You Must Read The Alchemist

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, was given to me by a colleague, who said that the book is for the journey that our team is on. I had to admit, I had never read the text. It sat on a classroom bookshelf for years. Some students chose it for independent reading, yet I never had a kid use it during a reading unit, so it wasn’t ever on my book stack.  

And then, about a year ago, a popular song by Macklemore made some recommendations for life. One of them was, “I recommend that you read The Alchemist / Listen to your teachers, but cheat in Calculus.” I can’t speak to the math recommendation, as a person who avoided Calculus like the plague. But I can recommend that everyone from grade 7 onward read The Alchemist.

The Plot

Santiago is a shepherd who buys his own flock of sheep, even though it isn’t his family’s profession. While looking at his herd and making plans for his future, he meets a man who encourages him to look into his heart. Santiago must look for his true desire, or, as it comes to be known in the book, his “personal legend.”

The decision to achieve his personal legend takes Santiago on a journey. He visits other parts of the world, and meets many people who guide him on his quest. But the journey is not as straightforward as it seems at first. Coelho reminds us: “Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he has never dreamed of when he first made the decision” (p. 70).

Why It’s Worth Reading

The Alchemist helps us remember that everyone has his or her own journey. Sometimes these journeys intersect. Sometimes they may be different from our own.

This makes me think about every learner that I interact with. My journey may be to forge students’ independence in reading, and to empower them to achieve writerly voices. But their journeys may be different. I just have to appreciate the time in which we have intersected on our journeys.

As Santiago learns about another, “Everyone has his or her own way of learning things. His way isn’t the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our personal legends, and I respect him for that” (p. 86).

Beyond this important theme, The Alchemist resonates because it’s a joyful read, and its language is beautiful. The ideas are structured like those in a fable, too. This allows every reader to gain meaning from Santiago’s experiences.

I mirror Macklemore when I say, read The Alchemist. I hope you realize that it is a book from which you can find meaning at any point in your life. I daresay that, with multiple readings, you may find a different journey for yourself. And it is a great text for students who are in transitions–including those transitioning between middle and high school, and high school and college.  

Book Details:

Reading Level: 910L
ISBN: 978-0062315007
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Harper One
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Awards and Accolades:  Anniversary Edition, New York Times Bestseller

*Thanks to Bethany Bratney for the blog structure for a book recommendation.

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 an Education Specialist in Educational Leadership from Oakland University. She is a Galileo Alumni. She worked on the MAISA units of study and has studied reading and writing workshop practice and conducted action research.

 

Excellent Debut Fiction about Detroit

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

american streetWhat’s more fun than reading a book set in a place with which you are intimately familiar? To read about restaurants, buildings, and even street names that you know personally is a small thrill.

Reading a book set in Detroit, my closest “big city,” adds an additional layer of excitement. I’ve lived within half an hour of Detroit for my entire life. I attended graduate school there, and I visit frequently. I have a certain amount of suburban pride for all that the city has to offer–despite never having lived within city limits.

I recently read a fantastic debut YA novel called American Street, which is about a Haitian immigrant who settles in Detroit. It offered recognizable street names and locations that connect me to the city, while showcasing the realities of a daily life that I have never actually experienced.

The Plot

Fabiola and her mother have been planning to leave Haiti for years. But when they finally make the trip, her mother is detained at the U.S. border.

Fabiola is forced to navigate her way to Detroit, and to live with family she has only known over the phone. Her aunt is mysterious and often ill, disappearing into her room for days at a time. Her cousins are legendary. Known around their school as the 3Bs, they strike fear into the hearts of anyone who crosses them.

Fabiola feels most at home with this side of her family, but she also fails to understand the complicated world in which they live. She wants to stay in the U.S. But she also misses Haiti and her mother, about whom no one else seems to share her concern. She’s living at the crossroads of Joy Road and American Street, and she has reached the crossroads in her life as well. Where does she belong?

Why It’s Worth Reading

Fabiola is a sympathetic character, and it’s so easy to relate to her consistent inner conflict. She wants to connect with her family and make new friends, but she can’t help but feel like she’s on the outside, looking in. As a reader, one’s own circumstances may be different, but everyone certainly knows the feeling of being pulled between two strong forces.

Plus, Fabiola opens up the city of Detroit in an entirely new way. She sees it through the eyes of strangers, navigating places familiar to me, but foreign to her. Her perspective of the city is fascinating. While she recognizes that it has many flaws, she draws direct comparisons to her hometown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, an area which has also seen some struggles and setbacks. Author Ibi Zoboi, through Fabiola, is able to assess the community very matter-of-factly, without melodramatic judgment or the overwhelming historical perspective (a fall from greatness, or rejuvenation after that fall) that is often represented in books about Detroit.

