Responding to the Reading with Writing

Whenever my class reads their assigned section of the class novel, they can expect to be responding by writing. That is why I make sure they are so very diligent with their annotations.

IMG_0177Thankfully, as discussed in my previous post regarding Notice and Note Signposts, it is much easier for them to identify the concrete details or examples to cite from the book to insert into their literary responses. One of my group of readers is reading Uprising by Margaret Haddix. After reading through about half of the book, I have them STOP and think about one of the protagonists. They have a choice between Bella, Yetta or Jane. Once they pick one, they are to characterize her. In other words, how would they describe her in a “two-chunk” Schaffer paragraph. This is just an approximately 11-sentence paragraph which utilizes 2 direct examples from their reading. They must make commentary about each example and include a topic sentence and concluding sentence. It may be structured as assigned, but they have become masterful about embedding text into their paragraphs seamlessly. They must make it flow with proper transitions.

Now, this is where they can scour their annotations (they focus on the C & C mainly) and find some examples that would support their chosen character which they can see changing and growing in the book.

Here are a few samples from my 8th graders from this book:
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The other book going in the class parallels this with history regarding Ellis Island entry and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch

Here are a few writing samples from this book:

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This is only the start. I plan on introducing the next signpost (Tough Questions) when I feel they have mastered AHA and C & C. In the meantime, they are mastering the literary responses thanks to the ease of annotating as they read.


Talking to the book; noticing and noting one signpost at at time

Becoming a close reader is the first step in interacting with a text critically. The next piece involves pulling out and citing evidence to support a paragraph dealing with character, plot, conflict etc. The annotation process makes this so much easier if evidence is found while one reads.

Trying to teach students what to mark and how to mark has been a career-long battle. It is easy for me to say, “Just talk to your book and read with your pencil.” For me, it is intuitive. Often, I have to read the book as if I was a 7th or 8th grader with this lens trying to figure out what to mark.

This summer it all became clear when I picked up Notice and Note by Probst and Beers. The reader can now pay close attention to the text with a purpose. The six signposts lessons are designed to encourage close reading.

Since close reading is subjective, the rigor lies in the transaction between the reader and the text. In other words, “The essence of rigor is engagement and commitment.” (23) This eases my fears of students not working at their given level because I know now that I can differentiate instruction by using perhaps a simpler text. Furthermore, I can have higher expectations of interaction from the higher reader to question deeper and more critically. Also, when the reader is asking the questions, the power lies in the student. This empowers the students to be the owner of the thoughts and not me; I am merely their facilitator. When I ask the questions, I know the answers. When students ask questions, they almost never already know the answer but will have to think about how to answer their thoughtful question.

I began the year with the lesson “Contrasts and Contradictions” using their scripted “Thank You Ma’am” lesson. The students understood this lesson and then practiced by taking home “The Lamb and the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl to read and annotate with C and Cs. The next day, we discussed their annotations as a class. The theory behind this is that the reader will come to a point in a text where a character’s actions or thoughts clearly contradict previous patterns or contrast with the patterns the reader would normally expect. This gives the reader new insights into the character or in other words, the reader might say, “This surprised me.” At this time, the reader should STOP (NOTICE) and then mark (NOTE) this in the margin. I have the students put “C & C” and then the anchor question, “Why is the character doing that?” They may abbreviate this question, but they must write this in the margin along with a prediction or two. This habit of writing the anchor question must be established because it will eventually become innate. They will soon start to just be able to mark it with C & C and move on, knowing that this passage will be a key in the character’s development. When they are asked to write a paragraph (I use the Jane Schaffer method) about the character changing in some way, the student will be able to cite this passage in MLA language and interpret it with a strong topic sentence and conclusion. Now we have a complete package of annotation and literary response.

Instead of teaching the six signposts up front, I decided to teach them as we proceed through the first quarter. It made more sense to dive into their class novels (Uprising by Haddix and Ashes of Roses by Mary Auch) and have them start to annotate for C & C and AHA (which I taught next). Then we can cumulatively add them as they become more comfortable marking for each. Having an anchor question on their bookmark helps simplify this immensely.

side1 side2Every other week, we write a response paragraph. Then at the end, they will write a larger essay. Mastering the response paragraph with a topic sentence, concrete details or examples, explanations or commentary and a strong concluding sentence is my initial goal before worrying about perfecting the essay format.

The students came to class with books filled with marks of multiple C & C recognitions. They felt so enlightened and confident by having a specific anchor question that it helped them understand the book and began rich discussions. We do a weekly Lit Circle called Book Buds. With that, students come to the group with their annotated book and a completed Reading Notebook assignment. In their Book Buds, they are asked to write down two examples of C & Cs they found in their reading on two separate post it notes. (And AHA’s which I also covered) As a group, they discuss their post-it note findings then vote on three to post on the large post-it paper on the board. They then come up to present them to the class. This helped the slower kids see what they could have marked, and this gave a chance for the higher kids to develop some rich discussions with each other.

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I foresee this building through the year with each signpost. Moreover, this will enable the students to see themes, conflicts, character changes and plot developments more clearly. I cannot wait for the year to unfold and students to become closer more involved readers.

At this point, they look forward to NOTICING and NOTING in their book.


Pub Club Passion

This Friday, my little group of Pubbers met. Not only was it well attended, but they truly embraced reading poetry, writing, and the idea of germinating their minds with creativity. Even one of my former students attended to show her passion and to share her insights. IMG_3154

We read “Litany” by Billy Collins, and then they penned their own versions of metaphor poems.

It is not about the club, but more about being real and enthusiastic. Students this year seem to be more engaged and excited to learn. Perhaps it is due to me being different in that I’m filled to capacity with love (for my family/Tatum). Whatever the reason, teaching has become more about life-sharing, contagious enthusiasm for what they are to know, and setting purposeful intentions to everything I do with them.

Basically, when I am at work, I am 100% there. I have to be now that I have Tatum. This has forced me to be more organized, efficient, yet effective in the moment.

I hope to inspire these students (and my others) to follow their dreams, to work hard persevering, and to become life-long lovers of learning.


Reading and the Joy of Discovery!

I am on a roll! One of the joys of my job is I get to “test” books for my curriculum. So far, I’ve read quite a few. For 8th, I’d like to add (to what they currently read) To Kill a Mockingbird, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Pearl. For 7th, I’ll add The Breadwinner, Johnny Tremain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Stand Tall, Bad Boy, and the Story of Helen Keller.


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As I read with Tatum, and hopefully modeling this obsession, mom bought her Pat the Bunny. Coti is of course taking it all in.


After this..she discovers cups! Putting one inside another is definitely a puzzle she is discovering


Maybe she will figure out how to get the bell out of the cube?


Getting out of the boat

Floating among the comforts of life can be still and peaceful. One day, the storms hit and they bring rough waters and not so smooth sailing. Now, do you stay in the boat for safety? Sure! However, what if you stepped out of the boat and attempted to find a more stable or sturdy ship? Sometimes, we are called to make hard choices. Both are very admirable and positive. What do you do? Do you flip a coin? First, you pray…and pray hard. Then, you wait.

Waiting requires faith to get out of the boat and ride the storm, and it may be for longer than desired. I have made a choice, and now I wait.


IRP: the process is the power.

“Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and griefs which we endure help us in our marching onward.” –Henry Ford. Seven months of living with a topic of their choosing, the 8th graders overcame many new challenges and achieved a milestone in their maturity.

Here’s  my objective:Package an independent research project into a curriculum meeting many core standards while applying service learning and project based learning.

This project engages the HEART (a student’s passion);  HEAD (research skills); HANDS: (apply into a service learning project); and MOUTH (students present their complete project to a large audience, challenging them to take action)

The 2013 8th grade IRP (Independent Research Project) started in September of 2012 and will commence the week of May 21st. Each presentation will be condensed into a 10-minute overview of all the parts of their project. There was an added component last year to make it become real: ACTION! Starting in the fall, 8th graders are perusing their brain files and scanning their hearts for what argumentative topic they want to adopt. They write a thesis statement and jump in with both feet. Vast research along with expert interviews occur, as well as in-depth understandings of academic MLA writing. Once they have completed their seven page paper, they need to take ACTION. How can they go out now and affect others with their newfound understandings? They are to do a service project since they now have such passion for their topics.

For example, last year,  one student not only educated us on this growing epidemic of Autism, but then worked one on one with autistic kids, learning how they respond to behavioral therapies.  Another student was passionate about stopping animal testing and put up a web page informing the public and petitioning to stop this. Cyberbullying and other bullying topics were chosen, and one student made presentations to younger audiences about how to confront the problem and avoid it.  In fact, one student wrote a thirty-four chapter novel and posted it to a well populated literary website. She had readers from all over the world affected by her book, learning about how to overcome this growing problem.

Their entire presentation will include ended an art piece/brochure depicting a visual image of their IRP topic. In their conclusions, they challenged the audience with pleas to make a difference in their own communities.

Currently, I am grading the 8th grade IRP for 2013. Tatum is helping me out!

Give her an A, mom!

So far, I am very impressed and so is she!


Here are the 8th graders Theses:

Topic/Thesis (not formally written)
Awareness and intervention for suicide
Provide gov’t funding for space exploration and encourage private funding…if continued solve problems for earth
Testing cosmetics on animals should be stopped immediately because there are alternatives that are more accurate
The rise in obesity among children and teens and needs to be addressed
Head trauma in youth hockey is very controversial topic…two sides about how to enforce contact and at what age allowed.
Women in the ME are being the basic right of education
The American gov’t vows to serve and protect all citizens but the LGBT community feels unsafe in their own home
Veterans need help getting into a normal routine and achieving the quality of life they deserve
How has “Don’t ask don’t tell” effected America
Artists need to be more careful about reading and understanding what they are signing to avoid exploitation by record companies
The BP Oil company poses a serious threat to fishermen’s livelihoods, marine wildlife, beaches, habitats, and human health
Hunger a complex and widespread problem that people need to completely understand
Neuroscientists have just begun to conduct studies asking the question of video game effects on the brain. They seem to have long term effects in a negative and a positive way.
Celebrities are becoming more and more involved in our lives
There is much controversy about AZ SB1070 and racial profiling …getting to the bottom of it is important. It’s damaging our state and needs to be revised
We need to revise the way we think about immigration in this country and what we can do to improve our policies in order to benefit our country and immigrants
Outsourcing is a concept which many people and business thrive, yet many are living harder lives without jobs since the jobs were sent away to other countries.
There is much that can be done to emotionally help the families and friend of someone that has been victimized by breast cancer.
Excessive screen time is affecting children in a negative way
There is a solution to the fear of flying that can be right in front of people’s eyes 
Concussions drastically change NFL players lives
Current AZ gun laws are putting many lives in danger and they should be stricter
There are many questions behind where the money is going for cancer research that needs to be answered
We should be more careful for ADHD with medications
Same sex marriage should be legal in order to fulfill everyone’s rights.
Cancer has been disrupting families for many years, but there are ways you can help your mom, dad or maybe friend that has cancer
Poverty causes many problems such as immigration issues, death, corruption, worldwide economic problems, hunger and more. Debt cancellation which is believed to be the only solution, should be completed to end poverty worldwide…
America needs a new tax plan so people so that the amount that people pay is fairly distributed
We are an oil dependent society but many people feel that we should us other types of energy
People in all walks of life rich or poor educated or blue-collar young and old can be animal abusers.
Verbal bullying affects people in horrible ways and can even lead death. 
The same animal protection that keeps domestic animals safe should be used in factory farms. Our society should not tolerate the abuse and suffering inflicted upon these animals.
While the US Space program faulters, other countries gain on the US