American literature

Adventures with American Lit Book Clubs, Part 1: Book Tasting

Prior to spring break in late March, I wrestled whether or not to do a whole novel study like the rest of the junior classes or take the plunge with book clubs and give students a choice in book study.  My interest in book clubs dates back to my graduate school days at the University of Georgia; I did an action research study on an after school book club under the supervision of Dr. Mary Ann Fitzgerald.  In addition, I completed an independent study in the summer of 2005 on literacy communities and sponsors of literacy (which included book clubs) under the direction of Dr. Mark Faust.

Though I supported literature circles and after school book clubs as a media specialist, I had never implemented book clubs in the classroom until this past spring with my seniors.  While whole novel study would have made my life simpler, I knew that book clubs would offer my 11th graders a new and memorable learning experience.  Inspired by the work of Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Julie Swinehart (who really helped me visualize the possibilities–thank you Julie!) , I decided to go for it.

After reviewing what titles were available in enough copies to work across four sections of classes with more than 140 students, I decided to offer these choices:

  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • Our Town
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Of Mice and Men

Our media specialist, Suzanne Gordon, pulled enough copies of the books so that every student would have a copy to browse and organized them by carts.  I then arrived and set up “tasting” groups by putting all 5 books at each student’s seat.  As students arrived, they found their table assignment and put away their bookbags.

I asked students to spend 12-15 minutes with each book; they could begin reading front to back, jump in the middle, or pick any starting point.  I also asked students to think about the cover and title as well as to read any “teaser” info on the back of the book.  Each student received a book tasting form to record their reactions and responses to the reading:

I projected a large clock on the screen that Ms. Gordon had set up for us, and students could track their own time and move along at their own pace.

 

When students had sampled all five books, I provided them a final evaluation form to complete for ranking their top picks:

It was fascinating to watch the students work and how they selected which books to sample in their own unique order.  You could easily tell by facial expressions when a student was really connecting with one of the novels or plays.  Most really invested themselves in the effort since they knew they would be living and breathing their top choice; most chose their top picks very carefully.

Once I got their work, I tallied the results for first choices for each period.  With the exception of roughly 3-5 students, I was able to give every student his/her first choice; those that did not get a first choice got a second choice.  Here is the breakdown of book assignments by period:

Book Title Class Period Number Needed
Of Mice and Men 2A Honors 9
Gatsby 2A 6
Catcher in the Rye 2A 14
Our Town 2A 0
Raisin in the Sun 2A 4
 
Of Mice and Men 4A CP 7
Gatsby 4A 3
Catcher in the Rye 4A 3
Our Town 4A 5
Raisin in the Sun 4A 11
 
Of Mice and Men 3B Honors 10
Gatsby 3B 7
Catcher in the Rye 3B 12
Our Town 3B 0
Raisin in the Sun 3B 4
 
Of Mice and Men 4B CP 8
Gatsby 4B 7
Catcher in the Rye 4B 13
Our Town 4B 0
Raisin in the Sun 4B 4

I compiled this list plus a “roster” of names and books by period so that our media center staff could easily pull the number of novels needed per period and to make sure each person got the novel he/she had picked.  I am indebted to Suzanne Gordon, our media specialist, and our media clerk, Kim Pierson, for their help and support with the book tasting and then the actual checking out of the novels!  In addition, I am thankful they not only gave us a three week loan period, but they have allowed us to keep the books up until the very last days of school; having been a media specialist in the recent past, I can appreciate the depth of their help!

In my next post, I will outline how I set up the reading schedules, “to do” tasks, student established norms for the book club meetings, and how we juggled this project with state Milestones/End of Course testing as well as various other tests.

Engage All Students in Quick But Meaningful Review with Everyone Up!

This is time of year  when many educators look at the calendar and begin to feel panic (or fully embrace the panic?) as they realize how quickly the remainder of the school year is slipping away.  I am most decidedly one of those teachers!  I need to finish our unit of study by the third week of March, yet I don’t want to “blow through” the material.  On the other hand, I don’t have the luxury of time to do many of the learning activities I’ve done through this school year simply because they are time consuming—even on a modified block schedule—and  despite the fact they are valuable learning structures.

