Getting Smart with the Whole-Class Novel: 5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts

This post is part of the 3 Truths & a Leap series: I’ll share 3 problematic truths based on my teaching experiences and research, and then I’ll describe the leap I took in an attempt to fix the issues. If your students struggle with reading the whole-class novel, read on.

Truth: The whole-class novel means a whole-class level.

Truth: Students have different ability levels- from reading to thinking to writing to speaking to typing to social comfort to…

Truth: When we are given tasks that far exceed our abilities, we shut down.  Yet we thrive when we are given the chance to learn at levels just above our abilities.

The Leap: When we read one text with all students, we need to personalize learning (if we expect all of our students to learn).

5 Do’s for Whole-Class Novels

  1. Offer different ways students can read the novel: read aloud by the teacher, another adult, a recording, with a partner, a small group, or individually. Teach students to figure out and value the method that works best for them: listen as the teacher reads, share reading with another adult (a volunteer or parent), a recording, with a partner, a small group, or individually.
  2. Encourage students to read at a pace that is right for them– meaning they can understand it, discuss it, and practice thinking skills with it. Our goal is that students understand the author’s meaning and intent and internalize both to the extent that they draw on the experience of reading the novel later in their lives. Help students figure out how many pages per night is reasonable for them.
  3. Allow students to use the materials they find most accessible and effective for organizing their thinking. Students can record thinking in a variety of ways. In my classes, some kids use tiny notebooks that fit inside their novels, others use post-its, bookmarks, or handouts created by me, and others have made their own Google Docs to record their thinking.
  4. Group students based on fluctuating, current needs and teach mini-lessons based on each group’s need. One group might need to preview the text and activate or build background knowledge, another group might need additional practice annotating text, and another group might read and understand the text quickly and will need to extend their knowledge by finding additional information to synthesize with the assigned text.
  5. Offer open-ended, thinking-based questions. When our focus is student thinking, differentiation is natural, and we gather data for what students understand about content. Switch the focus to their thinking because then differentiation is natural, and we can gather data on what they can do with and glean from a text. Thinking-based questions sound like this: Our main character has changed a lot since the start of the novel. Explain at least two ways you have noticed that she’s different, and give evidence from the text to support your ideas. Students will notice different ways the character changed, and if they provide evidence from the text, they’re right. If students provide reasoning and evidence that don’t coincide, they’ve shown us what they need in their next mini-lessons.

5 Don’ts

  1. Don’t expect every student to read it the same way. When we ask all kids to follow along as we read aloud, listen to a recording of the text, or follow as classmates read, we stifle their ability, desire, or thinking. 
  2. Do not expect all students to read the same pages within the same time frame. When we require kids to stick to a certain number of pages per night, we need to accept that some students are not going to read and others will get bored with the book if they can’t read ahead. whole-class novels
  3. Do not ask students to show their understanding in the same exact way.  Teach students to figure out which methods they find most accessible and effective for organizing their thinking. If we assign one way for students to show their thinking, we can bet that we’re meeting the needs of about 1/3 of our students. The others will be bored because our method was either too difficult or too easy.
  4. Do not stick to the same standards for all students. If we assume all students need instruction at grade level standards (for plot, characterization, symbolism, or etc…) we’re going to meet the needs of the middle. Only the middle. Some students might need to analyze plot at the grade level you teach, but others will need to analyze at levels above or below that.
  5. Do not offer “end of chapter” or “did you really read this” type questions. Our students know this game, and they will beat us every time by finding the simple answers and “proving” they read the assigned pages.

Reading a shared text can and should be life-changing for all of us. It certainly has been for me, beginning in seventh grade when I read And Then There Were None alongside my English teacher and continuing to now as I read in book clubs in my neighborhood or with colleagues. But guess what? Even though we decide on the pages to read, not everyone reads them, not everyone attends each meeting, and not everyone reads with the same level of understanding. That’s life, and that’s okay. Yet during our meetings, not everyone is comfortable differentiating based on our needs.

If this crazy, forced mixture of readers makes adults feel uncomfortable to discuss ideas about a text, imagine how it makes kids feel. Let’s take a cue from our own reading habits, and design shared reading so that it meets everyone’s needs.

If you’re interested in reflecting on your own reading life in the effort to engage students in theirs, read This I Know: On Becoming a Reader.

 

 

 

 

 

A Passion for Thinking: 9 Ways to Keep Students Motivated and Thinking

If you’re interested in having a thinking-centered classroom, get ready to step out of your comfort zone! Know your standards and students well, and track progress like a ninja. I say this because when student-thinking drives instruction, the big picture and students’ whole selves are on the table as we plan instruction, teach lessons, tweak our plan, confer with kiddos, and generally interact. It’s an on-going fluctuation of growth, goal, and whole child.

