Last week I had the pleasure and honor of co-teaching a professional development course for Hall County teachers, Teaching Reading in the Content Areas, with my Chestatee Academy principal Jennifer Kogod.  We both share a passion for all things literacy, so when she asked me to teach the course with her earlier this spring, I immediately said yes!

Not only did our participants receive a stipend for the course from the district, but they also received five professional books!  Our course texts included:

  • Beers, G. Kylene, and Robert E. Probst. Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters. New York, NY, Scholastic Inc., 2017.
  • Daniels, Harvey, and Nancy Steineke. Texts and Lessons for Content-Area Reading. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2011.
  • Daniels, Harvey. Subjects Matter: Exceeding Standards through Powerful Content-Area Reading. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2014.
  • Tovani, Cris. Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?: Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12. Portland, Me., Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.
  • Wilhelm, Jeffrey D., and Michael W. Smith. Diving Deep into Nonfiction: Transferable Tools for Reading Any Nonfiction Text, Grades 6-12. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Literacy, 2017.

After spending two days together thinking, planning, brainstorming, and having a tremendous amount of fun in the process, Mrs. Kogod and I were ready for our two-day class.    It was important to both of us to

  • Model the strategies we planned to focus on in our course (keep “sit and get” to a minimum”
  • Give our teachers 8-10 concrete “doable” strategies they could easily take back to the classroom in August and implement right away.

We also thought about the arrangement of room and how to organize the learning space for maximum engagement as well as comfort.  Kathy Clifton, our school administrative assistant and goddess of all things “make it happen” assisted us and made sure we had all the supplies we needed.

Day 1

After introductions and sharing our learning targets as well as our course essential question, we jumped into our first activity:  a perspective walk.    We felt this learning structure would not only be a great way to unpack some of the ideas that content area teachers would want to share about teaching reading, but it would also be a medium for community building, something we felt was essential to establishing an environment of trust and sharing.   Because we had a small group of secondary teachers (six), I made just a slight tweak or two to the structure to accommodate our small group, but this is how we facilitated the activity:

1.  Our teachers worked with a partner so that we had three groups of pairs.
2. We introduced these three questions and give groups chart paper to brainstorm their responses.

*How are reading skills and opportunities to use informational text currently used within your subject area?
*What do you see as the benefits of students reading and using informational text in your class?
*What are challenges for content area teachers trying to integrate reading and writing literacies into their content areas?

3. Next, we Mrs. Kogod and I gave groups three sticky notes and asked them to pull out the most salient/important response from their list; we asked them to distill the idea to its essence and to write each “essential” big idea that stood out to them as a group (consensus!) on a medium-sized sticky note.

4. We then did large group share out for each round of questions; as groups shared out, we collected their responses on their sticky notes and grouped “like” answers on the dry erase board.

5. Next, Mrs. Kogod and I placed the “like” responses in the different sections of our perspective walk “pie” while the group took a short break.  We then  gathered the entire group and stood in a large circle around the perspective walk pie.   Because we had such a small group, we modified the activity questions to do two rounds (focusing on questions 1 and 3) instead of all three questions.  For each question, participants walked around the circle and  stepped inside the slice with the response or set of responses from earlier that resonated most strongly with them.

6.  Groups discussed answers among themselves and then we did a large group share out for each question.

For our last round, we first considered the question, “How do we address or tackle that challenge?”  and we worked in pairs to brainstorm solutions to the challenges identified by  participants.  We then concluded with a large group discussion.  This perspective walk gave our teachers time and opportunity to talk about these ideas and share their thinking in a space that was respected and honored, something that is especially important when you are asking teachers to talk about teaching something out of their comfort zone or area of expertise.

Next, we introduced the concept of interactive notebooks and shared ways they might use them with students in their respective content area classes. We also provided everyone a spiral notebook so that they could create an interactive notebook for our course and use it for our learning activities!  Our last activity before lunch was a discussion of the research supporting best practices for reading instruction and key ways content area teachers could support students’ growth as readers.   Our best practices and research-based findings came primarily from our class texts from Tovani, Beers and Probst, and Daniels and Steineke.

After lunch, we did a write-around text on text, one of my favorite learning structure I learned in December 2013 from Harvey Daniels.   After introducing the activity, examples, and the learning structure protocols, we wrote around articles  related to the decline of honeybees.

We then pulled it together with a See, Think, Wonder.

Mrs. Kogod and I were absolutely blown away by the discussions and thinking we heard from Suzanne, Jay, Rachel, Yamelis, Hope, and Marlon as they worked through their See/Think/Wonder activity in pairs.  We then did a large group share out of our See/Think/Wonder, and the richness of the discussions and the connections the teachers made in their responses were especially impressive.

After the activity, we discussed the benefits for students as readers, writers, and inquirers; we also talked about modifications and different variations on the learning structure.  This activity was a HUGE hit with the teachers—after we finished, everyone immediately began thinking aloud about ways they would use this learning structure in our classroom.  One of our participants, my fellow teacher Suzanne Ward, piloted the structure last fall and spring in her Healthcare Science classes.

This activity was a springboard to introducing principles of text sets and ways to effectively develop a broad range of texts, including multimedia, for student learning.  We also talked about resources for finding interesting and accessible texts for students.  We drew heavily on Tovani’s discussion about text sets  as well as the work of Smokey Daniels and Nancy Steineke.   The “homework” for the evening was to begin thinking about the ways we as content area teachers might integrate the use of text sets into our classroom and a unit of study that would be a good starting point.   The day flew by, and we all left feeling energized and excited about the next day!

Day 2

We began the second day with a ticket in the door; we asked our teachers to consider this question:  “What idea or question are you pondering as we continue our exploration of strategies today?”  After giving everyone a few minutes to compose their thoughts, we did a large group share out.  After a rich discussion, we then spent about 45 minutes working on our text sets.  We were delighted to discover every teacher had already started gathering resources the previous evening, and this working time was wonderful for answering individual questions as well as for teachers to work together and help each other.

We then jumped back into our strategy work by introducing the concept of a reading frenzy to our teachers.  I shared some photos of some reading frenzy work I had done in collaboration with teachers Sean O’Connor and Amy Balogh before turning our teachers loose for the reading frenzy, a strategy I learned from Nancy Steineke in the January 2016 Inquiry Institute I attended in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  We also introduced a simple method of annotating/coding text that I learned in the same workshop.  Once the teachers had their handout with the text codes and six articles around an overarching topic, we asked them to read and annotate each article.  Once everyone had plenty of time to read and mark up their texts with the codes, we asked them to rank their articles in order of most interesting/favorite to least.  Because of time limitations, we did not go through the entire process of actually picking topics and developing birds of feather inquiry circles with a four corners approach, but I talked them through how they could use this method to launch a unit of inquiry or to jigsaw material with students for a unit of content area study.  As a class, we then talked about possible modifications and other ways teachers might use and adapt reading frenzies in their classrooms.  Again, everyone was very enthusiastic about this strategy!  I was so excited about what the teachers were doing and thinking that I honestly forgot to take any photos (out of character for me) and sadly didn’t capture any of our other cool learning activities until the end of the day.

Mrs. Kogod then facilitated our BHH learning structure:  Book, Head, and Heart. We borrowed this idea from the Beers and Probst text as well as the templates for classroom anchor charts and foldables you can use with students.   After showing our teachers how to cut and manipulate the foldable, she had teachers glue it in their interactive notebooks where they could use it as part of their hands-on immersion with BHH.   We selected a local news article about automated or driverless cars because we wanted teachers to see how they could use BHH to help students connect and engage with informational text.   The large group discussion that was ignited by this simple but powerful strategy was rich in ideas and was effective in giving everyone an entry point into the conversation.

Again, this strategy was a major hit with the teachers, and it warmed OUR hearts to hear them talking about how they might use it in their classrooms this fall!

After lunch, Mrs. Kogod introduced principles of effective vocabulary instruction in the content areas with this video; the discussion of tiered vocabulary as well as “brick” and “mortar” words really resonated with everyone.  Mrs. Kogod then showed us some simple but powerful vocabulary activities and strategies teachers could use for direct instruction, guided practice, and formative assessment; she pulled two activities, Vocabulary Knowledge Rating and Association Triangles, from a text not on our list but one that should be in every professional library:  Tools for Thoughtful Assessment: Classroom-Ready Techniques for Improving Teaching and Learning by Harvey Silver.    The energy level in the room quickly went up when Mrs. Kogod instructed our teachers to form pairs as we prepared to play Vocabulary Password.  Students sat back to back; the student facing the board that was projecting the vocabulary term had to describe the meaning of the word to the partner behind him/her not facing the board; the person facing the board and doing the describing could not use any language that used part of the vocabulary word.   Once the partner got it right, the partner facing the board jumped up , said his/her name, and when recognized, the other partner shared the answer.  Mrs. Kogod used a fun PowerPoint to help facilitate the activity (complete with a buzzer sound!).  I wish a million times over now I had videoed this activity because the level of competition went through the roof!  I think this activity could be popular with ANY age group, not just middle and high school students.    I can say this activity was a group favorite—the laughter and smiles that came from the competition added to our joy and engagement!

After a short break, Mrs. Kogod then led us in a quotation mingle activity.  We used the Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Nancy Steineke though Kylene Beers also has a version called “Tea Party.”   Basically, you take a text and take out roughly eight interesting sentences; you can copy these onto strips.  Daniels and Steineke recommend you make four copies of each sentence or “strip” so that you have enough for an average class size of 32 though you can always adjust for your classes.   In summary, learners mingle in pairs and discuss their quotes as they try to piece together what they mystery article might be about. In the next round, students mingle in larger small groups four and try to again piece together their knowledge they are gleaning from the quotes.    You then call time and ask students to freeze in place in their small groups.  They are to come up with a headline for the mystery article based on their quotes.  Once groups share out the proposed headlines, they then get to read the mystery article and mark it up with the text codes.  You can then talk about the article as a class as well as how well the predictions and proposed article titles played out based on the evidence provided.  This strategy was yet another popular one with our teachers!

Our final hands-on activity of the day was our Reading Visuals and Images activity, one that I’ve used from Daniels as well as the Visual Thinking Strategies protocols.  I blended a combo of the two for our activity as I asked our students, the teachers, to draw a grid with four squares on the right side of the next empty page in their interactive notebook.  I first projected onto the board a photo I got from the New York Times “What’s Going On in This Picture” activity bank; I showed the teachers a photo in its entirety for roughly 1-2 minutes.   I then showed the photo in quadrants; for the upper left hand quadrant, the first one we focused on, teachers jotted down a range of noticings based on these prompts:

We then repeated the process for each quadrant, moving in a clockwise direction.

Once we had worked through all four quadrants, we then did a Turn and Talk as worked in pairs to record our similarities and differences in our noticings on the left side of our notebook.

We then did a large group share of these similarities and differences.  Finally, we did a final Turn and Talk in pairs again and recorded our responses to these three questions:

  • What are the three most important details you and your partner noticed?
  • What conclusions about the image can you draw from these details?
  • If you were to give this image a title, what would it be?  Why?

We then did one final group share out and engaged in another rich discussion. We ended by talking about possible variations, modifications, and other forms of visuals that could be used to help students learn how to read images and graphics.  This activity was yet another popular learning structure that the teachers loved.

We concluded with a discussion about Tableaux since I had mentioned it earlier as a performance assessment that students could do as a result of an inquiry project sparked by the reading frenzy.  This is another wonderful strategy i learned from Nancy Steineke; you can learn more about it in her wonderful book Assessment Live.  We had hoped to have time to let our teachers read an article, develop a tableaux , and perform it, but we simply ran out of time.  I can attest from personal experience, though, that this is a medium for learning and assessment students LOVE and that gets them engaged with texts and each other!

Final Reflections

I think joy is the word that comes to mind when I think about this learning experience that we all shared together.  Though our class was small, all six teachers came with an incredible reservoir of enthusiasm and ready to learn as well as share.  Their positive energy and willingness to really invest themselves in the two days was inspiring and generated so much excitement among all of us.

We canvassed a good deal of territory over two short days, yet Mrs. Kogod and I are so proud that we did it in a way where we went deep and were strategic with the content we introduced and immersed ourselves in with our teachers. On a personal note, I have to say it was an honor and privilege to co-teach with Mrs. Kogod—her passion for literacy and desire to explore strategies with real impact are contagious.    Last week was one of the best weeks of my professional career, and I am thankful I had the opportunity to be part of such a rich learning experience with Mrs. Kogod and my fellow Hall County teachers.  I sincerely hope we have the chance to co-teach a class again in the future.

What makes summer or any PD experience meaningful for you?