Friday, March 4, 2011

Holy cow - they're acutally reading!

Teacher Musings:
When I started teaching I was very lucky to have many great mentors and veteran teachers at my school who were always willing to pass along resources. Along with many other incredibly valuable lessons, handouts, etc. (some of which I didn't even understand the value of until years later) I was bequeathed reading journals and reading quizzes. The reading quizzes were usually to assess comprehension - they were supposed to test if a student actually understood the book and/or story they read. The reading journals, in their various forms, were designed to both help students track information as they read (be it important quotes from novels, character development, theme, etc.). Most of the reading journals involved some part where students recorded specific quotes and/or summaries of what they read, and some kind of analysis/inference/interpretation of that section.

I very quickly stopped giving reading quizzes and tests in my class. They just didn't seem to be worth the time and focus they took. I might very well go back to using comprehensive tests one day, but for now I'm just trying to really focus on helping my kids not only understand what they read, but also helping them recognize the tools and strategies they are using so that they can apply those tools to new texts. As part of this pursuit I have developed a reading log assignment over the past two years that I have found really helpful. The other aspect of student reading I have been working on is having them discuss the reading in groups. I have been trying to integrate reciprocal teaching into my class, with moderate degrees of success. Several weeks have now gone by with my reading logs, my wiki and my student reading groups all somewhat functioning, and I have seen some results. To be fair, we are in the middle of a non-fiction unit where students read articles of various types about the subject of teen nutrition, so this will definitely look different when we go back to reading novels. However, I have seen more students clearly explaining the main ideas of their articles and thoughtfully analysing the author's writing choices. I have seen this mostly in reading logs, but it has also been apparent in their reading group discussions as well. As I reflect back on these developments, I think there a few factors that have really contributed to the improvement in student reading from last year.

a) Our science department has worked really hard to get students to use reciprocal teaching as well. I think I am starting to see the payoff in my classes.

b) Students have some choice in what they are reading - I often let them choose an article from a section of our reader. Several students have told me that has kept them more engaged when the reading gets difficult.

c) Students are discussing the reading in groups. In these groups, they are all responsible for understanding the article, and many of them are asking each other questions and trying to figure out the answers together. I have watched students struggle through the readings together when I refuse to give answers.

d) Students are getting immediate feedback from me on their reading logs (thanks to my new wikipage set-up). After using this for a few weeks I had a couple students actually ask an authentic question on their reading log, and then write a line such as "Ms. L-P, what do you think?" or "Could you help me understand this?" While these may not seem like deep questions, they do show a deeper level of engagement with the text, and the reading log, than student's showed when it was just something I read over every 3-4 weeks. And this engagement seems a bit more authentic - like actual readers asking questions, rather than trying to b.s. their way through an assignment.

Not all of my students are reading and comprehending the dense articles we are working with in class - heck, I can think of at least ten kids who probably didn't attempt the reading in the first place. But the students who are trying are definitely demonstrating a stronger critical reading ability than I have seen before. And that makes me excited!

Yummy Stuff:
When I first moved into my own apartment in college, I was very excited to cook. I wasn't vegan then, but I was (and still am) a huge fan of cookies. I searched online for recipes and found one for chocolate chip cookies that the G-man and I both loved. I had never tried to veganize it - not because it was hard to do, but because I was a little afraid it wouldn't work and I would be disappointed. Well, tonight the G-man had a hankering for these cookies, so we gave it a shot. They came out great, so here is the veganized version of the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe!

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie
1 cup (2 sticks) or Earth Balance (or other non-dairy) butter
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of brown sugar, packed
2 TB of flax seed meal, mixed with 1/4 cup of water
1 TB of vanilla
2 and 1/2 cups of oats (ground into oat flour - you can use a food processor or a coffee grinder)
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. of baking soda
1 tsp. of baking powder
4 oz of dark, unsweetened chocolate (like Scharffenberger's baking bar) grated
12 oz of chocolate chips (vegan of course!)

1) Whip the flax seed meal and water in a small bowl with a fork. Set it aside
2) Make the oat flour in the food processor or the coffee grinder
3) Cream together the butter and sugars
4) Add in the flaxseed meal mix and vanilla and thoroughly mix with the butter and sugar
5) Mix in 1/2 of the flour, 1/2 the oats and the baking soda and baking power until fully mixed in.
6) Add in the rest of the flours (regular and oat) as well as the graded chocolate bar. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
7) Mix in the chocolate chips.
8) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 11 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for a minute or two and then transfer them to a cooling rack.

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