Learning the Work Through a Demonstration Notebook

It’s no secret that my school district uses the Teachers College Reading and Writing Units of Study, so when the middle school reading units came out I was beyond stoked.  Navigating reading workshop at the middle school level has been difficult.  There are SO MANY resources out there (on the web, Pinterest, Twitter) for lower grades.  It was easy for me to conceptualize how to make the thinking work of lower elementary readers apparent to students, but I struggled with the higher-level analysis required of a middle schooler.  How exactly do we show readers how to synthesize information across a text or how to move beyond simply teaching identification of narrative elements and instead, showing how they interact and influence each other.

As the required thinking work gets harder, making what happens in my mind so naturally as a reader, is harder to break down into a step-by-step strategic manner.  BUT the new Middle School Reading  Units of Study put out by Lucy Calkins and colleagues (including the fabulous Emily Strang-Campbell) do just that!  They break down really complex thinking into simple easy to follow minilessons.  The work is not for the faint of heart… Students and teachers are asked to do a level of work that many may not be accustomed to, but the payoff is well worth it!

A Deep Study of Character

 

Needless to say, I am VERY excited!  So, when the Deep Study of Character unit got delivered to my door, I was so ready to dive right in and start figuring the unit out.

 

I began by scanning the lessons for two things:

  1. What am I teaching?
  2. What are the students doing?

In This Session

I used to do this work by first reading the Teaching Point (to see what I am doing) and then reading the Link (to see what students are to do).  HOWEVER, unlike any of the other grade-level units, the middle school units have a spectacular “In This Session” feature, that clearly states that information at the start of the session.  So smart!

To wrap my head around the work of Bend I, I first created a Demo Reading Notebook using the anchor text “Popularity” by Adam Bagasarian.  This was really helpful.  By pushing myself to do the work expected of students, the teaching of each session became more clear.

Deep Study Notebook Cover

Here are some more pages from my notebook. 🙂

 

There is a page of thinking work for each session of Bend I as well as a homework page.

notebook-spread.jpg

Usually suggested homework is to read (obviously) and do some thinking work.  Students may either return to work started in class or begin something new.  Just for demonstration purposes (for the teachers I work with and for students), I created a new entry type for each day of homework.  I chose a variety of different styles so that an assortment of entries were exemplified.

A couple of new ideas I’ve had about notebooks after this process:

  • When assessing them (because unfortunately yes, we are a slave to grades at times), I would expect to see some evidence of the work taught each minilesson.  It may not be great or mastered, but students should be making an attempt to approximate the thinking work taught.  So, in terms of the Deep Study of Character unit, in Bend I I would expect to see evidence of students naming character traits, tracking traits and revising their initial ideas about characters, identifying likeable and unlikeable sides in characters, weighing and ranking traits based on their dominance or tendency to affect the plot, and analyzing the pressures characters experience.  In addition, I might see students doing one or two pages of “other” work.  Something they thought of on their own or were shown during a small group or conference.
  • REMEMBER notebook pages are often Thinking, Return-to Pages.  A fully completed notebook exemplar is NOT created in one sitting.  It may be developed over the course of a couple days as students progress through their book.  It is constantly being added two as student learn more about their character, revise their ideas, include new evidence, etc.  Imagine an Emotional Timeline- students would begin it at the start of a book with some initial ideas about the character’s state of mind and add to it as they proceed through the events of the novel.
  • With this idea in mind, the logistics of when notebook pages are created was clarified.  I always understood that they had to be done, but the question was WHEN?  If students are expected to spend the majority of their time reading, when do these marvelous notebook entries happen?  However, once I realized that notebook entries are returned to, it became more apparent.  Students should be spending a couple of minutes each day (and night for homework) adding to their notebook entries.

How have you acclimated yourself to this new unit??  Please share!!!!

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

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If You Build It They Will Come

I believe in the workshop model.  Wholeheartedly.  I know that it is what works best for kids.

But honestly, when I implemented the model, I had a bit of skepticism regarding one aspect.  I never quite understood (or believed?) how young learners could learn a repertoire of reading and/or writing strategies and then just “magically” recall and apply them “independently” during the work period.  Early in my workshop teaching, I questioned, “Wait.  No task?  No assignment?  No specific instructions to go back and try (insert mini-lesson strategy here)?”

I was curious how the youngest learners could be so self-directed and purposeful during independent time.  Like most people, I was afraid to let go.

Now, I see many of the teachers that I work with grappling with the same concern.  However, like a field of dreams, if you build it they will come.

I recently visited a third grade classroom where magic was happening!  The class was in the middle of a mystery book club unit and after the mini-lesson students were sent back to their desk with their “quiet critters” (small craft pom-poms outfitted with feet and eyes) to read.

Immediately, I was impressed with how quickly the students transitioned from the carpet to independent reading.  Two students (who were in differing book clubs-I noticed because they had different books) sat together at the carpet and created twin Venn-diagrams in their notebooks to start character comparisons for the characters they were reading about. Another two met the teacher at her table for a quick small group.  Everyone else?  They returned to their seat, opened their notebooks to the next fresh page, and started reading.

Needless to say, I was impressed and I wanted to stick around.

I started to read over students’ shoulders as they paused (when they decided they were ready) in their reading to do some stop and jot reading notebook work.  What I saw was so impressive!  Students were independently choosing various reading responses to use in their notebook.  Most surprising to me was that students weren’t just jotting once.  The majority of students had chosen to do at least two different types of thinking that day.   For example, some predicted and then chose to do a character comparison.  Others created a suspect chart and wrote about character traits.  But all were reading…. and thinking!

This teacher, through meticulous patience and belief in the workshop model had created what we all strive for.  Her routines and expectations were working!

Look at this example from one student’s notebook:

Starting in the middle of the left page, this student did six separate thinking strategies (all dated 2/24/16). She wrote about book similarities, created a comparison Venn diagram, described a secondary character, named out how a character changed, summarized, and created a character web and attempted to include text evidence.
Starting in the middle of the left page, this student did six separate thinking strategies (all dated 2/24/16). She wrote about book similarities, created a comparison Venn diagram, described a secondary character, named out how a character changed, summarized, and created a character web and attempted to include text evidence.

When I spoke with this student she told me that writing in her notebook helps her reading “go from good to great.”  That sometimes she doesn’t understand something, but then she will write about it and it would become much clearer.  She explained that she chooses what to do based on what Mrs. G has shown them before.  There is no menu of activities to choose from pasted into each reading notebook or listed posted on the board of what to do next.  Strategies had been instilled into each learner in the class and they were drawing upon that knowledge independently.

I moved over to another student who was sitting next to Mrs. G’s anchor chart, and from what it looked like, copying the chart into her notebook.  I asked what she was working on.  She gestured to the chart and told me that she was taking questions from the chart and answering them in her notebook.  And she was!  I remembered that she was one of the ones who had started a Venn diagram  earlier and I wondered if she had abandoned that task for this one.  I asked her about the Venn diagram.  She flipped back a page and said, “That’s right here.  I didn’t finish yet.”  And then after a moments pause, “But I guess I can use the answers to these questions…” She flipped back to the answers based off the anchor chart questions,  “…to finish filling in my chart.”  She returned to her Venn diagram with urgency and fervor.  I hadn’t even said a word.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I immediately went to commend Mrs. G.  She was making it happen! Her kids were readers and independent thinkers and doing all the things we want students to do in the workshop model!   I was so excited!

But Mrs. G was busy… quietly conferring with a student.

So, I tiptoed out with a smile on my face and let them continue doing their thing.  I felt assured in the good work that we do and the value of the workshop model.  It IS possible!  She had built it and they had come.

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay