My 7th grade Language Arts / Literature classes are working to improve our lives through research based on our interests. What will we learn? What message will we share? This blog is a log of our learning experiences, mine and the students'... HOME - SEE ALL POSTS . Check out the LiveBinder to see what other teachers are doing during their Genius Hour time!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Genius Hour? How about Genius Curriculum?

Guest post by A.J. Juliani

It was only a few years ago that I started doing a 20% time project with my students. As I began to share the work I was doing online, I met a group of teachers so passionate about this type of learning...that I could not help to be drawn in to what they were doing as well. Joy Kirr, Hugh McDonald, Denise Krebs, and Gallit Zvi are rockstar teachers in my book. Not because of necessarily what they've done with Genius Hour...but because they share what they've done with Genius Hour. I've learned so much from them and the large group of teachers out there giving students choice in the classroom. 

Flash forward to today. It's a few years later. The Genius Hour wikispace, Joy's Livebinder, Angela Maiers's Choose2Matter movement, Robin Theissen's Global Genius Hour Project, and Paul Solarz's site of resources are consistently being used by teachers around the world to give students choice. I sit back and watch the #geniushour feed and #20time feed on Twitter and I'm blown away. I see the community on Google+ sharing...teachers like Nick Provenzano, Erin Klein, and Vicki Davis all getting involved (and many, many more). And yet...

It's just the start. 

I wrote my book about 20% time and Genius Hour primarily because I wanted to reach a new audience of teachers and educators. I hope this text is used at the University level and in Graduate classes, as well as by school leaders, to introduce the power of choice in learning. As I see this idea spreading like wildfire I'm reminded of the three problems that led me to start the 20% project with my students:

- There are many adults who are unhappy with the work they do on a day-to-day basis.
- When students go into the work force they often have no idea what they are passionate about...
- School tends to force students to walk a straight line rather than give them a choice in their learning.

These reasons are all interconnected, and why student choice is so important in the "big picture". However, let's think bigger about Genius Hour or 20% Time. I'm not proposing the entire school day is filled with student choice and every class is like a Genius Hour...nope, that's not how it works. But, it can look different. 

Here's a simple way to think about the possibility of a "Genius Curriculum":

1. Most students already have a set of skills that they need to master and demonstrate in each grade level...and drilled further down into each unit. The Common Core and other standards-based curriculum have focused on the skills (not necessarily the content) and that is great for student choice. 
2. Right now, it is very easy to tie one particular piece of content to a whole bunch of standards... Think about how we use a textbook, or how we use certain texts for Language Arts class etc. But that is the easy way out... and is an antiquated way to think about curriculum. We have millions of resources today at our fingertips that can help teach the same skills...why only use one?
3. If we are focusing on skills, then there are many ways to assess that skill or skill set. Let's not limit our students to one form of assessment at the end of a unit, but instead give them choices as to how they demonstrate knowledge and mastery.

A Genius Curriculum, then, has these specific features to it:

     -common set of skills students need to learn and then demonstrate mastery
     -a litany of resources that teachers can provide to students to learn/master those skills
     -a wide variety of assessment choices
     -student choice opportunities for learning resources, assessments, and pacing

Are there still going to be times where students should read a text as a communal activity? Yes! Are there still going to be times where students all demonstrate mastery through a shared assessment? Yes! However, there will also be "student choice" infused into the daily learning activities and assessments when possible.

A Genius Curriculum is no different than how we learn outside of school. Here's a final example:

A few years ago I wanted to learn how to use Wordpress to design and make websites. I searched online for articles and watched some videos. Then I tried my best at getting a site up and failed a few times before asking another person online for help. They helped me get started, and then I used more articles and videos to get better and better at Wordpress design and now I help many teachers who are just starting with Wordpress. 

I did not get a degree in any type of "computer/programming" area... yet, I can build and design my own websites using Wordpress. I did not take a formal class, although I could have. I used resources that helped me, while someone else learning Wordpress might have used different resources, or some of the same resources. I asked one person for help and they pushed me past my pain point. Now I continue to learn through informational text when I need it.

That is learning. That is how we all learn each day and week. Multiple learning sources that we can sift though, multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills, and multiple ways to reach out for extra help. 

Do you think a Genius Curriculum is a possibility? How do you learn today? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Guest post by A.J. Juliani

Friday, June 27, 2014


I've taken the liberty of capitalizing beginnings of tweets, completing words, and adding ending punctuation on this conversation via Twitter four days ago...

"Not a fan of genius hour or other schemes to justify rest of the school day being laborious or irrelevant" -Gary Stager, Ph.D.
"The word 'scheme' hit me hard. #Geniushour affects 100% of the week" sent with an attachment to the link to a blog post where I defend Genius Hour. -me
"Why call it an hour then?" -Stager
"Don't think the name matters. Isn't it about kids thinking and building a passion for learning?" -Kathy Turley
"Of course the name matters. Words matter." -Stager
"Words DO matter. I'm fortunate I have 1hr/wk that changes the other 4hrs students & I have together." -me
"Don't care about Dan Pink. Why not read Dewey, Hawkins, Kohl, Meier, Littky, a Papert, Malaguzzi?" -Steger
"They all have something to offer. Everyone has their favorites doesn't mean 'Pink* is wrong.'" -Ihor Charischak
"Pink makes up stuff and spreads junk science. He's wrong." -Steger
"Have read most of those but why not package it for people. G.H. is one way to use what they say." -Jarrod Lamshed
"The challenge with packaging GH = it becomes consumable & discarded and when the package is discarded, the underlying principles often go along with it." -Dave Quinn
     * Pink = Daniel Pink, author of Drive (one book some teachers link to Genius Hour)

And I'm in a sour mood for the next two days...
I don't get it. Why not support something that COULD POSSIBLY BE one way teachers can BEGIN the process of letting students take over their own learning? Does it matter what you read that gives you idea of letting students ENJOY school while taking ownership of their learning? Does it matter that people may be "packaging" it, but they like at least a portion of what they're seeing from students - and it's more choice than their students have ever had? Heaven forbid it changes the rest of their week with students, or maybe their outlook during future years! Harrumph.

Skip two more days...

Holland Michigan - where my love and I would rendezvous and eventually get married! We visited on our three-year anniversary this year to unplug, relax, and enjoy the water. One of our stops: Kirk Park

Here - they have rules, warnings, and guidelines... .......All    the    way    to    the    beach.

Some people can look at them and think... this park will be no fun. I won't be able to do ANYthing. And then... they get to the beach...see and hear the waves...feel the sand between their toes...

It got me thinking about all the rules teachers and students have. A quick overview of a student's morning at my middle school:
     Rule 1: No biking or skateboarding on school property.
     Rule 2: No throwing snow on school property.
     Rule 3: When you walk in the door, no hats allowed.
     Rule 4: Turn off any devices and leave them (and your jacket) in your locker; get to homeroom.
     Rule 5: Sit in your seat and be quiet while we listen to announcements.
     Rule 6: Stand for the pledge of allegiance.

Phew! And that's all in the first ten minutes of a student's day!

What about teachers? I have at least two rules imposed on me:
     Rule 1: Create and maintain a safe environment where children can learn.
     Rule 2: Cover curriculum.

Some people will look at student and teacher rules and think... this is so hard on the students... no BYOT... maybe scripted curriculum... how can they cover all that curriculum in one year... students won't be able to do ANYthing fun. And then... they visit the classrooms... see and hear student engagement in various ways... see curriculum being covered and (GASP!) students smiling...

What are school rules for?
     RESPECT for learning

Would anyone doubt this? If I don't like the rules I have to teach by, I could leave. The facts are, however, the reason for the rules makes sense. I like my school. I even like to follow rules. I don't like to make waves. I will work my hardest at covering the curriculum in the few hours I have with my seventh graders. I will work with other teachers as to how this can best be accomplished. I will try to keep my students having FUN while learning the curriculum. AND... I will also have one hour of my five hours with children where they can pursue their own learning.

I am currently not in a position to change my entire school or my entire district. Nor do I have the drive or energy to do so. I do not even pretend to have the knowledge of HOW to do so. How many teachers are like me? How many want to begin to change students' lives by making a difference in his or her own class? If so, it cannot hurt to try something similar to Genius Hour. And if you don't like the name, by all means - change it. Here is a list of some other names, or create your own. I've defended the name I use here. The whole point of this type of learning --> to engage students, to help them imagine and then express their creativity, to help them discover their passions, and to encourage them to use their own genius to make a difference in their world. I just cannot sit back and watch as some teachers trash good ideas - just because it may not be possible for some 100% of the time.

