Reading Teacher Writes

Sharing a love of literacy with fellow readers and writers


Slice of Life Tuesdays: Time To Show What You Know!

Slice of Life Small LogoTime To Show What You Know!

Waiting for the end of the school year is like waiting for the tea-kettle water to boil. Or for rain to come during a drought. Or for pigs to fly. Seriously! So I’ve decided to challenge myself: think positively every day and have fun every day. Today’s “beginning the book club” with my honors class was focused, fabulous, and fun! (For me, anyway. Yes, my opinion.)

First, I talked. Just a mini lesson, I promise! A few minutes of Great Expectations — “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s your turn. I’ve taught you all you need to know. Now it’s time to show what you know!” I told them that they would read choice books during a book club. Current expectations include reading during reading time (always), writing to respond, and discussing their books with each other. As the hands raised, I smiled to myself. “They are going to ask me how I want this all done.” 🙂

The students knew this was coming. We wanted this to happen in March, but we never got around to it, with sickness and testing getting in the way. Now it’s time. These procedures will help students guide themselves for the next few weeks. I will be what a teacher is truly meant to be — the facilitator. The hands were still up. “Ok, I’ll get you started. What do you want this to look like? You have to decide for yourselves. I’m just the observer now. I want to SEE IT HAPPEN.” I told them the clubs needed to write out their protocols. Decide…

1) How will you take turns?

2) How will you talk?

3) How will you be responsible, active listeners?

4) How will you make sure everyone in the group gets a chance to take part?

I gave each group a piece of chart paper. “Go!” (Still hands!) “No! I’m not helping. Ask your group. Decide and write it down.”

Then, it just clicked! The groups split up, started talking, and writing, and reading. I stopped them one more time before the end of class. “Hey there! I just want to make sure. Did you finish today’s work, or will you have homework?” When one group assigned 4 chapters to read for tonight, I did butt in again, only for a moment, to ask, “Do you have time to do that much homework tonight?” They adjusted and moved on, each participant agreeing to do the work. Their decision. Their plan. Their work.

I’m now the observer during reading time. I want my students to show what they know. I cannot wait to see what happens!


Slice of Life Tuesday: What a Find!

I looked at with a student yesterday, and I found a picture that was familiar. Author Ralph Fletcher, and a teaching colleague from my school were together on the site’s thumbnail pictures. As I scrolled through, looking for the information I wanted, my student stopped me and said, “Hey, isn’t that Mr. Y from upstairs?” I gasped. It was!

I remembered that day. We traveled to Indianapolis together to attend Ralph’s writing workshop for teachers.  I replied, “Yes, it is, and I was standing right there.” (I pointed to the blank part of the screen to the right of my buddy.)

Another student heard me, and jumped up from her desk. “What? Where were you?” I showed her the space on the screen where my body should have been. The young lady said, “You were with Mr. Y? What for?” The young man said, “Wow. That’s cool. You met Ralph Fletcher?” I told the story of how teachers want to learn, too. The advantage is that teachers get to learn from the real published authors sometimes, when organizations like the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers support our learning!

I abandoned my original search on the site and started clicking through the icons. How cool, indeed! Then I saw it — a slide show on the next page — and there, right where I described, was…ME! My girl student yelled out, “There you are! You’re right!” The boy yelled, “Mrs. Sniadecki’s on here!” We shared the find with the class. I couldn’t believe it! I felt famous.

Then I thought of that movie title, “Almost Famous.” I remembered that day, and how exciting it was to watch Ralph speak. The opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the best writers out there made for a fabulous day, but this! Sharing this experience with my students — now a year “plus” later — was amazing!


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Student Engagement…Defined?

Administrators are looking for engaging lessons. Outside observers are looking for engaging activities. Teachers want engaging activities for their students. “Engaging” – a buzzword in education, to be sure.  What is “engaging” in classrooms, anyway?

The dictionary defines engaging as an adjective meaning charming and attractive. Hmm. Are lessons not engaging because I don’t write neatly on the chalkboard? Am I not dressed attractively enough to engage my students in the learning? Am I not charming enough? I tried synonyms for engaging: winsome, fetching, alluring. Now I’m supposed to be Prince Charming to be engaging? How am I ever going to get my students to learn anything? Then I changed my search to “student engagement in education.”

According to Chapman (2003), “the term ‘student engagement’ has been used to depict students’ willingness to take part in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class.” In my search to define student engagement, I also found Skinner and Belmont’s more comprehensive definition (1993): “[Students] who are engaged show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”  If students are engaged in lessons because they choose to select activities, initiate action, exert effort, and show positive emotions, then how can teachers help them to choose these desired behaviors? Is it really a “dog and pony show?” I say, “No.”

My continued goal is to implement engaging activities where students choose to act, exert effort, and show positive emotions during the school day. I made a list of Dos and Don’ts to guide me in my journey:
DO                                                                                                     DON’T
use activity and movement in the classroom                 use worksheets to teach
show students how exerting effort leads to success      assign “busy work” I won’t grade
set the purpose for each lesson/activity/reading            sit down at my desk and watch students
communicate clearly                                                     tell students to “figure it out” themselves
create choices                                                                assign every student the same work
show positive emotions about learning                         give the “evil eye” to students
give opportunities of time to learn                                 hurry students to get the work done

Some of these Dos and Don’ts may seem vague or uncertain (of course I’m going to give the “evil eye” to a student who is wasting time, but only after I have clearly taught the procedures, lesson scaffolds, etc. and he/she is still not exerting effort to get the task done), but it’s a starting list for me to remember to be engaging in the classroom.

What is your definition of student engagement? How will you teach engaging lessons this school year? It’s almost time to start!

Chapman, E. (2003). “Alternative approaches to assessing student engagement rates.”Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(13).

Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). “Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4). p. 572.