Students need in-class time to read.

Every time I ask my students to reflect on our assigned reading, they tell me that they need time to read during class.

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But only 38% of my students have read 100% of their assigned, chosen novel, two weeks after the due date.

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Some of them are still working on finishing.

(Any students who have yet to finish have been given extended time to finish.  I don’t assess students on a book that they haven’t read.)

But some of them just faked it.

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I’m feeling a little defeated, but these anonymous, reflective surveys always help me refocus, and figure out how to support my students’ assigned reading.

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It’s been a really, really difficult year, and it’s only October.  
But I’ve also been blessed to teach some of the best kids I’ve ever known.

I’ve just got to keep climbing.

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I hiked 13 peaks in 23 days.

Change is good.  Change is hard.

My transition from a completely competency-based school to a school that’s still in transition has been a challenge.  My students made measurable gains and rediscovered the joy in reading, but I still ended the year feeling defeated.   And tired.

I just didn’t know how to deal.

boots

I’m not sure what I’ll do when the soles on these babes finally wear out, since EMS discontinued them years ago.  (Are cobblers still a thing?)

So I went hiking.  

Yes, I am a gigantic cliche of a woman by dealing with my feelings in the woods.

I’m blessed to live in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and even more blessed to live within ten miles of most of the trailheads in the Belknap Range.  I discovered that I could earn a patch by hiking all twelve peaks in the Belknaps, so I did.  In 23 days.  Because I’m a psycho.

The mountains in the Belknaps are small, by New Hampshire standards, ranging from 2384′ (Belknap) to 1670′ (Anna).  But small mountains can still be tough.  Hiking is hard, even when the peak seems small.

I did about 75% of these peaks solo, and about a quarter with my husband.  The hikes with my husband were great.  We laughed and complained and sang stupid songs together.   We ate granola bars and picked blueberries and danced together with our hiking poles.

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We were the only people on the top of Mt. Major, which I’m sure hasn’t happened since 1876.

My solo hikes were a little tougher, not because I’m afraid to hike alone; I don’t mind it at all.

But my phone died at the beginning of the month, and I was waiting for my map to arrive in the mail, so I had to hike these first peaks with handwritten directions and a compass, like ye olden days.

Sometimes, I had no clue where I was going and had to just figure it out.  I had nobody to sing to, and nobody to laugh with.  I had nobody to dance with but my hiking poles.

•••

Yesterday, I hiked my last three peaks:  Anna, Klem, and Mack.
9.3 miles.   Alone.
Literally:  I did not see another single person on the trail all day.

I started the journey up to Mt. Klem via the Round Pond Trail.  One of the toughest things for me to do when hiking solo is to pace myself so I don’t burn too much energy too quickly.    I am very bad at this.

klempresummitview

View just before the summit of Klem.

I always try my hardest to move slowly, but I’m end-driven.  I focus on a goal, and I (thoughtfully) get there as quickly as I can.  

There was a beautiful view just before the summit, but when I got to the summit of Mt. Klem:  nothing but trees. 

I refueled on some blueberries, and continued onto Mt. Mack.  I knew there wouldn’t be a view there either, but I was hopeful that I’d see some vistas on the way.

Nope.

Once I got to Mack, I had a choice:  I could hike 2.8 more miles out-and-back to my last peak in the Belknaps, Mt. Anna, or I could call it a day and head back to the car.

 

I’m nothing if not an overachieving psychopath, so I decided to keep going.

But as I started on this last leg, the trail started descending.  Quickly.
Which meant that I’d have to climb Mack all over again on my way back.

I was all in, though.  I sang songs to myself that included lyrics like, “I don’t want to climb this/damn mountain again/but I have to/if I want to go home!”

The descent continued.  And continued.  And finally, the trail started climbing again.

To another viewless summit.   

anna

Number 12!  I reached my goal!  I’m psyched!

mack again

Reaching the summit the second time was not as exciting as the first.

The climb back up Mack was brutal.  The trail was steep, and I was losing steam quickly.  I had to force myself to take slow, baby steps, because otherwise, I knew I’d burn out.

