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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Helping Students Track Complex Texts

Q: How do you keep students on track while reading long, complex texts? My students often can't recall previous events, and they're reluctant to search through dozens if not hundreds of pages to find proof for the claims they're making.

With shorter texts, readers typically rely on their memories to recall "what happened" in the text, with a fair degree of accuracy. But what happens when a text is particularly long, involved, and read over an extended period of time? How can we help students better recall and access earlier events?

I rely upon annotating the text directly, and I recommend that for online passages and shorter texts which might be legally copied. But unless your students own the books they're reading, this isn't a practical technique.

For books, I would recommend Page Titles.

The Short Game

Upon our return from winter break, we resumed reading Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now. I realized that students wouldn't recall details of what they had read two weeks ago, so I asked them to number a page in their notebook from 1 to 100 (or, three pages, as it turned it). Students were then directed to skim each page we had previously read, and to devise a title which would 1) help to summarize that page, and 2) identify what was most memorable on that page. I modeled the first two pages, and we then completed two more as a group. After that, students were off to the races.

At first some students struggled to choose short titles which yielded a uniquely identifiable summary of the page, but I allowed quiet discussions between partners; these conversations helped students to persevere with the task and be successful.

Once I observed some signs of fatigue, I stopped students and announced that we were going to play a game. I asked each student to mark three favorite titles. "Choose titles you feel are clever, or especially descriptive of that page. The titles should be so accurate that anyone in the class will be able to identify the exact page you're describing."

I called on the first student who announced, "My Mother's Smile." Immediately hands shot up all over the classroom, and when I asked for the choral answer, nearly every students replied, "23!" Each student who was correct tallied a point in the margin of their page, including the student who shared the title, since he was successful in guiding everyone to the right page. Note that only a few students had the same title, but nearly every student had a similar idea which allowed them to determine the page. By calling out the same page number, they were successful.

Okay, Keith, cool game. But what's the point?

The Long Game

This turned into an excellent lesson on skimming and getting the gist of a text. Skimming and scanning are two tools that are indispensable for readers, especially in the context of nonfiction texts. In fact, skimming and scanning are likely used more often in everyday reading scenarios for adults than reading of complete texts.

After a long day sight seeing in the city, for example, we might stop at several restaurants and skim the menu posted in their windows. What type of fare does this restaurant offer and what prices are we expected to pay? That's skimming. Once we choose our restaurant and are seated, each of us might look quickly over the menu, me for cheapest option, my friend for a vegan option. That's scanning. Once I located the burger of my choice, I would then read closely to see that all of its ingredients were to my liking. That's my complete reading.

Nearly every day, we as teachers demand that students "read carefully and closely," but with skimming we demand that students do the exact opposite. And not surprisingly, it doesn't come naturally to students. In my classroom, we needed to discuss several times what we as readers could do to avoid the temptation to reread every page.

Students also learned not to be "too creative." Some students who devised an overly creative or funny title for a page soon discovered that no one else had any clue what page they were referring to. Classmates also argued that certain titles, one hundred pages from now, wouldn't make sense once the reader had forgotten the clever connection. Therefore, during the game, students were permitted to change their page titles if they heard another that they preferred.

When we played the game a second day (focusing on pages 30-75), I took the time to suggest alternate "poor" titles for each page, challenging students to explain why these titles weren't as effective as those they had created (some were redundant, others too general, etc). I also began setting them up for the final day's prompt, when I would ask them to describe the benefits of the the Page Titles technique. I asked, "What evidence can we find in the story that our protagonist Doug Swieteck appreciates beauty?" Using their page titles, students were able to identify several examples, from an icy bottle of coke to his mother's eyes to the flowers he plants in the yard to the Audubon images he admires in the library.

The Longer Game

As with all techniques introduced to my class, I provide students with a rationale before introducing the steps. The rationale for Page Titles was "to recall earlier events and ideas in a lengthy text."

But after two days in which we had completed one hundred page titles (roughly half of them at home), I wrote the following prompt on the board (student ideas follow):

What are the benefits of writing Page Titles?
  • to summarize the primary ideas or events of the page
  • to review pages which were read some time ago
  • to help locate pages quickly
  • to find where you left off
  • to easily locate text evidence
  • to remember important quotes
  • to identify important passages or events
  • to recognize patterns or recurring events 
  • to compare and contrast events
  • to refer to a certain page that a classmate discusses
  • to better help you understand a character's motives or actions
  • to eliminate the need to reread every page, every time
  • to focus your attention on what you've read
Students admitted that the last bullet (which I needed to provide myself) was particularly important, since we sometimes "read" to the bottom of the page, and see every word on that page, but then ask ourselves, "What did I just read?"

In the highly recommended Reading Strategies Book, Jennifer Serravallo offers several strategies for students to use in order to maintain engagement in a book. But can students always tell that they've broken engagement with a text? Struggling to create a page title is a clear indicator that you, as the reader, haven't read a page as closely as needed, or you have failed to make a connection between what you've read here and what you've read before. Creating a page title forces you to be mindful of each page.

For you, the teacher, this technique pays off big time. For reluctant readers, this strategy allows a painless way to review the text and cement understandings. For all readers, Page Titles allow students to more quickly access text evidence in order to respond thoughtfully to class discussions and writing prompts. Strategies such as Serravalo's Piling Together Traits to Get Theories (Strategy 6.21, page 186) or Notice a Pattern and Give Advice (Strategy 7.1, page 194) or Respond to Issues that Repeat (Strategy 7.20, p. 213) are made less intimidating when the scavenger-hunt aspect is removed from identifying direct evidence in a lengthy text. So the Page Titles technique isn't an end in itself, but in fact a tool that achieves loftier goals in the classroom.

Give it a go. I would love to hear about your students' experiences in the classroom!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Reading Reconsidered: A Playbook for Improved Practice

Whether you’re a new teacher of reading, a seasoned practitioner, or an old dog (like me!), Reading Reconsidered is a must read. Unlike so many other books on the subject of literacy instruction, this text provides an astounding repertoire of strategies and structures, tools and techniques, which can improve the instructional practice of educators at any level.

Where needed, the authors provide references to the studies behind their methods, but the book isn’t meant to be theoretical. It’s meant to be an action plan. The majority of practices discussed in the book are from the classrooms of effective teachers (many from Doug Lemov’s Uncommon Schools), teachers who have led ordinary students to achieve extraordinary results. The examples provided come from countless familiar texts (Grapes of Wrath, Number the Stars, The Great Gatsby, The Outsiders, Lily's Crossing, Lord of the Flies, Chains, etc.) which are taught in thousands of classrooms across the country. For seasoned teachers, many of this book’s ideas will reinforce and validate what you’re already doing in the classroom. As I read, I often found myself saying, “I’ve always done that, and I knew that it worked, but I never knew why until now.”

In other instances, I experienced small epiphanies.

Many teachers, for example, wonder why students do so well in reading comprehension when assessed informally or formatively but then perform poorly when assessed summatively or on “cold” material such as that found on standardized tests. The authors explain that a common cycle in classrooms is reading, discussion, and then writing. This typically yields good results, with all students seeming to be “on the same page.”

However, this particular cycle often yields a false positive; rather than expressing their understanding of the reading, students instead express their understanding of the discussion of that reading. The classroom discussion spackled over any misconceptions or glaring gaps in knowledge, and every student as a result now seems to possess a full comprehension of the text (including those students who may have neglected to even read the text, but paid diligent attention to the ensuing discussion!). That cycle's limitations never occurred to me, and I’ll admit I’ve been lulled by these false positives over the years, thinking that my students knew more than they truly did.

Regarding this practice, the book states, “You want engaged, enthused, deep-thinking readers driving discussion, but you also want to be sure that all students are able to generate solid meaning themselves.” The authors then show how to improve this cycle, as well as how to implement other reading-writing-discussion cycles which better encourage and assess comprehension of, and interaction with, the chosen text. In regard to TDQ (text dependent questions), the authors further explain:

TDQs are those that cannot be answered without a firm knowledge of the text itself. They cannot be faked by carefully listening to the discussion, for example, or by conducting an earnest but in exact reading of the chapter. They cannot be answered by recalling yesterday's reading or by having a strong background knowledge of the subject. To answer TDQs requires attentive reading. Nothing else will do. (p. 75)

Please realize that this book is NOT a quick read! That is meant not as a criticism but as a compliment. Nearly every single page of my copy has margins jammed with notes. Nearly every single chapter has caused me, a teacher 25+ years, to tweak what I’m doing in my classroom. I've revisited the chapter on Close Reading, for example, more times than I can count. While I’ve plowed through dozens of other books on literacy with only the slightest impact on my teaching, I’ll humbly admit that this book has helped me fine tune my practice in nearly every aspect. Using the myriad models and exemplars provided in the text as well as the DVD and web site, I’ve improved discussion, assessments, lesson structure and pacing, often with the slightest change.

That’s what I think is most notable about this book: rather than demand that teachers change everything they’re doing, the authors provide ways for educators to reflect on their practices, ask the right questions about what they're trying to achieve, and implement those targeted changes that aggregate impressive results over time.

To whet your appetite, here are a few thought from Reading Reconsidered:

On the job of the reading teacher:

The reading teacher's job... is to ensure that each and every student - privileged in knowledge and skills or not, motivated (at first) or not - moves steadily and reliably toward mastery of advanced, complex skills. This requires understanding how such skills are built, not just hoping they will bloom. (p. 2)

On "whole books" as source texts:

One of the most important aspects of choosing texts is choosing the types of texts — most important, books, plenty of them, rather than a constant diet of excerpts, passages, and other selections. We are strong believers in “the power of the book,” of students building a sustained relationship with the text over time and coming to understand its perspective and mode(s) of narration- and how they shift. In fact, only by glimpsing these changes and variations as part of a sustained relationship between reader and text can students really learn to read… Even in an era of test-based accountability, the most successful schools and teachers consistently opt, in our observations, for books — and books of substance — as the core of their instructional choices. (p. 25)

On the limits of leveling books:

The places where books fell when we graphed them didn't seem in accord with our sense of what students really found it difficult. This is best shown in the nearly equivalent Lexile scores given to Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders. They are, according to the graph, all but interchangeable. In terms of our students’ experiences reading them, however, they couldn't be more different. One was among the most challenging books our seventh graders read, while the other was among the easiest. (p. 27)

On the importance of reading for pleasure:

A world in which students did nothing but slog through hundreds of pages of Dickens would be a pretty dark and Dickensian one. Our advice is to address the plagues with balance and judiciousness. Should you read some texts just for the sheer joy of them? Or for the power of the story a certain book tells about the world? Of course! You don't need us to tell you there are lots of other reasons to choose books than text complexity, no matter how much it helps prepare students for college. (p. 43)

On the importance of challenging texts:

Fed on a diet of only what's “accessible” to them — but which is also often insufficient to prepare them for college — they are consigned to lower standards from the outset by our very efforts to help them. So the question for a harder text should not be whether but how, in addition to what. (p. 44)

On text dependent questions:

Text-dependent questions are specific and can be answered only when students have read carefully and understood an author’s specific arguments. They do not preclude other word the questions; in fact they often precede them. (p. 62)

On close reading:

As we noted earlier, regardless of what line(s) of questioning you choose to employ in a particular lesson, trying to Close Read with insufficiently complex text is unlikely to succeed. The rigor and value of establishing meaning correlate to the rigor and value of the text.(p. 83)

