Short Stories, Picture Books, and Video Clips for Notice and Note

Those of you who have read my previous posts know that I am a huge fan of Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I started using it in my sixth grade English classes and saw levels of analysis I had never achieved when using traditional methods of close reading. Their concrete, user-friendly strategy made even the most difficult texts accessible to all.

For the last two years, I have used a combination of the examples given in the book and short stories to teach each signpost before we applied them to whole class novels. (See previous posts.) This year, I decided to add picture books and video clips to the mix. Because my classes are only 45 minutes long and I have to teach all of ELA in that time, I don’t use as many books and videos and I would like (or as are available), but the addition of these two things made the signposts even more valuable to my class. They had no trouble finding them when we read our first novel, Walk Two Moons.

Below are the resources I used this year. I always began and ended with a short story and showed the video and read the picture books in between. After we had learned all of them, I had them search in my many picture books for more.

(NOTES: I currently teach at an all-girls’ school, so the short stories reflect that. See my previous posts for more examples of stories to use. There are also numerous other picture books that have great examples of signposts. Also, I purchased the Pixar shorts DVDs.)

CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS

Short Stories

  • Thank You, Ma’am by Langston Hughes
  • Priscilla and the Wimps by Richard Peck

Picture Books

  • My Teachers is a Monster (No, I am Not) by Peter Brown
  • Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes

Video Clip

  • Tin Toy – Pixar Shorts Vol 1

WORDS OF THE WISER

 Short Stories

  • Tuesday of the Other June by Norma Fox Mazer
  • Who Are You Today, Maria? by Judith Ortiz Cofer
  • Flowers and Freckle Cream by Elizabeth Ellis

Picture Books

  • That Is Not A Good Idea by Mo Willems
  • One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck

Video Clips

A-HA MOMENT

Short Stories

  • The Richer, The Poorer by Dorothy West
  • A-Ha Moment by Julia Alvarez (from Oprah Magazine)

Picture Books

  • My Rotten, Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco
  • Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (he’s a class favorite author)

Video Clips

AGAIN AND AGAIN

Short Stories

  • Eleven by Sandra Cisneros
  • Charles by Shirley Jackson (also has a good A-Ha moment)

Picture Books

  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
  • I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Video Clips

MEMORY MOMENT

 Short Story

  • My Grandmother’s Hair by Cynthia Rylant

Picture Books

  • Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard

Video Clip

  • Time Travel Mater – Pixar Shorts vol 2

TOUGH QUESTIONS

Short Story

  • The Third Wish by Joan Aiken

Picture Books

  • Bully by Patricia Polacco
  • The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth (based on a story by Tolstoy)

Video Clip

  • La Luna – Pixar Shorts vol 2
  • Partly Cloudy – Pixar Shorts vol 2

Many of the other Pixar shorts would be great to use as well, but in the interest of time, these are all I had the opportunity to use this year.

For example:

Presto for AGAIN AND AGAIN

For the Birds for A-HA MOMENT

George and AJ for CONTRASTS AND CONTRADICTIONS

There are also numerous collections of award-winning shorts available on YouTube.

My goals for next summer are to find some more animated shorts and also add in songs, poetry, and art. I am also going to ask the students to find some examples of these themselves this spring when we do more literary analysis.

 

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How NOT to Kill To Kill a Mockingbird: Reviving the Whole-Class Novel

(Disclaimer: The main title for this post, How NOT to Kill To Kill a Mockingbird, was a gift to me from a talented teacher, Kevin English. Check out his wonderful blog: English’s Education.)

"It's a sin to kill a mockingbird."     ~Harper Lee

“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” ~Harper Lee

First things first. I have to get this off my chest: I like teaching whole-class novels. There, I’ve said it. I know it is not a popular point of view in the current English teaching world, but whole-class novels have been good to me. Over the years, I have found the whole-class novel to be an incredible community building and learning process for my students and I have come up with some ways to make it a worthwhile experience. You don’t have to commit Readicide so that all you’re left with is a beaten, bloody carcass of what was once a perfectly fine work of literature. Students will engage with a text if given the opportunity, guidance, and support they need.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Ariel Sacks who put her approach to teaching whole-class novels on paper in Whole Novels for the Whole Class. This opened the door for the rest of us who also want to share. If you’ve read her great book, you will see that many of the things she and I do are similar, but there are a few differences. What follows is a brief overview of my thoughts and of my process.