I’ve never had to reclimb a peak I’ve already climbed on the same hike, and man, it was just as tough as you’d imagine it could be.

All of the same obstacles were there, and I had to navigate around them.  But this time, I stumbled around a lot more.  Because I pushed myself too hard at the start, I was tired.

So tired.

•••

I had the goal of conquering the Belknaps in a summer, and instead, I did it in 23 days.  

As I hiked down to the parking lot yesterday, I thought about how much this last school year was like reclimbing Mt. Rand.

Because I’ve been teaching in a competency-based school for so long, I’d forgotten about how difficult the journey was to get there.  I forgot about the obstacles, the challenges, and just how exhausting it can be.  I forgot to move slowly, and to take baby steps.

I only remembered the view from the summit, and it was glorious.

As July comes to a close, I’m ready to continue this climb, because it’s what’s best for kids. 
All the same obstacles will be there, and I’ll have to navigate them all over again.
There may not be beautiful vistas along the way (but I bet there will be).
I may have to rely on handwritten directions.
I may not even have anyone to sing and dance with. 

But I know that it’s all up from here.

TL;DR:  Teaching is hard and so is hiking.

 

 

Reflections and Celebrations

Chain picWe read 989 choice books this year!
Each link = one book!

We made major gains in Real Reading this year.

As far as assigned novels, we started our year with The Great Gatsby as a whole class novel.   All students were provided with time to read in class, audiobook access, and small-group discussions.  It didn’t go very well, with only 22% of students actually reading the whole book.  We gave students choice in the next literature unit, on the 1930s, and it went better, with 54% of students reading their assigned (chosen) novel.

We continued using choice in assigned reading throughout the rest of the year.  Instead of this data improving as the year progressed, it stayed stagnant.
When we read our assigned (chosen) 1950s novel, 51% of students read the entire novel.  

chart

As we moved into our last and final literature unit with 1960s novels, I looked at ways to improve this data.  Instead of holding a 90 minute reading workshop a few times a week, we started holding a 20-minute workshop each day.

While we (my students, my co-teacher, and myself) loved having shorter bursts of reading workshop interspersed with our other classroom activities, I didn’t see the “green needle” move much from the center.  

In fact, it moved lower, with 43% of students reading the entire novel.

chart 60s

 

And because it’s my nature, I get reflective to the point of self-deprecation.
This bummed me out, especially considering last year’s data.

But one of my administrators reminded me this morning:  I can’t focus on the fact that the gains weren’t as large as I’d hoped they’d be.  What I need to focus on is the fact that my students made tremendous progress and gains in reading this year. 

Like, my kids read over 900 choice books and I’m obsessing over a pie chart?
I’m crazy.

I have a lot to consider and lots of changes I want to make in our workshop structure as we move forward next year.

Hopefully, we’ll make bigger gains that we did this year, but as long as we make gains, that’s worth celebrating.  

 

 

 

Mentor Text Monday! Or Wednesday! Or Friday!

We have a rotating schedule, and because of this, we only have 45 minute-long Monday classes.  This means that after we do our choice reading and quick writing, we only have 25 minutes left of class.  

That might sound stressful and hopeless for the workshop-minded teacher, but these short Mondays have been perfect for lessons around mentor texts, so this semester, I started Mentor Text Monday.  

I detest the word “mini-lesson” (like, isn’t a lesson just a lesson?) but maybe that’s just what this is.

When we worked with writing reviews,  I pulled a few reviews from Rolling Stone  and The A.V. Club and we went through them together as a class, with my copy on a document camera as I wrote all over the text, commenting on author choices and asking questions of the text (and my students).

When we wrote narratives, I used Chrissy Metz’s recent Glamour piece as a mentor text in a similar way.

But then later, after we’d had some practice together, students independently read a piece of testimony from OJ Simpson’s grand jury trial and revised it into a practice piece of writing before starting their own informative, eyewitness piece.

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(Side note:  They knew nothing about OJ Simpson!  Here I was, thinking I was picking cool, hip, interesting texts and I had to explain the entire trial before we even started reading…)

Our writing/workshop/revision process usually takes a few weeks per task, so on those Mentor Text Mondays that fall mid-workshop, I’ve played examples of our task from last semester’s podcast.  That’s been pretty fun; it’s given them guidance and gotten them excited (well, most of them) for this semester’s podcast.

Some weeks, we’ll have a long weekend, or a strange schedule, and our Mentor Text Mondays become Mentor Text Wednesdays or Mentor Text Fridays.  On those days, we work with these texts during our 90 minute block and then move into our new writing task, but I do think it works best (for my students, anyway!) in a shorter period. This short period, without an immediate follow-up task, gives them time to process and reflect before applying our analysis to their own piece.

18194927_10100743059245557_6095883277522096389_nWe’ve also read 69 choice books in my writing class this semester…29 last month!
(Those are mentor texts, too.)

We made a cool podcast and it was hard.

 

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A few of my senior boys, reading Last Stop on Market Street.

I was welcomed into my new writing course by the best damn group of students.
The bad thing about that?  Last week I had to say goodbye to them for the semester.

Our class was Introductory Writing, and was composed of students in grades 9-12.  At first, the idea of teaching writing to students who had either (1) just started high school, (2) were in their last year of high school, or (3) somewhere in the middle was completely and totally overwhelming.

But we jumped in.  The best thing about choices?  Everyone works with their own strengths and weaknesses and improves, regardless of their ability. These students were excited and motivated (most days, anyway) and willing to take risks in their writing.

For their final project, I knew that I wanted my students to create and market their writing in professional blogs and through a professional Twitter.

I also had the tremendously overwhelming idea that we’d create a podcast together, featuring our best works of the semester.  

I had absolutely no clue how to do this, but I listen to a lot of podcasts, so I figured that as long as we had recordings and background music, we’d pull it off, somehow.

It was hard.  I’d reserved the last two weeks of the semester for our devotion to recording, and I was glad I did.  On our first day, we ran out of working mics. Then, we discovered that most of the places on the Internet we’d wanted to use were blocked by our school filters. Then, my students suddenly became too nervous to talk in front of one another, which halted our recording progress.

In short, most things that could have gone wrong, did.

 

We pulled it off, somehow.
We used SoundCloud, voice memos, and all sorts of other strange means to record.  I used Reaper to produce the show, and my genius-musician husband provided the music.

My students named our production The Blank Page, which will become part of their legacy as students at our school, as we’ll keep adding episodes each semester.

Check out our first episode here and please SUBSCRIBE and rate us!  

TL;DR:  We made a cool podcast and it was hard.

 

Whole-Class Novel vs Genre Study: Data and Analysis

Well, I’ll start out by saying that although my data shows student progress, it’s not my fave data ever gathered.

On the first day of school, I gave all of my students a survey, asking them how much of their assigned reading they’d “faked” before this year.

In an anonymous survey, 93 students reported they had faked the following percentage of their assigned reading prior to this school year:

percentage-of-reading-faked-before-this-year
From here, I knew that we had some work to do.  We got started with choice reading through book passes, book talks, and conferencing.

In American Studies, our team has always taught The Great Gatsby as a whole-class novel in our first unit.  Although my teaching partners and I were a little worried about this, due to the difficulty of the text, we went forward.   If anything, I figured it would give me some data on how much students read in a whole-class novel.

We gave our students loads of background information, time to read in class, gave all students access to the audiobook, and had small and large class discussions.  In short, we gave our students everything we thought we could to help them complete the novel.

After the unit, 75 students reported out the following in an anonymous survey:

percentage-of-gatsby-read

Disappointing.  Despite our intervention, supports, and accommodations, less than 25% of our students read all of The Great Gatsby. When asked why, responses ranged from, “It was boring,” “It was too hard,” or “It wasn’t interesting to me.”

For our next unit on the 1930s, we pulled four books for a genre study: The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Bud, Not Buddy, and To Kill A Mockingbird.

