How We Use Gallagher’s Articles of the Week

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 5.11.52 PMJust about every Sunday during the school year,  Kelly Gallagher posts an “Article of the Week” on his website because he is a wonderful angel.  The article is always current and topical, allowing for student reflection and discussion.

Over the last five years, I’ve used Kelly Gallagher’s Articles of the Week in class on an inconsistent basis.  Really, they had been Articles of the Month until this year, assigned on Mondays and due on Fridays, but never on a weekly basis.  I’d also picked and chosen articles that would be interesting to students, rather than using the most recent.

One of the purposes of the Articles of the Week is to give students background information on topics they might not otherwise read about.  

By picking and choosing articles from the archives, as well as assigning them on an irregular basis, I wasn’t really teaching students how to get through difficult, maybe-not-interesting nonfiction texts.  I wasn’t really accomplishing the goal of establishing background knowledge.

So this year, I’ve assigned the Article of the Week each week.  Instead of picking and choosing from the archives, I’ve been consistently assigning the most recent posted, regardless of its topic.

IMG_6212On Monday, students receive their article, a reflection page, and a rubric.  They are required to annotate throughout the text to stay engaged and to inspire their reflections, which are required to be one-page, minimum.  These are due on Fridays, and they can work on them at home, or in class on reading workshop days.

On Friday, we gather together as a whole class and discuss the article and their reflections.  Our discussions can last anywhere from 20-60 minutes, and are so.much.fun.  We talk about everything and anything, using the articles as a guide, but I also try my hardest to loop it back to class content. (I’m not always successful with this!)

With the recent Kavanaugh hearings, our articles have had a political lean these weeks.  Before, this content may have scared me into the archives, but I just sucked it up and assigned the article anyway, making sure to keep my opinions to myself during discussions.  

IMG_6211Even though they complained about “another political article,” they followed the news all week.  Some students voluntarily watched the hearings, and came to class CHARGED UP and ready to discuss.  They even asked for live updates during our class discussion.

This didn’t happen in the years prior.  Thanks, Kelly, I love you.


Check out how these other teachers use Gallagher’s Articles of the Week!
https://davestuartjr.com/article-of-the-week-assignment/
https://2peasandadog.com/2017/04/article-of-the-week-lessons.html

 

Advertisements

New beginnings (again).

Classroom2018

I didn’t write a lot last year.  

The last two years were the most difficult of my entire career.  While I formed some great relationships with students and colleagues at that school, I am so glad to have moved on.

Someday, maybe I’ll write about my struggles over the last few years in more detail than this.

But for now, I’ll just say:  It’s only been a few weeks in my new district, and I feel like I’m home again.  

 

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.

20476316_10100820449988887_988235286959370506_n

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.   

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.

We made a cool podcast and it was hard.

 

boysreadin

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.

 

#ILA16

twitterfeedcopyMan, social media is great.
On Saturday morning, while sipping on my morning coffee and scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw that many of my Heroes of Teaching were using the hashtag #ILA16. I was curious, and after a quick Google search, I found that the International Literacy Association’s annual conference was taking place in Boston at that very second.

I put down my coffee, hopped on a bus to Boston, and by 1:30, I was registered (Thanks, Olivia!) and ready to learn.

 

 

Sessions

millerschu

Donalyn Miller and John Schumacher’s featured session

The ILA hosted many of my faves this weekend: Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Donalyn Miller. But the best thing about conventions like this? You get to meet new heroes, like Debbie Diller, who quickly became one of my faves during her featured Saturday afternoon session. (Did you know that classroom clutter is responsible for many problems in misbehavior and inattentiveness? I didn’t ! )

 

Donalyn Miller and John Schumacher were the featured speakers early Sunday morning, presenting on the role of the reading ambassador in schools. Miller admitted that, “It can be challenging to be the voice of independent reading in your schools,” which is something that I struggled a lot with last year.

She also made that point that, “Students should be spending more time reading, writing, and talking about reading and writing than reading and then building crafts.” So true. Many times as educators, we think about the cool and crafty end product, losing sight of actual literacy goals: teaching students how to read and write. Crafts are fun, and I love giving students freedom to build during our performance assessments, but we have to remember that our job isn’t to teach them art; our job is to teach them literacy.  

kittlegallagher

My heroes in education:  Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher

By far, though, the highlight of my ILA experience was seeing Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s session on “Reimagining Reading.” Penny Kittle actually teaches at my former high school (sadly, I graduated before she arrived!), and I’ve heard first-hand from community members and my younger siblings how she has reshaped literacy in our small New Hampshire community. I’ve written a lot about how Gallagher informed my writing instruction this year, and Kittle has inspired so much of what we do in relation to choice reading.

 

Both Gallagher and Kittle are supporters of giving students choice in their English classes, informing us that they aim to “give experiences every day that call students back into reading: the joy and ride of a book.” Over this last year, they joined their classes together, bi-coastally, with one “big picture” goal: to increase engagement/volume, increase complexity, and to help students develop an allegiance to authors and genres. This project will turn into their next book, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Exhibitors
Look, I love the National Council of Teachers of English, and their convention is filled with great professional development, but the exhibit hall can be a total a nightmare to navigate. It’s not the fault of NCTE or the exhibitors…they are great!  It’s the greedy attending non educators who make it difficult, pushing their way into booths to snag any and all available ARCs, loudly declaring that they’ll be selling them on Amazon later (which, by the way, is illegal). There wasn’t anything like that at ILA.

upstairsThe exhibit hall at ILA was so much more relaxed than at other conferences I’ve been to. There were ARCs available, but everyone took their time checking them out and making sure they’d be a good fit for their student population.  I didn’t see anyone pushing through the crowd to grab any and all ARCs, and I didn’t see any rolling suitcases, which was refreshing.  I was able to chat with the people at Booksource, who make my favorite classroom library organizational app, and chat with representatives from my favorite YA publishers: Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster, who also had author signings throughout the day.  I even got to watch a presentation in the exhibit hall by the author of the Pete the Cat books!

(…and I got to meet and chat with Kelly Gallagher at the Stenhouse booth!)

In all, ILA was such an unexpected treat of a weekend.
They’ll be in Orlando next summer.  So grateful and thankful to ILA for welcoming me into this conference at the very last minute!

Reflections.

IMG_2168

We read 777 choice books this year.  Each link = one book!

hunter

This student had never read a book before entering my classroom. This year he read four.

This has been the best year ever.
By moving my class into a workshop model, my students have read more than ever. They’ve liked and understood what they’ve read.

They’ve not only written more than ever, but they’ve actually enjoyed what they’ve written, and their writing was the best I’ve ever seen.

We have a curriculum, but they’ve been given choices all year.  When presented with a literature unit, they’ve picked the book.  When presented with a writing assignment, they’ve picked their topic.

As I continue in this model, I’m contemplating changing the structure of our year with the first semester focused on our writing workshop, continuing to use poetry and smaller texts as models.

I’d like our second semester focused on literature in the form of genre studies.  I’ll still weave writing throughout the semester, but I’d like to see my students build more stamina in their choice reading before tackling some of the harder, assigned texts.

 

choicesI taught a few stories from J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories in these final weeks of school, and I’d love to use that book as a mentor text during that first semester.  Despite what my students call its “old-fashioned talking,” those short stories are complex and perfect for analysis practice.

Next year, I’d also like to have my students build blogs at the beginning of the year.  During this last month, my students were encouraged to publish their work to earn “Exemplary” grades (one student even took to Twitter for publication!), but we definitely needed a lesson on how to build and market a blog earlier.  If we had done this at the beginning of the year, it would have sunk in…but in these final weeks, it didn’t.

chartThat said, this has been the most rewarding year of my teaching career. 
When given permission to really take my class full-press into a reader/writer workshop, I was prepared for a lot of work.

It was a lot of work.

This isn’t easy. Building a culture of competent readers and writers takes very, very hard work.  

