180 Days PD in NYC 3/14

I was so excited to attend this PD with 2 of my other colleagues! It was such an affirmation of what Mac and I have been doing over the past year and a half, as well as an inspiration for how we can keep improving the class. Two years ago Mac invited me to come to her school and join her in the creation of a new Reading class at her school. At the end of that year, we created a proposal to create a writing class as well. Drawing on our previous experience with how split Reading and Writing class can run, the publication of 180 Days: Two Teachers Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents was so helpful in helping us communicate and model our vision to our new teachers.

Key components of not only the book, but what was addressed at the PD include the following:

  1. Independent Reading Time
  2. Free write time
  3. Resistant students
  4. Student Engagement
  5. Student led discussions

Increasing the VOLUME of reading and writing

Gallagher states the importance of increasing the VOLUME of reading and writing that students do. The ways that he addresses this is

  1. Independent Reading Time
  2. Free writing time

Independent reading time is mostly absent from ELA classrooms today- especially in high school. In order to show the value that provides, even just in terms of how much students are reading, he implements a student survey at the beginning of class to see how many books students actually read in the prior year/years in middle school. He then administers the same survey at the end of the year to measure how much students read in the current year. Most students doubled the amount of books they read.

Ironically, last year Mac attended a PD with Kylene Beers and her most recent publication Disruptive Thinking. Gallagher showed a graphic from her book that shows how much just an extra 10 minutes a day can increase students word exposure and performance on tests. We used this graphic all last year, it is posted in our rooms or on our doors and we include it in a contract with parents and students we use in the second semester.

For increased writing time, our writing classes start with a 10 minute journal writing. Sometimes given prompts, sometimes photos, charts or infographics.

Resistant Students and Student Engagement

As I wrote about in Welcome to the Rebellion! Many teachers may have underlying doubts or questions about how to implement such activities. I absolutely loved the ways that Gallagher addressed these concerns during the PD. He showed that there will be students who may initially be resistant to reading and/or writing. I think this is important for us as teachers to see that even such an accomplished teacher has the same types of struggles that we all do.

The primary strategy to prevent this issue is that the class needs to be driven by student choice and interest. Much of the push back from students will be alleviated when they are able to read about what they are actually passionate about or interested in.

Then there will be the outliers who may continue to resist. Conferencing with the student who proclaims that they have no interests can help identify points of interests they may not have expressed. When those resistant student do take the first steps of engaging with the work, do not give grades or criticism of the work that may cause the student to shut down. When students first take a chance and are vulnerable enough to express something in their writing, or read a text, negative feedback (even if the intention is to improve what they have done) can cause the student to shut down and not take other chances.

Discussion and Discourse

When Mac and I created the class “Reading and Discourse” at our school, having a class with a “long title” was initially foder for jokes. However, we believed it was crucial for everyone to be clear that discourse was just as important to our class as the reading was. Student led discussions about what they are reading is crucial. First of all, not only is it a way for student to articulate their own noticings and thoughts about the texts but it also allows them engage with others and share ideas about their texts. In our classroom, when we were running the literary analysis unit for our PBAT, we had students reading all different texts. Every Thursday would be their discussion day they would be in a group where they had to talk about their book with students who were reading books that were different from theirs.

Last year, we had students create independent or group videos discussing their books which they shared to google classroom. This year in order to try to achieve more of a digital discussion about their books we created groups on Flipgrid for them to share ideas about their book with students who were reading the same book between our classrooms. We also tried using Sync, but had more success with Flipgrid.

In the PD Gallagher specifically mentioned Flipgrid as the way that he and Kittle had their students share ideas with students from other parts of the country and discuss their books. A particularly positive aspect of this cross-country communication is that students were able to hear perspectives and experiences from their peers, which were completely different from their own. When it came to discussing sensitive issues from the texts like race, class, gender, sexual orientation etc. Gallagher argues that it is a very important way to teach students how to engage in civil conversations with others when you have different ideas.

Gallagher and Kittle are now also using Flipgrid for students to share their writings and get feedback on what they have already written. He shared some of the videos in which students where sharing their reactions to other students 1st drafts. It was very powerful to see students articulate their understandings about what choices the students made as writers within their text and offering suggestions on how they could change some things to increase the effect they want to have on the reader. We hadn’t even thought about using Flipgrid for peer feedback on their writings!

Mentor Texts for Teachers

If you are reading our blog or listening to our podcast, and you are trying to implement the same structures in your classroom, then I really recommend getting this book or attending any type of PD offered by Gallagher or Kittle. Finding, creating and/or joining a professional learning community to help improve your instruction is imperative! We are tying to share and expand our own PLC in order to continue to serve our students as best as we can!

You can follow Kelly Gallagher @KelllyGToGo and Penny Kittle @pennykittle on Twitter. Their websites are: http://www.kellygallagher.org/ and http://pennykittle.net/

You can buy this book (and others they have written) through their websites or Amazon.