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PBL and Student Motivation

Last week I began my launch, or immersion lesson using PBL with The Graveyard Book. The students have been reading this narrative by Neil Gaiman since the beginning of the year. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the book. Some students were sad to see the book’s end, while for others, the end couldn’t have come sooner. I was thrilled to see that despite the various reviews, all students were motivated to hear of the potential to reach out to the author by completing the upcoming project. I could see the wheels begin to turn as students thought about what it would be like to have the author of this book actually read something they have composed. A few students even raised the question of what the likelihood is that Neil Gaiman would actually read something they have sent to him. I answered their inquiries with honesty and was releived to find that students were still very motivated and excited for the project.
I am working with students in a district that has recently given all students, grades 6-12, a chrome book. I have found that the comfort levels with the technology range to a great extent within the room. For instance, some students have worked with Prezi before, while others need help to simply google information. In addition, I have also found that in order to use the technology available, the students and I have to be especially patient because the connection is extremely slow.   Uploading webpages and such can lead to awkward and long pauses in the middle of a lesson, disrupting the flow of information and discussion.

I am learning to think ahead, however, and I’m trying to fill the technology pauses with discussion prompts and partner planning for the work to come.
I can see how merely attaining the chrome books for a one-to-one ratio is a very minimal piece in the preparation work that must occur before pieces of technology can be useful and beneficial to student learning and teaching. I’m curious to see how students handle researching, citing and Prezi in the upcoming lessons. It will all be beneficial, regardless of the prodcuts.  The lessons learned within the lesson are equally treasured. It’s not only the destination, but the process and the learning occurring along the way that hold importance as well.


The Aha of my Tutoring Process

I’m writing today in reflection of the tutoring process.  Although my sessions with Kim will continue beyond the length of EDU 832, I’m taking a moment today to scoop up what the process has to offer at this point in time.  Kim and I began our journey about three months ago.  We picked up and put down three books before settling on our current book, If I Stay.  This alone was a learning opportunity for me.

I set out on a path complete with topics and books of interest to Kim, some on her reading level, some a bit beyond her independent level and some she chose on her own, while a couple I had brought to offer.  Despite all of these components, none of them seemed to influence Kim as much as whether or not the text grabbed her and held her interest.   For example, The Fault in Our Stars seemed to be a great match for Kim.  She started the book out with enthusiasm and gusto.  Within two weeks her steem had run out and she ditched the book.  I tried to encourage her to give some books more time, but I began to understand that what Kim needed most in a book was a story that grabbed her and held her curiosity, her desire to read on and to find out more.  I also discovered that despite my attempts, my loyalty in our sessions together and my endless attempts to build her confidence, I could not find the story that would help Kim to become a reader.  She needed to discover this joy herself.  I hope that Kim has found this is her current selection; time will tell.

Despite my attempts to help Kim, I could not make her enjoy reading.  I could not compensate for the fact that reading isn’t a common acivity of value in her home and I could not compensate for the fact that Kim did not find delight in the enchanting possiblities of books and the stories they share when she was a child.  What I found was a student who was a couple of grades below in her reading level and it wasn’t because she couldn’t read or struggled with the skills she needed to be a successful reader.  It seemed to be that Kim simply hadn’t found a passion for reading up to this point.

Our time together revealed her lack of vocabulary base, which is likely due to her lack of being read to consistently as she was growing up and her lack of independent reading practices now that she is older.  These are hard areas to fill in or compensate for if Kim is not willing to read on her own.  I believe that only Kim can do this for herself and my role is to continue my efforts in motivating her and offering oppourtunities for her to discover the joys of reading on a personal level.  Problems such as, her exposure to new words, will begin to mend when Kim begins to increase the amount of time she is reading every day.