Compare class to the beach. Even with all these rules, I found time to swim in the water, play frisbee, build a sand castle, splash around, and even read my "assigned" summer reading book...

If you want to work in a building or district in which the "genius hour" or "20 percent time" philosophy IS truly 100% of the time, try one of these schools. If you want to stay where you are and make a difference in your own classroom, try - at every opportunity - to give your students choice in HOW they learn your curriculum, and choice in WHAT they learn. Then please share with the world what you are doing in your classroom that is making a difference. It doesn't have to be ALL or NOTHING. Some people have a hard time starting small. I won't be knocking them for trying - I'll be supporting them all I can.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2013-2014 Year in Review

My 19th year of teaching - feels like my first, once again!
Since this post is really just for me to use to reflect on the year, I'm using bullet points...

- ICE CAP Mini-Conference - presented on Evernote to a group of teachers who were not on Twitter!
- Genius Hour LiveBinder was voted into the top 10!
     --Tina & Barbara sent me free bookmarks, then 300 more for Parent Night in September!
- Created our class Weebly, thanks to this stellar role model Weebly from Paul Solarz

- #ELAtlap chat! Because of Bernice Homel, we learned how to run a chat and how to archive it!
     --We've since changed the name to #ELAchat!
     --Shameless Plug - Find #ELAchat on the first and last Tuesday of each month, 7pm CST.
- Met F2F - Mindi Rench, Bernice Homel, Katie Hurkles, Megan Ryder, Garnet Hillman
- Facilitated a session for the first ever EdCampHome!
- Created & shared collaboration documents for MS teachers - all in one Google doc folder.
- Notice & Note group through school - nice to read a professional book with teachers I know.
- Reviewed Role Reversal for MiddleWeb

- Presented with Jen Smith on using Twitter to your advantage during Tech Academy for our district
- Facilitated a session on student choice and presented with Paul Solarz on Genius Hour (Passion Projects) on Opening Day for the district.

- My approach to Parent Night was very different this year... See this blog post.
     I think taking this approach really helped start a strong relationship with the parents.

October LOTS OF PICS here
- Presented on "Student Choice in the ELA Classroom" at IATE with Gary Anderson (congrats on your retirement this school year, Gary!), Russ Anderson, Jaclyn Han, and Amy Pine
- Met F2F - Nancie (last name?) & Maggie Vonck while they were in town from Green Bay!
- Helped organize and run EdCampChicago in WoodDale with the best crew ever!
     --Met F2F here - Ben Hartman, Jen Vincent, Jenna Hacker, Steve Wick, Eric Patnoudes, Jeff Zoul, Meg Van Dyke, Tasha Squires, Ben Kuhlman, Kimberly Hurd, Rick Rowe, John Corbett, Brendan Murphy, Kristie Bleers, Jason Hanrahan, & countless others!
We even had Kimberly at the house overnight - only Twitter teachers, right?!?!
The great crew this fall - including my hubby!
- Reviewed Common Core English Language Arts in a PLC at Work: Gr 6-8 for MiddleWeb
- Reviewed Teaching with Tablets for MiddleWeb
- Idea Paint (District Grant received last year) was finally painted on 12 of my 15 classroom tables!

- As a group, the #ELAchat ladies read Whole Novels for the Whole Classroom, and had teacher and author Ariel Sacks moderate the chat.
- Read 78 books in 2013
- Began a quick magnet name poll system for students - thanks to an idea I saw on Twitter, of course...

