Question-Comment-Connect: QC²

For several years now, teachers of all levels have made close reading a point of emphasis. Teachers, across disciplines, have urged students to circle, underline, and mark up the text. By having students close read texts, students will, theoretically, read deeper,  understand greater, and collaborate and communicate better.

Because teachers are inclined to hold students accountable for all activities and assignments, texts are collected and students earn points for showing their close reading. There is a systemic flaw in this process however. You and I can “read” a text, underline, circle, and highlight without having read the text at all, much less understand it.

We want students to read for deeper understanding, not for points.

A simple solution is to have students Question-Comment-(and) Connect – QC² – with the text. When students underline, circle, highlight, or do whatever they do to mark up the text, they should be asking a question, writing a comment, or making a connection. Students can record their questions, comments and connections in the margins of the text.

Our students will read deeper, comprehend broadly, and be empowered to collaborate and communicate profoundly. After all, these are the skills we want our students to possess when they leave our classroom.

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Moving Beyond Close Reading

At a staff meeting two weeks ago your district’s literacy specialist provided staff development on close reading strategies. You were told these strategies were going to engage students and lead them to a better understanding of the text and the language of your content.

Perfect.

annotatingYou encourage students to mark up the text, annotating as they read. You have learned there are a variety of ways this could look: using post-it notes, writing notes on a t-chart in their notebook, etc. Maybe you were told to hold them accountable for close reading, so you collect their annotations and give them points for underlining, circling, using smiley faces, arrows, and question marks.

You have been consistently gathering their annotations so you know they have been close reading.

Right?

But, the engagement hasn’t changed and the learning has remained stagnant. You realize students are marking up the text, but not reading.

Ugh….

The enthusiasm and energy you held after the staff development has now transformed to disappointment and discouragement.

Bell rings, halls flood with students hurried to catch the bus, hustle to practice, or steal a romeo-and-juliet-kissgoodnight kiss, as Romeo dashes to pick up his younger sibling and Juliet races off to work.

It’s been a long day. You’re tired, defeated, and you cannot even tolerate the thought of coming back to school in the morning.

You check twitter for a momentary escape. The title of an article shows up on your feed. It connects to the topic you have been preparing to introduce to students in the coming days.

Click. Link opens, you read the article, and your creativity begins oozing, then flowing, then spilling out all over your notebook.

You have landed upon the perfect article you’re sure will lead students to building deeper background knowledge; this article is better and more relevant than any other one you’ve used. Article printed. Copies are made.

Before you leave school for the evening, you write your learning targets on the whiteboard for tomorrow’s lesson. You’re stress free as you scoot home.

Your students enter the classroom the next morning, you greet them, just inside the door, with a welcoming smile and proudly provide a personal copy of the article they will be using during the next 48 minutes. The bell rings,confidently, you walk to the front of the room.

“Good morning guys,” your smile brightens your eyes. Your students are engaged.

Why?

You’re engaged. You’re excited. Your students sense you’re about to have a drop-the-mic moment.

Under your doc cam, you begin close reading the article, modeling your expectations. You circle a word you are unfamiliar with. You draw a line from that word to the margin where you write, “hmm…I wonder what this word means?”

You continue reading aloud, thinking aloud, modeling how you interact with this text. You underline a phrase and add this comment in the margin, “This is interesting and I really want to know more about how foods affect moods.”

You read one more paragraph, circle the entire paragraph and you make a connection in the margin, “I like eating chocolate like this person does. I enjoy it so much I might be able to eat it all day. I’m sorry this person gets so ill from eating chocolate. That makes me sad.”

“By close reading”, the twinkle in your voice would make stars dance, “I have made observations.”stars

Students are hanging on each word with their eyes still on the screen, “I have made notes, ANN….OH….TATED, to recall my thinking at the time of my observation.”

The students independently read the rest of the article, making and noting OBSERVATIONS. After reading, students share their observations with each other while identifying PATTERNS.

Gliding about the room as you help students determine patterns, you challenge them,  “What do your observations have in common? What can be inferred about the content of the article through your observations? What is a concept or idea that repeats in the observations?”

The engagement, the discussion, the learning. This is what you always new teaching could be. You pause, look slightly off to the left, toward the ceiling tiles. The vision is you in one of those sentimental movies where the low camera angle captures the satisfaction and relief in the face and shoulders of the protagonist. In the backdrop, the fluffy, marshmallow clouds drift through the ocean blue sky, and angelic voices in the key of G melodically fill the air.  

angels-singing“♪♫Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh♫♪”

The boy with the runny nose and kleenex on his desk suddenly sneezes, snapping you away from your triumph. Back to reality.

Students are now asked to go deeper.

“Based on the pattern you noticed, what CONCLUSION can you make about the content of the article?”

Rapid discussion ensues.

“What word or phrase from the article would you use to support your conclusion?”

Back into the text, students are discussing conclusions about the article and evidence to support those conclusions.

The end of class is near. Bell is about to ring.

“For today’s exit ticket, I would like each of you to draw a CONCLUSION about the content of the article based on your observations and patterns. On an index card, write your conclusion about the content of the article and use one piece of clear evidence from the article to support your conclusion.”

As your students leave the classroom, you meet them, just outside the door, with a have-a-great-rest-of-your-day smile and proudly accept each student’s personal exit ticket. The bell rings, confidently, you stroll back in your room.

Great job this hour Teach.

Your smile brightens your eyes. Your students were engaged.

Why?

You were engaged. You were excited. Going beyond close reading helped your students learn.

Drop the mic.mic-drop

Wait…What….?

Bell rings, 2nd hour.  Eager faces, 24 more students await for another great opportunity to become a better, deeper reader.

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Scout Led Me to Love Reading

On the first day of school in my 14th year as a high school English Language Arts teacher, I was sharing my passion for reading with a group of seniors who had signed up for my book stackCollege Prep Reading class. I was confessing that reading did not come easy to me as a child. I could read words at a spectacular rate, but upon finishing the read, I had struggled with comprehension.

I recalled a moment in fourth grade when my dad sat on the living room floor next to me, our backs resting against the couch.  I was reading the words on the page of the school book I was assigned earlier in the day. When I read the last word on the last page, my dad began asking me questions about the book. I could not recall what I read.

I was silent. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed.

Not because of my dad, but because of my confusion and the startling reality that I had a problem, that I was different from my classmates.

Our session ended soon after with my dad commenting, “Boy, you really do a good job reading. It’s just that you have trouble remembering what you read.” I nodded.

I continued sharing my passion for reading with my seniors and how it has been a crescendo ever since that moment.  Even though my dad identified a gap in reading and comprehension, I don’t remember ever learning how to bridge the gap…from anyone. I carried that excuse around with me until I was a senior in high school.

It was then, in Mr. O’Rourke’s American Literature class, when I was introduced to Jem, Scout, and Dill. To Kill a Mockingbird was the first novel I read from the very beginning totkam the very end. I was delighted by each and every character in the story. Somehow, I knew I would fit right into that small town of Maycomb, meandering freely through long, hot summers, running barefoot, climbing trees, looking for treasures, and, of course, desperately hoping to get a glimpse of Boo through the windows of the old Radley house on the corner. I fell in love with Scout’s narrative and couldn’t resist her as she led me by the hand through her summers of adventure.

As I was ending my story and getting ready to present the syllabus for the semester, Rachel, an engaged, intelligent, goal-driven student, commented, “I have never read a book cover-to-cover.”

 Wait…what?

My life as a professional educator turned on those nine words and has not been the same since.

I made it my personal mission to keep putting books into Rachel’s hands until we found one that she could not put down. I built a classroom library targeted at all high school students; I even went so far as to have a bookshelf built by students mounted on the wall outside my classroom door, my effort at a Little Library in the back hallway.

I became eager to find answers to how and why students lose their love for reading. Children who are exposed to books love them. What happens to the appeal? I wanted to learn more and, soon thereafter, I began pursuing a reading teacher certification along with a reading specialist certification. My passion for reading continues today.