A key aspect of Close Reading, ultimately, is identifying and attending to a line of inquiry. It's what you do when you write a paper about a text. So it is often helpful to know before you start what idea you want students to read a text for. This does not have to mean there is a “right answer” so much as a consistent area of focus — a line of inquiry you will follow. Often this means modeling how to “argue a line,” tracing a theme, a motive, a conflict, or an image through the complexity of a text. Other times, it could mean asking students to identify the “line” they find the most interesting. That's great too — especially if they've seen you model how to do it right. (p. 99)

For example, it is important to use Close Reading skills in response to both challenge (“Wow, that is really hard; I'm going to go back through and tear it apart until I get what she means”) and opportunity (“Wow, that imagery is so striking; I'm going to go back through and make sense of why it seems so important”). (p. 102)

On secondary texts:

A powerful, rigorous, and engaging primary text is one of the key drivers of successful literacy instruction, but it is also useful to think about the additional shorter texts that relate to the primary text in some way. These secondary texts could give context, provide background, show a contrast, or develop a useful idea that helps students better engage the primary text. Nonfiction, we argue, is ideal as a secondary text. (p. 122)

On writing for reading:

Long ago, before credit cards and the Euro, when you traveled, you could use only money coins in the kingdom where you were at the time. Regardless of the amount of money you had, if it wasn't in the “coin of the realm,” it wouldn't help you much. To this day, ideas, interpretations, and analyses are similar. They get full faith and credit only if they are expressed in the coin of the realm, which, in college and in much of professional life, means in writing. Written responses are the way students demonstrate their depth of understanding. In almost any college classroom — certainly in the humanities — it is the format in which mastery is finally expressed and in which ideas get the fullest credit. (p. 160)

On the perils of confusing discussion with text comprehension:

Certainly at some point we want students to combine their own insights with the best of what their peers thought, but our responsibility as reading teachers is to ensure that students can create meaning directly from reading, on their own and without the support of a roomful of peers… Some of our smartest students are able to compensate for a lack of critical reading skills with good listening skills, and the two are not the same. (p. 163)

From Reading Reconsidered, pp. 164, 165

On student autonomy:

As students gain autonomy in their thinking, they’ll ideally begin initiating Stop and Jots without teacher prompting. Student-generated practices include marking up a text with notes in the margin, writing a quick self-generated summary at the end of a particularly challenging text, or posing a question regarding the author’s tone between paragraphs while reading. These are useful behaviors to look for to assess the degree to which students have internalized writing as a thinking tool: Do they grab their pencils and scribble notes of their own volition as they are reading or listening to discussions? (p. 169)

On revision in writing (using Read-Write-Discuss-Revise):

But revising is more than just a tool to bolster discussion. The act of revision forces students to refine their initial analysis. Writing to define is among the most rigorous and important tasks we can ask of our students. Consistently asking students to revise their writing supports them in effectively polishing their writing and ideas. Further, asking students to revise based on insights from the discussion causes them to listen better during discussion. It socializes students to listen differently — they must listen actively for ways to develop their initial ideas. (p. 173)

On explicit and implicit vocabulary instruction:

A primary goal of Explicit Vocabulary Instruction is to model for students the depth of knowledge that is involved in mastering words: to own a word has to know not just its definition but its different forms, its multiple meanings, its connotations, and the situations in which it is normally applied. Explicit Vocabulary Instruction models this for students by making a case study out of certain words and their application. Its goal is depth, and it requires studying fewer words better. It is a deep dive into a limited number of words — sometimes just one or two — rather than a cursory introduction or gloss-over of long lists of terms. (p. 253)

One of the best ways to ask students to use and apply new vocabulary words is to ground your questions in the text. Consider asking students to describe situations or novels that you are reading. (For example, “Which one of our vocabulary words describes how Jesse must be feeling right now? Why?”) (p. 283)

If you've ever read Teach Like a Champion, consider this a worthy companion. Reading Reconsidered describes how many techniques (such as Front the Writing, p. 165) from TLAC are put into play in the reading/writing classroom.

