Saturday, July 22, 2017

won't budge

In my middle school ELA class, I expect two things to happen on an ongoing, daily basis: Independent Reading and Writing.

Independent Reading
I expect my students to read every day. That happens in class and it happens at home. Independent reading is the cornerstone of my middle school ELA classroom, because...

If children are to build vocabulary,
they should read.
If they need to develop fluency,
they should read.
If they need to learn about a topic,
they should read.
If they need to be a person they are not,
they should read.
If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe,
they should read.
-Kyleen Beers by way of Stacey Riedmiller @literacyforbigkids

So in my class, reading is paramount. Kids must read, and they will. There are a few things I do to create readers.

1. My library is full. I spend my classroom money not on anything else but books (well, also some Sketcher markers, composition notebooks, and folders, too). But mostly books. I follow people on Social Media who are reading new titles, and I get my hands on them and get them into my classroom. And I read! I read the books in my library so I can recommend them to my students. I know my library. I learn my readers. I match them up.

2. I provide time in class to read. If kids are to value reading, they have to see that their teacher values it so much that they create time in class for them to do so. Sometimes it's 10 minutes each day for the week. Other times it's 45 minutes once for the week. But every week in my classroom, students are reading.

3. Additionally, students are required to read 20 pages of their book at home each night. My kids do not do reading logs, but instead I take Status of the Class. Each day, I spend 3 minutes asking each child (orally) to tell me where they are with their reading. They might be starting a new book, in which case they will tell me the title, they might be continuing a book, in which case they tell me the page number they are currently on, they might abandon the book, in which case that will cue me to see what's happening via conference, they might be finishing a book, and asking for time to select another. I always know who is reading what, and I do that with Status of the Class.

4. We book talk. During the first quarter, I do the book talks. It's common that many students are not used to reading and completing a lot of books prior to my class. So during the first quarter, I talk about a lot of books with my students. I have them keep a "Books I Want to Read" list, so they can have a list of books going for when they finish. By second quarter, they are ready to start book talks, and so each student will do two book talks during the quarter. The point is that we are constantly talking about books. Check out Penny Kittle's Book Love for more on this.

5. Finally, when students are reading independently, I am conferring with my readers. I set up a schedule so that I make sure I see all my readers over the course of a week or two... my point is that my conferring is not random. When I confer with my readers, I ask them to briefly tell me about their book (summarize in 3 sentences) and then I have them read the page they were on to me. I then ask them to summarize that page, and while they are reading to me, I am on the lookout for a teaching point. This is not easy work and it takes time to master (I'm still not awesome at it, but I keep trying!) But the idea is that in my classroom, kids are reading, and I'm talking to them about their books in more ways than just one.

My students do independent reading in an ongoing way, but sometimes we do a novel together. In that case, they will set their Just Right books aside and we'll do the novel. I will lead the novel and do more in the beginning with them, but then once I've set purpose, I will require them to read more on their own, so we can then discuss when we are together.

We also do book clubs at the end of the year, after they have built their stamina with independent reading. You can read more about that here.

Writing and Blogging
In addition to reading, my kids are writing, lots. We are lucky to be a 1:1 district, so we blog. But, we also Quick Write, Journal, and publish papers. For this post, I'm going to focus on Quick Writing and Journaling, which leads me to blogging.

Quick Writing
In the beginning of the year, as we are getting to know one another and the routines of the classroom, we begin writing with Quick Writing (Penny Kittle, Write Beside Them). 

This is how I prompt kids to quick write:

1. Write for the entire three minutes, as fast as you can. I prompt them for quick writing, but I also tell them to follow the thoughts in their head. So if my prompt is, "Something I like about school...." and they start that and then go off on a tangent about shopping or a friend, that's totally fine. The goal is to write, and write fast.

2. I tell them to ignore the critic speaking in their head. Writing is hard! You totally judge yourself. You worry about punctuation and spelling and yet there are so many ideas you need to get out. When you quick write, the goal is to write a lot, and it can be messy, it can be unpunctuated, it can be disorganized. Just write.

3. Relax, have fun, and play! This is meant to be a playground for writers. To play around with ideas and words and meanings and anything else. No judgement, just write.

So with that, I then give them a prompt which I do as a sentence stem (with a sentence stem, EVERY kid can get started writing, because they copy the stem and then keep going. Using a question is a little trickier!) We practice Quick Writing for a few days and I observe behaviors, like looking around the room, kids playing with their pen or pencil, avoiding the writing, etc. Then I roll out success criteria:

Last year I notice I had a handful of kids that wouldn't just get to business, so this helped most of that group focus shoot for success. There were still a couple after this that had a hard time, but then it was time to confer :-)

I did not add this component in last year, but I will this year. My philosophy is is line with Reading and Writing Workshop, so I know kids must have choice. The prompting in quick writing isn't a lot in the choice field, so this year, I'm planning to add in journaling - eventually I'd like to quick write one day and then journal (you pick your topic) the next. It will take time to build to that but I'm hoping to create some choice writing "play" time for kids this year.

All of this leads to blogging! Kids have to have some experience with writing before you go to the tech - they have to know how writers find ideas (my kids are expected to publish two blogs a week, it's always at least two free choice blogs, but sometimes I assign something for one of them. Kids HAVE TO HAVE free choice. Writers are not prompted. Kids shouldn't always be prompted, either!) Then, my blogging mini-lessons teach them everything I do with blogs:
  • Dashboard vs. Blog
  • How to publish a post
  • How to use the tools in the blog post (add a link, a picture, a video, bullets, change font, etc)
  • How to publish a page (and the difference between the post and the page
  • How to write a Slice of Life (see Two Writing Teachers)
  • How to comment appropriately and in an engaging fashion
  • How to use labels to organize your posts
If you want to blog with kids, the first thing you have to do is write your own blog. As with anything else, you should be doing all the work you ask your students to do, which will give you so much insight into what you are asking them to do.

Not going to budge on these things. Of course there are other components to my ELA classroom - poetry, and reading and writing instruction, publishing papers, discussion, book clubs, etc, but these two components create readers and writers. They will *always* be at the heart of the work I do with teens.

What about your middle school ELA classroom? Please share what works for you in your classroom!

Happy Saturday!


  1. Thank you so much for these ideas!!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your passions and expertise! I can see how teaching middle school could be fun.....


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...