There were a few helpful changes that seemed to make a difference with Kim’s motivation to read.  First of all, allowing her the freesom to cast uninteresting books aside until she found one that carried her curiosity beyond the first few chapters, allowed her the time and discovery she needed to find the right book.  Involving a friend in the reading of that magical book was what seemed to help Kim stay tuned into the book for the duration.  Not only did Kim and her friend participate during our small literature circle, but they also were allowed to buddy read during their silent sustained reading block, which met twice a week for 20 minutes.  The last piece that I found helpful was my persistence.  I came prepared to meet with Kim twice a week, every week and regardless of whether we were in limbo, searching for the right read, or moving along with If I Stay, we met, we discussed where Kim was along this reading journey and what move we were going to make next and why.  I believe this persistence and encouraging Kim to keep searching for that magical read were very important.  
Unfortunately, I do believe the desire to read is critical.  Witout the desire, it becomes very hard to address some of the existing gaps.  I experienced first hand, how very important it is for our students to find the joy and rewards reading has to offer.   We can encourage and try without hesitation to create this catch for our students, but without it, I can’t help but agree with them; that reading just becomes a whole lot of struggle without much enjoyment!  The moral of the story is, be passionate about reading, encourage your students to find this passion for themselves – whatever it takes, and be aware of your students’ past – look at what they and you, are up against and perservere!  The rewards are worth it for both your students and you!  After all, isn’t this why we decided to teach in the first place!

Fingers Crossed – We’ve found an interesting read!

I am writing with the hope that the following will not jinx the success Kim has found with our new book.  The book,  If I Stay, seems to be a keeper so far, and I’m thrilled!  Kim has not only read what I asked her to for our next session together, she has read more!  Kim’s friend has also joined in and is meeting with us to discuss the book.  Our last session together proved to be more engaging with juicier discussions.  Kim’s friend is offering some nice viewpoints that help guide our discussions.

One red flag that I remember from my first meeting with Kim back in September was that she didn’t have an understanding for first-person and third-person point of view.  In the past weeks, I’ve brought up discussions surrounding viewpoint and how to understand what perspective a story is being told from.  I was very happy to find our discussion this week, which was surrounding point of view and perspective, was much more advanced.  Kim offered why she believed the book, If I Stay is told in first person and we talked over why the author may have chosen this perspective.

Overall, our last meeting was very hopeful based on the fact that Kim read the book on her own time and came to our session ready to share her ideas and comment on those of others.  I’m thrilled and I hope this book remains a keeper!  For our next session I’d like to check in with Kim to see if there are any misconceptions or clarifying questions so far.  In order for Kim to continue reading for pleasure, she needs to feel confident that she is understanding and reading for meaning.  By checking in with her, I want to reiterate that asking questions as one reads is a great way to interact and participate in a book.  I will encourage Kim to write questions and share ideas in the margins of her book, as I have been doing!    We’ll see what this week brings!  It seemed that Kim had a clear understanding of the book up to this point.  I hope this continues for her and most of all I hope she continues to enjoy this pick!  Until next time…

Tutoring – Where are we now?

I met with Kim yesterday and again she came to our session witout doing any reading on her own.  Unfortunately the book, If I Stay is just too long to read only during our sessions.  In order for us to get through the book, she’d have to do some of the reading on her own.  I decided to try my next trick.  Kim selected a friend from the class and asked her if she’d like to begin reading the book with us and have a mini-literature circle on the days I come to tutor Kim.  I gave Kim’s friend my copy of the book and asked them to read the first two chapters for Monday.

I’m hoping the addition of a friend will be a motivating factor for Kim.  My hope is that she reads in preparation for our small group lit. circle and that by getting started on the book, she will eventually get hooked and find a new experience with reading.

If this plan folds as well, my next trick will involve a shorter text, perhaps a graphic novel, that we can get through in our tutoring sessions.

I’m feeling frustrated, no doubt, however this is okay with me because it means I care.  Kim is also challenging me to dig deep into my carpet/Mary Poppins bag of tricks!  We’ll see what Monday brings!  I am hopeful!

PBL and the Driving Question

Project based learning is the way to go, I have no doubts about that.  However, I am struggling with a few aspects of PBL.  I’m finding the driving question one of the hardest pieces and yet, one of the most important!  I have a theory that some of the difficulties of PBL stem from the fact that my attempts to implement a project are as an outsider in a classroom that has already been established, as I don’t have a classroom of my own.  I think that PBL is a very complex series of tasks that require the teacher to know his/her students well and have prepped or built prior knowledge during previous lessons leading up to the launch.  These are two things that, as a visitor attempting PBL, are not in my control.

I would really love some examples of possible driving questions using The Graveyard Book.  I’m a little confused why the driving question, “How can you convince Neil Gaiman to include or exclude your character in a sequel to The Graveyard Book?  What makes your character influential or insignificant to the themes within the story?”  isn’t a decent driving question.  It’s real-world and even lends itself to an authentic audience, such as Neil Gaiman himself or his publishers.  The characters are very intriguing in the story, and this driving question allows students to dive right into a character whom they find interesting.

Again, because I have not been teaching The Graveyard Book and haven’t had any control over the lessons and/or discussions surrounding the book, I’m at a disadvantage.  I haven’t had the opportunity to seek out what students find interesting about the book, or its’ themes and characters.  However, given the situation, I’m thinking that this driving question seems decent.

I am fearful of lacking professionalism and having this PBL flop.  This class, these students, this school…they are not my own.  I feel it is a privilege to work with them and I’d like to go into the situation with a bit more confidence.

I have attached a link for a summary to The Graveyard Book and also materials that I’ve created for the PBL.  I’d love some feedback!  Thanks for reading!

Summary – The Graveyard Book:

Prezi for the launch –

I also have rubrics and checklists prepared if you’d like to take a look at those as well.

Carry On!

Last week I met with my tutee twice. We did decide to put The Fault in our Stars down and she excitedly took up the book, If I Stay.   I had the feeling that teaching Kim reading strategies were a perfect example of the saying ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and we simply sat and read the book together.  I also decided not to offer reading aloud to Kim, as I’d like her to hear the natural rhythm and flow of the author’s words. In Kim’s class they do cold, reading aloud every day and I’m thinking for our time together we will use a different approach.  I am surprised to find that Kim likes reading aloud over reading to herself.  I’m wondering if that is simply what she is used to doing.

While reading aloud to Kim, natural pauses came up when Kim wanted to respond to the text, which I was thankful for!  I think my next step will be to invite one or two other students (friends of Kim) into the group and arrange a small literacy circle.  That way these conversations around the themes in the book can hold more meaning and more viewpoints.  If all goes well, maybe the three of them can have a night and watch the movie together in celebration of finishing the book.  I am focused more on enjoying the read than literay skills at this point, which for me just feels lazy as I’m teaching!  However, I’m really hoping Kim stays with this book and we can have success in the form of simply loving what we are reading and enjoying the act of reading.  We’ll see if she has read any on her own when I meet with her Tuesday.   Fingers crossed! 

Tutoring – Can we help students find passion for reading?

Today I worked with Kim on a passage we had read during our last meeting.  The piece talked about Otto Frank and the various obstacles that he faced as a prisoner during the Holocaust.  This is a subject that Kim has some serious background knowledge with!  Last week, when we used this passage, I asked her to read a few paragraphs and interact with the text along the margins.  I helped Kim to use questioning skills when meaning was foggy, circle unknown words, and comment on ideas that were intriguing.  The result was, at least six words circled, some good questions that directly addressed where Kim needed clarification and a few strands of comments that showed she was interacting with the text using prior knowledge and new questions that she had.  Not too bad, however she voiced that she struggled through and didn’t, “get it”.

I decided to take this passage, and break it down with Kim this week.  She had read it already, found some questions and words of interest and her background knowledge would help her through.

I wanted to see where exactly Kim was getting stumped.  Could she use her prior knowledge and context clues to help her gain understanding of a more complex, expository text?

I read a paragraph and Kim followed along in her copy.  She voiced that she didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘advantage’ and so she didn’t understand the phrase, “It was an advantage to speak German, since that was the language of the camps, ruled as they were by the SS and Kapos.”  –  The Hidden Life of Otto Frank by Carol Lee – We discussed how the camps functioned and why the German language was important.  Kim still wasn’t linking the context clues, her prior knowledge and the word ‘advantage’ together.  I explained the word to her using this sentence, “Kim has the advantage when she plays games at the fair with her friend.  She has played every game at the fair already, and won almost every time!”

We went through this process again with another paragraph and I noticed more of the same.  I asked Kim if she knew how to help herself find the joys of reading.  She didn’t have any ideas.  I said what if it simply meant to read more.  I asked her if it was reasonable to ask her to look up an interesting word, just one, each time she read and recorded it with pictures and comic-like bubbles in her word journal and to be sure that each time she read at home for herself that it was something that she liked to read.  That was it; just begin with interesting books, a bit of word study and simply read a bit every day.

My reasoning for this conversation is multilayered.  Kim keeps giving up on what she’s reading.  We’ve tried on-level and personally interesting books, we’ve tried books that were probably harder, but very interesting to her and we’ve tried incentives, such as, when we finish reading this book together, a movie pass will be waiting for you so you can go see the film at the movies!  None of it seems to be working.  Kim has yet to find that joy in reading a great book, and the places that it can take you.

My plan is this…keep working together with The Fault in our Stars, which is what Kim had been reading during sustained silent reading and claimed she loved the book, yet the last time I saw her she gave up on it and returned it to her teacher.  Despite this, I gave her my personal copy of the book and said, I have cried my way through this book so we could work together – you’re turn to do the reading now!  (All said with a smile, however I want her to be held accountable for some reading!)  I asked Kim to read a few pages each night and select one word to interact with in her word journal so we can discuss its’ relationship to the book and our lives.  During our tutoring visits, I read from where Kim has left off and model the use of context clues and how to relate new words to your own life to help remember them for the future.  Mostly, I want to discuss the juicy aspects of this read and talk about it, to get her hooked into the characters and the woven symbolism throughout the book.  I’m also wondering if inviting her friend in to read the book as well and hold more of a literature circle format would be helpful to pull in that fun aspect of reading.

We’ll see!  Any suggestions!  I would love for Kim to find pleasure in reading, however this is something I cannot do for her!  But I will do everything I can to lead her up to it!  We’ll see how it goes with this new read!  Until next time…


Technology opened doors today!

Today in my tutoring group I made use of the students’ chrome books and it proved very motivating! We are reading The Graveyard Book and the read is loaded with symbolism! We used our time to investigate some possible symbols used by the author, Neil Gaiman. The students were more actively involved in the session today compared with others. Not only did they begin to take initiave and look up questions they personally had, but they were motivated to share what they had learned and how it helped them uncover buried meanings within the text. One of the students had been dying to inquire whether a character was meant to be a vampire. His chrome book allowed him to leave the confines of the school and search readers’ ideas from as far as England! I will use their chrome books again next week and continue the work from today, as it was very productive.

I also like that the structure of today allowed for discussions involving skills that are useful when reading digitally. We talked about monitoring our focus periodically with the question, “Is what I’m reading beneficial to my inquiry?” We also made use of the ability to highlight and look up an unknown word as well as the option to have the computer read aloud passages and words. These options helped us to hear correct pronunciation of complex words.

Overall, I have found that students are indeed very motivated when technology is utilized. Technology has also helped students find depth in their inqueries and thoughts!

Until next time!

Tutoring and the process of questioning

On October20th my tutee and I met to discuss her Anne Frank reading. Athough Kim didn’t add to her journal after our last meeting, her fabulous ability to ask quesyions was enough to drive our time together to great depths! I came with a link ready and quotes from a book about Otto Frank. Both sources addressed questions Kim had raised last week.
One question that I found especially brilliant was:
If Otto Frank was German, why was he forced to leave?

Well, an author by the name of Carol Ann Lee asked that very question! I didn’t hesitate to share Kim’s brilliant ability to ask questions with her! We read quotes that indirectly answered her juicy questions and discussed our understanding of how the quotes related her question. We used context clues surrounding uncommon words and analyzed quotes based on who said them and how the source related to Otto Frank. We asked the question is this quote reliable? Would this person know the details of Otto’s life?

The readings I brought were well beyond a level 5, which is where Kim tested. However, the ability to read for particular information as well as our discussions and word analysis helped Kim along. What resulted from our time together? – more questions!
– If Otto had known his family perished while he was in the concentration camp, would he have given up and succumed to death himself?
-Did the role as champion and spiritual coach to Anne, in turn help to keep Otto alive himself while in the camp?

The moral of the story / tutoring session is…

Despite reading at a level 5, Kim has a very bright, inquisitive mind. By discussing new, challenging words and working through useful strategies while reading together, Kim was able to read text beyond her grade level. Text that challenged her to think beyond the black and white words under her nose and ask challenging, critical questions that require higher level thinking skills. The book Kim is reading is more at her level, however supplementing this topic with texts that challenge her even more is equally important! The higher level reading provides opportunities to model and practice skills that Kim will need when independently tackling more challenging texts. Kim’s capacity to think beyond the text is especially important because otherwise she may get stuck at this level 5 not only in her reading ability, but sadly also her ability to think critically. I love discussing our reading together! Kim has a passion for this tooic and she is brilliant in her questioning surrounding the juicy issues of this time in history!