Thursday, April 26, 2012

RtI and the Adolescent Reader

I'd like to thank my guest blogger, Barb Novak, Literacy Coach at Maplewood Middle School, in Menasha, Wisconsin for today's blog entry. 

Anyone else have a giant stack of unread professional books? Anyone? Anyone? (Blog Owner's Note: Um, yes. Have you met me?)

I can’t possibly be the only person who buys them faster than I read them. (Blog Owner's Note: Seriously, have you met me?)

I usually pull books from the pile on an as-needed basis. I consult my favorite authors for advice about challenging situations or to push my thinking. I read a particular section because it was referenced at a conference or by a colleague. It’s not incredibly often that I carefully read something (highlighter, Post-Its, and Sharpie pen in hand) cover to cover.

William G. Brozo hooked me, though. My copy of RtI and the Adolescent Reader: Responsive Literacy Instruction in Secondary Schools (Teachers College Press & International Reading Association, 2011) has gotten plenty of love lately.

Brozo makes some important points about the implementation of Response to Intervention at the secondary level.

  1. RtI isn’t a quick fix. To be successful, RtI must be part of a “comprehensive adolescent literacy program that seek[s] to respond to each student’s literacy and learning needs with responsive instruction” (p. 55). Such a program builds on the strengths of adolescents, utilizes comprehensive literacy, provides supports in inclusive environments, values more than basic skills, and hinges upon the effectiveness of teachers.

  1. Middle and high school are unique. Research about best practices for RtI at the secondary level are limited. Brozo writes, “. . . there is little evidence that elementary-level RtI-like approaches can work in middle and high schools” (p. 62).

  1. You don’t buy RtI. RtI is not about products. The law requires universal screening, progress monitoring, and tiered interventions. Schools need to create or select products and systems that meet their needs. Available products should not dictate how RtI is implemented.

Brozo is openly skeptical about commonly used universal screeners and interventions, writing, “Wilson and READ 180 can never deliver truly responsive literacy instruction to each individual student. Only a caring and knowledgeable teacher can” (p. 115).

Doesn’t that just make you want to stand up and shout an “Amen!” or at least give a round of applause!?

4.    Do this with – not to students. The clientele at the secondary level – adolescent learners – need to be involved in the design process for any literacy program, including RtI. The design needs to mindful of adolescent identities, interests, and challenges. Feedback from students needs to be an integral part of each step in design, implementation, and continual review.
5.    RtI is part of something larger. Brozo leaves his reader with recommendations. These recommendations are not for the implementation of RtI. These are “recommendations for the literacy development of youth at the secondary level” (p. 138).

  • Don’t allow RtI to define the secondary school reading program.
  • Don’t fixate on foundational reading skills for adolescents.
  • Don’t become paralyzed by evidence-based practice if it isn’t working.
  • Honor youth literacies.
  • Channel resources into professional development for general education disciplinary teachers so that prevention gets the lion’s share of attention.

All educators need to be knowledgeable about RtI. We each need to have a voice – a loud voice – in advocating for universal instruction, intervention, and progress monitoring that meets the needs of adolescent learners. Our students cannot afford to be victims of our ignorance or disengagement, and Brozo’s RtI and the Adoelscent Reader is a great place to begin developing our understanding.

(Blog Owner's Note:  I would just like to add that Mr. Brozo had me hooked as well.  We have had A LOT of interesting conversations about this book! I highly recommend it for those who are discussing RtI at the secondary level.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Power of a Good Book Talk

Sometimes I assume that all teachers of English/language arts understand the power behind talking about books. The sad reality is that not all of them do.  (Well, you know what they say when you assume...) I love having conversations about books with our library media specialist, my assistant principal, my colleagues, and especially with my students.  From these conversations, I learned that one of our Spanish teachers is an avid reader, as are several of the math teachers. I used to throw historical fiction books at the social studies teacher to read because I didn't want to. He would tell me if he thought they were any good. One of our science teachers raids my bookshelves on occasion or asks me for a recommendation. Sometimes I just barge into her classroom like a mad woman shouting "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!" and she does. So, the teachers that I mention don't just READ, they read Young Adult literature!

Though I wonder: Do these teachers talk about what they read with their students?  If not, they should be! Students need to see that it isn't just the English/Reading teachers who read and talk about books.  Imagine the message it would send if that science teacher took one minute our of her class to talk about the great book she read last weekend. It shows her students that she is not just a science teacher--she is also a reader--and this is just another great way to connect with students.

A couple weeks ago I finished Wonder by RJ Palacio and the day after I finished, I "book talked" it to my students.  There are a lot of easy ways to do a book talk but the first rule is, you must actually have the book on hand to show to the students. (You should also be willing to loan it to the students to read otherwise don't bother.) I gave a little background about the main character, August, and told the students that he is severely deformed. (That got their attention.) I also told the students how sections of the book are told from different characters point of view--August's sister, some of his classmates, his sister's boyfriend, etc. I mentioned there was a part in the book that made me cry and want to shout out angrily at the cruelty of society.  (If you read it, I'm referring to the e-mails.) By the end, I cried because I was so happy that my faith in humanity had been restored. (The students want to hear about our emotions. It makes us, as educators, more human.)  Lastly, I took a few moments to read page 88 to the top of page 89 aloud as well as page 120. (From the hardcover version.) They were hooked.  Some of the kids were begging me to read the entire book aloud and I just may do that starting next week.

The students know my rule--no one can check out any of the books I "book talk" until the end of the school day--after I've presented to all of my classes. (First come, first serve.) You would think this would give my last class period of the day the advantage but we have a "Homeroom/Connections" block following last period so whoever makes the effort to come back gets the reward! :)  

Wonder will be a great read aloud for the middle school classroom, but it will also be a great book to have as a choice to read in Book Clubs (Some call them Literature Circles--I call them Book Clubs.) I am anxious to order a set of 6 or more for my students (or for our Book Room), but am patiently waiting for it to come out in paperback.  It's a powerful book and several interesting conversations will come from it not only among the students, but also among teachers. Everyone should be "talking" about it. ;)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Starting with the Notebooks

**I am going to mention several titles and authors in this post, but keep in mind that I have combined years worth of information and experimentation into my classroom, and I must give credit where credit is due.  Don't overwhelm yourself and run out and purchase and read all of these titles.  That is too much. Start small and build on your own knowledge. My recommendation is to begin with Aimee Buckner's books as they are well-written,  fairly short, and will provide you will some great ideas.  If you can fit in time for Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, I would read her book next.

When I began experimenting with Reading/Writing Workshop, I started with the "Notebook." (Unfortunately, Ryan Gosling had nothing to do with it--I'm referring to an actual 100 page, wide-lined, cardboard bound notebook and I prefer composition notebooks.  They work for me and for my students, but you should use whatever works best for you and yours.)  My first step was to determine the purpose of the notebooks, their set up,  and how I would assess them. Keep in mind, my ultimate goal was to get my students reading and writing. The students use their Writing Notebooks for daily strategies and practice, drafting, and documenting their thinking. They use the Reading Notebook as a place to keep track of their reading and thinking about their reading.  (And we spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of the year practicing reading response strategies in the Reading Notebook!) I model all of this and share from my own notebooks too!

When I began this process,  I used Aimee Buckner's Notebook Connections and Notebook Know-How as my guides. (I also began reading, thinking, and planning well before the start of the new school year!)  If I remember correctly, Ms. Buckner teaches 4th graders, but believe it or not, I was able to use several of her ideas even with  my 8th grade and English 9 students.  For writing,  I use several of her strategies including "Best and Worst" and "Lifting a Line."  Last year I added  an "I wonder" and "Inquiry Page: Topics I'd like to learn more about" (an idea I lifted from Harvey "Smokey" Daniels and Stephanie Harvey) so when student were stuck, they could always go back to these pages, add to, or expand on ideas or thoughts from their lists. (The Inquiry Page was helpful when we began informational writing and research later in the year.)  Prompt boxes are also available on my writing table for students to browse if they are still struggling with writing ideas when they are assigned "Daily Pages."  Buckner also offers several tips for getting to know your students as readers as well as comprehension strategies.  I love the "Fab 5" and the students use it often.

As I continued my professional reading, I experimented with other ideas and best practices. I begin the year with combined ideas from Steven Layne's Igniting a Passion for Reading and Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer with those of Buckner in the Reading Notebook. I added a "Shopping List" inside the front cover and a "Student Reading Record" (modified from Mr. Gallagher) on the back cover of the reading notebook and we started the year talking about how to preview books, how to find books we will enjoy, and our current habits as readers.

It should also be noted that I begin the year with talking about all the books that I read over the summer. My first mini-lesson is about how to preview books (borrowed from Layne). In that time the students fill out a reading interest analyzer and an interest survey which I use as data and compare to over the course of the year.  I modified these surveys from Donalyn Miller for my purposes.  Students start adding to the "Shopping List" on the very first day as they peruse the new and student recommended books I pull off of my shelves and have strewn about the tables.  The kids walk around the room, talk to each other, and I do this with them too in an attempt to understand my new students' reading tastes.  (We talk about how this should look before I let them out of their seats, as procedures should be modeled and discussed from day one. More on that in another post.) We also begin writing in our Writing Notebook and I model my own writing with them. One year, I began by writing a letter in my notebook to my students introducing myself and displaying under my document camera to my SMART Board,  reading it aloud,  and then having them do the same as their first writing notebook entry.  This could even be used as a first writing sample/assessment! But that is just one idea, you do what makes sense in your classroom.

Obviously, all of my first day (and proceeding) activities are planned to send a very strong message to my new group. Reading and writing are important and necessary--and we will all be doing a lot of both in this classroom!

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If you would like copies of any of the documents I currently use in my classroom (shopping list, reading record, interest survey--which I have also made into a google doc form, etc.). I will gladly share if you send me an e-mail request at

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Quick Shout Out to West Bend Middle School Teachers!

I would just like to give a "Shout Out" to the ILA staff from West Bend's Silverbrook and Badger Middle Schools. It was a great day of learning today--not just for them, but for me too!  They have inspired the topics of my next several blog posts (still adding ideas to my list as I type this!) They will center on a how I run Workshop in my classroom--including set up, resources, mini-lessons and other tips and tricks I wasn't able to elaborate on in today's presentation. Your passion and your excitement was contagious and inspiring!

I am happy to announce that Barb Novak will be a guest blogger soon too and will offer more thoughts and guidance as well! (Barb Novak and Andrea Reichenberger---the next Fisher and Frey?  Daniels and Harvey?  Hmmm....)

Please continue to send your questions and thoughts and use me as another collaborator! It was a true pleasure and I hope to hear from you all soon! A copy of the PowerPoint presentation from today can be found below.

West Bend April 3