To follow up from the original post here, I would like to provide a more in depth description of the first section of the post.
BEHIND THE SCENES TEACHER SET UP WORK
1. A Library: It goes without saying that you need books in order to write about reading. If you don’t have a class library, seek out support to invest in one as soon as possible. You won’t regret it. Here is a database where you can find books for all languages.
2. A Notebook: Students should have a 100 sheet notebook for class. I divide mine into 5 sections: One for writing about reading, one for quick writes or other writing prompts, one for vocab reference sheets, one for grammar resources, and one for speaking prompts. I have used blogs and other online tools for students to write with in the past, but my preference is the notebook. Students can leave it in class if they prefer so it is always available. They can easily reference back to previous responses to see their growth over time and reflect on progress. They can also access other reference materials in the same notebook so it is handy.
3, Time: I currently provide students with one week for the reading and writing cycle. On Monday, I check any homework and do a short lesson to focus the group on a writing strategy they can use in their work for the week. The short lesson is responsive in that I typically look at the work that came in from the previous reading and writing week and see what would be most beneficial to the students to work on. Then, I take and project a student example that demonstrates that skill and we examine how they crafted their work. After that short lesson (8-10 minutes at most) students write their personal writing goal for the week. The goal could be to use the strategy that was demonstrated if they need that in their writing or they may use their knowledge from their Spanish writing or language arts class of what they need to work on and use that as a focus. They could also directly use the feedback I would have given them from the previous cycle to create their goal. After they set their goal, they begin reading. Beginning on Tuesday, the time is fluid so students alternate between reading and responding as they are ready to do so. During this time, I circulate in the room and check in with students, especially when they are writing. I also have a spreadsheet to track reading and writing habits for classes that need that support. Before beginning we discuss the strong correlation between their habits and the quality of their work. Defining the core habits helps redirect students concretely when there is a problem with focus during work time. There is also a checklist that I use as frequently as is needed to train students in the the habits that will help them be successful and to help them be more self-aware. Ideally, they will have the response ready by Friday, but some will turn them in the following Monday. I have 39 minute classes daily. On average, students will have a reading/writing week once every two to three weeks, depending upon what other topics I am teaching at the time. Over the course of a quarter, I aim to have students complete 4 reading responses. We typically complete the reading and writing sequence every 2-3 weeks.
5. A Clear Rubric/Checklist: A Clear Rubric/Checklist: Students need a clear explanation of how they will be evaluated. The rubric should be tied to the writing progression and the content and skills they are working on on. I use the I the general writing progression and the Character Development Mini-Progression which were used in the rubric creation for the specific task of writing about characters.
6. A particular focus: Each quarter I determine a particular focus for the writing students will do about their reading. I begin no later than Quarter 4 of 7th grade to introduce the writing about reading process. This year I intend to scaffold up to the responses more slowly with smaller activities little by little throughout the year. This will help them build confidence and achieve higher levels of proficiency sooner. For this year, I intend to start Quarter 1 of 8th grade with a focus on characters to ease back in and connect back to 7th grade. This will also give them a chance to go deeper in their thinking if they didn’t get that far last year. For Quarter 2, they will focus on problem/solution questions, and during Quarter 3 they will look at plot. I am not sure about Quarter 4 at this point. Last year I did not do responses as we were focused on a class novel and other work. It can also be advantageous to you to not do typical reading responses in 4th quarter of 8th grade if you are going to begin the process in 7th grade, for example, so you can really focus on providing feedback to students new to the process.
7. A Guide: Identify what you want students to discuss in their writing about reading. Identify how to set up the entry so there is consistency, provide some weekly goal ideas, provide a specific set of requirements along with examples so what you are looking for is crystal clear. Once students know the process, they will be able to self-direct much better because of the clarity of your expectations.
Identifying exactly what I wanted students to write about was the most time consuming part of the process. I started by looking for literacy questions designed for heritage speakers in dual language or bilingual programs. After narrowing the focus over time and consulting literacy teachers and our coach at school, I chose to focus on characters, plot, and problem/solution type questions. I also wanted to promote opportunities for students to deepen their thinking in Spanish, so I sought out questions that would guide them into more complex questions.
I provide students with very concrete guidance at first on what to answer and how to answer it. Students have this Character Guide (see below for embedded version) to work with. I like this in a digital format because I can quickly edit the file as needed. I like a presentation format because students can see on a new page the next step identified for them to show them specifically what is needed to grow and move up the level of complexity of their response. Because students can see what is next, they don’t have to wait to know what the next challenge is and I have seen many of students seek out the next level of challenge without being asked to.
I purposefully chose to use the same questions for each general topic (characters, problem/solution, plot) with variations in levels of complexity for students seeking to go deeper in their thinking. I wrote questions that were open enough to work with any book. This type of set up allows students who need more support to reference the novel for help while at the same time offering a challenge to students who need/want it.
The power in this process is in the fact that instead of giving students new questions each time to adjust to, they effectively get the same set of questions. Providing students with constructive, specific feedback on how to strengthen their response along with the cyclical nature of the task where they are able to go back to the same questions sets up students to demonstrate strong growth from one response to the next.
. I intend to address the other 2 sections mentioned in the original Nuts and Bolts post in later posts.