Reading Reconsidered is a huge book of over 400 pages, but don't let that daunt you. When we buy a recipe book we don't think, "I can never make all of this food at once!" Instead, we try one dish at a time, gaining confidence in an ever-expanding repertoire of dishes and the requisite skills needed to create them.

If your PLN is seeking a change-provoking title for a book club, this text will provide you with at least a year’s worth of study and discussion. It's especially effective in this regard due to the numerous specific teaching strategies, the DVD exemplars of these strategies in action, and the extensive print resources provided in text chapters as well as the appendix.

Highly recommended for teachers-to be, as well as practicing professionals at any level.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reading for Real: The Benefits of Silent Reading in the Classroom

One way that motivation and engagement are instilled and maintained is to provide students with opportunities to select for themselves the materials they read and topics they research. One of the easiest ways to build some choice into the students’ school day is to incorporate independent reading time in which they can read whatever they choose. Yet this piece of the curriculum is often dropped after the primary grades. 
~Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy

Do you want your students to love reading? Allow them to read more.

We over-complicate this. We ask students to read, but then we ply them with onerous reading logs or written responses that transform reading into a detested chore.

For over twenty years, I taught my students how to read well, but I'm ashamed to admit that I only occasionally inspired a lasting love of reading. Too few students went on to become voracious readers for me to claim success in this regard.

But that changed last year when I began to include sustained silent reading (SSR) in my classroom. For many years I followed the edict that independent reading was meant for home, and that it should be recorded in a draconian manner in a reading log. But after experiencing the headaches of these logs with my own daughters, I vowed to find a better way.

In prior years, the irony never escaped me that many times during transitional periods, I was forced to admonish students to put away their self-selected books because we were moving on to the next part of a lesson. In other words, "How dare you read in Reading class?"

If you’re a fan of the television drama Law and Order, you know that suspects are identified by determining motive and opportunity. We can grow readers by providing these two variables! In my classroom, SSR time is called SQUIRT (Super Quiet Uninterrupted Independent Reading Time). This fifteen minutes, which occurs at the start of each 90 minute block of ELA, is held sacred by providing everyone, including the teacher, the opportunity to read quietly.

Just a few benefits of SQUIRT observed since its inception:
  1. Students see their teacher, and their peers, as models for reading.
  2. Students have immediate access to a wide variety of reading materials. 
  3. Reading takes on a social aspect when students read together (even quietly) or when students are allowed to discuss selections or recommend books to classmates. 
  4. The reading session acts as a "palate cleanser," allowing students to set aside the drama of the previous class periods and prime their minds for language instruction. 
  5. Students wrestle with content taught in the classroom using books of appropriate challenge and personal interest. According to the Educational Leadership report titled Synthesis of Research/ Reading Comprehension: What Works, a prime benefit of independent reading time “is the sheer opportunity to orchestrate the skills and strategies that are important to proficient reading—including comprehension. As in sports and music, practice makes perfect in reading, too.” 
  6. Students build a vast store of vocabulary and subject area knowledge. That same Synthesis states: "Reading results in the acquisition of new knowledge, which, in turn, fuels the comprehension process. Research of the late 1970s and early '80s consistently revealed a strong reciprocal relationship between prior knowledge and reading comprehension ability. The more one already knows, the more one comprehends; and the more one comprehends, the more one learns new knowledge to enable comprehension of an even greater and broader array of topics and texts."
  7. The teacher can observe student reading behaviors firsthand.
That last benefit is especially powerful. Many teachers use self-assessments to gather initial impressions of students' reading habits and preferences. Steven L. Layne provides an excellent self-assessment in Igniting a Passion for Reading, an invaluable resource for those teachers seeking to grow avid readers. But ongoing observation yields equally valuable results.

On a daily basis I note what genres and topics interest individual students, and I also note who can persist with longer texts over time. I observe how students' book choices are influenced by those of their peers or by the book they’ve just completed. I can confidently recommend “next-reads” for individual students based upon what I've seen them enjoy. For example, the student who just finished the nonfiction baseball book Why is the Foul Pole Fair? might be interested in reading a DiMaggio biography or some short fiction by Kinsella.

Realize that Sustained Silent Reading is NOT a reading program. SSR is not intended to take the place of direct instruction or student-centered inquiry approaches to language arts. In an article at, Joan Sedita, founding partner of Keys to Literacy, additionally warns that
“Educators must be careful to not consider SSR as an intervention for struggling readers or as an activity that can take the place of direct, systematic instruction to address weaknesses in reading skills. For example, for students who need to develop fluency skills, research has not yet confirmed whether independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback improves reading achievement and fluency … because struggling readers are not likely to make effective use of silent independent reading.”
So how can teachers make the most productive use of SSR in the classroom? 

Below I've listed potential problems which teachers often share, along with some suggestion solutions.

Students will use this time for activities other than reading. 

Only if you let them. From the beginning, establish strict guidelines for SSR and enforce those guidelines with vigilance, especially when first initiating the program. Modeling cannot be overemphasized.

Some students will come to class without anything to read.

Create a “recommended reads” section of your classroom library stocked with popular titles, short stories, magazines, etc. This also serves as an excellent resource for early finishers to find a quick read.

How will I know that students are “really reading” during quiet reading time?

Institute occasional opportunities for students to share what they’re reading with others. Check out this fun assessment suggested by educator Catlin Tucker. Other check-ins are available, such as those suggested in No More Independent Reading Without Support. The authors explain that “when we set children loose day after day with no focus or support, it can lead to fake reading and disengagement… It’s our job to equip children with the tools they need when we’re not there.”

My administrator doesn’t see the value in this activity.

Share some of the quotes on this page, as well as research from the links collected on my original roundtable hand-out.

I can't see myself reading with them; it simply isn’t a good use of my time.

Students need to see their teacher enjoying literature. Plus, you need time to read widely in many genres and authors in order to confidently recommend texts to your students.

We teach according to the standards. Quiet reading doesn’t have a place in our curriculum.

Concepts discussed in class can be extended to discussions about students’ independent reading. If the class is studying similes and metaphors, for example, students can be asked to look for these in their own reading. Students can also be encouraged to bookmark examples of writing which they feel to be exemplary in any way.

We like the idea of independent reading, and we feel that time spent reading is necessary. But we need help teaching students to read mindfully.

For this, I would recommend Doug Lemov's Reading Reconsidered and a method he calls Accountable Independent Reading (AIR).

In a chapter titled Approaches to Reading; Reading More, Reading Better, Lemov writes, "Accountable Independent Reading involves students in reading texts independently... and allows teachers to assess whether effective reading is actually happening. Much of the reading students do in school fails to meet these criteria. And, unfortunately, the students reading the least are often the ones who need to read the most." Multiple experiences with AIR (in its various forms described in the book) help students to read more purposefully when reading on their own. See my complete write-up on this invaluable resource.

We can’t allow choice reading, but we want to use SSR for assigned reading. How can we ensure that students are engaging with the text?

Choice reading is really the point of SSR, but having students read an engaging assigned text is a step in the right direction. Accountability can be ensured through a guiding question, post-its, or a written reflection that allows students to focus on those aspects of the text which appeal to them or challenge them at their independent level. And again, refer to the AIR methods described in Lemov's Reading Reconsidered.

What excuse is keeping you from taking the plunge? I would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below.

Recommended Reading:

In No More Independent Reading Without Support, authors Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss ask, "What if there was a time when things slowed down? No rotations, activities, or worksheets—just you, your kids, and books. Would you take it?"