[An important note: Choice reading and read-alouds (of short texts, not whole novels due to time constraints) are also components of my balanced literacy classroom. As I have stated previously, I believe there is a place for all three.]

1. I believe in teaching the READER, not the READING. I use whole-class novels as a community building and learning experience, not as a means to formally assess students. Because we read the book together, we have a touchstone to refer back to in future class sessions. Not every student loves every book we read, but they all experience growth and gain some appreciation for the author’s writing ability.

2. I also want my students to read like writers so we use our study of the text to explore the writer’s craft. We talk about WHY the author may have written what he/she has and HOW they have structured the novel to achieve their desired goals. We appreciate their use of the language and try to emulate our favorite parts.

3. I have a short attention span, which greatly benefits my students. I do not spend any more than 3 weeks (possibly 4 if there are vacation days involved) on a novel. What’s more, we only read one per marking period. This means that in my current situation of teaching 6th grade in trimesters, we read 3 community reads for a total of 9 – 11 weeks which leaves plenty of time for other activities and choice reading throughout the year. When I taught in quarters to 8th graders—we read four books per year but the last one was in small book clubs with each group reading a different book of their choice.

4. I provide lot of “framing” for the text such as historical context, current examples of the theme in the world, the author’s background, and topic floods to eliminate possible barriers to understanding. Often students will say they don’t like a book, but that is because they don’t always understand what is going on. Imagine trying to appreciate Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry without a knowledge of Jim Crow. My students read a wonderful book called Ties That Bind, Ties That Break, but it necessitates that I teach them about Confucius and about foot binding.

5. I structure the discussion around essential questions and themes. This makes the book, no matter the genre, easily relatable to other material because the themes are universal.

6. I choose a book that is at the reading level of the majority of my students, but is also an engaging work of literary merit such as a Newbery honor/award book. I don’t always go for the most popular books because many of them read these on their own. I choose a book that I think they might enjoy, but might have passed over, or a book that is a little older that they may not have heard about. For those for whom the text is a bit of a stretch, I incorporate many scaffolding and support techniques including audio books, partner reads, read aloud, parent involvement, and guided study groups to ensure that they can access the material. I disagree with the criticism that those students who are not as challenged by the book are getting nothing out of it. For me, rigor is the depth of thought involved in the process and not the decoding of the words on the page. Most of what we do is open-ended and they take the discussions to incredibly insightful levels.

7. I divide the book into chunks and provide a reading calendar of when the class discussions will happen. I always allow for at least a day in between readings due so that we may explore other aspects of the novel as well as incorporate writing. Some of the discussions happen through online avenues as well, but I generally prefer face to face whenever possible. This allows them to piggyback on their peers’ responses in a more immediate way and I can keep them going if they encounter a roadblock or get too far off on a tangent.

8. I allow students to read ahead so long as they do not do “spoilers” during the discussion. They have been very good about honoring this policy. If we get partway through the book and some just could not wait to finish (as often happens), I will allow them the time to work in a small group to discuss things that happened after the chapters the rest are discussing.

9. I find a literacy focus and learning target for reading. Students can’t hit a bullseye if they don’t know the target. For me, the magic bullet in making sure all students can explore and appreciate the novel in depth has been incorporating Notice and Note into the mix. I cannot say enough about how much I adore this book and have written several posts about it. (This one primarily addresses Notice and Note with regards to whole-class novels.) Ariel Sacks reaches the same degree of thought using using three levels of questioning: literal, inferential, and critical. Jeffrey Wilhelm has some great ideas in Fresh Takes on Teaching Literary Elements and Chris Lehman and Kate Robert write about Lens, Patterns, and Understanding in Falling in Love with Close Reading.

It doesn’t matter which method you use to help your students to understand and appreciate the text as they all have merit. However, you will notice that none of these authors advocates the use of study guides, comprehension questions at the end of the every chapter, the memorization of vocabulary words out of context, and endless worksheets. You want students to appreciate the tree that was killed to print such a wonderful work of art, not the tree that was killed in making a blizzard of worksheets.

10. During class discussions, honor their thoughts. There is no one right answer. Nothing bugs me more than teachers who ask questions about a novel and will allow for anything but the answer they have hidden in their head.

11. Gradually release responsibility as the year goes on. In my class, for the first novel, the students lead the discussion of each chunk of text based on Notice and Note signposts they have found. The only writing during the reading required is a one sentence summary of the main event of each chapter. I find that this helps them in the future when they want to refer back to the text. For the second novel, we focus on a couple of signposts, the chunks of text are larger, and students bring in their own questions to ask of peers. During the third novel of the year, students are grouped in Book Clubs to allow for more discussion time. These students determine their own deadline and chunks of text for each discussion. (Note: I teach sixth grade. When I have debriefed my process with students at the end of the year, they have told me that they don’t want to begin discussions after they have read the entire book because it feels like too much. They prefer breaking the novel into thirds because they want to make sure that they understand everything along the way. They also don’t want to wait to talk about what is going on.) Each student brings in things they “noticed” in that section as well as topics for discussion. I appoint a discussion facilitator and let them go to it. They love it and there is no down time.

12. I incorporate writing assignments and active experiences that tie to the book and complement the text. For example, we read Walk Two Moons and there is a chapter where the mother explores the importance and origin of her name. We then read “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros and “Isn’t My Name Magical” by James Berry and they write their own creative piece about their name. You will not that these are not what Donalyn Miller calls “Language arts and crafts.” No dioramas, no character drawings, no book jackets, no travel brochures. I use authentic, meaningful, relevant writing experiences to draw them deeper into the text as well as allow for personal connections to be made. In this post, I gave examples of some of these experiences I used when teaching The Giver.

13. I grade almost nothing during this time. At the end, there is a reflective writing piece as well as some kind of literary analysis writing, but they are ready for this based on the rich discussions they have experienced.

There is no perfect system for teaching everything I need to teach in the limited amount of time I am given, but this way of teaching whole-class novels allows me to achieve my teaching objectives without killing the novels and/or monopolizing the entire school year with these experiences. Give yourself the freedom to try teaching the novel as a reading experience and not as a 9-week worksheet. I think you will enjoy the change. I know your students will.

image courtesy of: freedigitalphotos.net

Whole-Class Novels vs. Student Choice Reading–Why Not Both?

As I’ve said before, I am a PD junkie. Even though I have been teaching for over 20 years, I read every new book that comes out on teaching English. I feel the same way about these books as I do about attending professional conferences. If I gain one new, great idea, then it was worth the price. Plus, I face the same challenge as many of my secondary colleagues—I have to teach reading, writing, speaking, grammar, usage, and mechanics in a mere 45 minutes a day. I guess I figure that someday I will find the Holy Grail book that will give me the answer to how to structure my “Goldilocks” class. So far, I haven’t found it, and this blog is my attempt to work through this challenge.

Through my reading, I found one curricular tradition that has taken a huge beating in the last several years is the teaching of the whole-class novel. It almost feels as if a gauntlet has been thrown down and English teachers are forced to take the side of continuing to teach whole class novels or of an entirely student choice model. I don’t believe it has to be either-or. I find a balance of whole-class novels, free voluntary reading, and read-alouds to be the trifecta of a winning reading curriculum. Erica Beaton also calls for a balance of these concepts and did a fantastic series of posts on her blog that I encourage you to check out: Whole-Class Novels vs. Choice-Only Reading.

What I believe most people hate about whole-class novels is that they are continuing to be the main source of reading instruction in schools, and they are being taught very, very badly. If we address those two issues, we could achieve a winning formula for engaging reading instruction.

I am not alone in my thinking. Many of my professional mentors such as Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Cris Tovani still teach whole class novels, but not as the backbone of their curriculum either—whole-class novels are but one component. Ariel Sacks has written an entire book devoted to teaching the whole class novel, Whole Novels for the Whole Class. I agree with much of what she says in the book, and I also facilitate a student-centered class. I have been teaching similarly to Ms. Sacks for several years (ever since I read Readicide and the Book Whisperer) and I am happy to see her book become so successful because it means that there are like-minded teachers out there. Even those who believe all reading in a class should be of a student’s choice incorporate the reading aloud of novels so they are, in effect, also sharing a group reading experience with their students.

I have written about this before (Channeling Goldilocks: Attempting to get it “just right” ), but wanted to go into more depth and also show how useful Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst has been in refining how I use whole-class novels. Stay tuned for my next post: How NOT to Kill To Kill a Mockingbird: Reviving the Whole Class Novel.

MORE Short Stories and Texts to use with Notice and Note Signposts

I know that many of you are excited about using Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert B. Probst in your Language Arts classrooms. I have previously posted about some short stories I used last year to teach the signposts. Since then, I have had other requests for more story ideas. I thought it made sense to use short stories  and texts that are typically found in grade-level literature anthologies to save teachers time making copies. For each of the stories below, I found signposts. You and your students may find even more. Of course, I would never use all of these in one year, but I was trying to make a resource that may be of use to you based on the materials you have. Enjoy! I love teaching close reading using the signposts.

Birthday Box Jane Yolen Memory Moment
Catch the Moon Judith Ortiz Cofer Contrasts & Contradictions

Memory Moment

Charles Shirley Jackson Aha Moment

Again & Again

Eleven Sandra Cisneros Again & Again
Fish Cheeks Amy Tan Contrasts & Contradictions

Words of the Wiser

Flowers and Freckle Cream Elizabeth Ellis Words of the Wiser
Jeremiah’s Song Walter Dean Myers Words of the Wiser
Miss Awful Arthur Cavanaugh Contrasts & Contradictions

Words of the Wiser

My Grandmother’s Hair Cynthia Rylant Memory Moment
Names/Nombres Julia Alvarez Again & Again
President Cleveland, Where Are You? Robert Cormier Tough Questions
Priscilla and the Wimps Richard Peck Contrasts & Contradictions
Seventh Grade Gary Soto Contrasts & Contradictions
Smart Cookie Sandra Cisneros Words of the Wiser
Sneeches Dr. Seuss Aha Moment

Again & Again

Thank You, Ma’am Langston Hughes Contrasts & Contradictions
The All-American Slurp Lensey Namioka Contrasts & Contradictions

Aha Moment

The Landlady Roald Dahl Aha Moment

Memory Moment

The Medicine Bag Virginia Driving Hawk Aha Moment

Tough Questions

Words of the Wiser

Memory Moment

The Richer, The Poorer Dorothy West Aha Moment
The Scholarship Jacket Marta Salinas Contrasts & Contradictions

Tough Questions

Words of the Wiser

The Stray Cynthia Rylant Tough Questions
Tuesday of the Other June Norma Fox Mazer Contrasts & Contradictions

Words of the Wiser

Who Are You Today, Maria? Judith Ortiz Cofer Words of the Wiser

Short Stories to use with Notice and Note Signposts: Part 3

Because I had many twitter friends ask for this, I am posting a portion of a transcript I sent to a friend about the short stories I used to practice finding the Signposts in Notice and Note as promised.

I teach at an all-girls school so many of the stories have a female protagonist. Because of this, I am giving you lists of short stories that I found on other websites as well. I used many of them when I taught at a co-ed public school.

I love stories by O’Henry, Saki, and Guy de Maupassant. I also enjoy using sci-fi short stories with middle schoolers.

Even though I only teach girls now, I could see the signposts being a huge benefit to teaching boys as well because they are so much more concrete. Also, any short story has signposts in it, so find the stories you like the best to use in class.

Here is how I organized the first several weeks of school:

  • I reviewed the literary elements of Setting, Plot, Characterization, Conflict, and Theme.
  • We applied these literary elements to our study of the summer reading novel, Surviving the Applewhites.
  • Then, I introduced the signposts one at a time using a story that we walked through together. I read it aloud and they identified signposts as I read then we discussed. I used Beers and Probt’s lesson for Thank You Ma’am as my guide. For your reference, I have listed this story as the first one underneath the signpost.
  • Then, I gave them a story in which to identify signposts independently. You will see that the same story is listed in a couple of different categories. In that case, it is because I had them identity both of those signposts in the story.
  • We also reviewed all of the literary elements in the short stories.
  • You will also see that there are less stories under each category as we progressed. This is because the girls were understanding the signposts so well that they said it felt redundant to do the identification twice so I bumped it down.
  • Finally, I showed the Pixar shorts and they found signposts, plus we focused on the literary elements I specified in each one. I did this for a parent visiting day lesson and it was a big hit.
  • Now, we are reading a novel and as they read they are identifying the signposts. I printed up bookmarks for them with the signposts on them that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers. They actually cheered when I handed them out and they say it really helps.

 

The stories I used:

(NOTE: we have copies of a book by Jamestown Publishers called Best Short Stories: Introductory Level that included many of these stories. I have put an asterisk next to those titles. Many of them are available online as well.)

Contrast and Contradictions:

Thank You Ma’am by Langston Hughes

* Catch the Moon by Judith Ortiz Cofer

All-American Slurp by Lensey Namioka

A-Ha Moment:

*The Richer, The Poorer by Dorothy West

All-American Slurp by Lensey Namioka

Charles by Shirley Jackson

The Landlady by Roald Dahl (we read later for Halloween, but they found signposts)

Tough Questions:

*President Cleveland, Where Are You? by Robert Cormier

Words From the Wiser:

*Tuesday of the Other June by Norma Fox Mazer

 Again and Again:

Charles by Shirley Jackson

Eleven by Sandra Cisneros

 

All Signposts and Literary Elements: (I used this as a assessment of the signposts. I might not do that again next year. I will probably make it a group activity because the story confused a few of them.)

*Lob’s Girl by Joan Aiken

Great Short Stories recommended by other websites:

http://www.weareteachers.com/community/blogs/weareteachersbookclub/book-club/2013/05/15/24-short-stories-for-middle-schoolers

http://www.pinterest.com/glanceatnance/teach-short-stories/

http://edhelper.com/short_stories/short_stories.htm

I would LOVE it if any of you would add your titles to this list in the comments. Thanks so much.

How I Use Notice and Note in Class (part 2)

I am not going to summarize Notice and Note or the Signposts here, but I will tell you a little about how I used them this year in class.

First, I thought about different approaches and decided to teach the Signposts one at a time. My classes are only 45 minutes long so each initial Signpost story lesson took one period and the rest of the lessons were on subsequent days. I chose a short story that I thought perfectly illustrated each Signpost. (One example in the book is “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes to show Contrast and Contradiction, so I used it first.) I walked them through the story, modeling my thinking and stopping for reflection. We discussed the essential question that accompanies each Signpost and how it was revealed through what they found. The next day, I gave the students copies of a different story and had them read through and highlight the Signpost. They discussed what they marked in small groups and then shared aloud what they had found and, most importantly, what they thought it meant.

After we had covered all six Signposts, (which took about two weeks), I moved on to applying finding Signposts in Pixar shorts and popular movies/TV which was a big hit. The ultimate goal was that they could find relevant Signposts in the class novel we were about to read—which, coincidentally, was Walk Two Moons. (I had chosen the novel at the end of the prior year and it is covered extensively in Notice and Note.)

The first thing I did was to hand out a cardstock bookmark I had made with all of the Signposts listed (and the students actually clapped because they were so excited). I divided the novel into chunks, and after each chunk there was a class discussion. For the first discussion, I merely asked students, “What did you notice?” and volunteers shared what they had found with the whole class. Students were giving each other positive feedback and actually enjoying annotating. As we progressed through the novel, I incorporated this and many other ways for students to show what insight they had gained from the Signposts they had found besides whole class discussion. NOTE: I generally only spend about 3 weeks teaching a novel so these activities took place every few days over a few weeks’ time with writing workshop in between.

With the two subsequent novels we read, I instructed them to concentrate on one or two specific signposts only. For example, when we read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I asked them to focus on finding examples of “Words from the Wiser” because I knew that this would lead them to the themes of that particular novel. I was pleasantly surprised when they asked if they could annotate other Signposts and also highlight more than I was asking (such as foreshadowing—they LOVED to find foreshadowing for some reason) which I delightedly approved.

Some of the feedback I got from students at the end of the each novel and at the end of the year validated my choice to use the Notice and Note Signposts in my classroom. Many students said they felt smarter using the Signposts because they could contribute more to discussions. It was not uncommon for them to give each other praise for finding something “profound” or “insightful” in the text. One student told me she had always read every book that a teacher assigned, but she had never truly “gotten into” and “understood” a book as well before. This is but some of the anecdotal evidence that affirms my love of Notice and Note as a classroom strategy for close reading with the middle school students.

 

 

 

Why I Love Notice and Note (part 1)

I have always taught at schools where the English curriculum incorporates reading of novels as a whole class. This post is not to debate the relative merits or deficits of teaching a whole class novel, but rather to show how Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst [http://www.heinemann.com/products/E04693.aspx] made the task of teaching a class text even more enjoyable than it had been in the past.

Not surprisingly, I enjoyed English classes as a kid and loved that we read novels together. I may never have chosen to read The Great Gatsby or The Canterbury Tales were they not required class reading and I ended up loving both of them. However, I always felt there was some secret code or language that my teachers could understand but which I didn’t speak. They were able to discuss the finer points of plot, characterization, symbolism, and theme, yet I often felt that I was not understanding the books because I had not always found these same things myself. True, I made copious margin notes writing down what the teacher had said and scored well on tests and essays as a result, but I usually beat myself up for not having an a-ha moment about a piece of text until the teacher pointed something out and it seemed so obvious. (Wait, Eckleburg’s eyes are not just there because they’re creepy? Oh, duh!)

Fast forward many years to 2008 when I became an English teacher. When I made the switch from special education, I was determined never to put a child in the position of feeling stupid for not seeing what they I so “obviously” saw. (I also swore never to over teach a novel and kill them with vocabulary and worksheets—but all of that is in a previous post.) As such, I read everything I could on the subject. How fortunate for me that How to Read Novels Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller [Donlayn’s blog: http://bookwhisperer.com] and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher [from Kelly’s blog: http://kellygallagher.org/books_dvds/books_dvds.html] came out at about the same time I made the switch to teaching English. They gave me permission from an expert to do what I wanted to do in class—to help students understand what they read, to promote a lifelong love of reading, and to avoid killing that love when teaching novels.

Based on what I loved in Readicide, I began teaching novels in a student-centered format (similar to what Ariel Sacks recently wrote about in Whole Novels for the Whole Class). She and I differ slightly in approach, but the gist is the same. I want kids to read and talk about the books and don’t want to interrupt the flow of their learning with useless activities. Teaching novels this way was actually more work for me because I had to be an active facilitator and mentally present in each and every class discussion because there were no worksheets to hide behind. It was worth it, though. I found that as I gradually released the responsibility, the students soared. This approach was very successful and the students generally asked me when we would be reading our next novel because they enjoyed the experience so much.

Imagine my delight when I attended a reading conference last summer and saw the genius team of Beers and Probst present on their wonderful book, Notice and Note, that made it easier for me to release responsibility even sooner and enable instruction to be even more student-centered than before. To me, it was a middle-school student friendly version of How to Read Novels Like a Professor that I had enjoyed so much. It was a simple blueprint for helping students find the “important” parts of novels they read without needing them pointed out by a teacher. It gave them the tools they needed to engage in a text and make sense out of what they read. My next post will focus on how I use the Notice and Note Signposts in my class.