Finding Time to Teach a Love of Reading

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 No comments
From my perspective as an English teacher, 12 years into the game, it is our solemn responsibility to teach students argument and rhetorical/prose analysis and research and poetry and discussion techniques and source synthesis and structure and grammar and vocabulary- not to mention the 4Cs and how to create infographics, blogs, and other digital media. Even though I know that it is not the most relevant skill to their adult lives, I low-key love the moment when a student sees how Emily Dickinson is alternating iambic tetrameter with iambic trimeter and mixing in near rhyme to emphasize the pain of isolation. It is true exhilaration I feel when a student emails me from college to thank me for teaching her how to use an academic database. And don't even get me started on the LOVE I have for Spark Video, Whiteboard Animations, and Socratic Seminar. But those moments cannot come at the expense of stripping students of their love of reading. Over the years I have found myself asking, why can't we find a way to dissect logical fallacies through close reading without making every text a chore? The challenge of finding time, space, and energy to teach the standards, soft skills, technology, AND encourage a love of independent choice reading is one of the biggest challenges of my career right now. Here is how I am attempting to meet the challenge:

Giving students time and goals. 

This was the biggest hurdle for me. When I first took on the challenge of getting students to read more independent, choice books, I saw it as an extra, side assignment that I could mandate students complete 100% out of class. I didn't want to "waste" any of my precious instructional minutes. And it was a total flop. Students procrastinated, blew off the reading time, and did a lot of fake reading. We couldn't have meaningful conferences along the way because I couldn't sit beside them while they were reading. The adage was true: you have time for what you make time for. 

So I made a change. Now I reserve the first few minutes of class for independent reading.  We set a timer and read. That communal reading time means that we can see what everyone is reading. We can have quick informal conferences. We can recommend books to each other. We can also see who is not making much progress in a particular book and make some recommendations about an alternative book or give tips for fitting reading into a busy student schedule. Even with the time given in class, I expect my students to read outside of class and I challenge them to read at least 2 books of their choice per quarter. Even though it is certainly not my only priority as an English teacher, students' reading lives are a priority to me and so for now I feel good about giving time to read and the gentle nudge toward quantity.

Helping students get good books in their hands and give them a lot of choices.

Last year, I got lucky and had the wonderful teacher librarian, Heidi Resnik who could shoulder a big part of the load. She used the library budget to buy high-interest, relevant books; she book talked to my students; she asked them about their reading life. Most of our OUHSD schools are exceedingly fortunate to have dedicated teacher librarians.  Unfortunately for me, my career has been a bit out of the norm, and I have only had that one year with a teacher librarian.  Every other year of my career, I have been completely without library support.

To compensate, I've tried to build my classroom library with the help of donorschoose.  I've also purchased my fair share out of my own pocket and put a lot of YA on my Christmas/Birthday lists for my family to gift me. Luckily, I love reading young adult fiction, so there is no sacrifice there! I've also found students willing to donate good books to my classroom library.  I am no Penny Kittle, but we have a healthy stash of inclusive and relevant books. 

Not overdoing the assessment.

This is another substantial challenge for me. I am naturally inclined to seek hard data. I don't want to let anything slip through the cracks. But I think I have to let go of this tendency in order to give students the time and space to read. Nothing sucks the joy out of reading like logging, summarizing, and journaling everyday. That being said, I don't feel comfortable letting go of all assessment.  Here is what I am trying right now; I'd love to hear what other teachers are doing for assessment in this area: 

Interactive Journals: 

About every 2-3 weeks, students tell me in 2-3 sentences how their reading life is going.  They may rate their book, give a reaction, or make a connection. I write back to them with my take or questions.  We use google slides for this interaction so that students can quickly copy a new slide to the beginning of the deck each time they respond.  We also keep two lists of books on this deck: 1. books I've read 2. books I want to read next. Here is a link to a copy of generic template we are using. Because these journals are short and only every few weeks, I hope that they serve as a check in and not a chore.

Student Book Recommendations:

I got this idea from the fabulous Jen Roberts who wrote about her book recommendations here. Basically, students use a collaborative slide deck to write book recommendations for their peers. Amplifying student voices is a much more powerful way to reach other students! Here is a copy of the template we use.

Student Book Talks: 

Unfortunately, I haven't fit student book talks in to this year yet, but last year my favorite days were the student book talk days! This blog is reminding me to fit this into our schedule too.

Listen to students talk: 

The simplest and probably the most effective assessment comes from just talking to students about what they are reading and listening to them as they talk to each other.

Google Forms and Spreadsheets:

I also use a google form and the related spreadsheet with conditional formatting that is described in this blog post from Jen Roberts and Alice Keeler. The data I collect here is for myself so that I can see trends and check in with students.

Sharing my book love and amplifying student recommendations. 

Another simple strategy for encouraging students to read is just to share what I am reading.  I talk very briefly about it in class and I tweet book recommendations when I think of it.  Through a very nonscientific study, I have concluded that the love of reading is contagious. 

I also keep a piece of large chart paper by my desk for students to add their recommendations for me to read next. It is pretty cool to learn from students in this way and evaluate my own reading life through their lens.

Staying inspired by other educators. 

Other teachers online, in professional development, and in real life keep me motivated to keep up the good fight.  Here are a few of the most inspirational to me at the moment: 
  1. Book Love180 Days, and everything from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher
  2. Project Lit Community and #DisruptTexts
  3. Local Teachers like the ones below! 

How are you finding time to encourage the love of reading in your English class? I'd love to hear your ideas on twitter or in the comment section below.

Student Centered Literature Discussions with TQE

Saturday, November 3, 2018 1 comment

I recently listened to this podcast from Cult of Pedagogy, which was about the TQE strategy developed by Marisa Thompson, who wrote a blog post about it here. 

I was inspired to try TQE in my classroom and I have to tell you that I am loving it so far! I highly recommend that you start with the experts, by checking out the links above.  Below is a brief description of the strategy and explanation of how it is working for my class so far! We are currently using TQE as a strategy for our daily reading of the graphic novel March: Book One by Congressman John Lewis.  I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, and/or suggestions in the comment section below. 

What is TQE? 

TQE is a method for student-centered discussion around a text. The acronym stands for Thought, Question, Epiphany. Students are asked to read a text and generate lingering thoughts, critical thinking questions, and epiphanies. Students are encouraged to dig deeply into the text to ask questions or have revelations about the themes, symbolism, author's craft, or other literary analysis.  See Marisa Thompson's original blog post for how she teaches this part. This is the type of strategy that is best when used repeatedly across a whole unit. With experience, students get better at the initial thinking and questioning as well as the discussion portion. 

Step 1: Have students read a chapter or section and come to class with Thoughts, Questions, or Epiphanies about the text.  

This step is important because it de-centers the teacher as the holder of knowledge and worthy questioning.  With guidance, students become the center of learning and discussion. 

Step 2: Have small groups meet to share and discuss their TQEs, picking 2 to share with the class. 

I have wipeboards and whiteboards around the room for each group to write their TQEs. During the discussion that follows, we are literally surrounded by student-driven topics. The small groups give students a place to answer points of plot clarification and discern the best topics for an overall discussion. 

Step 3: Have a Socratic seminar-style discussion about the student-generated thoughts, questions, and epiphanies. 

In the seminar, we have been focusing on: 1. Developing the argument, 2. Adding textual evidence. 3. Providing Counterarguments, 4. Connecting to historical and current events, and 5. Analyzing the author's purpose. 

Step 4: Use student-centered discussion topics as the basis for critical writing assignments.

I love the ownership that TQE offers to students and the transformation of the role of the teacher from lecturer to coach. What do you think?