Although I’ve been teaching for several years, I started a new adventure three years ago. My district reorganized our ELA classes, and I was given the opportunity to plan a new curriculum for our students in grades 6-8. I decided to use literature circles as the students’ most prominent reading experience. My district purchased many, many books, and we all jumped in our little adventure boat.
Year one was an adventure indeed. It was pretty exciting. We had tons of new books and the students reacted in a positive manner. We would create their small literature circle groups and they’d spend a large majority of class reading. I had planned for a summative assessment where students would present their book in some creative manner. Possibilities included: reader’s theater, mural painting, a dinner party, etc. For formative assessment, I just planned to meet with groups. Chat. That sort of thing.
That was my first pitfall. Readers took off with this sort of freedom. They were ready to read every new book in my library and give fantastically creative presentations. I planned well for them. My favorite comment of the year came when I walked by a student reading Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Meyers and he said, “I can’t believe they let us read this!” not knowing that the “they” was me. I know I did something good for that kid. The non-readers still skirted me though. I found out quickly that chatting was my weakness. My assessments were faulty. I knew they weren't reading by the conversations we had and the presentations they gave, but I had no idea how to hold them accountable. Until!...Linda Rief came into my life.
I was blessed with the opportunity to see Linda Rief at Write to Learn that year, and that magnificent lady changed my life. Find out more about Linda Rief here.
During year two, great reading continued. I added the reader’s notebook to help with my formative assessment and created a packet to accompany their presentations during summative assessments. I had a tool to truly assess their reading! Reading increased. I don’t have the statistics to prove it, but I know it. Apparently, middle school students are fueled by accountability. Having these notebooks has given me an opportunity to really connect with readers.
This year should be perfect, right? I hope you’re laughing out loud as I am. Weaknesses always seem to pop up, and we just do our best to fix them. I still find that I am not very strong when it comes to conferencing with groups or modeling to students how to discuss in their own groups. I’m searching for ways to improve if you have any suggestions. Because collaboration has a strong presence in the CCSS, I’ve been thinking about ways to solve this. Recently, I had the opportunity to see Lucy Calkins. She showed a video where students were using their reader’s notebooks to lead their group discussions, and it hit me. Duh! Why am I the only one to read their reader’s notebook? So simple, yet brilliant! I’ve already had the opportunity to give this a try with my students and the difference in the quality of discussion was apparent. It was much richer with the presence of the notebook.
Lucy Calkins has helped me understand what the CCSS is really asking of us. Find out more about her here.
I am continuously thinking about reading, writing, accountability, and CCSS. Something on twitter the other day sparked an idea about using portfolios during literature circles. What if the students create a portfolio during the reading? I’m picturing a place to track literature standards 1-4 & 9 (or all for informational text) where students can actually cite textual evidence, pick out themes, think about what propels the story forward, etc. mixed with mini projects along the way instead of one final presentation. They could present their portfolio which would include the type of thinking CCSS demands but maybe also visual pieces to present like mind maps, mini murals, or even creative writing pieces connected to the book experience like character journal entries, editorials, or a song parody. Research shows that group writing is one of the top ten activities to improve writing.
I guess we have a new adventure. I’m going to try this new method for my fourth quarter this year. This gives me another week or so to figure out what I’m going to do exactly. I’d love to hear ideas.
More than anything, GWP has taught me to think about what I’m doing and then think about how to do it even better. Having a network of thinkers is what helps me do this thing we call teaching even better. Thank you!