My Hope For You

Tomorrow is my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten. She is my youngest, so tomorrow will be bittersweet for me. As I reflect on our summer, I can’t help but think about my hopes for her year(s) to come.

Dear Daughter,

Where has the time gone? Just yesterday I was cradling you in my arms, and now I will be sending you off on a bus. You are ready for Kindergarten though. You have been ready for a while now. That fact doesn’t make this any easier though. As you embark on this new educational journey, I have so many hopes and dreams for you.

My hope is that you will create a vision for your future. Right now, you just want to be a kite flyer, but that will change once you start discovering the world. If not, be the best kite flyer that you can be. Maybe you will participate in kite-flying races, which could lead to falling in love with flying and become a pilot. Run with that dream, and don’t let anyone stop you.ValKF.jpeg

My hope is that you will be a learner. Be a sponge that just sucks up every ounce of information you receive. Enjoy it. Ask questions. Don’t settle for a mediocre answer.

My hope is that you will push through the struggle, and end up being better for it. Solve your own problems, and take pleasure in doing so. Yes ask questions, but not before you attempt something yourself.

My hope is that you will find a passion. Maybe you will fall in love with stories, like I eventually did. Maybe it will be geography, history, or science. Whatever it is, take that passion and run with it. Passion leads to discovery, and that’s what makes learning so much fun.

My hope is that you take advantage of your education. Education is a privilege that many people in this world do not have access to. Learn all that you can, and let it impact you.

Tomorrow is only the beginning of your public education. You are one determined, adventurous young lady, and I cannot wait to see all that you accomplish. Enjoy Year One!

Love,

Mommy

 

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Rules created by Amy Fast (@fastcranny)

NOTE: My hopes stem from a poster I saw on Twitter yesterday. Thank you to Amy Fast (@fastcranny) for creating such inspiring rules, and Meagan Wood (@mswood33) for sharing your poster! I will be making a similar poster for my classroom, for I have these same hopes for my students.

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Time to Disrupt Everyone’s Thinking

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Each summer, I aim to read at least 2-3 professional titles to improve my teaching. These titles always get me to reflect on what I do in my classroom, and then I decide if what I am doing is in the best interest of my students. The first title I finished this summer was Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst, and I am so glad it was my first choice. I found myself pumping my fist in agreement quite often. I loved their blunt wording, for I know their proven views will not be lost on any reader. Below are some of my takeaways from this essential title.

  1. If we want our children to read, it cannot be a chore. Mountains of packets, study guides, sticky notes, vocabulary worksheets, and other tasks like these can make reading downright boring for our kids. Reading needs to be more than just extracting information from the text. Yes, we need to teach students this skill, however, we need much more. As Beers and Probst state, “We have, while racing to the top, lowered our students’ vision of all that reading can be” (47). Instead of task after task, our students need time to simply read. We need to change their assumption that reading is always a chore (99). Let them find a book they are interested in. If they cannot find one, teach them how. Allow them to get sucked into a new world. Let them fall in love with a main character. We teachers must be willing to embrace this change. Giving students time to read is far from wasting time. It’s opening our students’ eyes to what’s going on in the world. When students fall in love with books, they are more willing to try those challenging texts they may have once dreaded.
  2. Reading inspires positive change in our students. Once our students begin to fall in love with new titles, they become more empathetic. We are disrupting their thinking. They begin to consider the thoughts and feelings of the characters, and make connections to the people in their lives. As Beers and Probst say, “…if we can convince our students to read with compassion, perhaps they will begin to act with compassion” (51). It’s true. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve watched a student come into my classroom and throw Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt on my desk with tears in her eyes as she asks me, “Why didn’t you tell me that THAT happened to Joseph?” This student saw the good in a character that supposedly tried to kill one of his teachers. What a wonderful discussion we had that day! There are so many amazing titles out there, and more are coming out every week. We teachers need to get those titles into the hands of our students to inspire that change. Change equals learning, and learning equals growth.
  3. Students need a framework to work with while reading. The BHH framework that Beers and
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    The BHH poster from page 63 in Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.

