Preparing for Book Clubs

I recently realized the best word to describe a workshop teacher’s behind-the-scenes work when addressing a group of parents at our district’s Literacy Night.  While explaining the principles of choice and independence in the workshop classroom, I wanted to emphasize to parents that this principle does not mean students are working without intention or direction.  A good workshop teacher (here’s my word!) ORCHESTRATES all that happens within the classroom.  S/he knows student reading levels and which books to push them toward, understands student’s struggles and how best to scaffold them,  and understands the social-emotional needs of the class and is ready to build those skills.  All without the student realizing just how “negotiated” their choice and independence really is.

As we roll into book clubs in our district, I’ve been thinking a lot about how prep work done ahead of time can really set us up for success.  The more ORCHESTRATING we do behind-the-scenes prior to clubs starting, the more they will run smoothly.

For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the management of book clubs– the routines and procedures teachers can put in place.

Scheduling

To begin, it’s helpful to have a schedule in place for when clubs are meeting to talk.  Clubs DO NOT need to talk long each day.  In fact, it might be best if clubs meet for discussion 2-3 times per week only.  These meetings should last somewhere from 8-10 minutes–middle schoolers will have a hard time sustaining purposeful talk any longer.  Plus, we want the focus of the day to be on their reading.  I am a strong proponent of protected reading time, and I don’t want club conversations to eat at that time.

Your week might look like this:

Book Club Schedule
On Longer talk days students bring post-its and ideas for sustained conversation.  On the Quick talk days students only check-in, reviewing pages to be read and reading lens or focus.

A set schedule allows for predictability, which allows students to work with more independence.  Because they are aware of the routines in place, they can better prepare for the work expected of them each day.

Group Planning

You can help students set-up and prepare for this schedule by providing them with reading/meeting calendars.  Here, students plan out the pages they will read each day as well as the thinking work that goes along with it.  They can determine their reading lenses and club conversation topics ahead of time.  Here is an example:

Book Club Calendar

This can then become a tool that you use to track student progress and keep groups accountable.  You can access an editable (!) copy of this calendar on my Resources page.

Accountability

If you are looking for a little bit more structure in how you track club conversations, another helpful tool is a Book Club Accountability Sheet.  This is a student completed account of their conversation and club behaviors (preparedness, focus, etc.) that is filled out each day.  It also helps students track/plan pages to be read and their next focus or lens.  For example,

Book Club Accountability Sheet

You can also access a copy of this Book Club Accountability Sheet on my Resources page.

Assessment

Finally, it’s helpful to know what you are on the look-out for in terms of student work and club talk  When assessing clubs, I like to look at five areas: preparedness, preparation, interpretation, evidence-based support, and collaboration.  On the rubric below, you can see my vision of what the ideal would be.

Book Club Rubric

As with all assessments, students should be aware of these criteria and standards.  You might expose them to your expectations via a mini-lesson and post an anchor chart outlining what book club members do.

book club members behavior chart

Another powerful tool is having students self-assess their book club behaviors.  This helps them set goals for improvement.  Here is a simplified version of the above rubric in the form of a self-assessment.

book club self assessmentI also capitalize on peers keeping each other accountable by using a group assessment, where group members assess each other’s behaviors.  If you’ve never done peer assessments, you might be surprised at how honest (sometimes brutally!) middle schoolers will be.  The combination of the Self-Assessment and the Group Assessment provides me with a clear picture of who is doing what in a book club.

Book Club Group Assessment

And yes–you guessed it!–these can also be found on my Resources page.  🙂

 

Stay tuned for my next post.  I plan to highlight how to support club’s structure and organization.

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

 

Creating a Reading Unit Toolkit

My last post (which you can view here) detailed how I first familiarized myself with the Teachers College A Deep Study of Character middle school reading unit by Lucy Calkins and colleagues.  After creating my demonstration notebook, my mind began to drift toward a tool that teachers could use while conducting small groups and conferences.  Since all of the teaching session are so clearly laid out for teachers, I knew they needed minimal scaffolding and would easily be brought to life in the classroom.  Our district focus this year has been small groups and conferring, so  I wanted something that teachers could keep at their fingertips to make the teaching of the unit more clear during this segment of their workshop.

And so my A Deep Study of Character Toolkit was born!

toolkit feature image

I decided to do a separate kit for each bend.  This way the final product would not get too cumbersome.  Remember, I want to be able to walk around with this easily, while students are independently reading.  At the front of the kit I put a copy of the Bend I anchor chart, To Think Deeply About Characters…, as well as the anchor text, “Popularity” by Adam Bagdasarian.

Toolkit Anchor Text

For each session, I included the same three things:

  1. The anchor chart component
    • Provided with the unit.
  2. A strategy chart
    • These are charts that I’ve created based on the work of individual sessions.  Usually, they break the work taught in each minilesson into easy-to-follow steps.
  3. Any materials needed to teach the recommended small groups and/or conferences.

Here are images of the anchor component and strategy chart for session one and the small group and conferring materials for session two.

 

So, now that you have an understanding of what the toolkit entails, here is my process for making it…

Pulling Resources

Toolkit minichart

For some of your materials, you can access the unit’s online resources available through the Heinemann website.  These resources are included with the purchase of your unit book.  This is where I pulled the anchor chart, anchor text, and various other teaching charts included for each session (including mini-versions to hand out to students after a small group or conference- see image at right).

 

Creating Materials

Although some resources are provided in the online resources, I did make quite a few myself.  While the Units of Study are GREAT at providing the necessary resources to teach each individual session (or minilesson), the material for the suggested small group and conferring work is usually not included.  So, this is where I had to do a lot of creating.  Please note, that all of the content for my self-created materials was inspired or born directly from the A Deep Study of Character unit book.

Strategy Charts

To create the individual session strategy charts, I skim the lesson for a “how-to”.  Usually, at some point, it is suggested that you name out the steps you took during your demonstration.  This is your money-shot for finding components of a strategy chart!  Look for words like debrief, summarize, recap and review. Then read the scripted text that follows, and pull out the steps.  Last, let your inner Kate and Maggie Roberts (authors of DIY Literacy and former TC developers) go and get crafty!  This is my favorite part!

As an example, this (from Session 2)…

toolkit-chart-inspo-e1529415662103.jpg

…became this…

toolkit strategy chart

So fun!

Small Group and Conferring Materials

I use a similar process when creating the necessary resources for the suggested small group and conferring work.  I carefully read and think through each Conferring and Small-Group section of the session.  Often, the unit will name out specific small groups you could plan, like this example from Session 6:

 

I use the information in each section to develop and write a small group lesson plan; creating or pulling strategy charts, exemplars and resources as needed.

 

Sometimes, the unit suggests that you do some lean-in comments to support repertoire work.  Think of this as a way to guide students toward the work you are teaching as well as toward more sophisticated thinking.  Often the unit will provide some examples and Session One of the online resources has a print-out as well.  However, to make this resource teacher-friendly I put the suggested comments into an If/Then chart.

For session five I create the following,

toolkit comments if then

This chart includes all of the work done thus far in the unit from session one to four.  With a chart like this, teachers can use the visuals to easily see what type of student work to be on the lookout for, and what to say when they see it.

Logistics

All of the pages are housed in sheet protectors.  Single pages are organized back-to-back.  However, to keep organized I only put one small group lesson including materials in each plastic protector.  So when it is time to teach that lesson, you can easily pull out all the materials and go.

 

To make pages reusable year after year, I stuck Post-its to the outside of the sheet protectors.  This way teachers can jot observations down without having to reprint the page each year.  For example,

Toolkit Sheet Saver Postits

The blue tabs indicate each session of the bend.  I labeled each by number, but then also put one word to remind myself what the content of that session is. (I didn’t have the words at first, and although I’m getting pretty good at naming the content off-hand, I would sometimes be a session off.  With the goal of making this as simple and teacher-friendly as possible–why work harder than necessary?!)

Putting this together was really a rewarding task.  Like doing the demonstration notebook, this work helped to crystallize the concepts taught in the unit.  Time-consuming, yes.  But, well worth it- a labor of love!

What do you think?  Is this something you would find useful in your classroom?  What does your toolkit look like?

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Learning the Work Through a Demonstration Notebook

It’s no secret that my school district uses the Teachers College Reading and Writing Units of Study, so when the middle school reading units came out I was beyond stoked.  Navigating reading workshop at the middle school level has been difficult.  There are SO MANY resources out there (on the web, Pinterest, Twitter) for lower grades.  It was easy for me to conceptualize how to make the thinking work of lower elementary readers apparent to students, but I struggled with the higher-level analysis required of a middle schooler.  How exactly do we show readers how to synthesize information across a text or how to move beyond simply teaching identification of narrative elements and instead, showing how they interact and influence each other.

As the required thinking work gets harder, making what happens in my mind so naturally as a reader, is harder to break down into a step-by-step strategic manner.  BUT the new Middle School Reading  Units of Study put out by Lucy Calkins and colleagues (including the fabulous Emily Strang-Campbell) do just that!  They break down really complex thinking into simple easy to follow minilessons.  The work is not for the faint of heart… Students and teachers are asked to do a level of work that many may not be accustomed to, but the payoff is well worth it!

A Deep Study of Character

 

Needless to say, I am VERY excited!  So, when the Deep Study of Character unit got delivered to my door, I was so ready to dive right in and start figuring the unit out.

 

I began by scanning the lessons for two things:

  1. What am I teaching?
  2. What are the students doing?

In This Session

I used to do this work by first reading the Teaching Point (to see what I am doing) and then reading the Link (to see what students are to do).  HOWEVER, unlike any of the other grade-level units, the middle school units have a spectacular “In This Session” feature, that clearly states that information at the start of the session.  So smart!

To wrap my head around the work of Bend I, I first created a Demo Reading Notebook using the anchor text “Popularity” by Adam Bagdasarian.  This was really helpful.  By pushing myself to do the work expected of students, the teaching of each session became more clear.

Deep Study Notebook Cover

Here are some more pages from my notebook. 🙂

 

There is a page of thinking work for each session of Bend I as well as a homework page.

notebook-spread.jpg

Usually suggested homework is to read (obviously) and do some thinking work.  Students may either return to work started in class or begin something new.  Just for demonstration purposes (for the teachers I work with and for students), I created a new entry type for each day of homework.  I chose a variety of different styles so that an assortment of entries were exemplified.

A couple of new ideas I’ve had about notebooks after this process:

  • When assessing them (because unfortunately yes, we are a slave to grades at times), I would expect to see some evidence of the work taught each minilesson.  It may not be great or mastered, but students should be making an attempt to approximate the thinking work taught.  So, in terms of the Deep Study of Character unit, in Bend I I would expect to see evidence of students naming character traits, tracking traits and revising their initial ideas about characters, identifying likeable and unlikeable sides in characters, weighing and ranking traits based on their dominance or tendency to affect the plot, and analyzing the pressures characters experience.  In addition, I might see students doing one or two pages of “other” work.  Something they thought of on their own or were shown during a small group or conference.
  • REMEMBER notebook pages are often Thinking, Return-to Pages.  A fully completed notebook exemplar is NOT created in one sitting.  It may be developed over the course of a couple days as students progress through their book.  It is constantly being added two as student learn more about their character, revise their ideas, include new evidence, etc.  Imagine an Emotional Timeline- students would begin it at the start of a book with some initial ideas about the character’s state of mind and add to it as they proceed through the events of the novel.
  • With this idea in mind, the logistics of when notebook pages are created was clarified.  I always understood that they had to be done, but the question was WHEN?  If students are expected to spend the majority of their time reading, when do these marvelous notebook entries happen?  However, once I realized that notebook entries are returned to, it became more apparent.  Students should be spending a couple of minutes each day (and night for homework) adding to their notebook entries.

How have you acclimated yourself to this new unit??  Please share!!!!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- Transitioning In and Out of Quotes (Set-up)

This strategy was created to address a common gripe that many of the teachers I work with have.  The struggle is that students just plop quotes into the middle of their writing without any precursor or explanation to its relevance.  These students lack the skill of how to transition into and/or out of quotes.  In student-friendly language, we call this setting up and unpacking a quote.

IMG_5713

When addressing this struggle, I would only  attend to one or the other- never both at the same time.  My reasoning is that I do not want to overwhelm the students.  I’d prefer they  focus on one strategy fully rather than trying to split their attention.  If students need to work on BOTH, I always begin with setting-up quotes.  Why?  Because it’s easier to attain.  This is due to the fact that all students need to do to be successful in this skill is to add in a simple transitional phrase.

So, let’s start with how to set-up a quote (how to unpack a quote will follow).  A sample teaching point to introduce how to transition into quotes might look like this:

Teaching Point- Transition into Quotes- Set Up Quote

Begin your small group by showing a piece of your writing where you are having this struggle.

First Try

Point out to students the way the quotes are just dropped into the text without giving the reader any warning.  Explain how this seems blunt or even confusing.

Next, share with students a simple chart that provides some examples of transitional phrases they can use to set-up quotes.

IMG_5715

You might want to modify this chart for varying levels of students.  For example, special education students may be overwhelmed by too many options, so a shorter list would be appropriate.  Or, include sophisticated language for those students that need a little push.  After reviewing released student samples from our state test (we are a PARCC state), there was a notable score difference for  students who used more academic transitions (“In addition ___, states…”) compared to more basic versions (“Also ___, says…”).   So, you might want to build students up in that way.

Also, think about the power of using the same  transitions all year long (in literary essay,  argument, and information writing).  Recently, I discussed with Emily Strang-Campbell, a fantastic staff developer from TCRWP (as well as a friend and mentor of mine), how having a set list of 5-8 transitions might actually help students internalize them easier and transfer their use when it comes to state test time.  Often, our inclination as teachers is to give them an all-inclusive list of every possible transitions imaginable.  Our thinking might be that our chances of a student using a transition increases if we provide them with more options. The more the merrier, right?  However, by focusing in on a few very powerful transitions, that are ALWAYS used, students might remember them easier.

Another piece of advice is to hang this anchor chart in the same place all year.  Come test time–yes, you take all your instructional materials down– but if students are taking the test in your room they  may be visually reminded of the transitions because of where that chart used to be.

Getting back to the small group lesson, model incorporating transitions to set-up quotes in your demo piece.  Think aloud how you determine which to use.  Show how your piece looks with changes in place.

Second Try

Finish off your group by allowing students to try this work right in front of you as you coach into their progress.

Up next- Unpacking Quotes.  Check back soon!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- String of Quotes (Ranking Evidence)

Following up from my last post, another strategy to help eradicate a string of quotes in student writing is to evaluate/ rank evidence.  The idea is that not every piece of evidence needs to be presented within the argument, but rather the piece of evidence that packs the most punch.  So in this small group you are working with students to evaluate the evidence they included in their writing and helping them rank it from strongest to weakest.  This allows students to present the evidence that best matches their point.

As always, this small groups began with a teaching point:

Teaching Point- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

Then I showed a piece of my writing for demonstration:

Teaching Tool 1- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

Next, using the chart that goes along with our unit of study (from The Reading and Writing Project’s 7th grade Argument Unit- The Art of Argument), I worked with students to rank each piece of evidence.  To add a kinesthetic touch, I have students sort text evidence strips– putting the piece of evidence that works best at the top (closest to the reason) and the weakest at the bottom.

Teaching Chart- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence Teaching Tool 2- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

The beauty of this teaching tool is that there is no right answer.  I let the students come to whatever conclusion they decide on as long they have sound reasoning that they can explain.  Too often kids are hung up on figuring out what “our” right answer is and they don’t have the confidence to productively struggle through the process.  It is important that we give them open-ended opportunities to build those muscles.

Finally, students try this work on their piece.

Give it a try.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

I hope that you all have a happy and safe holiday.  I’ll be back with more strategies after the New Year!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

Argument Writing Toolkit- String of Quotes (Create Variety)

Sometimes in student writing you will see a string of quotes, where students move from one quote to the next to the next without a break in between.  These students are usually struggling with how to create variety in their inclusion of text evidence or how to evaluate and choose the most effective piece of text evidence.  So this tool is actually two strategies that would be taught separately.  Students could use either strategy to eradicate a string of quotes.

0001 (1)

In this post, I’ll share the first strategy to create variety (you can see the second strategy to rank and evaluate evidence here).

To begin, the teaching point is:

Teaching Point- String of Quotes- Create Variety

I demonstrated this strategy by modeling the process with my own writing.  First, I shared a piece that portrayed the problem.  My first try has 5 quotes back to back, which all essentially say the same thing– that competitive sports cause injuries.

try 1

Next, I referred to the String of Quotes teaching chart (the first image from above) to show some of the ways that students can create variety when including text evidence into their piece.  I modeled how to change each of the quotes using ellipses, paraphrasing, listing/citing sources, etc.  My new paragraph looked like this:

try 2

I used small sticky flags to point out the different techniques used to create variety.   I also shared a teaching chart with the students that exemplifies those same techniques.

String of Quotes-Create Variety

Finally, students worked on adding variety in their own piece by finding a paragraph that had a string of quotes, choosing a technique to try, and revising their piece while I coached in.

What do you think? Try this out in your room.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Next time, I’ll share how you can help students avoid a string of quotes by evaluating and using the most effective piece of evidence.

Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

 

 

Argument Writing Toolkit- Shortening Quotations

A common struggle for students when incorporating text evidence into their arguments is they choose quotes that are too long.  Then the piece becomes dominated by a voice other than the author’s.  It’s important to strike a balance between one’s own voice and that or the article quoted.  In argument writing, the author should highlight his or her opinions and reasoning.  A good rule of thumb is that the evidence should only be about 5-10% of the piece.

To help students strike this balance, I put together a small group titled, “Allowing Your Writing to Shine”

At the start of the small group, I began by sharing the teaching point:

Teaching Point- Using Key Portion of Quote

Then I showed students my first try with the original text evidence/ quote highlighted.  This allowed students to see just how quote heavy my original work was.  Next I modeled how I reread to pull out and focus on only the key portions of the quote.  Right in front of students, I used a sharpie to strike out the extraneous parts of the quote– all the while demonstrating my thinking process.  Finally, I unveiled my newly revised second try, which portrays a much better balance between my voice and the quote.

Teaching Tool using Key Portion of Quote

After my demo, I had students point to a paragraph in their own writing piece where they felt text evidence outweighed their voice; and right in front of me, they began the work that I just modeled. While they did this, I coached into their work. Finally releasing the students when they seemed to get the hang of it.

I shared a teaching chart to help students visualize this strategy:

0001

 

So in my kit, I house all pieces of the lesson in a sheet protector, which I then keep in a binder that I carry with me around the room.  The writing samples always stay the same.  I pull  out “clean” versions each time I need to teach the lesson, and I make the same teaching moves.

Try this out in your room.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay