Who Am I

Who Am I

Using young adult literature to explore adolescent identity

Everybody has a story. These stories comprise the events in our lives that intersect in complicated and uniquely beautiful ways to shape our perceptions and general outlook of the world. They demonstrate our strengths and vulnerabilities, they humanize our experiences, and allow us to empathize with others. Stories help us experience unexpected and unfamiliar situations by allowing us to embody the journeys of the storyteller, who initially may appear to be different. As middle level teachers, we are often keenly aware of students' struggles to define themselves and establish their individual identities. Our students come to our classes brimming with distinctly complex stories. One of our primary responsibilities as teachers is to facilitate the growth of our students as citizens of the world. Young adult (YA) literature provides a platform by which middle school students can explore the world via multiple points of view that are both similar to and different from their own.

YA literature is a readily available resource that can help students better understand various perspectives by examining fictional characters that hold different beliefs, experience unique situations, and engage in controversial actions. Such literature can aid students in challenging their beliefs by experiencing the world through a character's life. This aspect is especially important when the character represents a member of a marginalized group who expands the student's awareness of this group or his or her own identity. This article provides activities and resources that encourage students to explore multiple viewpoints by comparing and contrasting alternative explanations for the resiliency of the characters from two contemporary YA books. YA literature will be used for eighth or ninth grade students to investigate aspects of social responsibility to examine social injustices. More specifically, the activities and text selections allow adolescents to gain a more intimate understanding of the social factors that impact identity formation.

Characteristics of Young Adult Literature

Per the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), YA literature is designed to appeal to individuals from ages 10-25 and attempts to speak to the readers' needs—that is, young adults are portrayed as individuals in search of their true selves and are thus constantly evolving. It also includes literary formats encompassing narrative nonfiction and variations of poetry like novels written in verse. In addition, YA literature allows readers to not only see themselves depicted in the written pages, but it fosters empathy of people who are not like the reader. YALSA poignantly asserts that YA books have the capacity to tell the truth, despite how disagreeable such truth may be, in order to prepare readers for the realities of adulthood and responsibilities of citizenship. "In this way [YA] literature invites its readership to embrace the humanity it shares with those who—if not for the encounter in reading—might forever remain strangers or—worse—irredeemably 'other'" (Young Adult Library Services Association, 2008, para. 12). In the next sections, several activities with two YA books are discussed.

YA Books that Exemplify Cultural Identity Construction

Characters in YA books allow readers to experience what it might feel like to be an outsider. Additionally, experiencing a culturally rich perspective can facilitate social awareness and responsibility among readers. For example, if a character is culturally different than the reader, daily challenges and prejudices that may be invisible to the reader suddenly become tangible realities. Two YA books that allow students to familiarize themselves with cultural identity construction are The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson. The Poet X is the story of Xiomara Batista, a teen from the Dominican Republic who resides in a working-class neighborhood in Harlem. The novel, written in verse, depicts how Xiomara navigates various cultural elements among her family (e.g., religion and gender roles) and classmates (e.g., assumptions about promiscuity).

Piecing Me Together is about Jade, a junior attending a private high school in Portland, Oregon, who struggles to negotiate the disparities between her home in a black urban neighborhood and her expensive education at her predominantly white school. Jade joins a mentorship program, and throughout the book she reflects on how people, including teachers and her mentor, believe she needs to be saved from poverty and her culture. Both Xiomara and Jade grapple with how to define their uniquely complex and multi-layered identities that are emphasized by dual and dueling identities of race and social class.

Building Self-Awareness through YA Character Identity Analysis

Adolescents must often negotiate which parts of themselves ought to be hidden and which aspects of their personalities should be shared, in addition to how and when such sharing should occur. By examining how YA characters struggle and experience their identities, students begin to build self-awareness, while also expanding their understanding of others. The teacher builds background knowledge and engages students in an initial self-analysis by completing a 3- to 5-minute quick-write on the following questions:

  1. What makes you, you?
  2. How have you changed within the last year?
  3. Which experiences have impacted your personality?
  4. How has your culture or background influenced your life?

It is important that students know that their responses can remain private. The quick-write also helps develop an identity chart with the student's name centered in the middle of a page, surrounded by the major characteristics that define his or her personality and identity.

Afterwards, the students actively read each book by making notations and evaluative questions to be used during Socratic seminars and literature circles. The teacher explains that as students read each book, they will also compare and contrast the two main characters and themselves. The comparisons center on identity and how personal experiences, culture, and stereotypes impact our identities. Students independently complete the graphic organizer in figure 1. As an extension to the organizer, students can include direct quotes from the books that support the character comparisons. The teacher then facilitates a whole-class discussion about the ways in which different aspects affect our personalities (e.g., lived experiences, labels, physical appearance, etc.).

Figure 1
Identity Comparisons Between YA Characters and Student

Following this discussion, students in pairs identify common themes and supporting quotes from Piecing me Together and The Poet X. After identifying themes such as the intersections between race and gender or how societal and cultural pressures shape identity, the teacher leads a dialogue regarding the factors that shape individual identities and the contributing social inequities. The students reflect on what it means to be socially responsible by gaining an understanding of the forces that impact someone's identity and why such knowledge helps to celebrate different perspectives. Students are asked to consider who and what defines each main character, and how they resist such definitions.

This reflection results in a culminating creative nonfiction or haiku writing piece, whereby students write about their identity via prompts such as: Who defines your identity and how do you challenge these definitions? What are the superpowers of your identity? Self-reflective writing allows students to explore meaningful connections between themselves and the characters in the book. This writing activity also deepens students' awareness of individual, yet complimentary, characteristics that should be celebrated.


The activities and text selections in this article enable students and teachers to explore the social factors that impact identity formation. As teachers, we remember the angst that demarcated our adolescence, without fully realizing the fluid and changing nature of our identities. Teachers and students of color have the added complexity of limited opportunities to see their perspectives reflected within the curriculum. Thus, the inclusion of YA books with diverse characters and themes are essential to any program of study. YA books provide vivid portrayals of the interior and exterior lives of characters, thereby building personal connections between readers and characters that begin to deconstruct stereotypes. These books offer a vehicle by which adolescents can explore the world, while simultaneously exploring perspectives that stretch their limited and potentially constricting identities.

Additional Young Adult Books that Explore Identity Issues across Various Cultures

  1. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang from Square Fish.
  2. Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers from Amistad.
  3. Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram from Dial Books.
  4. Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams from Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.
  5. My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson from Skyscape.
  6. Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali from Salaam Reads.
  7. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman from Simon Pulse.
  8. The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales from Wendy Lamb Books.
  9. They Call me Guero: A Border Kid's Poems by David Bowles from Cinco Puntos Press.
  10. Watch us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan from Bloomsbury.


Acevedo, E. (2018). The poet x. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Watson, R. (2017). Piecing me together. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Young Adult Library Services Association. (2008). The value of young adult literature. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/guidelines/whitepapers/yalit

Vanessa E. Vega, Ed.S., is director of the Office of Clinical Experiences and a doctoral student at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Published in AMLE Magazine, October 2019.

Author: Vanessa E. Vega
Number of views (1081)/Comments (0)/
After-Reading Response: Taking Readers Back to the Book & Sharing What We Read

After-Reading Response: Taking Readers Back to the Book & Sharing What We Read

Returning to the text invites deeper learning and understanding

Much of the writing we assign our students is public writing—writing to communicate with others. Writing-to-learn is personal writing, writing that helps students increase comprehension of texts—fiction and nonfiction—in all disciplines. Reader response compels readers to interact with the text and makes visible for readers and their teachers the depth of text comprehension. Reader response is a tool for thinking and unlocking the text. This is the tenth article in a series of columns on scaffolding writing-to-learn by teaching a variety of reader response strategies before, during, and after reading.

In classrooms everywhere, after reading a book, a chapter, or an article, one sound is commonly heard: the closing of that book or magazine. How are teachers to know what their students have read and what they have comprehended and learned from their reading? When students are reading whole-class texts, is a test the most appropriate assessment of comprehension and learning? When they are reading in book clubs or individually, how do teachers induce them to demonstrate their learning; return to the book, chapter, or article for even more learning; and train them to synthesize this learning by combining new learning with what they already know?

If teachers have been teaching and scaffolding preview responses and during-reading responses as described in the first six columns of this Write to Learn series, they have been able to monitor students' reading and comprehension while they are reading texts. Therefore, there are two goals for after-reading response: to take readers back to the book (or other texts) to support synthesis of learning and to share that learning with others, either their classmates, their schoolmates, or the outside world. Post-reading presentations also serve to share texts with other readers with the goal of increasing classroom reading.


There are multiple benefits for inducing students to return to the text. The first time a text is read, the reader is dealing with the physical process of reading and decoding as well as encountering and adjusting to new characters and settings, and in the case of nonfiction, new, and often complex ideas. When students reread or even re-skim after finishing a text, they pick up additional information, going deeper because they have already covered the basics such as the plot and the topic. Rereading can let them make more sense and improve understanding of complex texts.

However, rereading is time-consuming, and there are not many students who would be inclined to follow directions to reread or even re-skim. Asking students to prepare a written, spoken, or active presentation based on reading effects a more willing, and even enthusiastic, return to text. When groups of eighth graders were assigned to collaboratively write a 5- to 10-stanza rap (1-2 for each act) based on their reading of Much Ado about Nothing, they dove right in, pages flying back and forth as they searched through the text, working diligently to create the best rap to present to their classmates. When walking down the hall after class, they were asked by another student what they had done in class; and were overheard to say, "Nothing. Just wrote raps. Fun." After they presented their raps, which did illustrate deep understanding of the Shakespearean text including the characters, the plot, and theme, the teacher asked how many times they went back to the play, rereading scenes and discussing meaning. They looked surprised and said, "Too many to count."

