When we first launched our Reading & Discourse class, we knew we wanted our students to have total control over what they chose to read. We also wanted to train them to be aware of their thinking as they read, so they could master the problem-solving skills they needed to advance their language and literacy skills.

We did this for several reasons:

  1. One, when they came to me in 11th grade, the 1-2 academic years they had with English and with our school’s prior approach had helped them internalize 3 strategies when encountering difficult texts or unknown words: translate the word, ask someone else (usually the teacher) or just skip it. Many had never read a book in English independently (and I was relieved/sad to learn from Penny Kittle this was not unique to emergent bilinguals) to even need better strategies.
  2. Two, we knew there had been instruction around different strategies: questioning, connecting, for example, and had experienced collaborative work through the school’s PBL-instructional approach, but they only ever did those things when told to. It’s like the difference between recreational wall climbing and mountain climbing. It’s like the difference between learning CPR and having to identify the signs that that’s what a person needs suddenly and doing it under pressure.

So, those were two things we wanted to anchor the class. Two more anchors were student-led small group discussions which would get students interacting, shifting perspectives and caring deeply about analyzing text-based discussions, and finally opportunities to learn new words and analyze complex sentences.

What we were unsure of and were constantly designing and revising throughout our first year were methods for accountability and measuring their learning in texts.

We wanted them keeping logs of their thought process as a somewhat basic way to insure they were stopping to think without requiring they think a certain way. They definitely struggled with this at first since they were used to using graphic organizers or responding to prompts. Some complained because they “just wanted to read” but struggled to discuss their thoughts or recalling what they had read while “just reading”. So, we didn’t want to just abandon the logs.

But we wanted to remove the feeling of compliance from reading.

So, this year I tried opening this up more first by being strict over what the logs needed and having them jot in notebooks.

Then in Google Docs

Then videos with Flipgrid.

Then blogs – so their responses would have more of an audience and change the purpose totally.

And now…. I’m starting from scratch. I’m focusing on 1:1 conferences on independent days with 1 blog post a week about a big idea in their text or something interesting/powerful and “chats” in Evernote notebooks to check in with others. I am slowly launching this with students, one by one, to see if by having it feel like something they do naturally – texting – will make it feel less like something they have to do and more like the kind of thing you would do organically while reading something. Lastly, Evernote is not something I have designed and it isn’t something designed only for schools. It is something they could essentially “take with them” as a tool beyond school.

I didn’t want to just rely on conferring because I want to offer more regular contact and interaction while also not wanting to reinforce the idea that I’m an expert they have to wait for or rely on.

This post was inspired by this post on Edutopia.