Volume 1, Issue 1 Spring 2016

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secondary school students, we have negotiated our roles and ...... Kristen Lawlor is a first grade teacher at Glen Forest Elementary in Fairfax County, Virginia.
PDS Inquiry Volume 1, Issue 1 Spring 2016

1 About the Professional Development School

“Inquiry completely re-framed for me the role of a teacher. It is a process, which allows me to evaluate and reevaluate best teaching practices that would ultimately serve my current students, and the ones to come.” - Ashley Lope, PDS Alumna

PK-4 Professional Development School Partnership

Penn State and State College Area School District have been engaged in collaborative professional development schoolwork for the past eigthteen years. The mission of our elementary professional development school collaborative, which both encompasses and extends the mission of each partner, is expressed by our four goals: 1) Enhance the educational experiences of all learners; 2) Ensure high quality induction into the profession for new teachers; 3) Engage in furthering our own professional growth as teachers and teacher educators; and 4) Educate the next generation of teacher educators. In contrast to most PDS sites across the nation that define each separate building as a PDS, we have made a conscious decision to conceive of our PDS as one community, a community of mind or ideals that is geographically distributed across 10 buildings. Our belief is that collaboration across build-

ings is a powerful vehicle for innovation, inquiry and reflection. Because we have defined ourselves as one community, the creation of a variety of mechanisms to encourage collaborations across buildings is very important in sustaining our single community. During the 2015-16 academic year, 58 undergraduate seniors participated as interns in the PDS program. These interns were placed in 8 elementary schools in the State College Area School District. PDS interns demonstrate a high level of commitment by abandoning the university calendar and following the school calendar throughout the entire school year. The internship year begins before schools open with a two-week, all day orientation program called Jumpstart. Interns begin working with their mentor teachers on the first inservice day


for teachers and continue until the last school day for students in June. During the fall semester, interns are enrolled in four, three-credit methods courses (science, social studies, math, and classroom learning environments), which are embedded in their weekly schedules. Each course addresses teacher inquiry as an integral part of the methods curriculum. Interns spend four full days each week in their classrooms. The fifth day is devoted to two methods classes that are situated in a school setting. In addition, interns have two methods classes after school each week and also spend time in a partner classroom at a different grade level. During the spring semester, interns spend five full days per week in their classrooms and partner classrooms, attending one or two after school seminars per week. In the beginning of the year, interns observe their mentors and other teachers and engage in individual and small group instruction using plans developed by the mentor teacher. As the year progresses, the interns take on more responsibility for planning instruction, and engaging in co-teaching with their mentors. Our PDS advocates a coteaching model as opposed to solo teaching for the majority of instructional time. We feel that coteaching increases individual student attention, increases reflective dialogue between mentor and intern, and increases the opportunities for professional growth for intern and mentor alike. Coteaching enables us to achieve our primary goal of enhancing learning experiences for all students. During the school year, interns participate fully in all school activities including Back to School Night, student-led goal setting conferences in the fall and spring, school wide faculty meetings, weekly gradelevel meetings, periodic unit planning meetings with mentors, other teachers and curriculum support per-

sonnel, response to intervention (RTI) activities, all professional development and inservice activities, IEP meetings, and instructional support team meetings. They also participate in PTO meetings and other school community activities and gatherings. Professional development is provided on an ongoing basis for mentor teachers, administrators, curriculum support personnel, doctoral students and university faculty in a variety of ways. Professional development teams composed of P-12 and university faculty plan, help to deliver and evaluate professional development experiences designed to complement everyday teaching. Some professional development experiences are offered as graduate level courses for credit. To date, graduate level courses have been offered in science, mathematics, social studies, classroom learning environments, teacher inquiry, technology, co-teaching, professional writing and mentoring. Courses are offered for variable credit and typically include class meetings, readings, journal writing, and follow up projects that require transfer of ideas to the classroom context. From the inception of our PDS partnership, teacher inquiry as a form of professional development and knowledge generation has stood at the center of our work together. Each PDS intern conducts a formal inquiry and reports the findings to the larger community at our Annual Teacher Inquiry Conference. Mentor teachers agree, as a condition of becoming a mentor, to engage in inquiry on an annual basis in one of three ways: a) by conducting their open inquiry projects; b) by conducting a collaborative inquiry project with the intern; or c) by supporting the intern’s inquiry. Inquiry in the PDS is not limited to mentors and interns. Principals, curriculum personnel, doctoral students, and university faculty also conduct their own inquiry projects each year and present their findings at the Teacher Inquiry Conference. Abstracts of teacher inquiry projects


and copies of inquiry papers from 2004 to the present may be found on our PDS websitehttp://www.ed.psu.edu/pds. We are proud that over the years we have been able to grow our PDS community from 14 interns and mentors in two elementary schools to roughly 50 interns per year with the participation of more than 60 mentors in eight elementary schools. In the midst of expansion, we have been able to maintain the sense of community and the values and norms that were the original basis for the PDS community. We make every effort to engage members of the PDS community in decision-making by consensus. That is no small feat. We estimate that the interns who have been educated through our PDS community during the last sixteen years have the potential to touch the lives of more than 500,000, across this nation and the world. We are immensely proud of the fact that the lives of all those children will be better as a result of having our former interns as their teachers. For more information on our PDS, please contact: MJ Kitt

[email protected]

Rachel Wolkenhauer [email protected] Department of Curriculum & Instruction University Park, PA 16802 814-863-3286


Secondary English Professional Development School Partnership

Together, we are teachers working to improve the English language arts instruction in grades 7-12 of the State College Area School District. Historically, our number of teachers and interns numbers approximately 30 each year, and hopefully our work expands the support for students' literacy learning and identity development in the hundreds of classrooms in which they interact with PDS participants. In our work together to support literacy education of secondary school students, we have negotiated our roles and responsibilities in a continuous manner to always keep the needs of learning at the center of our activities. Thus our "structures" or "assigned activities" as PDS participants have evolved each year, and developed flexibly according to the particular relationships between interns, mentors, students,

and associates. We continually announce that "each person must learn to teach out of who they are as a person," "we do not want all teachers to be same," and "we learn from difference, not conformity." By the end of each year together, we also hope that each teacher has learned that who they are is based in collaboration with other teachers." Our archive of artifacts for each year and inquiry projects by participants present the ever-changing identities, relationships, and values that support the power of our PDS to generate greater agency within teachers and students. Our PDS community is framed by the desire to support life-long learning, and the continual development of our uses of literacy to improve our personal and public lives. How we use language and media


with each other creates the kind of social world in which our identities and relationships become possible. As a community of inquirers into language, literacy, knowing, and belonging we establish goals and reflect on the characteristics of our community striving for more agency and social negotiation of the kinds of communities in which we hope to live. We feel that we have established some important democratic learning practices, but realize that the goals and characteristics of our inquiry community are continually negotiated with our classroom and community members. Our intern teachers, mentor teachers, and university associate teachers enact an inquiry pedagogy through various planned activities framed by five inquiry strategies. However, we continually experience tensions in our communities and our own practices between models of learning that emphasize inquiry versus the more traditional transmission of knowledge. It is important to move this tension away from a contest between content knowledge versus students' interests, towards a negotiation of multiple perspectives and multiple texts for some community purpose. Thus, in the English classroom we consider how a literacy practice orientation to curriculum can help us to negotiate and create more equitable and empowered community membership and activity.

lights some of the benefits of the program and our scholarship into the best practices for teaching secondary school English language arts. For more information on our PDS, please contact: Melissa Wager and Veronica Iacobazzo Secondary English 
 Professional Development School
 State College School Distract
 State College, PA 16801
 Phone: (814) 231-5066
 Fax: (814) 231-5070 Jamie Myers Language and Literacy Education
 Department of Curriculum and Instruction 
 College of Education
 254 Chambers Building 
 The Pennsylvania State University
 University Park, PA 16802
 Phone: (814) 865-2240
 Fax: (814) 863-7602 Email: [email protected]

Our work has been recognized by the Holmes Partnership in 2004 as the Nancy Zimpher/Ken Howey Award for Best Partnership. The following video summarizes our larger work in developing professional development partnerships in both elementary and secondary English education. One characteristic goal of professional development collaborations is to merge the traditional university missions of teaching, research, and service with the public school missions of teaching and service to the community and youth. Our 1998-2003 PDS report high-


A Note from the Editors of PDS Inquiry

Key to our Professional Development School Partnerships is the notion of practitioner inquiry. Practitioner inquiry, also referred to as teacher research or action research, is defined as systematic, intentional study by teachers of their own classroom practice (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 2009). Inquiring professionals seek out change by reflecting on their practice. They do this by engaging in a cyclical process of posing questions or “wonderings,” collecting data to gain insights into their wonderings, analyzing the data along with reading relevant literature, taking action to make changes in practice based on new understandings developed during inquiry, and sharing findings with others (Dana & YendolHoppey, 2009). The ultimate goal of engagement in teacher research is to create an inquiry stance toward teaching. An inquiry stance actually becomes a “professional positioning,” that is owned by the teacher, where, because of the inherent complexity of teaching, questioning one’s own practice becomes part of the teacher’s work and eventually a part of the teaching culture.  By cultivating this inquiry stance

toward teaching, teachers can play a critical role in school improvement efforts, and continually enhance their own professional growth and ultimately the experience of schooling for children (Dana & Yendol-Silva, 2009).  According to Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2001): a legitimate and essential purpose of professional development is the development of an inquiry stance on teaching that is critical and transformative, a stance linked not only to high standards for the learning of all students but also to social change and social justice and to the individual and collective professional growth of teachers (p. 46). Writing is one mechanism for the PDS to continuously share and learn from the inquiry of our partnership. In sharing writing about inquiry, we engage together in continued, ongoing professional growth for the renewal of the many children, schools, and school systems our alumni reach. In the spirit of celebrating our learning community and acknowledging the powerful practitioner inquiry


work completed by our community each year, therefore, we are proud to publish the first edition of PDS Inquiry. The goal of this new professional journal is to expand the knowledge base of teaching, raise the voices of teachers in educational reform, and provide a tool for sustained professional learning. This issue features inquiry articles from PDS alumni who are now either practicing elementary school teachers, secondary English teachers, or education graduate students around four themes, identified as key issues in our current educational climate: (1) Engaging Young Readers in Literacy, (2) Assessment, (3) Building Positive Classroom Community and Communication, and (4) Fostering Empathy. We hope you find these articles thought-provoking and that they might continue to inspire learning and educational change. Sincerely, Rachel Wolkenhauer, Mary Higgins, Amy Morton, Jamie Myers, and Bernard Badiali


2 Engaging Young Readers in Literacy

“Investigating and incorporating student interests into (literacy) curriculum can unleash limitless journeys for teachers and students to further explore learning together.” – Grace Adams

Developing early reading skills is critical to students’ academic success.  While various approaches lead students to develop reading strategies, the Daily 5 Framework is  an instructional model for effective literacy instruction. During individual and small group conferences, teachers often notice students’ strengths and areas of growth with literacy skills. While Huberty noticed her second graders struggling with reading fluency, Tomaseli observed her students struggling to get into the routine of reading strategy groups. Meanwhile, Hallinger and Adams recognized patterns in their students’ behaviors during independent reading time.  These teachers’ inquiries were sparked by the intersection of their own passion for reading instruction and their students’ disengagement during their literacy blocks. All four preservice teachers’ wonderings focused on helping their students improve their reading skills based on knowing their students’ interests and academic needs. Huberty used repeated readings of poetry as an intervention to support the development of fluency. Tomaseli created interactive reading notebooks to guide her students’ learning of reading strategies. Hallinger started conferencing with individual students and developed reading strategy groups to help keep her students engaged. Adams incorporated popular culture into a student book club to increase  students’ motivation to read.  These teachers used inquiry to drive their instructional decisions focused on improving student learning during literacy instruction.

Fluency Instruction: The Power of Poetry Instruction: The Power of Poetry Haley Huberty Haley Huberty was an intern in the Professional Development School during the 2014-2015 school year. She was assigned to a second grade classroom at Lemont Elementary School. During the year, she was able to participate in a number of professional development sessions provided by the district and PDS to strengthen her skills as a teacher. One of her favorite parts of the program was working closely with her mentor teacher, Liz Mamolen, and conducting her inquiry. Upon graduation at Penn State, Haley accepted a job offer from Loudoun County Public Schools. She is currently teaching first grade at Lowes Island Elementary. Haley is enjoying the new challenge that a different grade brings. She is extremely thankful to be a member of the Lowes Island family and is so proud of her Leading Leopards! Abstract: Fluency is defined as the ability to read text accu-

As an intern for the State College Area School District, I at-

rately, at an appropriate rate, with expression. While confer-

tended technology training with the Instructional Technology

encing with a class of second-grade students, I noticed a

Specialists. The training session focused on applications

small group that struggled with reading fluency. After some

available on all primary iPads and how they could be incorpo-

initial research, I wondered, “How can poetry influence the

rated into daily instruction. During the training, I learned

fluency of targeted second-grade students?” To address this

about the Quick Voice Recording app. This program allows

in an engaging way, I designed an intervention program that

audio to be recorded, replayed, and transferred to other de-

utilized the natural rhythm of poetry to improve fluency. Over

vices. A self-evaluation sheet was also available to be used

four weeks, my students continuously practiced and per-

with the app. I realized that this would be a great tool to sup-

formed self-chosen poetry. The collected data revealed that

port fluency in select students that I had identified as need-

this intervention program improved the reading fluency of all

ing extra support. I would be able to track their progress

intervention participants.

over time through recording audio clips. The students would be able to assess their own progress and identify goals to


improve their fluency. Soon after the technology training, I began working with four students using the iPads.

In my classroom, the language arts are taught using the Daily 5 framework. When not working on the spelling pro-

Beginning in December, I met with each of the four students

gram with our paraprofessional, students can choose from

once a week. During this meeting, we would 1) review previ-

the following literacy activities: work on writing, listening to

ous goals, 2) record the student reading two minutes of a

reading (via BookFlix and Tumblebooks), read to self, read to

book they were currently reading, 3) complete a self-

someone, and word work games. The structure allows time

evaluation with feedback from me, 4) choose a new goal for

for students to engage in a variety of literacy activities while

the upcoming week, and 5) brainstorm strategies to reach

giving the teacher the opportunity to meet one-on-one with

this goal. The strategies discussed were largely taken from

students. As I conferred with students during Daily 5, I no-

the CAFE menu used to teach reading strategies, such as

ticed that a number of them read with little fluency. Specifi-

chunking words, crosschecking, reread the sentence, and

cally, I saw students reading: with little expression, too slow

using known parts of the word.

or too fast, without stopping at periods and pausing at commas, and with many errors in decoding. At this point, the

For over a month, we tried this method. Over that period of

school year was almost half over. Individual conferences had

time, I noticed several things. I was continually impressed

not made a significant and consistent impact thus far. After

with the ability of my students to accurately self-assess them-

identifying a core group of students who consistently strug-

selves. Usually, the students rated themselves very closely

gled with fluency, I began thinking about how I could support

to my own rating. When selecting a goal at the end of the

the development of reading fluency for these students.

session, students successfully used their ratings to identify the weakest area of fluency. They then used that to choose a corresponding goal.


However, most important was the change in fluency, or lack

also recorded each student reading a book from his or her

thereof, which I observed. Although I saw some improve-

book bin. In my class, book bins are used for students to

ment in the goal areas, I still noticed other areas in which my

keep a selection of books to be used during Daily 5 time.

students struggled. Pace and expression continued to be an

The students chose the books that would be kept in their

area of weakness for several of my students. Therefore, the

book bins, keeping in mind that each book should be appro-

purpose of my inquiry was to identify instructional strategies

priate for their reading level. Although teachers periodically

that I could implement, during language arts time, to improve

check the book bins, much of the responsibility to pick ap-

fluency in four of my second grade students.

propriate ones rests on the students.

I began searching for other ways to support the develop-

Using the Quick Voice Recording Application on an iPad, I

ment of fluency in my students. I read on a website that po-

recorded each student reading from one of his or her books.

etry has been used as a medium through which students can

After recording two minutes of reading, the student and I lis-

practice and develop proper pacing and expression. Accord-

tened back to the audio recording to listen for fluency. Using

ing to S. Jay Samuels (2006), research shows that repeated

an evaluation sheet found on the district website, the stu-

readings of passages can improve the fluency of elementary-

dent assessed their own fluency, thinking aloud about their

age students, in both practiced and new text. This seemed

accuracy, rate, punctuation, and fluency. Then, I shared my

to be the next natural step in my work with these students.

own thoughts about how the student did. Before ending the session, the student chose a goal to work on over the next


week. As I had observed when previously done, students were successful in identifying an appropriate goal.

With this purpose, I wondered how an intervention program that used repeated readings of poetry would improve the flu-

After the baseline data was conducted, I planned my instruc-

ency of four targeted second-grade students. I also won-

tion. Over the course of four weeks, students would learn

dered how participation in the poetry group would impact

about appropriate rate, punctuation, expression and accu-

the students’ motivation and interest in reading.

racy, in that order. Although I focused on one skill each week, the students would be expected to continue to demon-


strate mastery of all previously taught skills. Each day, the four identified students were to be pulled from the classroom

Before beginning the intervention, I had to identify which stu-

to receive 15-20 minutes of instruction as a group. The

dents I wanted to work with. One of the students that I had

weekly schedule of instruction would be as follows.

worked with using the Quick Voice Recording app moved to a different school. Although I wanted to continue with the

On Mondays, I would introduce the focus of the week and

remaining three students, I felt that I could manage bringing

describe what the element sounded like. Students would

another struggling student into the intervention. I used the

then look through a selection of poetry books to choose a

data from our class’s AIMSweb to identify students that were

“good-fit” poem for the week. Students would be instructed

in need of additional instructional support. I also used the

to choose a poem that was at an appropriate level, a “good-

January running records that were completed for each stu-

fit,” and would allow them to practice the focus skill for the

dent. I specifically looked at the fluency section of each as-

week. If a student chose a poem that was either too difficult

sessment. After viewing this data, I discussed with my men-

or too easy, I would ask the student to pick another poem.

tor teacher the students that I had in mind for my interven-

Once approved by me, the poems would be copied; one

tion. I decided to include four students, R, B, J, and Z, in my

copy would go into their poetry notebook, one copy would

intervention. All students had exhibited lack of fluency in

be sent home, and one copy would be collected as data. In

their oral reading.

their poetry notebook, they would keep their weekly poem and the mentor poem for the week. Students would then re-

To gather baseline data, I first collected each student’s run-

cord a “cold” reading of their poem using the iPad. A “cold”

ning records that were recorded in January and September. I

reading refers to the first time a student encounters and reads a text. The term “warm” reading will be mentioned


later, and refers to when a student reads a selection that he

Calo, Taylor Woolard-Ferguson, and Ellen Koitz (2013). The

has been exposed to and may already have practiced.

article detailed an intervention program that provided the students the opportunity to “compete” in Fluency Idol. In this

On Tuesdays, I would introduce the mentor poem, demon-

article, several students were chosen to perform a reading

strate a fluent reading of the poem, and then show other ex-

selection in front of the class.

amples of fluent reading of the mentor poem. A majority of these exemplary readings were in video form. Once I had

After reading this article, I realized that pieces of this pro-

chosen the mentor sentence for the week, I searched the

gram could be incorporated to further motivate my students

Internet, specifically YouTube, to find a video or audio record-

to practice and demonstrate fluency. During the perform-

ing of the poem being read with fluency. After talking about

ances of the last three weeks, I recorded videos using Photo

what they saw or heard, students would then chorally read

Booth. The students were told that they were competing in

the mentor poem with me.

“Fluency Idol.” Students performed their poems and then voted on the student that read most fluently. The winner

On Wednesdays, students would begin practicing the focus

earned a special treat, such as lunch with a friend and the

skill with the mentor poem by reading chorally. Again, I mod-

teacher or a game with a friend. Over the three weeks that

eled appropriate fluency with the mentor poem. Students

Fluency Idol was done, I did not encounter any negative reac-

would later begin to practice reading their own poem with a

tions to losing the “competition.” In fact, many students en-

partner and with the whole group.

couraged and congratulated their fellow poetry group member when he won.

On Thursdays, the students would warm up by reading the mentor poem. Together, we would begin practicing the focus

The location of where instruction would take place was also

skills by reading a selection from a shared text: “The Golly

an issue throughout my intervention. Due to the nature of the

Sisters Go West” by Betsy Byars. The week that expression

activities the students participated in, the classroom was not

was taught, students instead practiced the skill using a

an appropriate location. After attempting to teach in the hall-

Reader’s Theatre approach. Provided by the school’s Title I

way, it was obvious that I would need to find an alternate,

teacher, I used a leveled “play” about The Three Little Pigs.

closed room. Over the three weeks, I utilized a conference

Each week, regardless of the shared text, students would

room and the art room, when art was not scheduled. The en-

return to the classroom to read with a poetry partner from

closed space allowed for fewer distractions.

their book bins. Weather delays played a very big role in the schedule of poOn Fridays, the students would warm up by reading their

etry group. A five-day intervention program was made nearly

own poem. Then, students would perform their poem for the

impossible with the high number of delays and school clos-

poetry group. Despite careful planning, many changes were

ings. Over five weeks, from February 3rd to March 6th, there

made to the intervention program in response to research,

were nine weather-related delays, closings, and early dis-

weather delays, and the needs of my students. In an attempt

missals. Four of those occurred in the third week of interven-

to increase the motivation of my students, I decided at the

tions. For that reason, the third week of intervention was

last minute to allow my students to decorate the composi-

used to collect mid-intervention data. This data was col-

tion notebook they were given to hold the poems used

lected in the form of an audio recording and a self-

throughout the program. The students used markers and

evaluation. The closings and delays also resulted in combin-

stickers to the notebook (Appendix D). Students were ex-

ing of lessons when necessary. For the most part, when

tremely excited to plaster their notebooks with as many stick-

needed, the lessons for Tuesdays and Wednesdays were

ers as they could!


For the first week, I recorded each student’s “warm” reading

Halfway through my intervention, one of my poetry group

using the iPad. However, this changed after stumbling upon

members temporarily left our school. With only three stu-

a piece of literature titled, “Fluency Idol: Using Pop Culture

dents remaining in the group, I decided to seek out another

to Engage Students and Boost Fluency Skills” by Kristine M.

member. While discussing with my supervisor, I was cau-


tioned not to add another member for the sake of adding an-

changes over time, from the collection of the baseline data

other student. However, I believed that there were other stu-

to the post-intervention data. The graphs show an overall

dents in my class that struggled with fluency and could genu-

lack of consistency or steady increase in ratings over time

inely benefit from additional instruction.

for every student, as can be seen in the data table and graphs from Appendices A and B.

Over the five weeks, I collected a variety of information about my intervention and my student’s progress. I gathered

An important resource of information that was accessed was

copies of all student poems and work. During the week, I

the parent(s) or guardian of each participant. The surveys,

took anecdotal notes about student interest, motivation, and

which asked questions about each student’s reading habits

work. Votes were recorded after each Fluency Idol. All audio

and fluency, provided information about the effectiveness of

recordings and self-evaluation sheets were kept in student

the intervention program. One parent wrote, “His rate is

data folders. After the four weeks of instruction ended, a fi-

smoother since poetry group – I think that re-reading the

nal reading was recorded using the Quick Voice App. I sent a

same passage boosted his confidence so that he could have

survey home to be completed by the parents or guardians of

more expression over time,” (Appendix C). Another parent

the participants in the poetry group. Additionally, copies of

said, “He does seem to be reading better.” Additionally, the

all letters and information sent to parents were retained.

guardian of Student C identified that around the time that C joined the poetry group, she began to notice improvements


in the use of expression and reading of punctuation when reading aloud. Student R identified, on his own during the

As a result of analyzing my data, three important things I

spring parent-teacher conference, that he thought the poetry

learned include:

group was helping to improve his rate.

The Poetry Intervention Program resulted in an increase in

Improvements weren’t only seen by the parents, but also by

reading with fluency for the targeted students.

two other adults at the school. Mrs. E., the classroom teacher and my mentor teacher, related that she noticed Stu-

Involvement in the poetry group resulted in an increase in

dent Z reading with more fluency during guided reading

interest and motivation during Daily 5.

groups. During a data collection day, my student teaching supervisor, Mr. S., observed Student R reading aloud while

A relationship was identified between accuracy and rate.

recording on the iPad. While R was reading, I noticed Mr. S. smile, nod, and mouth “Wow.” Afterwards, he said that this

Finding #1: The Poetry Intervention Program resulted in an

student’s fluency had come a long way from the beginning of

increase in reading with fluency. For each reading, fluency

my intervention.

was rated 0-10 for rate, punctuation, accuracy, and expression. As seen in the tables showing the ratings, the scores

Finding #2: Involvement in the poetry group resulted in an

from the cold reading (pre-instruction) either remained the

increase in interest and motivation during Daily 5. After the

same or increased during the warm reading (post-

first week of the intervention, the four students in my poetry

instruction). There are only two instances in which there was

group began to come up to me at the beginning of Daily 5 to

a decrease in the rating for punctuation. In both cases, for

ask when I would be pulling them out for Poetry Group. If,

Student R and Student Z, the pre-instruction score was a 10

for some reason, I was not meeting with them that day, they

and the post-instruction score received was a 9. The in-

always asked why and would make a noise of disappoint-

crease in ratings for each skill demonstrates the effective-

ment before walking away. Even now, weeks after the end of

ness of the intervention over the week.

the intervention program, these students continue to ask about meeting for the Poetry Group.

Despite the short-term improvement from the cold reading to the warm reading, the effect of the intervention program over

The parent and guardian surveys revealed that students

a longer period of time is less obvious. Appendix B illustrates

talked about their involvement in the Poetry Group in a positive way. When asked if the poetry group was mentioned at


home, Student R’s mom said that he had “talked a little bit


about it and said he won the fluency award twice,” (Appendix C). Another survey that was conducted directed the ques-

As I have moved through the inquiry process, I have learned

tions to the students. Three of the four students said that

much about myself as a teacher, my students as learners,

they enjoyed Daily 5 and the Poetry Group because they

and how my teaching can be impacted by what I have

were able to read with friends. This was also evident in their

learned. First, I have come to realize that the format through

genial interactions with each other.

which this intervention was implemented is unrealistic for a classroom teacher to implement. The instructional time re-

The interest and motivation to participate in reading activities

quired is more than could be dedicated to only four students

during the Poetry Group was epitomized during the fourth

in the classroom. If I were to implement a similar program, I

week, which focused on expression. Student B and Student

would decrease the direct instruction and increase the time

Z are whom I would consider reluctant readers. In general,

students spend working independently. For example, I would

they don’t find Daily 5 enjoyable. Also, B strongly dislikes per-

teach students how to record themselves reading and

forming in front of others and seems to feel uncomfortable when asked to read with expression. During one activity that week, I asked the students to practice expression by reading a short poem in different voices. To my surprise, B was instantly up and out of his chair with his hand in the air. He showed great expression while talking in a southern accent. Every student’s eagerness to participate in activities and perform their poems was demonstrative of the interest that was generated by this program. Finding #3: A relationship was identified between accuracy and rate. Although it is not necessarily causal, a correlation was identified between these two aspects of fluency while completing running records and recording students reading on the iPad. In January, while completing a running record for Z in a Level M book, I noticed that he read with average fluency and a small number of errors. It was determined that he was independent at Level M. However, when I had him read a Level O book, in order to determine the highest level that he could read, I noticed a large jump in errors and increased lack of fluency. I better understood this relationship while listening to my students record their reading on the iPad. When students encounter a larger number of difficult or unknown words in a text, they must pause in order to decode it. This was particularly the case when reading with Z. From looking at the table of ratings for each audio recording, the scores for accuracy and rate are very similar over time.


Masters of Minecraft: A Quest to Integrate Popular Literacies into Reading Grace Adams My name is Grace Adams, and I am honored to be a part of the extended PDS community! I was a PDS intern during the 2014-2015 school year, where I was paired with the talented and creative Cheryl McCarty in third grade at Gray's Woods Elementary. It was in Room 82 where I was challenged and encouraged, it is where I became enchanted with third grade, and where I grew as a student and a rising educator. I am currently teaching third grade at Rosa Lee Carter Elementary in Ashburn, Virginia, where I'm still growing and learning exponentially each new day. I'm thankful for a profession that encourages me to delight in learning, and for my PDS experience where those roots were planted!  Abstract: “I traded my emeralds for iron ingots to protect my

Still, some students have not chosen a book to read, and

villagers from zombie invasions!” Quips about Minecraft

some have not yet located their book bins.

were spawning like zombies, frequently emerging in my students’ writing, talk and play. The enthusiasm present in their

As I scan the room of my twenty third-grade students, I see

voices caused me to wonder, “How can I harness this energy

some dawdling to begin, eyes fluttering around the room

toward reading?” Giving students opportunities to independ-

avoiding the lines of text, busying themselves with other

ently read is essential in developing voracious readers, but

tasks until they are prompted to start reading. I see reluc-

my students were often disengaged or uninterested. After

tance, disinterest, and stalling, a disheartening awareness

discovering student interests, I implemented a Minecraft-

for a teacher attempting to inspire passion for reading. How

based literature circle in hopes to increase motivation for

can I motivate my students to read? How can I encourage

reading. Join a teacher, five students, and Minecraft’s Steve

students to become voracious readers? I considered other

as we venture through the depths of literature and the Over-

parts of the day, the morning routine, exchanges during tran-

world dimension.

sitions, and recess, where enthusiasm and animation characterize their conversations and play. The energy and zeal disBackground

played during these times proved to be a stark contrast to their engagement during read to self.

She starts a countdown from ten. Ten, nine, eight--one boy has bolted to his desk, the next book in the 39 Clues Series

What was the difference? What was happening during these

already flung open to the first page. Seven, six, five--many

independent times that wasn’t happening during our literacy

children have found pillows and have sprawled out on the

block? I listened, I watched, I questioned. What emerged

carpet, leisurely opening their books and settling in. Four--a

was an informal gallery viewing of Pokemon EX cards, a

few students are at their cubbies, searching in their desks,

heated debate about which resources are more advanta-

getting a drink of water. Three--I watch as one boy sits at his

geous in Minecraft, and an appreciation for the design and

desk, the empty table top in front of him, looking but unmov-

capabilities of a Star Wars Star Destroyer. The passion and

ing. Two--another boy walks around the room, opposite of

fervency in their voices was sparked by their interests, and

his book bin, finds a seat at the back table, and rests his

the depth of knowledge they have for these popular culture

head in his arms. One. I glance around the room at the varia-

literacies was overwhelming. This energy is exactly what I

tion before my eyes. When she reached one, the students

wanted to capture and unleash into literacy learning, which

were expected to find a spot in the room and begin read to

led me to question, “In what ways can popular culture be in-

self, selecting books from their book bin or the classroom

cluded in literacy learning to help students grow as read-

library. Many students are already reading, their eyebrows

ers?” Therefore, the purpose of my inquiry was to investigate

furrowed as they take in the words. Other students are sit-

their interests further, and use popular culture as a vehicle to

ting in pairs, looking through books together, either a book

engage students in thoughtful reading.

on the Star Wars Universe or World’s Hardest Brainteasers.



(Dyson, 1993, p. 28). This student’s attention to the existing gap reinforced my purpose of infusing interests into student

With this purpose, I wondered, “What popular culture inter-


ests emerge in my students’ talk and play, and in what ways can integrating those interests into the curriculum motivate

After the initial survey, I read through student responses, re-

students to read?”

cording their ideas and marking answers that appeared frequently, across surveys. Although I was looking for themes


throughout the surveys, reading student open-ended answers also enlightened as to who my students are as people

How do popular texts connect to literacy skills?

and what they enjoy doing outside of school. Knowing this information not only directed my inquiry, but also allowed me

How does group size and setup effect motivation for read-

to make connections to students’ interests across subjects. I


compiled a list of the most popular answers that emerged in the surveys: Minecraft, Legos, Mario Kart, Pokémon, Star

In what ways can blogging be used as a tool to increase in-

Wars, Frozen, and outdoor winter sports (snowboarding, ski-

teraction with a text?

ing, ice hockey). From this information, I fashioned another survey, this time using these interests as options that stu-

Data Collection and Analysis Procedures

dents could check off, indicating that they liked them or played with them at home (Appendix B).

To gain insight into my wondering, my first step was obvious; I needed to collect data on what popular culture literacies

This wave of surveys allowed me to identify the top three

my students were engaging with both in and outside of

most common popular culture interests among our class of

school. Their interests were the driving force of this inquiry,

twenty students as: Minecraft, Pokémon, and Legos. With

and needed to be identified before I could begin to integrate

my goal of creating small reading groups based around a

them into the reading curriculum. I reviewed my own writing

popular culture element and a set of targeted reading objec-

reflections as an insight into what I’ve observed and heard

tives, I decided to interview my students to further gauge

students discussing and playing with throughout the day.

their interest of these three texts (Appendix C). I hoped to

From these anecdotal observations, I knew my students en-

develop these groups based on one collective interest, such

joyed the movie Frozen, Pokemon cards, Star Wars the

as Minecraft. I met with each student individually, asking him

Clone Wars, and Super Mario games. I began by having stu-

to rank the three texts from his favorite to least favorite, de-

dents complete an open-ended survey that included ques-

scribing why his number one ranking was favorable, and to

tions such as, “What do you play with when you get home

estimate the time spent engaging with that text during the

from school?” and “What are your favorite TV shows or mov-

week. Students were thrilled to talk about their number one

ies?” (Appendix A). Students were encouraged to write as

interest; many spoke so quickly that I could barely keep up

much as they wanted to share. A peculiar moment arose

typing down their words, including culture-specific terms

when one student glimpsed at the survey and said, in some-

that were not in my repertoire. Knowing students’ top inter-

what of an outrage, “She wants to know what we do in our

est choice gave me direction in planning reading groups.

personal lives!” His response to my genuine wondering of student interests implied his perception of an invisible barrier

Integrating popular literacies into the curriculum is perceived,

between their interests and school, two domains that are usu-

by some, as a folly. Educators may argue that there is little to

ally separated. This disconnect emphasizes Anne Dyson’s

gain academically from video games, trading cards, or mov-

permeable curriculum, one that, “Seeks to acknowledge and

ies. However, I was supported in my endeavor to make con-

respect the complexity of children’s social worlds and cul-

nections between popular culture and the curriculum by a

tural materials. And it attempts, not only to create bridges

variety of professional literature available on this topic. Shel-

between worlds, but to support children’s own naming and

ley Xu, author of, “Trading Cards to Comic Strips, 2005,”

manipulating of the dynamic relationships between worlds”

highlights the organic connection between student interests and literacy learning. She writes, “While interacting with


popular culture texts, students demonstrate their literacy

At this point, I mainly focused on investigating my students’

knowledge. For example, students need to become familiar

popular culture interests and compiling information on their

with story grammar (i.e., characters, settings, problems, prob-

goals and needs. However, I realized I was overlooking an

lems solutions, and theme) in a television show or in comic

important part of my wondering; I needed to gather informa-

books and cartoons in order to enjoy these popular culture

tion on who my students are as readers. Earlier in the year,

texts” (p. 6). She continues to describe how popular culture

as a class, we brainstormed and defined appropriate read-

can be offered in school as a tool for differentiating instruc-

to-self behaviors as: no talking, look at the pages, pick a

tion by writing, “an emerging body of research has docu-

good spot away from others, keep your hands on your book,

mented that an integration of popular culture texts into teach-

and no eating. With those behaviors definitively in place, I

ing provides students with an additional or alternative oppor-

continued to investigate my students’ awareness of them-

tunity to learn about literacy and to demonstrate their literacy

selves as readers. What are their attitudes toward reading?

skills” (p. 6). These popular culture opportunities allow stu-

How do they choose new books, and are they sticking with

dents to engage in literacy in a medium that is familiar to

them? What behaviors are they engaging in while reading? I


created and shared a Google Form with my students, including questions about perceptions of themselves as readers,

This inquiry is not only an attempt to engage students in

how they choose books, and their favorite genres (Appendix

thoughtful literary practices, but also to create a curriculum

D). When asked, “What is your attitude toward reading inde-

that is accessible and motivating to third graders. In a paper

pendently at school?” ten students responded that they love

titled, “Release the Dragon: The Role of Popular Culture in

to read independently, and nine students responded that

Children’s Stories, 2012,” by Urbach and Eckhoff states,

reading independently is okay. No students chose “don’t

“Culturally relevant teaching depends upon the classroom

like,” or “hate” reading independently. Again, when students

educator’s willingness to learn about children’s home cul-

were asked, “How do you view yourself as a reader?” all stu-

tures and create classroom opportunities for children to crea-

dents responded either with “I am a good reader,” or “I am

tively draw upon that knowledge in order to make schooling

an amazing reader.” Their reflections about themselves as

relevant to their lives” (p. 24). The aim is to know my stu-

readers were overwhelmingly positive, creating a disparity

dents, and to be responsive to their interests and experi-

from the uninterested students I had observed perusing

ences. Again, Anne Dyson’s (1993) “permeable curriculum,”

shelves or frequently changing books.

one where student interests are celebrated and utilized, is applicable for me in obtaining this professional goal: develop-

The conflict between what I observed and what the students

ing positive and close relationships with my students. She

reflected was puzzling. I decided to look closer at their be-

eloquently illustrates the benefits of a co-constructed world

haviors while reading by identifying common behaviors I no-

between teachers and students: “Such a shared world is es-

ticed and documenting the frequency of their occurrence (Ap-

sential for the growth of both oral and written language, and

pendix E). Determining these behaviors would be one piece

it is essential as well if teachers and children are to feel con-

in identifying student engagement and motivation while read-

nected to, not alienated from, each other” (p. 1).

ing; are they appropriately reading to self, or are they participating in other unfocused behaviors? The undesirable behav-

While investigating my students’ popular text interests, I un-

iors include: asking to go to the bathroom, changing reading

derstood that I was aiming to not only meet their interests,

material, browsing bookshelves, staring at or flipping

but their needs as well. I gathered student assessment data,

through pages, choosing to do other work, and other. The

specifically their Reading Measures of Academic Progress,

checklist included student names, and a tally under the cate-

MAP, scores, which specifies student strengths and need

gory each time I observed the student engaging in the behav-

areas. I also collected student Reading CAFE goals. Stu-

ior. This systematic observation gave me an opportunity and

dents had reviewed the menu and chose one or two goals

purpose for paying uninterrupted attention to my students

they wanted to focus on, such as checking for understand-

during a task.

ing or capturing new words. This academic data helped guide my objectives when structuring reading groups.

Observing and recording their behaviors provided insight into student reading behaviors, illuminating the variation be-


tween student perceptions of themselves as readers and

build anything they desire using all of the available blocks”

teachers’ perceptions of their disengagement during read to

(Petrov, p. 20).   

self. Frequent behaviors, such as talking to a classmate (“other”) and flipping through pages, were the most com-

After becoming newly versed in Minecraft jargon and finding

monly observed across days and different students. It was

a chapter book that follows the unexpected hero Steve

also interesting to document the frequency in which particu-

through the perils of Minecraft’s Overworld, I needed to deter-

lar students visited the classroom library or changed reading

mine the logistics of the group. If my variable was the read-

material. I observed patterns of two individual students who

ing material, it was essential to keep the reading lesson con-

often browsed the bookshelves, and three students who re-

sistent with our standard reading routines. I connected our

peatedly changed reading material. While this behavior was

literature circle to reading goals and state standards. While

less widespread, it reinforced the notion that students were

journeying with Steve, students would discuss the develop-

not consistently sticking with their books.

ment of Steve’s character, explore and define new words, use metacognitive strategies, and engage in a conversation

There were many factors to consider. Were the students en-

and blogging as an alternative way of interacting with a text.

gaging in these behaviors because they were in between two

These objectives also aligned with students’ reading CAFE

books, and looking for their next good fit? Were the students

goals, many of whom delineated they wanted to improve

restless, and therefore not engaged in independent reading

their ability to capture new words and become and vora-

on a certain day? Or were the students simply not motivated

cious reader. I tracked students’ daily contributions to discus-

and excited by their reading material? To manipulate the last

sion by a checklist roster, marking the depth, quality, and fre-

variable, the reading material itself, I decided to create a lit-

quency of their responses.

erature circle with a small group of students. I chose the literature circle due to its interactive nature; according to a liter-

Thus began the journey of five students and one teacher to

acy study by David Barton and Mary Hamilton, “Literacy is

the Overworld. On our first day as a group, I explained to the

primarily something people do; it is an activity, located in the

students what a literature circle was--a group of people who

space between thought and text” (Xu, p. 13).

read the same book and talk about it. Discussing a book with others is one way to interact with a text, instead of just

Originally, I had envisioned meeting with three different

reading the words. As a group, we designated some guide-

groups, one each for Minecraft, Pokemon, and Legos texts.

lines that we would all agree upon for our discussions. Stu-

However, to increase the quality and depth of our literature

dents spoke freely with each other, considering ideas such

discussions and learning, I decided to focus on one popular

as: take turns, don’t read ahead, be a good listener and

culture topic with a single group: Minecraft. Anton Petrov, a

don’t talk over others, politely disagree, dig deep, and every-

graduate student who researched the benefits and chal-

one participate. Once students signed our guidelines in

lenges of game-based education in Canada, provides a de-

agreement, I unveiled our reading material to our group, “The

scriptive background on Minecraft for those unfamiliar with

Quest of the Diamond Sword,” by Winter Morgan. Immedi-

its purpose. He describes Minecraft as, “an open world, ex-

ately, students’ eyes widened; some even let out a happy

ploration and building game, written in Java and released in

squeal. In a reflection journal, I wrote about our first day pre-

2011 for PC by a Swedish company Mojang. The entire

viewing the book. I was particularly amazed by one boy, and

world of Minecraft is built out of 1m3 textured blocks that

mused about his reaction (Appendix G). I wrote, “Just by

can be either mined or used in construction of anything from

looking at the cover, one boy automatically said, “That’s

a new pickaxe to a full scale model of a city. The randomly

Steve! How did he get a diamond sword?” He immediately

generated world contains several different biomes that simu-

recognized the main character, who I didn’t know until I be-

late climate conditions on Earth and also has a day/night cy-

gan reading the book. He also immediately posed a question

cle, with night being populated by various aggressive mon-

based on a title and his prior knowledge of Minecraft play:

sters. The game features two modes, one called “survival”

“Why does he need a diamond sword, and how is he going

where a player has to try to live for as long as possible by

to make one?” Already, he was wondering about the plot

feeding, clothing and taking care of their character and the

and the events that Steve undergoes to acquire such an

other being the “creative” mode that allows the player to



Encouraged by their excited voices and activation of a read-

the most surprising part about this chapter?” Sample ques-

ing mindset, we read the back cover summary and pre-

tions were available for the students and I to reference dur-

viewed the chapter titles. Without any prompts, the students

ing this time.

began to share their ideas with each other, taking appropriate turns. The chapter titles spurred many wonderings, con-

Questioning a text is a strategy to improve engagement with

nections, and predictions from the students. In my reflection

what you’re reading, and when given the responsibility to try

journal, I wrote, “One student noticed a joke in the title,

the role of discussion director, the students easily demon-

“Nether Ending.” She began to laugh, and then proceeded to

strated their ability to generate a discussion among their

explain to me why that was a clever title (“Because Nether

peers. At the end of one session in particular, the chapter

[the dimension] is dark and dangerous and it’s really hard to

ended with an intense cliff hanger. Steve, the main character

get out”).” She applied her background knowledge of the

built a portal and escapes a zombie attack in the Overworld

worlds in Minecraft to engage in the book’s humor--a collec-

to the Nether. The students were bursting with thoughts and

tion of inside jokes exclusively designed for those who under-

ideas. “Well, I’m wondering why does he really go to the

stand the game. Her knowledge of the Nether was not the

Nether when he really needs to save his friends? There’s

only instance where a student connected knowledge of Mine-

more dangerous creatures in the Nether than zombies,” said

craft’s dimensions to engage in the previewing activity. I also

Zander*. Many students had follow-up questions to his con-

reflected that, “A boy noticed an interesting juxtaposition of

tribution. “My question is, if Steve has obsidian, then doesn’t

the chapter titles. He said, “I don’t get it. This chapter is

he have diamonds?” Jackie* pondered. “I just don’t get why

called “Nether Ending” and the next chapter is “Dragon En-

he would go to the Nether when it’s more dangerous...”

counter. How did he travel from Nether to the dragon so

Doug* added, to emphasize the chapter’s surprising end. Af-

quickly? They’re all the way across the dimension.” It was

ter more thoughts on his sudden departure, Rebecca*

incredible to witness students’ schema being evoked simply

quipped, “Also why would he go in a cave if he’s never been

by skimming the chapter titles. By reflecting on their contribu-

in one before?” The students were respectful of each other’s

tions to discussion and analyzing the processes necessary

questioning, listening to their questions, not speaking over

to make connections and predictions, it was obvious that

one another, and offering their ideas in response. In an at-

students were accessing a wealth of accumulated knowl-

tempt to hypothesize why Steve would abandon the village,

edge through Minecraft gameplay and applying it to these

Mark* said, “Maybe he doesn’t know what it [the Nether] is

literary practices.

because he’s never been on an adventure.” David replied, “Oh yeah, that could be right! Actually that’s a good predic-

Our literature circle, the “Secret Sword Squad” creatively

tion.” Rebecca added, “And he’s never been in a cave be-

dubbed by the students, met every morning during our read-

fore,” using another example to support Steve’s inexperi-

ing time. Data was collected and analyzed across three

ence with adventure. Student’s use of questioning in discus-

weeks of meetings, and has continued to be accumulated

sions and blogging inspired an open dialogue in our circle to

due to its ongoing nature. Each session was video recorded

make sense of the text.

to review student responses and behaviors, and students also had the opportunity to engage in reflective writing or

As our discussions followed Steve’s journey between

blogging (Appendix F). Our first week was largely focused

worlds, we also mapped his journey as a growing and devel-

around two ideas: creating a discussion about the text and

oping character. In the text, Steve is introduced as a cau-

mapping Steve’s character development with evidence from

tious and unadventurous user, as noted by Zander when he

the book. First, I wanted to foster an open discussion. To pro-

sites evidence to explain, “He’s not an adventurous

mote conversation among my students, I introduced the role

person...he likes to stick to the adventure books.” This is an

of “discussion director.” The discussion director is in charge

explicit conversation between Steve and the village librarian,

of facilitating discussion, asking questions about the book to

which provides foreshadowing to Steve’s inevitable growth

the group. I modeled the role of discussion director first,

as a character. The students connected this presage to the

showing students that questions can occur authentically

title, realizing he has to explore dangerous worlds to get dia-

from the text, such as, “Why did Steve leave his house that

monds for a sword. As we read on, we learned that Steve

evening?” or questions can be probing, such as, “What was

leaves his house during a zombie attack. Doug comments


on this change of character, saying, “He was cautious and

and their replies to each other’s comments. Mark shared a

sometimes when he wants to save the village he gets brave

strategy, writing, “I made a prediction on page 20 that he

and courageous because he wants to save the village.” Mark

would make a potion of weakness and a golden apple to

added on with, “I think that when he was starting to feel

cure the blacksmith.” Jackie posted, “On page 22 I was won-

more confident was when he was in bed.” This sparked an

dering why he would make another nether portal so he way

interesting discussion not only about Steve’s progression as

far away but that would be way more dangerous than just on

a bolder and braver character, but also his motivation for this

the normal portal. Also if he went on the normal one then he

change in personality. Why did he leave the protection of his

could save the Liberian.” After finishing the chapter where

house that evening? Doug comments, “He wants to save the

Steve escaped the dangers of the Nether, Zander posted

villagers to not let them die. Because they’re his friends and

that, “I learned to never mess with a blaze,” undoubtedly

if he didn’t have the villagers he would just starve.” Then

learning a lesson for his future Minecraft gameplay. Using

Jackie adds, “It says in the book that they give him every-

metacognition invites students to consider their thinking and

thing he needs. So that means pretty much they gave him a

their use of reading strategies throughout independent read-

pick axe so he can mine everything except for diamonds. So


now he has gold and silver.” The students dug deep into Steve’s character, recognizing events that prove his growth

Reflections and Implications for Future Practice

and empathizing to gain insight into his motivations. As a result of analyzing my data, three important things I After students became comfortable with the conversational

learned include:

atmosphere of the circle, I introduced a focus of metacognitive strategies in weeks two and three. Each student re-

Popular culture literacies allow students to access their prior

ceived small sticky notes and a reading key that included

knowledge to make connections and predictions in a text.

symbols for different metacognitive strategies used while reading. I modeled first, showing students how to take the

Students are motivated to read a book that is closely con-

time to stop and reflect on their thinking. While reading

nected to their interests that they engage in outside of

aloud, I stopped periodically and used post-its to mark the


places in my book where I made a prediction, asked a question, or made a connection. Then, students were given time

The most immediately apparent finding was how profound

to independently read, and use post-its of their own to track

my students’ knowledge of Minecraft was. Throughout our

their thinking. This activity provided insight into how my stu-

literature circle meetings, I learned that popular culture litera-

dents are engaging with the text. Are they consistently taking

cies allowed students to activate their deep well of knowl-

the time to think about the text throughout, or are they only

edge to engage in thoughtful reading practices, such as mak-

using metacognition at the end of the chapter? It was excit-

ing connections and predictions to the text. Students natu-

ing to subtly survey the students as they read and used their

rally connected their gameplay experiences with the plot to

reading key. Some students’ eyes would get wide or they

provide problem-solving suggestions to our hero, Steve. The

would let out a small exclamation, like, “What?” and then

students had a particularly stimulating conversation with

they would reach for the post-it. Over the course of one

each other, applying their schema of Minecraft play, when

chapter, Rebecca used eight post-its, Mark and Doug both

Steve’s village was being invaded by zombies.

used five post-its, Jackie used two and Zander used one post-it to mark places that they stopped to think about the text. After denoting a piece of the text as a time they used metacognition, the students were prompted to use our class’s blog to give an example of where they used a strategy dur-

• Doug: “What I’m wondering is how the zombies get into the village?” • Zander: “Maybe...I have a prediction! Maybe the Iron Golem couldn’t handle all the zombies and the zombies attack and the Iron Golem dies.”

ing independent reading. This post resulted in the most comments from students, due to their responses to the prompt


• Jackie: “Well I was going to say, that the Golems can only fight a certain amount, so if there’s like a ton of zombies spawning then they’ll always go after him because he’s the

• Doug: “Yeah that would be good because he’s just standing on top of his house just shooting them. They can’t...they’re not smart enough to climb.

strongest. So then he has a ton of people...If the zombies just touch the villagers then, if you touched the blacksmith then you wouldn’t have a blacksmith anymore. And the blacksmith has a chest which can sometimes can give you

• Mark: “Also, he may not have that many arrows. He may like, only have like four and that’s not enough to defeat 100 zombies.”

a diamond, gold, apples, pumpkin pie, stuff like that.” • Mark: “I think I know how the zombies invaded. A creeper may have came and made a giant hole in the fence and then all the zombies came in and some of them died but

• Jackie: “He could go outside on his roof and build a block here and a block here and two blocks on either side and another block back and another one up and across and down. And leave a hole there and shoot out of that.”

they overpowered the golem and defeated the blacksmith.” The students accessed their knowledge of the effects of zom-

• Doug: “I know a way to outsmart zombies. You just do a stair case, they go up the staircase and they go up and fall in the hole and die.”

bie attacks and applied it to the village’s situation. They were predicting the downfall of the Golem by identifying his characteristics, that he is a protector but has limits to his abilities, and by being aware of the zombies’ formidable force.

• Rebecca: “I would add like a hole in the ground and when they try to come get you on the stairs or something they would just fall through the hole.”

Then, they recognized the target of the zombies, the blacksmith, one of the most valuable Minecraft characters, as

In these discussions, students’ engagement was overwhelm-

noted by Jackie. Although they had different predictions,

ingly present. They went beyond hypothetical predictions;

both Jackie and Mark were conscious that the blacksmith

they have become a part of the story, constructing its mean-

was in danger, insight that can be explained by their

ing by connecting their experiences in the game with the


text. They are sharing Steve’s adventure, aligning with his character and using their knowledge to guide him on his

We read on, absorbing each word of the zombie attack.

quest. Good readers constantly make the story relevant to

Steve was in a dilemma, the Iron Golem, protector of the vil-

their own lives by recognizing connections and using those

lage, had been defeated, resulting in the zombies overtaking

personal experiences to create thoughtful predictions. Al-

the villagers. Students proceeded to give suggestions to

though not every text is going to be as applicable as the

Steve about decisions he could make, connecting their pre-

Quest for the Diamond Sword, using their knowledge of Mi-

dictions for the plot to their knowledge of Minecraft game-

necraft allows students to practice these strategies with a


text that is extremely familiar to them.

• Doug: “Something goes wrong...he [the Iron Golem] dies.”

From our meetings, I have also learned that students are highly motivated to participate in our daily literature circle.

• Rebecca: “Okay. You know how Jackie said about the bow? And you said he might not have a bow? Well now we know he does.”

First, the reading material, The Quest for the Diamond Sword, has proven to motivate my students. Integrating a popular culture text was an essential part of my wondering; my goal was to create a reading environment based on an

• Doug: “He could just stand on the top and shoot them down.”

enthralling text that students freely chose to engage in outside of school. Magda Levin-Gutierrez, (2015), who investigated the effects of Minecraft on student motivation, wrote,

• Zander: “But then it would attract all the other zombies and they would be coming toward Steve.”

“The amount of information they have learned through exploring this game because they wanted to, cannot be matched by an imposed set of curriculum guidelines” (p. 33). She em-


phasizes that this learning is more meaningful and relevant

would accept such a thing. His post proves he is interacting

to the students because it is driven by a text that students

with the text at a much deeper level; he’s challenging the

sovereignly enjoy. Incorporating Minecraft elicits students’

events of the book, supported by his Minecraft experiences.

activation of schema and is accompanied by their preexist-

From this data, I can attribute these remarks toward reading

ing motivation for that topic. By analyzing my data, I have

a Minecraft-based book as an intrinsically motivating activity.

defined motivation as receiving positive feedback and other comments from students as well as tracking quality and fre-

I have also observed a correlation between increased partici-

quency of engagement during discussions.  I believe that the

pation and motivation. I believe that students who are consis-

Minecraft-based text has improved students’ intrinsic motiva-

tently engaging in the discussion with quality contributions

tion for reading as well as enhanced student participation

are motivated by the reading material. To illustrate this claim,

and confidence to discuss a text.