And I have not even mentioned the incredible writing! The language is poetic. Hints of magical realism in the plot evoke a mystical mood. And tons of beautiful metaphors, most particularly with the street intersection of American and Joy, make it clear that this book is something special.

Book Details:
Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
ISBN: 9780062473042
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Awards and Accolades: five starred reviews before release!
Source: Advanced Reader’s Copy (full disclosure: I received a free galley in exchange for my honest opinion)

pic of meBethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and was the recipient of the 2015 Michigan School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.

‘Tis the Season for a Fantasy Adventure

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

crowns-gameSomething about winter calls for a good, strong fantasy story. The cold, blustery weather makes me want to curl up and disappear into an epic tale full of adventure and magic. There’s no shortage of such stories available, but if your favorite reader has consumed all of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings iterations available, they will be itching for something new and exciting this year.

Look no further than The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye, an alternate history set in enchanting Imperial Russia, with all of the magic, adventure, and romance for which fantasy buffs will clamor. (Bonus: The cover is gorgeous! We know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but most kids admit that they do anyway.)

The Plot

Vika’s father has been training her to manipulate weather and animals since she was a child. He wants her to become the Imperial Enchantor, the powerful magician who protects the Tsar and helps him defend Russia against enemies. It is the only thing she has ever wanted.

But Vika doesn’t know about Nikolai, the talented orphan adopted by a wealthy family that has helped him hone his abilities to charm machines and conjure fantasies from his dreams. They intend to make him Imperial Enchantor and solidify their place in Russia’s high society.

Neither Vika nor Nikolai know about the other, and neither of them know about the Crown’s Game — the Tsar’s magical battle that will force them to demonstrate their skills. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchantor and part of the Tsar’s Guard. The loser suffers defeat and dies.

Why It’s Worth Reading

We all have times when life gets busy or exhausting. Sometimes we need a break.

Reading this kind of fantasy fiction, set in an exotic location and full of activities that could never take place in real life, is like stepping out of reality for a few moments a day and taking a mental vacation. I’ve never had the privilege of traveling to Russia, but I felt like I was visiting the real locations depicted in the book — the colorful buildings of Nevsky Prospect and the regal Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The Crown’s Game makes Russia intriguing and exciting, and may even spark some natural inquiry from students about where this book departs from history and becomes fiction.

9361589Additionally, this book reminded me of a Russian YA version of The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, which is a favorite of mine. Who doesn’t love a story in which the high-stakes battle pits soul-connected contestants against each other? I never stopped hoping that they would somehow manage to find a magical loophole so that they could both survive and go forward together. If you know teens who liked The Night Circus, encourage them to read this title, or start with The Crown’s Game and use it as a bridge to stretch their interest from YA into literary fiction.

Evelyn Skye is a debut author, but The Crown’s Game is the first book in a planned series (The Crown’s Fate is expected to release in May), and I have a feeling that it is going to be quite popular. Jump on the bandwagon before everyone else is doing it!

Book Details

Reading Level: AR = 5.9, Lexile = HL800L

ISBN: 9780062422583
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: May 17, 2016

Awards & Accolades: Starred review from Kirkus Reviews

Bethany Bratney

Bethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and was the recipient of the 2015 Michigan School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne 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.

Professional Learning and Implementation Support Opportunities:

  • Webinar support for past learners (educator-focused): September 12 and 26, 2017 (11:30am-12:30pm) REGISTER NOW!

 

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

ef3  Video Brief

 

Video Resources:

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 MSara Ward YouTubeiddle and High School Students

Parent Tips

Resources for Parents

 

 

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.

 

Oakland Schools Consultant Contacts: 

 

“One of the best presentations I have attended through Oakland Schools!  I appreciated the practical tips for use with a wide age range of students.  Please bring Sarah back- this information would be so helpful for classroom teachers!” – Past Participant at Oakland Schools

Historical Fiction—Hot off the Press

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

51UN6ZK2TYL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_-1I love historical fiction. Strangely, the reason I seem to love it most is that I find it humbling in two ways.

First, the characters of historical fiction are almost always experiencing horrendous events or struggling against impossible odds that I have never had to face. Second, though I consider myself to be reasonably well versed in U.S. and world history, historical fiction routinely smacks me in the face with some historical event, time period, or consequence that I somehow completely missed. How, before I read Orphan Traindid I never know about the organized movement of thousands of young children into middle America during the Great Depression?

And how was I naively unaware of the largest maritime disaster in history before I read Ruta Sepetys’ new novel, Salt to the Sea?

The Plot

This brand-new piece of historical fiction follows four narrators during World War II: three teenage Prussian (now the area containing countries like Latvia and Lithuania) refugees and one young German sailor. Each carries a troubling secret that he or she has never told anyone. The three refugees meet on the road, each coming from a very different background and set of circumstances. They are all headed for the Baltic Sea, hoping to escape an encroaching Russian army by boarding a German ship headed toward relative safety. Unfortunately, it seems that safety does not always come as advertised.

Why It’s Worth Reading

There is so much to this book and its characters that make it fascinating and exciting. But it is also a well-researched fictional account of what may have occurred leading up to and during the worst maritime disaster in history. We’re talking about nearly six times as many deaths as the Titanic, and yet I had never before heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff or its epic demise.

I initially picked up this book because I am a huge fan of the author, Michigan native Ruta Sepetys, and her works Between Shades of Grey and Out of the Easy. This book did not disappoint. I was immediately captured by the fascinating and mysterious cast of characters: a talented art restorationist mixed up in the Nazi art-thievery plot; a nurse-in-training who is compelled to step in as local doctor wherever she goes; a naive and self-important German boy, bound and determined to serve the Reich in any way that will garner praise. How can one not be drawn in by these varied tales that come together so seamlessly?

The fast, short chapters, which each character tells in succession, added a sense of suspense and action that really kept me turning pages as well. I regularly hear from history teachers that they are always on the lookout for World War II novels that aren’t necessarily focused on the Holocaust, and this one is sure to be a hit, particularly because of its high-interest content but relatively low reading level. It’s a great classroom-connection novel and a fantastic find for historical fiction lovers everywhere!

Book Details

Reading Levels: AR = unknown , Lexile = HL560L
ISBN: 9780399160301
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Awards: None yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it received some eventually. It’s only been out for 3 weeks and it’s already got 4 starred reviews!
Source: NetGalley (I received an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.)

pic of meBethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and is the recent recipient of the 2015 School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.

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.

The Next Hunger Games?

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

testingWhen teens go crazy for a book or a book series, it’s a school librarian’s dream come true. But with the success of one series, next comes the pressure of finding something similar to keep the reading momentum going. For the last few years, I’ve been chasing The Hunger Games and Divergent, digging through dystopian lit in search of the next epic YA page-turner. Well, dystopian fans and those who love them: look no further than The Testing series, by Joelle Charbonneau.

The Plot (Book One, No Spoilers)

Malencia (Cia) Vale is thrilled to learn that she has been chosen for The Testing, the rigorous process that candidates endure to qualify for the one remaining University. She has longed to follow in her father’s footsteps, and to leave her small, quiet Five Lakes Colony to see Tosu City, as well as the wider world that an education from The University can bring. But as she leaves, her father warns her to be extremely cautious. The Testing and the people who run it are not always as they seem. When the extreme and potentially dangerous Testing process begins, Cia sees that the stakes are much higher than she thought–and that her father might have been trying to protect her from hidden evil.

The Answer to Your “Hunger Games problem”

shutterstock_145222582The Testing series has many similarities to both The Hunger Games and Divergent. Yet it is different enough to hold even a reluctant reader’s interest.

Readers will find a similarly powerful female protagonist, one with a specialized set of skills that makes her particularly exceptional in her new environment. Governmental corruption and conspiracy drive the action to continually new heights. Readers experience plot twists that drive the story at moments that otherwise would be routine. Hints of romance bloom between Cia and her old Five Lakes friend, Tomas, but never distract from the primary story. The books have similarly high levels of violence as The Hunger Games. The book covers even bear some resemblance to their dystopian predecessors.

With this series, teachers and parents will once again find their students reading for fun and asking for books as gifts. And with the film rights optioned by Paramount, the odds of seeing this trilogy become a movie series are high. I’ve field-tested the series with the students at my high school, and it has been a huge success. All of my copies are currently flying through the 9th grade at rapid speed.

Book Details

Interest Level: Grades 7-12 (violence is prevalent, making it questionable for younger readers)
Reading Level: Accelerated Reader 5.6; Lexile 830L
ISBN: 9780547959108
Format: hardcover
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Awards: YALSA Quick Pick Top Ten 2014, Anthony Award 2014

pic of meBethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School. She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group. She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education. She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.

