Taking “A Novel Approach” to EMPOWERing Students
This year, I read both Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani and A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice by Kate Roberts, and these books inspired me to make huge changes. Most notably, Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I used these two texts to collaboratively make changes to our end-of-the-year unit surrounding The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
A Novel Approach
Over the last few years, we have made some gradual changes away from whole-class required reads for many reasons, but The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has always remained a staple of our English I curriculum.
|Whole-class texts:||Independent reading:|
|“Believing in teaching whole-class texts–long or short–suggests the belief that struggle is productive for young readers, that kids that kids need to read great books, that focusing on a common text builds strong and literate reading communities, and that students benefit from controlled questions and activities led by a proficient reader (the teacher).”||“Choosing to focus on independent reading shows the beliefs that reading ability matters, that kids are going to benefit most from having experiences with great books that they can read on their own with strength, and that knowing the skills it takes to read any book will help them to build greater independence. This also suggests a belief that choice in reading is essential in building a strong reading life and that often our very identities are in part shaped by the books we have read.”|
Both excerpts are from Kate Roberts’ A Novel Approach: Whole Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice
I personally tend to value independent reading over whole-class novels, but Roberts’ book provided great reminders of the importance of mentor texts, shared experiences, and modeling. Plus, it merges the best of both worlds, so it gave me fresh ideas and new energy going into 4th quarter, the only quarter that I still teach a whole-class novel. For the last few years, I’ve tended to focus on all the negatives of whole-class novels and all the positives of independent reading, but Roberts’ merging of the two provides a unique balance that allows time for both types of instruction and celebrates both types of learning.
Deb Maynard and I both took a course led by Steve Kucinski (@specialkdchs) and Kristy Venne (@KristyVenne) surrounding the book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. I took photos of the pages that resonated with me the most.
With this in mind, PLUS the ideas presented in A Novel Approach, we ultimately decided NOT to get rid of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet altogether, but instead, keep Romeo and Juliet as a mentor text, teach the reading skills required to tackle such a challenging read, and help students apply those skills to their independent reading books.
In addition to allowing students to purposely pair choice novels to The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, we gave students choice in writing prompts, and students proposed summative celebrations of learning rather than us assigning and requiring the standard compare/contrast essay that we always have.
You can read more about how we introduced the new unit and unique expectations to students and families here.
Throughout the unit, Deb and I read contemporary YA novels, too, and modeled all of the thinking and writing that we asked students to do.
We modeled thinking that we actually do when reading any book for any purpose since most of our students were reading different books than us and each other.
Taking the journey with students helped us to better know what skills were truly necessary, what work was especially hard, and what challenges most students would face.
|1. What decisions are we making for students that they could make for themselves?|
|2. What changes should be made to inspire students to build independence and take ownership over their reading lives?|
|3. How can we make this shift:
WHO – Deborah Maynard (intervention specialist) and I co-teach English I all day (five 48-minute periods). We worked together to make all of these changes to our teaching routines and strategies and to make changes to our unit expectations and assessments in order to empower students to take ownership over their reading lives. Hear more about WHAT and WHY here:
WHERE – Dublin Coffman High School, 9th grade, English I, inclusion
WHEN – 4th Quarter, 2018; The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet Unit
HOW – surveys, flipgrid reflections, online discussions, observations
LIMITATIONS – It is difficult to quantify and calculate things such as empowerment, engagement, interest, and rigor, so we’ve had to rely on our observations, and have done our best to encourage students to be 100% honest in their survey responses and flipgrid reflections.
Because our unit in its entirety and our Action Research Project involve so many parts, I am going to break all of that info into multiple blog posts. Plus, we haven’t even finished reading Romeo and Juliet, and students are just now starting to work on their summative celebrations of learning, so stay tuned! More will be coming in a week or two, and I can’t wait to share!