Stenhouse authors to the rescue

Larry Ferlazzo is an award-winning English and Social Studies teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif. In his popular EdWeek blog Classroom Q&A, he addresses readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers.

Recently a couple of Stenhouse authors made an appearance to give advice on a wide range of topics from motivating students to parent-teacher relationships. Check back often for more advice!

Question: How can I deal with unmotivated students? I’m a little bit frustrated when I know my students don’t do their homework and sometimes they talk during my lessons.

Response from Cris Tovani: For me, engaging students at the emotional level is the easiest.  This means I need to work to build personal relationships–to know and care about students. When that relationship is developed kids will often “work” harder just because they like me.  However, just engaging them at the gut level isn’t enough.  I also need to set up rituals and routines and model how they work in the classroom if I want behavioral engagement.  However, just being behaviorally engaged isn’t enough either.”

Read the rest of Cris’ response on Classroom Q&A

Cris’ latest title is the DVD Talk to Me: Conferring to Engage, Differentiate, and Assess, 6-12

Question: How do we educate families about the ways in which they can support their children, without insulting their trust in us to do what’s best, and while not placing blame?

Response from Jane Baskwill: In order to operate from a position of trust rather than blame, schools–and teachers in particular–need to establish a positive relationship with families. Teachers need to create a supportive environment in which they demonstrate, through their words and actions, that they value parents’ knowledge as their children’s first teacher. By keeping the child at the center, all parties can feel they have a role to play and something valuable to contribute to the child’s learning.

Read the rest of Jane’s response on Classroom Q&A

Jane’s latest book is Attention-Grabbing Tools: Involving Parents in Their Children’s Learning

Questions: What do you do when you’re having a bad day in the classroom?  How do you get over feelings of frustration?

Response from Terry Thompson:  Let’s face it–no day in the classroom is perfect.  Our energies are pulled in so many different directions that things are bound to get hectic from time to time. Considering how we merge time crunches, curriculum crunches, and even personality crunches, it’s easy to see how the occasional off day could derail us.

Read the rest of Terry response

Terry is the author of Adventures in Graphica: Using Comics and Graphic Novels to Teach Comprehension, 2-6

Add comment January 15th, 2014

Cris Tovani on formative assessment in the classroom

Cris Tovani and her instructional coach Sam Bennett sat down recently to talk about Cris’s new book So What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning. Watch Part I of their conversation where they discuss what the relevant research on formative assessment looks like in the classroom and the importance of students leaving a track of their thinking every day.

1 comment August 9th, 2011

Now Online: So What Do They Really Know?

“My hope is that teachers will recognize that many of the tools they already use, when given a slight tweak, can serve as powerful assessments that will inform instruction and improve achievement.”

How are students progressing?
What do they need next?
How do I plan my instruction to get students to the next level?

These are the core questions that Cris Tovani asks when assessing students. Her new book So What Do They Really Know? shows teachers how to expand their definition of assessment and make it a powerful part of everyday instruction.

Drawing on her roots as an elementary teacher, Cris explains how she adapted the workshop model to the realities of secondary school—multiple classrooms full of skeptical, struggling adolescent readers and writers. Throughout the book, she shares real student responses to surveys and conversations, a play-by-play description of her English class block, and sample lessons that vividly demonstrate successful practices.

Readers will discover how to:

  • use formative assessments to differentiate instruction;
  • maximize student work time and immediately assess student learning within the workshop model;
  • get trustworthy data from annotations—the most important assessment tool for reading;
  • give students timely and useful feedback;
  • assign grades that accurately reflect what students learn and what teachers value.

So What Do They Really Know? will start shipping in mid-July. You can pre-order and preview the entire book now!

1 comment June 29th, 2011

Quick Tip Tuesday: Purpose is everything

In this week’s Quick Tip we share an exercise from Cris Tovani’s book I Read It, but I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers. In her book Cris shows teachers how to help high school students develop new reading comprehension skills, including how to determine what is important in a text.

Sign up now to receive information about Cris’ upcoming book, So What Do They Really Know? Assessment that Informs Teaching and Learning due fall 2011.

Purpose is everything

A reader’s purpose affects everything about reading. It determines what’s important in the text, what is remembered, and what comprehension strategy a reader uses to enhance meaning. When students read difficult text without a purpose, they express the following complaints:

  • I don’t care about the topic.
  • I can’t relate to the topic.
  • I daydream and my mind wanders.
  • I can’t stay focused.
  • I just say the words so I can be done.
  • I get bored.

Readers behave like this when they don’t have a reason for reading. They pronounce the words, finish the assignment, and rarely come away with a thorough understanding. It is a waste of time; they haven’t constructed meaning and can’t use the information.

According to researchers Pichert and Anderson (1977), readers determine what is important based on their purpose for reading. When I ask students why they read outside of school, they usually have a reason—but they don’t think it counts, because it isn’t school related. When I ask students why they read in school, they say their teacher makes them: “Read chapter 10. There will be a test on Monday.” Or, “Finish reading acts 1 and 2 so you can write a character analysis.” Rarely do students have the opportunity to determine their own purpose for reading. It is no wonder they come to rely solely on the teacher for the reasons they read.

Unfortunately the teacher’s purpose is often too vague to help. Her psychology teacher told Michelle, an excellent student, that there would be a test on the first three chapters in the textbook. When Michelle asked for more specifics, the teacher reiterated, “Just read and know the information in the first three chapters.” Michelle knew she couldn’t remember that much material and didn’t know how to determine what was important. Michelle isn’t an exception. Most students don’t know how to set their own purpose. They tend to think everything they read in a textbook is equally important. As I prepared for my first biology exam as a college freshman, I diligently highlighted anything and everything that seemed remotely important. After all, this was college, and I was reading a college textbook. I felt I needed to memorize the text, and I thought highlighting the majority of it would do the trick. My purpose was too broad. It didn’t allow me to distinguish main ideas from interesting details.

I could have highlighted places in the text that were confusing, but that still would have been much too broad a purpose. I didn’t have enough background knowledge to understand most of what I was reading. A better purpose would have been to find places in the text that were connected to the class lectures. That would have helped me determine what the professor thought was important and therefore what might be on the test.

Students need to be taught why it is important to have purpose and how to establish one. The following passage, from Pichert and Anderson (1977), is a wonderful example to use to demonstrate why it is important to set a purpose.

The House

room. Mark bragged that the bathroom in the hall was his since one had been added to his sisters’ room for their use. The big highlight in his room, though, was a leak in the ceiling where the old roof had finally rotted.

The two boys ran until they came to the driveway. “See, I told you today was good for skipping school,” said Mark. “Mom is never home on Thursday,” he added. Tall hedges hid the house from the road so the pair strolled across the finely landscaped yard. “I never knew your place was so big,” said Pete. “Yeah, but it’s nicer now than it used to be since Dad had the new stone siding put on and added the fireplace.”

There were front and back doors and a side door which led to the garage which was empty except for three parked 10-speed bikes. They went in the side door, Mark explaining that it was always open in case his younger sisters got home earlier than their mother.

Pete wanted to see the house so Mark started with the living room. It, like the rest of the downstairs, was newly painted. Mark turned on the stereo, the noise of which worried Pete. “Don’t worry, the nearest house is a quarter mile away,” Mark shouted. Pete felt more comfortable observing that no houses could be seen in any direction beyond the huge yard.

The dining room, with all the china, silver, and cut glass, was no place to play so the boys moved into the kitchen where they made sandwiches. Mark said they wouldn’t go to the basement because it had been damp and musty ever since the new plumbing had been installed. “This is where my Dad keeps his famous paintings and his coin collection,” Mark said as they peered into the den. Mark bragged that he could get spending money whenever he needed it since he’d discovered that his Dad kept a lot in the desk drawer.

There were three upstairs bedrooms.Mark showed Pete his mother’s closet which was filled with furs and the locked box which held her jewels. His sisters’ room was uninteresting except for the color TV which Mark carried to his room. Mark bragged that the bathroom in the hall was his since one had been added to his sisters’ room for their use. The big highlight in his room, though, was a leak in the ceiling where the old roof had finally rotted.

Hand out a copy of these paragraphs to every student. Then:

1. Ask students to read the piece and circle with their pencil whatever they think is important. (In the five years I have used this piece, I have never once had a student ask me what he or she should circle. They all dive in seeming to know what to highlight.) When I do this activity with teachers, they usually set a purpose for themselves. They highlight the boys skipping school and often ask about the leaky ceiling in the bedroom.

2. Ask students to read the piece again and this time use a pink highlighter to mark places in the text a robber would find important. Students will notice that having a purpose makes it much easier to highlight important points.

3. Have the students read the piece a third time. Ask them to mark with a yellow highlighter any places in the story that a prospective home buyer might think are important. By now, it will be obvious how much easier it is to determine what is important when the reader has a purpose.

4. Ask students what they notice about the three times they highlighted. Point out that the first time was probably the hardest, because they didn’t have a purpose.

5. On a projected transparency, jot down what students think is important for the robber and for the home buyer. Compare the two lists and discuss why each item is important. If an item is on both lists, discuss why both a robber and a home buyer would find it important.

Once students see the importance of establishing a purpose when they read, it’s time to teach them different purposes for reading. Access tools are specific materials and strategies that help students organize and synthesize their thoughts as they read. They make material more accessible. Students of all grade levels can use these tools with almost any type of material. They’ll quickly figure out which tool works best for their particular purpose.

1 comment March 15th, 2011

Cris Tovani on the value of marginalia

A couple of recent articles in The New York Times examined the history, value, and future of marginalia — notes scribbled on book pages by readers both famous and ordinary. Annotating text is “a rich literary pastime, sometimes regarded as a tool of literary archaeology, but it has an uncertain fate in a digitalized world,” writes Dirk Johnson in the Feb. 20. article. In another article author Sam Anderson admits that writing in books is “the closest I come to regular meditation; marginalia is — no exaggeration — possibly the most pleasurable thing I do on a daily basis,” and wonders how e-readers will ever immitate the experience. Even NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu talked about annotations and highlighting on the Kindle in a recent piece and it is safe to say, he will be marking up paper copies and not e-books.

But why are annotations so important to a reader? We posed the question to Cris Tovani, author of the upcoming Stenhouse book So What Do They Really know? Assessment that Informs Teaching and Learning. In her book Cris talks a lot about how she encourages students to annotate text and how she uses those annotations to assess students’ needs and plan for instruction. (Sign up on the Stenhouse website to be notified when Cris’ book becomes available.)

Cris not only answered our question, but she also sent us her annotated version of the NYT article.

Once a book is published, its words never change. Yet readers can pick up the same book over and over again and discover new things. The book never changes but readers usually do—their thinking grows and evolves because each day they experience life and gain new perspectives. In a February 2008 article in Harper’s Magazine, fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin refers to the act of reading as “actual collaboration with the writer’s mind.” For me, this sort of collaboration gets to the heart of reading. 

Seeing other readers’ thoughts through annotations is like spying on their thinking. When people annotate text, they give others a glimpse into how they are collaborating with the text’s author. Annotations not only give me insight into the way I am thinking at a particular point in time, but they also give me insight into how my students are collaborating with an author as they construct meaning for themselves. When I annotate, I leave tracks of my thinking on the page. Later, I can read those annotations and be reminded of what was happening in my head at that specific moment.

Mortimer Adler, in his essay “How to Mark a Book,” writes that “the soul of a book can be separate from its body.” It is the “soul” of reading that annotations can reveal. Sometimes, when I go back and read what I’ve written, I laugh at how simple my thinking was. I am encouraged that I’ve gotten smarter. Other times, I’m surprised by something I wrote and am glad that I made that piece of thinking permanent. Often, my annotations connect to a significant event or moment that changed me. They are the midpoint that intersects my intellect and my emotions.

This sounds corny, but the thought of “seeing” how Mark Twain thought at a particular moment in time gives me the shivers. I dread the thought that the art of annotating may disappear. Just consider all of the amazing insights that future generations might miss if readers stopped holding their thinking in the margins of text. Without a way to annotate, we could tragically lose those precious, fleeting moments of thought that become cultural and historical artifacts.

4 comments March 14th, 2011


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