In order to push student writers to develop their craft, we first need to know what writing is. Writing can be a lot of things but is especially meaningful when writers are able to bring their full selves to the page. As teachers we want student writing to be authentic and meaningful. After all, isn’t that what increases engagement and motivation — two barriers that can really get in our way?
Writers Bring Their Full Selves to the Page
One thing we can do is to have our students examine how writers bring their full selves to the page. One approach is to examine what writers bring of themselves by using windows and mirrors.
Mirrors and Windows
Mirrors are seeing common issues and experiences that you, the reader, can also identify with. Windows, on the other hand, are common issues and experiences that you, the reader, cannot identify with and so you are getting a glimpse of an alternate experience and point of view. Watch Renee Watson, author of many novels in our classroom library, share her poem “Where You From?” Think to yourself as you listen about those mirrors and windows.
What did you notice? Some mirrors for me were being raised by a single mother, rarely getting new clothes but plenty of hand-me-downs, having to make a dollar stretch a long way. A couple windows for me would be living on that side of town or being asked if my hair is real.
Personal and Social Identities
Another thing we can do is to examine how writers include their personal and social identities in their writing.
Look closely at the text, what do you see in just a small chunk of the text?
Writers bring their full selves to the page. When we examine writing as readers with these lenses in mind, we can see it and its value. When we work with our writers we want to provide the space for them to do the same kind of work. Even if it’s not a personal narrative or memoir piece, writers can bring the characters they create to life with personal and social identities or use them to strengthen their point-of-view and perspective in informational and argument pieces.
Next up…Generating Ideas that Allow Writers to Bring Their Full Selves to the Page!
Do the Strategies for Close Reading Work in Graphic Novels?
So far we have explored the strategies for navigating graphic novels in order to improve comprehension and even specific strategies that can be used for analysis that is specific to graphic novels. But the question I get more often is how can the students do the work of the units of study if they are reading graphic novels? The assumption is that graphic novels are just bags of chips and do not lend themselves to the deep thinking about big ideas including character and theme, so I decided to put that notion to test.
Close Reading Menus
In the TDA trainings a couple years ago, we learned that the strategies and anchor charts in our units can be translated into lenses for close reading. Here is a typical menu of the kinds of lenses that lend themselves to close reading in order to think deeply and come to new understandings.
The idea is for readers to be active readers who zoom in on elements that authors use to do things like develop characters and themes in order to look for patterns. Readers can then use those patterns to come to a new understanding. Authors may use some element more than others; therefore, a menu provides differentiation for readers to determine what they are noticing in the independent reading they have chosen.
Genesis Begins Again – A Traditional Novel
Let’s examine an excerpt from Alicia D. Williams’ debut novel Genesis Begins Again a powerful story centered around a thirteen-year-old protagonist. Read this excerpt to get the gist while keeping in mind the lenses for close reading (blue post-its) on the menu.
Now look at the menu again. Which lenses (blue post-its) did you notice?
Did you notice the actions of Genesis and the girls with her?
Did you notice what the characters were saying or how they were saying it?
Did you notice Genesis’ thinking?
Did you notice the conflict between Genesis and her “friends” or her internal struggle?
Did you notice how the characters were reacting?
Did you notice the setting descriptions?
Did you notice the relationship between Genesis and the other girls or even a possible relationship between Genesis and her father?
Some of these lenses may have been more prevalent than others, but all of them were there. Students reading Genesis Begins Again can easily read actively using any of these lenses to look for patterns in order to come to new understandings (pink post-its).
Let’s Try It Out: Examining Character Actions
Look at the actions of the girls who are going home with Genesis that day. What pattern do you notice in those actions?
You might say the actions are mean-spirited, judgmental, and unsupportive. And what do these patterns show?
When thinking about character, you might think that Genesis is the kind of person who surrounds herself with people who are not really her friends and you might even make a theory about why she might do that. Maybe she’s the kind of person who surrounds herself with people who are not really her friends because she wants to be part of a particular crowd and thinks that is more important than surrounding herself with people who respect her for who she is.
You might even look at those same patterns and start thinking about themes by asking, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about these judgemental and unsupportive actions?
Class Act – A Graphic Novel
Now let’s look at the graphic novel, Class Act by Jerry Craft. This is a companion to the graphic novel, New Kid by the same author. Both novels feature three middle school aged boys as they navigate the struggles of adolescence. Read this excerpt to get the gist while keeping in mind the lenses for close reading (blue post-its) on the menu.
Now look at the menu again. Which lenses (blue post-its) did you notice?
Did you notice the actions of Jordan and his dad?
Did you notice what the characters were saying or how they were saying it?
Did you notice Jordan’s thinking on the black and white pages?
Did you notice the conflict between Jordan and his mom and his internal struggle?
Did you notice how the characters were reacting?
Did you notice the setting descriptions?
Did you notice the relationship between Jordan and his dad?
Some of these lenses may have been more prevalent than others, but once again all of them were there. Students reading this graphic novel can easily read actively using any of these lenses to look for patterns in order to come to new understandings (pink post-its).
Let’s Try It Out: Examining Character Speech
This time look at the dad’s words to Jordan. What pattern do you notice in his words?
You might say Dad’s words are concerned, full of advice, and trying to relate to his son, Jordan.
When looking at these patterns, you might think more about Dad’s character. You might say Dad is the kind of father that takes the time to put his son at ease by trying to relate so that Jordan feels safe enough to open up and even possibly consider his advice. We know he is a caring father because he invests his time in building a positive relationship.
You might use those same patterns to think about possible themes by asking, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about these words that are full of concern, advice, and attempts to relate?
There is a lot of concern that graphic novels are not as valuable as traditional text and are easy reading, otherwise known as a bag of chips. But while reading up on the value of this type of text and putting it to the test alongside a traditional novel, I see that they can be very valuable as independent reading choices. A lot of what we are teaching is how to think about reading and graphic novels 100% provide an engaging way to practice those skills.
We know that graphic novels are all the rage, and they are incredible opportunities to engage reluctant readers, but they are also valuable tools for practicing those analytical skills by studying craft choices.
This post will share several strategies for examining craft to push readers to analyze the choices creators (authors) make when developing the plot, characters, themes, and even the effect on the reader.
Strategy 1 – Looking at the Height
One of the moves that a creator makes is utilizing the height or type of view from panel to panel. Readers can examine the height or type of view in a series of panels in one scene to determine the effect the scene has on the reader. The creator begins this scene with the reader having a bird’s eye view to show the setting but leaves the reader disconnected. This is followed by a series of eye level views that create a sense of feeling part of the scene and joking among friends. The scene then takes a sharp turn with a worm’s eye view making the reader feel as threatened as scared as the two joking boys who are about to experience a real problem.
Strategy 2 – Considering the Distance
The type of shot is examined when considering the distance of the subject from the camera in a panel. Each shot serves a purpose. By looking at a scene closely and examining each shot, the reader can determine what each shot is doing and why it was chosen.
Strategy 3 – Noticing Color Choices
Creators use color, much like authors use word choice, to evoke a feeling, mood, or atmosphere. On this page it’s the first day of school. Notice the absence of color of the students around the friends who are seeing each other for the first time after a long break. Even though the friends seem excited to catch up, there is a sense of dread in the air and the author evokes a feeling of doom and gloom. In just one page we are experiencing both the excitement and dread of going back to school.
Strategy 4 – Paying Attention to a Series of Panels
This strategy has readers examine the passage of time by determining the type of camera and why the creator chose it for the scene. The panels on the left show a static camera that slows down the story to emphasize the emotions in this important conflict between friends. The panels on the right, however, speed up the scene to show the drama and even evoke the anxiety that the character is experiencing.
Strategy 5 – Zooming Into Each Panel
Reading graphic novels includes a close reading of the pictures along with any text. Readers can determine a lot about characters, struggles, mood, atmosphere, etc. by asking not only what do I see but what don’t I see. In this scene we see up close a picture of a man and the boy, but what you may not know is that this is not the boy’s father. What we see (the picture of this man) and what we don’t see but hear arguing with his mother (the father) tells us that this son is disconnected from an absentee father and we will want to pay attention to how this impacts this character. .
These strategies are more specific to graphic novels than traditional text and are good to have in your toolbox when conferring with readers who are enjoying this type of text. These strategies can be used by graphic novel readers to focus reading and set a path for studying craft, identifying what patterns they are seeing, and determining what the patterns show to develop the plot, characters, themes, or even effect on reader. The next post will focus on the reading strategies that both graphic novels and traditional text share.
I remember a time when my middle schoolers were told that graphic novels were like a bag of chips. They are to be enjoyed, but is there really any thinking involved? Since then the world of graphic novels has exploded and kids who generally don’t like to read gravitate toward them. While reading into the subject and looking through some graphic novels myself, I have zero concerns that graphic novels are merely a bag of chips. First of all, if kids who don’t like to read are reading, what’s the issue? Secondly, like many novels and even informational text, the same thinking about reading work can still be applied and practiced, but I will leave that to another post…Coming Soon! This post will focus on helping kids navigate this type of reading and the vocabulary associated with reading graphic novels.
There is specific vocabulary associated with graphic novels that differs from traditional text. Using and teaching kids this lingo will be helpful when they read and/ or talk about the text.
Strategies to Coach Readers – Navigating Graphic Novels
Like any kind of reading, small group and conferring can be opportunities to coach into navigating and making meaning of graphic novels for those who are choosing them.
Strategy 1 – Reading Panels
Strategy 2 – Reading Dialogue
Strategy 3 – Choosing What Works Best
Strategy 4 – Adding the Actions in the Gutters
Strategy 5 – Making Connections to Construct a Continuous Story
Graphic novels may not be your cup of tea, but if they are what kids are reading, let’s use them to engage kids and teach comprehension strategies. Coming next we will compare strategies for traditional texts with graphic novels. Then we will explore the strategies teachers can use to coach into the inference and analytical work specific to graphic novels.
Feel free to make a copy for yourself of the anchor chart and strategies for navigating graphic novels found here!
There is a great Facebook page with lots of how to ideas and troubleshooting for any subject area. It’s call “Teachers Using JAMBOARDS.”
Like anything else in the classroom, you will need to begin using Jamboards by laying down the ground rules and establishing norms. This could even be it’s own partner or small group activity. One of the complaints is the scribbling some students will want to do. It might be a good idea to give them a minute to get the scribbling out of their system on a blank frame or incorporate drawing at times.
There are lots of great ways to use Jamboards for the whole class, small groups, and even partnership collaboration.
One place to use Jamboards is for a student check-in. Whether it’s to check-in on emotional state, check for understanding, or simply to get a pulse on student thinking, Jamboard is a quick way to get the info you need.
Share Thinking About Read Alouds or Content Area Texts
Jamboards can be used to share thinking and collaborate using a common text. Again this can be worked on as a whole class, in small groups, or partnerships.
Differentiate Based on Choice
What starts off as a whole class stop and jot can quickly be used to determine most popular responses to move students to a smaller discussion based on their thinking.
Notice, Wreck-It, and Imitate Mentor Sentences
Mentor sentences are most useful when students can share their thinking and build on ideas with peers. Jamboard can provide that platform to zoom in on what authors do, deconstruct it to see exactly what the author did, and imitate it before going off to use it in their own writing.
Annotate Text (Small Group or Partnerships)
The beginning of a unit is generally a great place to look at a type of text and notice what authors do when writing. Before writing an informational writing or a realistic fiction piece, readers can study a mentor text for the moves authors make when crafting this type of text.
Strategy Lessons and Guided Practice
Any strategy in The Reading Strategies Book or The Writing Strategies Book can be turned into a Jamboard for a small group collaborative space for guided practice with you.
Small Group Progression Lessons
Progressions can also be posted for students to evaluate themselves and determine their next steps or to examine a particular progression in a mentor text.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
One reflecting discussion
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.
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.
I look forward to next week and seeing how students continue to grow!