New Year, New Reading Goals

Students returned to school this past Monday, and our first day was all about goal setting with reading.  We will tackle writing goals in February since our focus will be extended writing pieces in February and March.

Quarterly Reading Goals

Our first layer of goal setting was to think about reading goals for the third quarter.  Students were asked to identify:

  • Reflect on how many books you read 2nd quarter (students enter their completed AND abandoned books on a Google Form housed in our Canvas course LMS); I downloaded the spreadsheet to Excel and then ran a “pretty” printout using the mail merge wizard in Word.  I printed these on yellow paper for the students to have and keep and to tally their reading).
  • Identify book titles, genres, or authors they’d like to read.
  • The total number of books they hope to read between now and March 11 (end of the 3rd quarter grading period).
  • How many books do you want to read in your moderate Lexile zone?
  • How many books do you want to read in your demanding Lexile zone?
  • What resources might you use to help you choose books and accomplish your reading goals?

Our students took a 2nd Lexile measure with the Scholastic SRI tool in December, and we can generate all kinds of reports for those assessments.  I created a report that showed each student’s current Lexile and their easy, moderate, and demanding Lexile bands.  I cut these into strips and gave them to the students on Monday to help them think about goals.  We then put the goal setting sheet and Lexile strip into a sheet protector (provided by me) and into their notebooks, which we cleaned, refreshed, and re-organized after we completed our goal setting.

Current Book Reading Bookmark Goal

Using the same reading goal bookmark template I blogged about last semester, I modified it and printed new ones for Quarter 3 on yellow paper.  Students then set a goal to finish their current independent read and how many pages to read per day.  Like last semester, I keep a basket of bookmarks, current quarter calendars, and calculators.

Current Read Book Ticket

I’m not quite sure where I will put them just yet, but students are completing “Current Read” book tickets this semester.  I just wanted an easy and colorful way to make our current reads visible and public.  I have some ideas for using the wall outside my room, but I’m still mulling my options.

January Calendar

I always have a big picture map in my mind of how a month of instruction will look, but because of our nonfiction book clubs, I felt I really needed to pin down what we’re doing day by day for the remainder of January so that students can stay on point with their literary nonfiction/memoir book club work and for us to finish the primary club work by January 31.  I tend to improvise instruction based on how students are responding, so it is often hard for me to stick to an exact planned instructional calendar, but I feel like we’ll be able to adhere to the calendar as is.  We reviewed these on Tuesday earlier this week and placed in sheet protectors in the front of our course binders.

Your Thoughts

How do you like to kick off the beginning of a new semester?

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.



Personalizing Goals for Outside of School Reading Time


Last semester we tried as a grade level to require students to read a uniform number of minutes outside of school time.  I really wanted to stay away from reading logs or anything like that, so I provided my students a calendar to keep in their literacy notebooks to track their minutes.  Unfortunately, the endeavor was a big fail for many reasons.  Most of our 8th graders have not had an expectation for reading outside of school until this year, and our desire to not impose any accountability measures that might impede the joy of reading were a perfect storm for failure.    Students DO love reading in class, so that aspect is not the reason; I think just not having that mindset or habit of reading on their own time is the core challenge.

I will be the first to tell you I don’t have this piece of the puzzle figured out though I do have some resources I want to read and explore this summer to better contemplate how to nurture outside of school reading.  For now, I decided to let students set personalized goals for the next nine weeks.  We talked about how we are all juggling many responsibilities outside of school—clubs, sports, church, hobbies, family commitments, homework—and how that may impact the time we have at home to read.  We talked about setting a goal that would be realistic and doable yet would nudge them just a little and stretch them as readers.   The only responses that were not acceptable were “none” or “I don’t read outside of school.” Each student was asked to think about a goal for a total number of minutes to read each week and what that might look like in terms of days and time per day though the total number of minutes was the main focus.

We then took our goals and made them public in our classroom for easy reference:

I’m setting cycles of independent reading outside of class of 7-10 days.  At the beginning of the reading cycle, students receive a tracking sheet on a neon colored piece of paper; they update it each day as part of our “warm up” activity.   My plan is to then have them do a written reflection at the end of the cycle and to complete it in class.  We completed our first cycle this past Friday, and while I still need to take a second pass at reading student responses, most seem to have been pretty honest in their tracking of their target goal of minutes.  In addition, the responses to the reflection questions are also telling and revealing.

While I want my students to meet or exceed their goals for reading time outside of class, I hope that the personalized aspect of our reading goals will help students begin to cultivate a habit of making space in this busy non-school lives for reading.  These reading cycle reflections will become part of their literacy portfolios, and we’ll do a formative self-assessment at the end of this nine week grading period.  Right now I am really inspired by Julie Swinehart’s work with student reading identities, reflections, and goal setting; I think I might adapt her work for my 8th graders.

How are you nurturing habits of reading outside of school time with your secondary students?

New Year, New Semester: The One Word Project as Our Compass

Many teachers like to begin the school year or a new semester with a One Word reflection and/or art project to help students choose a focal point for their academic and personal lives.  I decided to kick off the new semester and new year earlier this month with our own variation on a One Word project.

We began with this reflection tool; students warmed up their thinking by responding to the first three questions.  We then talked about how reflection can hep us think about where we’ve been and where we want to go as learners and as individuals.

Next, we watched this short video to frame the “One Word” concept:

I then asked students to think about what might be one word that would represent the kind of learner and person they aspired to be in their school and home lives.  In our Canvas learning management system, I posted this list of words to help students who might be struggling to think of word choices.  Students used the second half of the reflection tool to brainstorm ten words; once students had generated ten words, they selected their top choice.

Once students selected their one word, they began writing a paragraph reflection using the guidelines, model paragraph, and writing checklist I posted in the assignment section of Canvas.  Students composed in Google Docs and then submitted their written reflection in Canvas.

We worked on thinking piece and composing our paragraphs for about three days in the computer lab and with our classroom Chromebooks.

I was impressed by the thought and depth of reflection many students, especially those in my 6th period, put into their paragraphs.  Many students really invested themselves both intellectually and emotionally in their word choices.  I definitely recommend frontloading this activity with the word selection piece and the written reflection before beginning the artwork.

Once students finished their written reflection, they could browse design ideas for inspiration to create their artistic representation of their one word.  I collected some examples from the web, but I primarily used examples in the slideshow from my fellow Language Arts teacher Jeanne Rountree and her 8th grade students.  After browsing some ideas on TPT, my requirements for the art piece included:

  • The one word should be crafted in a bold and prominent way on your paper.
  • You should repeat the word or a phrase of significance to you with the word in smaller paper.
  • Thoughtful use of color, hand-crafted fonts, and images should be used to enhance the message you want to convey about the importance of this one word to you.

I provided paper, colored pencils, markers, and rulers for students to use; most needed at least two class periods to craft their work.  Below is a gallery of their creations:

We now have our one word gallery going up in the front of the room so our words are there to help us stay the course on our aspirations and to serve as a compass.  How have you used a one word project in your classroom?


Adventures in American Lit Book Clubs, Part 4: Circle of Viewpoints Across Multiple Texts

In my last post, I shared how I set up “mixed” American Lit book club groups to facilitate a final cross-text discussion.  My 2A Honors class utilized the Making Thinking Visible strategy of Peeling the Fruit to make connections across texts.  For my 3B Honors class that met the following day, we utilized another Making Thinking Visible strategy called Circle of Viewpoints.

Just like the Period 2A class, Period 3B students were organized into mixed groups; this particular class required some adjustments at the beginning of class that due to an unusual number of absences.    However, the tweaking of groups did not take long, and students did the same silent written response and then “Turn and Talk” warm up thinking/discussion activities as 2A.  These activities took the first 30 minutes of class prior to our lunch break.  When students returned, we reviewed the protocols and instructions for looking at themes and big ideas across books through the Circle of Viewpoints lens:

Students were asking to craft their poster using the Circle of Viewpoints protocol:

  • The center of our circle was a big idea, issue, or theme that spoke to all of the books; group members selected this theme.
  • In the second layer of the circle, students identified a character from their books and choose to look at the theme/issue/big idea through that character’s eyes.
  • In the third layer, the students explained how the issue, theme, or big idea looked to that character through the character’s eyes.  Several students chose to write from a first person perspective; a few completed this task using a third person point of view.
  • The final outer layer provided students to post a big question–this could be a question that students had after engaging in the analysis or a question they felt their character might ask about the big idea, theme, or issue they were analyzing across texts.

Just like Peeling the Fruit, the Circle of Viewpoints thinking structure generated intense discussion in every group.  Most groups discussed their ideas first before sketching a rough draft and then crafting their posters.  Several students also pulled their annotation notes and organized them into a folder as a reference point for textual evidence to support their responses.

Just like Period 2A, we hung our posters around the room.  Because the activity did take the entire 90 minute block, we did not have time for a formal gallery walk, but many students took the initiative to walk about and examine what their peers had to say.


Though I wish we’d had more time for a formal gallery walk and subsequent whole class discussion, the activity was engaging for students and generated intellectual energy while giving students a chance to share and think about their books in a mixed book club setting.  Given that this was the final day of class prior to final exams and took place as AP and EOC exams were ending, I was pleased with the level of engagement I saw from students.

In my next and final post in this series, I’ll share some student reflections on the book club experience and how our semester long independent reading turned out to be a pivotal key in the success of the book clubs.  If you would like to read the previous posts in this series, you can access those posts easily below: