Graphic Novels: Part 3

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.

Excerpt from Genesis Begins Again

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.

Excerpt from Class Act

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?

In conclusion…

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.

Graphic Novels: Part 2

Analyzing Craft Moves

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.

The Strategies

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.

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

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.

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

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.

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

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.

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

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. .

In conclusion…

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.

Graphic Novels: Part 1

Why Graphic Novels

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.

Basic Vocabulary

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.

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

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

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

Strategy 2 – Reading Dialogue

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

Strategy 3 – Choosing What Works Best

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

Strategy 4 – Adding the Actions in the Gutters

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

Strategy 5 – Making Connections to Construct a Continuous Story

Page borrowed from Jerry Craft’s Class Act

In conclusion…

Bitmoji Image

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!

Reimagining the Workshop in a Hybrid Model

As a parent, teacher, and instructional coach, I am saddened by the turn education has taken in a few short months. Frustration and anxiety are at an all time high for teachers, students, and parents. Many of us are just trying to survive on a daily basis. As teachers so much of this is outside of our control. We certainly are not responsible for the pandemic or the decisions districts make to keep our communities safe, but we are responsible for committing to best practice. In the last two months I have personally seen so many great teachers rise to the occasion, learn new and innovative ways to deliver instruction, and continue to hold close the fundamentals of best practice in reading and writing workshop. As we move toward a new hybrid model, I encourage everyone to do the same. The simplicity of it may be just what we need as we enter another new chapter that no doubt feels overwhelming.

The fundamentals of reading and writing workshop never change no matter the model– synchronous, asynchronous, full remote, hybrid, or 100% in person, but they do need to be reimagined.

The Minilesson

In a hybrid, synchronous model, the minilesson is still mini. Whether you use the UOS virtual learning videos or give the minilesson yourself, a minilesson will fall somewhere in the 7-12 minute range, build an anchor chart, and include explicit modeling and even some guided practice.

In the hybrid model, one cohort in in the classroom receiving the instruction in person. The other cohort is in the Zoom where you may be sharing your screen.

So far we’ve done this…

Today, I’m going to teach you this…and model what that looks like using the mentor text or read aloud.

But What About Guided Practice and Turn and Talk?

To keep students actively engaged in minilessons we utilize brief moments to turn and talk about our own thinking. In this particular lesson, I am thinking about the characters in my read aloud and I need to determine who has the least to greatest amount of power before I can model my thinking about how a character responds to power. I might in a normal classroom say, “Here are the characters we’ve learned about so far. Turn and talk about the order you might put them in from greatest amount of power to least and what makes you say that.” But how does that work for the students at home? How does that work in the classroom with 6 feet of distance between turn and talk partner?

Well, it could be a turn and shout. Or it could be everyone at home is put into a breakout room for one minute with a partner to discuss while we turn and shout in the classroom. But something tells me that won’t be preferable to some. Maybe instead my in class students have white boards they can write on then turn and show. Turn and talk might instead be in the classroom, “Partner A – write down who you think has the greatest amount of power so far and why. Partner B – write down who has the least so far and why?” and after one minute they turn and show their thinking. The cohort at home can still use the breakout room to chat or you might say to those at home, “Jot your thinking in the chat”. After the minute you can share some thinking from the chat and the whiteboards you can see to avoid the close contact of the typical eavesdropping. If this is a system you use daily, it will be clunky at first in the beginning, but like everything else will smooth out as you and students become familiar with the procedure.

Now I’m ready to model how to think deeply about dystopian characters by using the next strategy of thinking about how characters respond in different ways to power. I might model my thinking for how Luke responds to power and provide more guided practice. I might send students back to the chat box or to the breakout room to discuss a different character while my in person students return to their whiteboard.

Even though students can’t lean in and discuss, it does not mean we abandon such an important practice. Utilize whiteboards, a piece of paper even, the chat box, and the breakout rooms so students can still participate in guided practice and conversation that is so essential for growing readers and writers. As you reimagine a practice, it will be clumsy at first for both you and kids, but when it becomes a part of what you do daily, it will quickly become second nature, much like the words, “turn and talk” do within a week of it being a norm in your typical classroom.

Independent Practice

Once the minilesson is complete, we will continue to provide the sacred time of reading and writing independently. We will remind them of the kind of work they can do today by referring to their anchor chart and send them off.

If I have the ability to use multiple devices I might keep a timer going on one or set a timer on my phone to keep track. I live by my timers, and they can help some kids with time management and keeping focused. They can even be added inside student notebooks for students by inserting a video!

But What About Small Group and Conferring?

The minilesson exposes students to the rigor, but the real magic happens in small group and conferring. This is time where you are using your best tools in the shed to grow readers and writers. We may not have our small group table since furniture has been removed from classrooms to space student desks six feet apart, and we may not feel comfortable sitting along side a student to properly confer, but that does not mean we abandon our best tools! Much like turn and talk and guided practice, we need to reimagine what this will look like. This might look different from room to room depending on just how many actual students are in the room, but keeping six feet apart and trying to run a small group in person could be a challenge. The volume of your projected voice alone would be a distraction to the independent readers and writers in the room. What I might do instead is pull small groups from the cohort that is working from home into a breakout room. I’d let those in the classroom and at home know that during the independent reading and writing time, I will be pulling certain students at home into a breakout room. From there I will work on what kids need based on data from running records, performance assessments, and what I am seeing in reader’s and writer’s notebooks. I have the ability to open any students notebook if it is a digital one and confer — compliment, teach (what does this student need next?), send off to practice. This time is so incredibly sacred as it provides the differentiation for students and allows relationships to be built. This time cannot be put on the back burner.

Share

A lot of times the last 5 minutes of reading workshop is a time to write fast and furious about what we noticed and our thinking. This doesn’t change in a hybrid setting. What may change is the share time. I may even use this 5 minutes to do my own writing based on the mentor text, read aloud, or my own independent reading.

Since we may not be able to end the class every day with turning and talking about what we worked on, we can at the very least utilize Zoom for those at home in the final minutes. We can use the breakout rooms to partner up students to talk about what they worked on today, what they noticed, and what it made them think. In writing, they might talk about what they worked on today, how it worked for them, and what they still need to do.

Avoid the Pitfalls

  1. Instead of trying out every single digital tool that’s being thrown out there, choose maybe one or two and get good by doing them. I am a super simple online teacher. I use my slides, digital notebooks, and features in zoom like chat and breakout rooms. Even my notebooks are simple, much like the composition books I used in the classroom for years. I include the anchor chart right on the page for easy access for students, maybe some post its depending on the unit, and rubrics or guides when and as needed.

2. Avoid the scavenger hunt. Teachers don’t mean to do it, but this one I learned while trying to help my own children. If there are too many directions, too many links, too many things to open and try to find, it is exhausting and even I start to shut down. That is why I love the digital notebook and putting everything they need in one spot.

3. Not everything needs to be done through a screen. The independent time in reading, for example, is a solid 30+ minutes (unless the child is pulled for a small group that day) to read a book. Synchronous instruction for those in the remote cohort are not watching and listening to you all period. They are getting the minilesson and doing the independent practice. Avoid returning to an entire period of the sage on the stage. It was not best practice before and it’s not now either.

In other words…keep it simple. Consistency and the basics will be your friend now more than ever!

How Have YOU been Reimagining the Workshop?

I would love to hear your ideas. Comment here or shoot me an email. We are all in this together and can benefit from the thinking of our colleagues,

The Power of Performance Assessments in Reading

The Purpose of the Performance Assessment

While the running record assesses the reading comprehension of a child through snapshots that indicate a just right reading zone, performance assessments assess an independent ability to think. Often times teachers will say to me that all of their students comprehend far below grade level, and I will look at the running record data and find a majority are actually reading on or above grade level. The students don’t necessarily need reading comprehension strategies or lower level texts; they need support to strengthen their thinking about reading. Those are a completely different set of skills.

I have heard many times that pre assessments are a waste of time. However, the purpose of the performance assessment is to guide decisions about small group instruction, additional minilessons, and even read aloud choices.

Using the Learning Progressions to Differentiate

A performance assessment will focus on a small number of specific skills like inferring about character. By matching the thinking to the learning progressions, teachers can determine at what level individuals are thinking about reading for 2-4 skills at a time and use that information to determine what strategies students need to grow their thinking.

We might also find through the performance assessment that a student’s thinking level is higher than their independent reading level. It is just as crucial to take this into account when meeting needs. That’s where read alouds and guided practice come in. These readers can still be given opportunities for thinking about reading and practicing these skills with a text they may not have been able to access independently, and they need these opportunities.

When we look only at independent reading comprehension or at independent thinking without also looking at the other, and we do not provide the differentiated instruction and opportunities to meet readers where they are, we are doing a huge disservice to them.

That is why using performance assessments to inform instruction is a powerful tool. One note of warning, however. Learners need a space for approximation. Don’t feel the need to assess and grade everything. Practicing skills can be clumsy, but we want kids to know that it’s okay to not have perfect notebook entries every day as they practice skills. Feedback not evaluation is important for growth.

Taking Ownership of Growth

One strategy to help learners take ownership of their growth is to invite them into the process. If they are writing about character, for example, use the learning progressions to show the good, better and best and determine where their current thinking sits and what they need to do to grow their thinking.

Bottom Line

When you understand the purpose of any assessment and how it can work for you and your students, it becomes more valuable. Performance assessments provide us with very clear data that shows us exactly where kids are in their thinking and what they need next. While we want our students to be strong readers, we also need them to be strong readers who can think.

Where Does Grammar Fit Into the Workshop?

The best way to teach and learn grammar, mechanics, conventions, style, rules, or whatever you want to call it, is to study and practice it in context. In our district, we support writers with the works of Jeff Anderson, Jennifer Serravallo, and the lessons found in the Units of Study, particularly in the If…Then…Curriculum of the Writing Units. While doing this work, we can pull mentor sentences from our read alouds, independent reading, and any other example of great writing.

What can we learn from great writing and great writers?

While reading the first chapter of Jason Reynolds’ Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, I was blown away by some of the great mentor sentences I could pull that reflect not only the elaborate style of “show not tell” but also the use of punctuation. Just look at this incredible example right on page one!

There are so many lessons that can be pulled from here, but sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. For example, look at the mentor sentence below.

By presenting a sentence and asking what they notice, it invites students to look at not just what authors do but also why they do it? What impact does the comma have on this sentence? What about the hyphens? Can we create rules for these or start an anchor chart? This is done best when students can talk it out with one another. In a remote setting it may be a slow discussion in Schoology or Google Classroom if not live.

Building an anchor chart over time

How about the comma in the mentor sentence below ? What do we notice? What impact does this comma have on the sentence? Can we continue to add to the anchor chart?

Not only are we focusing on the rules of punctuation, but we are examining beautifully written sentences that emphasize the magic of elaboration and “show don’t tell”.

Now how about this one? There are multiple commas. What do you notice about the commas? What impact does each have on the sentence? Can we add another rule to the anchor chart?

Jason Reynolds is my hero!

Look at more of the beauties I found just in chapter 1, focusing on similes, sensory details, commas, hyphens, dashes, italics, contractions, possessive nouns, types of sentences, dialogue, quotations, ellipses, and so much more!

Sentence stalking

Once you have students noticing and examining what authors do and how the writing is impacted, you can invite students to imitate and look into their own writing to use or correct.

You can also encourage students to pay attention to their own independent reading books for mentor sentences they can collect or even share with moves they can try to use within their own writing. Here’s one I found last night while reading.

What about grammar exercises?

There are many who learned grammar the traditional way with grammar textbooks, worksheets, and sentences to diagram or those who look to sites that are the modern version of those same things, but the research behind the effectiveness of that approach is very telling.

Teaching grammar will not make writing errors go away. Students make errors in the process of learning, and as they learn about writing, they often make new errors, not necessarily fewer ones. But knowing basic grammatical terminology does provide students with a tool for thinking about and discussing sentences. And lots of discussion of language, along with lots of reading and lots of writing, are the three ingredients for helping students write in accordance with the conventions of standard English*.

NCTE National Council of Teachers of English

For more on this, here is a short podcast/blog post “How to Deal with Student Grammar Errors” from The Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales.

How do I know what to teach?

The best places to look include:

  1. The Writing Progressions for each genre found in the Units of Study online resources under the title Writing Pathways.
  2. Student Writing for patterns and needs based on pre assessments, post assessments, and entries in the writer’s notebook.
  3. The Eligible Content found in the PA Standards.
  4. The Scope and Sequence recommended by PATTAN (click here). Look to see when skills should be introduced, reinforced, and mastered. The development of a skill and the need for reinforcement is generally spread out over several grade levels.
any questions

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 Adventures of TDA: Chapter Two

On Thursday we started the class with a read aloud of Gary Soto’s short story, “Seventh Grade”. The sixth graders, who are anticipating their move to middle school in a few months, loved the story about a boy named Victor who was starting his first day of school in seventh grade.

After the read aloud, students turned and talked about what the story was about while I listened in. Since they had a solid understanding of the events, I presented the teaching point.

Then using the text, I modeled by looking through the lens of inner thinking.

I then asked partnerships to make their plan for the day. They could choose to examine the text through the lens of Victor’s actions or through Victor’s speech. Once partnerships had a plan they got to work using one color to underline all evidence of either speech or actions and looking closely to find patterns.

On the second day partnerships turned and talked about other possible lenses and then chose a second lens to look through from the list.

The sixth graders did amazing work in their partnerships. While they worked, their teacher and I moved about the room sitting with partnerships to coach them through the strategy.

We were flexible with each partnership. Some were only able to accomplish one lens, many two lenses, but one partnership got the hang of it quickly and was able to practice looking through three lenses by the time we finished day 2. All partnerships finished day 2 with more of an understanding of the strategy for analysis.

Notice that students did not need to write the TDA to show their thinking. This is HARD work and HEAVY lifting for the students. Before they can write TDA essays, they need the time to gain their confidence in using the strategy for analysis.

Students Need

  • A lot of modeling of the strategy
  • A lot of time practicing using the strategy in partnerships
  • A lot of time being coached through the strategy
  • A lot of choice in what they are looking closely for
  • A lot of time, opportunities, choice, and talk to gain confidence

Notice the students engage with the text by doing all of their work on the text. They do not need graphic organizers created for them or worksheets to fill out. They need the strategy, the text, their partner, choice, modeling, and coaching.

On Tuesday we will put “Seventh Grade” aside and look at a new text. I am so excited to see how they tackle this next short story with confidence!

Pressing Pause to Fold in What Students Need

I recently had the pleasure of working with two fourth grade teachers who were working so very hard. The problem was they were working too hard. I know we all can relate to trying to balance this giant plate full of everything we need to accomplish while trying so hard not to drop it on top of our head, but in this case, for the kids’ sake and their own, they needed to put the plate down and walk away for a minute.

I want you all to know that it’s okay to push the pause button and deal with the issues that get in the way of moving kids forward. Now, I’m not saying you stop following IEPs or attending parent conferences or to abandon the workshop model, but it is okay to hit pause in the curriculum when something isn’t working. In the case of these two classes, we had a combination of needs that we determined through data collection.

  1. A number of students were struggling with routines.
  2. A larger number of students were struggling with the rigor and pace of the first unit.

In order for any workshop to run smoothly, there are routines that need to be in place. These routines need to be taught, consistent, and practiced so that less workshop time is wasted. We need those minilessons to truly be mini because students need the time to independently practice the work. Even as an eighth grade teacher, I would take the time in the first weeks of school to practice the routines in engaging ways, but I want this post to really focus on the second need.

The fourth graders were struggling with the rigor and pace of the unit. The first thing we did was look at the pre-assessment for the unit. When looking at their written responses compared to their running record and NWEA-MAP data, we saw some conflicting results. They were not necessarily struggling readers, but the data did show they were struggling thinkers.

Part of our job as workshop teachers is to get our kids to read and read and read. But just reading is not enough. We also need to teach strategies for thinking about our reading that can be transferred to any text.

The written responses from the pre-assessment were showing more summarizing and not thinking deeper about things like character and theme.

We decided to use the reading progressions, starting with inferring about character, and look at what is expected from each grade level. Since students were only summarizing events and not thinking about character, I looked from each progression and noticed three teaching points within the skill of inferring about characters that could be used to develop their thinking while reading that students need as a foundation before they can do the work of fourth grade readers.

For example, if readers do not have the skills developed to make character theories (third grade), they will struggle with determining what drives a character to make particular decisions (fourth grade).

From what I noticed in the progressions, I was able to create three strategy lessons, each strategy providing a foundation for the next.

Three strategy lessons based off of the learning progressions to push thinking about character

When developing strategy lessons, you can find some tips and actual strategies in the Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo, or you can walk yourself through what you do as a reader to meet the goal.

Once I had three strategy lessons to help support readers as they practice developing their thinking about character, I grabbed a book that I could use to model each strategy. I set the minilesson up just like any of the lessons in the units of study so the routine continues to be consistent and predictable.

Basic Outline of a Reading Workshop Session
Session 1 of 3

After reflecting on this lesson, we determined that students would benefit from a tool that listed a variety of character traits to help build vocabulary. I often gave students a binder ring and we would add tools as needed. In my class the notebook, independent reading book, post-its, and toolkit were in their reading folder, but many elementary and middle teachers also use gallon size storage bags.

The next day I introduced the tool and a new strategy to push our thinking.

After this lesson, we used the independent time to move around and check on the traits they noticed yesterday while reading. Readers who didn’t have any post-its from the day before, did the work right then and there through some guided practice. They read a page or so of their independent reading book aloud to us, and we listened in for what the character was doing, saying, and thinking and prompting them through the strategy.

Those who had post-its we checked to be sure they were noting about traits and not feelings and providing any tips that might help.

At the end of this session, I took three minutes as students joined me back in the meeting area to show them how I took a post-it note or two and wrote long to explain my thinking. We set the timer for 3-4 minutes and students wrote fast and furious about a sticky or two they chose before sharing their thinking with their turn and talk partner.

I highly recommend this work for a number of reasons, but most importantly it provides daily practice which builds engagement and stamina. A short burst of writing each day also allows students the opportunity to determine for themselves what is important to explore, giving them the choice and ownership that they need to develop their thinking about reading without relying on being told what to think about. This foundation is essential for students to have developed long before entering upper grades.

This type of writing is not meant to take more than a few minutes with time to share with partners; however, by doing short bursts each day, students will gain confidence and also have a record of their thinking over the course of a book to go back and choose something to really explore in longer and more formal writing such as text dependent or literary analysis.

On the third day we added one more strategy lesson that had students using the work they were already doing from the two days prior and creating theories about character.

During the active engagement, one partnership came up with a theory about Ruben that blew us away!

“Ruben is the kind of kid who takes responsibility for his actions.”

fourth grade partnership

During the independent work time, we continued to conference with students to see the kind of work they were doing and offer any additional tips or strategies to support them. Again we walked through a strategy right then and there with their independent reading book with anyone who was struggling.

Time to Push Play!

Now that students were exposed to three foundation strategies to work with, the teachers were ready to press play again on the unit. The minilessons in the unit are rigorous and provide exposure, but not all of the students may be ready to implement the strategies from the unit anchor chart until they have a more solid foundation to build on.

Normally we teach these foundational strategies in small group, but since the data showed this foundation was lacking for the majority of the students, we folded in this three session If…Then…type of mini unit. Not every fourth grade classroom across the district has the same needs, but by using your data, determining needs, and paying close attention to the learning progressions, you may need to fold in some different If…Then…units and mini units at various points throughout the year in order to best support the students who are sitting in front of you.

Moving forward, the students will not only use the anchor chart for the unit to guide their thinking about their independent reading but also have the option of using any strategies taught in the If…Then… mini unit or from small group and conferring lessons.

While meeting with the fourth grade teachers after pressing play, the teachers were happy to report that the engagement and confidence in their fourth graders was evident. I could feel their sigh of relief and renewed excitement in their work.

Because this type of scaffolding work is so dependent on the students who are currently in front of you, I am happy to meet with any teams that feel like their students are struggling with the pace and rigor of the units at any point in the year. Together we can support student needs!

At the Corner of Active Engagement and Analysis

While visiting classrooms, I’ve seen time and time again the effective use of my all time favorite teaching tool, turn and talk. The beauty of this tool is that it can be used in any classroom at any time and provides an opportunity for 100% student engagement.

Students, like grown ups, have a need to talk. By channeling student talk into instruction, that need is being met and students are less likely to lose engagement as they are when students are instead being cold-called on to speak. We all know we can leave it to the same three hands to do all the work for us.

Time is often saved using this effective tool because the teacher can listen in and know exactly who to call on to share with everyone or can even share some possible responses based on what he or she heard while eavesdropping.

My rule of thumb…every time you ask a question and find yourself scanning for someone to answer, STOP! This is the perfect time to instead say, “Turn and talk with your shoulder partner,” then listen in.

While visiting one particular fourth grade class, I was blown away by the amount of time students were actively engaged in the lesson. In fact, in close to 17 minutes, students had so much opportunity that the teacher only talked for a total of 6 minutes!

But this teacher took it to a whole new level when she provided a book club discussion within the lesson too. Sara Hearn discovered in a writing unit, prior to this year, that when students had the time to discuss a text in a book talk fashion that their writing of analysis grew exponentially. She has embedded this method into her minilessons at times to provide students with the opportunities to dig deeper by talking it out in a whole group. This is very similar to the spider web discussions we have been experimenting with in the middle school, also to push thinking and provide additional opportunities for analysis.

The thing is…and we all know this…ANALYSIS IS HARD! If we leave all analysis to writing, it’s even harder. The more opportunities students have to share after independent reading with their turn and talk partner, push their thinking during minilessons with their turn and talk partner, and participate in whole and small group book discussions, the more they can develop their analytical skills. If they can think it, they can say it, and if they can say it, they can write it, but they need time and opportunity to talk a whole lot.

Check out how Sara uses the tools of turn and talk and book discussion within a 17 minute period. While some parts may be difficult to hear, notice the level of engagement throughout the lesson as well as how the discussion is student-led.

Even though not every student had the chance to speak in the whole class discussion, Sara did provide an additional opportunity afterwards for a turn and talk with a shoulder partner.

To see how advanced this type of analysis work can get, check out how Diane Murray, who in four short years will have many of these fourth graders, uses student talk. With one open-ended prompt, these students led their own discussion that included characterization, changes in character, how parts affect the whole, symbolism, and theme without any additional prompting.

https://wondertwinworkshop.com/2019/06/03/digging-deep-with-discussion/

Student-led discussion and turn and talk are essential components of developing analytical thinking skills. We know that we can teach students to write TDAs until we are blue in the face, but if we are not taking the time to provide opportunities to discuss and develop their analytical thinking, the work will no doubt fall flat.

If you would like to experiment with this work with your students, you know where to find me!