Talking Circles For Assessment, Instruction, & Motivation in ELA12

Posted on February 16, 2019


With 8 snow days in 3 weeks, many students haven’t yet established reading momentum. Some are still engaging in “fake reading” behaviors during reading time in class, and few used the 8 days at home to meet their reading goals for the trimester.

Looking for a way to motivate students to engage in reading, notice and note signposts,and reflect on the ways that the text affects their heads and hearts, I’ve begun holding talking circles on the day the signposts are due. Those who have completed the assignment are invited to the circle; those who have not must sit in the other section of the room and work to complete the assignment so that they may do the TC the next day–for reduced points.

Twice now, the “not-done” side of the room has had many more students than the “done” side. A few were ready for the original TC date. After the second round, a hand-full of students still had not completed the assignment or were absent and have taken no action to make it up. This week, a very disappointingly small number were ready for the TC. Ideally, the make-up day would have been the following day, but–of course– it was a half-day to start mid-winter break, and the SR class was mostly absent, because ELA happened when they were in class at the Tech Center. Of the several in attendance, some did little to no reading and completed zero assignments.

HOWEVER, since nearly none of the students identified as readers at the start of the course, I know that I must persist in holding reasonable expectations that all of them can and will become readers at some level. Unfortunately, the weather and their established patterns are making it more difficult this year than in years past.

STILL, I trust that hearing their classmates talk with enthusiasm and interest about the ways their books nourish their thinking and feeling does INTEREST the others, and they will WANT to complete the work and get in the TC. The social aspect of reading is something teens hunger for, and something that allows them to talk about the issues and experiences that they see in their lives. This is why I am using TC as assessment to try to establish reading momentum; I hope that the urge for the social connection that is so strong in teens will inspire them join the circle of people talking about books.

Since students still need plenty of in-class reading time to establish themselves as readers, I am starting to introduce concepts from the upcoming research project. This week, I asked students to identify 3 social issues that appear in their book, quote a perspective on ONE of the issues, then compare and contrast the perspective in the book with their own in a quick write. Since the beginning of the course, I’ve explained that students may read and research in the same subject for more course coherence if they wish, so now they might see how a book may connect to other texts on a subject.

The research project grows out of the question, “How do content creators respond to a social issue?”  Students will then assemble a text set of a wide variety of genres of primary sources that respond to a social issue, summarize a perspective in each, and reflect on their own perspectives. To prevent the “copy/paste writing method” favored by many inexperienced research writers, I won’t discuss the WRITING about research until the text set is complete.

I like to move from the text set to the Annotated Bibliography work, to emphasize that in research writing, of primary concern is correctly citing all sources. That’s when I teach lessons on Avoiding Plagiarism. Only after these steps are complete do we begin to practice writing about the research, blending quotes with our own ideas, and providing in-text citations.

To model how to create a text set, I’ve created my own in 1 hour, based on FOOD, after reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, All Over Creation, last week. It will actually serve 2 purposes: I will use it to model the research process for ELA12, AND I will re-purpose it for ELA9, where students are soon beginning a unit on media persuasion. I’ll use it to model how to analyze media for the persuasive techniques of real- and perceived-value words and images.

By blending the instruction for Independent Reading and Research, I hope that my students will be able to establish momentum as readers, and begin to explore the ways that “book reading” connects to other aspects of life and learning.

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