New: Upcoming Presentation at GCTE 2018


After a long self-imposed hiatus from public speaking, I’m excited to be presenting a session in Athens, Georgia at the GCTE (Georgia Council of Teacher of English) in February.  Here is a preview of my session, Lift Every Voice and Sing: What Will Their Verses Be? Creating a Chorus of Student Conversations for Learning and Formative Assessment:

How might teachers move away from traditional lecture and give students ownership for leading conversations for learning? How are these students’ conversations rich “texts” for formative assessments? In this session, learn a diverse range of strategies for engaging students in conversations with themselves and each other for learning and critical thinking. Discover how simple tools like chart paper, Sharpie markers, sticky notes, and writer’s notebooks can be the springboard to igniting student learning and revealing what students understand. We will explore and “try out” learning structures that provide community building and meaningful academic talk ; we will inquire how these opportunities help students construct meaning through small and whole group conversations as well as conversations with themselves while providing teachers mediums for authentic formative assessment of student learning. Mediums we’ll explore will include but are not limited to gallery walks, conversation hotpots, table talk, revved up jigsaw chats, think tank groups, Seesaw, living carousel walks, and philosophical chairs. Participants will learn a variety of strategies and technology tools for generating academic talk and reflective thinking that can be adapted based on student needs.

My session is on Friday, February 9 during the A Breakout Session block from 8:00AM until 9:15 AM in Rooms F&G.  You can learn more about the conference here; several of my Lanier High colleagues are presenting, too, so check out this post from Dr. Kyle Jones to learn about those sessions!

Featured Header Photo Image Attribution: (used with permission under terms of the photo CC license)

Igniting Inquiry with Writer’s Notebooks, Conversations, Reading Stations, and See-Think-Wonder

This week (Tuesday and Wednesday) we have kicked off our first unit of study (early American literature) and the overarching question for our course, “What is an American?”  We will take an inquiry stance on this big question and think about the range of possibilities through the lenses of texts we read from the canon of American literature in different time periods, young adult or nonfiction reads that will be part of our choice reading/reader’s workshop that we’ll begin after Labor Day, and informational texts that students will be assigned and self-select for mini units of inquiry on issues and current events related to American culture and life.  By looking at this question through different kinds of texts and perspectives, we’ll build a rich and organic definition of what it means to be an American in the past, present, and future through a variety of lenses.

Today we began class by introducing our Writer’s Notebooks and protocols for notebook time.  Notebook time is designed to give students a dedicated space and time to write without fear of the dreaded red pen.  While students are encouraged to write as well as they can with correct spelling and grammar, the emphasis is on:

  1.  Using writing as a tool and medium for thinking.
  2.  Giving students opportunities to write in class; regular writing opportunities builds student capacity and fluency.
  3. Depth of thinking and ideas and evidence of effort from the student to push his/her thinking.

Students may use a spiral notebook, a composition book, or even an artist’s sketchbook as their writer’s notebooks.  This notebook is just for use as the writer’s notebook for this course and will stay in my classroom unless the student needs or wants to take it home to write in it until the next class meeting.

Here are some possibilities of what we might write in our writer’s notebook:

Here are our protocols for notebook time, which will usually be the very first thing we do at the beginning of class, but sometimes it may fall in the middle of class.

We began today by responding to the following prompts in our writer’s notebook:

Students wrote quietly for about 7-10 minutes; students then had the opportunity to either exchange notebooks and respond to a writing partner OR students circled/highlighted their most important ideas to share with their table group in an oral turn and talk.  Once students had shared with their small groups, they then decided as a group one interesting idea from the small group discussion to share with the entire class.  Each group also picked a spokesperson to share out in our lightning round big group share.

