2018-2019 Chestatee Academy

Immersing Ourselves in Poems with a POETRY FLOOD

Last Wednesday and Thursday, my students engaged in a “poetry flood”, a gallery walk designed to give students to immerse themselves in 50 different poems.  The activity design was fairly simple:

  1.  I chose close to 50 unique poems of varying styles, poets, topics, and time periods for students to browse and read.
  2.  During the poetry flood, students walked about quietly and read poems.  As they came across ones of interest that they liked or enjoyed or thought would be a good choice for their poetry project, they jotted down the poem title and author.  I do play soft music through the overhead projector/ceiling speakers during the gallery walk; this selection is one of my favs for the 2018-19 school year!
  3. Students could revisit and re-read the poems at any time, including the online voting.
  4. The activity took two class periods; our first day was a bit short since we were on a modified afternoon schedule due to state testing.  We completed the flood on Day 2 and did our online voting so that I could have time to compile the responses and have enough copies of the poems for each student in each class.
  5. Once they completed their reading (roughly 20-25 minutes for most), they went online to a Google Form in our Canvas course and voted for their top three poem choices and explained each choice.  They also voted for whether they wanted to do a FSLL poster or Sketchnoted Poetry Analysis for their project; we reviewed project options and requirements Wednesday and Thursday.  Students turned in the hard copy of their “poetry flood” notetaking/jot sheet form once they finished voting.  You can see a breakdown of project choices below.

5.  Note:  I definitely recommend using Google Forms to collect student votes so you can download responses into a spreadsheet and quickly sort the top choices and give students one of their top three choices while avoiding replication of poems within a class period for project work.  Click here to see a PDF version of my form.  I actually downloaded one master spreadsheet and then did some cut/paste to separate into my four different class sections to make voting easier.

Below are videos and photos to help you see our poetry flood unfolded over two days:

{Note:  please pardon the mess with items covered up to preserve our testing environment in my classroom last week and the week before!}

With the exception of my first period class (I did not get to see them Thursday because of our testing schedule, so they picked up on Friday with completing the poetry flood), my other three classes received their poems on Friday.  I made copies on neon paper, and we spent most of the period annotating the poems.  Each student was required to do five high quality annotations and could use their poetry terms and FSLL question stems (install this font for the download to format correctly) to nudge their thinking.

Once they finished the first round of annotations, students showed me their work and we conferenced for next steps to polish or finalize their annotations.  Most needed a 2nd pass at going beyond some connecting and summarizing of stanzas and a little coaching to help them focus on some literary or poetic elements.   In addition, I encouraged some students to further elaborate on their notes if that was needed.  The majority of students responded really well to the conferences and set about their work in a positive and earnest manner.  I was quite impressed with their efforts, especially with the final product after our annotation conferences.

Those who finished their annotation work a little early used scratch paper to begin planning a mockup and notes for their project.  We’ll actually craft the posters on Thursday and Friday of this week.

Given our limitations of time with the two week state testing session that just ended plus end of the year events, I feel these activities are a meaningful way to give my students a personal and positive experience with poetry at the end of the year.  What kinds of activities do you like to do to immerse students in poetry?  What are your favorite poetry projects, especially when time is short?

“Milestones Mania and More!” Station Rotations and Review

Springtime in Georgia brings abundant pollen, April showers, restless middle school learners, and the state end of year Milestones testing.  This year I decided to craft “work at your own pace” station rotations that emphasized the three types of writing prompts students would see plus some additional stations to support our study of poetry and independent choice nonfiction book reading.  In addition to sample writing prompts and exemplars to examine at each station, students also had the opportunity to practice some of the sample multiple choice items.  Using state released materials, I crafted stations to help my students unpack constructed responses (2 points each of varying DOK levels but primarily Level 3 and 4), extended constructed responses (on our assessment, this is always a 4 point narrative writing prompt), and extended essay, a 7 point essay that is always argumentative or informational in nature.  Below is a tour of the stations to give you an idea of what students  explored at each station:

Because of time limitations, I did not ask students to complete any of the writing prompts, but every station asked students to consider these common questions:

  • What is the writing prompt asking you to do?
  • How might you go about tackling this kind of writing prompt?
  • What strategies might you use to plan for this prompt?
  • What qualities do you notice in the exemplar responses?  What did the writer do well?
  • How is the exemplar response different from the ones that did not get full credit?