On my lunch break yesterday, I was wracking my brain for a strategy to help my “A” day classes review and bring closure to our learning activities we started on Tuesday with Kate Chopin and “The Story of an Hour.” I came across a simple yet very effective strategy called “Everyone UP! Immediately I felt this approach might be the perfect fit.

Here is how I implemented it with my classes today:

  • Flashback:  On Tuesday, we began with a writer’s craft notebook prompt for notebook time as a means of bringing closure to our discussion of the use of point of view in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and to help students think about point of view in their books they have selected for choice reading time.  We jumped into Kate Chopin by reading a short biography of her together, and then I gave students some brief notes on what the cultural norms were for women during her time.   After listening to “The Story of an Hour” together and discussing it as we read and annotated together (we used the Common Lit version), students answered the four discussion questions from Common Lit (I downloaded and made copies of the questions for students knowing it would be integrated into our review work today).
  • Today, students completed a “Ticket in the Door” that asked them jot down the top 10 things they remembered or knew about the story.  Students then received a set of 15 questions that asked students to engage in some high level thinking questions; I called these the magic square reflections mainly because I created the handout with the questions in squares—somehow, this visual appearance makes the thinking work with the questions seem less intimidating for many of my students.
  • I told students to complete as many of the magic square questions as they could; they could also them complete them in any order.  Students used their copy of the text, their notes I provided them last week on Realism and Naturalism, and their story materials from earlier in the week.  I gave each of my three classes about 30-35 minutes to think and complete what they could.
  • At the end of the 30+ minute block, I asked them to put an x in any question boxes they had not completed, but I told them they would have an opportunity to add notes during our next activity.  I introduced Everyone Up as a game to help us review.  Here were our ground rules/protocols:

Everyone Up!  Our Approach

  1.  Everyone has to stand.  You cannot sit down until you answer a question correctly, and I clear you to return to your seat.
  2. You may use any of your Chopin materials.
  3. You must answer one question correctly; as I call out the questions, you choose when you want to participate.
  4. For questions that had multiple answers or interpretation, I will call upon more than one student; if you want to contribute, raise your hand so I know you want to add to the conversation.
  5. Anyone who wants to remain standing and do bonus questions after everyone has participated may do so.
  6. The only person talking is the one who has the floor.
  7. Raise your hand when you are ready to answer a question or add to a response.

We used our magic reflection square questions, our ticket in the door, and our Common Lit discussion questions as our basis for review.  This technique got everyone involved, yet students had control to choose to answer questions that were their strengths.  This participatory technique involved some movement  yet was not as frenzied or involved as our gallery walk and some of our other active discussion/conversation strategies are—in this case, that is exactly what I was looking for so we could wrap up our work with the story today and start fresh on Monday.  Though our version took more than 10 minutes, we had a rich review without taking up more than 30 minutes.  Several students commented they found this form of review helpful.

Even my most reluctant students were positive and eager to jump into the conversation; after students were cleared to sit, most continued to take notes and add to their existing work.  The activity itself was a formative assessment for me to hear understandings and any muddy points of confusion to circle back to on Monday if needed.  One final formative assessment for today was our exit ticket, one I crafted as a full size handout with  a “3-2-1” set of reflections:

  1.  Name three major understandings you have right now about the story that are significant and meaningful.  Provide textual evidence.
  2. What are two new insights and understandings you now have about “Story of an Hour”?
  3.  What is the most interesting idea you heard from a classmate today?  Why?  How did it help you or connect with you?  Who said it?

While the structure sounds simple, that is the beauty of it, and all students were involved in our review “game.”  I was elated that students who normally hate pair or group activities were upbeat and really shining when their turn (of their choosing) came to share with the class.  I will most definitely try this learning structure again later in the spring.

What “quick review” strategies do you like to use in your classroom and enable students to do the heavy lifting of the review?

Tackling Complex Texts with Think Tank Groups, Silent Gallery Walks, Noticings, and Reflections

Last week, four sections (two Honors Level and two CP) of my 11th ELA took on the challenge of deconstructing our reading of an excerpt of Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, Number 1 as we explore examples of persuasive texts across time periods and around themes of resilience and resistance.