- Began the Power of Appreciation blog
DG58 Literacy Blizzard Playdate - facilitated a session on genius hour using reading, and got a cake pop for my birthday from Bernice! ;)
   --Met Christopher Bronke, Jodi Piekarz, Samara Silverman, Ed Casey, Elizabeth N., Justin Greene, Theresa Allen, Matt Coaty, Kristen Mattson, Mark White, Dara Kappel, Maggie Maslowski, & met more teachers to add to my PLN.
- EdCamp Madison
   --Met F2F - Ben Brazeau, Principal Joey Sagel & his crew, John Gunnel, Brian Durst, Andrea Kornowski, Melissa Emler, Alex Bocian, Darin Johnston & Melissa Johnston from IA, and countless others!!!!
Three states in the Genius Hour session! (John - WI , me, & Darin - IA)

- Bought 139 books for $37 at AHML sale

SIT Conference - I volunteered at this stellar conference for KIDS in technology!!
     --Met F2F Lynn Szabo, Jill Maraldo and Charlene Chausis
- ICE Conference - Learned about Doctopus and Goobric from Marcie Faust - Invaluable!
     --Met F2F - George Courous, Sue Gorman, Tim Scholze, Lance Fuhrer, Andy Fekete, Akemi Sessler, Joe Robinson, Erin Jackle... and more!

- Went to a workshop through our district to hear Rick Wormeli!
     This caused a few discussions at my school, for sure. It was a good push for me, at the right time.

- Reviewed arc of If Only by Amy Pine!
- Skyped with Nancy Wahl's class to help out with Genius Hour
- EdCamp Iowa
     --Met F2F here - Jimmy Casas, Matt Degner, Becky Ince, Tim Hadley, Aaron Mauer, Aaron Becker, Bill Porter, Gail LeGrand, Julie Bauer, Sarah Nelson... This was the most fun (and the most learning, I believe) I've had at an EdCamp, for sure.

- Met & was able to eat dinner with Amy Smith and her daughter on Spring Break in Nashville, TN!
- Skyped with one of Dean Shareski's students
- Students received shoes to test during Genius Hour from UnderArmour Women & Asics
- CNN Schools interviewed me and some of my students for this article about Genius Hour!
- I put in proposal for "PD in Your PJs" to IATE - I'm in!
- Reviewed arc of THRIVE, by Meenoo Rami - My first time participating in a blog tour!
- Completed a photo-a-day challenge, thanks to inspiration from the ICE conference

- A student taught me how to fly - by using

- Created a Poet Tree thanks to Kimberly Hurd sharing the idea via Google+
One of my favorite distractions this year!

Some poems were found discarded...

Some poems told of heartache...

Some poems were fun to find!

- Received a copy of Dash from the author (and local teacher) Greg Armamentos for my students to read and review
- Enjoyed a lunchtime author visit from Tim Shoemaker to our Genius Hour writers' club
- Was enticed by passionate teacher Nancy Wahl to write a proposal for the annual ASCD conference
     --Still waiting to hear! ;)

- At Taft (our three-day, two-night outdoor ed. trip), I was reminded that 7th grade boys are still babies in ways, and I learned that I can keep it together when a rock makes a child's head bleed profusely.
- I was nominated for a Bammy ??
- I was interviewed for a Talks with Teachers podcast about... you guessed it... Genius Hour.
- A student set up his own Shutterfly site for every 7th grader on our team to share their Taft photos
- EdcampChicago at Palatine High School - I could get used to this!
- Our class was featured in this Imagination Foundation article about why we do the Cardboard Challenge
- Tried the Whole Novels approach for The Outsiders
- A student made a Little Free Library for the community!
- Received a copy a novel written by a student this year
- Just keep tweaking, just keep tweaking...

What will my 20th year bring...?? BRING IT ON!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Genius Hour Year Two - Reflection

I'm a numbers person. 
I like to see graphs and charts. 
I always wonder... 
     Can you quantify what happened during Genius Hour this year? 

I did this same reflection with numbers last year (see this post), and had to crunch the numbers once again. Our second full year under our belts, I decided to just focus on fourth quarter for this reflection. Of course, more changes are coming for next year, but fourth quarter was "true" Genius Hour - I let students read, research, create... it was up to them.

I'll just get right into the number crunching I did. Keep in mind that I had 64 students participating. Let's start with presentations. Our presentations for which I had permission to publish are located here on our class Weebly.

Presentation Quality
  Last year, we did not focus on presentation quality. This year, I gave three mini-lessons on presenting. One was regarding visuals, one regarding audio, and one regarding body language. I still didn't want to over-analyze, so I quickly went down the list of students and gave the first "grade" that came to mind:
  0 = not good    
  S = solid          
  * = stellar
2013 Stats

Anyone interested in what school subjects students learned about? I was...
I didn't know where a couple of these fit in... Video games? Designing with Minecraft? DIY (Do-it-Yourself)? So they have their own category. (Some DIY projects could have been classified as science, some as family & consumer science, some as art...) I'm so glad more this year are geared toward reading and writing - I think that happened because I started with Erin Olson's idea of Read, Be Inspired, and Act on It (or Do Something Inspiring)...

2013 Stats

Just how productive were students during class time? If I'm using 20% of our class time for students to learn what THEY want to learn, this had better be productive... Here are the questions I asked myself:
Did students work on their project during this hour every week?
  0 = no               S = somewhat       * yes
If they did not work on their project in class, did they read or were they productive in some other way?
  N = no                                         Y = yes
I put these two together to see student engagement in class...

2013 Stats

Then I considered...
What about a "typical" day in LA class? What is student engagement like then?  If the numbers are low, it could be a mixture of things... My passion for the content, techniques I use to keep students interested, student preferences for content, student emotions, family life, etc. etc. etc... I could go on and on about student engagement in a middle-school classroom, but I still had to measure it to make any sort of comparison.  This year's "typical" reading and writing day was a tough one, but there were still days during which I lecture, then facilitate, then students do independent work. What does student engagement in this setting look like?
I decided to measure student engagement in typical lessons in this fashion:
  0 = does not know where we are in the lesson
  S = can participate if called upon
  * = participates without prompting

2013 Stats

Let's put the two side by side...
Genius Hour In-Class Engagement                   Engagement in Typical Lessons

Which would you rather have? In which setting would you rather be? The latest talk I've listened to that has really focused on why students need to be engaged in lessons is this one by Brandon Busteed. This is a 35 minute speech that was tweeted out by Denise Krebs over a year ago. This is what I've come to realize - It's all about student engagement, and letting students know you care about them. In this video, he says that from the last Gallop poll, only 61% of middle-school students are engaged during lessons.  I truly feel that all parents, teachers, and administrators need to hear this talk. Please take the time to listen to him - I cannot sum it up here, as there is so much he says that is vital to our students' education.

Speaking of student engagement...
Another number I wanted was student engagement outside of the school hours.
Is there evidence of work at home?
  0 = no               S = somewhat   * yes

These numbers are very different from last year. This could mean many things. For me, at least, a good take-away is that it meant more students were engaged during class time, and this helped things run smoother for me this year. Classes did seem to be more chaotic (loud, messy, where is so-and-so?), but I wasn't keeping everyone on track as much as I had to last year.

I wish we could have collaborated with other students, and two other students from across the world wanted to collaborate on a music project! Unfortunately, that's when one of my students decided to create the band, instead of going alone on her project.

Tyler & Matt's LFL
This year, however, we have two new changes - I was able to get a mentor for our nine novelists, and three groups of students ("Play It In Reverse" band, Little Free Library, & Which shoe is best?) reached out to the community for help! One teacher from a local district, Christopher Bronke, wanted to mentor, but the two students that would thrive under his mentorship never jumped at the chance (and I KEPT bugging them!). Bonus for us (as I didn't push this): we had six students from my classes who have made a difference in someone else's life. A Little Free Library was created, books were collected and sent to children's hospitals, money was collected for water in Africa, and hand-made goods were sold to collect for a greenhouse for our school garden.

Our classes were also featured in two online articles this year - CNN Schools did a story about Genius Hour (check out the sixth photo), & Imagination Foundation picked up our story about why we do the Cardboard Challenge in preparation for Genius Hour.

One more thing - I need to share a quote from a student who was NOT engaged during class time. He wrote this in his reflection: "Genius Hour was my favorite bc it felt like I had freedom in school." Another wrote, "I liked Genius Hour because we got our own time to do something we liked." No kidding.

Please tell me in the comments... What else could I try to measure for this reflection? What do these graphs tell you? What's the next step?
Wordle made from students' one-word reflections

2013 Wordle made from students' one-word reflections...

All graphs were created at this easy-to-use website: Kids' Zone Create-A-Graph

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Whole Novels - with The Outsiders

This past November, our #ELAchat group read Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student-Centered Approach, by Ariel Sacks.

