Show of hands: how many people have left the classroom discouraged? Disappointed by the level of student engagement, an inconsistency of reading, or a lack of skill progression. Have you ever thought to yourself ‘maybe something needs to change’?
Last year I was fortunate enough to attend two professional development conferences that completely revolutionized the way in which I structure my classes. I’m thankful to work at a school that sees the value in teacher education and is open to investing in its teachers, and I can honestly say that I feel as though I’m a much better teacher because of the professional development that I’ve had the chance to partake in. While not all PD was so profound, they all have influenced me in one way or another.
If I’m going to make a claim that PD “revolutionized” my pedagogy, I’d better first provide some context. After only a couple of years in the classroom, I had become disheartened by two facts: my students weren’t always reading and they weren’t consistently honing their writing skills on assignments. Didn’t they enjoy the literature to which they were being exposed? Weren’t they listening when I lectured about writing skills and strategies!? It soon became apparent that something needed to change.
I first heard of giving students time for sustained reading and writing during class time at the NCTE conference last year, but, as it took place mid-year, I couldn’t find the time to make the necessary changes I needed for planning the necessary changes. Then, after hearing this messaging again in March from another educator at yet a different conference, I knew these educational leaders were on to something and that I needed to make some changes. I spent the remainder of my March break totally revamping my initial plans. In doing so, I chose to include time in every single class for students to read and write.
I modelled this change after a structure that Penny Kittle used in her classrooms, which she refers to as Read, Write, Discuss, Learn, Create. At the conference, she showed the audience images of beautiful notebooks that contained pages and pages of writing that the students had completed over the course of the year. The amount that my students wrote the year before paled in comparison. Moreover, she shared pictures of students who were propped up beside the stack of books that they had read throughout the term. Some of these stacks were literally 20 books in height; ya, you read that right. 20. Books. I was struggling to get students to finish all of the mere four books I had on my course syllabus. How was she possibly getting these results? Needless to say, her successes made me feel small.
But Kittle wasn’t trying to discourage her audience. Rather, she was merely shinning light on what students can accomplish when we give them time to develop their reading and writing skills. So, re-energized by these ideas, I returned from the break committed to these changes for the next several months until the end of the school year. If I saw similar success, I would vow to continue implementing these practices moving forward. In upcoming posts, I’ll articulate each of the changes one-by-one, but I can say that the results of these shifts were so positive that I continue them to this day. Not only did the overwhelming majority of students prefer the new structure, but I was easily able to track students’ reading to ensure that they were actually picking up the text. What’s more, I saw, even in that short time, marginal improvements in most student writing.
Ever since then, in every single class my students have had time to read, write, discuss, learn, and create. Each aspect of this plan was so vital to the new sense of direction that I was undertaking that I’ve decided to dedicate an individual blog post to each of them. Student engagement was up. Students were reading more. Students were writing more. And, the best part, they were enjoying it. How could I not commit to this change?
Follow and tweet @Bjeblack to share any meaningful changes that you’ve made in your classroom!