Our primary essential questions included:

  • How do writers use rhetorical devices like parallelism and analogy to convey meaning and persuade?
  • How do writers use ethos, pathos, and logos to persuade an audience of an opinion or position on a topic/issue?

As students came into the room, the seating chart by “Think Tank” groups was projected on the board to help students find their new groups quickly.  After introducing some key literary terms students would need to know for breaking down the rhetoric of the essay, students received copies of our annotation codes (adapted from the work of Cris Tovani) at their table groups; these were delivered via my neon shop ticket pouches.  We first read the essay together a section at a time (thankfully, I have a copy of a pretty good reading with the textbook audio CD), and students annotated the text as we worked through the essay.

Next, each group received markers, lined tablet paper, and a task card ( created a total of nine) with a quote or passage to analyze and deconstruct along with guiding questions to scaffold this task.

Students had roughly 30-35 minutes to collaborate on their responses to the guiding questions and create a poster with the chart paper to share out to the class.  I walked around and answered questions, served as a sounding board, or redirected groups that might be straying off-task.

Originally, I planned for students to do oral presentations, but after one of my Honors classes struggled to keep up with their jot notes on each presentation, I realized that perhaps this was not the best way for groups to deliver their thinking.  I punted and modified the “share” portion of the activity to be a silent gallery walk, a move to that turned out to be the right one.

For the gallery walk, students had to visit each poster at its station where I had duplicated the task cards so everyone could see the passage/quote as well as the guiding question.  The graphic organizer I had designed for students to jot down ideas from the oral presentations transitioned perfectly into a notetaking graphic organizer for the silent gallery walk.

Students then had to jot down 2-3 key ideas or their big idea takeaways from the poster.  During the gallery walk, students:

  • Could move about the stations in any order.
  • Could not talk or carry their cell phones with them–either would result in a loss of points for the noticings activity.
  • Students needed to choose another poster hotspot to visit if there were more than 4-5 people at that center.

Once students completed their noticings and notes, they returned to their seats when ready to the do the final reflection at the end of the graphic organizer.  Students were asked to reflect on this question:  What idea or ideas have you heard today FROM OTHERS that has helped you better understand the Thomas Paine essay? Explain in 4-6 sentences, please.  The responses overwhelmingly identified points of clarification, but many students also commented how the collaborative walk and looking at other student work helped create an “a-ha!” moment for parts of the text that may have been confusing.

The culminating reflective activity was a writer’s notebook prompt (differentiated by and within different course levels) that asked students to think about the text as writers and to do some reflections on the writerly qualities of this persuasive essay.  Many used their silent gallery walk graphic organizer in conjunction with their copy of the essay to help them craft their responses.

My 4A CP class was the first  to complete the activity this way; the next day, my 3B Honors students did the activity through this approach.   When my 4B CP class followed them, they hung their posters next to or beneath the 3B posters, and students had a “meta” sort of experience as students recorded noticings from both classes.  I think students were even more engaged with the opportunity to “cross-pollinate” their thinking across classes; an Honors students from Period 2A who dropped by for makeup work whispered to me, “Is this an Honors class, too?” because she was so struck by how intensely focused they were in the gallery walk.  When I responded, “No, but they are working just as hard!” she exclaimed “Wow!”

On this note, I want to highlight that I did this activity across different “levels” of course sections.  I think one of the greatest disservices we do to students who are not in “Honors” levels courses is to exclude them from these kinds of learning activities that involve teamwork and deep thinking.  I made sure to heap the praise on at the end of class with Period 4B because their confidence has increased since the beginning of August, and I wanted to reinforce the belief I try to put forth each day we’re together that they are capable of doing academically challenging work.  The “glows” comments were also showered on my other CP class too as many of them do not see themselves as smart or able to do anything beyond a basic worksheet.  All students need opportunities to grow their academic capital as well as those social soft skills that are so important and come with collaborative learning experiences.   Sometimes it may be a struggle for both the students and the teacher when this kind of learning activity isn’t quite clicking, but it doesn’t mean we give up–instead, we scale back when needed and then try again from another approach or with additional supports to help students succeed.  Leveling and placement at the secondary level is a problematic issue, but that is another conversation for another day.

When my 2A class returned today, the group that originally struggled a bit with my original plan of oral presentations,  they completed their noticings by doing the silent gallery walk with three sets of posters–theirs along with Periods 3B and 4A.  In hindsight, I wish I had included the 4A posters, but it didn’t occur to me on the first day that a “meta” silent gallery walk would be a super cool learning experience for my students.

These photos are from this past Friday; today we had a third set of posters to grow our gallery walk, which I sadly forgot to photograph today but will add to the post in the morning.

Because this was a shorter text, I felt this was a prime opportunity to let students wrestle with a more challenging text and to build meaning together.  It is too easy to “spoon feed” students the answers we think they need to hear rather than letting them engage in meaning making for themselves.  I did provide scaffolding with the guiding questions and a menu of rhetorical devices on their task card, but aside from that, I did not provide any answers even when students wanted me to confirm they were correct.  Instead, I reflected the question back to them and would say, “What do you think?” and “How do you know?” to push their thinking.  The ninety minute block of time we have four days a week on our modified block schedule definitely lends itself to these kinds of learning experiences, and I feel it was worth the investment of time based on student responses on their graphic organizers as well as their writer’s notebook reflections.

How do you help students navigate complex texts and engage in meaning making?

Notebook Time: From Individual Writing to Think Tank Collaboration and Sharing

We are wading into our next unit and looking at a variety of essential questions across different time periods and genres in my 11th English Language Arts classes.  To set us up for work we’ll be doing with some selections from Thomas Paine in the next few days, last week we began with our latest Writer’s Notebook:  Entry #9:

After thinking and writing for 12-15 minutes, students worked in “think tanks” to collaborate and share out their answers as a poster using the following questions.  You will note three of these talking points ask students to pull together their thinking for the writer’s notebook prompts, and the fourth nudges them in a different direction.  Both the notebook prompts and instructions for our think tank work were housed in my trusty neon workshop ticket pouches!

Students collaborated on their posters for another 10-15 minutes before we did our group share out with poster presentations.  This way of doing notebook share time was not only different, but it gave students opportunities to interact and crowdsource their ideas in small groups and with the entire class.  Everyone contributed to the conversation in some level, and the ideas they generated in terms of current event topics as well as their word lists for the fourth questions will lead us into a new notebook entry late this upcoming week as well as a new writing assignment using Gretchen Bernabei’s text structures (I will blog that, too!).

If you are looking for a way to either connect your notebook time to content you’ll be reading or writing, or if you are looking for a way to jazz up share time, this “think tank” method with posters created at conversation hotspots (a fancy term for “station”) is very easy to set up and organize and yields significant returns in terms of student talk, thinking, and sharing.  I was most impressed with how well my students worked together, their ideas, and how they articulated their thinking.  I’m including a gallery below of some of their efforts!  How do you mix up your use of notebook time and share time in your Language Arts classes?

 

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Notebook Invitations, Annotation Statements, and Sketchnoting for Introducing and Navigating Challenging Nonfiction

Like many of you, I have found Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to be a challenging text for students in terms of both content and vocabulary.  Most 11th grade teachers find this be an especially tedious text to teach; several of you on Twitter shared it has been a struggle to engage students with this text.  As I worked on my lesson plans for the selection, I wondered how on earth I could help students navigate the text in a meaningful way.  I decided in both my Honors level, team taught, and college-prep level junior classes (5 total sections) that we would work through the text over two days with these activities during our block instructional time:

  • A Writer’s Notebook Invitation (#6) to get students thinking about the words in the selection and what predictions they could make about the text based on a word cloud of the sermon without knowing the title of the work or that it was a sermon.
  • A Reader’s Theatre performance to introduce Puritan values and the Great Awakening to students.
  • “Chunked” reading together of the selection with “pause and reflect” time after each time to annotate, sketchnote, and identify unfamiliar and/or strong vocabulary from that specific section.