On top of planning and grading, you have to conference with students every day.
You have to read a book a week to inform recommendations.
You have to write your own essays and bring them to workshop.
In a genre study, you have to read four books at a time, write discussion points, and guide groups of students through the text. 

You have to truly, genuinely know every single student that sits in your room.

And it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. 

Our Best Books of the Year

While there is always a lot of diversity in the books that my students pick as their choice reads, these books have been our “most read” and “must-reads” this year.

the-martian-book-cover-530x806
The Martian
by Andy Weir
Despite it being adult-targeted science fiction, this has been the most popular book in our classroom this year by miles.  Space scares me.  I didn’t want to read this, but after I read the first sentence,  I was hooked.  (You will be too.)  Mark Watney is one of the greatest characters to ever exist, and even though I was terrified for him the entire time, I loved.this.book.  I bought two copies because I left mine on my desk over a weekend and couldn’t face the weekend without it.

b5fqxzwceaa0dhu

Winger/Stand-Off by Andrew Smith
I’m not shy about my gigantic author crush on Andrew Smith.  Winger and its sequel, Stand-Off, have been read by almost everyone in my classes at this point.  Winger begins with its protagonist, Ryan Dean West, beginning boarding school as a 14-year-old junior.  It’s hilarious, and then it ruins your life.  My students tell me that Stand-Off makes you feel a little bit better about life, but I haven’t read it yet because I can’t keep it on my shelf.    This summer!

81a2bxnajqyl

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
This makes the list of “most popular books” every.single.year.  This memoir was published in 2002, but I can’t keep it on my shelf for more than a day.  It’s popular with both genders, and I think that’s because it has some crazy passages, inappropriate language, and risque chapters.  It’s also stolen from our classroom library every year, which to me, is the mark of a great book.  

51b6k2glkcl-_sy344_bo1204203200_
Prisoner B-3087
by Alan Gratz
This book is about a Jewish boy in the 1930s who experiences 10 different concentration camps.  It’s (obviously) sad, but because it’s not as excruciatingly graphic as a book like Night, it makes for a great choice read.  This short novel is actually intended for middle-grade students, but my high school students have enjoyed it all year.  Many students who read military history and military memoirs pick this up as an “easy” read.  

41gueuczdzl-_sx329_bo1204203200_
The Art of Being Normal
by Lisa Williamson
Despite being an LGBTQ advocate, I never truly understood what it’s like being a transgender person until I read this book about a person who is born male, but identifies as female.  This book gives a much-needed voice to transgender teens while also providing emotional moments and plot twists.  Plus, because it’s British, it makes you feel super fancy while you read it.  

51vuchdzq-l-_sx331_bo1204203200_
The 5th Wave
by Rick Yancey
Our classroom copy of The 5th Wave has been well-read this year because of the film release.  I hesitated in picking this up (because, remember, space scares me), but I’m glad that I did, even though I had nightmares for two weeks.  This science fiction book has a storyline that’s grounded in reality, with an average teenage girl discovering that her world is about to be destroyed by aliens.  Because it’s science fiction combined with romance, all kinds of readers liked this one, including me.  

tumblr_np21bbp70m1qihjk1o1_500

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before/PS I still Love You by Jenny Han
These are so popular in my classroom and I loved them too. In this series, sixteen-year-old Lara Jean writes love letters to all of the boys that she’s had crushes on, and locks the letters in a box in her closet.  When her younger sister finds and mails them, she’s faced with a lot of awkward explanation, and then finds herself in a love triangle.  At the end of the second book, most of us threw it across the room.

paperback-escape-from-camp-14_unapproved
Escape from Camp 14
by Blane Harden
I gratefully received my copy of this book at the NCTE convention in Boston a few years ago, and it’s been a hit with my students ever since.  This biography details Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to escape from an internment camp in North Korea. Because it gives readers a glimpse into what life is really like in North Korea, it instantly hooks readers.  This book has appealed to many students who are interested in military history, but it’s also been read by students who enjoy realistic fiction and memoir.

(My students helped me write and edit this post through writing workshop!)