For Every Student

Holiday season entails multiple well-meaning, sincere people asking me the impossibly broad question “how is school?” This question is ripe with possibility; one word does not suffice nor often does an entire conversation. When asked this question by people I love, I simply want to invite them into my 11th grade English classroom at Douglass High where they would then experience more than words can capture.

 

Because I cannot take all of you to school with me everyday (though you are most certainly invited), I offer you a glimpse into an aspect of my classroom in which I have work with great care to cultivate: an environment where texts are accessible and exciting for every student.

 

If you stepped into my jam-packed, sunlit classroom not only would you be greeted by students with a variety of interests, talents, and personalities but reading levels as well. Across the entire 11th grade, I teach a handful of beginning level readers (those who are still sounding out the alphabet, learning sight words, etc), a handful of students at 11th grade reading level, and a large swath in between (most fall at about 6th/7th grade level). Those statistics are exactly what pulled me into the classroom; each of those students, no matter what reading level, is worthy of an excellent education that meets their needs and GROWS them.

 

This sounds lovely in theory but as I am humbly learning, is far more difficult and time consuming in practice.

 

Below I have compiled a variety of techniques I have slowly honed (and still am….ask me this question in a year and I will have hopefully gotten a little better) in order to make text accessibility and interest available to every student.

 

Before Reading

  • Spend a day introducing the text: what skills are we working on in this unit? How will we read this text?
  • A hook: I always take some aspect of the text (usually a juicy plot piece) and turn it into something they can relate to.
  • Offer extra credit opportunities for every student to engage in outside of school. Some of my favorites are thematically podcasts and magazine articles that students will then do some short analysis work on.
  • Every do-now/bellringer activity is essentially a summary of whatever text we are reading with grammar to correct.

 

During Reading

  • Small opportunities (stop & jot, turn & talk, etc) to think about non-TNready questions (which character do you like best? Who would you give advice to?)
  • Use different strategies for reading: masterful read (usually the first time) and group reading.
  • Downsize the text
    • Take only the most important parts
    • Don’t change too much of the language
    • Think about what can be read in 15-20 minutes
    • Embed the questions in the text
    • Add the paragraph location to the question
    • INCREASE the rigor by adding poetry, visual art, additional articles, etc.

After Reading

  • Instead of jumping directly into answering questions or writing essays, I like to allow my students to play with their knowledge in constructive ways. When I think of this, my mind usually jumps to two ways: writing and speaking.
    • Speaking:
      • campfire discussions: first, everyone silently writes down their response to a question on a sticky note and puts it in the center of the group then everyone selects a sticky note that is not theirs and reads what is said on it and agrees/disagrees.
      • role play: each person in the group will draw a character’s name and will have to respond to a certain theme or question as if they were that character.
      • socratic seminar: I make sure students have a day to prepare and score one another when doing these
      • think-pair-share.
    • Writing (non-essay):
      • four corners: I pose a question and students move to the corresponding corner: agree, disagree, slightly agree, slightly disagree and write a 2-3 sentence response using textual evidence as to why.
      • Write-around: students pass a question amongst themselves, each commenting on it and commenting on what the other person is saying SILENTLY.
      • chalk talk: students walk around the classroom jotting down their responses to questions on large pieces of paper. I usually have students document similarities and differences they spot in their peers’ responses.
      • Text reformulation: Students can choose a genre (newspaper article, children’s book, rap, etc) to recreate the text as.

 

These strategies are a compilation of learning from failure, helpful coaching, and desire to allow every student voice into the conversation of literature. Aside from these practical, specifically text-related strategies, I also love to normalize messing up while reading and thinking as well as get realllllllly excited and playful about texts in order to engage students (we wore Scarlet A’s for The Scarlet Letter, someone haunted the room when reading Hamlet, etc). Those are for another blog post though.

 

If you are a teacher reading this, I dare you to try a new technique and to give yourself the grace to try it and tweak it and then try it again. If you fall into the broader non-teacher category, I dare you to ask yourself  “what am I doing to make sure that every child, regardless of where they were born, is receiving an excellent education?” Praying, donating, and volunteering only begin to answer that question; find what fits you.