...that are going on in my classroom this November...AND I AM LOVING THE PROCESS OF ADAPTING OTHERS' IDEAS FOR MY OWN CLASSROOM.  Thought I'd share, if you're interested.  I plan to blog this entire experience, which will ultimately lead to a new resource page at my website (launching in February!) on how I am using and integrating a "Reading Workshop" model.

What's most exciting to me is that this current process is helping me develop a brand new classroom motto for writing:  We Write To Change the World, which now hangs above my classroom clock.

A little background on where the ideas shared below came from:  While on special assignment as a full-time teacher-trainer a few years back, I helped initiate, organize, and co-teach the Northern Nevada Writing Project's 'iPods Across the Curriculum' in-service class for teachers, which asked participants to find new ways to incorporate well-written songs (from the past or the present) into authentic, skill-based writing lessons.  My amazing colleague, Rob Stone, eventually became the Coordinator of our NNWP's iPod Project. Thanks to a grant, Rob was were able to give a free classroom iPod to all teachers who not only  attended that course but also submitted a lesson.  The very best lessons that Nevada teachers submitted became a whole new collection of free-to-access online lessons, all written by kindergarten through high school teachers.  Click here to access the best teacher-built lessons that were submitted to us during the dozen or so sessions of the class offered during the 2008-2009 school-years, sponsored by our amazing Northern Nevada Writing Project, coordinated by the even-more-amazing Rob Stone.

Anyway...because I wasn't a teacher back then with my own classroom or students, I secretly felt a little frustrated when I heard Rob (and other NNWP presenters) sharing these really cool, music-inspired writing lessons, and I didn't have my own students to go back and try the lessons out on.  This Fall, when I returned full-time to the classroom (because the state-run professional development agency I was working for had become terribly ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars), I immediately began deciding which WritingFix lessons--created by my NNWP colleagues over the years--I would use during my very first year back; there are so many great lessons posted at WritingFix now that it was a little time-consuming to do this.  At the VERY top of my "Must teach these lessons in year one" list was Rob Stone's poetry lesson: "With Your Own Two Hands," which is based on a song by Ben Harper and another song by John Mayer.  Click the link to overview the lesson, access all its resources, and check out the student samples that have been submitted to the lesson from teachers all over the world.

Me?  I love teaching poetry, and I really go out of my way to make sure, when I present a poetry lesson, it feels (to both me and to my students) like it's an integrated part of a bigger unit/idea we are studying.  It's easy to slip a poetry lesson in between larger writing or novel units--as a quick little lesson--like little palette cleansers, I suppose--but I try to not do this.  I find that when you teach poetry as quick, in-between-bigger-unit lessons, the students begin to think of poetry as a separate genre that has little or nothing to do with really important thinking; I don't want my students to ever see poetry as trite when I can find ways to integrate poetic thinking into the essential ideas we are studying.

The reason I loved Rob's lesson when I first watched him present it in 2008 is that I knew I could integrate it so easily into a larger unit.  Rob's theme for his lesson is just a big idea unto itself: Can a Single Person Really Change the World?  Immediately, I began thinking of all the novels I love to teach that have characters who either change the world (anywhere from a personal level to global level), or that have characters who are changed by the world changes imposed by others.

Right now, I have my 6th-8th graders all reading their first assigned novels; we spent the first two months of school establishing our "Reading Workshop," and the projects (thus far) have been focused on novels the students independently chose for themselves.  I had warned them that in November, February, and April, I would be assigning them the novels they would be doing reading workshop projects for, and I purposely chose novels this November that had two types of characters: 1) those who change the world; 2) those who have no interest in changing the world; and 3) those who are changed because their own worlds force that change upon them.  We are almost two weeks into these novel units, and this Monday we begin listening to the two songs (Mentor texts in the form of lyrics!) that Rob uses in his "With Your Own Two Hands" lesson.  As part of their projects for November's "Reading Workshop" in my class, students will all be writing two poems about changing the world: 1) one from their own voices; and 2) one in the voice of a character in the novel they have been assigned to read.

And just so you know, here are the novels my kiddos are currently reading based on my assigning them:
  1. My sixth graders are reading Orwell's Animal Farm.
  2. Half of my seventh graders are reading two novellas by Steinbeck: The Pearl and The Red Pony by Steinbeck; the other half are reading Steinbeck's novel, Tortilla Flat.
  3. My eighth graders are reading the memoir, Rocket Boys, by Homer Hickam.
I am not sure how familiar you are with any or all of these five books and their amazing collections of dynamic and static character, but I was just re-reading Rob's online lesson (which has students write a personal poem about whether they believe they can/could actually change the world or not), and I just can't believe how easy the original lesson's parts will be to adapt so the students are writing a second poem from one of the book's character's point-of-view. 

I will--of course--be asking Rob for permission to post my novel-inspired adaption of his original & amazing poetry idea from WritingFix at my own website (on the "Reading Workshop" section I will be developing in 2012)...mostly, I am excited to present Rob's stellar lesson to my three-levels of kiddos next week, so that the week after Thanksgiving, I can begin presenting my adaptations of Rob's original ideas, and my kids can start seeing that poetry is a way to express a bigger idea from an important book I am having them read together.

Almost every lesson at WritingFix comes with a disclaimer that asks teachers to use (and properly cite) the lesson's big ideas but to adapt everything else.  When a teacher borrows another teacher's great idea, then adapts it to fit their own teaching styles or their own units'/lessons' purposes.  Teachers who adapt (rather than follow scripts found in products like "Success for All" and "Read 180" and other dreadful programs) become REAL WRITING TEACHERS.   I am so proud to be back in the classroom and adapting again!



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