Friday, August 2, 2013

Learning from Complex Texts...and Laura Robb!

Rockstar teacher, writer, researcher, and presenter Laura Robb came to the fair city of Lebanon, OhioLebanon, Ohio to bestow her knowledge of the Common Core in reading and writing to a group of intermediate and middle school teachers from around the area on Thursday and Friday.  What a two days it was!  My friend Holly Mueller and I were lucky enough to attend both days and we learned so much!

We started Thursday with her new book Unlocking Complex Texts.  
I'm so excited to dig into this one.  She's set up the book by genre studies and provides readers with anchor texts and materials, guided practice texts, independent texts, and additional materials.  There is even a CD included that has the materials in it that you might want to copy when you try out some of the units.

One of the first things Laura talked about was how kids should be reading 40-60 books per school year.  This goes hand-in-hand with Donalyn Miller's philosophy of the 40 book challenge, which I use every year in my classroom.  There is no reason students can't strive to read this many books in a year.  However, we must give them time to read at school and expect them to read at home, too.  Laura emphasized that there is no reading homework in her class, other than to read.  She touched on the excitement that can be contagious in a reading classroom that has a teacher that facilitates a love and appreciation of reading in daily life.  She suggested that each child give one book talk per month to help other students find new books.  This is an idea that is mentioned in almost any professional text about teaching reading.  Kids love to get suggestions from other kids.  When you foster that type of environment in your classroom, you will garner a large number of excited readers.

After this introduction, Robb went on to present to us the use of a concept map.  She used the word "devastation".  This is more than a vocabulary exercise.  She put the word in the middle of the paper and had an audience member tell something that was devastating.  She then further prompted the person to explain how that particular thing was devastating.  By doing this in front of the entire group, everyone heard the story and had a better understanding of what the word "devastation" meant.  We went back to this concept map throughout the day and added ideas to it.  Going along with the devastation theme, we read two short nonfiction pieces that centered around a type of devastation.  Both pieces were by Jim Murphy.  One was about the great Chicago fire in the 1800s and the other piece was about the Blizzard of 1888 in Harlem, NY.  Both were high-interest, narrative nonfiction.  The emphasis for this part of the workshop was close reading.  If you know anything about the Common Core, you know that close reading (reading closely to learn new information and slowing down) is a huge part of it!  Here's how Laura presented it:

1. Preview the text by reading aloud the first and last paragraphs.  Then, have kids write down anything they could remember about the two paragraphs (basically, kids are bullet pointing important information they heard in the two paragraphs).
2. Set a purpose for reading--this is a lot like determining importance.  What do you want to know about while reading this text?  It's important for the students to set a purpose themselves, resulting in several different purposes around the room.  Students need to have a vested interest in what they're reading.  I love this!  So often, I set the purpose and now I can turn that over to my class.
3. Read the text through completely, SILENTLY.  This is crucial.  Students must have time to read silently and undisturbed to absorb what they're reading.
4.  After kids have read the text through completely, you discuss the "gist" of the text with them.  Then, you can turn this gist into a theme statement.  

From there, Laura has developed discussion questions that get kids talking about the text and defending their claims with evidence from the text.  These can be jigsawed throughout the room.  She has also developed multiple choice quizzes to go along with the texts that mirror those that will be found on the PARCC assessments.  My favorite part of all of this (other than its accessibility), is that after the students take the quiz, she expects them to pick one question and defend their answer in a paragraph.  In other words, students must find evidence from the text that proves their answer is correct.  This is not only critical thinking, but it makes students put their thoughts into writing.  I can't wait to try it out in my room!

On Friday, we focused on writing and boy, was it difficult!  We all know Common Core is rigorous, but this really showed us exactly how rigorous it will be!  We got lots of scaffolding and practice, though, and Laura was right there guiding us through each step of the process.  I loved doing argument writing and I'm so excited to try it out with my fifth graders this fall.

We started the writing workshop by learning that a claim has a yes/no perspective.  Sometimes you can argue either yes or no, but often just one or the other.  We read a fascinating article entitled, "Dust Bowl Disaster" and made a claim based off it.  She then guided us through writing an introduction for our essay, citing evidence from the text (which should be paraphrased, not quoted directly!), and writing a conclusion.  While this seems fairly simple, put yourself in a 6th or 7th grade classroom and reconsider. It took a group of writing teachers a long time to fully grasp the complexity of this type of writing.  Kids will need a lot of modeling and guidance.  But, it was fun!  When we finished, we felt so accomplished.  After lunch, we read three texts that were related in some manner (a poem by Langston Hughes, an excerpt of Frederick Douglass's memoir, and a riveting story about a modern-day childhood slave in California).  On our own, or with our table, we had to create a claim, an introduction, cite evidence from the text, and a conclusion, along with a working title.  Talk about close reading text for meaning and comprehension!  We referred back to the texts often and came up with a pretty decent essay.  Again, I'm so excited to try this close reading and writing with my classes this fall.  

Laura Robb is an amazing woman who is obviously passionate about teaching kids and educators.  She was a wealth of knowledge and guided us every step of the way.  I now have a better idea of how to approach close reading a text and of how to teach one of the three major types of writing for CCSS, the argumentative essay.  Thank you Laura and Warren County ESC!

1 comment: