Sunday, September 22, 2013

Toe-Dipper or Leaper?

It has now been four complete weeks attempting to use Penny Kittle's theories in my classes.  I find it difficult in that the class is a meager 48 minutes. Kittle's school follows a block schedule; her classes are 90 minutes.I can only imagine what 90 minutes with students would be like. At best I have 30 minutes.  I often devote 15 minutes to silent reading of choice books. Sometimes students use the 15 minutes to respond to prompts by writing in their working portfolios. I feel as though that time is important because they need to establish the habits that will carry them through the rest of the activities this year.

I will be finishing my SLO obligations this week.  I will have data that I can use to guide students' instruction, so it is definitely the right time for students to make some goals based on their performance the last month. I can put them into groups based on their goals and give them larger writing assignments to work on individually and together.

I wonder how much time they would actually focus and write? If I am attempting to get deeper writing, I need to give them more meaningful assignments. And according to Write Beside Them, the companion to Kittle's Book Love, I need to write beside them.  I will admit that I am a bit afraid to do so. When I think about sitting down in the desks with them, I wonder what I would write. I realize the irony in my fear. But that does not negate its presence. Do I complete the assignments alongside them? That makes me inwardly cringe though I do not know why.  My reticence leads me to ponder my desire to assign specific tasks to students. Are the assignments authentic? Are they similar to what students will encounter in the future? What do I write in my everyday life that could transform into an assignment for students?  Or do I approach the tasks as if I were an author, an actual writer of fiction and nonfiction alike who writes to publish? I think Penny Kittle would say stop thinking and just take the leap. But I am usually a toe-dipper not a leaper.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Meds

My classes have currently completed five full days of Penny Kilttle's Book Love. Yep. Our first week of school was actually a five-day week.  Needless to say it was a long week.  And though it was hard on me to give up the stress-free life of summer, my students actually fared pretty well.  Upon our first meeting, I introduced the idea of choice reads.  We went to the library on the second day of school.  Honors and regular alike, every student found a book that they want to read. I showed students how to calculate the number of pages they needed to read in order to attain their weekly goals.  We have read silently twice: once for ten minutes and once for 15 minutes. I actually read a book that I wanted to read for more or less two hours this week!  Not consecutive hours, but two hours nonetheless. That in itself is actually amazing! I read along side the students.  And students read.  I would say 95% read.

Kittle's plan seems to work.  Of course, I'll reserve judgement until the end of the year...I always have opinions! Currently, I'm optimistic.  In addition to a choice reading program, I introduced a working portfolio system (Kittle's Write Beside Them) that should foster writing. The students will write in composition books answering prompts, taking notes, brainstorming ideas, in general, documenting their thoughts as we progress through the year. They will use both their choice books and mentor texts that I introduce as fodder for their writing.

The students seem to be taking it seriously.  We shall see.  I will talk with students next week.  I did talk with one student who had no idea what he was reading. He said that he would start reading and then his mind would start drifting off to another topic. Also that he couldn't follow what was happening in the novel.  That is  an indicator that the book he chose was too challenging.  He needs a different book.

After reading Kittle's books, I recognized the one essential part of her plan that Kittle didn't quite emphasize enough is the need to start the habits right from the beginning so that by the middle of the year the students are actually ready to participate in an environment with the goal of learning. If students get a bite of  a "better-tasting" type of classroom structure (i.e. one with looser work standards), they will never want to fully commit to a more hearty meal.
The next couple of weeks will be very interesting.