I will describe Jackie and Rebecca. Jackie is a relatively quiet girl who has devoted herself to becoming a “voracious

To unpack intrinsic motivation, I would like to look more

reader,” as described on our Reading CAFE menu. During

closely at Mark. Mark is a competent reader, who has a his-

our literature circle meetings, on any given day, Jackie is un-

tory of enduring through longer chapter books because he

doubtedly the student who participates most in discussion.

enjoys them. After we had finished our very first literature cir-

For example, on March 19, Jackie contributed 16 comments

cle previewing activity, Mark approached me with animated

to the discussion, out of 49 total comments. This means,

eyes. “Miss Adams...when are we doing that book club thing

Jackie’s contributions alone accounted for one third of the

again? Like, are we only doing it on Tuesdays? Or are we do-

entire discussion. She doesn’t just share anything with the

ing it twice a week?” I was overjoyed to reveal that we would

group; her remarks are consistently of high quality, which I

be spending each morning together, reading through the

have defined as using metacognitive strategies such as pre-

book. With that answer, he exclaimed, “Yeah! I love this

dicting or questioning, citing the text for evidence, and mak-

book!” While the adventurous plot of the book could un-

ing relevant connections with the text. For example, when

doubtedly be a motivator for Mark, I believe that his enthusi-

determining the factors causing Steve to leave his secure

asm stems from his interest in Minecraft being recognized in

home and protect the village, Jackie said, “It says in the

the reading curriculum. Reading had now become an exten-

book that they give him everything he needs. So that means

sion of his gameplay.  Consistently, across three weeks, I re-

pretty much they gave him a pick axe so he can mine every-

corded instances where Mark expressed positive feedback

thing except for diamonds. So now he has gold and silver.”

toward the circle and the book. For example, on March 19,

Here, she is connecting textual evidence to her theory of

during an in-depth discussion about Steve’s motivation to

why it is necessary for Steve to risk his life to save the villag-

protect the villagers from a zombie attack, Mark quipped,

ers, because they provide him with his basic needs. She con-

“Actually could we keep reading because I want to get to

tinues by saying, “Let’s say he has a bunch more people

chapter two?” He was consumed by the exciting battle and

coming. The builders give them everything they need. If they

needed to keep reading, purely for the reason that he

were all like, a coward, if he just let them die he would be the

wanted to find out what happened next. According to Levin-

one who would get blamed for it because he’s more coura-

Gutierrez, “Intrinsic motivation refers to a desire for accom-

geous than the others and didn’t do anything to help.” Now

plishing a task for reasons of enjoyment, personal interest, or

she examines a more abstract form of motivation--the possi-

importance to the individual and not imposed by anybody

bility of receiving unwanted societal judgment.

else” (p. 37). This is a prime example of Mark being driven to read on due to his personal interest and the enjoyment of the

Rebecca is another student whose engagement and partici-

reading material. Similarly, on March 25, Mark created a blog

pation in discussion has improved with the literature circle.

post that read, “This book the Quest for the Diamond sword

Rebecca is a very outgoing girl, often contributing to class-

is a really good book but the zombie battle could be better

room discussions with high energy. Rebecca also expressed

for example the zombie took armor now he is invincible

interest in reading the Minecraft-based book, saying, “I

really? Really?” Again, Mark expresses his favor toward the

played Minecraft last night until 10:00 pm. Then I had to go

book; but he also questions the events in the text, communi-

to bed.” However, in the beginning of our meetings, Rebecca

cating his incredulity, as if no one in the Minecraft circle

seemed hesitant to participate or to read out loud. For exam-


ple, on March 19, she was chosen to read by another stu-

sibilities the students had while reading and contributing to

dent. She quickly picked up her book and asked, “Oh

discussion. The impact of the size and structure of the circle

okay...wait where are we?” She shifted around in her seat,

became apparent when I asked my students to reflect on the

rearranging her legs under her body, giggling softly. Her

first week of our meetings, and to share their thoughts with

body language and feeble voice were indicators that maybe

the group. Jackie said, “I like it. Because everybody gets to

she wasn’t comfortable reading aloud. When Rebecca read

share what they’re thinking. So if like, someone shares what

one paragraph, she stopped. Jackie encouraged her, “You

they’re thinking it might give you an idea.” Her comment

can read more if you want!” Rebecca simply shook her head

about the group reflected its small, open and discussion-

and smiled shyly, while letting out a breath, “Could I pick

based nature, without mentioning the reading material at all.

someone?” She passed the reading on to another student.

While other students shared thoughts such as, “This book is amazing!” and, “I love this book!” it was Jackie’s comment

The next day, Rebecca began our discussion. “Last night I

that made me realize there are multiple factors at work in our

tried that thing in Minecraft, I tried to trap the zombies but it

literature discussions.

was in creative so but I tried to kill them with the staircase but it didn’t work, they were too smart.” Rebecca was bridg-

Wanting to inquire more about my students’ feelings toward

ing the gap between reading and recreational Minecraft play;

the Minecraft-based text, I posted a reflective blog prompt

she extended and applied her learning past the school day.

where students were to compare The Quest of the Diamond

This is evidence that her knowledge of Minecraft can be

Sword to a different book they’re reading independently. I

used during our literature circle at school, and her learning

asked them to describe which book they liked to read more

from group discussions can direct her Minecraft play. The

and why (Appendix F). Surprisingly, The group was split in

following week, when asking students to volunteer to read

half--two students said they preferred other books, and three

first, Rebecca immediately raised her hand, waving it back

students affirmed that they were more interested in the Mine-

and forth in the air. Surprised at her sudden enthusiasm, I

craft book. The students who chose the Minecraft book in-

asked her to get us started. She read three large paragraphs.

cluded reasons such as, “I enjoy reading this book because

She struggled with a few words--twice she asked their mean-

it’s really cool because I can make connections,” from Zan-

ing, and once another student helped her with pronunciation.

der and, “I like this one because it is more adventurous and

Rebecca could have stopped reading after one or two para-

the other book just talks about his life and isn’t that fun,”

graphs, but she persevered through the challenging words to

from Jackie.

read three entire paragraphs, an enormous improvement. Both of the girls became more confident and comfortable

However, the more enlightening comments were those stu-

interacting with the Minecraft-based text because it is pre-

dents in the minority. For example, Doug posted, “I like the

sented in a familiar context to them. Therefore, they were

Quest For The Diamond Sword because it is related to Mine-

more motivated to read it because it provides them the op-

craft but I like City of Ember more because the City of Ember

portunity to be an expert on a topic and offers a safe place

has more excitement and is more interesting.” While Doug

to take risks.

did express that he enjoys Minecraft, undoubtedly a motivator, he still chose our class’s read aloud, The City of Ember,

When analyzing my data, I had to consider if my students’

as his preferred choice. The other students’ comments

motivation could be entirely attributed to the Minecraft-

helped me to better understand his thinking. Mark replied to

based reading material. I needed to examine other factors at

Doug, “Quest for the Diamond Sword lacks cliff hangers.”

play in the literature circle to determine if additional aspects

Still puzzled by these responses, I read on to Rebecca’s

could cause an increase in motivation as well. First, I re-

post. She wrote, “I think I might like my book more than this

viewed the structure of the literature circle that my students

book because I read my book longer and this book is a good

were engaging in. It was a group of five students out of a

book I might like a book that I hadn’t played before.” With

class of twenty. Certainly working with a smaller group al-

Rebecca’s mention of a book she hadn’t “played before” and

lows for more attention to be given to each student, address-

Mark’s comment about “lacking cliffhangers,” I realized the

ing more closely their ideas and needs. I also reviewed the

obstacle; the students’ wealth of Minecraft knowledge was

elements of a literature discussion, including different respon-

actually hindering their ability to be engrossed in a story. The


magic of being surprised at the end of the book or the feel-

Throughout this process, I also learned a great deal about

ing of accomplishment when your prediction comes true was

myself as a teacher. First, I learned the importance of giving

not seemingly available to my students, who have played

the students an opportunity to present themselves as ex-

through the turmoils and worlds of Minecraft. Even though

perts. Connecting curriculum material to students’ experi-

these students chose their independent books, they still ac-

ences provides a space where they can use what they know

knowledged that they enjoy our book to some degree. Their

to develop academically targeted skills. I also learned that it

honesty helped me recognize that while I can claim the

is essential to listen actively and respectfully to student

Minecraft-based text to be a motivating drive for my stu-

ideas. Mostly I was just enamored with students’ fluency in

dents, there are additional factors, such as group size and

Minecraft discourse, but I also wanted to communicate to

frequent opportunities to share that are positively affecting

them that their ideas were valued and that they contributed

my students’ reading experiences as well.

to everyone’s learning, especially me, the group member who would often have to ask clarifying questions about as-


pects of the plot. This was a humbling role, and presented me as a learner right alongside my students. I believe that

During our literature circle meetings, we often spoke of

this equilibrium between teacher and students fostered an

quests and adventures as endeavors that include many

environment where we could reciprocally grow. Tendering

thrills and trials along the way. The inquiry process can also

the curriculum to student interests has allowed me to de-

be regarded as my own professional journey, one that is si-

velop more close and positive relationships with my group

multaneously wonderful and messy. Throughout this journey,

members, allowing me to be a part of their world of play and

I learned the many benefits of using the inquiry process to


drive my instruction. Inquiry is born out of reflective and responsive teaching. Each day, I kept coming back to my stu-

The more satisfying takeaways of this process come from

dents’ independent reading. I observed their disinterest, es-

the five bright smiles and inquisitive minds that surrounded

cape behaviors, and resistance, and it genuinely troubled

me each morning. The focus of this inquiry was to learn

me. Inquiry drove me to not only notice this pattern, but also

more about my students, and I have accomplished goal that

to take action and improve the situation. The goal was a sub-

tenfold. Because of the small size of our group, I was able to

stantial undertaking. Addressing the abstract concept of mo-

learn more about these students as readers, thinkers, Mine-

tivation and how it relates to independent reading? I was star-

craft players, and people. When facilitating discussion and

ing my own hostile zombie mob in the face. However, the

reflecting on circle video recordings, I noticed just how much

inquiry process equipped me with a diamond sword to con-

students value the opportunity to share their thoughts and

front this challenge. I learned the importance of acquiring

have their voices heard. I learned that each student’s contri-

significant baseline data to provide direction for the project,

butions helped them make sense of the text and the Mine-

and for instruction in general. I needed to collect multiple

craft context, even if I didn’t always understand their game

pieces of evidence--student interest surveys and interviews,

language. The students demonstrated the ability to effort-

CAFE goals, and MAP scores, among others--before I could

lessly combine elements of a popular text with targeted read-

even begin to envision how I was going to integrate their in-

ing strategies, illustrating the organic literary connection that

terests into the reading curriculum. During our literature cir-

is embedded in Minecraft and many other popular culture

cle meetings, I learned how important it was to provide stu-

literacies. They also taught me about the powerful effect mo-

dents with multiple ways to demonstrate their thinking, en-

tivation has on schooling practices, that when interests are

gagement, and interest. By gathering videos, blogs, and writ-

incorporated into the curriculum, learning can be effortlessly

ten work, I was able to have a clear picture of my students


as developing readers. One of the most important things I learned about the inquiry process was its cyclical nature;

While our text may have followed Steve on his perilous ad-

once I analyzed my data and realized a hiccup, it caused me

venture, the students and I embarked on our own journey--

to review my wondering and consider other factors that may

navigating the uncharted waters of fusing student Minecraft

be at work.

knowledge into the reading curriculum. Our passionate literature discussions, students’ elaborate explanations of Mine-


craft gameplay, and consistent and frequent participation all

Appendix A

originated from a simple thought. Connecting my students’ disengagement with independent reading to their enthusi-

Popular Culture Survey 1

asm for popular culture texts was the small first step that escalated into an engaging masterpiece, one where students

Name: _______________________________________

developed reading skills through the familiar context of Minecraft’s Overworld. Investigating and incorporating student interests into the curriculum can unleash limitless journeys for teachers and students to further explore learning to-

What do you play with when you get home from school?


References Dyson, A. (1993). Negotiating a permeable curriculum: On literacy, diversity, and the interplay of children's and teacher's worlds. National Council of Teachers of


lish, (Concept Paper No. 9), 1-35.

What are your favorite TV shows or movies?

Levin-Gutierrez, M. (2015). Motivation: Kept alive through unschooling. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 9(17), 31-40. Petrov, Anton. (2014). Using Minecraft in education: A qualitative study on benefits and challenges of game-based education. Published master’s thesis, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. What are your favorite video games? Urbach, J., & Eckhoff, A. (2012). Release the dragon: The role of popular culture in children’s stories. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(1), 27-37. Xu, S., Perkins, R., & Zunich, L. (2005). Trading cards to comic strips: Popular culture texts and literacy learning in grade K-8. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

What toys to you play with (with yourself or with someone else)?


Appendix B

Appendix C

Popular Culture Survey 2

Popular Culture Student Interview Questions

Name _______________________________________

1. I’d like you to rank these things from your favorite, to your least favorite: Minecraft, Pokémon, and Legos.

Put an X next to each one that you like or that you play with at home.

2. Why do you like [favorite response from question 1]?

________ Minecraft

3. How much time, on average, do you spend playing with [favorite response from question 1]?

________ Legos

________ Mario Kart

________ Pokemon

________ Star Wars

________ Frozen

________ Snowboarding/Skiing/Ice Hockey

________ (Check here if you don’t like any of these)


Appendix D


Reading Attitudes and Book Bin Survey

How many books in your book bin are you currently reading? 1.

What is your attitude towards reading independently at

I have finished or am currently reading all of the books in my bin.

school? 1.

No books


I love reading independently at school!

I am currently reading most of the books in my bin.


Reading independently at school is okay. 3.


I don’t like to read independently at school.


I hate to read independently at school.

I am currently reading one or two books in my book bin.

Most of the books in your book bin are...

How do you view yourself as a reader?




I am an amazing reader.


Just right


I am a good reader.




I am an okay reader.

How often do you look for new books?


I am not good at reading.


When I finish the book I am reading.


Every day.


I look for a book when the teacher helps me.

Last week, how often did you read independently at home? 1.

I read 6-7 days independently last week at home.


I look for a book once a week.


I read 4-5 days independently last week at home.


I look for a book 2-3 times a week.


I read 1-3 days independently last week at home.

How do you choose what to read during independent reading? (Choose as many as you wish.)


I did not read independently at home last week. 1.

I look at the cover of the book.


I read the summary on the back of the book.


I choose a topic or genre that interests me.


I choose a book in my Lexile range.


I choose randomly.


I read what my teacher tells me (I do not choose).

How many books are currently in your book bin?

1. 2. 3. 4.

More than five 4-5 books 2-3 books 1-2 books



I choose a book that has been suggested by a

Appendix E

classmate. Reading Behaviors Checklist 8.

Other: _______________ Date: ____________________________

What are your favorite genres to read independently? (Choose as many as you wish.)

