Assessment

Strategies for Reading Notes and Annotations: Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

We are a full week into our literary nonfiction and memoir book clubs, and I’m happy to report most students completed their first required reading goal for our first book club meeting on January 17.  This past Monday I introduced four options for taking reading notes and strategically annotating their books.  I built on strategies we learned last semester and folded in a few new approaches as well that tie into last week’s mini-lesson on themes, central ideas, and issues—I feel like all of these were doable for my 8th graders, and they loved the element of choice.  I also appreciated some students had some creative interpretations of the strategies and were engaged in their thinking with their notes.

You can see a tutorial video I created for my students who were absent for the mini-lesson or who needed to hear it again; I posted this video in our Canvas course LMS as well as our class blog.

The slideshow below is also available to students in both virtual learning spaces as I add student created work to showcase and highlight as the possibilities for notetaking.

I do provide different kinds of paper and a plethora of Post-It notes for my students to use.  Please enjoy the digital gallery of student work in progress below; overall, I feel like the quality of thinking and notes is much better than what I saw with my previous 8th graders.  However, I feel my instruction on annotating and closer reading has been stronger this academic year as well.

I’m excited to see what options they choose and the notes they create for our January 24 book club meeting!  In my next blog post, I’ll provide an update on our first book club meeting (held January 17) discussions and reflections on the book club meeting as well as their meeting prep work.

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Reading Workout with Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs

Inspired by the always innovative Sarah Brown Wessling, I adapted an activity she shared this past December that she calls Reading Workouts for independent reading time.  I made a few modifcations to account for a shorter literacy block of time and the needs of my 8th grade learners, but here is my version that was a great success this past Friday.

My 4th period (the class I take to lunch) was the only class that completed this activity as a warm-up because we had extra class time, and I didn’t want to jump into the activity with only 15 minutes before our scheduled lunch time.  If time had permitted, I would have done the “warm-up/stretch” with all classes; this was a great way to get them thinking before reading time.

For all other classes, we began with a quick review of concepts we had worked on the previous day:

We then began the first formal part of our workout!  Our focus was on reading; I told students to NOT take notes at this point or to annotate, but they could use the “baby” size sticky notes to quickly flag passages of interest.  I provided baskets of the sticky notes needed for the day at every table to save time and provide ease of access to the materials.

We then moved to the second part of our workout.  Students could choose any partner they wanted; it did not have to be someone from their book club.  We lined up 2×2 outside the room and began our walking reps.  One partner led the conversation for the first rep/lap; the second partner led on the second rep/lap.  This “walk and talk” part of the workout is another idea I’ve adapted previously from Wessling.  For our reading workout, we did a modified/shorter version to fit the reading workout structure.

We then moved to the next part of our reading workout:

We then ended/cooled down with this graffiti wall/parking lot activity for our books:

This work was a great formative assessment to see how well (or not so well) students were understanding themes and issues in their books as well as the concepts/terms  of theme and issues themselves.  I created the gallery of book graffiti walls/parking lots with chart paper and signage I crafted in Word.  You can see the gallery and student work samples in the slideshow below.  We’ll get into the parking lots/graffiti walls for a gallery walk activity later this week and then continue adding our thinking about themes and issues as we get deeper into our books this month.

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You can see, hear, and learn more about the design of this activity in the video I made after school this past Friday.  I love this learning structure and plan to use it again later this year!  A big thank you to Sarah Brown Wessling for always generously sharing her ideas for the rest of us to use as they are or to adapt for our learners!  In my next post, I’ll share how we are moving forward with our book club thinking work this week, including choices for gentle note-taking strategies as we read.

I Scream, You Scream, The Students All Scream for Gimkit!

Have you tried the hottest learning tool in the edtech universe, Gimkit?  Fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree first put this technology on my radar during preplanning in August, but I didn’t actually try it with my students until November.  According to Gimkit’s creator, high school student Josh Feinsilber, Gimkit is:

“…a game show for the classroom that requires knowledge, collaboration, and strategy to win.  Students answer questions on their own device at their own pace. Throughout a Kit, each student will get exposure to the questions multiple times to ensure mastery.  I built Gimkit to be the game I wanted to play in class! While working on Gimkit I developed a passion for making learning memorable. I graduated in June, 2019 and kept working on Gimkit because of the positive impact I know it can have for teachers and students.”