    Probst introduce on page 62 is simple to remember, and really gets kids thinking. The “B” stands for what’s actually in the book. This is where students can summarize (using Somebody Wanted But So on page 64), but also use the signposts that Beers and Probst introduced in Notice & Note. Using these strategies, students can explain what they notice with specific detail, and it shows their thinking while reading instead of pinpointing what we want them to notice (like study guide questions can sometimes do). Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for giving students text-based questions, but I wholeheartedly believe that our time could be better spent on teaching students “fix-up strategies” to help them when they are struggling with the content. The first “H” stands for what’s in your head. This is where students can share what surprised them, what prior knowledge the author may have assumed they had, and what

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    Fix-up strategies from page 65 in Disrupting Thinking.

    changed or proved what they already knew (66). This is where teachers can really get a good look into what students are thinking about while reading, and thus differentiate instruction for struggling students, or challenge advanced readers. Finally, the second “H” stands for what’s in a student’s heart. This is where we can provide students with helpful questions to get them thinking about how topics or events in the book may have changed them. More than anything though, we need to remind students of the importance of enjoyment first (81). Let them enjoy the journey the book takes them on, only stopping when they really want to write something important. Otherwise, they can go back when done.

  4. Students need to be given time to talk about what they read. So often in English classrooms, students are asked to write about what they read (see #1 above), or a teacher leads a “discussion” that is really more of a quick question-answer session. During it, students could hunt and peck for the answer within the text, or just wait for another student to answer a tough question. The teacher is guiding the discussion, and thus determining what is important. Plus, a teacher cannot learn what students really understood about what they read. I used to do this myself. I thought it was my job to show students what was important within the text, but really I was just doing all the work for them. We need to have faith in our students. They realize a lot more than we give them credit for. There are many ways to incorporate discussions into our classroom. We could first do what Beers and Probst suggest that we doing while reading their book: turn and talk. I use this method a lot, as well as small group discussions. I used to be scared of them, for how would I know if they were staying focused during that given time? Well, there are ways. Last year, I used MicNote to record discussions. Students would have ten-minute discussions that I could then reference later on. Sometimes I had a student “recorder” who took notes. Other times, they participated in writing notebook conversations where they wrote down their thoughts in their writing notebooks, and then passed them to the next person so he/she could respond. There are many ways to hold our students accountable, and I found that these three methods told me more about what all students were thinking instead of just a few who were willing to raise their hands and answer for everyone.
  5. There are “best practices” for reading that definitely work. How do I know? I’ve
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    Chart F on page 103 of Disrupting Thinking.

    tried them. Anything new in our classroom takes time to get used to, but we can’t give up. Each year I am always revising, adding, and deleting what I do. Beers and Probst mention some “best practices” that show up in many other professional titles by Donald Graves, Richard Allington, Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller, and many others. I could go on and on. They are best practices for a reason: they have been proven to work. I agree with every portion of the chart on the right, but I’ll admit some were harder to implement than others. As I mentioned above in #4, getting students to talk without leading the discussion myself was tough for me. I had to disrupt my own thinking, but it was worth it. I was willing to accept failure in attempt make positive changes for my students (107). It was a risk I needed to take, and I was pleased with the results.

  6. A change in our mindset is oh so necessary. We all know by now that tests have driven what’s in our curriculum and have take over our schools. Teachers feel the need to teach to tests. Administrators feel obligated to mandate modules. We need to disrupt the thinking that teaching to the test is a best practice. It’s not. There is no research that proves this to be true. What is proven to work is mentioned in chart F above. As Beers and Probst say on page 110, “When the purpose motive for school is to help kids become confident, passionate, lifelong learners…then the profit motive has less to do with high test scores and more to do with engaged students.” There are schools that have already started to change their mindset, and are reaping the rewards. Students enjoy school more because they enjoy learning. And, yes, focusing on these essentials in our schools while raise those all-important test scores too.

    Beers and Probst conclude with reminding the reader that “all children in every school deserve an education that inspires curiosity, encourages creativity, requires critical thinking, urges collaboration, and nurtures compassion” (159). We teachers need to remind ourselves of this, and let go a bit. Tests should not be the first thing we think of. Our students should be. So it’s time to share this book with your co-workers and administrators. Disrupt their thinking and inspire them to change. Only when we remember this will we truly put our students first.

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Has your school made positive changes like those mentioned in Disrupting Thinking? If so, what did your school do, and how was it accomplished? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Notebook Know-How

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It’s only the first week of summer vacation, but I am already reflecting on the past year in preparation for next year. I’m pleased that my students read and wrote as much as they did. When comparing the two, I found, however, that students were more reluctant to write than read. They whined, complained, and some even downright refused to write in the beginning of the school year. I am pleased that their writing attitudes improved by June, and I think it was due to the one space they had more writing freedom: their writing notebooks. This past year, my students spent more time in their writing notebooks than they ever did in the past. I saw students fall in love with writing, with some students even creating their own writing notebooks for the summer. After last year, I now know that these notebooks will be a staple each and every year to come. I’m by no means an expert, but I see the value these notebooks hold. They helped my students grow as writers. Below are just some of the many ways we used them.

