Rocks and Rekindling

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Rocks and Rekindling

During my elementary school years, a rock tumbler in what we called the “front room” provided a steady rumble throughout my childhood home. Never acquiring the knack for hunting arrowheads like my parents, I settled on rocks. From a desert rose quartz to glinting “fool’s gold,” I adored the challenge of finding various rocks. Most of my finds were accidental, but, as with many of my life pursuits, I preferred happy accidents to searches that ended in disappointment.

In June of this year, my husband, my son, and I vacationed in the Big Bend area. The home in which we stayed featured several outdoor sitting areas. One of my favorites was under the carport, simply because of the mesmerizing specimen of fluorite the owner had placed on display. Every day, I found respite from the heat in that spot, and every day, I imagined finding a beautiful piece of fluorite like that one to take home from our travels.

Eventually, I found my rock. Browsing through a local shop, The Cheshire Cat, I spotted various rocks for sale throughout the store. After explaining my search to the store owner, she led me out back where I finally found my take-home rock.

A long forty years had passed from the last time I had tumbled a rock as a ten-year old to a search for a rock as a 51-year old. That one specimen of fluorite had reawakened my love of rocks, and I’m beginning my second collection of a lifetime.

It’s never too late to take up something one loved as a child. With that in mind, I think of the students in my high school classroom, particularly those students who loved reading and who loved writing as children. It’s not too late for them to rekindle that love for words.

By providing a plethora of Young Adult (YA) literature in my classroom and encouraging free-choice reading, I witness the daily re-discovery of the love of reading. No, sophomores and juniors don’t have the same amount of leisure time that elementary or even middle school students do; nevertheless, my students are learning to creatively carve out time to read. Some that have been successful at snatching those moments say they find time to read as they are going to sleep, right after they do their chores, immediately after football practice, and during school when they finish assignments. It’s amazing how creative students can become with their time when they realize I expect them to be readers. At the end of each week, I have a reading conference with each student. By this point in the year, the students are often leading the conference: telling me about their book, the surprises they’ve had while reading, the way they’ve found time to read, and their goal for the following week. I’ve added a place on my reading form for each student to initial and for me to initial, validating our shared goals for the amount of pages to read and their dedication to carving out time to read. Individual reading record sheet 3rd week 2014-15

Except for a handful of students who balk at the thought of reading outside of school, 95% of them are experiencing gains in the amount of reading they’re doing (time spent and pages read), their enjoyment of reading, and their goals for themselves as readers (knowing the next book they want to read, increasing their “pages to read” goal, and desiring to branch out into varied genres.)

Writing almost daily and providing one-to-one verbal feedback assists students in rediscovering their writing voices. Writing is hard work, but, by incorporating choice into our writing routine, it becomes an opportunity to enjoy the creative process of forming words and ideas. During the first six weeks, I allowed students to choose their writing topics. I provided a list of suggestions which were mainly based on what they were reading, but we also had a weekly topic on the board. Students add to the white board throughout the week, providing writing possibilities for other students. Some students stop me before or after class, asking if they may write about something they care deeply about.

The last week of the first six weeks, I asked the students to select their favorite draft to revise and edit. After two peer editing opportunities, students met with me individually for about 10 minutes to set final goals and expectations for their final product. I was able to quickly reteach writing mini-lessons from the past weeks as well as teach more sophisticated writing strategies to students who were ready for those.

Upon completing this blog post, I will return to reading my students’ final drafts and marveling at how they have cleverly crafted sentences, seamlessly integrated figurative imagery, and gradually rediscovered their love of producing written language. Like my rekindled admiration for rock collecting, my students are rekindling their love of reading and writing.

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Mining the Magic

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Papers rustle as students take their assigned spots. A boy pulls a well-worn sports novel from his backpack, his destiny as a “Crutcher, de la Peña, Dueker” fan sealed within the next few pages. Others see the book, shush their neighbors, and repeat the dig for their own novels within their backpacks. Within a matter of minutes, seventeen sophomores sit, confined to a desk, but lost in a world outside of Room 320. This is my life. This is the magic I have the privilege to witness five times per day, five days a week.

I doubted that this style of teaching which worked so well in my 8th grade ELA classroom for so many years would work in the confines of the high school English II and PreAP English II setting. I had a block schedule with my 8th graders, seeing them twice a day. Conversely, I would see my sophomores once per day, most of them, with the exception of one class, only four days per week.

Was there time to confer about reading? Would there be time to discuss their writing individually? I questioned other seasoned high school teachers. While I consistently heard, “Yes! You can make reading/writing workshop work,” I continued to doubt. Would high schoolers even respond to this type of teaching? Would they expect more direct instruction? Would I have to figure out how to be the “sage on the stage” again?

School started two weeks ago. Tomorrow will be the second full week. A Friday, thank goodness! Yes, I’m exhausted, but, more importantly, reading/writing workshop shows promise. One girl finished her book today, and, as we walked down the hallway together, she said, “I’m really not a reader, but this book just hooked me.” Yes, dear, and you are now a reader. I said nothing, but I know different. That book will be her warm fire in the dead of winter, her watermelon of the dog days of summer, her favorite worn blanket from her childhood. That book will be the book that more books will stand upon in this coming year. It wasn’t a classic. It’s not on the AP Reading List. It’s not written by a Newbery-Winning author. It’s a simple book with a story that pushed this girl off the edge, and, now, she IS a reader. Nothing is different between 8th graders and sophomores when it comes to that one book that snags them: that individual book soon holds all the promise in the world for that child.

Next week we’ll set new reading goals. We’ll begin a new piece of writing. We’ll read a short story. In the midst of all of this, if I listen closely, I’ll hear the magical sound of books summoning my sophomores, pulling them into the pages, making them readers for life.