October 20, 2019
A Student Reading

Week #4: Reading Pathways

One thing I tried: For Unit 2 I did not choose an anchor text. In past years I would decide on a class novel or play for this unit. Since the students chose Friday Night Lights as the theme (see here for that process), my normal anchor texts didn’t match up well. So I tried to figure out a way to have some student choice in the readings but still accomplish the same curriculum goals (teaching the basics of rhetoric; capturing evidence of their reading volume, speed, and depth). Since the reading goals were mainly for non-fiction texts, I decided that we would use our reading workshop time on articles that students would self-select. Here’s what we ended up doing:

  1. Students narrowed our big list of essential questions to 2-3 they’d like to focus on.
  2. Students selected one long article (10+ pages) and one short article (1-3 pages) that paired up to their selected questions. Our list was partially student-generated (they found and emailed me suggestions); Joe Muhlberg also fed me some good articles, and I found a few in our textbooks. I had students realize that some of the articles didn’t pair up well with their questions so they asked if they could find their own, so I considered that a win.
  3. They read the long article looking for information related to their question that might be interesting in our Socratic seminar.
  4. They read the short article to analyze closely, identifying some assigned rhetoric elements and adding their own annotations. These were news pieces, columns, or pieces by medical professionals.
  5. Each day they have roughly 10 minutes in class to read, then we do some turn-and-talks to share what they’re finding interesting and the buzz in the room has been generally good. It makes me excited for the seminar.

The end task for the reading will be a Socratic seminar where students will bring in some of the information from their readings. Instead of pacing ourselves through a novel, we’re each exploring self-chosen aspects of a theme.

What I liked/didn’t like: I think that the choices and different types of readings are fun. I like that students can see the relationship between their essential questions and the chosen readings. Their questions are helping to fuel their purpose for reading. I feel like the pieces of the unit (questions, readings, writing time) are beginning to work together and students are catching the rhythm of our week now. I think the next unit will go a little more smoothly now that I have some sense of how to get it rolling.

What’s next: For this unit I generated the tasks (how to demonstrate evidence of reading, an argument essay, and a Socratic seminar). Next unit I need to find ways for students to have input on how they’ll show me evidence of their learning.

Nathan Coates
Nathan Coates is an English/Language Arts Teacher at Wm. Mason High School. Twitter: @MHSCoates
This article is cross-posted with Mr. Coates’ personal reflection blog. You can view his blog here.

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