We first began with our Writer’s Notebook Invitation in which students were presented the following visual prompt and questions for thinking:

Students had a copies of the prompt and image at their table group areas in the neon ticket pouches I use to share information with students so that they could examine the word cloud  more closely.  Students could then volunteer to share all or part of their entry with the class during our share time; as part of our notebook process work, students who volunteer to share get a neon orange sticker on their notebook page that reminds both of us the student has shared and will get bonus points on their self-selected notebook assessment we do monthly.  This sharing time is important because students get to hear each other’s thinking aloud, and the ideas shared in this session helped us think about strategies for making predictions based on word choice and making inferences based on the word cloud. Some students even made connections to other texts they read last year in 10th grade like Greek myths or Dante’s Inferno.  This activity took roughly 30 minutes or a third of our ninety minute block time.

We then got up and moving around with the Reader’s Theatre performance.  Before jumping into the text, I provided students the first page of a two page graphic organizer we’d need for our annotating and sketchnoting activity.  We numbered each section or chunk 1-4; I then explained to students this graphic organizer would provide us a way of reading and thinking actively about the text and help us navigate this most complex text of our unit of study.  I explained that we do three things with the active reading graphic organizer during our “pause and reflect” time:

  1.  We would compose two annotation statements as part of our noticings and reflection on that section.  I provided students annotation codes and sentence starters to help them compose their reflections; these codes are based on Cris Tovani’s work in Chapter 5 of So What Do They Really Know? and annotations as formative assessment.
  2. Sketchnoting:  we created a graphic or visual representation of what we “saw” in our minds as we read that section.
  3. Vocabulary: we recorded unfamiliar vocabulary; we also captured words that were strong or vivid word choices that appealed to our emotions.

In each class on this first day of the activity, we were able to finish anywhere from 2-4 sections in class (4B lost time due to an unexpected fire drill).   Students had copies of the annotation codes and sentence starters in their neon pouches, and I repeated the instructions during each “pause and reflect” session after we read a chunk or section of text.

Students could read ahead if they finished early, and students could take their work home if they needed to finish their work that evening.  I was truly astonished by the thinking I saw in their written AND in their visual representations across all classes.

 

  

 

Many students shared they liked this process, especially the sketchnotes; several made it a point to use their colored pencils or to put extra time and effort into their written and visual work.

We repeated this process for the remaining sections that we read and reflected upon on Day 2 (Thursday, August 31 and Friday, September 1).  Students received the second page of the graphic organizer upon arrival, and we finished up our reading and reflection work.  They then had the remainder of the period to finish their graphic organizer work if needed before completing a self-assessment of their self-selected best “section” or chunk.

Students completed this self-assessment ticket and stapled it to their work; I’ll collect these next week because students need their graphic organizer work for a creative mini-lit circle poster activity they’ll do in self-selected groups next week as we bring closure to this text before our unit test at the end of the week.  I plan to collect the hard copies of their work, but I plan to introduce Seesaw this month and use this tool for student portfolios and all of their self-assessment work.  In closing, we ended class time with some review questions; those who need extra time for either learning task could finish up at home over our long weekend.

One observation of note:  many students needed me to re-explain the instructions for self-assessment even after we reviewed them together.  I get the sense that this is not because they didn’t understand the instructions, but because many of them have had few opportunities to reflect on their work and explain what they did well in their work.  Some of them would even ask me to read what they wrote and ask me, “Is this good?”; I would read aloud what they had written and then ask them, “What do you think? How do you know?”  As I have blogged earlier this semester, I think it is really important for kids to engage in metacognition about their work and be intentional in evaluating their work and learning how to articulate when they have done something well instead of always looking to me the teacher as the final validation of “good.”

Based on my observations and what I read of the self-assessment as students showed me their work during class, I think this was a successful and meaningful learning activity for all my classes.  I definitely want to do more sketchnoting with students and was inspired by work I read from Shawna Coppola this summer as well as the pleathora of tweets from Tanny McGregor’s session at ILA this past July.    This was honestly my first attempt to introduce it to students, and I intentionally kept it simple for our initial efforts, but I hope to do some more intentional mini-lessons in the future.  These resources are my starting points, and I think you’ll find them helpful as well!

Last but not least, the video recording of Shawna and Tanny’s presentation:

Are you annotating and sketchnoting with students?  What are your best practices and tips?  I hope you’ll share here in the comment space below!