Back to Basics & Creating Balance.

A little context to preface this post…

I teach high school English at an international school in Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates). The curriculum in grade 9 and 10 uses the Common Core Standards, and we offer both an IB and AP stream in the upper grades. This year I teach grade 10, IB Language & Literature, and AP Language and Composition (deep breathing engaged).

My previous two posts have related to the use of the workshop model and helping students to create a reading life.

Full disclosure: I have been referencing my grade 10 class for it is within the Common Core curriculum that the workshop model (and time dedicated to reading and talking about reading and listening to others read) flourishes. It is amazing to watch students surpass their reading goals for the year and feel a sense of ownership and pride over their writer’s notebooks.

But I am struggling to find this same sense of growth and passion in my AP classes. I am wondering why my students have all of a sudden stopped being excited about what they are reading? Why they now question writer’s notebook time?

My initial thoughts for this struggle are:

  1. Their sense of priorities change once in the AP stream – they feel more pressure in their courses and thus don’t make time for reading.
  2. They want you to tell them what they need to know to get good grades (college is now a real thing), thus time spent ‘playing’ in their WNB’s to consolidate, to be creative, to take their time…doesn’t have the same allure.
  3. They don’t see the correlation between increased volume of writing and reading for their academic life – how it can help them in other subjects, as well.

I know that it is not just about the students though:

  1. I am feeling the pressure of the AP exam in May.
  2. The AP course is new to me so I am navigating that aspect, as well.

How can I bring back that love of reading back into the lives of my AP/IB students? Help them see the necessity of it?

They used to plow through books and now I receive the classic: I don’t have time to read anymore. My response: That is unacceptable. You are making a choice to not make time for reading. But I know that I am not doing all the things I mentioned in my previous Creating a Reading Life post to nurture this – and that’s on me.

I am getting lost in the weeds of the test prep mentality and developing the day to day lessons…and that is unacceptable, too. And I confided this fact to my students the other day.

It is not my intention to turn students into test takers (that thought makes me feel sick to my stomach). It is my intention to help them bloom into readers and writers and thinkers. To help them be better people – people that can think critically, that can engage in constructive conversations, that can argue for their point of view.

So I slowed down and I gave them time: Time to read. To talk about reading. To listen to others read. And then I gave them time to write. To talk about their writing. And to read their writing. (On different days of course!)

And perhaps I am being a bit hard on myself. I know that I am doing good things … a few of the big ones include:

  • 15 minutes at the beginning of every class is dedicated to independent reading. This happens every day, no matter what.
  • The workshop model that I stole from Penny Kittle is implemented daily and with validity (Read, Write, Study, Create, Share)
  • The formative process is valued over the summative assessment.

But I also know that there are places where I need to improve and conferring is the top priority. So that is where I will begin. Begin by planting seeds through meaningful conversations – by helping that love of reading and writing flourish again.

I have done my reading and research (and had the benefit of Stevi Quate’s expertise) in purposeful one-on-one conferences. I am confident in my ability to engage students in discussing their process, ensuring that they are the ones doing the talking and not me doing the telling. I know the necessity of these conversations in helping students to be more accountable, motivated, and self-directed in their learning. The skills we want them to build beyond those dictated by the end of year AP exam (the May 8 date is ever present).

I need to find my balance. I need to find a system that works.

I have 95 students this year and there are always those students who seek me out, but there are even more students who don’t. And I need to turn my focus toward them.

It is only October, I have plenty of time to help my AP students find their way back to healthy reading and writing lives, to nurture a balance in them as well.

How I am going to re-calibrate:

  1. Get a notebook that is just for student conferring and dedicate a page to each student.
  2. Write down notes from even the briefest of conversations with a student so that when I talk to them again I can bring it back into the conversation (lets them know that what they say matters, that I remember).
  3. A reminder that conferring can be a 30 sec. conversation, as long as it is purpose driven.

I will keep finding places where I can slow down; I will be more purposeful in negotiating opportunities to confer; I will be better at showing what matters.

(What was the date of that exam again?)

“Balance is not something you find. It’s something you create.” ~ Jana Kingsford

I best start creating!

Where do you find time to confer? What strategies help you make it a habit? How are you finding balance in the higher stakes classes?

Share your ideas with me on Twitter @readwritemore

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