Text Reformulation—Why Poetry?

Text reformulation, in which readers turn the text into another format, can be implemented to not only let readers discover what they know and expand that understanding, but share that knowledge with others. The previous three columns in this series each shared one after-reading response strategy using a specific form of poetry—Found Poetry, I Am Poetry, and Poetry in Two Voices. Writing Found Poetry causes readers to look for important words, phrases, and details in the text, developing a theme or discovering meaning. I Am Poetry results in reading from different perspectives and digging deeper into a character or subject, while Poetry in Two Voices effects comparisons within text or between texts or the reader and the text.

Narrative Poetry

Another way poetry can serve as text reformulation is for readers to rewrite text as a narrative poem, choosing only the most important details from each chapter or plot element to convert into stanzas. For more engagement, these narratives can be presented as a rap, as in the Shakespeare example given previously. A chapter in a history or science textbook, or an informational book, can also lend itself to a narrative poem or rap, as readers personify topics, as they did when writing I Am poetry (Roessing, 2019a).

Summarizing and rewriting Chapter 11 of The Giver as a quatrain, a pair of eighth graders wrote:

Jonas' first time as Receiver, something occurred that was weird
When he was touched on the back by an old man with a beard.
He saw himself on a hill with some snow and a sled
Even though he was still in the Community, on top of a bed. (Roessing, 2009)

An additional advantage of going back to the book is that readers can metacognitively analyze both their new learning and how the text effected that learning. Readers can evaluate the effectiveness of the text and how text is structured and can consider author's craft. Deliberation of author's craft also serves to employ texts read as mentor texts for writing and to grow readers as narrative and informative writers.

Book/Text Reviews

Whether students are reading whole-class, book club, or self-selected texts, fiction or nonfiction, one effective and valuable after-reading response type is writing a book review. Readers can study mentor reviews, analyzing components and evaluating the components that make them effective. They will probably notice that all reviews contain certain elements:

  • title
  • author
  • publisher
  • copyright date
  • genre
  • a short summary
  • the reviewer's opinion supported with examples

Students should also note that there are elements that appear in only some reviews, and there are elements specific to certain genres of texts. Some examples are

  • format or text features
  • number of pages
  • price
  • awards
  • reading level and/or interest level
  • quotes from the text
  • other texts by the same author
  • author biographical information
  • comparisons to other texts

When writing book reviews, it is necessary to think of the audience and the purpose of the review—whether it is to critique the work or entice others to read. An added advantage is that text reviews are a form of argument writing, a mode of writing required under all state standards. See figure 1 for a student book review of Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl.

Figure 1
Student Book Review

Boy by Roald Dahl, Puffin Books, 1986, 176pp, $6.99, ISBN 0-14-130305-0
The author of the famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory returns in his memoir of early childhood Boy by Roald Dahl. This book follows Dahl's early life chronologically, giving part and piece of his life in little stories: The mouse scheme from first grade, the Matron from middle school, and the epic torture of fagging from high school. For only 176 pages this book has a high interest level, since the book is written from his adult perspective, older readers can connect to his experiences, while younger readers can enjoy the easy read and enjoyable stories. The book takes place mainly in Dahl's early childhood, in his two schools, his vacation in Norway. As a young child Dahl was bold and adventurous, most seven year old boys wouldn't put a rat in a candy store jar. This book shares all the exceptional writing and interesting stores as his other books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. In fact, most of his stories can trace back to the writing in this book.

While there isn't one single plot, but many plots, each are unique and entertaining. The story of the mouse scheme is full of suspense as the headmaster stares down all the little boys deciding which one it is he going to beat with his wooden cane. The horrid Matron who condemned boys to the walked down to be caned, and the "crack that echoed throughout the hushed hallways". All of the characters have realistc personalities and are unique. The St. Peter's headmaster who disliked beating the boys but liked seeing them learn their lesson. The candy store owner whose only pet peeve was children. The mighty Boazers, the testosterone loaded teenagers who loved beating up their little servant boys, like making them warm up an icy toilet. Finally, Dahl's writing is creative and enjoyable, but it isn't ever present. In some parts the lack of metaphors and vibrant descriptions lulls the reader into a trance of skim reading, for example, when he talked on about how he admired the bike rider and why he thought he was so cool. His writing does have its good though, for example, instead of just saying his nose was falling off he says its "Ding-Dangling" and instead of tobacco he says navy fine cut, and instead of fish he say flounder with honey glaze and pepper. With phenomenal storeis and characters, this book is a good ready for all ages. I would highly recommend this for a quick, easy, but interesting read.

Since writers appreciate writing not only as a review and reflection of their reading but for an authentic audience, teachers should make reviews useful to the public. There are journals and newspapers, even the school newspaper, that publish reviews, or they can be collected in a classroom binder, a class book blog, or on a school library website for other students to read when choosing books to read or texts to use as background reading. Some textbook companies may be interested in student reviews of their textbooks or chapters. See figure 2 for sample guidelines for a novel review (Roessing, 2019b).

Figure 2
Guidelines for a Novel Review

Introduction, including essential elements: author, title, publisher, copyright date

Short Summary, 1-paragraph that includes all major characters, setting, and plot elements: exposition, inciting incident, conflict, climax, resolution

Opinion, 1-2 paragraphs:
Your critical analysis of the novel (or the assigned novel element)
Text evidence and quotes, supporting views (include page numbers)
Conclusion: Summarizing statement about novel or statement about the theme

A book review requires that readers return to the text for details, thus aiding additional learning from the text. Reviews, contrasted with reports or summaries, also necessitate reflection and synthesis. Readers need to reflect on what they know about story elements as it pertains to a novel, or text structure and features of informative writing when reviewing informational texts—nonfiction, textbooks, or articles—as well as author's craft, in their evaluations.

When students write reviews of textbooks or chapters, they evaluate the writer's style—how the author explains material that is new to learners. They also consider how the material is presented: how it is chunked and organized, the use of subheadings, the means by which new vocabulary and terminology is presented, and how text features such as charts, graphs, illustrations, diagrams supplement text and aid learning. In doing so, readers are activating metacognition and analyzing their own learning styles, what works for them, and why or why not. This also is true when readers review articles and other nonfiction texts.

Book/Text Talks

Less comprehensive than book reviews, book talks are valuable as not only post-reading reflections but as advertisements for a text, persuading others to read the text (again, a form of argumentation). With guidelines (see figure 3), book talks will require returning to texts, preparation, and analysis and evaluation of the text—both critical thinking skills. An added advantage is that students will learn and practice public speaking proficiencies.

Figure 3
Book Talk Guideline

Content & Organization:

1. ___Attention Step – begin with an Audience Hook
2. ___ Introduction: set purpose – relate information to your audience
3. ___Essential Content (title, author, date published, setting, characters, conflict, theme)
4. ___Supporting Evidence: read a significant excerpt and explain why you chose
5. ___Author's writing style or format
6. ___Short evaluation of book – what was/was not done well
7. ___What type of reader would enjoy this book
8. ___Closing – a memorable final, concluding statement or quote


9. ___Eye contact with entire audience
10. __Volume, rate, pronunciation, and enunciation
11. __Practiced: 3–5 minutes
12. __Visuals, such as the book itself


While any response can be written by a collaboration of small groups of readers who have read the same text, the responses detailed above are customarily individual response types, illustrating individual reader's reflections on their reading and synthesis of their learning. Another type of response is collaborating on presentations for others who have not read the text. These more active response types employ writing scripts or designing storyboards and encourage the engagement of students' multiple intelligences: linguistic, mathematical, musical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and environmental.

Described in greater detail in The Write to Read: Response Journals that Increase Comprehension (Roessing, 2009) and Talking Texts: A Teachers' Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum (Roessing, 2019b), some options are listed below, although students will create their own possibilities when permitted choice.

  • Book Trailers, which are much like the traditional movie trailers
  • Skits or Puppet Shows of 4-5 key scenes connected by a narrator
  • Plot or Character Book Bag Presentations retelling the story through objects
  • Talk Shows in which a moderator interviews characters and/or experts in the topic
  • Newscasts or Newspapers based on the world of the text
  • Trials of characters in novels or people in the subject area of a text or article
  • Cartoon Strips/Graphic Books, which outline the story or text
  • Songs or Musicals based on the texts


After-reading reader response can be individual, collaborative, or even interactive as response invites readers to return to texts for deeper learning and understanding.


Roessing, L. (2009). The write to read: Response journals that increase comprehension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Roessing, L. (2019a). After-reading response: "I Am" poetry for synthesizing text. AMLE Magazine, 7(2), pp. 40-44.

Roessing, L. (2019b). Talking texts: A teachers' guide to book clubs across the curriculum. Lantham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lesley Roessing taught middle school ELA and humanities for 20 years before becoming the founding director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project and senior lecturer in the College of Education of Georgia Southern University, Armstrong campus. Lesley has published five professional books for educators, as well as chapters and articles on literacy. Her newest book, Talking Texts: A Teacher's Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum, incorporates many Writing to Learn ideas. The ideas in this column were based on The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension (Corwin, 2009).

Published in AMLE Magazine, October 2019.
Author: Lesley Roessing
Number of views (1233)/Comments (0)/
Care, Consistency, and Content

Care, Consistency, and Content

The 3Cs of classroom management in the middle school English language arts classroom


You can be the greatest teacher of English language arts content but never be able to teach it if classroom management issues plague your classroom. The fact of the matter is that good classroom management is essential to a successful classroom. However, many teacher preparation programs require only one course on classroom management, and a few teacher preparation programs do not require a course at all. Therefore, when teachers enter the classroom, they may find managing students daunting. And … textbooks do not adequately address the many real circumstances that teachers face pertaining to classroom management. It is pretty much OJT (on-job-training)!


Middle school students are immature, quite naturally. McDonald (2010) posited that adolescent students' brains are still developing and that the pre-frontal cortex (thinking brain) will not be fully developed until age 25. This leads them to be far from astute at evaluating the consequences of their actions, being responsible, and prioritizing (although student maturity levels do vary). These three areas tend to be the main areas that cause classroom management issues for teachers. Nevertheless, middle school teachers must realize that this is the nature of this age group and commit to finding ways to best manage them.

In the recent years of school reform, there has been a shift requiring teachers to focus more on student social-emotional growth in the classroom and to use positive methods of reprimanding, disciplining, and refocusing students. In the classroom, many times situations (aside from isolated cases) do not simply necessitate immediate reprimand, discipline, and redirection. In most cases, there's a progressive building of negative behaviors that lead to these. Teachers must be proactive in staving off as much disruptive behavior as possible for the sake of maintaining a classroom where they can focus on delivering content while building community that values and respects individuals and celebrates learning.

Myriad teachers have found themselves left to maneuver through Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), the federal program that seeks to improve social, emotional, and academic outcomes for all students. Yet, some teachers may find it difficult to incorporate PBIS due to the many aspects and dynamics of this program, especially when they are not content specific. So how do teachers create a classroom community that values and respects students while building positive relationships where they can successfully teach content? Throughout this piece, I share three ways teachers of middle school English language arts can ease the pressures of managing 25-35 middle school students at once, immature brains and all! These three include care, consistency, and content.


In the article The Power of Positive Regard, Benson (2016) urges teachers to form positive relationships with students. He adds that "learning is transactional—not just cognitively, but emotionally." Given the nature of the adolescent brain, it is hard to separate emotion from what they are learning. They often bring emotions into the classroom and even form emotions specifically toward classes and teachers of those classes. Research has shown that when teachers have caring relationships with students, students tend to be more academically successful, and students tend to show better classroom behavior.

Middle school students are human beings, not little robots that can be programmed at the push of a button to behave correctly, but wouldn't that be helpful! The reality is that they have feelings and, as with any human being, they need to know teachers care. Showing care for students shows them that they're valued and respected. When students know teachers care for them, they are more likely to accept and value the content being taught to them. Teachers can show care for students by using specific words and phrases that demonstrate care, by using gestures, and by touch (see figure 1).

Figure 1
Demonstrating Care

Action Example
Be explicit
with words
and phrases
  • Use phrases such as "I Care," "I believe in you"
  • Use words such as love, respect, and care towards students
Use gestures
  • Give a thumbs up when students are on target
  • Use the eye-wink as in "good job"
  • Smile … Nothing beats it
Use touch
  • Give a gentle pat on the back for encouragement
  • Fist bump students when they give a correct response


Middle schoolers are consumed with whether they are being treated fairly or the same as their classmates so when they feel mistreated they are more likely to misbehave. Therefore, it is important to treat them equitably. This provides a sense of security and a sense of respect to the students. Establish clear rules and consequences from day one and hold all students accountable daily to keep them within boundaries. Skipping a day on rules or only enforcing rules with certain students is a recipe for disaster. Teachers will be tested and challenged. Kids will try to see if they can get away with breaking a rule every now and then, but teachers must always be the enforcer and boundary keeper of their classrooms.

Consistency is so important in the classroom for a plethora of reasons. Many students face instability in their home lives, so the classroom should be a place of expected routines. The fact of the matter is that the English language arts classroom is a place where teachers are charged with covering a lot of material in a little amount of time. To combat this and for management purposes, teachers should routinely use timers to keep students on track and to daily use time wisely. Other ideas include using rubrics and equity sticks (see figure 2).

Figure 2
Consistency in the Classroom

Action Example
Grade using rubrics when applicable
  • Rubrics remove bias from grading. Use rubrics for fair, consistent grading of written assignments.
  • Rubrics speed up grading of writing assignments, so there is less wait time for students to receive feedback.
Use equity sticks
  • Use popsicle sticks with students’ names on them to request student participation. Draw each student’s name once daily if possible.
  • Allow students to pull other students' names for engagement and excitement.
Use a timer
  • Have daily agendas posted on the board with time frames for each section. Adhere to the times. A simple kitchen timer will work, or use one found online that can be displayed on a screen or whiteboard.


In my humble opinion, English language arts is the most fun subject! There are characters to learn about, foreign lands to travel to, quotes to interpret, claims to make and argue, grammar to correct, narrative stories to create, journals to write, essays to type, metaphors and similes to use, and the list goes on. Teachers must make these concepts engaging for students. The love we have for our content must be shared with students. When kids see that the teacher is enthusiastic about the content, it will be contagious. To get kids enthusiastically engaged in content is the answer to many classroom management issues. If they are engaged, they are on task.

Use the content! English language arts teachers have been afforded the opportunity to teach one of the broadest subjects known to education. English language arts means teaching students how to effectively communicate ideas via the English language. The English language arts classroom is a place of writing, speaking, listening, and reading. More recently, through Common Core, it has become a place for researching and using technology as well. See figure 3 for additional ideas for classroom management.

Figure 3

Action Example
Use literature Have students read short stories or books that are set in classrooms. Have students compare and contrast characters’ behavior in the passages and use this as a way to reinforce behavior expectations in the real classroom.
Use writing Periodically have students write journals pertaining to classroom expectations, rules, and procedures to reinforce them. Even solicit feedback from students on what can be improved, changed, or revisited.
Use technology Bring relevance and excitement to the classroom by using technology for writing assignments or extension activities. Students may be more likely to behave better if technology use is an incentive.


Most English language arts teachers go into education with the idea of teaching their content to the best of their abilities to create literate students, proficient readers, exceptional writers, and avid critical thinkers. However, poor classroom management puts a damper on this. Teachers must exercise good classroom management for student success and their own success alike. The English language arts classroom is a place of writing, thinking, speaking, listening, reading, and researching, all of which can be used to incite enthusiastic engagement to encourage on-task behaviors. This is especially true when teachers couple these with genuine care and consistency. It is possible to be a great teacher of English language arts content and be able to teach without classroom management issues. On the other hand, students know that teachers are not robots programmed to do everything with the push of a button, although I'm sure students think that would be nice!


Benson, J. (2016). The power of positive regard. Retrieved from

McDonald, E. (2010). A quick look into the middle school brain. Retrieved from https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/

Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D. is visiting assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education.

Published in AMLE Magazine, August 2019.
Author: Sharonica Nelson
Number of views (1281)/Comments (0)/
After-Reading Response: Poetry in Two Voices to Compare and Contrast

After-Reading Response: Poetry in Two Voices to Compare and Contrast

Synthesizing text into a new format helps readers relate to content

Much of the writing we assign our students is public writing—writing to communicate with others. Writing-to-learn is personal writing, writing that helps students increase comprehension of texts—fiction and nonfiction—in all disciplines. Reader response compels readers to interact with the text and makes visible for readers and their teachers the depth of text comprehension. This is the ninth in a series of columns on scaffolding writing-to-learn by teaching a variety of reader response strategies before, during, and after reading.

Effective after-reading response employs a text reformulation strategy in which readers reconstruct text read into another type of text. This synthesis, a critical thinking skill that involves putting together assorted parts to make a new whole, helps readers in all disciplines not only relate information learned, but rethink the meaning of this learning and connect new learning to other learnings and their developing views of their world.

The Importance of Comparing and Contrasting

We go to the grocery store to buy a product. There are multiple varieties, so we need to "read" them, comparing them to decide which one to buy. First, we must determine the basis of comparison we will employ such as cost, size, value, company reputation, and ingredients. Sometimes we choose the more expensive brand because the ingredients are healthier; sometimes we choose the cheaper store brand because the ingredients are exactly the same and in the same proportions. At times, the packaging of the more expensive brand is sturdier and will keep the product longer. Or the contents are organically grown.

As informed citizens, we compare and contrast constantly. We decide which politician will garner our vote, which route to take to work, which outfit is most appropriate for a particular activity. Comparing-contrasting is a decision strategy, one that is crucial to teach our students. It requires the engagement of critical thinking, such as analysis, to discover subtle, but important, differences and unexpected similarities between two subjects as adolescents learn to compare and contrast in meaningful ways to make informed decisions.

And although comparative thinking is a natural operation and essential to learning, research shows that most students have a difficult time making use of comparisons. However, when learned, this structure helps them organize both new and known information and develop their ideas, especially about what they have read. Comparing and contrasting based on text read is crucial for deeper understanding, and readers need scaffolding to determine important information and organize it. One way of doing so is by writing poetry in two voices.

Poetry in Two Voices

Probably the first example of poetry in two voices was Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise: Poetry in Two Voices, which compared the lives of insects. One example is the poem "Honeybees," in which the similarities and differences between a queen bee and a worker bee are revealed. In poetry in two voices, poets write from two perspectives, comparing and contrasting. Items or content that are similar are written directly across from each other and are read simultaneously; the contrasting details are written on separate lines and read one at a time, in whatever order the writer determines more effective. Or, the material can be written in the manner of a Venn diagram with the lines pertinent to both entities written in the middle. Examples of both formats will be shown in this article.

Students can compare two texts or compare elements, such as characters, settings, events, or ideas within a text or they can compare elements within a text to themselves or the world at large. When students compose poems in two voices based on the content they are learning, they are examining and analyzing similarities and differences and going back to the text and reformulating the text into another genre. They are interacting with the text (Roessing, 2013). Read aloud by two people, these poems take on the power of their voices. Many times after taking part in reading their poem, or listening to it being read by two other voices, students want to revise so the poetry most effectively communicates their message.