The Outsiders was the perfect fit for our first try using this approach. I had to wait until May to proceed! The year went by quickly, however... as it always does! Here is my "how we did it this year" post on how I used Whole Novels for the Whole Class ideas with the classic 7th grade novel The Outsiders....

Prep - Here's what I used:
A coworker made the bookmarks (THANK YOU, AMY!), another coworker copied and cut the bookmarks (THANK YOU, APRIL!), another coworker made the annotation tips to glue into the books (THANK YOU, ASHLEY!), yet another coworker copied our activities (THANK YOU, LISA!) and, alas, I sharpened pencils and filled the bags. The bags were on sale, and I spent a total of $11.92 on the bags and glue stick. Not bad. I'd reuse the bags if we had more than one novel study in this fashion. Each student was going to receive a zipped bag (name written on the outside) with the novel (annotation tips glued on the inside), a launch letter, a calendar and slang dictionary, a bookmark, and a sharpened Ticonderoga pencil! Amy pointed out to me that we haven't had a "novel study" yet. EVERY book we've read together in class this year has been nonfiction, except for our read alouds! How did this happen? 

Day One With Students:
Spent one day getting ready with discussing different types of questions and comments. I read aloud a section of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass that we did not get to in class the week prior. (Students actually chose from four sections I'd wanted to read - it's always nice when I can start a lesson with student choice of some sort!) I asked students to write down any questions or comments they had about this particular section. After reading aloud, I asked students to share their questions. We had sticky notes on the board. I then described the three different question or comment types Ariel Sacks describes in Whole Novels for the Whole Class:

We discussed how we think like this while reading - sometimes we need to reread to find answers to our literal questions, wonder about our inferential questions, and think differently about critical questions. I wanted students to give this a try - with picture books.

I had quickly snatched seven picture books from our LMC downstairs. (Sometimes the best plans are the ones you think of the day before!) Luckily for me, I was able to grab these:

Students chose their groups, then chose a book. As they read, they jotted down questions or comments about the book (on sticky notes), and then discussed and put them in columns based on which type of question or comment (literal, inferential, or critical) each one was.

We only had time to show that some books had students thinking about more literal questions, and some were heavy on the inference and critical questions. We guessed as to why that was - was it the student that did this? Or was it the book that led the student to do this? Was it a mixture of student and text? Did it matter?? Hopefully just looking at annotations in a different light will help students write sticky notes once we get started with The Outsiders.

Day Two With Students:
[Note: one half of our block each day was used for grammar (the sentence the first day was "Today we are getting a new book and a new, sharpened pencil!"), a read aloud, and other items that needed to be taken care of. The second half of the block was for working with The Outsiders.]

The launch! Students were excited about the bags of bags of books (yes - bags IN bags)! I promised that the last one out of each bag would get the bow. Before I handed them out (while I still had their attention), I explained that this was, indeed, a gift. A gift from their parents for the book itself, a gift from Mrs. Berry for copies and cuts of bookmarks & schedules, and a gift from me of a pencil and the time to sharpen each one. ;)

After receiving their bags, we read the launch letter aloud, looked at the calendar, dictionary, and help on the class Weebly, and then we listened to chapter one, up to page ten or so. The narrator read very slowly, and I know it was painful for some of my readers, but just right for others. Since this was an introduction to the book and I wanted time to discuss, ten pages was perfect. Afterwards, we shared some of our sticky notes or annotations as a class. They seemed ready to keep reading...! Before students resumed reading, I explained that there will be no spoilers - that this book is full of action, and we trust them to not spoil the book for the rest of us.

Day Three With Students:
[One half of our block was used for grammar (the sentence today was "Some people think Ponyboy is an odd name."), a read aloud, and a video a student wanted to share.]

We settled down, students got comfortable, and then I got to work. In the back of the room, I had copies of different activities for students to try. As students read silently, I checked in with them, tracking the page they stopped at yesterday, and discussing their sticky notes. I used what I've learned from Choice Words to show students I was listening. I'd say things such as, "I notice you..." connect to Ponyboy, ask a lot of questions to clarify what you're reading, have a lot of ideas about characters, etc. These helped me voice the skills students were showing, and helped me figure out an activity (if any) to give them for today or tomorrow. I would then tell the student why I chose this activity, and he/she would grab it from the table. "When is this due?" was heard often. My reply? "When it is finished to the best of your ability." I hope students will put them on the bulletin board under each character's name when they are finished. It was rough getting through 22 students in 40 minutes, but it happened (by the skin of my teeth for block 8/9)!