After we completed the whole class share lightning round session, students received the following graphic organizer and we reviewed the instructions together:

This learning structure is adapted from Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners 1st Edition.  The articles students could reflect upon after reading through the See/Think/Wonder strategy were a variety of informational texts that gave some kind of extended definition of Americans or they reflected survey data on how people defined “American.”  Some of our texts were strictly texts; other articles included data charts and graphs.  A total of eight reading stations were designed for students; below is an outline of our procedures for using and visiting the reading stations.  Our goal was to visit as many as we could and reflect with See/Think/Wonder within 25-35 minutes of class time.  You can view the articles we used here in this Google Drive folder.

I was so impressed by the level of engagement in each of my three classes today and the level of effort I saw from so many students!  I appreciate that students made a sincere effort to participate even when they visited a station that may have had a more challenging text to read.

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When we completed about 25-35 minutes of reading and reflecting, students returned to their assigned seats (everyone received seat assignments today!) to complete the ticket out the door reflection and to jot down or photograph our class Remind code.  Our next steps to complete and wrap up the activity will be for groups to build a collaborative See/Think/Wonder chart for one of the articles and share their thinking with the whole class.  Afterwards, each student will write a short mini-essay in which he/she will explain how he/she defines what it means to be an American.  This piece of writing will serve as our baseline for us to revisit periodically as move through the year and revise and update our perceptions and conceptualization of what defines our ideas of being American.

Gwinnett County Schools AKS (Standards)

Reading Informational AKS:  LA11.B.19: read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range, by the end of grade 11 (I)

Writing AKS:  LA11.C.29: write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences (I)

Speaking and Listening AKS:  LA11.D.30: initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (e.g., one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively (I)

Studio 409: Learning Space in Progress

If you read my previous blog, you know I’ve been very interested in the design of learning spaces for a number of years now.   I find that much of my work with library design easily translates into designing a classroom or learning studio space that aligns with the design drivers for impactful reading and writing instruction underscored by an inquiry stance on literacy.

Today was the first day I could bring a significant haul of items for my classroom as our school has been undergoing some significant upgrades and maintenance of our building infrastructure.  Even with the AC running in our building, it was a sweaty labor of love as we are mired in our miserable inferno known as the “Dog Days of Summer” here in Georgia! The classroom is a fairly large space, and I love that an interior door connects me to neighboring Language Arts teacher Glenn Chance—we hope to do some cross-grade collaboration and pollination with his freshmen and sophomores and my juniors and seniors through independent reading and book chats.  You’ll see this connecting door in the second video!

Another feature I like in addition to the size is the inclusion of two metal storage cabinets. These will make it much easier to keep supplies, like colored paper and bins of assorted markers/pens/Sharpies, organized and accessible without cluttering up the main space of the room.

Once the class roll numbers are firmed up, our helpful custodial staff will assist me in obtaining additional desks as I will need roughly 17 more desks so that I have enough seats for every student.   Right now I plan to start the year in small groups (see photos below), but of course, the seating is flexible and can be re-arranged for different activities and learning needs.

Like the Lovett School, I want to craft my room to design for these kinds of learning experiences (I am quoting from the Lovett Playbook here):

  • Designing with Writable Surfaces
  • Designing for Inquiry
  • Designing with Micro Environments
  • Designing with Ubiquitous Technology
  • Designing with Flexibility and Agility
  • Designing for Learning Groups

I also find that Lovett’s learning space design drivers work nicely for me:

  • Content:  what students know
  • Skills:  what students do
  • Mindsets:  how students think
  • Tools:  what students use to learn
  • People:  who students learn with
  • Environment:  where students learn

These design drivers intersect with many of the big ideas I’m thinking about as I start to make some more intentional and more pronounced shifts in my classroom that will be anchored by a growth mindset, inquiry, and strategic feedback that will be the core of elevating formative assessment.   The learning space should support these shifts, values, and practices.

Ultimately, I want the room to inviting, comfortable, and functional to support the different kinds of learning activities and structures we’ll be utilizing.    I want us to be able to quickly reconfigure the room for different learning experiences and to utilize every inch of the room.  I also want it to be easy for me and the students to move about, especially we are doing gallery walks, written conversation activities, station rotation activities , writing or reading conferences plus station rotations (we’re on a modified block, so I am excited to try more of these this year), and move about for conferencing and collaborative work whether it is small or larger group.

Most importantly, I want our classroom to be like a piece of writing in progress that we are writing and revising together as we go, a canvas that is filled with the pages of our narratives of learning.  When people come to our room, I want them to be “read” our stories of learning not only through what they see students doing and sharing in the room, but also through the room design.

I’ll now take you on a tour of the space and my reflections as I think through the design in progress.

Day 1:

I was happily surprised by the size of the room; my immediate reaction was that the cubicles would need to go as I didn’t have any need for them.

Day 2

Today I was able to begin arranging the room.  I still have plenty of work left to do in the next 10 days, but I now have a starting point with the room setup to move forward; when the students arrive and we begin living in the space, I expect more changes will come.  How students use the space will inform changes I make as the student response to the design and their input will be important.

Below I have shared a 360 view of the room and then some thoughts on each “zone” I’ve carved out or hope to carve out.

Figure 1:  Teacher Desk

I would prefer to not be tethered to a workstation to project (if you have ever had a wireless projector, you know how liberating that technology is!), and I had hoped to angle my teacher desk, but for now this is my tentative set up though it may still change.  I usually use my laptop for projection, but since this projector does not have wireless access (at least for now), I still need to think through whether I’ll use the desktop for dedicated projection or perhaps go with the laptop in conjunction with a slimmer and mobile standing desk.  I would love to be able to move the desktop station elsewhere to have at least one dedicated computer station for students to use.  Note:  the rainbow-colored hanging files lying across my desk were a wise investment last year–I’ll be hanging them up next week!

Figure 2:  Writing Conference Zone

I envision this area as the writing conference area where I can work with small groups or pairs (note the recessed area–I think it used to be a window in a previous life before they built our high school over part of the shell of the previous middle school).  Writing conferences were such a vital and essential part of my classroom last year that I cannot imagine a teaching life without them!

Two possible “wish” additions for the future:  either a mounted glass (clear) dry erase board, or perhaps a flat screen monitor where students could plug in their computers and project their work.  I would also love to replace this table next year with a Steelcase Verb Chevron or rectangle table with wheels.  For now, I am quite grateful to have a large rectangular table.   I expect to add some tools that I might mount on the wall or place in a rolling cart with drawers that will help facilitate our writing conferences (markers, mini dry erase boards, Sharpies, assorted post-it notes, a mobile chart (think elementary classroom ) where we could craft and reference anchor charts, demonstration notebooks built from student crafted work (see Kate and Maggie Roberts DIY Literacy here and here).   The Steelcase chair on the far right near the wall that you see is my very own–I snagged it for a song a year ago via Craigslist Atlanta!

Figure 3:  Reading Nooks + Small Collaborative Work Spaces

This wall is anchored by the two storage cabinets.  Right now I envision the locking file cabinet (for which I am also grateful!) as storage and a means of dividing the spaces to the left and right of the cabinet as two mini work areas for pairs.  I would like to pick up some bargain but functional (and modern looking–perhaps a midcentury vibe) chairs and perhaps small round coffee table where students could collaborate or peer write; these could also double as reading areas.  See this photo for what I might have in mind, especially the Campfire paper table with a dry erase surface; in addition, I love the long bookcases…I think I could probably find something like this at Ikea or Target and run it underneath the dry erase board.  Note the gray baskets perched on top of the file cabinet are for storing writer’s notebooks; I have not yet figured out where I’ll house those.

Figure 4:  Dry Erase Board Area and Bookcase

I am blessed to have this huge dry erase space; I am looking to get some additional dry erase surfaces I can mount elsewhere in the room (perhaps above the bookcase?) or utilize the bulletin board area to post the elements of our standards based curriculum (a framework adopted by Georgia):  the essential question, the warm-up (which I can also project with the LCD projector), the standard(s) for the day, a short description of the activity, the closing, and the assessment.  You’ll note the district has provided the nifty writable magnets for creating these labels!  Ideally, I want to use the board as student work and thinking space, so I want to move the SBC elements to another visible area of the room so that we have maximum writable space.

