Monthly Archives: May 2015

Small Reading Group Conversations #2

As I wrote in my last post titled, Small Reading Group Conversations, I have been giving my students in grades 7 and 6 time to engage in small group conversations about books and reading. The latest iteration of these small group conversations in grade 7 has resulted in students selecting their own groups.

Today students in grade 7 met in self-selected groups based on the following categories: fantasy, the Divergent series, graphic novels, Percy Jackson, and realistic fiction. As I stood back and watched the groups engage in their discussions, I was encouraged by the buzz in the room. Every group exhibited a charge of sorts as students talked with each other. Some students said they would want to stay together but many others said they preferred to change on a daily basis. The grade 6 students weren’t able to get themselves in groups that made sense to them and to me. So, we have postponed making any changes for another time.

As I walked around today, I heard my grade 7 students remind each other to comment on what someone else had shared before moving forward. I heard authentic conversations among kids about books. I saw kids cover their ears as others shared spoilers from books they have yet to read. And, I observed some kids standing back looking sullen or disinterested. I don’t expect perfection or total buy-in. Nevertheless, there has been progress. This little experiment is working.

I will keep watching, listening, asking.

Next time, I will bring my students voices to the fore to share their perspective on this new modality in our classroom.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers 

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Small Reading Group Conversations

   

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/327073991664852654/

     This year, I have spent too much time and energy trying to manage a silent 10 – 15 minute daily independent reading time in my grade 7 classroom. I haven’t given up because I value independent reading: I know this is the best way to get reluctant readers to love to read. At this point, you may be entertaining two conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, you may be thinking that silent is unrealistic and, on the other hand, that 12- and 13-year-olds should be able to sit and read for less than 30 minutes without having to be redirected. A disclaimer: I believe that asking grade 7 students to read silently for 10 – 15 minutes, without getting distracted, shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation. But, alas, that is not the case. However, to be fair, I am only talking about 5 or 6 of my students, or 1/3 of the class. Although this is still a large percentage, it’s rare that all of these students are distracted at the same time. Let’s just say they take turns…in pairs.

Source: http://www.ultimaterob.com/2009/10/21/reading-the-disc/

     You may have already guessed that these 5 or 6 students are boys. At the beginning of the year none of them could stay with a book for longer than a few minutes before getting distracted or distracting each other. Although this situation has improved greatly – they are now able to find books they like and are rarely dissatisfied with their choices – I would predict that, if given the choice, they would still rather do anything else than read. That’s OK. My goal for them was that by the end of the year they would like reading a little more than they did at the beginning of grade 7, and that they could identify books and/or authors they enjoy reading. Some now have a book or two on their to-read list.

     Nevertheless, I recently stumbled onto (and, yes, stumbled is precisely how it happened) a way for us to have our cake and eat it, too. I discovered that by incorporating just 10 minutes of partner reading conversations after independent reading, students could talk about books in a relaxed but focused environment. Admittedly, the first few times, students were at a loss as to what to talk about; they are gradually finding ways to keep the conversation going. To help them do this, I guide the class through focused reflections at the end of every partner conversation period. We talk about was hard and/or what went well. In this way, much like adult problem solving conversations about how to have an effective book discussion, we brainstorm solutions to stumbling blocks such as, not knowing what to talk about and avoiding spoilers.  For example, my students suggested, and we adopted, having groups of three instead of pairs as a way to increase the talk on books. During our last debrief, several trios talked about how they had piggy backed on another student’s talk rather than immediately sharing about their book. So, they are learning to extend conversations and respond to each other rather than simply sharing without engaging in a true dialogue.

     Many adult book groups have a group created question or two to guide discussions. I plan to teach my students how to create generic questions for their book talks since they will be talking about different books. A possible next step could be to allow students to self-select partners based on having read the same book, series or author.

     I’m not sure if the no-talking-reading-all-the-time expectation has gotten better or not, but I find other aspects of our literacy workshop have improved. For example, more students are writing reading responses based on that day’s group discussions of books. Their reflections, as a result, are more interesting, to them and to me, and provide a natural formative assessment opportunity. Also, the level of student conversations and what they are getting out of them has improved. One of the biggest payoffs is that they are recommending books to each other. As summer approaches, they are using these suggestions to make mental plans for their summer reading.

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It’s the little things…

It’s the little things that matter.

The unsolicited hug from a student…

The student who watches me intently,
trying to read my mind or having already read it,
in order to decide how she can revise
and adjust her group’s presentation for the next day.

The very simple question, “What was hard about this activity?”
And, the very profound and honest responses
that lead to revisions and improvements in learning.

The collegial conversations, formal and informal,
about assessment, attitudes, unit planning,
and all the other issues that occupy teachers’ work space.

The student that I still can’t figure out,
though I’ve tried,
who suddenly talks about liking to read.
He writes about the first time he understood
what it’s like to be disappointed
when the book you really want has been checked out from the library.

The birthday gift from the student who others have mostly given up on.
Despite many setbacks, he is still eager to learn.

The laughs, inevitable and so important in middle school,
that say,
“Everything’s going to be all right.”

At the end of the day,
I sigh and feel good about what I have accomplished,
and think ahead to the next day’s learning,
and all the little things waiting to happen.
None of this can be measured but all of it is valuable.

It’s the little things that matter.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesday

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