which are from verified sources, like SBAC and PARCC
  • Free account for teachers; districts can purchase a district account with more features

Linking Test Prep with Coursework

Edulastic’s data reporting seems to be very robust and could benefit teachers and students in the long run. But the web tool’s immediate benefit to teachers is that it allows them to create technology-enhanced questions about the content they are teaching at any given time. Instead of teachers giving a traditional multiple choice test, Edulastic can help teachers mimic M-STEP style in any test at any time, with items like hot text, editing a passage, drag and drop, matching tables, re-sequencing, and more.

Below you will see a few comparisons of what M-STEP released items look like compared with what teachers can create with Edulastic. M-STEP is on the left, and Edulastic is on the right. You can click the paired images to enlarge them in a new window.

Sentence Response: students select a sentence(s) from a passage to answer a question

Sentence Response Item

Passage Based: students read a passage and answer questions about it

Passage Based Item

Multiple Select: students must select more than one answer option

Multiple Select Item

Multimedia Embedded: video or audio is included

Multimedia Embedded Item

Matching Tables: students select features in a table

Matching Tables Item

Essay/Constructed Response: students must type a response to the question

Essay/Constructed Response Item

Being able to create these types of questions for any content means that test preparation doesn’t have to be decontextualized and something “extra” we have to fit in. Instead, this practice can happen at anytime throughout the year on any given assessment. Rather than kids’ having to learn to navigate new types of questions shortly before taking a high-stakes assessment, they can practice all year. Not to mention that these question types often require a higher level of thinking, so they are more than just test prep–they are good assessment practices.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PM Jianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District. Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher. She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and is an Oakland Writing Project Teacher Leader. Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

Data is the New Bacon

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

data-miningOver the summer, the literacy researcher Nell Duke tweeted that she saw a shirt that said “Data is the new bacon.”

Both she and I are vegetarians, but I can understand the sentiment. In the education world, data is king–for better or worse. I think this shirt was trying to say that data is everywhere, and everyone loves it (just like bacon). But we should also be careful, because like bacon, too much data can be bad for your health.

In my new role as ELA Curriculum Coordinator for my district, I am responsible for our continuous school/district improvement initiatives, and our multi-tiered systems of support. These two areas, in particular, require data in order to make instructional decisions, progress monitor, and reflect on those decisions.

Why Use a Data Protocol?

In our district, we use a data protocol modeled after Bruce Wellman and Laura Lipton’s book, Got Data? Now What? For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a data protocol is a structured way to look at and talk about data. As such, they help shape our conversations, which in turn helps shape our thinking. A data protocol, in particular, allows us to talk about data in a safe and structured way that brings all voices into the conversation.

When thinking about data, it’s useful to get out of the mindset that data has to be numbers. Data sets can represent anything you want to think deeply about. Take, for example, a new data warehouse that we rolled out at the beginning of the year. This is an online repository for data on student demographics, assessments, behaviors, and so forth; it maintains all the data in one place, and allows various reports to be run from that data.

This warehouse turned out to be a good data set for our teachers. After teachers received training in the data protocol, they used the data warehouse platform itself as a data set to be analyzed.

Intellectual “Hang Time”

shutterstock_125340167I am an avid practitioner of yoga, and often my yoga teachers will tell the class to stay in the pose, to give it some “hang time” before we move onto the next pose. That’s the hard part, though. When it’s hard and you want to get out, that’s where the work happens. The same is true when talking about data–the power is in our ability to give ourselves intellectual “hang time.”

A data protocol allows us to do this. It also prevents us from moving too quickly to judgment and action, or from looking at too much data at once (the “too much bacon is detrimental” stuff).

I coach a Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators team in my district, and I recently had the amazing opportunity to attend a workshop facilitated by Bruce Wellman, which was called “Using Data to Mediate Thinking.” Throughout the day, Wellman reiterated that power and deep understanding emerge only when we’ve allowed ourselves the time to observe the data without evaluation and just be uncertain, because “uncertainty is the foundation of inquiry and research.”

The Three Phases

Wellman and Lipton’s data protocol is broken into three phases:

  • Activating and Engaging. This is where participants bring experiences and expectations to the surface and voice predictions and assumptions about the data.
  • Exploring and Discovering. This is where groups analyze the data. It is a time for observation without judgment. This is where that intellectual “hang time” really comes into play, as groups must resist the urge to jump to conclusions and try to take action.
  • Organizing and Integrating. This is where groups identify areas of concerns, determine causation, and begin developing theories of action.

Like bacon, data is great, but too much of it or rushing through it can be a problem and won’t yield the solutions we need to improve teaching and learning. Allowing ourselves a dedicated time and way of talking about data can help us resist those tendencies.

screenshot-2014-09-26-at-12-44-07-pmJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District. Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher. She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and is an Oakland Writing Project Teacher Leader. Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

A Virtual Conference on Data Literacy

Critical Literacy Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning
Virtual PD on my patio

Virtual PD on my patio

One day over the summer, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a post for the 4T Virtual Conference on Data Literacy.  As someone who has presented at the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of the data literacy arm–and it was coming up in two days! I quickly clicked the link and signed myself up, ready for two days’ worth of virtual PD about teaching students data literacy, and which I could access from my patio.

If you’ve never attended a virtual conference, they tend to work like this: once you sign up, you are sent a link to a virtual room, which you enter a few minutes before the session is slated to begin. Generally, there is some kind of introductory task that allows people to get to know one another. This task also allows a moderator to introduce the presenter and troubleshoot along the way.

Whatever the presenter is talking about is the main reason people attend the session. But the running chat (which move so fast!) among all of the participants often yield tons of great, practical ideas for teachers, too.

The Info on Infographics

I attended multiple sessions, on topics ranging from an introduction to data literacy, to data literacy in the content areas, to action research in the classroom. For this conference, I was most looking forward to the sessions about data visualization and infographics, though. I’ve dabbled with making infographics and have always wanted to have students create them, but I was never sure how to go about doing that, because I didn’t feel that I had a design background.

As the presenters were speaking, something that one of them said really struck me: think of an infographic like an argumentative essay.  The infographic itself is the overall argument. The images, design, and information are the evidence and reasons.

Thinking about infographics in this way was like a light bulb going off in my head. Writing arguments with supporting evidence is something students are well versed in, and moving from a traditional essay to a different argumentative form seemed like a great next step.

Get Visual

visualize this In addition to seeing infographics in a new light, I also learned, from participants in the chat, about two books that would expand my understanding of data visualizations. The books are Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics and Data Points: Visualization that Means Something, both by Nathan Yau. While the books are sometimes heavy on programming language, they greatly enhanced my understanding of how data might be visualized, and why you might visualize a particular data set. They also offered tons of practical (and often free) resources for visualizing data.

As I was reading these books over the summer, I had planned on using with students what I learned. But now that I have moved into the role of curriculum coordinator, I know this learning will be very applicable to my new work.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA/SS Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District.  Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher.  She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

Book Review: Reading Nonfiction

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

519O713jxML._SX395_BO1,204,203,200_A few months back, I wrote about how great Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s book Notice & Note was. As soon as I got wind that Beers and Probst would be releasing a nonfiction version, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, I quickly headed over to Amazon and pre-ordered my copy—and I have not been disappointed!

As much as I loved Notice & Note and made it an integral part of how I teach reading, I think I love Reading Nonfiction even more. As I read, I kept finding myself nodding and, in my head, yelling, “Yes! Why didn’t I think of that before?!”

The Importance of Critical Reading

One of the concepts that struck me the most, and I really couldn’t believe that I had not thought about it before, was the idea that many times, we teach nonfiction as being simply not fiction, which is much too simple a definition and one that can lead inexperienced readers down the wrong path. If we say that fiction texts are not true, then we’re also implying that nonfiction texts are true, which can be a dangerous assumption to make.  

Beers and Probst complicate this true/not true definition, but also bring it closer to helping students understand that readers of nonfiction need to be critical, informed readers and not just passive ones being taken in by a story. They define nonfiction as a “body of work in which the author purports to tell us about the real world, a real experience, a real person, an idea, or a belief” (21).

Clearly, the key word in this definition is purports, which signals to students that what they are about to read is always going to be someone’s version of what is real, and that we cannot always take what we read at face value, a necessary skill students need to develop as they are bombarded with information on a daily basis.

The Book’s Elements

Notice & Note was broken down into six signposts, elements that the authors claim are common to the majority of YA novels, and which help to focus students’ thinking. Reading Nonfiction is set up a bit differently; it is broken down like this:

Big Questions

  • What surprised you?
  • What did the author think you already knew?
  • What changed, challenged, or confirmed what you already knew?

Signposts

  • Contrasts and Contradictions
  • Extreme or Absolute Language
  • Numbers and Stats
  • Quoted Words
  • Word Gaps

Fix-Up Strategies

  • Possible Sentences
  • KWL 2.0
  • Somebody Wanted But So
  • Syntax Surgery
  • Sketch to Stretch
  • Genre Reformulation
  • Poster
Anchor chart for the Big Question, What did the author think I already knew?

Anchor chart for the Big Question, What did the author think I already knew?

The Big Questions are the kinds of questions that experienced readers of nonfiction keep in mind as they read, and help students read closely rather than have their eyes skim words on a page. The Signposts help students read closely for features and concepts often found in nonfiction. The Fix-Up Strategies are designed to help when students’ understanding has broken down and can be used before, during, and after reading.

So far, I have begun using the Big Questions with my struggling 6th grade readers. My students are surprising me with how much they are marking and are able to talk about, because they developed this questioning stance before reading. After we tried out the Big Questions, I asked them if they thought this helped them read and understand in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise, and they insightfully indicated how reading with these questions in mind helped them focus on the article and think about it differently.

What is maybe most amazing about this book is that it’s not made just for ELA teachers. As I was reading, I could picture how these concepts could be applied to all content areas, and I wished that every teacher in my building would read this book. This just may have to be our staff’s next book study!

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

Authentic M-STEP Preparation

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

M-Step-Logo_473059_7Recently, I facilitated a webinar about preparing students for the ELA M-STEP. (You can access a recording, slides, and a handout online.) Preparing our students for the M-STEP, I believe, doesn’t have to be a tedious task, one that we scramble to find the time to do. Rather, it can be embedded into our daily practice, helping make it more authentic and more relevant for our students.

Before we can prepare our students, though, we need to prepare ourselves and have a clear understanding of the types of tasks students will be engaged in, and the skills they need to complete those tasks. To help in this work, sample-items sets for grades 3-8 are available on MDE’s website. This is a great resources for familiarizing both teachers and students with the task types and browser.

A careful analysis of the 7th grade sample-items set shows that students will be engaged in the following types of tasks:

    • Annotating
    • Choosing multiple options in multiple choice questions
    • Constructed response
    • Multipart questions (Part B contingent on Part A)
    • Writing samples, using information in the prompt
    • Editing a writing sample
    • Reading across texts
    • Choosing reliable sources and evidence

Many of the tasks above are different from the format of the MEAP test, so it’s very important that we take the time to carefully think about what students need to know and be able to do.

Sample 7th grade item

For example, in the 7th grade item to the left, students must be able to first distinguish between the content of the question and the directions. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

Notice that the item begins with directions to the students. Then there is some content that the students need to understand and use. Then, below that, there is the task. It is all in the same font and formatting, so students must learn to read carefully, to ensure they are not missing important information.

Practice Assessments

In addition to the sample-items sets, MDE has created a set of documents called the ELA Crosswalks. These documents were created to help teachers create classroom assessments that would be similar to those that students might see on the M-STEP, use the same kind of language as the M-STEP, and ensure that teachers are teaching and assessing particular standards.

ELA Crosswalks

The image to the right, also clickable, shows a claim, targets, and standards for reading. These have been created for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language.

Although there are now only performance tasks at 5th and 8th grade, it is worth preparing all students for different types of writing tasks of various lengths. Teachers College Writing and Reading Project has put together performance tasks for grades 3-8 that include readings, videos, writing prompts, and rubrics.  

While the first and best way to prepare for the M-STEP is through good instruction, we can help students do their best by ensuring that we understand what they will be asked to do, and help them develop ways to navigate various tasks.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

 

Book Review: Notice & Note

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

51rafqDiIDL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_Over the summer, I learned I would be teaching a class of struggling 6th grade readers. They would have me for regular ELA, but they would also travel together to a reading support class right after mine. I did not have experience teaching a class solely of struggling learners, so I reached out to a colleague on the west side of the state, Megan Perrault (@megankperreault), and asked her for recommendations about how I might approach this challenge.  

Megan is an amazing reading teacher, and she recommended Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst’s Notice & Note: Strategies of Close Reading. This book had been on my “to read” list and was quickly moved up in the queue based on Megan’s recommendation.

Notice & Note initially impressed me with the thoroughness with which Beers and Probst researched and tracked common elements within young adult novels. I also appreciated how they piloted and revised their work based on the experiences of real teachers in real classrooms.  

