Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Preparing for Book Clubs...RIGHT NOW

This morning I had the pleasure of co-presenting with the uber-brilliant Leah O'Donnell. Follow her blog here. Her intelligence exceeds mine, so every time I present with her I consequently appear to be more knowledgable than I actually am. But I will give all the credit where credit is due. In this case, all the credit to my post belongs to her.

The title of our PD was "Close Reading to Transition to Book Clubs"; two topics that do not often sit well with teachers. Since my last post was dedicated to close reading, I'm choosing to focus mostly on book clubs this time around.

Quality book clubs where students engage in reciprocal conversation about character motivation, overarching theme and symbolism- have you seen this in real life? Maybe once or twice. I usually have to rely on watching the videos put out by the wonders out of The Reading and Writing Project (do not trust any old Youtube video) to really see accountable talk and deep interpretation in action. The big question we set out to answer today was:

How can we get our students to the point where they are able to independently engage in a quality book club? 

Here a few things to consider implementing NOW in order to adequately prepare your kids for accountable conversation and higher level thinking. 

Plan ahead! 

You already have taught a boatload of comprehension strategies. Consider integrating some CCSS speaking and listening standards that you might need to address as you continue to teach comprehension strategies. Get the kids to practice the strategy of listening and appropriately responding. This can be done during your morning meeting, in line for the bathroom, or while teaching another content area. Keep in mind that the speaking and listening standards transcend all areas of the curriculum, and should not just be reserved for your literacy instruction. Pepper in conversation mini lessons throughout your unit. Engage kids in conversation during your small groups in reading. Begin having kids share out to their partners during your designated share time within your reading workshop. Make conversations meaningful in your classroom. 

Listen, Think, Grow Ideas

As you incorporate the CCSS Speaking and Listening standards, begin to teach this formula to your students. It's less important that a student names what she's doing than just naturally begins to think and converse in this way. This is an integral part of the independent piece to book clubs. Kids need to be able to take an idea and expand on it, not just spew out their thoughts from their post-its. This needs to be explicitly taught and modeled. In order to grow ideas, kids need to employ reading strategies that may or may not have been previously taught. It's a good rule of thumb to always go back to the CCSS Reading standards to see what your final goal should be for your grade level. Consider unpacking the standards with your literacy coach as your guide. 

Incorporate Close Reading

Close reading (as I have preached about in the past) is the act of student making meaning and gathering a deeper understanding of something that is read/heard/viewed independently. Close reading is a strategy that should be taught explicitly (Read with a Lens/Identify Patterns/Make Interpretations), but sparingly. I advise you to start with something engaging (like the close reading of a pop song) when introducing it to a class for the first time. The whole idea in close reading is to get a kid to that a-ha moment when she realize for the first time that life (or maybe in her case, her favorite song) has layers of meaning. The idea is to get a student to question and not take everything she comes across at face value. And I beg you, please don't use close reading as a test-prep strategy. It is almost guaranteed that a student will remember the time she realized that her favorite song was not actually about a lion, but rather a rally cry for self-empowerment over the time when she reread an article on hibernating black bears in northern Wisconsin. I'm not saying there isn't value in this style of close reading, just make sure you've got the kids' attention before using it for your own agenda. Finally, be wary of overusing this strategy. It should only be done 4-6 times within a given unit. You have been warned. 

Create Partnerships

Group students into permanent partnerships. This is a good use of time for many reason, a few of which I will list here: 1) A student knows exactly whom they should pair up with for a turn and talk during your mini lesson 2) You can create permanent seating arrangements based on the pairings 3) When it comes time to share, students know exactly whom they are supposed to be sharing with. 
Bottom line: it saves a substantial amount of time in the long run. 

Final Thoughts

There is a lot more to be said on the topic of book clubs. The aforementioned is food for thought. If you do anything at all, try to implement more accountable talk within your mini lessons and meeting time. Book clubs are arguably the best part of teaching. You can get your kids to share-worthy book club status by adequately preparing them. Start now and you will be absolutely see the fruits of your labor come April/May. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Close Reading (more specifically, falling in love with close reading)

This blog is inspired by the wonderful authors of Falling in Love With Close Reading, the brilliant Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. You see, yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing these two in the flesh, so I am still on a high from their thoroughly engaging and enlightening presentation. While it is not out of character for me to get a little over zealous at professional development sessions, I have to admit that I was like a teenager at a punk rock show. The impossible seemed possible as I listened to Chris and Kate share their brilliant tactics for getting kids to read for new meaning or understanding. They are real people with tried and true ideas that you can apply and not to mention they are extremely funny and clever...but I digress. I did not title this post- Falling in Love With the Authors of Falling in Love With Close Reading, So let's talk about close reading. Here are the cliff notes...

First and foremost, it's important to state what close reading IS NOT:

  • essential to your instruction
  • rereading a text over and over
  • answering text dependent, teacher created questions (this means the teacher does all the thinking and consequently does all the learning) 
This is what close reading IS:
  • rereading for PURPOSE or VALUE
  • process that students internalize and apply to not only reading, but the world around them
Structure to teach close reading:
  1. Reread text with lens in mind (text evidence, word choice, text structure, argument, etc.)
  2. Look for patterns (feeling, emotion, issue, theme, etc.)
  3. Create new thinking (or add to understanding)
This structure really allows the teacher to make it our own. You can identify whatever lens you feel your class or small group needs and create engaging lessons from there. In order to teach close reading and get the students to actually make it a habit, you must engage in repetition of the act BUT be careful not to overkill the act. It is recommended that you teach the technique of close reading 4-6 times per unit. That is all. It's not a topic fit to create a unit around, but merely a method to get kids to create new meaning from texts, media, video, songs, etc. 

As we ready ourselves to begin teaching close reading in our classrooms, we need to think about our students. What will engage them? Lyrics to a pop song? A gross article about the human body? The most wonderful thing I heard yesterday (and I heard a lot of wonderfuls) was that we have to allow our students to take an intellectual risk in order to develop new thinking. Are you allowing your students to take that intellectual risk? 

If you ever have the chance to hear Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts speak, please do yourself a favor and go. They will gladly sign your book and take a picture with you, but most importantly, they will engage you. In the meantime, you should probably go buy their book. 

What a good looking group!