By TONI POLING
As the number of squares on the calendar between summer vacation and the first day of school dwindle, my back-to-school dreams have started. I’m sure you know the ones I’m talking about: dreams where my projector bulb blows in the middle of first period; dreams where I find myself in my Harry Potter t-shirt and ripped jeans instead of my more professional attire; dreams where my students walk in with their math book instead of the novel we’re discussing; dreams where I RUN OUT OF COFFEE! Every summer the dreams come and I know that it’s time to get serious about planning for the coming year.
For the coming school year, I will be taking over as department chair for the English department at my school. With retirements and turn over, I know that I will have at least three new or novice teachers in the department and I know the importance of making sure that new teachers have support and guidance to help them get through the first years in their own classrooms. As I was putting together a little back-to-school gift for the department, I decided to include something extra for each of the new teachers coming in: a box of pencils and a pencil sharpener.
It’s no surprise to any teaching veteran that classroom management can be a struggle, but if I could offer one piece of advice it would be this:
“Give the kid a pencil.”
Every year I see teachers and pre-service teachers devising complicated classroom management plans that involve everything from trading a shoe for a borrowed pencil to completing a discipline referral for unpreparedness. I am certainly not here to say that my method is the right method, but for me it’s certainly the kinder method.
The way I look at this is simple: I don’t know what that child has been through that morning. I can’t know if he’s simply irresponsible or if he doesn’t have pencils available at home. What I can know is that my simple act of providing a pencil when it’s needed tells my kids that I will always provide what they need when I can.
I will support them. I will help them. I will not criticize or belittle them. I will make sure they have what they need to learn. And I say it all with a pencil.
We know that students learn best and perform better in a student-centered psychologically safe environment where respect and trust have been both earned and reciprocated. How we as teachers respond to our students has everything to do with how they feel about themselves in our classrooms. In all situations, our students should be treated with the dignity and respect that we ourselves wish to be treated. Even when infractions take place and disciplinary action is needed, it should be handled with dignity, respect, and trust. We are the adults in the room and we must set the example. When I attend a meeting and forget a pen, someone always loans me one without shame or recriminations.
When a hand goes up in my classroom and a student asks if he can have a pencil, my response is, “Always.”
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you encourage compassion in your classroom?
By Toni Poling
Most teachers are aware of the existence of the summer slide: the learning our students can lose over the summer without regular interventions, like reading. But, not all teachers realize that we, too, can suffer from the summer slide! The cure? Professional Development! Research tells us that teachers have the largest school-based impact on student achievement; if we aren’t current in our professional knowledge, how can we expect our students to continue to improve?
When I speak with new teachers about professional development, they sometimes are at a loss on where to go to find quality professional development. Below are just a few options that I can personally endorse that have enhanced my own professional practice.
West Virginia Center for Professional Development
We are fortunate to live in a state where we have been provided opportunities for excellent professional development through the West Virginia Center for Professional Development. Long before I was an AP teacher, I was attending AP trainings during the fall and summer that were provided by the WVCPD and the College Board. In the 13 years I have been a public school educator, I have attended 12 AP trainings by the WVCPD. Each and every session provided me with a wealth of materials that were adaptable to meet the needs of all my students, including those who were struggling below grade level. A wise mentor of mine once told me that if I set the bar high in my classroom in terms of expectations that all my students would strive to reach it and that has been my experience. The professional development I received through WVCPD helped me to do that!
National Board Certification
By far the most challenging and rewarding professional development I have completed, achieving my National Board Certification by and away had the most direct impact on my own instructional practices. The National Board Certification process forces a classroom teacher to become more reflective, data-driven, and thoughtful. There are reflective practices that I learned during my certification process that I have incorporated as organic pieces of my instruction. I truly believe I am a better teacher simply for having gone through this process. Through achieving National Board Certification, I developed my teacher autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
I cannot say enough about a good book study! Ideally, book studies work best when they are done in small groups or Professional Learning Communities where ideas can be shared and can grow through the input of fellow educators, but in the summer that can sometimes be difficult. I, personally, love to learn through reading (what English teacher doesn’t?!) and engaging in professional reading over the summer is both relaxing and stimulating to me! Below are a few professional texts I can personally endorse that changed my professional practice!
I was a little late to the party on the last two, but I’m so glad I added them to my summer reading list! I can’t stop jotting down ideas from those two books!
When I need a new professional title and I’ve exhausted my teacher-friend resources, I often peruse the books available from ASCD. ASCD’s motto is centered around learning, teaching, and leading and their professional publications are outstanding (i.e. Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind). Along with NCTE, ASCD is a go to source for me.
As teachers, we know our instructional strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. Regardless of what professional development you choose to seek out to address your personal needs, your students will benefit! In the end, our learning leads to their learning.
WVCTE is wondering what your favorite professional development opportunities are? If you like book studies, what professional texts do you feel are musts in any teacher library?
By Toni Poling
I am a reader. My house has more books in it than some libraries. I am frequently knocking over a stack of books from the top of my night stand in my desperate attempts to silence my alarm in the morning. I enjoy reading books on my iPad, but if I really like a book I will buy a hardcopy so that I can loan it to others. I read indiscriminately; I read incessantly; I read passionately – just the way I want my students to read.
As the parent of a soon-to-be second grader (he is counting down the days!), I can honestly say that the elementary school teachers do a fantastic job of creating a culture of literacy in our schools. From brightly colored word walls to bins overflowing with books to accelerated reader charts, our younger students are surrounded by a world that revolves around literacy. One of my son’s best moments this year was when he achieved the reading goal he had set for himself. How we celebrated! So, what happens between elementary school and high school that dampens this enthusiasm for reading the written word? Kelly Gallagher has a theory.
In Readicide, Gallagher describes what he calls “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.” Ouch! I must admit that the first time I read that I was rather offended. How could this respected educator blame me for my students’ lack of interest in reading? Then I thought about how I was assessing my students’ reading. Was I assessing for learning? Were my assessments authentic? Did they help students make meaning through the texts we were reading? The answers were all, unfortunately, no. Time to make a change.
For years, my students had been reading student choice books (we can all agree that choice books are vitally important, can’t we?), but my assessment method was lacking. Some students dutifully read the book to get the grade; others tried to fake their way through the assignment. Neither fulfilled my English teacher’s desire to create lifelong readers. I was at a loss on what to do about this, until I started getting subscriptions of The New Yorker for my classroom.
If you aren’t a fan of The New Yorker magazine, you should be! Not only is it a source of entertainment, it’s a treasure trove of contemporary literature! The cover of each issue is a beautiful example of visual text and my students and I spend time each month analyzing the meaning of the cover. I’ve even used covers as visual sources for essays in AP Language. Inside each issue is an original short story, sometimes by a well-known author, and original contemporary poetry. These are usually great sources for AP Literature. Perhaps my favorite part of The New Yorker, however, is the monthly book review. It’s my go-to source for finding new books and new authors and has been for years. When I started utilizing the magazines in my classroom, I also found that my students were reading these same book reviews and making reading choices based on them!
When it was time for our next student choice book, I decided to utilize a mentor text to provide guidance for a new assessment model. My students were going to write book reviews in the style of The New Yorker. Each student received a handout with guidelines and a rubric, along with one of four sample book reviews from the magazine. Students were placed in cooperative learning groups based on which sample they had received and the groups did a close reading of the book review. They were looking specifically for summary/synthesis, analysis, and personal connection to the text. Students used different colored highlighters to identify the three main parts of the book review. As a whole group, we looked at each’s group’s work under the document camera and discussed what was different about each sample and what was similar. Then students wrote their own book review on their student choice novel.
Admittedly, the first try at this was a little...rough. Students wanted to fall into the old trap of ending the book review with “everyone should read this book!” It took a couple of rounds of rewrites before we were all satisfied with the final products, but those final drafts were really good! Not only did students mimic the quality writing found in their mentor text, they also showed true engagement with their book and a depth of analysis that had been lacking from previous assignments. This assessment was truly an assessment for learning.
Since this first round, I have refined the assignment based on needs of individual classes. Some classes need more instruction in the analysis portion while others struggle with the elevated syntax and diction expected in the assignment, but they are ALL reading, and isn’t that the goal?
Perhaps, however, the most unexpected reward from this assignment is that other students are making reading choices based on their peers’ book reviews. They are learning from one another. They are modeling excellent literacy skills for their peers. They are becoming readers.
WVCTE is wondering how you assess for your students’ learning while maintaining a culture of literacy in your classroom. Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
By Toni Poling
I like routine, both in and out of the classroom. I believe that structure and routine provide stability and consistency for students. I believe that when students know exactly what is expected of them they are more likely to meet (or exceed) those expectations.