Day Four With Students:
Students were ready to read today - I only had two students who really didn't care to keep reading. One (who has tried to escape reading at every opportunity) had told me that so-and-so "already told me that... (insert spoiler)." I tried to explain to him how gratifying it is to read it on your own to find out if that person is telling the truth or not, and to also see what led up to this event, if it indeed happened. I also gave him the name of an 8th grader who hadn't read ANY books in middle school except The Outsiders - and he liked it so much he proceeded to read the sequel! Alas, this student went on to pretend to read for another 20 minutes. My next step with him - let him listen to the recording!
Bean bags help encourage reading, too!
Day Five With Students:
I was absent, so no new activities were given to students, but page numbers were recorded, so I could check in with students again next time we met.

Day Six With Students:
I loaned my iPod out to my nonreader today - he sat, sprawled out on the floor, listening intently while he read along. (I also snuck him some sticky notes and a pencil!!) Some people don't consider this reading. It's "enabling." I argue - if it helps get him hooked and wanting to read more, we've succeeded for the time being. This inspired three students to ask to get their phones from their lockers so they could "download the book." ?? They found some version of it out there, and read along in their books, as well. It was the quietest last period of my day I think we've ever had! (Hmm... three students were absent, though, too!) Another side note - he didn't know how to turn up the volume on my "classic" iPod.
Listening while sitting under the student station...
Day Seven With Students:
Yesterday worried me - about 1/4 of the students were on page 80-something, and our goal for that day was 150, with three chapters to go for today. I let them know I am trusting that they will finish it today, so they are allowed to join in on the conversations we'll have tomorrow. I continued to conference with students and ask them to share certain questions or ideas during discussions tomorrow. Eleven students (out of 65) had finished the book, so they were doing extension activities of their choice. They appreciated having this (albeit limited) choice.

Here are some of the activities students had completed - I love that they posted them when I asked!


Day Eight With Students:
The BIG DAY. This is what I was anxious about - how would choosing our own prompt work? Would students want to discuss their own questions, or were they just done with the book and that would be that? There was a buzz in the room for the first class, however, and I took that as a good sign.

We began by figuring out who had NOT finished the book. In our first class, there were FIVE ("But I'm almost done!"). This was unsettling, until I realized that two of them had been absent the day prior (but no excuse with the calendar, right?!), and one has a track record for not doing work on time (but she'd read up through chapter ten - another good sign). These students were going to have a prompt of MY choosing. My coworker (thanks, Todd!) created this one. I was anxious to see what the students came up with...

I asked students to look through their sticky notes with a friend and figure out which ones weren't answered in the book. I let them know we were looking for "tough" questions that we could discuss and also write about. Here are the questions my first class came up with:

Some of the sticky notes are OVER the questions, because those are the ones we then decided we really couldn't talk about for more than a few minutes. They were questions (such as "Why doesn't Johnny cry and sob when his dad beats him?") that we "sort of" knew the answers to, or had similar ideas as to what the answer was. The questions with the stickies off to the side are the ones we voted on for our fishbowl discussion. For this class, they were...
     * If the people weren't Greasers, would they have to be Socials?
     * What is the reason the two groups are fighting against each other? / Why are the Socs so aggressive towards the Greasers?
     * Who is (considered) more violent - the Socs or the Greasers? <--- This is the one they voted for.

This discussion was two-fold. Sometimes students talked about which group was CONSIDERED more violent, but the real debate was which group IS more violent?  We tried having a fish bowl discussion about this question while having scribes at the computers, as well. The scribes were to jot down what the students said, and others in class were supposed to find page numbers to help with evidence. My goal was to project these notes as students were writing. I did project them, but I don't think students used them, as we only had one page number cited during the discussion.

