The Adventures of TDA: Chapter 3

On Wednesday we began a new story. The story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson intrigued the sixth graders as they read about Laurie, a kindergartner who came home for lunch daily to tell his parents all about Charles, the bad kid who caused all kinds of trouble and chaos in the classroom. The twist ending caused explosive conversations!

Students turned and talked about possible lenses that would work well with this particular story. I love having students determine the possible lenses and am always excited when they come up with one I didn’t even think about! One student who typically struggles asked if repetition would work for this particular story. I asked what he meant and he was able to give several examples of different kinds of repetition. YES! Not only did he come up with a great lens, his idea was used by a lot of partnerships as their focus…what a confidence builder!

I reminded students of the work we needed to do before moving into writing because if they don’t take the time to do the thinking work with the strategy I taught them last week, then they would not be able to successfully and confidently write their text dependent analysis. Partnerships made a plan for the lens work they were going to tackle that day and then they got to work.

While students worked I pulled up to partnerships and coached them into finding examples of the lens they were examining. Some needed specific direct instruction, for example, to determine who was saying what when they were examining dialogue between multiple characters.

After class I looked through their work and noticed a lot of identifying but not a lot of annotating. Without the annotating I knew they would struggle to see the patterns. So I knew they needed more modeling of this work.

I showed them how I notice something, immediately pause, and annotate with my thinking. This definitely helped move many students to combine this work instead of only underlining evidence of their lens thinking they would go back and annotate after. Once students made a plan for the independent work, they went of to do the work in their partnerships. I was able to conference with every partnership and pull two small groups.

The next day the students continued to examine with one lens and move onto a second, and some even a third, but first I wanted to push their thinking about coming to new understandings. Students were feeling super confident in their thinking about character at this point, but I wanted them to use that confidence to push theme work, which was not an area they had strength.

I continued conferring with partnerships and pulled a small group that needed coaching to make the their theme universal.

Friday we moved into our last story, “Into the Rapids” which I snagged from www.commonlit.org. The idea of using three texts in the past week was twofold: to provide students with ample opportunity to practice using the strategy while using a variety of lenses to focus their reading and to provide choice when it’s time to begin writing a TDA. Each student will choose the text from the three they will use to practice using the writing strategies for TDA,

Since we were on our third text, students felt very comfortable digging right in with their partners and were all engaged in the lenses they chose. By the end of today, I was overwhelmed by the level of thinking they were bringing to the text. One particular student who struggles and receives EL support has grown so much in the last week. His partner was absent on Friday and while he was only able to finish one lens during the independent time, his thinking made me so proud.

While moving around to confer with partnerships, I was coaching one group into theme when we realized that we needed to tweak the strategy. This was a great opportunity for a midworkshop interrupt and ended up helping many other partnerships too. Midworkshop interupts are great when coaching students through a strategy and realizing something that others may need to use too!

They will have some time to finish up their thinking work, but many will be ready to move onto choosing and organizing their best thinking to begin writing. We will continue to use the anchor chart created at the start of this mini unit to drive our minilessons. I did add writing in third person to the chart as that is what is expected based on the learning progressions for text dependent analysis! Here are more examples of the thinking that came from Friday’s work.

The Mirror Challenge…Who’s In?

Let me start with a quick flashback and confession. When I came back to teaching after having my kids, I was slightly out of touch. I had kids that ranged from two to seven and I was busy. My reading was limited to what I had to read for continuing education classes, self-help books like how to help my child with ADHD, and children’s bedtime stories. So when my students were asking if I liked Hunger Games or Twilight, two big series at the time, I was at a loss. I noticed that everything kids asked me about, I had the same response, “I haven’t read that yet.” And I’m going to be honest with you, I was not going to read it because I was too busy. And that’s what I hear so often from so many teachers, “I just don’t have time to read.” And I get it.

What I noticed was my students were reading less and less as I was less and less in touch. And let’s be real…why would kids read when even their reading teacher isn’t reading? The older kids get, and especially in grades sixth through eighth, the more they despise the do–as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do-approach. So if the adults around them are not reading, why should they? It’s clearly not important, right?

Fast forward a few years and my oldest, a very strong reader, was starting fourth grade. He was also starting to read books that were on my middle school classroom library shelves. I wanted to be able to talk about books with him, so we started reading one series after the other at the same time. It started with Among the Hidden, then The Hunger Games (our favorite) before moving on to Divergent and then The Fifth Wave. But while my son and I read each series and talked about them, I noticed that I was having more and more conversations with kids at school about these same books and we were all excited about it. I was having trouble keeping those books on the shelves and started adding more and more because my students were reading more and more, and before I knew it, I was reading their recommendations too.

Without even realizing it at first, I had so many readers who were devouring books, and it was because I was reading. No incentive nor connection to grade motivated students to read more than having a teacher who was a reader, and I think there are several reasons why.

  • By just reading I had a common ground to talk to kids. If I was reading something like The Cellar I would talk about how much this book hooked me because it was similar to an episode I might see on the television show Criminal Minds, which is a series I love. It was a dark, twisted, fast-paced psychological thriller. Kids were then starting to talk to me about the type of television show or movie that was similar to their books, so when I came across kids who didn’t read because let’s face it, they just had not found the right book yet, I could ask, “So what types of movies and television shows do you watch?” and go from there.
  • By just reading I was experiencing the same struggles as kids. You think grown ups are busy? Kids are busy too! They have school, after school activities, family obligations, distractions, and disruptions in the home too. I started paying attention to those struggles and simply talking to kids about it. I would tell them for example, “Last night I was so sucked into scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, and I just didn’t feel like reading my book. I tried anyway, but I’d read a page and then turn on my phone to scroll again, and I was just not getting my reading in. I noticed this is happening to me a lot…I’m just procrastinating. So I set my timer for 20 minutes and told myself I am not allowed to touch my phone until the timer goes off and I read. It worked. I think when I notice I’m procrastinating and wasting time on social media, I need to remind myself to set a timer and keep increasing the time to get back to my reading goals.” You know what I found out? Kids respect that. They respect the honesty about real struggles because it’s not always easy to read, but I would share my struggles and become a model for coming up with strategies for those struggles. Kids think reading just comes easy to some. It doesn’t. We all face struggles and have to use strategies to overcome them. Pay attention to the struggles and talk about them!
  • By just reading I became a mirror for what I expect. We can’t tell kids how important it is to read and then not read ourselves. Yes, there are a ton of benefits that our kids need academically including the development of vocabulary, background knowledge, inferring and analysis skills, but they also need the development of empathy that we we get from reading about characters who live different lives with different struggles that we may not experience ourselves but others in our community may. And guess what? Grown ups need that too! But so long as kids see that reading is a chore they have to do and the grown ups can say they are too busy or they don’t like it, then we will never be able to get more than a small population to be readers.

Forgive me while I stand on my soapbox a bit longer.

So where am I going with this? Well, I am proposing, as educators, we become the mirror. Not just reading teachers…all of us. We put our excuses away and we read. We know that consistent, independent reading is a HUGE factor in academic success. But to make real change, we need to start with ourselves and let it grow from there.

I’ve been thinking of some starting ideas. What if every teacher advertised what they are reading. Let the kids call you out when you are spending too long with that same book! Actually sometimes when I just don’t feel like it, I remember that I share my reading with kids. They know what I am reading, and I can’t stay stuck in a book too long. That alone gets my butt moving. So what does that look like?

What if we all posted our current reads. I’m currently reading two books. One I listen to in the car on Audible while I drive my kids here, there, and everywhere. And the other I read most nights (I’m not perfect) before I go to bed.

What if we shared great reads with kids in person or even through Twitter?

Imagine being able to just type in a hashtag like #Snyderowlsread or #Shafersharksread and getting book recommendations. This is something kids can do too!

I challenge all of us to take the challenge and become the mirror. I know from experience that the more we read, advertise, and share, the more we hook students. So imagine if this was bigger than just a few teachers. Imagine what could happen if as a staff we all took the challenge.

It all starts with us. We are teachers. We teach, we inspire, we motivate, we encourage, and we are so much more effective when we are the models for what we expect.

So, I will step down off my soapbox, but I have one question…

Who’s with me?

Making Time for the Book Club Discussion When There is Limited Time

This year we have book clubs in our sixth, seventh, and eighth grade reading classrooms and a couple coming next year to eighth grade social studies! Book clubs can be incredibly engaging when students have choice and the ability to be self-directed, but it’s certainly not a free for all, and like everything else within the workshop, follows a structure that students understand.

Recently the students in Diane’s eighth grade historical fiction book clubs and Bridget’s seventh grade book clubs have been participating in various spider web discussions that look across multiple texts at common themes, but students can and should participate in smaller discussions once or twice a week with those who are reading the same novel as well.

What does this look like?

In Bridget’s class two different book clubs worked together to accomplish a shorter Spider Web discussion without the need for the teacher to directly supervise, meaning more than one discussion can go on at one time. Because the students have already participated in multiple large group spider web discussions, they are very familiar with what is expected of them whether they are inside or outside of the circle.

Preparation – A Small Amount

Students can be given five minutes to do a quick brain dump in preparation. This is one example of a discussion that requires very little preparation, but offers a lot of choice.

Preparation – Focusing the Stop and Jots

Another method that can be used is dividing up the lenses for reading. Having the students choose the two lenses they will read for that week to determine a new understanding and switching their lenses each week. Students in the club do not have to read using the same lenses. If there are four in a group, see how many they can cover by choosing two lenses each.

When students meet they will have collected enough notes to contribute to the various ways the author is developing character, conveying themes, or having an effect on the reader.

Getting down to business

The students here are reading either the Quarantine series or the Legend series. Those reading Legend sat on the inside to discuss while those reading Quarantine sat on the outside to draw the spider web and collect data on the discussion. Once Legend finished their discussion, they switched places with Quarantine. The total time between groups was 10-12 minutes with a couple minutes given to reflect.

I often set a timer for 5-6 minutes and students discuss until the timer sounds

With 20 minutes (5 minutes to prepare, 10-12 minutes to discuss and collect data, and 3-5 minutes to reflect) dedicated to discussion once or twice a week, students are given the time to think deeply about their novel, practice analysis using text evidence, and reinforce communication skills that they are ever so happy to do over a weekly text dependent analysis essay.

And the more opportunities they have to discuss and build on their ideas, the more they develop the skills to write better when it is time.

Challenges

A lot of modeling, scaffolding, and reflection go into this work, but it is more than worth the time spent. Some teachers feel overwhelmed when they try something new and it doesn’t go perfectly from the beginning, but an instructional coach is a great support to use as you create a structure that is familiar to your students.

Benefits

Through the use of discussions such as the spider web, notice the teacher-created graphic organizers and packets of questions are not in existence and never were. This work supports the workshop’s use of choice, ownership, community, and structure. It is student-led, student-driven, and results in high engagement and motivation. This is authentic reading that students want…just ask them!

The One Pager

I’m going to be honest. When looking at any Facebook group for teachers, it’s typical to find a teacher ask, “What should I do after reading (fill in the blank with any book)?” The thread following the original post would include one response after the other, “one-pager”. I had no idea what a one pager was and assumed they meant a one page reflection of the book or a one page analysis.

While looking for different ways to incorporate thinking about reading without writing the dreaded TDA essay, I was reminded of the one pager by Theresa who used them last year now and again (I didn’t make the connection last year) and was planning to do something similar for the dystopian book clubs. Theresa has seen a lot of engagement around this work and generously shared her work.

Various ways to use one pagers

One Pagers as a Get to Know You

One Pagers for Book Analysis

Samples from Independent Reading Books

Samples from Historical Fiction Book Clubs

Samples from Dystopian Book Clubs

Moving Forward…

I’d love to see something like this with a focus on one or two of the lenses to show a type of understanding and really zero in on analyzing author’s craft.

Thank you for sharing so much great student work, Theresa!

Seventh Graders Take on the Spider Web Discussion

Getting started

When Bridget started hearing about how Diane and I were experimenting with spider web discussions in order to increase engagement while putting the learning in the students’ hands, she decided to jump in and give it a try.

Why not? It’s the end of the year. What a great time to play around with our craft as teachers when the pressures of testing are not weighing down on top of us. At this point in the year, we are already reflecting and beginning to think about what we can do to better support our students next year.

Bridget was game and so we got to work. The work highlighted in this post is our second week into spiderwebs. I used many of the things Diane and I learned in her classes to get it off the ground last week, but because this is a different population, Bridget and I discovered in the first week that we needed to provide some scaffolding for the seventh graders.

The data showed that the seventh graders quickly understood the idea of talking about their dystopian book club books and staying on task; however, we saw and heard a lot of summarizing and sharing rather than analysis and building on ideas. In order to support the seventh graders this week, we put some supports in place.

Preparing for the discussion

The fast and furious brain dump

Since the students were taking the time this week to stop and jot what they were noticing about the systemic and individual conflicts within the dystopian book clubs, we started this class period with the opportunity to use an open ended prompt that they could write fast and furious in order to dump their thinking onto paper.

This is not formal writing that we worry about our own structure, craft, mechanics and conventions. This type of writing was to dump thinking onto a page in order to begin to process it. We promised we would not show this writing to their writing teachers. The good thing about the fast and furious brain dump is students don’t get hung up on how to write it and can focus just on their own thinking.

The challenge with the way we did the brain dump is there is no “I’m done”. Students write until the timer sounds, and whenever they think they are finished, they ask themselves, “And what else?” and keep going whether its another piece of evidence or starting on a new idea.

This week’s prompt with a five minute timer

After the timer went off, students had an opportunity to share with their shoulder partner some of the ideas they came up with.

While students turned and talked, Bridget and I eavesdropped and had some of the students we listened to share some of the takeaways that we labeled as theme statements.

The image to the right shows some of the theme statements highlighted from one class period.

We had the students have a quick turn and talk about which one of the highlighted themes applied to their novel as well followed by an even quicker fast and furious brain dump on the new theme statement.

For this first class we randomly chose books to join the discussion in the fishbowl, but we found that we got a lot of sharing and summarizing, so we quickly adjusted for the next class, realizing more scaffolding was needed to deepen the conversations.

The discussion

We decided if students needed more support with deepening conversations, we needed to zero in on one or two of the highlighted statements. We chose one or two based on how many students chose each so that we would have 10-12 students inside the fishbowl for the discussion around common theme(s).

Based on the work Diane and I have done in her classes and last week’s discussions in Bridget’s classes, we felt that students would still benefit from the fishbowl as they learn together to strengthen discussions.

Students not inside the fishbowl listen and collect data to provide feedback for growth as described in this previous post.

What did it look like?

One discussion from the day

After each discussion, students who collected data had time to turn and talk about what they noticed before the class had a chance to reflect on what went well and what they need to do moving forward.

Time for Reflection

It’s imperative that students have the time to reflect on what they think went well and what they can do moving forward to grow.

A quick story about the importance of reflection

Last week, which was the first day of a spider web discussion in Bridget’s class, the students had 5 minutes for their fast and furious brain dump. In fifth period the ideas were pouring quickly into reader’s notebooks in the form of charts, diagrams, long writes, and I was giddy with excitement. With so many ideas I was sure this first discussion would be A-MAZ-ING!

When it was time to begin, I set the timer for 6 minutes and then…

they sat,

they stared,

they said nothing!

They literally said nothing for 6 painful minutes inside the fishbowl while people on the outside, ready to collect data, sat and waited for anything, but nothing happened.

In the reflection they were all very vocal, both inside and outside the fishbowl. They brainstormed all these reasons why they did not start and what they could do in the future. So we gave them the opportunity to redeem themselves; the next day I showed up and we tried again. This time we had 6 minutes of amazing conversation with lots of student prompting, which is what they decided they needed from each other to feel comfortable.

This side story is to illustrate the importance of reflection and to allow a space where students can fail but grow from those experiences. Bridget and I were dying inside, wanting so badly to save them from themselves during that initial 6 minutes of silence, but I am confident that through their reflection, which highlighted how insecure they felt and what they could do to support each other, they gained more than if we had thrown them a lifeboat.

Period 5 goes from 6 minutes of silence to 6 minutes of GROWTH!
Data collected from one student outside the fishbowl

One reflecting discussion

Period 3 discusses what went well, what they noticed, and what they could do to improve

A note about choice with scaffolding

One of the tenets of the workshop model is not only student voice and agency but also choice. Currently Bridget’s students are in a dystopian book club unit that offers 14 different engaging series to choose from including, Shatter Me, Darkest Minds, The Maze Runner, Gone, The Loners, The Uglies, The Selection, Matched, and The Missing just to name a few. Clubs could be as small as 2 and as large as 6 to ensure that students have choice.

For our discussion we also allow for choice within the fast and furious brain dump by keeping the prompt open-ended, again allowing students to write about what they have been noticing and their personal takeaways.

Even though we decided to highlight and further explore some common themes we were noticing, the list was generated by the students, meaning each class had a different list, and the discussion was around 1-2 of those student-generated common themes, again chosen by the students to further explore.

At no time did the teachers decide upon the theme statements for students, which meant each class’s discussion was very different because they were based on what students chose to explore. Student choice amps up the engagement and buy in, but also allows students to take ownership and not rely on teachers to make decisions for them.

Challenges

It is especially challenging for students to have a spiderweb discussion while reading so many different books, but by focusing on common themes within the genre, students not only get to explore how they play out in other books but also get interested in books within the genre that they might want to choose later for independent reading.

In the future, I do want to share one club’s discussion as an example.

Next time?

I look forward to next week and seeing how students continue to grow!

Do we have to…?

TDA Essay Overkill

There has been so much talk and professional development around text dependent analysis this year, so it’s not a surprise that kids and teachers for that matter are over it!

Diane and I will be working together to bring you some moves you can make in your classroom that provide the many opportunities students need (because they need MANY) to close read and analyze while taking out the redundancy of writing one TDA after the other.

But as Diane and I began to brainstorm, Danielle dropped on my desk the most beautiful graphic essays created by her students, so I had to share!

Graphic Essays

Danielle outlined the expectations (seen above) and provided time for students to organize their ideas before they began. The result? Beautiful graphic essays that included thematic statements (thesis), evidence to support the statements, and an analysis of each piece of evidence. She also challenged them to incorporate symbols that related to characters, setting, theme, or conflict.

Student Work

Take Away

Students can close read and analyze as well as use creativity in a way to show deeper understandings of text without always writing an essay. We can find lots of ways to practice skills without the overkill of the dreaded TDA essay.

Coming Soon…

More Ideas and Celebrations!

The Journey Begins…

Master teacher—two words that have been on my mind lately making me wonder.

What exactly is a master teacher? Does this teacher have a certain number of years under their belt? Or maybe it’s dependent on education. Does a master’s degree certify a teacher as a master? Diane and I both have many years of experience, a master’s degree, multiple certifications, and we have racked up an incredible number of post-graduate hours. Are we master teachers?

Even after years of experience, continued education, professional development and reading, we are always learning, growing, and cultivating our craft. In our profession, I truly believe that master teacher is not a destination, where one day we will land, but a realization that there is no end to our learning and growing. Instead, master teachers are continuously spiraling through Hall and Simeral’s Continuum of Self-Reflection that includes the stages of unaware, conscious, action, and refinement.

Our recent collaborative efforts brought us to waning student engagement. Diane asked me to come in and collect data on her students during recent mini lessons. Looking at the data, we were able to discover the need for minor tweaks and adjustments, but the most recent tweak brought us to a screeching halt. While Diane was doing a turn and talk refresher lesson, the engagement spiked, but when she had the students reflect afterwards, we heard again and again that students were bored talking about what their teacher told them to talk about. That’s when it hit us—Diane and I were not practicing what we preach!

We recently ran part of a professional development day at our local intermediate unit, so the concept was fresh on our minds. We had the group participate in a spider web discussion, a method that comes from the work of Alexis Wiggins where students determine what they will discuss. Just like that, Diane and I realized that while we were concerned about waning student engagement, we were really sitting in the unaware stage of the continuum and suddenly we were thrown into the second stage, the conscious stage.

That’s when we realized we often present to teachers using spider web discussions—putting our learners in the driver’s seat. After every presentation, we are thanked time and time again by teachers who suddenly feel empowered to put their students in the driver’s seat as well. So why were we not using this same tool with students? There’s no easy answer, but it was apparent that we needed to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

This new awakening brought me back to thinking about the master teacher.  It is the master teacher who realizes we are never going to be forever in the stage of refinement—we will always have something to learn and so much to improve. I, for one, think our students deserve to have teachers who are masters of self-reflection and learning.

We are now on a new journey, one that will foster student engagement. Our goal is to share our discoveries—through reflective practice and learning—along the way.