In the previous post, I focused on the story of how my collaboration partner and I got here. This post is dedicated to where we are now, and where we hope to go.
Even though our collaboration started with a focus on our French as a second language classes, I am also trained as an English teacher and Meghann also teaches science. The resources we use are a mixture of those focused on second language instruction and a wide range of other sources. During this past school year, one of our vice-principals bought a book and put it in my colleague and collaboration partner Meghann’s mailbox in our staff copy room. Meghann started reading it, and it wasn’t very long before she was sending me pictures of it and quotes from it. The book was this one:
If you haven’t read it, here’s the teaser from inside the front cover:
When we hear about these energized kids and their collaborative investigations, many of us sigh and think, “Wow, that’s the way I’d really like to teach.” And we have all probably tried a few projects like these over the years. But even as we are charmed by and attracted to the active, cooperative learning portrayed in these accounts, it can also strike us as idealistic, time-consuming, or risky. Can we really trust kids to take and sustain this kind of initiative? Can we cover all the required subjects this way? Will students do OK on high-stakes assessments? Does this kind of teaching really work?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is this book.
With the little sneak peeks I had seen, I knew it was a book I wanted to read too. (If you want to sneak a peek too, you can do it over here.) I asked if there were any additional copies floating around, and it turned out there was one available. I started reading as well, and although I was behind Meghann, we continued to share our excitement over a book that was just right for us, just where we were. (As I write this, I think I want to go back and re-read parts of it – it’s really good!)
As we talked about what we were reading, we focused on fitting it together with the other things we were already doing and learning. We talked about how it fit with learning maps, with portfolio-based assessment, and with integrating the core competencies of thinking, communication, and personal and social identity into our classes. This was a book that we could learn a lot from.
Through our discussion, we also realized we wanted to learn more and explore the ideas in more depth, and so we started building a reading list for ourselves. That one book has led us to this reading list:
- Embedding Formative Assessment – Dylan Wiliam and Siobhán Leahy
Synopsis: Effective classroom formative assessment helps educators make minute-by-minute, day-by-day instructional decisions. This clear, practical guide for teachers centers on five key instructional strategies, along with an overview of each strategy and practical formative assessment techniques for implementing it in K-12 classrooms.
Why it’s on our list: Now that we have our learning maps in place, we want to align our assessment with them, and incorporate more formative assessment to help support the growth mindset we are establishing in our classrooms.
- Writing Circles: Kids Revolutionize Workshop – Jim Vopat
Synopsis: If literature circles work with your readers, Jim Vopat has exciting news: peer-led small groups are just as effective with writers.Read Writing Circles and find out how they:
- lead students from practice to progress as they write, respond, and lead one another toward better writing
- motivate and engage everyone through choice–including struggling writers and English learners
- develop voice and encourage risk-taking across genres
- rehabilitate the writing wounded and nurture growth through peer response–not critique
- make teaching more efficient by reducing the need for one-on-one conferring.
Vopat helps you get started with circles and shows how they can help you achieve instructional goals. He includes step-by-step guidance for implementation and assessment, activities that make management smooth, and minilessons that scaffold growth in skills, topic selection, and craft.
Writing Circles are a revolution, not an evolution, in writing workshop–the missing link between independent student writing and whole-group instruction. Try them with your students; give kids the space, safety, and support they need; and see why circles are as powerful for writers as they are for readers.
Why it’s on our list: Honestly, we chose it because of the way it was described in the first book we read. However, it’s easily the most influential book of all that we have read so far (aside from the learning maps book) and we have BIG plans for this. Really big.
- Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles – Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke
Synopsis: Harvey Daniels’ Literature Circles introduced tens of thousands of teachers to the power of student-led book discussions. Nancy Steineke’s Reading and Writing Together showed how a teacher can nurture friendship and collaboration among young readers. Now, Daniels and Steineke team up to focus on one crucial element of the Literature Circle model; the short, teacher-directed lessons that begin, guide and follow-up every successful book club meeting.Mini-lessons are the secret to book clubs that click. Each of these forty-five short, focused, and practical lessons includes Nancy and Harvey’s actual classroom language and is formatted to help busy teachers with point-by-point answers to the questions they most frequently ask.
How can I:
- steer my students toward deeper comprehension?
- get kids interested in each others’ ideas?
- make sure kids choose just-right books?
- help students schedule their reading and meeting time?
- deal with kids who don’t do the reading?
- get kids to pay more attention to literary style and structure?
- help special education and ELL students to participate actively in book clubs?
- get kids to expand their repertoire of reading strategies?
- make sure groups are on-task when I’m not looking over their shoulder?
- introduce writing tools (including role sheets) that support student discussion?.
- help shy or dominating members get the right amount of “airtime?”
- give grades for book clubs without ruining the fun?
- use scientific research to justify the classroom time I spend on literature circles?
Each mini-lesson spells out everything from the time and materials needed to word-by-word instructions for students. The authors even warn “what could go wrong,” helping teachers to avoid predictable management problems. With abundant student examples, reproducible forms, photographs of kids in action, and recommended reading lists, Mini-lessons for Literature Circles helps you deepen student book discussions, create lifelong readers, and build a respectful classroom community.
Why it’s on our list: This book was also referenced in the first book we read, and we were looking for something practical and easy to use that we can adapt for second language learners. Part of it refers to mini-lessons for whole books, which is something we do in a more limited way with second language learners, but definitely a rich source of ideas.
- Teaching Literacy in The Visible Learning Classroom, Grades K-5 – Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, John Hattie
Synopsis: Whether through direct instruction, guided instruction, peer-led and independent learning–every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design. In this companion to Visible Learning for Literacy, Fisher, Frey, and Hattie show you how to use learning intentions, success criteria, formative assessment and feedback to achieve profound instructional clarity. Chapter by chapter, this acclaimed author team helps put a range of learning strategies into practice, depending upon whether your K-5 students are ready for surface, deep, or transfer levels of understanding.
Why it’s on our list: Visible learning paired with literacy activities have been some of the most successful, most engaging things we have experienced with our students. Even through this book is focused on younger learners, the strategies are adaptable for second language learners who have less proficiency in the second language than they do in the first.
- Teaching Literacy in The Visible Learning Classroom, Grades 6-12 – Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, John Hattie, Marisol Thayre
Synopsis: Whether through direct instruction, guided instruction, peer-led and independent learning–every student deserves a great teacher, not by chance, but by design. In this companion to Visible Learning for Literacy, Fisher, Frey, and Hattie show you how to use learning intentions, success criteria, formative assessment and feedback to achieve profound instructional clarity. Chapter by chapter, this acclaimed author team helps put a range of learning strategies into practice, depending upon whether your 6-12 students are ready for surface, deep, or transfer levels of understanding.
Why it’s on our list: As mentioned above, visible learning activities have been engaging and our students have experienced a high degree of success. Because we teach students from grade 8-12, we want to mix in activities that are appropriate for an older audience.
Where we go from here
We are currently inviting other language teachers to join us in reading Writing Circles (book #2 on the list) and collaborating on the implementation of the concept in second language classes. We are looking forward to this project and are very excited about where it can go. We started with the idea of using it just with our French classes, but now we’re also seeing possibilities for Meghann’s science classes, which is even more exciting. We hope to have more to share at a later date!
(P.S. – if you’re a local second language teacher at the high school level and are interested in collaborating with us on this project, we would love to hear from you!)