The bookcase, of course, will feature books and resources for students.  I can utilize the top of the bookcase to feature my awesome acrylic bookmark holder I purchased from Demco a couple of years ago as well as a “featured” set of books.  I still need more bookcases (ideally similar to what you see in the Steelcase photo above that would be sleek, modern, and fit beneath the board) and classroom books, but we also have a wonderfully stocked library as well as access to eBooks through Overdrive via the Gwinnett County Public Library.

Speaking of the Gwinnett County Public Library, Jennifer Lund and I had the opportunity to collaborate with them when we were the media specialists at Norcross High.  I am hopeful a new partnership could be formed, especially to support our project based writing (thank you Liz Prather for sparking ideas on this front) and community based writing (inspiration 1 (local connection–Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project/NWP—and inspiration 2 as well as inspiration 3—hmmm, One City Sugar Hill?!?! ). Perhaps we could even explore some of my students becoming student writers in residence at our local branch!  How cool would that be?

Figure 5:  Desks, Seating Configurations, and the Bulletin Board

Right now I think I need 17 more desks in order to have a minimum of 32.  I am experimenting with arranging the desks in these small clusters so that students can easily fit into the desks without sitting on top of each other.  I would MUCH prefer tables, but very few high school classroom teachers have them (anywhere!) as these style desks are still the standard, and of course, sturdy high quality furniture is not cheap to purchase and/or replace.  I am hopeful I can write a grant in the next year and perhaps begin infusing some of the tables and other furniture items I’d like to support the learning design of the classroom.

Until the rest of the desks arrive and I finish setting them up, I’m still not 100% sure about this set up (and I expect we won’t use it all the time).  Again, I will let the learning activities and student response lead the design; in addition, being flexible with seating arrangements will be key for different kinds of learning activities as some will be collaborative, and other times students need some more solitary space.

I also want to utilize the bulletin board in a meaningful way:  a showcase area for student work, perhaps student created anchor charts, and perhaps some kind of interactive element.  I need to put more thought into this over the next few days–I’ve not had one in a good while, so I’m excited to reinvent or repurpose it in a way that will support and celebrate student learning.

Next Steps

I still need to unpack books, bring in “cozy” elements to soften up the room, find some additional furniture, put up my hanging rainbow file folders (these will house makeup work and other essential resources since I have quite a few of these), establish an area where students will pick up any handouts for the day, and decide where and how to organize the primary supply area (stapler, tape, etc.) as well as a “healthy” area with Kleenexes and hand sanitizer.  I also want to sprinkle a touch whimsy in the space (I will channel Christina from Flip or Flop), but I’m still contemplating what that might be—it may not come to me until I meet the students.

I’m going to limit the wall art (I’ll still do it but be strategic!) I put up this year since I expect we’ll use the wall space for learning activities like I did last year, and I want to feature student crafted work in the room.  I also want to organize my bookcase in my work area and my desk this year so that I can easily find items when I need them.  I’ve also seen a few items at Target I may purchase in August to help me organize the classroom space with a functional yet modern look.

I believe room design is an evolving work in progress; as we let our design incubate and grow, I am fortunate that our beautiful library incorporates many of the design elements I desire, so I expect we’ll be utilizing that space frequently during 2017-18.  I also see the library being an extension of our learning studio, and it will also fill in gaps we may encounter with technology, either in the physical library space or with resources we can check out for us in the classroom, especially since I expect we’ll be using our eClass platform (Desire 2 Learn), Google Docs, and Shorthand heavily.  In addition, we also have a project room we can reserve and use with our classes or in conjunction with other classes as well.  Both of these great spaces are near my classroom, so I am eager to take advantage of them!

What is guiding your classroom design?  How is your classroom design evolving?  What resources have been helpful for you?

Resources and Readings: