I am a creature-of-habit, one drawn to naturally order and categorize most any item or piece of information. My new teaching mentor was of the Madeline Hunter or “Anatomy of a Lesson” era of teacher prep programming, and I love(d) the model–it makes sense, providing a natural beginning, middle and end for most lessons. By choice, my first years of teaching were fairly scripted. I typed out incredibly detailed lesson plans including step-by-step directions for myself and for the students as well as questions for discussion and even possible responses. Over the years, I developed habits and routines and was eventually able to fit my plans into the little boxes of the provided plan books–so satisfying for one of my type.
I accepted a new job in a new district just over a year ago, and while many of my previous routines still work well, five preps, smaller classes and familiar students (I teach the same students for three years in a row) have allowed me to research new or different ideas and to rethink and redesign some aspects of my curriculum. My summer reading project, including works by Mike Schmoker, Dave Stuart Jr., and Kelly Gallagher influenced a number of new routines that I am excited to share about.
But First, a Return to Basics
Mike Schmoker’s Focus inspired me to take an honest inventory of all that my students read and write in each course. His basic recommendations for English course reading material includes 15-20 books and plays, 10-20 poems and short stories, and 20-40 newspaper, magazine or online articles. His writing recommendations are equally specific, and my numbers were nowhere close to matching up in either area.
Along with clearly defined and common grade-level reading and writing specifications, Schmoker recommends two basic lesson templates–interactive lecture with direct teaching or literacy based lessons including reading, talking and writing–make up the bulk of our ELA (and other content) teaching. This is compared to numerous group or individual projects that take away from the essential tasks–again, reading, speaking and writing. I was not proud when I reflected regarding the number of days each week actually spent modeling the essentials of reading, writing and speaking at a high(er) level, and these new routines are getting me closer to the recommendations and models Schmoker encourages.
Teaching with Articles
I first read about Kelly Gallagher’s “Article of the Week” in his book Readicide several years ago and have tried to implement variations of it each year with mixed results. At first I was nervous to assign an entire 1-page response, and student answers eventually dwindled. Then I tried to tie everything to my curriculum and found the weekly chore of article searching tedious. I began skipping one here and there, and without the weekly repetition, the process fell by the wayside.
In following Dave Stuart, Jr.’s blog and considering Schmoker’s recommendations, I have realized a new motivation for this endeavor. I assign the articles on Monday and check for understanding and annotations with Tuesday’s entry task. One-page responses are due by Friday night, and I give feedback and/or show exemplars on Monday or Tuesday of the next week as students are beginning to work on the next article. Next week I will present some of Graff and Birkenstein’s response templates (again, thank you, summer reading) and begin looking for those moves in the written responses. So far students have read about the Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem controversy, how to “be loved” by everyone, and gerrymandering–they have risen to the occasion and I am honestly pretty impressed by their responses so far.
Addressing Grammar and Usage
The “Edit and Revise” SBAC Interim Assessment Block was tough for my students last spring, and looking at their scores this fall, I would say they also struggled with grammar and usage on the official test. Reflection has led me to realize that my avoidance of all things grammar is not working out.
I came across two ideas this summer–one from Dave Stuart, Jr.’s colleague Doug Stark called Mechanics Instruction that Sticks and another from Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This called Sentence of the Week. I am using the first with my English 10 group and the second with my English 11 group in the hopes of finding something that works for me. Each process is designed to be done as a quick entry task or mini-lesson, and I work these in on Wednesdays and Thursdays with quick quizzes on Fridays. The first lessons have been basic and mostly review, but this week we will be looking at compound sentences and I expect there will be more ohhhs and ahhhs.
Revised Personal Reading Requirements
Independent, mostly out-of-class personal reading has always been a requirement of my students, partially because it was an expectation of the English department of my previous school when I was hired, and partially because I do believe reading for personal enjoyment or enrichment is important. My basic process has been to assign students to read a book per quarter and then to complete some sort of project or written assignment on or by the due date. Over the years I have required specific genres, lists, etc. I am aware that many students do not read an entire book each quarter. Some do not read even part of a book. But I am of the mindset that I can only control what I can control, and some students will read a book simply because I have assigned it.
I am continuing to require personal reading this year with some modifications based on ideas from Schmoker and Gallagher. First, I have modified my due dates so that students have 4-6 weeks to finish a book. When we are reading a novel in class, I do not have them scheduled to read a book outside of class as well–students advocated for this change and I agreed to give it a shot. In addition, instead of assigning just one big project or written assignment at the end of the quarter, weekly response or reflection questions are posed in Google Classroom and students are expected to submit responses by Monday night. The first book is due October 14 and I plan to have students discuss what they have learned from what they read in small groups. I hope the regular check-ins hold students more accountable for the reading and that the group discussions are more fruitful than what’s been in the past.
Four weeks into school, my rose-colored glasses are a bit smudged as the honeymoon period fades and the to-do list gets longer. But these routines seem to be working out–students appreciate the continuity and so do I.
I look forward to learning about your related (or not) routines and strategies…