Stealing Time for Workshop

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_163387808In May, as the school year was winding down, I was met with an all-too-common challenge: running out of time. There were about four weeks left, and the calendar was quickly filling with standardized tests, field trips, and sports competitions. I needed two solid weeks of writing workshops with my tenth graders to complete their final writing piece–an op-ed–but it looked like ten kids would be gone each day for the next four weeks.

I addressed my problem by adding some flipped mini lessons to my writing workshop. Instead of starting class every day with a mini lesson in class, I did a screencast of the same lesson and assigned it for homework. One night the students watched a ten-minute video about improving their diction in their op-eds. Their assignment was to show me where they’d made an intentional choice with their diction. In class, I could quickly check in with each writer, give some feedback about their diction, and assess their understanding of the skill. And my absent students didn’t miss any key instruction!

I was really happy with how the unit worked out for two main reasons. First, I felt like I was stealing back time for writing workshops to do the thing that is key to improving student writing: face-to-face conferences. Second, I was assigning purposeful homework that was giving my students a chance to practice, without their being overwhelmed or confused.

That’s how I ended the year. As I get ready for this new year, I’m wondering how I can expand on this success from the spring. Most kids will tell you that one-on-one time with a teacher has the most impact on their learning. Most teachers will tell you that one-on-one time with their students is the most effective way to move the needle with their learning. So this fall I’m committing to stealing as much of that time back as I can, in the following ways. 

Day One Overview

Course procedures and the course overview are brutal. On one hand, you want to go over some key information with the kids. On the other hand, it’s the first day!

I want to start building my classroom community. I want them writing. This year, I’m going to steal time by flipping my procedures and course overview. The students’ first night homework will be to log into our Google Classroom page, watch a (short!) screencast of the course overview, and answer a question or two in a Google Form for me. 

I’ll be able to gather some information about the students, and ensure that they all know how to log into Classroom. And I’ll free up a whole class period for some opening writing, reading, and community building.

Differentiated Reading Instruction

Last year I flipped my writing workshop mini lessons, but why not use technology with reading instruction as well? My students are all at very different places with their ability to read and annotate complicated texts. Typically, we practice reading strategies as a whole class. We often need a whole class period to work through a text together. We will still do that sometimes, but what about assigning different texts (based on student ability and interest) and using different online tools to help students practice on their own?

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 4.10.35 PM

A screenshot of Newsela. Click the image to expand it.

Last year, Amy Gurney wrote about Newsela and its potential for differentiating reading instruction. That’s a great tool to add to my blended workshop toolbox. While students practice, I can do one-on-one reading conferences.

Examining Mentor Texts

At various points in reading and writing workshops, I like to examine mentor texts with the students. Sometimes we’ll look at a professional piece of writing to consider how the author develops an argument. Other times, we’ll look at a student essay and discuss what is going well and what the student may want to revise.

This is a great whole-class activity and a valuable use of time. But, sometimes that whole-class examination could be replaced with a video of my reading and annotating the text. Apps like ExplainEverything make it very easy for me to create a quick video. Students can see and hear my thinking as I read and process a text. The time saved could be used talking one on one about the students’ writing.

I am certainly not advocating that you replace your teaching with a series of online lessons. I will always believe that the best teaching occurs when you are working one on one with student writers and readers.

Still, the reality of modern schedules and schools means that we won’t always have as much time for the deep discussions that we need. Blending technology into my reading and writing workshops means taking various tools and using them to refine and enhance my teaching. As I start the 2016 school year, I want to be purposeful about how I use technology tools to free up time, in order to go back to the basics: face-to-face discussions between readers and writers.

Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her sixteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition, AP Seminar and doing Tier 2 writing intervention. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

Lit Hot American Summer

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_374832541This summer, my Theory of Knowledge students will read two independent books in preparation for the second semester of the course. Down the hall, my colleague Hattie (you know her from her fantastic blog posts!), will be handing out her lists for AP summer reading as well. These are all students who excel at school–reading a couple extra books over the summer might elicit some grumbling, but for most of them it really just means setting aside a couple of Nicholas Sparks titles in favor of some Toni Morrison or Ishmael.

Meanwhile, for my Co-Departmental English students who made great gains all year reading graphic novels and expanding their ability to work with grade-level texts; for my English 11 students who have signed up for 12th Grade English next fall; for my incoming class of English 11 students–for all of these students, there are no assigned summer readings.

Why is that, exactly?

There is robust research showing that this damages at-risk learners. It’s so robust, in fact, that the effect has earned a nickname: “The Summer Slide.” The estimate is that students lose the equivalent of one full month of instruction by not engaging in regular reading over the summer.

And that’s just an instructional measure. Imagine how much ground is lost when we cut kids loose for summer, having just begun to foster a love of reading in them.

If You Can’t Make ‘em . . . Make ‘em WANT to

The problem is, most of us have perhaps a couple weeks left, so getting administrative approval for a mandatory summer reading program for all students just isn’t going to happen this year.

But here’s what I’m thinking: Most of us can’t create something all kids must do, but we certainly have time to create opportunities that might encourage kids to read on their own over the summer. Towards that ambitious goal I humbly submit a few imperfect solutions.

51mASzxex8L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_-1The Comic Book Flood
If you tried the graphic novel approach to struggling readers, this could be your best option for those same readers. Amazon has a $5.99 a month Netflix-style subscription program that allows digital access to thousands of back issues of popular comic book titles. The first 30 days are free–your graphic novel enthusiasts could absorb an endlessly graphic summer for only 12 bucks!

Blockbuster Reading
Most of our kids are going to spend a good chunk of the summer at the movies. And when they get home from the latest summer blockbuster, they’re going to play video games or watch TV. You can shake your head (and your cane) at these young whippersnappers and their bad habits–or you can embrace these habits and use them to get your kids reading.

Challenge your incoming students (a quick letter home or an email blast) to get some pop-culture criticism under their belts. One starting place is the website Metacritic, which compiles professional critics’ reviews of films, TV shows, video games, and music.

Metacritic is a far cry from books, but in terms of minutes spent reading, vocabulary absorbed, etc., it’s leaps and bounds ahead of their default option of doing “not anything.” Imagine if every student entered your room in the fall having read five or six critical reviews of pop culture. Sounds like your first writing assessment just created itself!

Shared Spaces
I would imagine that for some students, summer reading simply doesn’t occur as an option. You can create a Google Classroom page or some other blog site that would email recommendations each week for great summer reads (articles would work as well as books!). You can also create another shared space where the students are encouraged to talk to each other about what they’re reading.

Any sort of sharing is good. In the age of Twitter and Instagram, this seems like just the sort of goofy, non-invasive reading encouragement that would get some reluctant readers on board. Sell it as a fun thing–create your own hashtag and get the kids to try and make it “go viral.”

Next Year’s Big Thing

There’s no reason our average-to-low level readers should “take the summer off” from reading when the expectation for our highest achievers is that they’ll spend the summer engaged with text. That is immoral on its face. This summer, consider taking some small aim at the problem with the time you have left.

But start thinking now about next summer, too. Perhaps you can push for that change in your department’s policy. In an age of increasing accountability, I’d imagine administrators would be more than open to a conversation that would improve the performance of the school’s lowest-performing populations.

Hollywood is already teasing the Big Summer Movies of 2017. Is it really too early to start a conversation about how we can better serve our students next year?

Michael Ziegler

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

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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.

Webinar – Reinventing Classroom Reading: What Digital Media Offer Us

Facilitator: Professor Sara Kajder, University of Georgia
Tuesday, March 24, 2015  7-8pm EST (optional follow up discussion from 8-9pm)
recording    slides     resources

What it means to read, how we access, select and hold onto texts, and the strategies we use for constructing and sharing our making meaning have been dramatically impacted and enabled by newer literacies and technologies. Some of these shifts have quickly and immediately moved into our classrooms, and others require more examination and questioning – asking us to continually reexamine our pedagogies (and practices as readers) of texts that can be produced and consumed in an instant.  During this webinar, we will discuss ways of rethinking and “connecting” our readers workshops, cultivating digital libraries, leveraging e-texts and mobile tools, annotating and sharing print and digital texts, and evaluating multimodal tools which are changing how we teach and work alongside student readers. Examples will include but not be limited to use of digital tools for textual annotation, methods for building readers communities within GoodReads and other online spaces, scaffolds for student creation of multimodal book trailers linked to QR codes and Auras, using multimodal tools for feedback and reflection, rethinking readers notebooks with Evernote, and use of voicethread and other apps to support interactive readers’ portfolios.

Sara Kajder currently teaches at The University of Georgia where she is a member of the faculty of the Department of Language & Literacy. A former middle and high school English teacher, she received the first National Technology Fellowship in English/Language Arts. A internationally-known speaker, she is also the author of the 2012 Britton Award winning Adolescents’ Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students (NCTE, 2010), Bringing the Outside In (Stenhouse, 2006), and The Tech Savvy English Classroom (Stenhouse, 2003).

See more at:

Twiiter ID: @skajder


Literacy Webinar Archive

Questions? Contact [email protected]

Word Study, Vocabulary & Grammar: the Toughest Nuts to Crack Webinar Series 2016-17  

Thursday, October 27, 2016  7-8pm EST
Dr. Tim Shanahan, University of Illinois at Chicago
Complex Texts, Complex Sentences: Grammar and Comprehension in the Time of Common Core
recording and slides

Thursday, November 17, 2016  7-8pm EST
Dr. Laura Tortorelli, Michigan State University
Words in the World: Transferring Word Study to Everyday Reading and Writing
recording, slides, and resources

Thursday, December 8, 2016  7-8pm EST
Dr. Jonathan Bush, Western Michigan University
Grammar in Theory; Grammar in Practice: Language Use in Culture, Society, and Our Classrooms
recording, slides, and resources

Tuesday, January 17, 2017  7-8pm EST
Dr. Laura Tortorelli, Michigan State University
Cracking the Code of Early Literacy: What Is Phonemic Awareness and Why Does it Matter?
recording, slides, and resources

Tuesday, February 7, 2017  7-8pm EST
Dr. Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University & Jeremy Hyler, Fulton Schools, MI
From Texting to Teaching: Teaching Grammar Beyond the Screen
recording, slides and resources

Tuesday, March 28, 2017  7-8pm EST
Dr. Margaret McKeown, University of Pittsburgh
Cracking the Vocabulary Nut Requires Rich, Interactive Instruction
recording, slides and resources

Thursday, April 20, 2017  7-8pm EST
Dr. Dianna Townsend, University of Nevada – Reno
Who Is Using the Vocabulary?: Engaging Students in Active Practice with New and Important Words
recording, slides and resources

Tuesday, May 9, 2017  7-8pm EST
Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 Teacher of the Year
Organically Integrating Vocabulary into the Secondary Classroom
recording, slides and resources


Revision: the Heart of Writing Webinar Series 2015-16

Dr. Jennifer Fletchershutterstock_86277058
Revising Rhetorically: Re-seeing Writing through the Lens of Audience, Purpose, and Context
recommended reading: Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, & Response
recording, resources, and slides

Georgia Heard
The Revision Toolbox: Teaching Techniques that Work
recommended reading: The Revision Toolbox: Teaching Techniques that Work
recording and resources

Marc Aronson
Revising Nonfiction: Dowsing for Depth
recommended reading: Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science
recording, slides and resources

Dr. Troy Hicks
Revising Digital Writing
recommended reading: Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media & Genres
recording, slides, and resources

Dr. Nell Duke
Not Like Pulling Teeth: Revision in a Project-Based Context
recommended reading: Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text Through Project-Based Instruction
more information (recording and slides available in mi PLACE)

Penny Kittle
Revision: the Heart of Writing
recommended reading: Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing
recording and resources

Dr. Constance Weaver
Revising Sentences by Adding “Juicy Details”
recommended reading: Grammar to Enrich and Enhance Writing
recording & resources

M-Step-Logo_473059_7M-STEP Prep Webinars 2016

M-STEP Prep Webinar: Test Literacy and ELA Curricular Connections (elementary)
Beth Rogers, Clarkston Community Schools
recording    slides    resources

M-STEP Prep Webinar: Test Literacy and ELA Curricular Connections (middle school) 
Jianna Taylor, West Bloomfield Schools
recording    slides    resources

Reading & Writing in Digital Spaces Series 2014-15476127923 (1)

Small Bites: Research in the K-5 Classroom
Professor Kristin Fontichiaro, University of Michigan School of Information
recording, resources & slides

Small Bites: Research in the 6-12 Classroom
Delia DeCourcy, Secondary Literacy Consultant, Oakland Schools ISD, Michigan
recording, resources & slides

Digital Technologies and Expectations for Writing in College
Professor Jeff Grabill, Michigan State University
recording & slides

Mixing Sources, Amplifying Voices: Crafting Writing in an Information Age
Professor Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University
recording, slides & resources 

How Student Blogs Support Literacy Learning & the Common Core
Stephanie Dulmage, Technology/Curriculum Integration Specialist, West Bloomfield, Michigan
recording, slides & resources 

Reinventing Classroom Reading: What Digital Media Offer Us
Professor Sara Kajder, University of Georgia
recording, slides and resources

How Social Media Supports Literacy Learning & the Common Core
Stephanie Dulmage, Technology/Curriculum Integration Specialist, West Bloomfield, Michigan
recording, slides & resources

Integrating Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in Secondary Literacy Learning
Professor Liz Kolb, University of Michigan School of Education
recording & slides