As a reading strategy, two-voice poetry requires students to return to text multiple times, looking at what was read from divergent perspectives.

English-Language Arts

In ELA classes students read many texts in different genres and divergent forms. To create their poems, they can compare and contrast characters from within a text to determine their similarities and differences and, more importantly, the consequences of those similarities and differences. In Langston Hughes' short story "Thank You, Ma'am" there are two characters: an older woman, Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, and a teenager named Roger. Their lives unexpectedly intertwine when Roger attempts to snatch Mrs. Jones' purse and she decides to take him home and teach him a valuable lesson. While on the surface, these two appear to be very different, the reader finds that they are not. The importance of that connection and their similarities comes out when crafting a poem in their two voices (see figure 1).

Figure 1
ELA compare and contrast poem

Another way two-voice poetry can be employed is to compare and contrast characters from two texts, illustrating the commonalities in the characters despite their "residence" in a separate text and setting and reflecting the universality of conflicts that characters face. Some examples are shown in the social studies section below. Many secondary teachers pair canonical texts with modern texts, and writing a poem in two voices between characters in those paired texts would illustrate their commonality while acknowledging the difference in their lives and experiences.

A third way students can employ poetry in two voices with literature is by comparing and contrasting a character with either an actual person or with themselves, connecting even more closely with the text. One student, a reluctant reader, discovered a strong personal connection with Lonnie from Walter Dean Myers' novel Hoops. See figure 2 for an excerpt from his poem in two voices "Lonnie & Me" (Roessing, 2009).

Figure 2
ELA compare and contrast poem

Comparing oneself with a character from the canon may serve to illustrate to students that modern life presents similar conflicts—although events may differ—and illustrates that we all have more in common than one may assume.

Social Studies

In a sixth grade world cultures class, students studied traditional cultures through Cinderella variants. The teacher reviewed the familiar French fairytale Cendrillion, and compared it to the Grimm brothers German variant, Aschenputtel; these two tales are similar since they both derive from traditional European cultures. The teacher then read Lily, a Japanese variant, and the class compared the stories based on the nine motifs common in Cinderella tales, such as the mother dying, help from a magical agent, a test of identity, and a happy ending. Students compared the cultures based on their background knowledge and as reflected in the tales. Next, small groups of students each read a variant from a different traditional culture from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America; charted the motifs; and prepared and presented a puppet show of their variant to their classmates (Roessing, 2012).

As a last step to compare and contrast traditional cultures as part of their world cultures studies, students were introduced to poetry in two voices. They were paired with a student who had read a different variant and tasked with writing a poem in two voices as their Cinderella characters. The teacher first created and presented an example based on the French and German Cinderellas (see excerpt from the poem in figure 3). Because the students' tales were so different from each other, she next showed them an example of a two-voice poem from two very different cultures, based on Aschenputtel and Lily (see figure 4).

Figure 3
Social Studies compare and contrast poem

Figure 4
Social Studies compare and contrast poem

The students, in pairs, then wrote their own poems in two voices following the examples. The student poem about the heroines in two of the oldest variants, Yeh-Hsien, more commonly known as Yeh-Shen, from China, and Rhodopis, the Egyptian Cinderella, is seen in figure 5. While they may not appear to have much in common, readers were able to discover and analyze the importance of their similarities.

Figure 5
Social Studies compare and contrast poem


Taking poetry into an eighth grade science class, the teacher used this method to review plate boundaries. After introducing poetry in two voices with examples from other disciplines as well as a simpler science poem comparing apples and oranges (Roessing, 2013), students were assigned to review their textbook and notes and were given the choice of collaborating with a partner or working alone to write a poem in the voices of convergent and divergent plate boundaries. Madelyn and Morgan's poem is found in figure 6. Employing this structure for the first time, the science teacher commented, "The two-voice poem is appealing because it provides a concise, creative avenue for students to show they understand the differences and similarities between two concepts."

Figure 6
Science compare and contrast poem

There are countless opportunities to employ this type of poetry in science, many times leading to poems in three voices, and in mathematics classes to examine and review math functions and concepts, such as fractions, decimals, and percentages.


When students compare and contrast, they use multiple reading and thinking strategies:

  • Processing information
  • Discriminating
  • Analyzing
  • Exploring higher-order thinking
  • Using a specific thinking structure
  • Making decisions
  • Making connections among multiple literary elements, real life events, people, places, objects, ideas, and concepts.

And when students write poetry in two voices, they are comparing, contrasting, collaborating, reading, writing, and speaking in a creative and fun manner.


Climo, S. (1989). The Egyptian Cinderella. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books.

Fleischman, P. (1992). Joyful noise: Poems for two voices. New York: HarperCollins.

Grimm, J. & Grimm. W. (2010). "Aschenputtel." In Grimm's Fairy Tales. Mineola, NY: Calla.

Hughes, L. (1986). "Thank You, Ma'am." Impact fifty short stories. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Myers, W.D. (1983). Hoops. New York: Laurel Leaf Books.

Perrault, C. (1999). Cinderella. Translated by Anthea Bell. New York: North-South Books.

Roessing, L. (2009). The write to read: Response journals that increase comprehension. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Roessing, L. (2012). No more "us" and "them": Classroom lessons & activities that promote peer respect. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Roessing, L. (2013). Writing to learn: Using poetry in two voices. Middle Ground, 16(3).

Schroeder, A. (1994). Lily and the wooden bowl. New York: Delacorte.

Sierra, J. (1992). "Yeh-Hsien." In Cinderella. The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series. Westport, CT: Oryx.

Lesley Roessing taught middle school for 20 years before becoming the founding director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project and senior lecturer in the College of Education of Georgia Southern University, Armstrong campus. Lesley has published four professional books for educators, as well as chapters and articles on literacy. The ideas in this column were based on The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension (Corwin, 2009).

Published in AMLE Magazine, August 2019.
Author: Lesley Roessing
Number of views (1154)/Comments (0)/
Blog About It!

Blog About It!

Argumentative writing in the ELA classroom

How do educators continue to reflect on their own teaching while preparing students to be career and college ready with 21st century skills and higher order thinking skills?

The call for integrating technology into our middle school classrooms seems like an easy strategy. Smartboards, Smart TVs, Chromebooks, iPads … using these devices covers 21st century skill building as well, right? Not necessarily! Teachers still need to contemplate creative ways to address standards, technology, and 21st century skills.

During a study done with my seventh grade class during the 2016 school year, I utilized the Common Core State Standards argumentation standards to guide the planning of an intervention package. My initial research questions surrounded student writing, student feedback, and teacher reflection. I decided to employ integrated writing intervention and investigate student learning in argumentative writing.

The intervention's five strategies were conferencing, status-checking, delivering mini-lessons, student writing, and student publishing. The last strategy of the intervention allowed me to have students produce their argumentative writing in a blog. Tying in a multimedia aspect to the learning gave me an important data source: student blogs. I found a kid friendly blogging site that gave students the opportunity to respond to one another's blog and that served as a digital portfolio of their writing so they could go back and access their work. This encouraged student collaboration and effective debating skills.

The Plan
I began planning my argumentative writing unit by reading previous literature on teaching argumentative writing, reviewing the seventh grade argumentative writing standards from the Common Core, designing essential questions around nonfiction articles that I had found, and planning weekly lessons around the intervention's five strategies (conferencing, status-checking, delivering mini-lessons, student writing and student publishing).

I planned four weeks of instruction, with a six week break in between to instruct other components of the district curriculum and to reflect on and analyze the data. I then adjusted my intervention plan and decided to conference with students during the drafting stage. This allowed students to have more individualized instruction on formulating arguments for their blogs. The essential questions are below:

  1. Should soda and candy be a part of the school lunch?
  2. Should you think twice before eating fast food?
  3. Do uniforms affect student learning?
  4. Is homework beneficial?
  5. Is the Internet helping or hindering society?
  6. Should cell phones be allowed in school?
  7. Should the driving age be lowered?
  8. Do television and video violence desensitize society?

Students read nonfiction articles for each essential question. The articles I found on each of the topics contained views on both sides of the argument. I created an argumentative writing annotating checklist, and students annotated and discussed the articles. I created an argumentative graphic organizer, and students began crafting their blog on paper first. Students then received an argumentative conference checklist that they used to work with me and then a peer on revising their drafts.

Mini Lessons
The mini lessons were on argumentative writing structure and citing information. Many of the mini lessons happened during individualized instruction that took place during the conferences.

Blogging was a strategy that gave students the opportunity to produce their argumentative work using multimedia technology. It allowed students to include their writing in an online application and comment on each other's writing, which fostered debate and collaboration.

I found the blogging site called KidBlog, which is a password-protected site designed for teachers working with student writing skills. The site was accessed by the teacher, students, and parents. Students produced one full process argumentative blog each week for two units of instruction. Having 10 laptops in my classroom allowed for station work in which students could use the blogging site to conference with their peers and the teacher.

Status Checking
This part of the intervention included using a checklist to see the components of argumentative writing that were included in the blogs. The students' use of the components was tracked and results from the second unit of instruction are in figure 1.

Figure 1
Student Use of Argumentative Writing Components

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Introduction to the topic 94% 100% 100% 100%
Claim 100% 100% 100% 100%
Warrant based in evidence 100% 100% 100% 100%
Analysis of evidence 89% 94% 100% 100%
Rebuttal 100% 100% 100% 100%
Cite appropriately 83% 94% 94% 100%
Transition words 100% 100% 100% 100%
Use of argumentative vocabulary 100% 100% 100% 100%
Use of multiple sources 100% 100% 100% 100%
Conclusion 67% 61% 83% 89%
Explore your own idea 94% 78% 100% 100%
Use evidence to back up your idea 72% 56% 89% 89%
More than one source 44% 56% 83% 89%
Tie your idea to the authors 67% 56% 83% 89%
Social Practice        
Recognize your audience 100% 100% 100% 100%
Comment on peers' blogs 100% 100% 100% 100%
Use evidence to support counter arguments 72% 72% 50% 75%

This data shows that students greatly improved on their inclusion of argumentative elements. Additionally, it was important for me to ask the students what was helping their argumentative writing, and students reported that conferencing during the drafting stage gave them more feedback and support in writing their blogs.