Student Name



Changed Reading Material



Goes to the Bathroom


Realistic Fiction



Historical Fiction



Science Fiction

Stares at Books/Flips Through Pages



Chooses to do other work (Not Reading)





Traditional Literature (folktale, fairytale, fable, myth)








Appendix F

ceeded to explain to me why that was a clever title (“Because Nether is dark and dangerous and it’s really hard to

Reflective Teaching Journal

get out”). A boy noticed an interesting juxtaposition of the chapter titles. He said, “I don’t get it. This chapter is called

March 20, 2015

“Nether Ending” and the next chapter is “Dragon Encounter. How did he travel from Nether to the dragon so quickly?

This week, I was able to begin my Minecraft literature circle

They’re all the way across the dimension.” It was incredible

with a group of five students. Working closely with this group

to see their schema being evoked simply in the chapter ti-

and hearing the wealth of discussion that has emerged in the

tles. They already had a myriad of wonderings and predic-

first chapter alone has revitalized my attitude toward this pro-

tions that will be tested as we read through the text and

ject. I know that this inquiry won’t end when I write my pa-

travel along with Steve. Later in the day that we began our

per, that my students will want to continue the book until it’s

discussion, one of the boys approached me and asked,


“When are we going to do our book club again? Is it every Tuesday? Is it twice a week?” When I answered him, “Every

On Tuesday this week, I pulled the group of students--three

day!” he exclaimed, “Yeah! I love this book!” Even though we

boys and two girls who are on a variety of reading levels and

hadn’t even started reading, the excitement of the students

have different emotional needs. We met together and I intro-

was evident.

duced the idea that a literature circle is a group of people who read and talk about the same book. When then created

The second day was just as enthralling as the first. We dis-

guidelines, originated from the students’ ideas. They said

cussed the different roles that students can have as we par-

that to have a successful discussion and literature circle,

ticipate in the literature circle. Some of these roles include

they would need to do things such as: taking turns, be a re-

discussion director, word wizard, and connector. Students

spectful listener, politely disagree, help each other, and par-

were especially excited about leading the discussion by ask-

ticipate. We also discussed hand raising; was it necessary to

ing their classmates questions. We began reading aloud. The

always raise our hands? If it is truly their discussion, then I

students monitored themselves and chose an appropriate

didn’t want the students looking to me to call on them. We

time to stop reading and pick someone else to continue.

agreed that we would just be able to share, being mindful of

Again, the students demonstrated their experiences and

taking turns and letting everyone participate.

knowledge of Minecraft by articulating expansive predictions. For example, when discussing a zombie invasion, stu-

That first day was incredible. I gave the students the book,

dents hypothesized ways Steve could make himself safe

“The Quest for the Diamond Sword.” My first task was to sim-

from the zombies. One boy said, “If he went on the roof they

ply have them preview the book. Just by looking at the

couldn’t get him. He could build bricks to the side and in

cover, one boy automatically said, “That’s Steve! How did he

front and back of him, so that he would have high ground.”

get a diamond sword?” He immediately recognized the main

Others agreed, but one girl said, “But the zombies can climb

character, who I didn’t know until I began reading the book.

stairs, they just can’t climb ladders.” To this, another boy re-

He also immediately posed a question based on a title and

sponded, “If I was Steve I would just build stairs leading to

his prior knowledge of Minecraft play. Already, he was won-

nowhere so the zombies would climb them and fall off into a

dering about the plot and the events that Steve undergoes to

hole.” This discussion was directed toward each other, with

acquire such an item.

my role being an onlooker and a learner from their detailed game play knowledge.

Next, we read the summary on the back of the book. Students shared their ideas after the summary, and amazingly

We also used their knowledge of the game to connect

spoke in turns with each other, not just to me. They had so

to Steve’s motivations and emotions. When I asked how

many ideas that they wanted to express! I then guided the

Steve was feeling, one student responded, “He was proba-

students to read through the chapter titles to get clues about

bly really scared because when it’s night time all the creep-

the sequence of the plot. One student noticed a joke in the

ers and spiders and griefers come out and it’s dangerous to

title, “Nether ending.” She began to laugh, and then pro-

go outside unprotected.” One girl made a connection to a


time that her heart was racing really fast, and said that she knows how scared Steve must have been. One boy empathized with the distressed villagers by saying, “Steve probably didn’t want to leave his friends [the villagers] to be attacked by zombies. He heard them screaming and felt really bad, so had to go help them.” We also discussed another motivator for Steve’s intent to defend the villagers. “If Steve would’ve stayed inside, everyone would’ve been a zombie and then he would be the only one left.” Then a girl added, “If the blacksmith becomes a zombie that’s really bad because then no one can make anything anymore,” relating to her knowledge that a blacksmith is a vital role because of the resources he provides other characters. One boy mentioned, “Everyone would think he was a coward, too.” I would argue that students aren’t only thinking about the plot and the way they’ve played the game, but they are also using their knowledge of the game to uncover character traits and motivations. Although it’s only been a few days, I can tell the students are genuinely interested in this book, mostly because I have to cut off discussion after a while so we can continue reading. Even though I don’t have copious evidence, I think that I can make the claim that popular culture literacies allow students to access their prior knowledge to make connections to a text. I also believe that from their reflections on this week and their comments about the book discussions (“I like how everyone gets to share and everyone gets a turn,” “I love this book!” “Can we keep reading because I want to get to chapter two,”) I can make the claim that students are motivated to read a book that is closely connected to their interests that they engage in outside of school.


Folding Our Way to Success:  Using Interactive Notebooks to Teach Reading Strategies Taylor Tomaselli Taylor Tomaselli is currently a graduate student studying Special Education at the Pennsylvania State University.  She also received a Bachelor of Science in Childhood and Early Adolescent Education from Penn State.  She participated in Penn State's nationally recognized Professional Development School, which is a collaborative 185 day, full time elementary teaching internship.  She has been fortunate enough to have had many classroom teaching experiences that range in grade and ability level.  Taylor will be graduating in the Spring of 2016 and will be seeking employment as a classroom teacher. Abstract: I decided to try Interactive Reading Notebooks in

Reading in my classroom follows a Daily 5 workshop model.

my classroom because I thought that they could be helpful in

 Students rotate through the activities of, read to self, word

investigating some of my wonderings about my classroom.  I

work, listen to reading, read to someone, and reading re-

wondered how I could most effectively teach reading strat-

sponse journals.  The strategies that are taught in my class-

egy groups.  How could I make reading strategies more

room are based off of the CAFE Menu.  My students also re-

meaningful to my students?  I decided to implement Interac-

ceived small group strategy instruction, but I wanted to

tive Reading Notebooks in my classroom and study the ef-

make it a more consistent part of our reading routine.  CAFE

fect they would have on my students’ learning.  A main com-

is a program that is “supported by research that goes back

ponent to the notebooks is a paper foldable tool made dur-

decades…the more effective classrooms have a distribution

ing the lesson.  Along the way, my class had fun creating

of whole-class, small-group, and side-by-side instruction”

some raps, pictures, poems, and comics.

(Boushey 2009, p. 9.)  When I started to think about what kinds of lessons I would teach my reading groups, I definitely


wanted to teach strategies from the CAFE Menu because of all the research supporting the program.  I had also seen the

I am placed in a fourth grade classroom with twenty stu-

CAFE Menu working successfully in my classroom all year.  

dents in a large elementary school.  My class is composed of nine males and eleven females.  One of my students re-

I already knew that Interactive Reading Notebooks were

ceives Title I support.  One student has sensory processing

used in many different classrooms.  I had seen some exam-

disorder.  A few of my students get pulled out for learning

ples of how they were used from websites like Pinterest and

enrichment.  Overall, I have a wonderful class with no signifi-

Teachers Pay Teachers, books, and examples used in the

cant behavior or academic concerns.

district.  I also knew that they are used in so many different ways depending on the classroom.  Some teachers use Inter-

I chose the topic of my wondering because I was really inter-

active Reading Notebooks for all of their needs during read-

ested in teaching reading to my students.  I did not have a

ing time.  Other teachers use them for only a specific aspect

lot of experience teaching lessons to my class the first half

of reading.  I wanted to use my notebooks specifically to

of the year.  However, I anticipated that I would really enjoy

teach reading strategies.  I wanted there to be a purpose for

teaching my students during reading time.  My favorite time

the notebooks.   The text, Notebook Connections states,

of the day was listening to my mentor teach the read aloud

“Strategies may be used over a period of time as a reader

and I predicted that reading would also be my favorite sub-

completes a text and may be reused with a new text” (Buck-

ject to teach.  However, I had wonderings about it too.  I saw

ner 2009, p. 10).  This is how I wanted my students to be

that it was a challenge in my classroom to get into a routine

able to use the strategies.  I wanted my students to be able

for reading strategy groups.  I wondered how I could make

to go back to the notebooks as a resource throughout the

reading strategy groups a more routine and effective use of

year and look at the strategies we learned, not just learn

time.  This routine would benefit the students and make the

about a strategy one day and forget about it.

teacher’s planning time more efficient.  


What I wanted to learn about my topic was how my students

sons on them.  This way, any student learning of these strate-

would be affected by using Interactive Reading Notebooks in

gies could be tied to my lessons.  I created my pre-

order to learn reading strategies.   This is a notebook where

assessment with a few items about each of the strategies.  I

student learning of reading strategies is organized and re-

included questions that were not just straightforward defini-

flected upon in a creative way.  I was also interested to dis-

tion questions, but questions like “Why do you think the

cover if my students found the use of the notebooks to be

author included…?”  After students completed the pre-

fun and engaging.  Another piece that I was interested in

assessment I looked at all of their responses and decided

was how using Interactive Reading Notebooks would affect

that every student would benefit from mini-lessons on the

my teaching practice.  Therefore, the purpose of my inquiry

strategies chosen.  The strategies I chose to teach mini-

was to plan and implement routine lessons for reading strat-

lessons were:  author’s purpose, shades of meaning, propa-

egy groups with Interactive Reading Notebooks and dis-

ganda, protagonist and antagonist, point of view, and literary

cover how my students’ learning of reading strategies would


be affected.   I also turned to literature to gain insight into my wondering. Wondering

 The first resource I turned to was The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  I realized that if I would be teach-

With this purpose, I wondered how would Interactive Read-

ing strategies from the CAFE Menu I should have a basic un-

ing Notebooks impact my fourth grade students’ learning of

derstanding of what CAFE is all about.  The authors had a

comprehension, awareness, and expanding vocabulary read-

wondering that was similar to my own wonderings, “How do

ing strategies?

we present strategies so that students can access them when needed and practice them until they are proficient?” Methods and Procedures

(Boushey 2009, p. 5).  Boushey and Moser say that CAFE is the answer to these issues that teachers face.  Another re-

To gain insight into my wondering, I introduced Interactive

source that I found very helpful was, Notebook Connections:

Reading Notebooks into our classroom and collected data

 Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner.

using a variety of methods.  I took data for my inquiry for

 This book was really helpful to me in seeing how another

nine weeks, starting with a pre-assessment and ending with

teacher used reader’s notebooks.  Buckner states, “In the

a post-assessment.  In between, I planned and implemented

reader’s notebook I had found the place for them to docu-

reading strategy lessons using the Interactive Reading Note-

ment their thinking and growth, to support their thinking for

books.  I took data on all of my students throughout the

group discussions, and to explore their own ideas about a

course of my inquiry.  I collected data in the form of:  pre and

text without each and every entry being a judgment of their

post-assessments, literature, student work, student inter-

reading progress” (Buckner 2009, p. 6).  After I was well in-

views, teacher interviews, photos, videos, and reflective jour-

volved in the inquiry process, I came across some literature

nals.  I brought all of this data together to gather information

that seemed to be similar to my own wondering.  Amy Cher-

on my wondering.

mela (2010) conducted a research study titled, “The Impact of Reader’s Notebooks on the Comprehension of Third

I began my inquiry journey with a pre-assessment.  You can

Grade Students.”  Chermela found that Reader’s Notebooks

view my pre-assessment in Appendix A.  First, I had to think

were a successful method in teaching reading comprehen-

about which strategies I would want to teach to my strategy

sion.  She says, “The reader’s notebook approach allowed

groups.  As previously mentioned, I wanted to teach strate-

opportunities for the students to take ownership of their re-

gies from the CAFE Menu.  However, we use the CAFE Menu

sponses and use what they learned in an authentic context”

during whole group read aloud instruction in my classroom

(Chermela 2010, p. 28.)  When thinking about my inquiry it

too.  I wanted to be sure that any results shown in my post-

was helpful to read literature and understand what other edu-

assessment would be directly related to my Interactive Note-

cators were finding related to my wondering.

book Instruction.  I picked out some strategies that my mentor had not taught yet and he agreed to not teach any les-

The next step in my inquiry process was actually planning and implementing the Interactive Reading Notebook.  I used


the same strategy groups that my mentor had been using all

 The rubric was pretty simple and awarded students points

year based on readiness and ability levels.  I would meet

for completing parts of the notebook and completing a proof

with one group of students while the other students were ro-

and reflection that showed their understanding of the strat-

tating through other independent reading activities.  Before I

egy.  I recorded students’ scores for each strategy based on

taught an actual strategy lesson, I taught lessons to my

the rubric.  I would also take pictures of student work each

groups just on what the purpose was and how to set up the

week.  I would take pictures of notebook entries that really

Interactive Reading Notebooks.  The purposes were to ex-

impressed me, disappointed me, and just seemed average.

plicitly teach reading strategies, be a resource for students

 I wanted to capture the full picture of what was happening

to look back on throughout the year, and for students to crea-

in my classroom.

tively reflect on their learning.  I used big chart paper to model on a larger scale what the Interactive Reading Note-

I conducted three student interviews throughout the course

books should be set up like.  I also had my own notebook

of my inquiry.  I conducted video interviews with a high

that I would fill out each week with the students.  The Interac-

achieving, average, and below average student in regards to

tive Reading Notebook consists of a couple parts.  You can

the Interactive Reading Notebooks.  I asked students ques-

view a model of the notebook that I showed the students in

tions like, “What do you think the purpose of this lesson

Appendix B.  The objective was always at the top and was

was?” “What did you learn in this lesson that you will take

preprinted in a label form for students to stick on the page.

away for the future?” “What are some ways you might use

 Before we met, students wrote down any prior knowledge

your Interactive Reading Notebook in class?” “How does

that they had about the strategy.  When it came time to actu-

your reflection show me that you understand the strategy?”

ally meet in our strategy groups I taught mini-lessons with

“How do you feel about using the Interactive Reading Note-

the notebook that were about twenty minutes in length.  We

books?”  I used this information to tell me whether or not stu-

started by briefly discussing the objective and our prior

dents understood the purpose for the Interactive Reading

knowledge.  Next, I would use some sort of a foldable paper

Notebooks and if they reflections were actually proved to me

tool to actually teach the strategy.  Often, students would

they understood the strategies.

write the meaning of a strategy in their own words along with some examples.  After the lesson, students would independ-

I also conducted two interviews with teachers who use Inter-

ently complete a “proof” and “reflection” for each strategy.  I

active Reading Notebooks in a similar way to myself.  You

would give students a certain task relating to the strategy for

can see my interview questions in Appendix E.  I conducted

their proof each week.  The reflection could be anything that

an email interview with Erin Cobb.  Erin is a middle school

the student chose and was always a creative way of showing

teacher who creates a lot of resources on Teachers Pay

me that they understood the strategy for that week.  After

Teachers using interactive notebooks.  I never bought any of

students completed these independent parts we would al-

her resources, but I reached out and contacted her because

ways meet with our groups later in the week to share our

I was interested in her experiences with interactive note-

proof and reflections.  I completed my own proof and reflec-

books.  I also conducted an interview with a past intern, Lau-

tion for each strategy as well.  This was a favorite time for

ren Jeffrey, who conducted her inquiry on Interactive Math

many of my students to share what they had created that

Notebooks.  Lauren is currently a middle school teacher and

week.  Our notebooks also contained a table of contents re-

utilizes interactive notebooks in reading and math.  This was

cording all of our entries.  I taught lessons on six different

great because I was able to talk with Lauren about her experi-

strategies—one strategy per week.  You can look at one of

ences using interactive notebooks as an intern and as a

my Interactive Reading Notebook lesson plans in Appendix

teacher.  I mostly used information from their interviews to

C.  I used video as data by taking videos of three of my mini-

support what I was finding in my inquiry and for ideas of how

lessons.  This made it easier for me to go back and reflect on

I would improve my use of interactive notebooks in the fu-

my teaching practice.


At the end of every week I would assess all of my students’

Throughout the semester, the students and I have referred

work in their Interactive Reading Notebooks.  I did this by

back to strategies that were learned during an Interactive

creating a rubric.  You can view the rubric in Appendix D.

Reading Notebook lesson.  I have collected data on how stu-


dents have responded to revisiting the strategies.  I have collected this data in the form of video, pictures, and anecdotal

• Students enjoy learning using the Interactive Reading Notebooks.

notes.  In some cases, students would simply respond to a question using their previously learned knowledge about the strategy.  In other cases, students would use their notebooks as a resource to complete a task related to a strategy that

• Planning, implementing, and reflecting on Interactive Reading Notebook lessons have had a positive effect on my teaching practice as a pre-service teacher.

had previously been taught. I consistently took a lot of data during my inquiry journey to I also wrote three reflective journal entries throughout my in-

document the progress of my students’ learning.  Each week

quiry process.  I wrote one entry in the beginning of my jour-

I would assess students’ notebooks and whether or not their

ney, one towards the middle of my inquiry, and one close to

proof and reflection demonstrated that they had learned the

the end of the process.  These journals mostly serve the pur-

strategy.  However, after analyzing my post-assessments, I

pose of addressing my wonderings about how Interactive

realized that just because a student’s reflection did not dem-

Reading Notebooks affect my teaching practice.  I wrote

onstrate learning, does not mean that they did not learn the

down my thoughts and feelings about how the process was

strategy.  On the other hand, just because a student’s reflec-

going, things I thought could be improved, what still needed

tion showed that they had learned a strategy, did not mean

to be done, and what I was learning from implementing the

that they retained that knowledge over time.  For example, a

Interactive Reading Notebooks as well as the inquiry proc-

student who consistently received high scores on her note-


book entries, came to the table eager to share creative reflections, and demonstrated learning in her notebook received a

The last data that I collected was a post-assessment.  You

63% on her post-assessment.  A student who consistently

can see the post-assessment in Appendix F.  I prepared a

received low scores on his notebook entries, came to the

post-assessment after I taught my last strategy lesson.  I

table without work completed, and did not demonstrate

modeled the post-assessment after the pre-assessment.  I

learning in his notebook received a score of 95% on his

had multiple items to assess each strategy.  I allowed stu-

post-assessment.  This really shows the importance of multi-

dents to take the assessment and hand it in.  This would be

ple forms of assessment.  I looked at multiple different kinds

assessing how much learning the students were able to re-

of data to assess a student’s learning.  

tain about the strategies.   Next, I let students have a second try at the assessment using their Interactive Reading Note-

I also asked students how much they thought they had

books as a resource.  I had them record any revisions they

learned by using our Interactive Reading Notebooks.  I told

wanted to make in a colored pencil.  One of my original pur-

them to use a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 meant that they felt

poses for the Interactive Reading Notebooks was to be a

they did not learn anything and 5 meant that they felt they

daily resource for my students.  I wanted to assess how

learned a lot.  My data shows that most students felt they

beneficial the resource could be for my students.  I looked at

learned a lot, as most students responded with a 5.  How-

my students’ post-assessments compared to their pre-

ever, students’ scores on the post-assessment ranged

assessments and this showed me a lot about what my stu-

widely.  This shows that how much students thought they

dents had learned as readers by using Interactive Reading

learned was not always connected with how much they actu-


ally learned, based on my post-assessment.  One student, who increased his score by 65%, rated how much he Findings

thought he learned as a 3.  Whereas, another student who increased her score by 19%, rated how much she felt she

As a result of analyzing my data, three important things I

learned as a 5.  I left room for student comments after they

learned include:

rated how much they thought they had learned and one student wrote, “I can use it in my writing now and I can also

• Students showed evidence of growth in their learning of selected reading strategies after Interactive Reading Notebook lessons.

spot it when I see it.”  This made me feel good that this student felt comfortable using what we had learned in other aspects of reading and during writing time.   


Comparing my pre-assessment and post-assessment data showed evidence of student growth for the reading strategies that we were focusing on.  Every student scored higher on the post-assessment than the pre-assessment.  I compared the growth that students had made by looking at both scores.  The least amount that a student had increased their score was by 19%.  The largest amount that a student had increased their score was by 65%.  The average student increased their score by 37%.  The highest score was 95% and the lowest score was a 50%, with a range of 45%.  I created the table below to help me analyze my data collected from the pre and post-assessments.

This picture shows how a student created her own foldables for the three different purposes that authors use to write.  These purposes are to:  inform, entertain, or persuade.  Under the flaps she has written down example titles of each purpose.

I also feel that my students’ learning is demonstrated in other ways than quantitative measures of student achievement.  Most students would consistently be enthusiastic to share their proof and reflection, which shows their learning.  Student reflections were often very creative and showed that the student had certainly grasped the strategy on which they were working.  The pictures below demonstrate student learning.


This image demonstrates how a student made a poem about

mented with the notebooks made me glad that I chose to

the different types of propaganda we learned about.  The

study this wondering throughout the semester.  It is impor-

poem reads, “Propaganda is cool, but don’t be fooled.  It

tant to teach students in a way that will be enjoyable for

has five categories, overgeneralization, faulty cause & effect,

them.  This will help to instill them with a love of learning.

transfer, bandwagon, and testimonial.  But these five categories follow some rules.  Overgeneralization stretches the truth, faulty cause and effect likes to break promises, transfer will transfer those stars you know, bandwagon means populars shops, and last but not least, testimonial loves to quote.”

Conducting this inquiry has had a very positive effect on my teaching practices.  The inquiry mindset itself will always be something that I can take with me wherever I go.  However, this specific inquiry really benefited me as a pre-service teacher beginning to take on more responsibility and teach more in the classroom.  First, the Interactive Reading Notebooks were something that I could take ownership of in the classroom.  I was the only person the class worked on them with and students associated the notebooks with me.  What really positively affected my teaching practice was the fact that I was teaching strategy groups.  I taught each one of my lessons four different times to four different groups of students.  This allowed me to reflect on each of my lessons and improve each time.  Throughout my inquiry process, I reflected in journal entries.  An excerpt from one of my journal This photo shows how a student creatively demonstrated

entries is below.

that she understands shades of meaning—she showed different shades of the word “happy.”  Her shades of happy included:  merry, glad, joyful, cheerful, and thrilling.   On the post-assessment I included a small student survey where students rated how much they enjoyed doing work with the Interactive Reading Notebooks.  They rated using a 1 to 5 scale, 1 meaning they did not enjoy using the note-

I had not previously taught many lessons in my classroom.

books and 5 meaning they really enjoyed using them.  As

 The lessons that were associated with my inquiry were

you can see in the chart below, most students responded

some of the first lessons that I taught.  Teaching strategy

that they really enjoyed learning using the Interactive Read-

groups was a great opportunity for me to grow as a teacher.

ing Notebooks.  Only two students responded with a 2 on

 The excerpt below is from one of my first lessons and

the survey.  One of those two students wrote in the com-

shows how I reflected on some of the problems I faced.

ments section, “I don’t like working on it during read to self or word work.”  This was not shocking to me that this stu-

These strategy groups really taught me a lot about reflecting

dent did not enjoy using the notebooks.  Getting him moti-

on your teaching, trying different things, and making

vated to complete the independent components of the note-

changes for the benefit of your students’ learning.

book was a struggle throughout my inquiry.  However, the fact that most students really enjoyed the routine I had imple-




Through completing this inquiry I learned a lot about myself

Boushey, G.  Moser, J.  (2009).  The CAFE book.  Portland,

as a teacher.  I learned that I am able to try out new teaching

ME:  Stenhouse Publishers.

practices and make instructional decisions based on data about the effectiveness of the lesson.  I learned that inquiry

Buckner, A.  (2009).  Notebooks connections:  Strategies for

is an ongoing process.  Even though I already have findings I

the reader’s notebook. Portland, ME:  Stenhouse Publishers.

will continue to learn more information related to my wondering throughout my teaching career.  Every class that I will

Chermela, A. (2010). The impact of reader's notebooks on

have in the future will be different from this class.  Maybe

the comprehension of third grade. Unpublished Doctoral dis-

other students would react differently to the notebooks.  I

sertation, Gwynedd-Mercy College, Gwynedd Valley

learned that you must always be reflective and wondering how you can improve your teaching.

E. Cobb, personal communication, March 22, 2015.

I also learned some things about my students.  I learned that

L. Jeffrey, personal communication, March 26, 2015.

most of them really enjoy opportunities to be creative.  Most students really rose to the occasion and consistently shared creative reflections that showed evidence of their learning.  However, some of my students were unmotivated to do any extra work.  The chance to share something they created with the class did not appeal to them. In the future I will definitely be utilizing Interactive Reading Notebooks in my classroom.  I am sure that they can be adapted and incorporated into a reading workshop for many different grades.  In the future, I will definitely set up an accountability system for the couple students who are hesitant to complete independent work.  As stated earlier in my methods, I conducted interviews with two teachers who utilize Interactive Reading Notebooks in their classrooms and asked them what their biggest challenges were.  One teacher said, “Absent students can become a huge pain. I make them come to my room and use my notebook to construct the lessons on their own time when they miss school – so they can make the lessons up before or after school, or during recess.”  I had this problem too, however, I never had a system for dealing with absent students.  In the future I will have a plan for how to handle this.  Another teacher said, “Time is a major issue, the amount of time to do lessons and make tools, make sure tools are ready.”  Time was also an issue for me.  It was tough to fit a meaningful lesson into twenty minutes.  In the future, I will continue to prep all of my materials and think about other ways I can use my time most effectively.  I am so glad that I have found a great way to teach reading strategy groups.  I will continue to use Interactive Reading Notebooks in my teaching and learn more about my inquiry.


Appendix A:  Pre-Assessment

What do you think they want you to believe about the products on the right?

1.  Read the below passage from Little Red Riding Hood:         Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived with her mother. Her mother asked her to take her old and lonely

5.  Read the text below:

grandmother some food one day. "Don't stop along the way. Go straight to your Grandma's house and back. Don't talk to


Miss Tomaselli was walking through a tropical rainfor-

any strangers and watch out for the wolf in the woods!  Now

est with her sister, Hayley.  Miss Tomaselli loved seeing beau-

get along!"

tiful flowers that she had never seen before.  They were really enjoying their stroll, until they seemed to become lost.

Why do you think the author included the underlined sen-

 Hayley said, “Oh no, all of these trees are starting to look


alike!”  Miss Tomaselli answered, “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way


to get us out of here.”  The two sisters walked for hours in


the deep dark jungle, wondering if they will ever find their way home.

What this is called? Who/what is the protagonist? Who/what is the antagonist? 2.  Why would an author say, “Grandpa is older than dirt” instead of saying, “Grandpa is very old?” What is it called when an author does this?

6.  Read the text below:      

Miss Tomaselli had always dreamed of being the lead

in the school play.  She loved to watch plays and musicals 3.  Do you think some companies mislead people on purpose?  If so, how might they do this?

and would recite all of the lines to herself in her room.  However, every year she was too scared to tryout for the play.  One of her classmates, Courtney, always scored the lead role.  When it was time to tryout for this year’s play, Courtney asked Miss Tomaselli, “So, are you going to try out for the play this year?”  Miss Tomaselli responded no.  She was too scared of being embarrassed.  What if she didn’t get the lead?  What if she didn’t get a part at all?  What if she forgot her lines and everyone laughed at her? Who/what is the protagonist? Who/what is the antagonist?

7.  Why might I write an essay titled, Why Students Should In this Toys ‘R’ Us catalog, what do you think the company is

Eat Breakfast Every Morning?

trying to tell you about the products on the left?


8.  Fill in the following two blanks with either the word “upset” or “furious.” 14. A.  “When I was brushing my teeth I noticed that my tooth Miss Tomaselli was                          that she lost one of her

was loose.  I was so excited to loose my first tooth that I


yanked it right out!  It hurt a little, but I didn’t mind.  I really wanted the Tooth Fairy to visit me so I hopped right into bed and snuck my tooth under the pillow.”  