Writing Ideas – From the very beginning of the year, I want students to see their

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The inside cover of my 2016-2017 notebook

notebooks as a place to house their writing ideas. This begins with decorating the inside of their notebooks. I showed students some of mine from years past, and suggested that they bring in materials from home to decorate theirs. I supplied glue, tape, markers, and other art supplies to help them put it all together. Some students didn’t finish, so they took theirs home. That’s fine. The goal is to have inspiration when needed.

Besides decorating, my students spend a lot of time creating lists. I got this idea from Kelly Gallagher’s book, Write Like This. Students created lists of favorites, least favorites, difficult moments, and much more. This was just

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Some of my lists

one other reference tool for them to utilize throughout the school year when they were stuck. The image to the right is one of my lists. My students and I wrote memoirs at the beginning of the school year using one of their topics from a list.

Quickwrites – My students wrote something every day. More often than not, their writing was in the form of a quickwrite. These informal pieces allowed students the freedom they needed to just write. I heard Kelly Gallagher speak almost one year ago to this day, and one point he kept coming back to was the need for improving the amount of writing students do. They should be writing way more than we teachers could ever grade. This is where quickwrites come in handy. Quickwrites are short, 2-4 minutes of writing without taking

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A quickwrite about a photograph.

a break. Students simply wrote what came to them. Writing skills are not assessed, so this alleviated stress. Some prompts had a slight connection to the content in class, and sometimes they were completely random. My students loved the freedom that this type of writing allowed.

Studying a Writer’s Craft and Imitating It – The teaching of writing skills can be quite difficult. I have read many books on the subject (see the list below), and one similarity they all have is the need to learn from published authors. This is where reading and writing are intimately connected. Strong readers will notice writing strategies in text, while others will not be able to look beyond comprehending the text. Enter the writing notebook. We teachers can give students small passages to study and analyze as a whole class, in small groups, and eventually independently. Once students do this, they should then attempt to imitate at least one of the strategies. I got this idea from Writing with Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, and after trying it I immediately saw success. My students enjoyed

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My attempt at imitating a writing strategy.

the freedom to write about whatever topic they wanted, as long as they attempted the same writing strategy. They came to look forward to this by the end of the school year, and all the while they were growing as writers.

Writing About Reading – I saved this topic for the end because it technically combines the others mentioned above. Literary analysis is just one of the many types of writing students practice in my classroom. Sometimes they wrote about their IR books. These writing topics vary, for at first some of my lower level readers just needed the space to get down what they remembered about their books, while higher level readers immediately began sharing what surprised them and how the book impacted their thinking. We also wrote about whole-class texts as well. Sometimes it was a poem, and other times it was an excerpt from a challenging novel. Sometimes students attempted to imitate a writing strategy within the text, and other times they were using a Notice and Note signpost to explain the Aha moment they noticed, or how a Contract and Contradiction connected to a theme. I found that the possibilities were endless.

Want to learn more about how to use a writing notebook in your classroom? Check out these books that revised my thinking:

How do you use a notebook in your classroom? Feel free to share in the Comments box below.

Some IR Answers

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I am a teacher who believes in reading. I read what my students read, and I read educational research to learn how to better my teaching. I want to do what’s best for my students. Independent reading is what’s best for our students; however, ever since I started devoting class time for it, I have received questions about why. I get it. Take a peak in my classroom during that time, and all one would see is students with their heads in a book. One might wonder, what are they getting out of this? Why waste this kind of time? 