9 Ways to Keep Students Motivated and Thinking

  1. Make motivation and mindset a Monday morning ritual. This can happen in a number of ways and can easily incorporate curricular goals. We view a motivational animated short, TedTalk, or other media and practice thinking skills to determine
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    A student reflects on why she chose a particular quote to motivate her.

    the theme or main idea. Each week is a new focus. Some focuses have been on our impact on others, growth mindset, empathy, and providing support to others.

  2. Make Friday reflections a regular thing. Reflecting is an integral part of learning because it helps us recognize what works and what doesn’t. Our Friday reflections relate to our weekly motivation, but they also include specific behaviors I’ve noticed kids need to reflect on and plan for in the week to come. You can see our reflections by clicking on the above links for motivational lessons.
  3. List a daily agenda and/or goals depending on student need and response. This year, my kiddos want
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    Individual anchor charts remind students of the information from our lessons or conferences.

    the basics: what are we doing. Their learning goals are far more flexible than one standard or even one step of a standard. I’ve learned to keep our agenda to a minimum and to keep our big picture goals on our walls (as anchor charts), in mini-notebooks (literally rubber-banded into their novels), and their individual goals in mini-anchor charts written on post-its in their novels.

  4. Resist negativity from students, parents, and even beloved colleagues. It’s not easy. Everyone needs to vent. Yet, when students vent about teachers, I put the onus back on students, and we look into what they need to do to fix things. When I vent, my cohorts gently put the onus back on me, and we problem-solve to fix the situation!
  5. Be their person. We all need “our person.” Adults seek personal connection at work, and kids crave that connection even more. When kids call us mom or dad by mistake, it’s music to our ears because they’ve connected to us. And when we notice a child who is struggling, we need to pool resources and find their person. My most recent experience is with a kiddo who wouldn’t engage. My classes are very small, and it allows all students to find inspiration, respond to the close instruction, and bond. He hadn’t. His language arts teacher and I would talk about him often, and she focused on him, tried different strategies and ideas, and eventually made the difference. On Friday, he finished his first novel in her class and ran into my class to tell me the news! On Friday, he thoughtfully completed his first weekly reflection! His language arts teacher was his advocate. She’d figured out what he needed, helped him get it, and he responded!
  6. Make it a group effort. Our goals are hanging on our door, written in their journals,
    vision-board
    One student’s vision board. Each week, a new image, quote or idea is added.

    pictured on their vision boards, and discussed daily. These are our goals. Students know that I’m invested in them, and they know the steps I’ve taken to help them succeed. Together, we made vision boards at the start of this semester. We think about these daily. We add to our boards and reflect on our goals weekly.

  7. Be kind, always. How we respond to students impacts whether they’ll shut down or think and process. We are bound to feel frustrated at times, but we need to explain that frustration in healthy ways, so that even when we’re discussing misbehavior or something else a student needs to improve, we do it from a place of care and concern for the child. When two students earned detention this week, we discussed the misbehavior in a meaningful way and students filled in their detention forms having thought about the impact of what they’d done. In addition, our school detentions are opportunities for students to reflect once more on the reasons for the misbehavior, learn strategies for mindfulness, and a chance to bond with another great teacher in our school. The effects are incredible. We have students who choose to go to a mindfulness class once a week after school because they loved what they’d learned about mindfulness during detention!
  8. Teach, preach, and show the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This is an ongoing conversation. The easy way? Extrinsic. The harder, farther-reaching and farther-satisfying way? Intrinsic. This can feel impossible when working with kids who’ve never experienced intrinsic motivation, but its not. Giving students ownership of learning, scaffolding and differentiating so students grow and can celebrate successes, and creating a sense of connectedness and community all help students be intrinsically motivated.
  9. Belly laugh with students. Laughter bonds. In fact, yesterday was one of the best laughs yet! It was Honor Role Assembly Day, and although my kiddos had worked hard to learn to read, we’d only recently begun to transfer reading skills to other classes. So, only one of the 13 in our group was being honored. We were writing Friday Reflections when a gifted-comedian and strong-willed student blurted, “I’m bringin’ hot Cheetos to the assembly today. I’m puttin’ them in my pocket and I’m eatin’ them while they all walk up there…” I cannot begin to tell you the laughter! She had perfect execution. We’d been through such incredible transformations: We’d grown grade levels and RITs and lexiles and emotions and outside-our-boxes and finding-our-persons. We’d faltered and reflected and tried and we’d even let other students see us try- and that’s not easy when you’re 13 and comfortable with not trying! Then we talked about their growth and how much growth matters. We talked about the fact that reading and thinking matter most, and that once they’d begun reading at higher levels (most of them at grade level now), they were finally ready to follow my lead on grades, homework, and studying. The belly laughs were therapeutic.

Real learning only happens when students are thinking. And thinking is messy! It changes, grows, learns to maneuver, and empathize. It’s exciting and passionate! Thinking isn’t linear, nor should our teaching of it be.

