Writing about reading - the beginning can be found here.
While this post is titled "Writing about reading - the middle"- the middle is actually the end. What? Let me explain.
After Allie* (my friend and colleague) and I decided we were committed to this action research, and determined what was important to us, we began with the end. If we wanted to raise the level of our WAR we needed to involve the students in creating the rubric, continuums and analyzing exemplars. We needed them to begin with the end in mind as well.
Before we get any further, it is important to mention that at this time we were also Falling in Love with Close Reading with our students. Exploring reading through lenses, students creating lenses and determining that sometimes the question is our lens was beginning to happen in our rooms. We were finding patterns, analyzing structure and closely reading across fiction and non-fiction texts. Students were thinking more critically and creatively than ever thanks to this truly magical philosophy and resource. Reading was popular and writing about reading was popular and challenging and they were begging us for opportunities to WAR**
Since reading and writing were THE THING in our classrooms, we wanted to take advantage of this and empower the students to OWN the process, so here is what we did next:
Create and/or find exemplars: Since we taught different grades (Allie third, me fifth) we looked through our students Reading Notebooks to find exemplars for each level on a writing continuum (1 through 3 at first - more on this next). Since we hadn't formally taught WAR in a way that we were happy with we realized that we would have to create some of the exemplars that we wanted to put in front of our students. Click here for one of those exemplars.
Analyze exemplars: Once we finally pulled student exemplars and created some of our own we put them in front of students to analyze. Students evaluated clarity of thesis statements (idea statements), evidence connected to the thesis, clear unpacking of the evidence and structure of the piece. We used color-coding to help identify each non-negotiable attribute. It is important to note that we took each piece apart - some had excellent thesis statements and introductions, some did an exceptional job of unpacking (explaining the evidence), some were structured in thoughtful, interesting ways. After analyzing we kind of Frankenstein-ed the exemplars to create a sample for each level of proficiency.
Create a rubric: The next thing that we did was articulate the attributes of the work. Since this was something new, we decided that we would identify three different levels of proficiency (not meeting expectations, working towards expectations and meeting expectations). We decided not to identify attributes for exceeding expectations as we knew that would look different for each student and we wanted them to have the power to create this level themselves. Students developed the language for each level. I recorded each description on a large piece of chart paper and attached the exemplars. The continuum was displayed at the back of our classroom below our Writing and Reading work board. This way, students could visit the continuum throughout the writing process and interact with it. We encouraged them to read and re-read each exemplar while they were drafting, editing, revising and meeting with peers for feedback. Consistently modeling and practicing reflective thinking allows for strong ownership and accurate self-assessments.
Practice: Following those first three steps the majority of the middle involves reading, thinking aloud, modeling WAR and allowing students to practice. While students practice with their own texts, we wanted to model with some high-interest texts. Allie loves US history so she uses several texts related to former presidents (John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln to name a few). My choices tend to lean towards the civil rights, fairness awareness direction. Several years ago my students (I'm talking about you, MerediTHUNDER) and I created an unexpected, out-of-the-box text set for our first group WAR. That text set included:
Oliver Button is a Sissy
The Pigeon Wants a Puppy
The Other Side
Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken
Martin Luther King Jr's I have a dream speech.
This may seem entirely random but I promise, the common threads that my students found lead to engaging conversation, challenging ideas and digging deeper into our thinking. As a class we wrote an exemplar WAR together. We then took a step back to analyze, reflect and revise to make sure our work met or exceeded expectations on our continuum. This common experience was referenced regularly throughout our WAR journey and I am always grateful for the opportunity to create with my students.
I'd love to know how you write about reading with your students!
*Allie was lucky enough to attend Chris and Kate's Falling in Love with Close Reading presentation today in Chicago and shared some BRILLIANT new ideas for WAR (especially when it comes to structure) - we will share an update soon!
** Formal opportunities to WAR; students were blogging, responding to reading, writing post-its, etc.