The Value of Connecting with Students

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

shutterstock_128750762At the start of school, I had a plan for connecting to the students in my classes. I would start by connecting on a personal level, so that they would be open to growing as readers and writers on a professional level.

On the first day of school, I greeted each student at the door of my classroom. They thought nothing of it, since it is a pretty typical structure for many teachers’ first day of class. Then, I continued to greet every student, every day, every hour, as they entered my classroom. Then they started to take notice. Students began greeting me in the hallway and when they entered class. They stopped, smiled, and responded.

I didn’t stop there, though. In the first few days, my next step was to connect to each student personally. 

While students were setting up notebooks and working on classroom tasks, I spoke to each student, inquiring about things they liked to do, or something about them that they wanted to tell me. A student cleverly called these “interviews.” I smiled at this observation, but I knew that I was affecting students, because they felt like their turn was valuable and something to look forward to.

Over several days, I learned that one of my students is an avid sailor. Another is a horseback rider. I have students with siblings, and students who are pet lovers, sports enthusiasts, or guitarists. As I conducted these conversations, I jotted quick notes about these individual prides. The notes allow me to refer to these topics in the future, as I continue to build the connections or suggest writing topics and book themes.

My personal connections with students also support our writing conferences. Students see that these conferences are about growing as writers. They also see that they can choose to take a suggestion, and they can guide the way a conference unfolds with suggestions of their own. As the conferences shift to holistic moves for writers, students are now open to these conversations and open to reworking their writing. I found that conferences proceeded more efficiently and effectively because I had already interacted with each student before sitting at their desk with them. Theyshutterstock_186008123 realized that I was as willing to help with their work as I was to greet each of them at the door.

After each conference, students compare their previous work to their current work. Students name their shifting moves as writers, and then they evaluate the quality of their new work. What is important, too, is that following up with students after a writing conference shows that I value the work that they are doing, and it further forges the connection that I’m making with them.

Proof from an Email

Other than my observations, how did I know that this strategy was working?

Students were working on a narrative writing structure that we’ll grow and use all year. An email from a student said:

I finished my “Slice of Life” last week, but I have a question just to make sure about something. My topic that I am writing about is when my aunt and I went to an ice cream place. So, should I write about us at the ice cream place or when she picked me up from school, dropped my sister off somewhere, going to the market, and then going to the ice cream place? My overall question is, should I zoom in on that one moment (at the ice cream place) or include all the other details (getting picked up from school, dropping my sister off, going to the market, then going to ice cream place).

This email, which was sent outside school time, shows that this writer is using workshop language. She is also inquiring about how she can make a written piece better, even though it is already finished. I smiled as I responded and praised her, saying, “A good writerly question.”

This was just one benefit from my decision to make purposeful and deliberate connections to students at the beginning of the year. And I’m sure I’ll continue to see the fruits of this decision all year long.

pic 2Amy Gurney is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for Bloomfield Hills School District. She was a facilitator for the release of the MAISA units of study. She has studied, researched, and practiced reading and writing workshop through Oakland Schools, The Teacher’s College, and action research projects. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Central Michigan University and a Master’s in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.

Executive Function Skills for Success in the Classroom

Click here to REGISTER for the Multidisciplinary Educator All-Day Session!
Click here to REGISTER for the Parent Evening Session!
Grade Levels:  3-8
Description: 

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, is a practicing speech-language pathologist and national speaker on developing and supporting executive functioning skills.  Sarah led a session at Oakland Schools in March 2014 and will be back to facilitate a one-day multidisciplinary session that provides practical, hands-on strategies to build executive function skills for success in the classroom.  She will also present an evening session designed to support parents in working with their children on homework.

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.  Sarah’s multidisciplinary session will focus on strategies that 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.

Sarah’s parent session will focus on simple techniques that parents can use to help their students:

  • Close the homework circle by supporting students in recording, bringing home, completing and returning assignments.
  • Create a positive and productive environment for homework completion.
  • Learn to organize and process information for assignments, long term projects and study skills.
Dates and Times:

Multidisciplinary Session for Educators: January 19, 2016  (9:00 am – 3:30 pm)

Parent Session: January 20, 2016  (7:00 pm – 9:00 pm)

Intended Audience: 

Multidisciplinary Session for Educators:

3rd- 8th Grade: General Education Teachers, Speech-Language Pathologists, School Psychologists, School Counselors, School Social Workers, and Special Education Teachers

Parent Session: 

Parents of students in Grades 3-8 who struggle to complete homework

Consultant Contacts: Michele Farah Ph.D. , Literacy Consultant, Oakland Schools and Diane Katakowski, Speech-Language Pathologist Consultant, Oakland Schools

Event Contact:
Angela Emig, angela.emig@oakland.k12.mi.us, (248) 209.2351

To hear Sarah describe some of her strategies, check out her short video clips:

  Strategies for Middle School StudentsSara Ward YouTube

  Tools for Middle and High School Students

  Resources for Parents

  Parent Tips

“One of the best presentations I have attended through Oakland Schools!  I appreciated the practical tips for use with a wide age range of students.  Please bring Sarah back- this information would be so helpful for classroom teachers!” – Past Participant at Oakland Schools

 

 

Student Reflections Confirm Teaching & Inform Grades

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

176511139Several years ago, I developed an inquiry question that asked if students use the language of workshop. Because I consistently use the “ELA Speak” of mentor texts, seed ideas, and generating strategies, I questioned, do students know these terms and use them to forge work?

This work began with a checklist of workshop language that I wanted students to leave eighth grade knowing and using. I culled the list from the ELA Common Core State Standards, the MAISA Units of Study, and my lesson plans.

I decided I would look at summative writing work to evaluate students’ use of these skills. Additionally, I felt strongly about students having their voice heard, so final work was accompanied by a reflection which asked students to name skills they now had as writers, to give examples of these skills in their writing, and to set a goal for future use of these skills.

Originally, I modeled a reflection that focused on the end-product skills my writing showed, and student reflections did the same. In my example, I wrote a reflection on our opening unit about narrative poetry. In this reflection you can see how I named skills that are explicitly evident in the published final copy, such as craft skills (alliteration, repetition) and theme.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but as I recorded language students named and used correctly or used and didn’t name, I realized that they were using the language of workshop, however, the tool I gave them to show this understanding didn’t allow everything to be shown. Namely, students didn’t name process skills or skills that students used to develop a final product, but I could see evidence of this work in my conference notes and in their drafts. In the next reflection, for the same unit a year later, you can see that I named generating and finding seeds as part of the journey to finding the topic I wrote about. Additionally, I explained several more skills that I used as a writer such as the overall structure and type of ending.

So, I made two changes. First, I more explicitly named the skills and associated lessons. I even hung these up in my classroom during the unit (pictured is literary essay unit).

Skills Bulletin Board

Skills Bulletin Board

Second, I created a model reflection that named process skills in addition to the end-product skills shown in my writing. I also exhibited this more thoroughly by writing in specific lines of my text that exhibit the traits I name in my reflection: Revised Reflection 2.

Now, student reflections named all of the skills learned and used. So, I know from reflections that students use the language of workshop in theory and in practice.

Reflections serve another purpose, though. As I grade the writing, according to a rubric which for me is a curricular model rubric assessing organization, content, and language use, I used student reflections as an accompaniment to reading the writing. For many language arts teachers, we take the student into account on these summative grades by considering, the growth that the student has achieved from conference suggestions, the specific use of skills from lessons, and the ability of the student.

As I read a student’s literary essay, I commented about the depth of commentary with the statement, “Commentary – how does this evidence relate to your claim/topic?” In my classroom, I work with students to understand that commentary re-explains evidence, tells why evidence is important, and relates evidence to claim, topic, other evidence. I muddled between the score of adequate and below. Deciding on adequate for the overall content of the paper, I read the student’s matching reflection. He stated in the future goals section, “I would take more time, and think deeper about what my claim should be. I think that I took the easy and the most obvious route. If I had taken more time, and thought deeper, I could have created a more sophisticated essay with better evidence and commentary.” This statement validated the “adequate” score I gave for the student’s essay content.

Overall, I use reflections to inform my teaching and to give students voice as I grade their papers. In the example, above, it was as if the student was sitting next to me as I graded the writing. Throughout the year, as students reflect on each unit of reading and writing, they can see their growth over time. As students are allowed to think about what they have actually learned through the course of a unit and show evidence of that learning, the writer improves more quickly over time because they can think deeply about their writing decisions and exhibit inquiries about their own work. These inquiries help to increase the amount of independence the writer possesses while writing because they can make choices about the writing they publish.

pic 2Amy Gurney is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for Bloomfield Hills School District. She was a facilitator for the release of the MAISA units of study. She has studied, researched, and practiced reading and writing workshop through Oakland Schools, The Teacher’s College, and action research projects. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Central Michigan University and a Master’s in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.