I book talked all of the titles, then gave students a few minutes to look through the texts before making their choice of novel.  They received reading schedules and discussion point handouts, and over the next three weeks, we ran a reading workshop.  They were all given access to the audiobook and the choice to switch books if they became overwhelmed.

Students had time to read in class every day, and once a week, for a 90 minute period, I met with small groups.  Students had to have their reading and discussion points to join the conversation.  If their work was not complete, or their group wasn’t meeting, they continued independent work in the classroom.

At the end of the unit, 81 students reported out the following in an anonymous survey:

percentage-of-genre-study-novel-read

So, yeah.  This was disappointing.

Although this data shows a tremendous amount of progress, it also shows that only 55% of students read the entirety of their chosen novel.  This is sad, tragic, and drastically different than the data I gathered last year.

Why the disparity?
As I sit and think and cry and analyze this data, I can identify a few differences between this year and last year.

The biggest difference is that this year, we have less time to devote to reading workshop.  Although students had time to read in class every day throughout this unit, they had less in-class time to read than my previous class.

These are not excuses; they’re problems that need to be solved, and I’m ready and willing to solve them. 

Finally, I gathered data on how many choice books my students have read this year.  This data was not disappointing.

In an anonymous survey, 81 students estimated how many choice books they’ve read so far this year:choice-books-read-during-first-semester

We’re still reading.  
We’re still making progress.  It’s slow, but we’re getting there.
That’s worth celebrating. 

 

 

The importance of reading conferences (and November celebrations!)

Each link of the blue chain represents a choice novel finished in November.
We read 120 books in American Studies and 14 books in Intro Writing last month!
That’s 362 so far this year! 

It’s not magic.  It’s hard work.

Our choice reading time is non-negotiable.  
We read for ten minutes at the start of class every day, no.matter.what.  

“Not having a book” is unacceptable.  
Reading something you hate is also unacceptable.  Reading a magazine or “something on my phone” is also unacceptable.  (Kindles, WattPad, or other eBooks are cool, though.)  I’m relentless with book recommendations.  I’ll pull piles and piles and piles of books, until my student(s) find the book that doesn’t make them miserable.

…and I try to conference with a handful of students almost every day.
My goal with conferencing is to make sure that (1) my student actually comprehends what they’re reading and (2) that my student actually likes what they’re reading.

If I find out that their book “isn’t making pictures” or that they’re just tolerating the book, that’s my cue to pile up a new stack of recommendations on their desk.

book-pile

A small recommendation pile for one of my boys.

This year, in our American Studies classes of 40+ students, reading conferences have become much more valuable.  In a class that large, even with two teachers, it been tough trying to get to know our students on an individual level.  Because of this, I’ve made conferencing a priority.

 

Every day, I try to visit at least four students and ask them three simple questions:

What are you reading?  

What’s it about?
What’s going on right now?

They are not graded on their answers.
Usually, the answers to those questions come easily, and we talk for a minute or so. I take a few notes on a chart I keep in a binder, and I move along to the next student. Sometimes, we have more personal conversations, and I get to know my students so much better.  I love it.

story-of-a-girlOther times, like last week, I talk with a student who is on page 107 of her book.  She cannot tell me a single thing about it.  She can’t tell me what it’s about, or whether the main character is a male of female.  She can’t tell me anything that has happened.  At all.

And my heart breaks.  
I felt so guilty.  How could I have let  her slip through the cracks?  How did she get so far without me noticing?  WHY AM I SUCH A HORRIBLE PERSON?

But really, she’s a great student who has had a tough year, and her lack of comprehension probably has nothing to do with her actual skills in reading.  I can’t blame myself for not noticing her struggle sooner.  Because at least I noticed.

She might just need a “break-book,” which is what we call books that don’t take a lot of sustained effort to enjoy.  So I pulled some short novels, some graphic novels, and a few verse novels for her to check out.

She ended up selecting a verse novel as her new choice book.
Verse novels are great when your mind is swimming; you can reread poems and find your place again easily when your mind drifts.  She’s had to restart the novel a few times, but I’m really proud of her for sticking with it, despite her struggles.

TL;DR:  Choice reading takes work.  Conferencing is good.