Because of our testing schedule and adjustments needed to make those days work, not every class period has been meeting for the exact same number of minutes.   However, all classes had approximately 7 class days to work through as many of the stations as they could.  Students budgeted roughly 10-20 minutes per station depending on the tasks at each station.

My original plan was to have table groups lead discussions for each station.  However, time constraints allowed me to do this with only class.  I still wanted to have some kind of whole group discussion or conversation around the stations but be able to complete it in two class sessions.  Last Wednesday evening, I quickly punted and crafted a multiple choice, fill in the blank, and short answer document that allowed us to review every station question as a point of discussion; the document was 11 pages and gave students something concrete to take home and review over the weekend.  For students who were absent or even those who were present but may have left their review document in their locker, a PDF of the document with an answer key was posted in our Canvas course for easy access.

Thought we started testing for Language Arts this past Monday and classes met in the afternoon for a shorter time than normal, I wanted to do one final pass that afternoon at reviewing prompts.  I designed another multiple choice style document that served as our warm-up and a final “look” at all types of writing prompts.  Students kept these and were able to take them home in their “spring learning” folders.

This is a somewhat different approach than I used with my juniors last year, but overall, I’m pleased with how students worked through the stations and even my “triage” solution to address the time shortage for review/whole group discussion around the station work.  In some ways, it may have been better for my 8th grade learners since they ended up having two hard copy resources to take home as a review/study tool to help them recognize the three different kind of prompts and to consider best ways to take on these kinds of prompts without sucking all their writing energy out of them prior to the actual state test.

I am definitely not an advocate of teaching to a test, but I do feel a responsibility to my students to help them be prepared for the language of the test, especially the writing tasks.  With the exception of the narrative writing tasks, we did many writing assignments that paralleled the constructed response tasks and essay writing tasks as part of our daily literacy learning; in addition, each of our three district benchmarks gave students additional opportunities to practice these writing tasks in a “test” setting.  Looking ahead to next year, I’m going to integrate more “timed” writings for these kinds of prompts and embed them as a part of the natural flow of units of study of literature and reading so that students will feel more comfortable by May with the prompts and completing them in a timed setting.

Finding a Path into Poetry with Annotations, FSLL Charts, and Poetry Chats

Last week  (April 17) we began our exploration of poetry with an inquiry-oriented warm-up.  I presented students two documents:

  • An annotated copy of “Alone” by Maya Angelou (annotations by me)
  • A FSLL (Feelings, Story, Language, and Lines) that I had completed for “Alone” by Maya Angelou.

Students could work alone or with a partner to record their noticings about the annotation strategies evident on the poem; they also recorded their noticings about the kinds of elements discussed in the FSLL chart.   They also got to talk about any overalap they saw between the two.  Once students had recorded these noticings, we shared out to the whole class.

The next day, we engaged in a class reading of “Every Day” by Naomi Shihab Nye; this poem is part of a collection in her book A Maze Me:  Poems for Girls, a longtime favorite of mine.  Students practiced annotation the poem and working on their FSLL charts for the “Every Day”; students also had the opportunity to share their work with a partner.

My two “accelerated” classes also had the opportunity to complete a sticky note lit analysis jigsaw by finding two metaphors and one symbol in the poem.  Students had the opportunity to identify the literary element, draw a sketchnote to represent what they saw in their minds when they read those lines, and to write a short explanation of the literary element and how it contributed to the overall message or meaning of the poem.

This past week we engaged in poetry chats to generate conversation and share our thinking about the poem.  I did two variations of the poetry chat:  one version was set up like a timed station rotation, and the other was structured more like table talk with a large class share.

With the station rotation version, we did timed stations in which students wrote their responses on butcher paper.  This pretty much took the entire class period and is a great option when you have the luxury of time.  On Day 2, each group was assigned the task of reading over the responses and generating a 3-2-1 reflection to share with the whole class:

Students received a performance assessment grade for their poster presentation and a separate grade for the written poster (content, response to the writing/thinking directions).

A quicker version that is also meaningful is to assign a question prompt to each table group and let them brainstorm their responses on a large sticky note to to then share out to the whole class.  Though they don’t get the benefit of the silent “write around” and seeing the thinking of an entire class like the longer version,  this version still engages student in teamwork and critical though as well as an opportunity to speak to the entire class.  I used the same prompts for both variations of poetry chat, and I also provided supporting notes on any literary elements I felt might be helpful for students.  You will note my question prompts say “silent” because originally I had planned for each class to do the silent write-around part first, but as many of you know, time is at a premium right now, and I was not able to do it with three sections due to time constraints.

We are on the eve of state Milestones testing here, but we’ll continue to read poems and analyze them using the FSLL strategies/question prompts to annotate and think about poems.  Our next steps will be to take our charts to the next level with 11×17 posters, so stay tuned for a new post on that in May!

Next Steps for Thinking About Theme, Central Topics, and Social Issues: Pop-Up Book Club Meetings

In my last post, I shared how we used a Lucy Calkins learning structure to think about more deeply about theme, central ideas/topics, and social issues.  Yesterday, I did two variations on some “pop-up” book club meetings to help students think through these elements.

Variation #1, Periods 1 and 4

On Monday evening,  I compiled all student responses for theme, central topic, and social issue from all four classes; I did this by going through every single graphic organizer completed by students.  I crafted a chart for each book with the compiled responses and left space for students to reflect.  This task took some time on my part, but I really wanted to tap into their collective thinking and crowdsource their knowledge.

At the beginning of class on Tuesday, I organized into read alike or birds of a feather book clubs; students received the color-coded compiled responses.  We did three four “lightning” rounds of discussion:

  • Round 1:  students shared their original and revised responses on the theme/central topic/social issue graphic organizer.
  • Round 2:  students shared and discussed one of the signposts they noticed in their annotations.
  • Round 3:  students shared their reactions to the collaborative responses for their books.
  • Round 4:  students shared current questions or wonderings about their books.

After the meeting, I provided students 25 minutes of time to read in class.  During our reading time, students used large and “baby” sticky notes to annotate and track the the development of these elements in their reading:

  • We continued to annotate Notice and Note signposts using our #shortcut codes.  Students looked for at least three signposts.
  • Students picked three different colored larger square sticky notes and picked one to track a current theme they had been thinking about in their previous work OR they could choose a new theme from the list on their collaborative thinking book handout I had compiled for them.
  • Students picked three different colored larger square sticky notes and picked one to track a central idea/ topic they had been thinking about in their previous work OR they could choose a new central idea/topic from the list on their collaborative thinking book handout I had compiled for them.
  • Students picked three different colored larger square sticky notes and picked one to track a current social issue they had been thinking about in their previous work OR they could choose a new social issue from the list on their collaborative thinking book handout I had compiled for them.

I provided the different colors and sizes of sticky notes for all six book club groups. At the end of the reading time, students filled in the blank area of their collaborative thinking handout for their book by sharing their responses to the day’s reading and book club discussion and their current thinking on theme, central ideas/topics, and social issues.  Students could also share how their thinking had changed based on the book club meeting and the day’s reading.  If students needed more time, they could finish at home or at the beginning of class today (Wednesday) before submitting their work.  They could also revise their white theme/central idea/topic/social issue white graphic organizer and “repair” any sections they felt needed revision by writing their new thinking on sticky notes and placing it over the original work just as we did Monday.

Variation #2, Periods 5 and 6

We essentially did the same activities, but the order was reversed.  With these classes, I organized students into their book club groups as they arrived, but we started by taking time to silently read the collaborative thinking list for their books; student placed check marks next to themes, central ideas/topics, and social issues they wanted to focus on in the reading the first 25 minutes of class.  They then wrote their responses to the day’s reading and we then shifted into book club mode using the same discussion structure  as 1st and 4th.  It was a bit tricky fitting it all in, but we made it work.  I did give these students the option of finishing their annotations and sticky note work at home if they needed more time; they could also add to their reading reflections and revise their original graphic organizer at home and return today if needed.

My Reflections

I’ve been reading their responses and revisions, and many students definitely are showing more growth in their thinking.  We’re juggling quite a bit right now with state testing strategic prep and poetry study, but overall, I am thrilled with engaged the students are with their books.   I am fascinated that the majority of my students seem way more “into” their nonfiction book club choices than their self-selected fiction independent reads from 1st and 2nd semester.

I am thinking about how we can squeeze in a few more “pop up” or casual book club meetings since our schedule doesn’t really permit full blown book club meetings, and I’ll share some new approaches I hope to take in a future post soon.

Looking for Seeds of Theme, Central Ideas, and Social Issues in Our Nonfiction Books: Scaffolding, Structure, and Strategy

This past Friday and Monday (April 12 and 15), I wanted my students to have an opportunity to think a little more deeply about their nonfiction books.  Using a focal point from one of our Lucy Calkins units of study, I crafted a graphic organizer to help students identify each of the following elements in their reading so far:

  • Theme (this is an important element, but I am continuing to stress it because so many of my students have struggled with this concept all year)
  • Central Topic/Idea
  • Social Issues

We reviewed what concepts of theme, central idea/topic, and social issues at the beginning of class on Friday; in addition, I used a resource from our Calkins resource guide as an “anchor chart” for reference on the back of a graphic organizer I provided students.   Even though all students are not reading literary nonfiction, I felt the concepts would translate to the regular nonfiction books students were reading.

I did not provide a list of possible themes or social issues to my students on the first day because I wanted to see what they could identify for themselves.  While I do believe in scaffolding, I also think it is important to give students opportunities to wrestle with ideas.  Using a graphic organizer I’ve used in the past, I modified it to fit the three element structure to help students identify their thinking and evidence from the text to support it.

I modeled my thinking for students using one of my favorite books, Full Body Burden:  Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats.  I began by showing the book trailer video and then the beginnings of my work as I modeled a think aloud for each class.

After reading over my students’ work over the weekend, it was very clear that many were struggling to correctly identify a theme or social issue.   Instead, many of them were identifying central ideas and topics as themes and/or social issues.   Yesterday I provided them a working list of themes (not necessarily unique to our books, but a broad list) as well as a working list of common social issues.

After doing another review of the terms and the new lists, I asked students to place check marks next to themes and social issues they felt might be present in their books.  Students then had the opportunity to revise and/or add to any of the three sections that felt needed improvement or a complete rewrite.  Many students had an “aha!” moment in their thinking, but I was still worried last night when I read over their revisions and saw quite a few are still struggling even with the additional scaffolding.   I will continue a variety of strategies to triage this challenge in small groups and 1:1 over the next few weeks, but I am hopeful students will grow in these areas with continued support from me and their book groups as well as better understanding of their book as they get further into it,.

This work has definitely challenged my students and nudged their critical thinking.  In my next post, I’ll share how we are using this work in the student book clubs to grow everyone’s thinking and help students’ understanding of the concepts of theme, central topics/ideas, and social issues.  Until then, what strategies do you use to help students who are having difficulty grasping theme and/or understanding of social issues in a text?