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!

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!

Approaching Analysis with Non-Traditional Texts

Diane and I recently attended the PIIC Professional Learning Opportunity, a three day conference for instructional coaches. The focus was on reflective practice with opportunities each day to participate in break out sessions to support our own professional growth. One of the sessions we attended was titled, Using Non-Traditional Text to Support Analysis. This session in particular really made our wheels turn and drove some of our conversations around engagement in the reading workshop.

Past Learning

We were already familiar with the New York Times’ What’s Going On in This Picture? and how this resource could be used to close read and analyze text. Those teachers who attended the TDA Trainings in our district will remember this well.

New Learning

PIIC presenters Diana Hubona and Stacy Ricciotti brought a different spin to this kind of work.

They started with 4 images that related to Harry Potter and challenged us to discuss what each meant, how they connected which led us to discussing themes.

Why Pictures?

Using non-traditional texts such as pictures has its benefits.

  1. Less Threatening- Students (and adults for that matter) can be overwhelmed by the more traditional texts even before adding such a complex skill such as analysis.
  2. Leveled Playing Field – Even if students read below grade level, are English language learners, or struggle with comprehension, using pictures makes the text accessible for everyone.
  3. Increased Engagement – Pictures provide a low-risk opportunity that increases student engagement.
  4. More Opportunity – Students need many opportunities on a regular basis to close read and analyze. Pictures provide not only access but make it possible to provide many experiences which students need to develop and hone these skills.

Marrying the Old with the New

Diane and I decided to do something similar with the historical fiction book clubs but put it a bit more in the hand’s of the students.

The Mini Lesson and Active Engagement

Diane started with the connection, sharing how she learned something new while at a conference at Penn State which made her think differently about analysis. undefined

Using the mentor text Patrol by Walter Dean Myers, Diane modeled how she thought about images that came to her mind while reading and shared their significance to the story.

She then challenged students, with 5 minutes on the timer, to think about their historical fiction book club book and the images that came to mind. Students added four images to a google slide.

Once students chose their four images they turned and talked about what they chose and why it was significant to the story.

Once they shared, Diane went back to her four images for the mentor text, and again went to modeling through a think aloud how the images could be connected.

She noticed that all four images could be connected through the soldier’s sacrifices and then she was able to think to herself, What does Walter Dean Myers want me to takeaway from the text about the sacrifices that soldiers make? which was the scaffold she used to move towards talking about theme.

Once Diane modeled her think aloud, she had book club members do the same using their four images. This experience provided students with the opportunity to not only identify symbols within the text but also allowed the time to think about connections among the symbols and how those connections develop various themes.

Independent Time

Students were then able to leave their book club discussion and take the time to write to explain their thinking about takeaways related to theme using the four images they chose.

A Workshop Fit

Modeling

Diane typically uses mentor texts to model her own thinking about reading. The students do not use the mentor text to discuss but have opportunities to apply the same strategies to their own independent reading. Diane did not ask her eighth graders to explain the significance of her images or how they were connected to determine a theme. She modeled that thinking first, and then challenged her students to try that same strategy with their book. Modeling is an important principle of reading workshop. Diane broke the modeling down into two short parts with active engagement in between each.

Time

Another major principle of the reading workshop is time to read and respond to literature. Diane’s students have large chunks of time each day to read their book club book and have opportunities to both discuss and write about reading.

Choice

The workshop also allows students to have choice. Not just choice in what they are reading. Every day students read books they have chosen, decide what they will focus on while reading, and in many cases what they will discuss. This particular lesson provided choice because students were not given the symbols but chose the ones they felt were significant. In our experience, students with more opportunities to choose are more engaged and willing to push themselves to think deeper about reading.

Community

Students have many opportunities to turn and talk and gather in book clubs to share and discuss thinking, which is another principal of reading workshop. Today was no different and the amount of talking about the text and their thinking supported the goal of providing many experiences to analyze. The support of a community promotes deeper thinking and students need as many community opportunities as possible to strengthen this skill and provide a more solid foundation before writing.

Structure

The reading workshop has a unique structure that allows for more independent and community time than teacher on the stage time. This lesson provided the brief modeling in the mini lesson, many opportunities for active engagement and turn and talk, as well as time to work independently responding to the book they are currently reading. The class ended with time to share.

Our Spin

We were inspired by the work of our colleagues at the PIIC Professional Learning Opportunity and put our own spin on it to bring some more engagement and analysis experiences into the workshop. We are looking forward to trying this out over the summer with some of our own colleagues as we get ready for next year. We would love to hear about your spin on a great approach.

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Feel free to share in the comments!









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!

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.