With that said, I also believe that making a change can have positive implications in the classroom! All of us can be lulled into a sense of complacency when we only do what we've always done. Typically, when teaching a novel, my students are given discussion questions to answer as they read and their responses are used to fuel our discussions in class. While I do feel that this is a very effective method of providing guidance for independent reading, students can sometimes become uninspired in their answering of these questions.
Over winter break, I began sketching out plans for the spring semester, I wanted to take a different approach to the novels we would be studying. A few years ago, our English PLC had completed a book study on Kelly Gallagher's Readicide. I got the book back out and read it over break. In his book, Gallagher discusses the "overteaching" that can occur that can sometimes kill a student's love of reading. Instead, he proposed a more focused approach, encouraging close reading and focused study of the work's theme(s). I decided to adapt some of his methods to my AP Literature's study of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Upon returning from break, I distributed to my students a copy of "Good Readers and Good Writers" by Vladimir Nabokov. This is an essay with which my students have some familiarity given that we've read it at least two times before. In his essay, Nabokov expresses his thoughts on what makes a good reader and a good writer. Though my students have read the essay before, I felt it was important for us to be reminded of the purpose of this course and the objectives we are all setting out to accomplish. After closely reading the essay, my students worked in collaborative groups to create a list of characteristics shared by good readers. Below is a sampling of what they came up with:
Every group listed re-reading as a characteristic of a good reader, yet when asked if they re-read almost every student responded in the negative!
The next day, armed with some notes on the social, historical, and biographical context for the novella, we started The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As it has been one of my goals this year to read aloud to my students, I began my introduction by reading the first chapter aloud, modeling for my students how I decode vocabulary through context clues and how I make note of important details. I sent the students home that day with a copy of the text and a reading calendar, but with no study guide or discussion questions.
At the start of the next class period, I provided my students with their final essay question: Discuss Stevenson's use of duality in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and apply this idea of duality to an aspect of the modern world. Students copied down the question in their notebooks. I explained that our discussion of the text would center primarily around this idea of duality. In the spirit of Gallagher's Readicide, I structured our first close reading exercise just as he had laid out in his book. I provided my students a copy of the first paragraph of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They were instructed to work in cooperative groups to identify, through close reading, at least nine instances of opposites in the first paragraph.
After doing so, I asked the groups to answer the following questions: (1) What is duality? and (2) What is the duality of man?
After finishing the task, we reviewed the nine instances of opposites in the first chapter and discussed student responses to the questions. At first, this was challenging for students. They were struggling with working only with one small passage of the text instead of the entire chapter, but they were amazed at how much they could find in only one paragraph.
The following day I again provided students with passages for close reading and focus questions. The previous day, the students defined the term duality and the began a simplistic discussion of the duality of man; now the focus is on "good" and "evil" and Stevenson's portrayal of that duality.
In an AP course, I'm used to having sophisticated discussions with my students, but the discussion that stemmed from this close reading passage and the focus questions was, beyond a doubt, the best discussion we've had all year! My students were raising questions and making salient points that far exceeded my expectations. When I walked over to refocus one group having a side conversation, I found they were passionately discussing one of the focus questions. Students who aren't in my class stopped me in the hallway on their way to lunch to tell me their thoughts on duality and "good" and "evil" because they're friends with one of my students and had found the topic interesting. Isn't that a teacher's dream?
We are still working through this method to finish the novella (we should finish next week) and I can't wait to formally assess their learning; I'm anticipating some of the best essays I've read all year!
Though I can't say that I would use this method for every novel I teach, there is a lot to be said for the students' enthusiasm and the depth and quality of the discussions taking place. I think some of my students will likely pinpoint this novella as their favorite text thus far, but in all honesty that's not the purpose. My purpose has been to get them reading and thinking; so far, so good.
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you foster a love of reading with your students while maintaining the integrity of the curriculum?
Toni M. Poling is a National Board Certified Teacher at Fairmont Senior High School in Marion County where she teaches AP English Language and AP English Literature to juniors and seniors. Toni is currently serving as the 2017 WV Teacher of the Year.
Gallagher, Kelly, and Richard L. Allington. "Remember the Value Found in Second-Draft (and Third-Draft) Reading." Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2009. N. pag. Print.