community and valuing voice. Join us at Two Writing Teachers.
Slide by the Slice of Life buffet for seconds or link up to serve your own slice of life.
Yesterday a student stopped by to use my printer. She's an upperclassman now. I asked her how her year is going. She said her class has completed two books, Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby in and that they write analysis every day. She pulled up the file she needed to print from her USB drive, leaned in and said, "You know what really helped me, Mrs. Spillane? All the writing we did in our reading journals. Are you still doing those with your classes?"
Indeed I am.
My practice around independent reading and shifts subtly year by year, but this year students still choose the books they read and I still ask them to write about their independent reading once a week.
I've written about our reading journals here, and here and elsewhere; lasts year's quarter one journals are described here.
Homework in my English class is to read thirty minutes a day, five days a week. I follow Penny Kittle's lead and ask students to set page goals; this year, we are going to adjust our goals for each book students read. We'll see if we can keep up with that.
Kids then practice writing analysis in their reading journal each week. The left side of the page is for a passage from the book (or my feedback). And kids write about one of the prompts each week on the right-hand side of the page.
|This student glued it a large passage from Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe.|
|After reading and marking the text, she practices analyzing the setting on the right. |
My feedback is aimed at showing her the difference between summary of plot and analysis of the setting.
Modeling moves my practice formward and when I'm conferring having a model to show and to speak from makes a difference.
At the beginning of the year, I need to confer with each reader-writer. I have to spend that time to make sure each child understands the process and the weekly writing. I use that time to give students feedback. During the first two weeks we wrote entries together in class. This week and last, kids started their entries with me in class on Monday and then finished them for homework if they didn't finish them in class. On Tuesday, while students are reading and engaged in another task, I work the room, meeting for two to five minutes with each child.
If I spend five minutes with each child, I am spending 125 minutes conferring (or three days, three class periods). That is not feasible in my high school classroom. Nor is it realistic in terms of students' needs. Every conference is not five minutes. We won't confer about every written entry nor about every book they read. Just as nature varies, so too the typical high school classroom. Kids have different needs.
Some kids need me to affirm that they are on the right track. They have set up their journals correctly , they are focused on analysis (and not summary or response) and they are doing well citing evidence in a variety of ways from the text. Other kids need more feedback or more support from me.
If kids are unsure or have questions, I need to take the time to listen to and answer clearly. They may be writing response or long summaries instead of finding ways to focus their analysis. They need individual coaching. Some, need a quick re-teach to show them how to refocus their writing on analysis or to show them how to paragraph even.
Like Linda Rief, I give journal entries a quality grade and a quantity or process grade . For most of this quarter, I will focus more on quantity. As students become better at analysis, I will shift to giving them a grade for the quality of their analysis. As I start to give more students more independence and time, I will confer with just half the class each week. I am grading writing standards five (the writing process standards) and eventually will grade writing standard two ( informative or analytical writing). As students learn to analyze, their writing about their reading improves, so I drop lower grades from their earlier attempts.
|This is what Tuesday's conferring class period looked liked. |
Students and I worked side by side at different tasks.
The tasks I give the class while I confer vary. Sometimes that task will be a discussion, or a strategy practice or work time on a project or independent reading. It all depends on how much time I need-- and how well my community has come together.
Other times that task will be reading and marking a text that to prepare for discussion. That is what students did this week--they marked up a short story, "The Wife's Story" by Usula Le Guin that we are going to discuss during Thursday's Socratic circle. I had students working in ten to twelve minute segments. They would read and mark (while I conferred) and then they would come together in their small, table groups and talk. Sometimes, to my delight, it happened spontaneously as they read the story.
Managing reading journals--the writing practice, the reading practice, and the feedback loop or response time that goes into such an assignment--is time consuming.
It is, I admit it. But you know what?
It varies. It's heavier now than it will be in a month. In a month it will feel routine. In a month, students will be celebrating their successes (I will too!). No matter, the time. It's worth it.
Reading and writing opens doors. Kids who are skilled readers and writers have more doors they can choose to walk through: doors to college choices, doors to writing contests or scholarships, doors that lead to rich service or work experiences. Choice, in books to read and in future opportunities, is a good thing.
I want my kids to have every advantage. I want their futures to be filled with choices. Imagine all the doors as wide open.