The Classroom

The Classroom is a podcast by a middle school writing teacher conferring with students about the books they read and issues in writing. The podcast strives to give students a voice about the impact of choice in the classroom and the reality of what works for them in the teaching of reading and writing.
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The Classroom




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Now displaying: April, 2016
Apr 9, 2016

A rather rational conversation about how three students view state testing, their preparation for state testing, and, of particular interest for me, their approach to writing on state assessments.

When I sit down to podcast with students, I ask what they would rather discuss: reading or writing. This time, the students offered their own topic...they said testing. This is their agenda, not mine. So, I pursued the topic. While they neither bash the system for the testing nor praise it for the time off from homework, they do present their reality:

  1. the tests evaluate the teachers, not the students
  2. they value their personal grades from school more than state scores
  3. a service such as Study Island does not teach them anything
  4. they do not like not having homework in math over the next few weeks
  5. they rely on their homework in math to help them learn
  6. they have never used any writing strategies or components of a writing process on any state assessments
  7. they do not believe the assessments provide an opportunity for them to do their best work

My summary does not do their words justice. Please take fifteen minutes to listen their rational conversation with one another. These three are not "all worked up" about the assessments. They don't feel much pressure. They actually don't think much about them other than the annoyances and interruptions to their normal, daily routine. I wonder if more of our students, nationally, feel the same way? As always, comments and feedback are welcome on Twitter @_briank_.

Apr 7, 2016

This episode's title comes from "I think it is important to know somebody." A student said that about feedback. It matters that friends give feedback. It matters that other writers give feedback. I had to pull it out of them to tell me in what way a teacher's feedback mattered...

Mull that over.

So, obviously, in this episode three students talk with me about feedback--the feedback that helps, the feedback that sticks. Of everything they shared, this much is true: the only feedback that matters is the feedback that students can apply to their efforts. 

It probably surprises no one that none of these students said grades, state assessments, corrections scribbled in the margins. The feedback that mattered to these three students was conversation with friends or with people who know them.

Also, I was surprised (I don't know why I don't learn) that they all understood the statement: teach the writer, not the writing. In particular, I was struck by the comment (and I am paraphrasing) that teaching the writing meant grammar, and teaching the writer meant expressing oneself. Not only did they understand it, they were able to build upon what that statement is driving at.

Don Graves once offered that whole careers can pass without ever learning from our students. I hope these conversations inspire you to continue to talk with your kids...actually, to listen to your kids. Let them talk. Let them teach us what actually helps them learn.

As always, send me your comments, thoughts, and questions. You are encouraged and welcome to engage and share with me on Twitter: @_briank_. Let's learn and grow together.

Apr 5, 2016

A student, Emma, shares a few important connections she has made within her reading life. First, Emma clearly articulates a few times that it is the presence of books that makes her a reader. When her teachers have had books in their classroom, Emma has picked them up. When Emma's friends have been reading in front of her (at school) she would borrow the book when they finished. The presence of books matters.

Second, I find it interesting to hear Emma say that an assigned book for school is something she is just trying to get done, while a book picked up for pleasure might be reread and discussed. Actually, Emma wishes more opportunities to discuss books emerged in her life.

So, here we have evidence of a dilemma. We have a student apprehensive of classic literature. The vocabulary intimidates her at times. When books like this trouble her, she skims "just to get it done." Yet, on the other hand, she considers herself a reader...a big reader. She employs reading strategies, makes time to read, takes advantage of summers, wishes to discuss books more in her life, and so on.

How do we balance of challenge and growth with student choice and ability? That question is for all of us to consider in our classrooms; however, I can add one more thought to complement the question. Without daily conferring, I would not have much of a chance at answering that question for each of my students as individuals. One size does not fit all.

Feedback, additional thoughts, and questions are welcome on Twitter: @_briank_

Apr 3, 2016

Two students share two different paths into and through a reading life. One found a home in reading nonfiction online, another leans on fantasy and mystery. One uses their reading to better engage in conversation with family and friends (being more informed), another reads like a writer and identifies and "copies" the moves made by writers. One thing each shares in common, choice in reading has made a positive impact and a positive change in their life.

Each student shares examples of trial and error and in this development each exhibits a resiliency as a reader. This resiliency is able to grow into a strength because of the condition of choice (self-selected independent reading) in the classroom.

As I conferred with these two students, it struck me how aware they are of themselves as readers. By asking them to think aloud with me, I hope they come to understand the deliberate decisions they make and how those decisions will continue to shape and grow their academic and social lives.