February 8, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in February

This month we are fully immersed in literature circles with a weekly structure that allows room for reading, writing, discussing, and collaborating.

January was exhausting. The first week back from break was an emotional roller coaster of getting ready to go virtual and then not, due to a last minute health department decision. The following week was just weird, with anywhere from one third to one half to two thirds of my students out in each of my classes. It felt like those days just before schools closed down in March 2020 when I kept teaching to try to maintain a sense of normalcy, but it felt foolish with the number of students missing. The following weeks some students were back and others are out and the health department changed its guidance again. Now I'm trying to catch everyone up and still stay on top of everything and I'm just tired.

Reading in February
I'm sticking with the same reading goal I set last year of 104 books for the year, that's 2 books a week. Last month I read 12 books; reading is my go to when I'm stressed out. Only two of the reads were strictly audiobooks, I've been using my Kindle more frequently, so I am often reading a book from my classroom library at school and reading the same books at home on my Kindle. Most of my reads were middle grades; a few were young adult. 

Here's what I'm hoping to read in February:
Barris and The Prince of Rappa by Brandt Ricca (middle grade fantasy series)
Barris and the Clown of Trell by Brandt Ricca (middle grade fantasy series)
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (middle grade fiction)
Hunting By Stars by Cherie Dimaline (young adult dystopia)
Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth (young adult fiction)
The Captive Kingdom by Jennifer Nielsen (middle grade fantasy series)
Uglies by Scott Westerfield (young adult dystopia)
The Line Tender by Kate Allen (middle grade fiction)

Teaching in February
We are one week into literature circles and my students are in love! Last year, students started this literature circle unit virtually and finished it out in a hybrid model so students were never in person all together with their other group members. They definitely still enjoyed literature circles, but there wasn't that same magic that students are feeling this year.

Leading up to our first week of literature circles, we used texts from earlier in the unit to practice developing discussion questions and selecting discussion passages. Students also joined a Google Classroom specific to their book choice. Students from all three of my classes join these Google Classrooms so that I can mix students together for online discussions. I updated my readings calendars from last year and created ones for the two new book titles I added this year. The reading calendars break up the students' reading over four nights a week for four weeks. I send these out to parents as well at the start of the unit so expectations are clear. Students continue to have 10 minutes of independent reading time at the start of class and can choose to use that time to read their literature circle novel or another book of their choice.

Each week of reading we focus on a skill, usually a review of something I taught earlier in the year, but increasing the complexity of analysis or application. I started with character and characterization, and will move on to conflict, point of view, and plot. Each week follows roughly the same structure. 

On Mondays, I use NearPod to introduce a skill. I started using NearPod last year virtually and I love its interactivity. There's so many different features to engage students. For these lessons, I include a video overview of the skill (NearPod has its own but you can also add your own from YouTube), Slides defining any related terms followed by a matching activity, and a short quiz to wrap up the lesson. After the NearPod, I use Kahoot! or Quizziz to do some fun practice. 

On Tuesdays, we do some writing involving that week's skill. Students practice selecting text evidence and writing analysis in response to a prompt like "how does the conflict impact a character's actions and thoughts?". Before completing individual writing assignments, I use Jamboard to have students brainstorm ideas with their literature circle groups. I create a frame for each novel so it is easy to switch between them and check on students' progress. At the end of class, students develop discussion questions for the next class period.

On Wednesdays, I facilitate discussions with the literature circle groups (I have six in each class this year). We discuss questions that students have developed. All students come prepared, but I usually just choose one or two questions to discuss to keep things short enough to meet with all of the groups in one class period. While I'm meeting with groups live, students are working on answering questions in their online discussion groups. In a shared Google Doc, students choose three of five questions to respond to.

On Thursdays, students engage in a more creative activity connected to that week's skill like creating a character web or writing a point of view post card. I use Jamboard again for collaborative brainstorming before students set off on their individual assignments. At the end of class, students select a meaningful passage for discussion the next class period.

On Fridays, I again facilitate discussions with literature circle groups. We discuss passages that students have developed. All students come prepared, but I just choose one passage to discuss to keep things short enough to meet with all of the groups in one class period. While I'm meeting with groups live, students are commenting on others' answers to questions in their online discussion groups. In the same shared Google Doc from Wednesday, students choose three of their peers' responses to reply to.

Literature circles are filling up most of our time in class, but I am still trying to weave in writing instruction. We're still working on complex sentences (with closers) and I've used sentences from the literature circle novels as imitation sentences. We've also done some quick writes on topics related to the theme of "facing fear" and then revised those quick writes to add complex sentences with closers. I've been debating what to jump into for our next larger choice writing piece and I think I am going to try out having students write personal narratives (flash fiction length) connected to the theme of "facing fear." We'll do some whole class brainstorming of topics, some quickwrites on those topics, and then use our literature circle novels as mentor texts for elements of narrative writing like dialogue, blocking, flashbacks, and character and setting description. 

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