The premise of Notice & Note is this: the majority of YA novels have six common elements, which Beers and Probst call “signposts.” If students can notice and think about why these signposts are showing up, they are doing the work of close reading and are understanding the text better. Each signpost has one question that readers can ask themselves, to help them think deeply about why that particular signpost is showing up. This really helps to focus students’ thinking.  

The Signposts

In a nutshell, the signposts are as follows:

  • Contrasts & Contradictions—When the character does something out of character
  • Words of the Wiser—When an older, wiser character gives serious advice
  • Again & Again—Something that keeps showing up
  • Aha Moment—When the character suddenly realizes something
  • Memory Moment—When the story is interrupted to tell the reader a memory
  • Tough Questions—When the character asks himself/herself really difficult questions

I was originally planning to only introduce the signposts to my 6th grade class, but once I saw the power they held, I also began using them with my 8th grade readers. Both grade levels are engaged with the signposts and are thinking deeply about the texts they are reading. Maybe the best testament to the power of noticing the signposts is when students get that look of discovery on their face and call me over because they have noticed a signpost on their own.

Anchor chart for the signpost, Words of the Wiser

Anchor chart for the signpost, Words of the Wiser

After I had read Notice & Note, Megan and I were at professional development together, and she mentioned the Notice & Note Facebook group. Now, if you know me, you know I’m all about Twitter when it comes to anything related to teaching.

But this Facebook community is amazing! The group has a very active 8,600+ members, and I navigate the page often. As someone who is teaching the signposts for the first time, the resources on this page have been invaluable. Members have shared tons of files and their experiences with the signposts. And for each signpost, I have found either a picture book or video clip to help introduce the concept. These have been a big hit with students and have helped them understand the concepts prior to working with them in their novels.

Just this past fall, Beers and Probst published Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies. Stay tuned for a review!

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

Review of The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo

Book Reviews Oakland Writing Project

readingstrategiesbookDuring the second half of the school year, I opened my classroom up to a doctoral student from the University of Michigan who was studying what untaught and sometimes intangible things make teachers successful.  It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about myself as a teacher through the reflective nature of the process.  As compensation for my time and energy, I was presented with a $100 gift card for Amazon.  I knew exactly what I would buy: books!  One book, in particular, was on my wish list, Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book.  I had seen the publisher, Heinemann, promoting it on Twitter, and it looked really useful and practical for teachers on a day to day basis.

The book arrived in early June, and I set it aside to look at once the school year ended.  In mid-June, I was a presenter in the 6-8 Informational Reading & Writing strand at the MiELA Network Institute.  I hadn’t yet looked through The Reading Strategies Book, but I threw it into my crate just in case I got some extra time.  My co-presenter, Cory Snider (@sniderc), and I wanted to be especially mindful of the needs of our participants since a number of them were returning from the year prior. So as we were looking through the exit comments at the end of day two and thinking about our plans for day three, I grabbed The Reading Strategies Book out of my crate and started skimming it.

Based on the reviews I had seen, I had a hunch the book was going to be good, but I didn’t know just how good it would be.  As Cory was busy trying to put the finishing touches on our presentation for the next day, I kept yelling, “Cory! Look at this one! It’s perfect!” or “Cory! Isn’t this just the best idea?!”  While he did agree that the book seemed pretty great, I think he probably could have done without my outbursts every 30 seconds.  We ended up incorporating a number of Serravallo’s strategies into our plans for the next day, and the participants were just as excited as we were about the potential of this book.  One group of participants is even planning to use it in their PLC’s next book study based on our recommendation.

The beauty of The Reading Strategies Book is in its simplicity, consistency, and organization.  The 300 (!) strategies are broken up by goal, which mimic goals that we might have as teachers as we help students navigate various text types.  These goals range from support for early readers to comprehending fiction in a variety of ways to improving comprehension of nonfiction to deepening students’ speaking and listening skills.  Serravallo has organized her book so that each strategy fits onto one page, which includes:

  • a description of the strategy itself
  • a teaching tip or the language she might use in a lesson
  • prompts to use when talking with students
  • an image that shows an anchor chart or sample student work (I found these especially useful in helping me visualize what a strategy actually looks like in a classroom)
  • a suggested level, based on the Fountas and Pinnell Text Level Gradient (I can see teachers adapting them up or down to fit the needs to various students at various levels)
  • the genre or text type with which to use the strategy
  • the skill the strategy helps develop
  • a citation if the strategy came from somewhere else

I have so many pages bookmarked, especially in the nonfiction sections.  I anticipate using this book regularly, and I’ve already told a number of my colleagues about it.  A science teacher in my building even saw a tweet I made about it and wants to see how it can help her support her students’ understanding of science texts.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

 

Review of Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World

Book Reviews Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

As I mentioned in my review of Upstanders by Smokey Daniels and Sara Ahmed, I read a lot of professional books, especially in the summer.  It’s late July as I’m writing this, and I’m on my eighth book of the summer, half of which have been professional books to grow my knowledge as a teacher (stay tuned for a review of Jennifer Serravallo’s The Reading Strategies Book).

Connected ReadingAfter writing the review of Upstanders, I asked Delia DeCourcy, one of Oakland Schools’ literacy consultants, if she had any books she thought I might like to read and review.  She sent over Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks, and I immediately knew this book would be right up my alley. Turner and Hicks begin the book with the “NCTE Policy Research Brief: Reading Instruction for All Students,” which acts as a framework and rationale for teaching students how to be connected readers and is referenced throughout the book.

Because teaching students to be skillful readers of digital texts is new to many teachers, Turner and Hicks carefully ease us into this world of connected reading by writing about their experiences, the experiences we as readers might have had, and how teachers might become more connected readers, for the purpose of knowing what their students will experience, as well as for simply growing their personal learning network (PLN).  The authors include requisite theory for their work, then dig into what many teachers want from a professional book: practical application that can be used in the classroom.  Turner and Hicks do not disappoint: Connected Reading is full of projects, ideas, and actual lesson plans that teachers can easily make their own and implement.  Topics range from digital citizenship to making decisions about how best to search for information to collaborating on texts being read in class.

What may be the best part of this book is that it embodies the very principles that the authors espouse: the book itself (although a print text) is a great example of what connected reading could be even if students do not have digital texts.  Connected Reading is filled with QR codes that take readers to additional content, much of it multimedia, but also connects to the authors’ wiki page, which offers additional resources and ways to connect and extend the conversation.QR Codes

I started reading this book in the last few weeks of school, so I didn’t have much time to integrate its ideas into my practice, but I did notice myself becoming more aware of how students’ reading changed across platforms.   I recall a distinct moment near the end of the year when I must have been giving directions, and I started saying something about how their reading of our last book was going to be different because they would be reading it and annotating digitally, and more important, collaboratively.

noteable pdfFor our last unit, I knew that I wanted to try out some of the ideas from Connected Reading so that come September, I could dive in more completely.  Since my district was not in the position to purchase ebooks, I was given permission to scanin its entirety the informational book we were reading as a class and post it chapter by chapter to Google Classroom, which is a closed system and accessible only to students in my class.  (While I was posting to a closed system, there does seem to be a gray area in terms of copyright. I was using the scanned copy solely for educational purposes and Turner and Hicks even encourage teachers to have students scan or take screenshots of individual pages for annotating and collaborating.)

After scanning a chapter and posting it to Google Classroom as a PDF, students downloaded the chapter onto their Chromebooks using the Chrome extension Notable PDF.  A quick note about Notable: this is one of my favorite and most used Chrome extensions both personally and professionally.  It allows users to highlight, underline, strikethrough, and make comments on PDF documents that can be saved permanently.  It also includes Google Drive integration.  Depending on how a document is downloaded from Google Classroom, all students in a class or a group could be collaborating on the same document or it can be shared between student partners as well.  Similar to the commenting feature in Google Docs, each person’s name shows up when he/she makes a comment so that students can easily see what their classmates are thinking as they read.

As my classes worked through the MAISA informational reading and writing units, we would practice various annotating skills depending on what our purpose was at the time.  Sometimes students read in partnerships, sometimes they read independently, and sometimes we read as a whole class, annotating together and showing our collective thinking.  Because students had such an intimate knowledge of the text through their annotations, their final project was to decide on a topic mentioned in the book they felt could have used more explanation and write their own “insert” chapter about that topic that mimicked the text features of the original book.  Examples of this project can be found here.

As I think about next school year, I will definitely be incorporating Turner and Hicks’ ideas about teaching students to be skillful readers of digital texts with lessons on digital citizenship, setting up a digital reading life, looking into freely available digital copies of texts, and ways to help students navigate this digital information world in which they are already immersed.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

Review of Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts & Minds with Inquiry

Book Reviews Oakland Writing Project

9780325053592Anyone who knows me knows that I am a voracious reader (comes with the English teacher territory, right?).  Anyone who knows me really well knows that I’m not just reading books for pleasure, but that I’m a voracious reader of professional books.  Case in point: I read five books about grading last summer. Riveting stuff.