The effect teachers have on student learning is invaluable. Systematic reflection on student work, reflection on teaching practice, and continual learning from student feedback are important aspects in promoting excellence in teacher pedagogy and practice. Placing importance on student writing, student feedback, and teacher reflection bridges the gap between research and pedagogy in ways that will lead to sustained student learning and achievement.

Maria Pesce Stasaitis, Ed.D. is assistant principal at Waterbury Arts Magnet School, Waterbury, Connecticut, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport.

Published May 2019.
Author: Maria Pesce Stasaitis
Number of views (1401)/Comments (0)/
A Journey for Content Area Literacy Development and PLCs

A Journey for Content Area Literacy Development and PLCs

How to engage teacher teams in whole-school literacy and learning improvement

It's 7:30 Tuesday morning and groups of teachers are sitting in their first meeting of the year for their professional learning communities (PLCs). Thick binders filled with colored tabs and volumes of files of student literacy achievement data are in front of them. Teachers look at each other with a variety of feelings ranging from cautious optimism to bewilderment to dread. All they know is that they need to come up with a cross-discipline literacy improvement plan based on all these reports of data. They just wish they had some type of roadmap to guide them to not only make sense of the data, but to implement a literacy improvement plan that really succeeds this time.

Unfortunately, this scenario describes a common beginning of well-intentioned attempts to use data for improving reading, writing, thinking, and content area achievement. Clearly, the idea of teachers working together in PLCs and reviewing data together is important, but without guidance and support in how to collect, analyze, and use data to inform the design of their initiatives, the effectiveness of their work will be diminished. There is plenty of evidence to support the use of high-functioning PLCs to increase achievement and reduce achievement gaps. But the effectiveness of teacher teams is often contingent on a shared commitment to and optimism for improvement, a viable plan, skillful execution of research-supported strategies, and sincere dedication to taking and monitoring decisive actions.

Many PLCs may feel hesitant to choose to go on a new journey to improve literacy and learning because prior attempts have been met with too many challenges and less than expected results, especially for struggling learners and underachievers. Teacher teams often develop low group self-efficacy and lack a group growth mindset because they have not succeeded in prior initiatives together as a team. The resilience of teacher teams also gets worn down, and solving a compelling problem like low reading and writing performance seems farfetched. When teacher teams don't "win" (i.e., succeed) together, they often lose their desire to work together and lack the confidence and perseverance to improve student literacy and content achievement.

Taking the road to improving literacy and content area achievement can bring positive, measurable results for all students—especially for struggling learners and underachievers—and sparks new life and group efficacy into PLCs. The journey described below illustrates how teacher teams can "cause" student growth when the entire school is moving in the same direction, at the same time, and with sincere effort and skillful execution.

Determining the Vision

As with any successful journey, we need to have a clear vision. The school's PLCs should answer the following essential question before the journey begins: What will it take to ensure that students become confident, self-directed, and successful when they read, write, think, and learn in content areas? There's plenty of direction on reading, writing, and thinking expectations in state and national standards, and PLCs can benefit from unpacking those standards and literacy skills required for success across all content areas. Teachers often envision students who can independently read and summarize literary and informational text, process information, create meaning, and demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways including open and closed-end response tests, performances, and products. Teachers envision students who feel confident and competent in their literacy and learning skills and who demonstrate enthusiasm for learning. Finally, teachers envision PLCs that can work collaboratively to arrive at their destination because they had the will, skill, and ability.

Determining the Need

Teacher teams have to feel the need to leave their existing conditions to take even the first steps on the reading, writing, and thinking road to content achievement. The desire to embark on the journey results when teachers engage in guided and efficient collaborative examination of achievement data, student work, and learning practices. Groups use guiding questions to analyze and transform data into actionable knowledge so they can put it to work to improve student literacy and learning. Group process protocols efficiently yield rich conversations and useful insights about the data including patterns, comparisons, strengths, needs, and effects. Teams identify the strategies and interventions that have been previously used in the school to develop student literacy and content achievement and determine the effectiveness of previous actions, especially for struggling learners and underachievers. Finally, teams engage in an analysis of contributing factors that may cause literacy and learning problems. This actionable knowledge helps the school match strategies and plans for improvement efforts to the greatest areas of student need and the most prominent contributing factors.

Planning the Journey

There is no doubt that large groups can make planning for school improvement quite challenging. A smaller representative group of teachers from the PLCs—the planning team—can act as liaisons for their PLC and more efficiently draft plans for the improvement journey. The chief goal of this school team is to match the PLC's and school's vision of literacy and learning, knowledge about existing student performance, and contributing factors with research-supported practices. The planning team examines professional literature and research to identify promising instructional and assessment strategies and practices and best practices for effective school improvement and professional development. For example, published meta-analysis results related to literacy and learning demonstrate that the use of graphic representations, summarizing, focused skill questioning, explicit teaching, and differentiation yield percentile gains on a variety of measures, including content achievement. Also, professional literature illustrates that ongoing professional development, PLC collaborative inquiry, consistent progress monitoring and adjustment, instructional coaching, and administrative support yield positive results for school improvement.

The culminating activity for the team is to create a template plan that will be used by all the PLCs. Figure 1 illustrates a plan that assists teacher teams in selecting two literacy skill targets for 30 to 60 days and identifying indicators, measurements, strategies/methods, and actions. PLCs complete their planning in their meetings, and team plans are then shared with all staff so cross-PLC sharing is possible, their commitment is public, and PLCs can create partnerships to accomplish similar goals.

Figure 1

Taking Decisive Action

In the first implementation stage of the journey, PLC members and instructional paraprofessionals/aides participate in professional development on the use of graphic organizers, summary templates/frames, focused skill questioning, explicit teaching, and peer-to-peer interaction. Then teachers in each PLC select a compatible graphic organizer, summary frame/template, and question stems for the two comprehension targets identified in their planning template (see https://tinyurl.com/ybk4nyv7 for examples). Figure 2 illustrates instructional strategies for a specific literacy skill.

Figure 2

Stage two of the implementation involves collecting and analyzing the baseline information needed to determine progress. Teachers assign students to read or listen to a text or topic in their content area, and students complete a graphic organizer and write a summary. Teachers examine their students' work with a three-point rubric and then select a high, average, and low quality example from each task above to bring to their PLC meeting. Teachers use a group protocol in their team meetings to analyze student work and gain insights about the qualities of student work that made it high, average, or low quality. They discuss aspects that need to improve (e.g., key ideas, detail, organizational pattern) and share how each member will commit to helping students improve during the next couple of weeks. Teachers then keep student artifacts and lesson descriptions from at least two lessons per month in their teacher portfolio. Teachers are also provided with support for creating lessons that explicitly teach targeted literacy and thinking skills using graphic organizers, summaries, question stems, and peer-to-peer interaction.

During the third stage of the journey, teachers frequently utilize lessons or tasks in which students use selected graphic organizers and summaries and respond to question stems that match the PLC's target literacy skills. Teachers also learn to use rubrics to engage students in self-assessment about the use of graphic organizers, summaries, and questioning. Once again, teachers select a high, average, and low quality example from each task above, and they use a group protocol in teams to analyze student work. The second group of protocols has PLC members share their lessons, observations of student use, and changes from the original samples. Teachers create student improvement needs and identify needed coaching and other professional development and support. They also continue to place sample artifacts of student work and lesson descriptions in their professional portfolio for this initiative.

Instructional coaches, teacher leaders, and administrators provide support for the improvement initiatives during this part of the journey. Coaches and teacher leaders can conduct demonstration lessons in the classroom. This type of support provides teachers with an opportunity to observe the process of explicitly teaching content and literacy skills concurrently. Coaches, teacher leaders, and administrators also work with teachers to design lessons that use the selected strategies. After the first 30 days it may be useful to use walkthroughs to determine levels of implementation and talk with students about their perceptions of the improvement initiatives and strategies.

During the fourth stage of the implementation, teachers bring their samples of student work to PLC meetings and they share how often they are using graphic organizers, summaries, question stems, and peer-to-peer interaction to determine that there is a high level of implementation. Different protocols are used for troubleshooting, measuring progress, and determining student and teacher learning needs. Teachers also respond to guided questions to examine artifacts in their professional portfolio. Professional development focuses on differentiation techniques that address the needs of high, average, and low achievers. Special Education, RTI, ELL, and other student services specialists provide additional strategies and coaching. Opportunities are created for cross-discipline and grade groups to meet and discuss the implementation progress and to reinforce a whole-school commitment to the literacy and learning improvement initiative during the first 60 days.

The last stage of the literacy and learning improvement journey is ongoing. PLCs continue to use group process protocols and their professional portfolios to recognize progress, make adjustments, and celebrate successes. PLCs reflect on what they are learning during the implementation and identify their professional learning needs. Instructional coaches, teacher leaders, specialists, and administrators continue to provide differentiated professional development and support for various PLCs and individual teachers.

