Sarah Cooper, author of Making History Mine, is back this week with this thoughtful post about how to slow down and engage with texts and ideas in a world that’s racing past us and our students.
Moving From Lightning-Speed to Glacial
By Sarah Cooper
It is so hard for me to slow down as a teacher.
I want to expose students to everything possible over the course of a year.
I want to communicate the excitement of in-the-moment links between then and now – to see these connections flicker like lightning in the air.
And I really don’t want students to be bored. Once they lose the glint in their eyes, the straightness in their spines, I’m mentally out of there, thinking about how to move to the next thing.
We’re working in a world primed for speed, a world in which the pace of the classroom can sometimes seem painfully slow.
At the same time, I’m fighting for that glacial pace, especially when it comes to reading and writing.
Taking slow time to think deeply about a topic. Returning to the same concepts and skills in different ways over several days. Revisiting concepts over many weeks, giving “spaced practice” and “interleaving” concepts, as the authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning suggest.
As a student myself over the past year, taking history classes for a master’s program, I’ve been reminded of the power of sustained engagement with texts.
Here is what I do for each 1,000-word response paper:
- Read, with pen in hand, slowly, stopping frequently to cement information in longer-term memory. Without such annotations and pauses, a great book might as well be a sieve for me.
- Go through the annotations and type out key quotations.
- Print out the quotations and drop them into possible paragraphs. Then write a thesis statement for a weekly response paper. This always takes longer than I think because there are so many possibilities.
- Write a draft of the paper, starting sometimes with the introduction and sometimes in the middle.
- Go to NoodleTools to compile a Works Cited list. This is a relief because I don’t have to think. It’s also satisfying because there’s a right answer.
- Let the draft sit for several days, and then return to it in hard copy to see problems and edits.
- Revise, read over one more time and submit online.
After engaging with the text this deeply, what do I remember? Not every annotation I wrote in the margins. Not anything I didn’t annotate.
Instead, I remember what I wrote about and took notes on. The material I worked over in my brain.
This is what’s in long-term memory, what can be applied and used. This is the information I can play with, stare at, pull out to make an odd or unexpected connection with a poem or a current event.
How often do we ask our students to do this kind of sustained engagement with a text or a film or an image? At least for my students, the answer is not nearly enough.
What are we afraid of? Standards. Tests. Boredom. Not “covering” everything. I wish we could coin a new word for “covering.” How about “papering over” or “dashing through”?
We can easily forget the power of time. Of sitting down with a book on your lap, a gripping novel or powerful history narrative. Of wrestling a one-page primary source to the ground. Of knowing and understanding.
Last week, I tried more of this. We spent an entire day on the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. With partners, the eighth graders paraphrased line by line, and then we discussed their “translations.”
Beforehand I worried about boredom, and I worried about saturating students with text.
They may have been saturated. But they also really understood, for instance, why humans are “disposed to suffer when evils are sufferable,” and they related this idea to moments in their lives, such as trying to break bad habits or ignore family conflict.
There’s such a satisfaction in this personal connection to difficult words, and I’d like to give students more of it. More repeated interactions with a text, through notes and discussion and writing. More re-exposures to a text or an idea long after we first introduce it. A layering of knowledge that builds and revisits and rethinks, throughout the year.
Like ice accumulating on a glacier.
October 14th, 2015
By Brenda Overturf
How powerful can one word be?
Jacob, a seventh grader, sits staring at a challenging text he has tried to read. He knows the other words in the paragraph but is stuck on a multisyllabic word he has never seen before. Jacob sounds out the word, but because he has also never heard it, it still doesn’t make sense.
Finally, he just gives up and moves on. Yet the one word Jacob doesn’t know holds the key to comprehending the entire passage. Sound familiar? Kids like Jacob occupy many middle level classrooms, and they are not necessarily struggling readers.
Read Brenda’s full article on MiddleWeb
October 6th, 2015
This is a wonderful book: generous in its ideas, rich in its examples, and humble in the simplicity of its approach.
This book will encourage teachers to restore the study of story to its rightful place in the curriculum.
Teaching reading and writing strategies is essential, but in Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning, Katie Egan Cunningham reminds us that when we bridge strategy with the power of story, we deepen literacy learning and foster authentic engagement.
This inspiring book shows you how to honor students’ identities and interests through story selection, expertly find stories from a wide variety of sources and genres, and incorporate the power of stories into your teaching of reading, writing, and classroom conversations.
You’ll get specific ways to build a classroom library that reflects our diverse society through rich, purposeful, and varied texts. The practical toolkit at the end of each chapter and annotated bibliography of texts, videos, songs, and websites will help you implement the book’s central ideas in your classroom.
Preview the entire book online now!
October 5th, 2015