A few months back, a colleague from the MiELA Network conference suggested I read the book Upstanders because it might help with my conference session this summer.  The title and back cover information intrigued me, so I immediately ordered the book and awaited its arrival.  My reading rate during the school year is definitely much slower than during the summer because there is so much else I have to do, but by any standard, I devoured Upstanders.

Of all of the professional books I have read, this is the first that felt as if it were written directly for me and the type of teacher I am.  I could see myself as a teacher in the pages, but more than that, I could see a better version of my teacher self in the pages.  I felt like I had a model of the type of teacher I want to be that wasn’t a huge leap from where I already am.  Many times when I’m reading a professional book, I’ll want to do something the way the authors do, but I’ll know that that isn’t me or that the change seems too overwhelming, which leads me to not change at all.  I was so enamored with this book that I tweeted at and sent emails to the authors–and they responded!

HarveyDanielsUpstanders is written as a collaboration between Daniels and Ahmed and offers a glimpse into the workings of Ahmed’s classroom, since she is still a practicing teacher.  As the title would suggest, inquiry is a hallmark of Ahmed’s classroom, so I decided to try out some of her and Daniels’ ideas.  To get her students engaged in inquiry work consistently, she has them involved in “mini-inquiries,” which are “quick exercise[s] in honoring our curiosity and finding out information about things that puzzle us in the world” (106).  Mini-inquiries can take anywhere from a few minutes to a class period to complete, as they are supposed to be what the name suggests: mini.  Sometimes Ahmed’s students are looking into a topic she suggested or a topic that grew out of a class discussion.  Other times, students are researching something they are interested in finding out more about.  I really liked this idea and wanted to incorporate it into my practice, but I worried about taking time away from our already packed curriculum.  As the authors suggested, though, a great way to try a mini-inquiry is on one of those days right before a break where you’ve finished a unit but don’t want to start another one. So the day before mid-winter break, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to try a mini-inquiry.

That day, I began the lesson by talking with my kids about how we were going to try something new, and that we would research the random things we’ve always wanted to know. They kind of looked at me funny, so as an example, I told them a story about how whenever I walk by this particular building in the winter, I see that the water has frozen in motion as it came out of the gutter.  I always thought that I wanted to be there at the exact moment the water went from a liquid to a solid since the ice looks like a frozen waterfall.  I then went on to explain that if I wanted to make this a researchable question (which we had talked about in the argument paragraph unit we had just finished), I might say, “How does moving water freeze?”  I then asked students to brainstorm the things that they had always wondered but never bothered to look up or learn about.  After students had talked with a partner, we created a class list of wonderings to keep up throughout the year (see the image below).  Some of the wonderings are very profound and some of them are less serious, which was OK for that day’s purpose.

Whole class generated list of our wonderings

Whole class generated list of our wonderings

 Once students turned their topics into research questions and I briefly modelled how I might go about looking for information related to my question, they took out their Chromebooks and began researching.  After just a few minutes, hands started popping up:

“Mrs. Taylor, come LOOK at this!”

“You have to see this!”

“Can you believe this is true?!”

“That is not what I expected to find out!”

As students began finding information that related to their questions, I urged them to post it on our Google Classroom wall under the thread I had begun with my question and an article about it.

Google Classroom wall

Google Classroom wall

As the hour ended, many students had found some kind of answer to their question and shared with the whole class, many of them fascinated by each other’s findings.  I had not anticipated this, but as I was wrapping up the hour and talking through what students had done, I noticed that within one hour, students had truly gone through the entire research process in an abbreviated form that we had spent many weeks going through with the argument paragraph.  Students brainstormed topics they were interested in learning more about, created research questions, sorted through various sources on the Internet to choose good ones, and shared their learning with others.

As I envision future research projects, both this year and in the future, I can see how engaging students in mini-inquires will help pique their interest and allow them to continue to hone their research skills.  This could be a great way to start a unit or allow students to learn about different topics within a unit.  In fact, the Common Core asks that students be involved in short research projects throughout the year that focus specifically on creating research questions and finding information to support them (corestandards.org).  Mini-inquiries could be a great way to achieve this in addition to all of their other benefits.

Daniels, Harvey, and Sara K. Ahmed. Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry. New York: Heineman, 2014.

JScreenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMianna Taylor is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.