The Right to Learn

15 06 2014


photo by Cris Crissman

“Kids [here] have the right to read. They have the right to think and imagine. To see their own world in books. To see other worlds in books.” — Rainbow Rowell

Kids also have a right to create! And, perhaps, in the creating they can learn to create the world they can imagine.

Designing our final project — the  interdisciplinary Collaborative Critical Inquiry for students — gives us the opportunity to pull together all that we’ve been exploring this summer session.  We began with our first compelling inquiry question:  “What might the literacies-based teaching of literature for young adults look like?” which unpacked included “what is literacy?” and “what is literature?” And then we layered on “how to create an inclusive classroom” and “how should we use technology in the service of learning the literacies required for the 21st century?

Many of the  “more knowledgeable others” we read, including Gordon Wells, literacy researcher; Shelley Wright, English teacher; Matt Champagne, elementary teacher, write of how English language arts classrooms are best focused on inquiry learning.  We don’t teach books anymore — we learn with books.

For this evolving Collaborative Critical Inquiry model, we have chosen a theme, belonging, and Sadie, our CCI point, has suggested an inquiry question and scaffolding questions to jumpstart our inquiry.  I’ve also recommended Brene Brown’s TED Talk as a way to consider the depth and complexity of what belonging means.

Once we have our questions finalized then we need to plan our inquiry that will include an engaging introduction using Reading Response, the During Reading — reading and inquiry of the books in the text set that we each contribute to, and then an activity that gives students a chance to pull it all together.  The project concludes with each student engaging in personal reflection.

For During Reading, the reader response is usually socially mediated.  We have an ongoing inquiry into book clubs of all types:  independent reading for a purpose and then sharing with the group;   Book clubs where members select books on an agreed upon theme/topic, genre/art form and then share, or a traditional book club where everyone reads the same book.  Literature circles could also be used.  These are usually more structured or more highly scaffolded than book clubs.

Two other effective strategies that work well for the During stage of the inquiry are Reciprocal Teaching (the Reading Apprenticeship version) and the Paideia Seminar.  Reciprocal Teaching sounds much like the approach our teen guest Laia described with student teams reading a book together chapter by chapter and engaging in discussion.  With Reciprocal Teaching, the students practice the reading processes of predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing.  They work toward competence and independence.

The other group strategy could be a Paideia Seminar which has a Pre-or Introductory activity, the During reading when the students engage in reading, and the Post reading when they participate in a Paideia (or Socratic-like seminar).  See Week 4 Archive for video overviews . . .

The best kind of Post- or culminating activity for a Collaborative Critical Inquiry is for students to imagine what they could do to with what they learn through their inquiry to make a difference.  Shelley Wright describes a social media campaign her students implemented to fight against human trafficking.  The Empty Bowls Projects was created by two art teachers and has students making clay bowls to sell to feed the hungry in their communities after an interdisciplinary inquiry into global hunger and food insecurity.

That’s one of the digital advantages for inquiry in today’s classroom — that it need not be confined, in fact, must not be confined to the classroom walls if students and teachers are to learn with with autonomy and agency.

So let this literacies-based teaching of young adult literature begin . . .





Learning and Teaching as Possibility

8 06 2014

Triangle-based, student-run theatre company, Left Field Productions performs Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”Image



The graphic novel version of the play, in my opinion,  adds much to experience of reading a Shakespeare play, while taking little, if anything at all, away.  Students are given a much fuller experience of the play than plain text version would allow.  Some would argue that the graphic novel version of a text removes the imagination aspect of reading, however, we must remember that the play was meant to be seen, not read. — Alex Kaulfuss, Visualizing Literacy: Determining the Impact of Graphic Novels in the English Classroom on Reading Comprehension.


Sequential art may never have had its day in the sun or chance in the classroom were it not for the digital age.  With digital, the image reclaimed the dominance as a mode for meaning.  Sequential art and digital technology bring new possibility to the teaching of literature for young adults.


Educator and philosopher, Maxine Greene, often spoke as “teaching as possibility” and she advocated for “a

vision of art as a means to awaken each of us to how we respond to the world.”


Opening up new modes and tools for expression, communication, and collaboration provide us with more possibility than ever before to personalize the education of each student and prepare them to see and realize their own possibilities.  And with this realization of improved social futures comes the possibility of a better world for us all.


This week we continue our ongoing Collaborative Critical Inquiry:  What is literacy?  What is literature?  What might a literacies-based teaching of literature for young adults look like.


Do consider as you research and engage in critical reflection this week how integrating digital technologies into the teaching of literature for young adults will bring new possibility and challenge . . .



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The Twenty-First Century Difference

1 06 2014




Our grade 11 theme is childhood, but nowhere does it state whose childhood. So this year we read Patricia McCormick’s novel Sold, which chronicles the childhood, or more specifically the loss of childhood, in a young girl who is trafficked. A powerful story. This was the springboard into our unit on modern slavery and creating a social media campaign. — Shelley Wright, Life in a Twenty-First Century Classroom

This is not your grandmother’s English classroom.

Shelley Wright, more than other English teacher I know or know of, has succeeded in designing a literacies-based model of teaching literature in an interdisciplinary, authentic, real-world way.  As she writes in this powerful blog post, teaching English isn’t about teaching novels anymore.  It’s about inquiry, project-based learning informed by literature and served by technology.  Wright refers to it as skills-based but I think learning to research, filter, curate, create and produce multimodal, media presentations of what’s learned are really literacies.  As Oliver, our teen fanfiction writer guest speaker reasoned, “literacy is competency,” and twenty-first century learning requires new competencies to be successful.

What is literacy?  What is literature?  We’ve only begun the discussion . . .

This week, Week 3 (could that be right?) will bring our second Collaborative Critical Inquiry (CCI) and our first peer-led and peer-designed one.  Remember that the basic steps include framing a compelling question, unpacking it to find scaffolding questions, researching to find resources that help us explore those questions and organizing these in some activity that prepares us for the discussion in class (which is also peer-led and can follow any strategy/format you’d like), and then individuals engage in critical reflection at the week’s end.  Now, if some real action could naturally flow from a CCI — that would be awesome!

Please do include me in the planning.  I’m happy to collaborate.

Finally, this point person/leader for each CCI (the first two for us/adults and the final one for students) will complete a survey recognizing each member for their contributions.  And each member will complete the survey reflecting on their contribution. 

Community Charter is ready for any additions that you think important.  I’ve created a draft assessment survey based on what I’ve added to the Charter and will edit the assessment survey to reflect any changes.  Please take a look and let me know of any additions/changes so it is clear to all as you begin your work together.

Enjoy your collaboration!

Literacies to Learn

26 05 2014


Learned any new literacies yet?

Week 1 of the course offered several possibilities.  For some, perhaps videoconferencing.  Or blogging.  Or digital storytelling.  Or all three and more.

My hope for Week 2 is that you begin to reflect on how Kevin Kelly’s booking — “a process that connects readers, authors, characters, ideas, and stories into complex webs” results in the development of new literacies that can be both technological and social.  Learning to filter and curate information has always been part of the literacies to learn but the websplosion of resources means these are more important than ever.

And Cathy Davidson tells her English courses at Duke that the most valuable thing they will learn is to collaborate with others to accomplish a shared goal.

You’ll learn more about collaborative learning or what some call “many-to-many” as you prepare your first collaborative peer-led unit. I’ll model the process we’ll use — the Collaborative Critical Inquiry with pre-during-post inquiry stage — using the topic of socially-mediated language and literacies learning.  Learn all about it at Week 2 Collaborative Peer-Led Units . . .

Let me announce a slight change in the schedule — both because some of you have experienced some technical difficulties and time seems short to read another YA book and respond while completing the Pre-stage of this peer-led unit — you may complete your book response by Sunday.  You’ll see this change in schedule reflected in the Syllabus and the Schedule at a Glance.

Enjoy your week!

Time for Summer Reading!

18 05 2014


My goal for this course is to find the sweet spot where openness and choices make the work enjoyable and fulfilling!

If you enjoy reading YA books, then you’re in for a treat.  If you’ve not yet discovered the joys of YA lit, then you’ll be transformed.  YA lit is just the freshest, most innovative, and, yes, the bellwhether for how literature is evolving.

Is the book dead?  No way, just ask the passionate teen readers from our consulting teen book club, the award-winning Eva Perry Mock Printz ClubDresang writes of the symbiotic relationship between books and the digital world, and these teens are living proof.  They grew up with both and for them reading is a socially-mediated experience, both digitally and physically.

Participating in the Eva Perry Book Club for almost fifteen years has convinced me that the best way to open minds and encourage critical thinking and creativity is to make sure teens have lots of YA books available and other teens to discuss them with.  YA lit is about current issues/concerns even if set in the past or future.  If we read deeply and question our assumptions, as Brookfield defines critical thinking, then we are more aware, and mindful, creative, and possibly more empathetic.  And all of the above can make for a more ethical and socially just world.

The relationship between literature and social justice is something I’m really interested in and plan to study this session.  I invite you to consider what questions you’d like to explore for the next five weeks.

So take stock of where you are with the course outcomes, set your personal goals, and choose your first Printz book!  I’ll look forward to meeting with you for a brief tech check sometime before we meet and talk books on Thursday.

Just let me know when you have questions!

Making Bold Choices Wisely

1 11 2012

So you’d think in this day and age when TV, movies, and the Web make the viewing of “mature” material hard not to experience that challenges to books would be a rare occurrence.

Think again.

The latest data on book challenges from the American Library Association does show a downward trend in book challenges but still the average is one a day in the United States (Huffington Post, Sept. 30, 2012).  That’s 10,000 since ALA began its data collection and The Office of Intellectual Freedom estimates that only one quarter are reported and recorded (Englebert, Sept. 29, 2012).

We’ve discussed the importance of being open and upfront about the books you choose to share with your students, be that in whole class direct teaching, small group inquiry or books clubs, independent reading projects, or your classroom library for recreational reading.  And we’ve shared advice like designing teacher blogs and web sites as windows into your classroom and curriculum (be sure to offer option of subscribing via email or RSS feed) and using Google Voice if you send messages to parents who may find it easier to respond via voice.  Email marketing companies like Contactology also offer free services to educators so spiffy eNewsletters can be sent via email.

Frances Bradburn, who shared via video of her vast experiences as a librarian, state-wide technology director, and lifelong advocate for young adult literature, has graciously set aside some time this week to respond to lingering questions that you may have about making bold choices.  Please post your questions below and click “replies via email” so you’ll be prompted when Frances or others have posted responses.


Elemental Riffs on CCIs

29 10 2012

So I just posted a description of the collaborative critical inquiry that I hope is helpful as you think the one you’re designing for Stage 2 of The Change Project.

Elemental Riffs on Virtually

Essentially, your assignment is to design a CCI by:

Step 1: Introduce the inquiry in a way that engages learners while setting them up to activate any prior knowledge. Make sure your essential, compelling question addresses some area of social justice and positive social change. Here’s an insightful article by Grant Wiggins on creating essential questions. This can serve as your collaborative contribution.

Step 2: Share some of the resources you’ve explored in addition to your anchor book by Aronson.

Step 3: Suggest activities to engage and scaffold so students can research this question or related questions they create and how they might look for multiple perspectives, evaluate resources critically, curate their resources, and produce creative contributions.

Step 4. Steps 1 – 3 are recorded on The Change Project wiki page along with a reflection on the group’s process (much like Aronson’s and Budhos’s reflections closing Sugar Changed the World).

You’ll be sharing your CCIs during class in the Bookhenge on November 15.

avatars around the fire pit