Making It Successfully to the Destination

There really is no end to the journey to improve literacy and learning. Student learning needs, accountability, teachers, and the art of teaching and learning seem to always change. Yet, it is still important for schools, and especially PLCs, to check on progress toward their literacy and learning vision. Standardized test scores and content area achievement illustrate that this journey has yielded increases in student achievement and reduced achievement gaps. This journey helped many students develop confidence and competence related to literacy and content achievement. It has strengthened the professional efficacy of individual teachers and PLCs and helped them develop and sustain a culture of inquiry and continuous improvement rarely experienced before by some PLCs. Finally, this journey injects new life into a whole-school improvement initiative where PLCs work with students to make a literacy and learning vision come alive.

Bobb Darnell is president of Achievement Strategies, Inc., as well as an educator, presenter, and author.

Published in AMLE Magazine, April 2019.
Author: Bobb Darnell
Number of views (2256)/Comments (0)/
After-Reading Response: "I Am" Poetry for Synthesizing Text

After-Reading Response: "I Am" Poetry for Synthesizing Text

How poetry written from a new perspective deepens knowledge and encourages synthesis of new ideas

Much of the writing we assign our students is public writing—writing to communicate with others. Writing-to-learn is personal writing, writing that helps students increase comprehension of texts—fiction and nonfiction—in all disciplines. Reader response compels readers to interact with the text and makes visible for readers and their teachers the depth of text comprehension. This is the eighth in a series of columns on scaffolding writing-to-learn by teaching a variety of reader response strategies before, during, and after reading.

The first six Write to Learn columns focused on before-reading response and a variety of during-reading response strategies. The previous column, this column, and the next two columns in the series will share strategies for employing after-reading response across the disciplines. Effective after-reading response employs a text reformulation strategy where readers reconstruct text read into another type of text. This synthesis, a critical thinking skill that involves putting together assorted parts to make a new whole, helps readers in all disciplines not only relate information learned, but also rethink the meaning of this learning and connect to other learnings and readers' developing views of their world.

The "I Am" Poem

In "I Am" poetry, readers write from the perspective of something they have read in a text or textbook. They could be writing from the perspective of a character in a story or poem; a person from a memoir or biography; a scientist or a scientific theory, element, or concept; a person, event, or place in history; a mathematical concept or principle; or a disease, condition, or issue in health.

The "I Am" poem follows a format that requires readers to read and analyze how the character, person, item, or event would view its world and its place in the world, returning to the text multiple times to apply what they have learned. This writing also causes readers to synthesize new material with information they already know or new information they may research to create their poem. In the case of items, events, or even places, particularly in social studies, science, math, and health classes, the writer would employ personification.

There is a standard format readers/writers can follow (see Figure 1), but they are encouraged to modify the verbs to fit their topic and their own visions. This format places the reader into another's shoes, so to speak, and requires that they read more deeply, closely, and critically as they explore text from a particular point of view (Roessing, 2016).

Figure 1
"I Am" Poetry Standard Format
I am __________________________
[character's name and identity]
I wonder _______________________
I hear _________________________
I see __________________________
I want _________________________
I am __________________________
[not the name in Line 1, but additional information about the character]

I pretend _______________________
I feel __________________________
I touch _________________________
I worry _________________________
I cry ___________________________
I am ___________________________
[not the name in Line 1, but additional information about the character]

I understand _____________________
I say ___________________________
I dream _________________________
I try ____________________________
I hope __________________________
I am ____________________________
[character's name, including more information about the character as a conclusion]

To plan their writing, the class can first brainstorm perspectives from which the text they read can be viewed. If students are reading different texts, individually or in a small group, a short article, story, or poem can be read to provide an example. For example, in the poem "Casey at the Bat," someone could write from the perspective of Casey, one of his teammates, a fan (one of the "patrons of the game"), or the Mudville coach. For the article, "The Great Pandemic of 1918-19," students brainstormed that they could write from the perspective of a man, woman, or child living in Philadelphia in 1918-1919; a victim of the Great Pandemic; a Philadelphia funeral director; the mayor of Philadelphia, 1918-1919; or even The Great Pandemic itself (Roessing, 2016).

Students choose the perspective(s) from which they will revisit the text. As they reread, they first mark details that now become important from that viewpoint. Students consider the "I Am" poem format and examine and analyze the text for ideas, considering what the character or entity would see, feel, worry about, say, understand, or any of the verbs they will substitute that may better fit their interpretations and responses. Readers, especially in the disciplines, may add research from other sources.

When readers alter perspective, they modify and amend meaning, the details that they notice, and the facts and evidence that become important. Teaching readers to read from varied perspectives leads to reading through multiple lenses, thereby, discovering differing points of view. This practice results in considering differently and understanding more profoundly and meaningfully (Roessing, 2016).

English-Language Arts

In ELA classes, the students read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. This small novel is comprised of chapters that are each written by a different character. After readers read and discuss the novel, they can choose a different character from whose perspective they will write an "I Am" poem. The "I Am" poem should incorporate more than that character's chapter as the characters interact and influence each other throughout the book. In the example in Figure 2, the first two stanzas are the poem of Kim, the character of the first chapter, and all information is extracted from that chapter or inferences from the Chapter 1 text.

Figure 2
Example from Seedfolks, I Am Kim
I am Kim, a 9-year-old Vietnamese girl.
I wonder if my father would have loved me if he had lived until I was born.
I hear my mother and oldest sister crying past midnight on the anniversary of his death.
I see the candles, incense, rice, and meat offered to honor my father.
I want to plant beans because my father had been a farmer.
I am going to plant them in the vacant lot across the street; our apartment has no yard.

I pretend that my father will be able to see my beans grow and know I am his daughter.
I feel the hard ground as I dig six holes with my spoon.
I touch my cheeks which feel like marble in this cold Cleveland April.
I worry if I will be safe because the lot is full of trash; I show bravery.
I cry when my mother and sister cry but think of something to do.
I am the first gardener in a poor, ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood where no one talks to each other.

A third stanza would be comprised of critical thinking about her relationships with characters and events from other chapters so all students review the entire novel—or their during-reading response journals—on all chapters.

When all students have written their poems, they can assemble in a circle around the room reading their poems in the order the characters appear in the story. As they read aloud, each can take on the persona of their character through their voice and attitude. Readers can each present their first two stanzas, based on the characters' chapters, and then circle again, reading their third stanzas, which demonstrate the relationships built through the novel.

Writing "I Am" poetry causes readers to reflect on their reading, the characters, their environments and relationships, their personality traits, and how those traits determine their goals and decisions—positive or negative. Creating this poetry causes readers to look more critically at texts, synthesizing what they are reading with what they know, have read, and have learned.

Responding to novels, readers can not only write from the perspective of a character but the creative writer can pursue an innovative direction. For example, in Linda Sue Park's novel A Long Walk to Water, readers can create poems from the perspectives of either of the two main characters, Nya or Salva, a minor character, or even, as happened in one class, from the perspective of Water. In response to Seedfolks, a student may write from the perspective of the developing garden or from the viewpoint of an inhabitant of the neighborhood who does not appear in the story. This is a format that encourages creativity in thinking, rather than inhibiting it.

Social Studies

In social studies classes, students more commonly read textbook chapters and articles while studying a unit. When studying a unit on the Holocaust, students read supplemental articles on different topics within the unit, one topic being the Warsaw ghetto. They then may write "I Am" poetry about people, real and fictitious, who were impacted by the topic they explored. When reading articles about the Warsaw ghetto, the poem in Figure 3 was written as an after-reading response.

Figure 3
I Am Poem, Warsaw ghetto
I am a child of Warsaw, October 12, 1940.
I wonder what it would be like to live out in the open, in our own house again.
I hear the sounds of 400,000 people crowded together in this ghetto in a 1.3 square mile area, surrounded by a wall, the largest ghetto in Poland.
I see Nazi soldiers yelling at people and taking families away—To where?
I want something to eat; food is becoming more and more scarce.
I am a Jew in a time and place dangerous to be Jewish, wearing a white armband with a blue star as identification.

I pretend life is as it once was—Warsaw a major center of Jewish life; 30% of the population was Jewish.
I feel that life as we have known it has now ended.
I know that Poland was invaded by the Germans in 1939 and nothing has been the same since.
I touch the sides of the truck that takes my friends out of the ghetto. It is August 1942.
I worry that I will never see them again; we hear that "work" camps are really death camps.
I cry as people die even here in the ghetto—83,000 from starvation and disease.
I become part of the Jewish Combat Organization, a self-defense resistance unit in the ghetto; in January 1943 we forced the Germans to withdraw.

I understand that when Hitler came to power everything changed for the Jews and others who are not Aryan and that these troops will return.
I dream there is a chance that life will be as I planned with my own family practicing my own religion accomplishing in my own profession.
I take part in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944; 7,000 Jews died.
I try to hide in the ruins of the liquidated ghetto where the Nazis had leveled every building.
I was shipped to a labor camp and am one of the few Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Not only were facts from the article such as dates, names, places, events, and statistics included, but when composing the poem, the writer had to reflect on what someone in this young man's situation would have seen, wanted, worried about, dreamt, and hoped. The reader of the poem can observe not only what the writer has read, but also what the writer has inferred and synthesized with prior knowledge he had or what he learned about the Holocaust in the social studies unit. The poem necessitates and demonstrates critical thinking, and the format encourages and promotes many trips back to the text for clarification and deeper comprehension and learning of the material.


In science class, students were asked to review the past unit on forces and motion and choose a topic as the focus of an "I Am" poem. They could use their text and were to review their notes. The teacher helped the students brainstorm appropriate verbs, and students wrote as gravity, force, friction, inertia, Newton's Laws of Motion, or a stomp rocket (which they were designing and testing in class). Asleigh's poem (Figure 4) about friction personifies and explains friction and illustrates what she has learned.

Figure 4
I Am Poem, Friction
I am friction.
I engage when two objects rub together.
I yank back objects from moving.
I supersize when the object gets heavier.
I slip between the sled and the snow.
I am friction.

I slide between the brakes and wheels when the car tries to stop.
I pull to the opposite side where the object is trying to go.
I struggle to keep the object from moving.
I worry when there is less of me because it is harder to stop.
I cry when it is raining because there is less of me; rain causes accidents because objects have no grip.
I am friction.

I take many forms: static, sliding, rolling, and fluid.
I crackle when two hands rub together to create heat.
I am stronger on solid objects when they rub together than liquids.
I activate when you are running and you stop quickly.
I like to shock you when I build up and you touch metals.
I am friction, and just know that the next time you go down a slide, I will be there.

Chase's poem "I Am Gravity" reveals, "I make it harder to get off the ground. I wonder why people even bother jumping because I will always win," concluding that stanza with "I am the pull that keeps everything down." Later in the poem he adds more information about this topic, "I become weaker on planets such as Pluto, Mars, Venus, and Mercury because they are less massive," and he ends the poem by making the point, "I am Gravity, and I keep the planets in orbit around the sun."

Other Classes

Students can also find topics to write about in mathematics, such as I Am a decimal, a fraction, area, a rational number, a variable, an exponent, or the Pythagorean theorem. In health class, students can write an "I Am" poem from the perspective of someone affected by a disease or a condition, such as "I Am an Athlete with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)," "I Am a Smoker," or "I Am a Teenage Mother." Or students can write from the viewpoint of the topic, as "I Am Alcohol."

In these examples, besides encouraging and training readers to read and examine topics from particular perspectives, "I Am" poetry is employed as an after-reading response strategy encouraging readers to return to the text multiple times, manipulating text to comprehend at a deeper level as they analyze to synthesize learning. Because writing "I Am" poems allows for choice, creativity, and fun, students are motivated and engaged, the key to successful learning.


Roessing, L. (2016). "One text—Many perspectives: Writing the "I am" poem to read through divergent lenses. AMLE Magazine, 4(1), 42-46.

Lesley Roessing taught middle school for 20 years before becoming the founding director of the Coastal Savannah Writing Project and senior lecturer in the College of Education of Georgia Southern University, Armstrong campus. Lesley has published four professional books for educators, as well as chapters and articles on literacy. The ideas in this column were based on The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension (Corwin, 2009).

Published in AMLE Magazine, April 2019.
Author: Lesley Roessing
Number of views (2646)/Comments (0)/
Tags: Literacy
Laptops: A Tool to Improve Reading Comprehension

Laptops: A Tool to Improve Reading Comprehension

How one South Texas school district is taking middle school reading comprehension to another level

Nearly six million middle school students today are reading below grade level—a shocking number. The National Center for Education Statistics' 2017 report, The Nation's Report Card: Mathematics and Reading Assessments, shows minimal improvement in reading scores for middle school students on recent assessments. School districts are extremely concerned about these literacy deficiencies and are struggling to find methods to improve reading comprehension. Laptops are one solution for schools looking to encourage collaboration and engage students in the classroom during literacy and core subject instruction.

Middle school reading deficiencies can affect student success in all subject areas. If middle school students cannot read, they struggle with comprehension in each core subject classroom, from social science to math. Creating an environment that promotes collaboration and active learning in middle school classrooms can facilitate improved comprehension, but it is an ongoing process for school districts.

Laptop usage has sparked educators' interest with its versatility and ability to provide technology on demand. Since many students are already plugged into technology 24/7, it makes sense that using these familiar technology tools in the classroom will further motivate and engage students. Laptops can be utilized to promote collaborative and active learning for academic instruction, encourage students to work together and solve problems collaboratively, and bring the learning process to life before their eyes. This approach makes real world content more accessible and applicable for students.

At a South Texas school district, laptops are proving to be more than a classroom furnishing. These mobile devices are a successful digital tool providing document sharing, collaborative problem-solving, and access to real world content at the touch of a student's fingertips. The additional benefit of document sharing, etextbooks, and less paper usage is reduced expenses for school campuses.

Assessing Middle School Reading Deficiencies

The results from the National Center for Education Statistics' National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2017 Reading Assessment found that 24% of eighth grade students nationwide scored below the basic level of proficiency, with only 36% of the same group of eighth graders performing at or above the proficiency level. Educators and administrators have been alarmed by these results and have begun to seek other teaching methods for improving student literacy and comprehension.

Old and New Methods of Reading Instruction

Past methods of middle school reading instruction involved using hard-cover textbooks and paperback novel series, which often made collaborative work among groups of students more difficult. Computer-based technology has also been used previously in many middle school classrooms via desktop computers in conjunction with software programs such as READ 180, Accelerated Reader, and Scholastic reading programs. However, usage was limited since bulky desktop computers could not be moved, and the limited number of computers often prevented easy collaboration and sharing among classmates. Since their earlier classroom computer use, many software reading programs have added mobile applications for use with more portable classroom devices like laptops.

Laptop usage for literacy instruction can be a positive approach and potentially improve middle school reading comprehension and proficiency. Understanding that technology has altered the way we live, work, and communicate, it is important that schools hone in on these technological resources to improve reading instruction. Student use of laptops in an educational environment contributes to collaborative and active learning environments in the following ways:

  • Provides access to online search engines for real world content (news stories, periodicals, ebooks, journal articles, etc.)
  • Allows use of educational apps, digital tools, educational games, and activities specifically designed for literacy instruction to heighten students' literacy learning experience
  • Encourages collaboration as students work in teams to solve problems and develop research skills
  • Enhances inquiry-based learning through online research

Research Study

A school district in South Texas addressed the challenges of middle school students' poor reading assessment results by providing every middle school student with a laptop. This district was interested in confirming that laptop usage enhances reading comprehension. The study addressed teacher perceptions concerning laptop usage and its effects on reading instruction to promote collaborative and active learning environments.

Teacher participants consisted of middle school instructors who were directly involved in classrooms where laptops were being used for reading instruction. The participation number was comprised of 12 teachers from each of the seven middle school district campuses, totaling 84 potential participants. From the total number of teachers, 70 participants (83%) responded. Data were collected using a survey distributed through Survey Monkey that featured a Likert scale format and open-ended questions, which provided teachers the opportunity to share perceptions and experiences. The survey questions were developed to reflect the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) student classroom standards.

Interpreting the Results: How do Laptops Help Students?

A high percentage of teachers agreed that laptops contributed to collaborative and active learning environments. Participants found that laptop use promoted students' active learning and inquiry-based learning through access to real-world content, enhancing collaborative problem-solving, developing online research skills, and usage of digital tools, apps, and resources.

How do laptops help students with reading comprehension? According to teachers with students using laptops in their classroom, these devices can positively support students in the reading classroom in the following areas:

Digital tools—Students have immediate access to their etextbooks online, along with access to a multitude of educational tools and websites, from online encyclopedias to electronic books and research databases.

Apps and resources—Students can access applications and resources such as online dictionaries, thesauri, highlighting tools, and comprehension tools that can bring additional clarity to their learning experience.

Online research—Students can search beyond their etextbooks to engage with and incorporate more real-world content, including news stories and online articles.

Document sharing—Students can share documents with their classmates and instructors at school and at home, taking their collaborative learning beyond the classroom.

Student engagement and active learning—Students develop ownership in their own learning process. By exploring and sharing content from their laptops with other students, they take control of their learning environment and often become more independently motivated.

Inquiry-based learning and real-world content—Students become more engaged when they can make real-world connections that render their learning authentic and meaningful to their existence.

Connecting the Findings

Teachers' perceptions of laptop usage in the middle school reading classroom revealed many factors that contribute to students' improved literacy experience. Some of the teachers' comments and reflections concerning laptop usage include:

Students can collaborate on documents using cloud storage and students develop a sense of ownership for their education. It really transforms the classroom.

It gives my students opportunities to think beyond textbooks and passages, utilizing real world experiences as they learn reading objectives.

Students have the tools they need to collaboratively work together, in real time.

Access to research tools makes research seamless—educates students for group work in the workforce.

It is a wonderful tool we use that allows students to have what they need at their fingertips.

Step Up to Improving Literacy and Comprehension

Finding positive approaches to promote collaborative and active learning in middle school classrooms is an ongoing process for many school districts. Study findings reveal that laptops can be a solution for middle school teachers seeking to encourage and engage students during classroom instruction and improve reading comprehension. The South Texas school district study showed that laptops in the middle school classroom provided many positive benefits that can contribute to students' improved literacy experience.

Laptops are one technology that can assist in improving the middle school reading deficiencies that plague many school districts. Engaging students with this type of familiar technology in the classroom may not only further encourage collaboration and engage students, but could potentially result in improved student performance across subject areas, including social studies, math, and science—ultimately making them more college and workforce ready.

Maridale Still, Ed.D. is an adjunct professor in the Digital Learning and Leading Master's program, Department of Educational Leadership at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

Cynthia Cummings, Ed.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

Tilisa Thibodeaux, Ed.D. is an assistant professor in the Digital Learning and Leading Master's program at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

L. Kay Abernathy, Ed.D. is a contributing faculty member in the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, Walden University and retired associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

Published in AMLE Magazine, February 2019.
Author: Maridale Still, Cynthia Cummings, Tilisa Thibodeaux, L. Kay Abernathy
Number of views (2450)/Comments (1)/
Help! My Students Write Like They Text!

Help! My Students Write Like They Text!

Using code-switching to improve writing

IMHO, LOL, OIC, OMG. If you've recently graded middle school or high school writing, chances are you've read terms like these; or my favorite, "wtf - idk" which also happened to be an answer on a student's quiz. As a middle school English teacher, I became more and more perplexed to see students using texting talk on their homework and classroom writing assignments; not to mention answers on the writing portion of the state standardized test. My students were not differentiating appropriate writing contexts. The answers written on the unit test were written the same way they invited their friends to hang @ *$ (Starbucks).

It was 2005, and almost every one of my 140 eighth graders had their own cell phone; much of the time it was a model newer than mine. In my school district, the majority of discipline referrals between 2006 and 2008 were written due to student cell phone misuse. The clever students were able to text answers to a student in another class by blindly texting from their hoodie pockets. Students who could escape teacher view would take a photo of someone else's completed work to copy later. Sneakiness had a new platform. Confiscating cell phones meant calls l8r (later) from angry parents. My colleagues and I were fighting a losing battle and our students were ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing).


The greatest challenge from cell phones was the birth of text talk. It was the first decade of the 21st century and the plague of textspeak was spreading. Textspeak is not limited to a few localized, quirky acronyms; sociolinguistics accept textspeak as its own genre of reading and writing. The texting language has become so ubiquitous that phrases are being included in dictionaries as an accepted word in the English language. The pervasiveness of texting among adolescents has even earned the term "youth code" because it is the primary language of America's modern youth (Durkin, Conti-Ramsden, & Walker, 2011).

Those most affected, by far, are adolescents. Kids between the ages of 13 and 17 send an average of 3,364 text messages each month, which is more than any other age group (Cingel & Sundar, 2012). This doubles the amount of text messages sent by adults aged 18–24, which is 1,640. Text messaging is becoming the most preferred method of communication, as exhibited by the 200,000 text messages sent per second across the globe (Grace, Kemp, Martin, & Parrila, 2013).

Chances are, if you teach in secondary education, you are currently dealing with a similar issue. You are not alone. Across America, middle school and high school teachers are simultaneously banging their heads against whiteboards. They are frustrated by the lack of capitalization and punctuation; with each missing vowel their discouragement grows.

There is hope for the English language and optimism for our moldable students. The answer, however, may be one that you aren't quite ready to accept. The remedy isn't in a new and improved cell phone school policy, screen surveillance software, or reinstitution of spelling curriculum. It's in the adjustment of educator attitudes and our understanding of the evolution of language.

Everyone is a new language learner despite cultural demographics, age, or situation. Humans are constantly learning new words, phrases, and terminology, and being exposed to new dialects and accents. Essentially, textspeak is a new and acceptable language constructed by its authors to meet their communication needs. This may be heartbreaking news for the classroom teacher. I know my high school English teacher would roll over in her grave if she thought a lowercase "i" had become an acceptable practice in English language. However, textspeak isn't any different from other practices that have created an efficiency in communication.

It's Like Old-Style Communications

Think of the telegraph. This was a turning point for communication. When communication is costly or cumbersome, abbreviations are necessary. Morse code is a prime historical example. Stenography, or shorthand, also was invented to expedite communication. In 1837 an educator by the name of Sir Isaac Pitman developed the most widely used shorthand system based on omitting vowels; the most popular strategy used in textspeak. A stenotype machine was also invented, which used a keyboard and required the operator to use all fingers and thumbs. Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

Various connections can be made between shorthand and texting. Nearly 300 research studies have been done on the reading and writing of shorthand. The results indicate that, "Good readers of shorthand were also good readers of print," (Anderson, 1981, par. 3). One study (Bloom, 2010) found that there was an increase in the reading ability of children when they began texting, which again illustrates that an individual must have a solid understanding of language in order to manipulate it creatively.

Language in Context

As educators, we tirelessly teach students to identify the speaker's tone and the author's purpose in a text (major components in the Common Core Career and Readiness Standards). Similar to identifying the author's tone, digital natives are well rehearsed in recognizing virtual body language, or the voice of the author in a text or an email.

Our job is to teach the appropriate utilization and further students' understanding of language in context. It's not necessary to know all the latest terms in textspeak. What's important is that educators are open to the possibilities of translanguaging and the depth of learning that various codes can bring to a classroom.

Code-switching is the skill of transitioning back and forth between formal and casual registers of language depending on context and setting. In an academic setting, which relies on technology, lines between codes can become blurred. This is especially true as more schools are moving to one-to-one technology programs. Students' academic work is now being housed in the same platform used for their entertainment and social exchanges. This can create blurred lines for adolescent brains.

Teachers need to give explicit instructions about the type of language that is appropriate to use in each classroom platform, like discussion board forums or online communications between classmates. Negotiating the code or allowing students to help decide which rules of language will be followed during certain class activities can assist both students and teachers.

What Can Teachers Do?

Teachers are encouraged to adopt a new flexible attitude towards language and permit students to journal, communicate, and brainstorm in textspeak during appropriate times. If students are journaling, or collaboratively brainstorming for a research project, then their primary mode of communication should be acceptable. For middle and high school students this will most likely not be standard English. Students may find it easier to get thoughts out if they do not have to translate to formal language during the brainstorming process.

A common teaching practice for students who are learning English is to allow them to think and initially respond in their primary language. Asking students to identify what type of language in which they "think" will help them to identify their primary language.

Primary language, usually defined by what language you speak everyday or were taught by your parents, does not have to be limited to English, Spanish, or Arabic. Drill down to the actual dialect and register in which students communicate. That is the space where their primary language lies; it's the voice they hear when they think.

During a research writing process, students will read excerpts from articles and peer reviewed journals. Examine the writing of these documents with students and contrast the language used with your classes' previous work. How does it differ from higher academic writing? What does the writing style, vocabulary, word choice, and tone say about the author? Students quickly identify the expert tone of the formal writing style, and the credibility easily given to works with specific and well thought academic word choice. This can be done in every subject area and with any writing assignment.

Translating text calls on a student's highest order of thinking. In order to translate, one must decode, read for meaning, synthesize the information, formulate ideas, then reassemble the information in a new way, while keeping in mind appropriate vocabulary and tone. This function is an excellent form of formative assessment to gauge the depth of student understanding. One way to engage students in this task is to ask them to review recent text messages, or chat history. Ask them to rewrite the message as if they were writing it to the principal or an employer, all the while reviewing the discussion on language registers.

It's not easy to allow students to comfortably express themselves, while preparing them for a professional world built on written and verbal communication. The key is in understanding the evolution of students and their language, and to constantly be ISO (in search of) strategies to support our textspeaking learners.


Anderson, R. (1981). Research in shorthand and transcription. The Journal of Business Education. 23(6).

Bloom, A. (2010). Texting aids literacy: Study confounds popular prejudice. The Times Educational Supplement, 17.

Cingel, D., & Sundar, D. (2012). Texting, techspeak, and tweens: The relationship between text messaging and English grammar skills. New Media Society, 14(8), 1304-1320.

Durkin, K., Conti-Ramsden, G. & Walker, A.J. (2011) Txt Lang: Texting, textism use and literacy abilities in adolescents with and without specific language impairment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 27(1), 49-57.

Grace, A., Kemp, N., Martin, F.H. & Parrila, R. (2013). Undergraduates' text messaging language and literacy skills. doi: 10.1007/s11145-013-9471-2

Jennifer French, ED.D. is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at South Vermillion Community Schools, Clinton, Indiana.

Published in AMLE Magazine, February 2019.
Author: Jennifer French
Number of views (2414)/Comments (0)/
Mrs. Chandler, I Have This Idea…

Mrs. Chandler, I Have This Idea…

Independent reading assignments open students' minds and hearts

One of my favorite days of the year is when I give students their first independent reading assignment. I believe the best way to keep the love of reading alive is for students to read what they love and share their experience with their peers in a way that is novel and doesn't detract from the experience of reading itself, but instead deepens it.

When I hand out the menu of options, I share some examples of what others have done before them. I watch as my self-proclaimed "theater geeks" bubble over with excitement that they can write a skit, do a monologue, or design a set for a scene from the book. They can barely contain themselves when I tell them about my student a few years ago who staged a wake for a character in the book who had not had a proper funeral, at least according to my student.

As I tell them about the sheet music a young pianist handed in, along with an audio file that she had created, I can see the musicians begin to wonder what they might play to accompany their book. I encourage them to use Garage Band, confer with their music teachers, and create music that reflects the climax of the book, or maybe is a great resolution of the story. For those less talented at composing, they have the option of creating an "album" of music to accompany the book—a mix tape for a generation whose playlists are always handy.

I have sculptures in my room, paintings, drawings, and plenty of videos of acoustic sets my students have performed or scenes they'd recreated. There's a short parody film, a longer video of students acting out a scene from Divergent, and copies of monologues students have written and performed.

The art and music teachers in my building love seeing the excitement students bring to their task, and I love how careful my students are to capture just the right emotion or focus on a specific symbol. It is an amazing chance to collaborate across the curriculum when we can help children translate the emotional responses they have from reading into art or music. There's always a detractor here or there, but I show them the written response where students reflect on the entire experience of creating as a response to reading, and I usually have converts to this way of thinking. Most importantly though, I have what I call "full contact" reading experiences that deepen learning while building the social and emotional needs of students as well.

In a few weeks, I'll have a student come up to me and say, "I have this idea ..." and we'll have an amazing conversation about their independent reading. I'll end up approving something that I can't quite get my mind around, and teachers in my building will help a child's vision develop. Independent reading can be an amazing portal into the hearts and minds of our students if we are willing to loosen the reigns of control long enough to allow responses that are more than reading logs and response questions.

Amber Chandler is an ELA teacher and the ELA department chair at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, New York. She is a 2018 AMLE Educator of the Year and was recently elected to serve on the AMLE Board of Trustees.

Published in AMLE Magazine, February 2019.
Author: Amber Chandler
Number of views (1656)/Comments (0)/
Tags: Reading
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