From the publisher: "We know children learn to read by reading. Is independent reading valuable enough to use precious classroom minutes on? Yes, writes Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss, but only if that time is purposeful. DEAR and SSR aren’t enough. Research shows that independent reading must be accompanied by intentional instruction and conferring. Debbie and Barbara clear a path for you to take informed action that makes a big difference,"

For additional online resources, access the original roundtable document presented at the "Hot Topics by Top Teachers" session at the 2016 New Jersey Educational Association Conference.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Mentor Text Display Cards

I frequently use mentor texts in the classroom, and students find them incredibly valuable as exemplars for their own writing. But too often in the past, our experience with mentor texts has been "out of sight, out of mind." Students simply forget them over time. So how can we keep mentor texts forefront in students' minds?
For each exemplar text we study, whether it be a picture book, poem, article, or excerpt from a novel, I've posted a simple letter-size display card listing the book title, author, illustrator, genre, theme, notable text features, and a text excerpt (see example below). On a bookshelf adjacent to these cards, I've shelved all of the mentor texts we've already read, as well as those I intend to use in the near future. You can view my sample Mentor Text Display Cards for Picture Books, or Mentor Text Display Cards for Novels

With just a few cards posted, already I've seen several benefits:

  • During free reading time, students will return to these texts since they're familiar and meaningful.
  • Students struggling to recall text features or literary devices will look to these cards for help.
  • Students now make discoveries of their own in their independent texts, and some have even suggested book excerpts for future sharing. This, in itself, is revealing, because students are noticing features and literary devices that haven't been formally introduced through our other texts.
  • The collection of cards serves as clear evidence of our classroom goal to create a common culture of literacy, while recognizing unique attributes of each text that we study. 
While I created the first few cards, I see no reason why future cards can't be made by students themselves. The blank prototype card I've provided is easy to duplicate and edit. After reviewing the cards I've shared, you may also decide that what I've chosen to illustrate on my cards doesn't quite serve your purposes, so I welcome you to customize them as you see fit. If you're a Google Docs user, simply open the link that I've shared, click on File in the top menu, and choose Make a Copy to create your own editable set of cards.

Looking to the future, I see some other uses for these cards:
  • Printed out, these cards can be inserted in the books they reference. That way, even if you choose not to use a book in a given year, a student can still benefit from the information the card provides.
  • Individual cards can be saved as pdf files, and these can be digitally stored for student access. My own teacher website has an index that would work well with this concept.
  • I chose to post my cards chronologically, since students will remember a book that was read "a long time ago" (two weeks ago!) and find it easier to reference if the cards are posted by occurrence. But I can also see posting cards closer to those shelves that they might reference. So my Fever 1793 card might be posted adjacent to the historical fiction section of my class library, and my Fellowship of the Ring card might be located near the fantasy section.
  • As students read their own books, they can create their own display cards to illustrate the "take-aways" of their individual texts.
Via Google slides I've provided you several cards to get started (all the books on these cards have been featured on this blog; see links below), including a blank prototype for editing online, as well as a blank that can be printed out if you prefer students to create a card using paper and pencil. Again, you will need to open the link, click on File in the top menu, and choose Make a Copy to create your own editable set of cards.

Need help teaching theme and theme statements? Check out this previous post. You can also check out my write-ups or activities for any of the following books or stories featured on the sample cards:

I'd love to hear your ideas for these cards, as well as ways you plan to customize them for your own classroom.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Student Presentations that Don't Suck

Most of us have heard of the inspirational TED Talks. We would love for students to give classroom presentations that were just as engaging and thought provoking.

Slightly less well-known than TED talks are the Ignite Talks which allow speakers only five minutes; additionally, the accompanying slides to each talk advance automatically every fifteen seconds. Now this is a format we can definitely adapt and use in the classroom!

One of my favorites is Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, speaking about How to Get 5 Million People to View Your Website:

Another favorite is Scott Berkun's Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk, which not only gives a cool insight into the Ignite format, but also provides a pretty compact lesson of effective storytelling. This one is more school appropriate, and this Ignite video could even serve as a "how to" for middle and high school students to plan their own talks:

For your next staff meeting or student presentation, give this format a shot. Perhaps just three minutes instead of five. Sometimes less is more!