Ten Ways to Grow Readers (out of System & Self-proclaimed Non-readers)

When I began a new position as our school’s literacy specialist in August, I knew my first step was to hook kids with a love of books. How else would I get students who are reading 2-6 years below their grade level up to their current grade level within one school year? I teach 34 reading intervention students in grades 6, 7, and 8. Right now, at the end of first semester, all students have shown growth on our district assessment and 18 of 34 are reading at their current grade level. I have one more semester to get the other 16 students there, and I will. (Why do I say that? Because part of the definition of “teacher” is someone who believes in growth and equity. How will I do it? I’ll share that in a later post, but I have additions to the plan that I list here, because we cannot expect different results from doing the same things, right?)

Looking back on my first semester as a literacy specialist and my 13 years as a language arts teacher, this is what works for my students:

What works?

  1. Read aloud. Read to your entire class, to small groups, and to individual students. As soon as you notice a student’s disinterest in reading, read aloud. You can do this during conferences or ask for volunteers from the community. Emily Bushwald once said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” When we have school-aged students who aren’t readers yet, we need to recreate that experience for them. No kidding, even my 14 year-olds love being read to.
  2. Beg, borrow, and buy to create a diverse classroom library that promotes student
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    Part of our classroom library- in this section, informational books are organized by topic.

    choice in reading. Students who don’t love reading yet need quick access to a wide variety of high-interest books and they need your help finding the needle in the haystack.

  3. Design comfy reading spots. Make your classroom feel like a living
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    Our meeting place- for lessons, discussions, and reading. We have lots of other nooks and crannies perfect for curling up with a book. My intention was to mimic the places all readers love to read.

    room, bookstore or cafe. Think of the places you learned to love books and recreate them for your students. I wrote about this idea in “This I Know: On Becoming a Reader.

  4. Let students know their reading levels and teach them why levels matter. This might seem a bit dramatic, but it is heartbreaking to hear my reading intervention students say that they had never known why they were in intervention classes, that they hadn’t been told their reading levels, and that they’d been told that the district and state assessments aren’t really important, so they shouldn’t worry about them. If you work with children, you know that this translates to “reading well doesn’t really matter and these tests are a waste of time.” Students should know their levels and know how and why to raise them. Point blank- people who cannot read don’t like to read. People who cannot read are taken advantage of. It is our responsibility to change this.
  5. DO NOT make students read books within their current reading levels. Reader leveling is a tool to monitor progress, and it serves its purpose well when kids know how to use it. Teach students how to find books that are a good fit and teach them what to do when they really want to read a book that feels hard for them. We cannot expect students to adopt a growth mindset if we don’t have one ourselves, and we cannot change non-readers to readers without the mindset that allows for change and growth. *Picture this: Say you have a New Year’s resolution to exercise more. So, you sign up for a 5K. You see that this race, a race that seems out of your league but sounds like a ton of fun, will motivate you to begin walking each day! You know that you’ll eventually begin running a bit, and next you’ll be able to run the entire 3.2 miles! Now picture this: Your personal trainer tells you not to attempt it. She says that no matter what she tries to teach you, you cannot even get close to that level of fitness. How do you feel about that?
  6. Target instruction based on student needs, and give kiddos tons of time to read. Use assessments, reading conferences, student reflections, discussions with your students’ content area teachers, and their own books in instruction. Keep in close contact with your students’ other teachers and let students know that all of you are in on the same goal: making them readers. Teach students to monitor their progress and to become part of deciding what they need in instruction. When we use their own books to do this, they’re more likely to practice these strategies on their own. This doesn’t mean we should stop using shared excerpts and articles, but it does mean students who cannot read yet, need instruction in their chosen novels.
  7. Teach students what readers do. I encourage all teachers to study PEBC’s Thinking Strategies. Teach these strategies directly, then model them, and gradually release students while giving feedback as they practice them. The thinking strategies are life-changing for non-readers. Once these kiddos learn the thinking moves proficient readers use, they feel such relief! These are strategies that all good readers use, but our struggling readers don’t realize they should.
  8. Share your reading life. Show students the books you’re reading, share your thinking and your struggles with them, and do the assignments you ask kids to do (If  you don’t want to try an assignment, then assign more interesting work- work real readers do.) I bring my current novel to and from school, even if I don’t plan to read it. I put it on our coffee table where we meet, and I refer to it on the fly and use it when I’m modeling a strategy. At this point in the year, kids ask me about what I’m reading all of the time. Kids who wouldn’t have given a second thought to care six months ago! I also share the professional books I use (I wouldn’t be surprised if some students know the authors of Notice and Note and Reading Nonfiction by name!) Students need to see that we are teaching skills and strategies that are based on research and that we are always learning new things ourselves.
  9. Visit your students’ other classes to help bridge what students are learning about reading in your class to other contents. This has been most helpful to my eighth graders, and
    d13aaf80-770c-455a-8b9d-f9a25c5ed849
    Student replicas of the parts of the brain (an idea from the book Growth Mindset Coach)

    after visiting their classes they asked if they could start staying after school to get help with homework from their content classes. It’s been helpful to teach them how to use the thinking strategies in math, science, and social studies.

  10. Teach students to adopt a growth mindset, set goals, be assertive, confront inequity, persevere, and believe in their worth. We teachers know that we teach more than content and standards. Students and I begin each week with a motivational lesson that I see students need. Some examples are growth mindset, reflection, perseverance, equity, and positive thinking. If you’re interested, you can read some of these lessons under the category Friday Reflections in the main menu.

When I met my students in August, I let them know that my goal was for all 34 of them read at grade level by the end of the year. I shared how we would do it, I shared their current reading levels, and against all odds, I managed to create a safe place for kids to struggle, be honest about their hurdles, and cheer each other on.

Keep Moving Forward

For a minute, I felt really good about 18 of 34 students reading at grade level this point in the year, but that vanished quickly. We owe learners more. Within the 16 who need to keep moving toward grade level, ten students are on the right track, but we aren’t even close to easy street yet and six students need something different or more or… I will figure it out. Next year, I will do better quicker because I’ll have this year to reflect on.

In the spirit of full disclosure and the importance of reflection, I’ll share one of my biggest and most embarrassing mistakes from this semester.

One BIG Mistake

I have a sixth-grade student who seemed to become less shy as the year wore on: eventually, she’d asked to come in during my morning planning time to read alone and with me, to get help with writing and she’d started talking more in class. She’d been telling me for months that she’d been reading at night with her mother and sister, and I could sense that she really was. When we took our district MAPS assessment at the beginning of the school year, she’d dropped 13 points from her 5th Grade score in the Spring. When we took MAPS again in December, she’d regained the 13 and added three additional points. I had been thinking that she would grow more than that because she’d been working in class and at home, I’d noticed her sharing her thoughts more often and she’d begun to explain to other students how to figure out reading struggles.

This child is identified by our English Language Acquisition Department, so when she and I saw this test result I asked her whether she comprehends better in Spanish or English. Without missing a beat, she nodded yes. Then I asked if she ever reads in Spanish, and again with out missing a beat, she said, “Yes, every night.”

EVERY NIGHT? Why hadn’t I thought to ask that before now? I would have asked her to come in and read one-on-one in English long before she’d decided to do it on her own! Here is a child who had put in the effort and had grown more confident as the year led on. I mistook that confidence as a result of increased comprehension ability, and part of it clearly was, but I see now that a bigger reason she became more outspoken is that she was speaking English more often now because she was back in school where English is the primary language.

Huge mistake on my part, and its not one I’ll make again. It’s embarrassing because it reveals my English-speaking egocentrism. It didn’t even occur to me that she’d be reading in Spanish at home even though I knew her family spoke Spanish at home. I LOVE that she is reading Spanish at home! Being able to speak AND read in another language has so many benefits- personally, socially, in her education and eventually her professional life!

Needless to say, I’ll ask her to come read with me during non-teaching times, and I’ll figure out how we can maintain her English during the summer. I’m learning a lot this year, and there will come a day when my all of my students do grow 6-7 grade levels in one semester. Don’t believe me? Keep in touch. I love a challenge.

 

Friday Reflection: The Role of Empathy

 

We reflect constantly… naturally as students notice, and at planned times.  On Fridays, each week includes a theme, media, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for individual students or for us a group. The entire process takes about 15 minutes on Monday when the media is introduced and 20 minutes or less on Friday once students get the hang of it, and this provides huge dividends when done consistently.

This week, students are exploring the importance of empathy in building a diverse, equitable society. They will need literacy, empathy, and activism over any other skills. Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement held a picnic with members and local police with the intention of knowing one other; empathy. We need to understand each other before any barriers are removed. It seems like an obvious step to some and ignites anger in others, maybe because we feel we’ve already made that step across or we were raised with our experiences and mindsets. If we really want to affect change, empathy is a necessary piece. Otherwise, we end up in the place we are now: Laws have changed, but too many minds have not.  If you’re interested, read Education Secretary John King’s thoughts on discussing racism and empathy in schools in the article “Education Secretary Urges Schools to Tackle Racism, Teach Empathy” by David Desroches.

Weekly Theme

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes

but in having new eyes.”

-Marcel Proust

Media

In this weekly reflection, we view the short film “The Present” by Jacob Frey. This animated short is a perfect springboard for introducing empathy. The main character is angry and cruel toward a puppy his mom has given him as a gift. Naturally, viewers feel angry at the main character. It is not until the very end of the movie that viewers realize why the main character acted as he did. Once they realize why, they’re without a doubt empathetic toward him.

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for all levels, but please view it before showing it to them.)

*My students will watch this video once on Monday before we reflect on Friday. As we view it, we’ll make note of the Notice and Note Signposts to analyze character motivation, predict plot, and uncover themes. For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“.

Reflection Prompts

  • What role has empathy played in your life? Discuss a time when you have experienced empathy or witnessed empathy. How did it make you feel?
  • Do you try to incorporate empathy into your daily life? How do you do this?

Student Discussion

  • Were there times when you found yourself empathizing with specific characters in the film? If so, which ones and why?
  • Were there times when you found it difficult to empathize with specific characters in the film? If so, which ones and why?
  • In our everyday activities, such as watching TV and movies, playing a video game, reading a book, or interacting with social media, where do you see the most empathy and the least amount of empathy?
  • What is the relationship between empathy and justice?

Reflecting on our learning, behavior, and feelings and making plans for our next steps accelerates growth in all areas. In our classroom, students reflect often. Without fail, we take time every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals.

 

I’d love to hear what you’ve done with your students to help them create community, understand others, and work on social justice issues. Feel free to comment below or send a message.

 

On Teaching: What am I Thankful for and What Will I Give?

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to pause and feel thankful for family, friends, and for our blessings. When I was growing up, it also meant our traditional dinner from Grandma Phyllis- “corn mush”, mashed potatoes, homemade bread… with the fire in the background and all of us around the dining room table. It was the turning point from fall to winter, and winter was cookie baking, a window-peering walk down State Street to see Marshall Field’s Christmas windows, Santa PJ’s and GIFTS! My mama fought over Cabbage Patch dolls like the best of them!

Today, Thanksgiving means all of these things, but my thanks are a result of and have changed since I was a child who was granted these luxuries and privileges. And I also recognize my part in giving.

On Teaching: What am I thankful for?

  1. My students believe me. They had no reason to trust me when they walked into the classroom in August, and they made that clear. They trust me now. They also trust each other.
  2. I have colleagues I can run to, vent with, and be there for. I’ve been at my school for a long time. We’ve seen people come and go, and that’s not always easy. But we’ve become stronger with time. When I need ideas, input, or help? I have friends to ask.
  3. My administration believes in my thinking, understands family comes first, and supports my work. How incredible is it that I can be open and controversial, off the straight and narrow in terms of approach, and still have bosses who support me and raise me up?
  4. A community of educational revolutionaries– some whom I have not yet met! Online and in person, these people mirror my thinking, challenge my ideas, and share perspectives I haven’t realized.equity
  5. This blog. I do not stop thinking of education. Period. I need a place to put my ideas. I need them to be out there for others to read and think about in their own time. (There is a point each summer when the break is made. I never know when it’s coming, but once it happens, nothing brings me back until our first contract day!)

On Teaching: What will I give?

  1. I will advocate for my students beyond our local levels. I will be more involved in the politics of their needs at the state and national levels.
  2. I will find more substantial ways to connect my students’ families to our school life and to me.
  3. I will be certain that my students see themselves as pillars of our community. I’ll continue with my plan for students to build and care for Little Libraries in neighborhoods of their choice. (I ditched that idea after some negative feedback, but I’m back on board.) In just the last week, as one student reminded a female student that we all thought that she has what it takes to be president one day, another student, taken by surprise, said, “A Mexican president?” This student was also Mexican. The class laughed. (This is a class of 9 reading-intervention students, one of which is not Hispanic.)
  4. I will knock on colleagues doors, visit them at lunch, and follow them to their cars to ask what they want from me as a reading specialist. I’m going to listen more.
  5. I will make it certain that all of our students know it in their bones that every single peer is equal in worth. Many of our students do not know this. They recognize the inequality, and they’re not always offered equity. That leaves them with this: “I just don’t measure up.” They joke about it amongst themselves and across social, racial, economic, and educational divides, saying things like, “[This teacher] only helps the rich kids.” and “[This teacher] just thinks I’m always doing something bad, but I’m not.”

I hope that you have time to reflect on your “thanks” and figure out your “gives”. I know that teaching is all-consuming. It is also a ballet dance- between our passions and the passions and needs of the kids who come to us each day. I compare teaching to ballet because both are artistic, needing an ebb and flow to share the artistry. Both are highly structured, but an outsider might never notice this. Both are influential and invigorating, for the “dancers” and audience members.

I’d love to hear your thanks and gives. Comment here or send me a message. Let’s have this conversation.

Differentiate Reading Instruction in Any Content

Differentiation Starts and Ends with Students… actuallythey’re in the middle too!

Differentiation means personalized learning with the content, the process of learning it, or the product students create to show they understand it. Discussed here are ways to differentiate content and process because it has been my experience that many teachers already differentiate in terms of product. And content and process are meatier- they help students own the knowledge and skills needed in order to create the product!

Start with Strengths and Struggles

In order to differentiate, we need to know our students really well. We need to sit with them as they’re working and ask them to think aloud. We need to eavesdrop as they work with others and make quick conferences and formative assessments part of daily instruction. As we observe students, we should make note of their strengths and struggles, and ask them to articulate what they understand and what confuses them- we want them to be aware of their thinking and learning processes.

Plan Differently for Different Places

Differentiated learning is personalized learning. We use the information we’ve gleaned from conferences and formative assessments to figure out what students need as we plan lessons, and we’re ready to offer students what they need, on the spot, within a lesson too.

ind-anchor-charts
Individual anchor charts let students take the information from our walls out the door and with them when they leave. Either take photos of your charts for easy access or write a chart for a student during a conference. (Students can obviously write charts for themselves too, depending on your purpose.)

Does that mean 25 different lesson plans for each class? Not exactly because any teaching strategy that produces results is perfect for differentiation, and as you learn to navigate student needs lesson by lesson and within lessons, it will become easy to pull from what you know works best.

There isn’t a magic list of strategies, although I’ve attempted to list options below. My advice is to make your own list of effective strategies and methods. It will help to have it as you plan for what students need.

Not a Magic List, but I’ll Give it My Best Shot

  1. If students are reading a common text or novel, offer different ways students can read it: read aloud by the teacher, another adult, a recording, with a partner, a small group, or individually. Teach students to figure out which way helps them understand best.
  2. If students are reading a common text or novel, encourage them to read it at a rate that is right for them– meaning they can understand it, discuss it, and practice thinking skills with it. If we are differentiating, we aren’t telling kids they need to stick to a certain number of pages per night. If we do that, then we need to accept that some students are not going to read. Instead we should help students figure out how many pages per night is reasonable for them.
  3. Offer texts on a common topic but at different levels, lengths, and genres.
  4. Offer a variety of ways students can organize their thinking and the content as they read: graphic organizers, thinking stems, annotations, or a text partially annotated by the teacher.
  5. Teach students to figure out which materials they find most accessible and effective for organizing their thinking. In my reading intervention classes, students record their ideas in a variety ways: Some use tiny notebooks that fit inside their novels, others use post-its, bookmarks, or handouts created by me, and others have made their own Google Docs to record their thinking.
  6. Group students based on fluctuating, current needs and teach mini-lessons based on each group’s need (Some examples: One group might need to preview the text and activate or build background knowledge, another group might need additional practice annotating text, and another group might read and understand the text quickly and will need to extend their knowledge by finding additional information to synthesize with the assigned text.)
  7. Collaborate with your students’ language arts teacher. Group students based on the skills they are learning in their language arts class, and teach them to discuss those skills and support each other as they read a text in your class.
  8. Teach students to choose texts and novels based on their interests and purposes for reading. Support them when they choose a challenging text. My students and I discuss their reading levels because, in my heart of hearts, I believe it is their right to know their own data, and we use this information to plan for and track growth. If I made students read within a certain level, I’d be ignoring my purpose for differentiation, which is to teach students to understand and monitor their own learning and growth.
  9. Offer open-ended, thinking-based questions. When our focus is student thinking, differentiation is natural, and we gather data for what students understand about content. (One example: What confuses you about today’s topic? If nothing seems confusing, what would you like to learn more about regarding this topic?)

TIPS for Successful Differentiation

  1. As you reflect on which strategies are most effective, begin organizing anchor charts, graphic organizers, sentence starters and other tools so that they’re easily available
    img_0169-1
    Mini anchor charts are used for conferences and small group lessons. These are easily accessible when students show the need for something different than the class mini lessons.

    for conferences and small group lessons.

  2. When you are working one-on-one with a student, quickly create a personal anchor chart as a visual the student can keep with them. It’s a quick way to reinforce what you conferred about and allows the student to refer back as often as needed, even when they’re not in your classroom.
  3. Use a large artist’s pad to hold a mini anchor chart collection. Use these for small group lessons. Keep the pad easily available for students to refer to after lessons.
  4. Two excellent books for teachers who are just getting started in differentiation in reading and writing come from Jennifer Serravallo: The Reading Strategies Book and The Writing Strategies Book (due to be released 2/2017). Serravallo offers anchor charts, prompts, tips, and multiple approaches for teaching reading and writing skills in any content.

When we know our students’ thought patterns, learning behaviors, and levels of understanding, we can teach based on student need lesson to lesson and even moment to moment within lessons. This gives all students access to course content which they’ll need if they’re doing to learn it, use it, and make it their own.

If this seems like too much, we need to give something else up. Live feedback beats the rerun (written a few days ago, graded awhile-back worksheet) EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

 

Teachers, share the ways you differentiate reading. What tips and ideas can we add to our Magic Lists?    …not that there is such a thing  😉

 

 

 

 

Friday Reflection: Be the Change We Need

This week’s reflection asks students to think about school and classroom climate and to consider what they can do to create an accepting, helpful and kind learning atmosphere. When I originally wrote this piece, it was spurred by a study published in the Review of Educational Research showing that positive school climates can narrow achievement gaps, especially for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet, our civil unrest in the week following this election brought new meaning to this weekly reflection.

Not What I Planned, but it Happened

On Monday, I showed the short film and we discussed what the main character does and his effect on others. Kids loved it; they thought parts were funny and inspiring. We began a discussion of theme, and noticed other literary elements that help us construct understanding. Kids were prepared to carry the positive message into the week. Tuesday, my kids were shell-shocked. I listened. I told them they were safe. I explained checks and balances… and as much as I had prepared, I was not prepared.

On Wednesday, we watched Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. We looked for their main messages, the language used to portray that message, and who their intended audiences were. I did this because it matters. I have never been the kind of parent and teacher to protect children from the truth. I am the kind of parent and teacher who will explain the truth in age-appropriate ways.

As the week wore on, we began discussing the protests and and acts of racism they’d been seeing in the news. We read articles about positive things other kids were doing to help their communities. My students were shaken- many have parents who are illegal immigrants. One student worried his family would have to break up. Others wondered what would happen to their health insurance. Others said that they have gay family members and they couldn’t understand why people were so upset by that. These questions told me that my students’ parents had been worrying all week too. This short film and our theme anchored us for the week; I’m thanking my lucky stars because it was by a miracle I’d happened to use it. It is light enough to provide hope in a trying time and serious enough to matter. And the characters are Thai. In subtle and direct ways this short video showed exactly what we needed it to show this week.

By Friday, after days of discussing, reading, writing, and discussing more, my kiddos had figured out which social issues matter most to them and which one issue they want to research and discuss in-depth next week. As I’ve said before, I teach very small classes of kids who were reading anywhere from 2-7 years below grade level when we began our work this year. Our work together this week grew them years in terms of their thinking. The fact that they’re so interested in fixing the social injustices they see- that they’ll read and discuss and act on what they learn? That will grow them years in terms of their reading. And the human rights lessons we will teach each other and others along the way… insurmountable. Uncountable. Undeniably life changing for them and for me.

I hope that your students find comfort and can see themselves in this short film. I hope your discussions fill them with a sense of “I can do this too” and “This is the world we want.”

I hope.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme, media, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for individual students or for us a group. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Media

In this weekly reflection, we use two types of media. First, is a short film on being the change you wish to see in the world. Next is an NPR interview with Natalie Hampton, a high school student who created the ‘Sit with Us’ app so students can find someone to eat lunch with rather than eating alone. Another example of kindness I plan to share with students is this story of  student, Amanda Moore, who used Google translate to ask a new classmate to sit with her at lunch.

One of my students showed me the video for this reflection! How could I pass that up? The short video follows a man on his daily route through the city. Without fail and always with a positive spirit, this man helps others, shares anything he has with those in need, and looks at problems with the mindset to solve them!

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for all levels, but please view it before showing it to them.)

*My students will watch this video once before we reflect on Friday. As we view it, we’ll make note of the Notice and Note Signposts to analyze character motivation, predict plot, and uncover themes. We’ve been using the signposts for several weeks now, so students will be able to recognize the signposts and ask and answer the questions quickly with this film. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompts

  • If you could make one change in our school right now, what would it be? Describe
    why you would change it. What ideas do you have on how to change it?
  • What kind actions can we do for each other in class and others in our school on a daily basis?

Discussion

  • Discuss what you noticed the man doing each day. How did those actions affect the others in the video? How did they begin acting differently following his kindness and generosity?
  • Discuss how things would have been different if the man in our video would have been annoyed with the woman and her child begging for money, or not even noticed the woman who needed help with her cart. What would the effects have been then?
  • Any compliments for anyone? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

Reflecting on our learning, behavior, and feelings and making plans for our next steps accelerates growth in all areas. In our classroom, students reflect often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. Without fail, we take time every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals. What types of reflections do you do with students? Share what’s been most effective or pieces of the reflection process you and your students are struggling with. The more we share, the more we grow.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done with your students to help them feel safe, understand what is happening, and work on social justice issues. Feel free to comment below or send a message. Thank you.

A Friday Reflection in the Spirit of Halloween: On Gut Feelings & Questionable Decisions

Why Take Time to Reflect?

Reflecting on learning and making plans for success accelerates growth. In our classroom, students reflect on their learning often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. We also do it every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme relating to one of the characteristics we need in order to overcome adversity, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for us as a group or for individual students. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You Haven’t”

-Thomas Edison

Media

Animated short “Francis” directed by Richard Hickey, and written by Dave Eggers. From production company CGI Brothers: The story of ‘Francis’ came about interestingly from the famed radio show ‘This American Life’. Broadcaster Ira Glass asked 6 American writers to create a short story about Adventure. One of these stories, written by novelist & screenwriter Dave Eggers, was read on the show to much acclaim and praise. Richard worked with producer Kevin Batten & a team to turn the words into this short film. The film has been shown at Cannes Film Festival and Raindance.

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for seventh and eighth graders and high school, but please view it before showing it to them; it’s creepy. I will choose another video for my sixth graders when we do this reflection.)

*My students will watch this video once before our reflection on its themes and how they apply to our lives. We always use the  Notice and Note Signposts to analyze character motivation, predict plot, and uncover themes. We are several weeks deep on practicing the signposts, so students will be able to recognize the signposts and ask and answer the signpost questions quickly with this film. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompt

  • Francis is a bit of a rebel and lives according to her own terms. The night of her “accident,” there were several points that she should have had, and even might have had but ignored, the gut feeling that she was doing something wrong and possibly dangerous. Eventually, she made too many wrong decisions, gave up, and… well, you know what happened in the end. Why do you think she didn’t listen to her instincts? What do you think she should she have done differently? 
  • We are not in the middle of a lake with no one around to help us get back to shore, but it is a good metaphor for some of the things we struggle with.Think of a time when you struggled to learn something new or with having to do something that seemed so hard that you wanted to give up. What did you do: Give up? Avoid the difficult things? Find a way to keep trying hard? Did you stop to think about what people who care about you would want you to do? Did your “gut” tell you what to do?
  • How can we use the themes in “Francis” in our lives? 

Discussion

  • We’ve inferred that Francis didn’t like listening to the advice of the adults in her life (She was a rebel. She sneaked out of her tent in the middle of the night. She smoked cigarettes- yuck!) Sometimes kids decide not to listen to their parents’ advice, and rely on their friends. If you were giving advice to people in this class on how to become better readers, what would you say?
  • What compliments do you have for each other? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

What types of reflections do you do with students? The more we share, the more we learn!

Friday Reflection: What Can We Do to Support Each Other So That We All Reach Our REAL Potential?

Why Take Time to Reflect?

Reflecting on learning and making plans for success accelerates growth. In our classroom, students reflect on their learning often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. We also do it every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme relating to one of the characteristics we need in order to overcome adversity, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for us as a group or for individual students. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible.’” -Audrey Hepburn

Media

Animated short Zero directed by Christopher Kezelos. The producer, Zealous Creative, describes the film: In a world that judges people by their number, Zero faces constant prejudice and persecution. He walks a lonely path until a chance encounter changes his life forever: he meets a female zero. Together they prove that through determination, courage, and love, nothing can be truly something.

This film is incredible- it captivated my daughter when she watched it, my students when they watched it, and my colleagues when they watched it! Even if you do not think you’ll use this reflection, I recommend watching Zero!

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for middle school and high school, but please view it through your students’ lenses before showing it to them; it addresses sensitive social issues. This reflection does not go into depth on these issues, but as students study stereotypes and discrimination the next several weeks, we will use this video as means to recognize the stereotyping and discrimination in our society.)

For younger students, substitute the movie with a book with a similar theme. Oneby Kathryn Otoshi, is a story about accepting each other’s differences.

*My students watched this video twice this week as we discussed the Notice and Note Signposts. We use signposts to uncover the themes the video presents. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompt

Zero is born into his place in society and not allowed to break out of it. Eventually, he does bust out because he and his friend believe they are something, they have courage, and they have love.  Looking back on our first 9 weeks of this school year, what have you achieved that seemed impossible in August? Which people in your life and what behaviors and mindsets helped you achieve it? (Consider all of your family members, friends, and teachers.)

Discussion

  • Think about the time we’ve spent together since August, and consider how you’ve grown more comfortable each week. Think about Zero and the challenges he was able to overcome once he met his friend who accepted him. Use your experiences in this class and Zero’s experiences in overcoming his challenges to answer this question: What do people need in order to feel safe enough to learn? *I will ask students if they think it would be valuable to list these things on an anchor chart so that we can see them and think about them daily. Most will think it’s a good idea, and then we’ll have a good part of our learning about how to learn from 1st Quarter right there for us to use during 2nd Quarter.
  • What compliments do you have for each other? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

What types of reflections do you do with students at the end of the quarter or semester? The more we share, the more we learn!

Friday Reflection: How can we turn our difficult experiences into seeds for success?

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a quote, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Theme

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” 

-C.S. Lewis

Media

Animated short: Tamara by Jason Marino

*My students watched this video several times this week as we discussed the Notice and Note Signposts. We used the signposts to uncover the themes the video presents. (To read this lesson, see “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts.”

If you do not have access to YouTube, you can also use the book Dear Mr. Falker for this reflection.

Reflection Prompts

  • What is your earliest memory of having difficulty learning something? (I always share my memory from the end of my kindergarten year. My mom found me in my bedroom in tears because my teacher had told us that some kids wouldn’t be going on to first grade because they didn’t know how to read yet. I remember holding the book and trying so hard to figure out what it said, but I just couldn’t.)
  • What has been difficult for you this year that isn’t so difficult anymore? What did you do to make it easier?
  • What is still difficult for you? What steps can you take next week to start making it feel easier?

Discussion

  • As a group, we’ve changed a lot since the beginning of the year. (This is a following to last week’s reflection “Friday Reflection: What Have You Done Differently This Week?” What things should we try to improve in order to help each other continue to learn?
  • Any compliments for anyone? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

Teachers, what types of reflections do you do with your students? The more we share, the more we learn!