Before I go into what’s really happening during this reading time, we first need to dive into the research. Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, put together an extensive list on her blog of the many reports, professional books, and journal articles that back up the need for independent reading. It’s not a waste of time. If you don’t believe me, take a look. Each one is a credible piece of research. Each one is written by a reading expert. Each one proves the following:

  • Volume matters. The more reading students do, the more reading proficiency can improve. Increased volume begins with increased motivation on the part of the teacher and students.
  • Choice matters. ALL students are more willing to read what interests them. Struggling readers want books they can comprehend and enjoy. When we have a variety of reading levels in one class, there is no one-size-fits-all novel. We first need our students to fall in love with reading. Only then will they be more willing to venture outside of their comfort zones.
  • Time matters. Children need time to read every day, even if it’s only ten minutes. They need time to search through libraries, get recommendations, and share their books with one another. We teachers can tell students to read at home, but that will not start happening on a consistent basis until students find titles they love.
  • Access matters. Classroom libraries give students visible proof that reading is important in the eyes of their teachers. Our students cannot find the latest and greatest titles if they walk into a classroom without a library.
  • Knowledge matters. If we teachers do not have knowledge about the latest and greatest titles, we cannot recommend books to our students. We need to know a wide variety–all genres and levels–for we have a wide variety of readers. We need to be readers ourselves.

Knowing all of this, I make sure to give my students time to read in class every single day. Like I said above, if someone were to look into my classroom during this time, it may appear that students are simply reading and I, their teacher, am doing nothing. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

What am I doing while students are reading?

I am NOT reading while they read. My book talks and displays in my classroom prove that I read. Students don’t need to see me read to know that I am doing it.

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One of the many “book displays” in my classroom. 

I am collecting data. Each day I write down the titles students are reading, as well as they page they are on. I started out using the form in Penny Kittle’s Book Love, and then modified it to fit my needs. With the help of the technology integrator at my school, I now have a spreadsheet for each class that adds up the amount of pages students read, as well as organizes the notes I keep about each student. (See the image below.) Not only can I collect the amount of pages students read, but I can also find patterns in student behavior (“chronic abandoners” and avoiders, as well as what students love and dislike).

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A screenshot of one class spreadsheet. 

I am conferring with students. From Day 1, I begin to learn about my students as readers. I start with an initial survey about likes and dislikes, and go from there. While they are reading, I confer with students to see how their books are going (see “Comments” column above). This is where I can find out if they are comprehending what they read, whether or not they like their books, and make sure they are not fake reading. All of this takes a lot practice on my part, but I have learned a lot over the years. I know I still have more to learn. Within the first few weeks, many students see that they cannot “fake” these conversations. They do the majority of the talking, so if they are not reading, they have nothing authentic to say. If they tell me they don’t understand what they are reading, I can guide them toward a new title. If “I don’t understand” becomes a pattern, I do some more digging to figure out why. 

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The results from my 2017 end-of-the-year survey.

What happens after students finish reading? 

The reading students do at the beginning of my class is vital. Once students fall in love with that first book, they begin to believe that there are other books and stories out there that could interest them. To many, their teacher becomes trustworthy and a go-to source for books. That means when I pick out a harder excerpt to study, many are more willing to read it.

Besides reading, my students write every single day. Reading more helps their writing skills improve. They use their writing notebooks to think about what they read. They practice analyzing texts by thinking about what surprised them, what stood out to them, and how a text impacted them. They study the craft of their favorite writers, along with writers I choose for them, by logging favorite sentences and trying to imitate them (see below). They read mentor texts and use identified writing techniques to improve their own writing. Independent reading is truly the stepping stone in my classroom.

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An excerpt from my writing notebook. I write with my students, often sharing my writing with them.

An Important Reminder  

I know that independent reading is not in every classroom, and until it is, we teachers that incorporate it will continue to receive questions about it. Please continue to do so! Just like with our students, we need to encourage these questions, for they can lead to understanding. If you don’t believe independent reading is helpful, go read some of the research. If you want to know what is happening in the classroom, go watch a teacher. This is how we learn.

In addition to Donalyn’s invaluable list, here are some professional books that have shaped my thinking about independent reading:

The Class of 2020’s Favorite Books of the Year

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What do high school students want to read? This question is one that countless teachers ponder, for, as many of us know, a large percentage of high school students don’t like to read. I’d like to think my classroom is different. After polling my 88 students yesterday, all but 10 students said they enjoy reading more now than they did last September. Of those 10, only 2 of those students still rated reading as something they don’t like doing; the other 8 students were avid readers to begin with. That’s progress! This same poll asked students to chose a favorite book, or books, from this school year. After reviewing the list, what stood out more than anything else was the wide variety of genres, reading levels, and topics. (Only one student said I didn’t like any books, while another students said she loved them all.) Giving students choice in what they read matters.

The novel that received the most votes was All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Many students chose to read this title because Jason and Brendan came to visit our school in April. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon came in second place, followed by Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. The list is organized by the author’s last name. Enjoy looking over the titles my students fell in love with.