"Who (which gang) is more violent?" is the prompt we used for their writing. I was excited - from the discussion, I knew that students would answer that the Socs were more violent, but I also knew there were many avenues students could take to try to prove it. I was able to conduct over-the-shoulder conferences and help out with page numbers for evidence as students sat to write. I decided that I would be grading this one on the quality of evidence. Did they really read and comprehend the novel?

Here is the rubric we currently use for measuring "quality of evidence" (it is constantly in a state of flux as we try to grade prompts as a department):

From the next two classes, here are the questions students came up with...
 Questions we decided "made the cut"...
     * Why do Socs hate Greasers? <--- This is the one they voted for.
     * What does "Stay Gold, Ponyboy" mean?
     * If Ponyboy believes there "isn't any good reason for fighting," why does he feel the need to go to the "big rumble?" <--- One student wrote a response to this question.

Questions we decided "made the cut"...
     * Who is the most important (to the plot line) character? <---I was so worried they'd choose this one, and would end up just listing events from the plot!
     * Why do the Socs hate the Greasers so much? <--- There were FIVE sticky notes revolving around this question of the gangs hating each other.
     * Did Dally kill himself? <--- This was the one they chose.

My take-aways:
* One-on-one time conferencing and seeing what ideas students had on their sticky notes was invaluable. One student always asked about vocabulary words until I gave her the link (again) to the dictionary I typed up. One was always predicting, and we were able to discuss that maybe that is why she's always so interested in everything she reads. One only mentioned physical traits of characters. For each student, I was able to inform them of the patterns I noticed, and then challenge them for a different type of sticky note for that next night. I could also figure out what support they'd need, thus assigning them work that would help them, and not necessarily frustrate them. This personalization helps breed the trust I've been working all year to develop.

* For a few years now, I've been through with the practice of assigning a chapter and then discussing it the very next day. Check out this video as to one reason why. This way of setting a calendar, I believe, and not discussing the book as a class at all, put the pressure on some students. Having time in class to read also helped students realize that I thing reading the book in preparation for the discussion was important. I would tell them every day that I was excited about Thursday's discussion, as they all had great connections and questions. I believe the hard deadline (whether you're absent or not) helped.
With a good-enough book, students will stay through break to keep reading!
* My non-readers (YET) still did not read.
     What I believe will NOT help:
          1. Creating a quiz each day to keep them on-task.
          2. Creating a "study guide" of some sort to help them pace themselves.
          3. Having them do activities, even though they are not reading.
     What MIGHT help:
          1. Having extra audio copies of the novel for them to take home.
          2. Putting them in a group and having them read together, and take notes together.
          3. Having them stay after school with me so I can read it with them.
      I need your ideas! Please comment below. Even though I only had ONE that didn't read this book this year, that's one too many for me.

* Fish bowl discussions went well - they were their own questions, and I believe they really wanted them answered. They listened to each other better, and seemed open to other interpretations, as well. Since the goal of our discussions is to learn from others and add to our learning, I'd say these today hit that mark.
Note taking on the whiteboard tables during the fishbowl discussion...

After taking notes, a student in my 1:1 class takes a photo of it on his iPad to use for his prompt.

* Trusting students to create the prompt was very valuable. I have students who only write three sentences for their "typical" prompts. These students put EFFORT into their writing for their class's chosen prompt. Students were furiously writing their answers as soon as they had their notebooks. It was so refreshing. (Some samples I can use as exemplars or as revision pieces are on this document.) Another benefit - it was nice for me to grade three different prompts!

What I Might Change for Next Year:
* Have more audio versions available for my struggling or reluctant readers. Have some they can check out and take home (or find online), as well. Stipulation: They must read along in their books as they listen.
* Have one more day... I felt that choosing the "just right" question for a fish bowl discussion was rushed. The discussion itself was not, but if we had one more day we could have one more discussion. Students could then go home to gather the best evidence, and write the prompt the next day. Students who are interested in getting the prompt written could write the prompt that night and work on revisions in class that next day.
* I hope to add this next year (we can have it up throughout the eight days), courtesy of a tweet from Cindy Christiansen:

Thank you, Ariel Sacks, for writing a book that is applicable to middle and high school students - and practical enough for teachers to implement soon after they read (and digest)!

Here are the activities we modified from Whole Novels for the Whole Class to fit our 7th graders.