Most recently I have been hired as a Literacy Coach.

kids-who-read-succeedI have been given a tremendous opportunity to pursue my passion for helping students become better readers and writers and fully enjoy all the benefits of being successful in these areas. I am hopeful that all students can claim there was one book they couldn’t resist finishing.

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Education: Time is Abundant

The stack of papers on the corner of your desk is getting higher. You contemplate having a ‘work day’, not for students, but for you to put a dent into those essays your 4th hour class wrote last week Monday.

The Scholarship Committee is meeting after school and you still haven’t looked over the applications. You tell yourself, I will do this over lunch, your duty-free lunch.

Your mom texts you during 5th hour claiming your 18 month old is refusing to take a nap. Really? You consider not responding, when your phone buzzes again, “u need 2 talk 2 her…miss u”.

By 7th period you are exhausted and overwhelmed. The stack is too high, the applications too detailed, and your gut is aching with guilt over your mother and child.

You are convinced there is not enough time.time1

Your principal shows up at the beginning of 8th hour and informs you, “I am hiring a sub for you and a colleague.  Tomorrow, you have the entire day to get yourself caught up.”

Whoa. Wait. What?

Honestly…would you even know where to start or what to do…Honestly?

Beyond the students in our classrooms, the greatest resource professional educators have is time.  Time is a generous gift. Time is free, predictable, and opportunistic. Time is always nearby, faithful, and ageless. Time is Abundant.

Yes, time is Abundant.

Let me provide an analogy.  If I was placed in an ocean, floating upon the surface in a lifeboat, no land in sight, I could say with confidence the water is free, opportunistic, nearby, ageless, loyal, and Abundant. Is the concept of time that much different than the vision of an expanse of ocean?  In fact, time is much more reliable than an ocean because time is predictable, faithful, and limitless.

Yet, as professional educators, we often claim the greatest hindrance to our practice is lack of time. I could list all of the those inconveniences seemingly leaking our time, preventing us from becoming the best version of ourselves. But, therein lies the problem with time. If we choose to focus on the many disruptions that plague our moment in time, we become paralyzed with the overwhelming notion there will never be enough time.

As professional educators, we must resist becoming paralyzed by a perceived lack of time. Perhaps we need to do a better job of being present or prioritizing or preparing to maximize this great resource. Perhaps it’s a matter of adjusting our mindset to one of growth; view time as an opportunity rather than a restriction.

Time is a bountiful resource that unlocks our freedom and creativity as professional educators so we might best serve our students and guide them to becoming the best version of themselves.wide-open-ocean

Climb aboard the lifeboat, stop treading water amidst the winds and the waves.  Cut loose the anchor of time and drift with me where time is Abundant, empowering us to thrive as professional educators for the success of all students.

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Expect it? … Model it!

As a father of four children, I find myself in paradoxical situations. I want them to know the ill effects of drinking soda. I crack open a Diet Pepsi, my youngest says, “Dad, why do YOU drink so much soda? You know YOU can get cavities too.” Oh sweet child, do as I say, not as I do.

I want them to value organization. I yank a wrinkled shirt from the bottom of the laundry basketbasket, socks and softener sheets cascading out onto the floor, my oldest comments, “You’re not wearing THAT shirt to school, are you? So, like, why don’t YOU have to put your laundry away? That’s not fair….” Oh, I love you teenage daughter, do as I say, not as I do.

This theory, “do as I say, not as I do”, is an ineffective parenting strategy, isn’t it? My children learn more about hygiene and organization by observing how Desiree and I live. They learn more about relationships – intimate, social, and collegial – by watching Desiree and I interact with each other, friends, and colleagues.

Similarly, this theory doesn’t work in education. Perhaps the more appropriate theory to embrace is, “actions speak louder than words.”

As a professional educator, I find myself in situations incongruent with this theory. During professional development, whether delivered by administrators or the world’s revolutionary educators, we are taught to use best practice in our classrooms, yet the method of professional development is in direct contrast to best practice. We are a profession of collaboration, yet so many of us shut our classroom doors as the school day begins, isolating ourselves, protecting ourselves.

Teaching is challenging, important work. We want our students to succeed, we want them to become the best version of themselves. For this to happen, we must take action and not just deliver words.

If we want students to make eye contact as they discuss Juliet’s forbidden love for Romeo, 6399089089_4c194c9e0c_zthen we must show them exactly what this looks like. With the class observing, sit down, across from a student, and show how this discussion looks.

If we want students to annotate their questions and connections while reading a nonfiction article on ecosystems, we must use our document camera to project a similar article that we read aloud, think aloud, and annotate.

We all know what best practice looks like in education. And, yes, actions DO speak louder than words.

This week, let’s avoid the temptation to just tell our students what to do. Instead, let’s model how to learn; what students perceive as important to us, they will emulate. With modeling and guided practice, students will gain skills to widen their understanding, engage in collaboration, and manage their own learning.

Rather than soda, I will drink more water this week. I will take the time to hang my shirts in the closet and place my socks in the drawer this week. Consequently, I am most certain, this latter goal will bolster my relationship with Desiree this week.

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Welcome to the New

First point: I am making a promise to myself (and anyone who might stumble across my blog and actually read it) to keep each post to 500 words or less. Won’t be easy for me, but I must be more efficient and make a commitment to blogging more often. Naturally, this will force me to edit more as well.

IMG_3487Point number two: Earlier today we were reflecting on our summer. Certainly we have been blessed with time in the presence of friends and family, beautiful weather, and much needed time on the water with the boat. I came to the conclusion, though, that the best night of summer for me was July 7th.  Continue reading

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The Next 20…

IMG_3407I have spent my entire career as a professional educator at one school. In June 1996 I was hired to teach English-Language Arts at Seymour Community High School in Seymour, Wisconsin. During those 20 years I have had the opportunity to meet and work alongside amazing educators, students, and families, taught freshmen through seniors, and coached basketball and football.

As a lifelong learner, I continued to pursue professional development and experience to become better at my craft as a professional educator. Most recently, I have earned my reading teacher certification and will soon (December 2016) earn my literacy specialist certification. I am passionate about helping students become engaged in literacy, particularly reading.

In August I will officially begin a new role as literacy coach at the DePere High School in DePere, Wisconsin. I am extremely grateful for this new opportunity and eagerlyIMG_3566 anticipating the start of school in the Fall. Swirling around this change is excitement, apprehension, and fear of the unknown.

I truly love the extraordinary colleagues, students, and families I leave behind; they have helped shape who I am as a professional educator throughout the first 20.

The next 20 begins with learning from my new colleagues, students, and families in DePere. I truly look forward to this new venture where I will become a part of a new school community and where I get the opportunity every day to share my passion for literacy.

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My Heart’s Delight

I have been working on more education…yes, I am a life-long learner and have discovered that my life is driven by learning. I will soon be a certified Reading Teacher and Literacy Specialist.

The crescendo slowly rising in my heart for the past decade I finally recognized as this increscendocredible symphony; I longed for a part in this amazing orchestra.  I was disappointed in myself as an English language arts teacher when a senior once told me, “I have never read a book.”, or “Never have I had the experience where I didn’t want to put a book down.”

Sadness.

That was the turning point for me. I began questioning other students with similar results. Those who enjoyed reading were not always willing to admit it, and, without a doubt were in the minority.

My questions led to more questions which led me to where I am today. I still have more questions, but have now surrounded myself with people who have felt a similar crescendo in their professional lives. I want to help children read to comprehend. I want to help children read to enjoy. I want to help children write for themsstudents readingelves and write to move people. Literacy is the key that unlocks every opportunity. With it, literacy brings competence, confidence, and collaboration. Mostly, though, literacy fills our lives with goodness.

Joy!

 

 

 

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Coming Back

So, I need to make a comeback of sorts. Without going into too much garbage about where I have been or what I have doing, I need to get back to writing and sharing in this space.

For those of you who have been following this blog, SURPRISE, you just received a notification!

It’s not a mistake. It’s time for a comeback.

John, The Comeback Kid (for today).

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