NOTE: If a title received more than one vote, there is a bold number next to it stating the amount of times it was chosen.
  • Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
  • Booked by Kwame Alexander
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • If at Birth You Don’t Succeed by Zach Anner
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • Sometimes It Happens by Lauren Barnholdt (2X)
  • The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  • Forever by Judy Blume (4X)
  • Awkward by Svetlana Chmacova
  • Stolen by Lucy Christopher
  • Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  • Armada by Ernest Cline
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2X)
  • Flower by Elizabeth Craft and Shea Olsen
  • The Living by Matt de la Pena
  • Gym Candy by Carl Deuker
  • The Devil You Know by Trish Doller
  • Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
  • Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller
  • Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
  • Life Uploaded by Sierra Furtado
  • The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
  • Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
  • Under the Lights by Abbi Glines
  • Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines
  • Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green (2X)
  • No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale
  • Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen by Kathleen Hale
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Enemy by Charlie Higson
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins (2X)
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2X)
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (2X)
  • The Illuminae Files (whole series) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  • Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
  • Butter by Erin Jade Lange
  • No Easy Way Out by Dayna Lorentz
  • Fast Break by Mike Lupica
  • Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (2X)
  • Wake by Lisa McMann
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • Yummy by G. Neri
  • A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer
  • Wings by Aprilynne Pike
  • The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
  • The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (10X)
  • The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds (5X)
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (whole series) by Ransom Riggs
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
  • Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (3X)
  • The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • Homeboyz by Alan Sitomer
  • The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
  • The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith (2X)
  • Winger by Andrew Smith (4X)
  • Bone (whole series) by Jeff Smith
  • Saving Red by Sonia Sones
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (4X)
  • Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington
  • Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (6X)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany
  • What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (7X)
  • Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi

One of Those (Special) Days

Imagine watching each and every student walk into your room with a huge smile on their face. They sit down in a seat and immediately begin tapping their feet excitedly. Eager anticipation begins to bubble up as they imagine what will come in the next hour or so. For my students, today was one of those special days. My students got to meet the authors of All American Boys, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

My 9th graders have known about this author visit since the fall. We have been reading, planning, and preparing. The reading took place first. My students were hooked to the topic of the book before they read one page. Once they got to page 19, they literally couldn’t put it down. (Rashad Butler, one of the two main characters, reminds the readers, “Now, here’s what happened. Pay attention.”) Students had conversations about a tough topic, police brutality, but became better people because of it. Most importantly, this book got kids wanting to read. Once done with the book, we held a t-shirt contest to determine a design for a shirt students could buy. As the author visit neared, students that didn’t read the book earlier in the school year began reading it. Other students that did read it before started rereading it! They were ready.

Today I watched students truly enjoy what they were doing. Every single one of them was glued to the authors the moment they started speaking. They asked amazing questions that impressed the authors, and many of them stayed to get books and shirts signed, as well as take pictures. Below are just some of the many special moments they had. This post is not for me, but for my students. It will be their way to remember this special day.

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What the Research Can Teach Us

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Research. Saying this word to many high school students can make them groan. I hear it myself every year, so I am constantly revamping my research unit.  This year, I noticed that many of my students were struggling to find something to latch onto. Before 9th grade, they learned how search databases and use what they found to create projects, but they never wrote a paper. Because of this, my research unit is an introduction to many new skills. When we first got started, many students had already checked out. They followed the steps I gave them, but if you asked some of them what they would be doing with the research, many would have shrugged. The struggle was real. They were bored with the process not even one week in, so I tried to find something to hook them.

That “hook” ended up tying into the one aspect of my class that many students have latched on to: independent reading. We read in class every day, I share new titles in our classroom library, and I confer with them. I’m proud to say that almost all of my 9th graders are actively reading books of their choice. Well, almost all of them. One particular student, however, has been avoiding reading with as much determination as I put into promoting it. About two weeks ago, I noticed that, yet again, this student was refusing to read a book during our independent reading time. When I asked her why, she informed me that she didn’t need to read. She found it pointless. When I started mentioning some of the benefits, she replied with a snarky, “Says who?” That’s when my research topic was born.

What followed were multiple days of reading, sharing articles, organizing my ideas in outline, searching for more articles, and eventually creating a draft. I got frustrated at times, and my students saw that. They needed to see that, yes, teachers struggle too. I was also determined to change this one student’s mind about my topic, and that gave me a purpose for what I was doing. As I started sharing all the work I did with my students, they saw my determination to prove my point. I encouraged them to make sure they had that same desire, so some students immediately switched topics. They began seeing that becoming an expert on their topic would be a necessity if they wanted to write a strong paper.

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One portion of my graphic organizer that I showed my students while I was in the process of planning out my ideas.

Now, I’m not saying that just reading, planning, and writing along with my students was enough to get all students excited about research, but soon some of them began to see a purpose behind what they were doing. Many students began using my writing as a mentor text, which enabled them to make strides with their own. I also saw that my struggling readers and writers benefited from hearing me think aloud and share my own struggles in this process. Effort improved as well, for I started getting more questions from students about how I found an article that was useful, or what I did to find important information in my article (click here for more specific information about this topic). Most importantly, I found that many students were proud of all they learned about their topics, and they had the desire to share that knowledge with their audience.

Next week, my students will be finishing up their papers, and I must say I am quite proud of how well they are doing. I know I still have more revisions to make to this “unit,” but I have found that my students are much more successful than in years past. Many found that desire to acquire knowledge, they all learned necessary research skills, and yes one particular student even began to recognize why independent reading is so essential in her life.

Below is an excerpt from my “research paper draft” that I shared with my students:

One of the many reasons independent reading is beneficial to all students is because it improves vocabulary levels. Jerry Heverly, an English teacher at San Leandro High School in California, came to a realization that his own consistent independent reading helped him learn new words without even knowing it. Like other English teachers, he was always taught to teach vocabulary traditionally, meaning having students find dictionary definitions and complete word tests. With this traditional instruction, he found that “words ‘learned’ in September would be forgotten by December” (Heverly 98). After doing some research, Heverly came to the conclusion that “if you want a child to learn words, have him or her read” (99). He discovered that learning the meaning of words is a process, and that many children have vocabularies that contain many “partially-known words” (Heverly 99). Most importantly, he found that “readers learn words at more than twelve times the rate of those relying on direct instruction” (Heverly 99). This was all Heverly needed to change his way of teaching vocabulary, but other teachers aren’t as willing. Many educators believe that only they can teach vocabulary, and, therefore, it cannot be learned on its own. Independent reading provides an introduction to new vocabulary, as well as allows students to choose what they want to read so they are engaged. While reading on their own, they use context clues, pictures, and the structure of the text to help them decipher meaning (Heverly 100). Given these facts, it’s obvious that reading for enjoyment can be more beneficial to our students than direction instruction.

Like the direct instruction used to teach vocabulary, many schools require teachers to use reading programs that include scripted techniques to use when teaching reading. Although research proves that students are often engaged in the required activities, there was very little actual reading being done (Allington 57). Gail Ivey, who holds a PhD and Masters in reading education, states that “engagement, and thus more meaningful and productive reading, is most likely when readers feel a sense of autonomy (i.e., to choose what they read; to not be interrogated about their reading or monitored) and experience a sense of relevance in their reading.” In contrast, there is no proof that direct reading instruction can get students to that same level (Ivey). There is proof, however, that with direct interventions and strategies, many of the struggling readers did not show improvement (Allington 57). Why use these scripted programs is there is no proof that they work?

Even with all the research, some reading experts still do not agree that independent reading is effective. They feel that if children are reading silently, it will be difficult for a teacher to determine if they are comprehending what they read. To remedy this, teachers need to hold their students accountable. Tim Pruzinsky, an English teacher who teaches at the International School Bangkok in Thailand, states, “a thoughtful, strategic, and carefully implemented plan of action” (26) needs to be put in place. To start, a teacher must devote class time to independent reading. According to Richard Allington, “few poor readers remain at such slow rates when given the opportunity to practice reading in context daily” (57). In other words, practice is necessary for improvement. During that reading time, teachers should confer with students so they “get to know them as readers” (Pruzinsky 28). Students also need to be “hit with advertisements every day” (Przunisky 27), so book talks and read alouds are a must. They send an obvious message that reading matters. Finally, throughout the school year, students should complete reading-based projects where they assess their own reading growth. Pruzinsky decided to have his students rank their books in order of how difficult they were after reading Teri Lesesne’s book Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Then to Be. By holding students accountable, teachers can easily determine whether or not students are comprehending what they read and showing growth.

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How do you teach research skills in your classroom? Feel free to add your comment below.