In addition to generating an insane amount of energy and excitement about learning, Gimkit has these additional awesome features:

I like that Gimkit can be used in many ways in the classroom for a live learning activity or as a homework/independent learning assignment; I think it would be fun to use the assignment features on a station rotation day.  In addition, Gimkit features a help center for educators.

I tried Gimkit as a way of creating a fun and engaging review of some of the short stories we had read in early November.  I thought my students were going to lose their minds (in a good way) when I announced we were playing a review game for those stories in Gimkit and that we would be in team mode.

 

While the game was tremendous fun, the data from the game also helped me to see gaps in understanding that we could tackle the following day in class.

I was so impressed by the student response to the game that I purchase a year’s subscription to get the extra features and unlimited kits.   It takes a LOT these days for any technology to impress me, so for me to invest in a professional subscription says volumes.

Last week, we spent several days doing a variety of learning activities on tone (blog post coming soon on that topic).  I created a kit on tone with a variety of difficulty in the questions, and students very much enjoyed the holiday theme and music that are available this month in live games.

 

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to try the free version yourself.  Here are some awesome blog posts and online reviews that will also give you ideas on how and why to use Gimkit!

A Unique Twist on Formative Assessment: “Give Me All You Got!”

At the end of November, I stumbled upon this great idea from English teacher Kelly Culp:

The basic premise is that students do a “brain dump” of sorts about a specific reading and share everything they know about it with you through text and images.   I decided to utilize this strategize to do a formative assessment with student independent reading about 10 days ago after giving students a day of reading time in class.  Here is my version (you can make a copy of the Word document):

Students jumped in and began working hard on the task right away:

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Below are some of the finished products:

As you can see, many students were creative in how they shared their understandings and what information they felt was most important as well as questions, connections, and ideas they were thinking about related to the text.  Several also incorporated their TQE thinking from their TQE annotations the previous day.  What I love about this form of assessment is the variety of responses and the built in choice factor for the assessment.  It can also be used with a wide range of tasks, including an assigned reading.  You can also adapt and use this across multiple grades in middle and high school; I think it would also be adaptable for upper elementary.  In addition, I think teachers and librarians could even modify this to assess students’ understanding of an article they are reading for research.  I am indebted to teacher Kelly Culp for sharing this idea on Twitter and inspiring my classroom practice.

In addition to this task, students also had time to complete this activity as well.  Many students liked the “chunked” aspect of this learning task for their reading they completed in class December 5 and at home that evening.  I highly recommend this resource for assessing assigned or independent reading.

 

 

Annotating for Active Reading: Post-It Notes and File Folders

This fall my 8th graders have practiced Notice and Note annotation strategies as well as those from Cris Tovani.  I have not required my 8th graders to annotate their independent reading, but earlier this month, I felt annotating their reading for an in-class reading day would be beneficial for my students.  I also felt this might be a gentle way of starting to scaffold their annotating for TQE discussions that we’ll do in January 2020.   I created mini-versions of notes/handouts I had already given the students and condensed them to “marry” them to a TQE framework, integrating our existing annotation strategies as well as Beers and Probst’s “3 Big Questions.”  Here is the result:

You can make a copy of these handouts I created here:

Because I had lost my voice due to an upper respiratory infection, I had students engage in a quick partner reading of the instructions.  Pairs then summarized the instructions and what they needed to do during their independent reading time.  I then shared a completed model I did over Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes.

Students were asked to complete 6 annotations:  two “thoughts”, two “questions”, and two “epiphanies”.   I provided a basket of Post-It notes in varying colors, sizes, and styles at every table area for students to use.  In addition, I gave every student a file folder with his/her name on it to place their sticky notes.  When students finished annotating at the end of the period, they organized and placed their notes in the folder to turn in to me.  The folder system is something I am trying so that I can grade annotation work with Post-Its but not have to collect a zillion bulky composition books.  When the folders are returned to students, they get a scored rubric of their work and can transfer the Post-It notes to their course binder.

I found this to be an easy way to nudge students to read a little more actively but not overwhelm them with the act of annotating.  We’ll use this system of collecting and sharing annotations when we begin our literary nonfiction and memoir book clubs in January as well as with our independent reading next semester.  I feel like the folders (which I keep once the students remove their work) are a simple but easy to use vehicle for collecting and checking the annotation as a formative assessment.  You can make a copy of the rubric I created by clicking here.

How do you encourage active reading and annotating in a meaningful and manageable way?