SOL: Expectations With Choice

Writing about reading has been a difficult sell for some students and adults.

I just want to read, stop bugging me to write, is a complaint I’ve heard from both populations.
But, I know, from my experience, writing about reading, always lifts the level of my thinking.

Do I always do write about reading? No. If I want to read something deeply or I am reading with others, yes. I make purposeful choices. I want my students to do the same. Always dogmatically writing about reading, no. When they are reading deeply and with partners, yes.

Sunday, I read my students’ Reader’s Notebooks. They are theirs. I don’t grade them. I check in on them for specific work. Now that testing is over, I wanted to get a sense of where they were in their thinking.

Monday, after book shopping, I called them to the carpet and said, “I set a lot of time aside this weekend to read your notebooks. I was so excited to see what was going on in your reading lives. Sadly, I finished in no time. There wasn’t much to look at.”

They looked at me.

I could of, maybe should have asked them why. But I didn’t.

Instead, I asked them to tell me all the ways they could write about reading. They said I recorded:

Character webs, sketching, know/wonder thinking (wonderful shorthand for Vicki Vinton/Dorothy Barnhouse’s strategy in What Readers Really Do) emotional timelines, tracking the plot, retelling, boxes and bullets, summary, found poetry.

I looked at them.

They looked at their feet.

If they knew so much, why didn’t they write? I knew they were reading. Maybe they were making purposeful choices, perhaps not.

I could of, maybe should have asked them why. But I didn’t.

Instead, I handed them their Reader’s Notebooks and said. “We have four weeks left. Let’s get serious.”

Expectations were set: In thirty minutes, read and write about reading.

“Can we choose any way to write about reading?” K asked.

“I expect you to,” I said. “Use what works, for you and the book.”

“Can you leave that list up?” M asked.

“Of course.”

“Yesss!” And he took off.

Four students refused to leave the carpet. All looked concerned. Finally, one asked. “Can I get a new notebook?” Then the rest chimed in with me too.

Ok, that was an easy fix.  Off they went, new notebooks in hand, thrilled with the opportunity for a do-over.

I moved from reader to reader checking in, scattering stacks of post-its, reminding them of how they might be useful.

I walked by A’s desk; he looked up at me sheepishly. “I don’t write about reading,” was his response to how’s it going.  Shame made his shoulders hunch over. I could see what he was thinking: Just when I thought I could happily enjoy reading, she caught me.

“I know,” I said. ” I’ll help. You’re a great reader; you just have to show a teeny bit of your thinking on the page.”

He sucked in deeply and looked at me. Suspicious. “Ok, I guess.”

With about five minutes left in the workshop,  I asked those kiddos who were sucked deeply into their books to come up for air; take a moment to write about something that stuck with them.

Afterward, they graded themselves on quantity and quality of their reading. They talked with their partners, shared their writing about reading, made some plans for reading tonight.

Many came up to me to assess their writing. I turned it back to them with what do you think? Most were tougher graders than I would have been. Typical.

Several kiddos pulled reading logs out. (I have generic ones students can choose to use. ) This time, I asked why.

T said, “I like them. I like putting down the time I read and the pages I read. It helps me set goals for myself.”

A said, “They are neat and organized. I like that.”

Whoa. Really?

K walked up to me. Holding out her notebook, “Can I use this over the summer? I have a plan as to how I’m want to use this.”

Uh, yeah sure, great idea.

I was disappointed this weekend.  But, what I saw today was surprising and pleasing.
When there were unstated expectations, during the fog of testing and test prep, most did not write about reading. But today, all jumped to do it.

They knew what to do.
Expectations were clarified.
A menu of options could meet the expectation.

Everyone wants to leave the classroom feeling like they did something. Expectations with choice help students find that path.

That’s how reading went today.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

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11 thoughts on “SOL: Expectations With Choice

  1. The power of this lesson was what you didn’t say. The students took on the responsibility because you expected them to and you respect their ability to choose to. Much more about lifelong learning that saying Do this because I say so.

  2. I think it helps to have the conversations, individually or as a group. You stated truth, and no other words were needed. You gave, and they added, new directions/ideas? They responded. Sounds as if it will be a good way to finish the year, with more response to the reading, and maybe more conversation.

    • I always second and third guess my teaching. This post was a part of that process. If I could teach the lesson again and again and each time it would be different.

  3. What a rich, honest slice about learning for all…all about love of literacy and its complexities and challenges and you took them on and your kids did the same with you… a true learning community.
    Bravo!!!!!

  4. Your words “expectations with choice” define you and the classroom culture and community you build. I agree with you about writing lifting the level of my thinking – and also not always wanting to do it.

  5. Students taking control of their own learning from the guidance they’ve had throughout the year is a powerful way to end the year. I say, “Well done, Julieanne!” How awesome that they are thinking about summer reading plans now!

  6. I like how you didn’t just give up even though only few weeks of school are left. I think the best part was to hear a student wishing to use the journal over the summer.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I want to set my students up for their Summer Reading. And you remind me that I need to model it, let them try it and then ask how did it go. AND allow for LOTS of choice. My favorite line is “I asked those kiddos who were sucked deeply into their books to come up for air; take a moment to write about something that stuck with them.” Last summer while being in a virtual book club with YOU, I realized I so often get sucked in and need to remind myself to come up for air!!

    So what should we read together THIS summer?? !!! Have you read Pax. It is on my list. I’m up for another virtual book club!! Will you be going to TCRWP? I am going for August Reading.

    • I have read Pax, but it would be a great book to reread together. I’m not going to make TCRWP this year so we’re going to have to communicate with written or spoken words. Want to try a Voxer chat on a book like Pax?

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