Miss Tomaselli was                         that she lost her wallet

B.  “When Miss Tomaselli was brushing her teeth she looked

with a $100 bill in it.           

puzzled and wiggled one of her teeth back and forth.  When she pulled her tooth out she let out a yelp.  Next, she ran straight to bed, but before she fell asleep she placed her tooth underneath her pillow.”

Why did you choose to place each word where you did?  How do you think these words are similar or different?

The above texts tell the same story from different points of view.  Why might an author choose to write with the point of view in Text A?

9.  Why do you think Jeff Kinney wrote Diary of a Wimpy

Why might an author choose to write with the point of view


in Text B?

10.  Use a literary device in a sentence to show how you feel

15.  What are some reasons why an author might write a

about snow days.


11.  What are some reasons why an author might use literary

16.  Rate how much you enjoy going to the red table to learn

devices in his or her writing?

about reading strategies.  1 means you do not enjoy it 5 means you really enjoy it. 1       2       3       4       5

12.  Use the word “happy” in a sentence. Use the word “overjoyed” in a sentence. How are the two sentences you wrote alike and different?  Do you think that “happy” and “overjoyed” mean the same thing?  Why or why not?

13.  Why do you think an author would write a book called, The Reasons for Seasons?


Appendix B:  Model Interactive Reading Notebook Entry

Appendix C:  Sample Interactive Reading Notebook Lesson Plan Grade Level:  Grade 4 Date to be Taught:  Monday, January 26 and Tuesday, January 27 Time Frame:  4 class periods.  20 mins. per class. Subject:  Reading Topic:  Author’s Purpose Summary:  I will have a discussion with my students about why author's might write a text.  We will talk about the three purposes for writing, to persuade, to inform, and to entertain.  We will talk about real examples, like some books in the library.   Objectives: Students will know that an author writes to persuade, inform, or entertain an audience.   Students will be able to look at a text and determine the author's purpose for writing that text.   Standards: PA- Pennsylvania DOE Standards Aligned System - Clear Standards (2010) Subject Area: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Standard Area: 1.2: Reading, Analyzing, and Interpreting Text Grade Level: 4 Standard: 1.2.4.A: Analyze text organization and content to determine the author's purpose. Assessment Anchor:


R4.A.1: Understand fiction appropriate to grade level.

Books in library

Anchor Descriptor:

Student writing

R4.A.1.6: Identify genre of text.

Persuasive writing samples

Eligible Content:

Use of Technology:  None

R4.A.1.6.1: Identify the author's intended purpose of text.


Note: narrative and poetic text In the morning I remind students to put their strategy label Prerequisite Skills:  In order to be successful in this lesson,

into their INBs.  I remind them to update the table of con-

students need to know how to use the INB.  We learned how

tents, number their pages, and fill out their prior knowledge.  

to use them in a lesson last week.   During reading rotations I will use an attention getter like my Assessment:  Rubric

bell or "class class" to transition and call over a group to the red table with their INB and a pencil.  

Student Materials: Once the group is at the table I will tell them that this week, INB

we are learning our first strategy in our INBs and that I hope they learn something and enjoy it.  

Pencil I tell students that as they know, today we are going to be Glue

discussing author's purpose.  I ask a couple students to raise their hand and tell me something that they already


know about author's purpose.  We discuss what the students already know.  

Label Sequence of Instruction: Books in library 1.  I hand students their pre-cut foldables.  I tell them to glue Student writing

the spot in the center of the foldable and stick it down to the bottom of their paper.  I tell students to be careful with their

Persuasive writing samples

foldable not to pull it off the paper when we are working with them.

Teacher Materials: 2.  I ask students, "What do you think are some reasons why INB

an author might write something?"  I see what students have to say.  If a student mentions a reason that is persuade, in-


form, or entertain or means any of those in a different word, we can talk about that.

Glue 3.  I may have to guide students if they are not coming up Foldable

with all of the reasons.  I can use some guiding questions like, "Why do you think we are writing our opinion pieces


right now?"  "Why do you think J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Pot-


ter?"  or "Why do you think someone would write the Who

13.  I tell students that for their proof they will make up a

Was books?"  

fake title of books or pieces of writing that show that shows that the author's purpose would be to persuade, inform, and

4.  As we come up with reasons, I tell students to write one

to entertain.  They should make up one fake title for each pur-

letter in each spot "P," "I," and "E" on top of the foldables.


 And on the underside of the corresponding flap write, "persuade," "inform," and "entertain."  

14.  I tell students that their reflection can be anything off of the reflection label as long as it shows me that they learned

5.  I tell students that we are going to talk about some actual

something about author's purpose.  

texts and what we think the author's purpose is.   15.  I tell them that after we meet again I will be collecting 6.  I tell students that we are going to head over to the class

their INBs and grading them.  I tell them not to get stressed

library and to bring their INB and a pencil.  

out.  I say that I will be grading them on if they have all of the parts of the INB completed and if their proof and reflection

7.  I ask students to find three examples of texts that we

show me that they learned something about author's pur-

think the author's purpose was to inform.  I know that these


books would be in our non-fiction section and I can guide students if they need help.  We look at the books together


and talk about what the author is trying to inform us about.  We may find books that fit into multiple authors’ purpose

I remind students to spend the next two mornings working

categories and we can talk about that.  

on their proof and reflection.  I tell them that I will meet them here at the red table on Wednesday and we will share what

8.  I ask students to now find three examples of texts that we

we all came up with.  I say that I am really excited to see

think the author's purpose was to entertain.  We look at the

what they share.  

books together and talk about why we think the author's goal was to entertain the audience.  

Independent Practice:  Students will independently be working on their proof and reflection during morning work for two

9.  Now, I say "Can we think of some examples of pieces

days.  When we meet again we will share our proof and re-

that author's would write to persuade somebody?"  I can


guide them to thinking about our opinion pieces.  I can ask them, "Is there anything that we write during writer's work-

Differentiated Instruction:  To differentiate to meet the needs

shop that our purpose is to persuade someone?"  I ask one

of all of my students I may have to accommodate some of

person in the group to bring their piece to share with us what

the higher level students in my class.  If some students un-

they are trying to persuade someone to do or believe.    

derstand really easily that an author's purpose is to persuade, inform, or entertain, I can talk with those students

10.  I can show them two other examples of persuasive writ-

about if they think some authors have multiple purposes?

ing that I have brought in.  One is a letter to the editor.  An-

 Can a text be meant to persuade and entertain?  Can a text

other example is a letter to parents trying to persuade them

have all three purposes?  

to get a pet.   Possible Follow-Up Activity:  With any time left over, stu11.  We will record all of the examples that we talk about un-

dents will move on to their next reading rotation.

der the corresponding flaps.   12.  I ask students if they have any questions about author's purpose.  


Appendix D:  Interactive Reading Notebook Rubric

Appendix E:  Teacher Interview Questions 1.  Why did you begin to use interactive notebooks and interactive reading notebooks in your classroom? 2.  What is the purpose/purposes for using interactive reading notebooks in your classroom? 3.  What effects have they had on your students' learning of reading strategies? 4.  Have you taken any data on how the interactive notebooks have affected your students' learning?  If so, what have you learned from that data? 5.  What do you think is so special about interactive notebooks?  Why should people use them? 6.  What advice would you give to someone implementing interactive reading notebooks in their classroom? 7.  Have you found that your students are more engaged when working on lessons with the interactive notebooks? 8.  Have you found that the use of interactive reading notebooks led you to have discussions with students that allow for a deeper understanding of a topic and not just surface knowledge? 9.  If any, what problems have you encountered using the notebooks in your lessons and how might you avoid or fix them in the future? 10.  Do you know of any literature, including books or articles that would be a good resource for someone wondering about the effects of interactive notebooks on student learning?


Appendix F:  Post-Assessment

return.  A huge blizzard has snowed his whole town inside.  Bob cannot even open a door.  How will he take care of him-

1.  Read this fictional passage.

self and his siblings?  Will his mother return?  Find out in this adventurous story.

        Bob had a lot of homework that was due tomorrow.  It was late at night and he had not done any of it yet.  Bob

Who/what is the protagonist?

made a cup of coffee and was determined to get all of his work done.  Then, Bob’s eyes started drooping.  He began

Who/what is the antagonist?

working hard on his math assignment. 6.  Read the made-up book summary below: Why do you think the author included the underlined sentence?     

Jimmy had always dreamed of being on the school basketball team.  He had never played before, but he loved the idea

What is this literary device called?

of being part of the team.  He wanted to be able to wear those treasured uniforms on game day.  However, Jimmy

2.  What does it mean when an author says, “I am so hungry

was scared.  What if he was bad at basketball?  What if he

I could eat a horse?”

was the worst player on the team?  Or worse, what if he didn’t make the team at all?  He thought that would be so

What is this literary device called?

embarrassing.  He was worried that the whole team would laugh at him.  Will Jimmy try out for the seventh grade bas-

3.  Do you think some companies mislead people on purpose?  If so, how might they do this?

ketball team?  Read this humorous middle school tale to find out. Who/what is the protagonist? Who/what is the antagonist? 7.  What do you think was Janet Pascal’s purpose for writing, Who Was Abraham Lincoln? 8.  Fill in the two blanks with either the word “shattered” or “broken.”

4. This Crayola ad says, “Every child in America knows this box and wants it.”  What do you think the company is trying to tell you with this ad? Do you remember what type of propaganda that this is? 5.  Read the made-up book summary below:         Bob is just an ordinary kid who lives in Vermont.  He has two younger siblings named Emily and Matt.  One day, his mother runs to the store for some groceries and does not

His favorite toy was                  because he dropped it on the floor. When the ball hit the window, the glass              into a million pieces.                   Why did you choose to place each word where you did?  How do you think these words are similar or different? 9.  What do you think Beverly Cleary’s purpose was for writing, Dear Mr. Henshaw? 10.  Write your own example of a hyperbole.


11.  What are some reasons why an author might use hyperbole in his or her writing? 12.  Use the word “nervous” in a sentence. Use the word “alarmed” in a sentence. How are the two sentences you wrote alike and different?  Do you think that “nervous” and “alarmed” mean the same thing?  Why or why not? 13.  What do you think would be an author’s purpose for writing a letter titled, Why We Should Have No Homework? A.  “I was so nervous before the talent show.  My knees were

17. This is a Proactiv ad with Justin Bieber holding a Proactiv bottle.  What do you think this ad wants you to think and why? Do you remember what type of propaganda this is?

shaking, my palms were sweaty, and I felt like I was going to faint.  Then, my name was called and I had to force myself to walk onto the stage.” B.  “Sarah looked very nervous before the talent show.  Her face was so pale that it looked like she was about to pass out.  However, when her name was called and she walked out onto the stage looking confident and ready to perform.” C. The texts above tell the same story from different points of view.  What point of view is Text A told in?  Why might an author choose to write with the point of view in Text A? What point of view is Text A told in?  Why might an author choose to write with the point of view in Text B? 15.  What are some purposes an author might have when writing a text?

18.  Read the made-up book summary below:        This book follows the life of legendary super villain Mr. Blue Smasher.  Mr. Blue Smasher lives on a mountain with his team of evil scientists and his dog, Spot.  He believes that he has finally devised a plan evil enough to take over the world.  But, will his enemy, Super Suzy, ruin his plan?  Super Suzy is a superhero kid who always figures out how to stop Mr. Blue Smasher’s evil plans. Who/what is the protagonist? Who/what is the antagonist? 19. Make a list of all the words you know that have a similar meaning to “fun.”  List them in order from weakest to strongest.  This means your last word will be the most fun.

16.  Read the fictional story below: One day, Ms. Tomaselli went to visit her partner classroom in kindergarten.  All of the kindergarteners seemed to be sick.  Their eyes were puffy, they had runny noses, and they were

20.  Write a sentence about your morning, in first person point of view.

all wiping their noses and touching Ms. Tomaselli.  Ms. Tomaselli washed her hands really carefully after visiting their classroom.  Ms. Tomaselli’s birthday was in a few days and she wanted to have a great time.

21.  Write a sentence about your morning, in third person point of view.

What might you infer that will happen later in the story, given this evidence?


22.  Why would an author use foreshadowing in his or her writing?

23.  Rate how much you enjoy learning about reading strategies with our INBs.  1 meaning you do not enjoy learning about reading strategies with the INBs and 5 meaning you really enjoy learning about reading strategies.  Circle your rating and explain why you feel that way in the lines below.


2        3    



24.  Do you feel like you really learned about the different strategies using the INBs?  1 meaning you did not learn a lot from lessons with the INBs 5 meaning you think you learned a lot.  Circle your rating and explain why you chose it in the lines below.


2        3    



25.  What do you think was the purpose of our INBs?


Supporting Independent Readers Through Strategy Groups Kate Hallinger

Abstract: Developing independent reading skills is a vital

few guidelines for independent reading and someone was

part of first grade.  To support this belief, my students “read

giving these students support and guidance during this inde-

to self” daily. As I observed my students during independent

pendent time.

reading time, I was curious about their book choices, how on-task they were, and what strategies they were using.  I

My inquiry evolved from this wondering as I became even

wondered how I could monitor their comprehension as well

more curious about independent reading and what my stu-

as support their use of specific strategies.  Using CAFE and

dents were gaining from it.  It seemed that the strong readers

the Daily Five as resources to drive my inquiry, I imple-

had little trouble staying focused while reading to them-

mented one on one conferencing and strategy groups to en-

selves, but I noticed some of my struggling readers wander-

sure my students were reading good fit books and using

ing around to find books or talking with friends.  Not only

strategies during independent reading.

was I interested in their focus, but I also became interested in what each of my students was gaining from independent


reading.  I wanted to get inside their heads and know if they understood what they were reading and if they were using

Language arts is a major focus in my first grade classroom.

strategies that we had taught them.  Were students able to

 It is an exciting and challenging time as students are becom-

comprehend what they were reading?  How could I support

ing fluent, skilled readers and detailed writers.  In my class-

them during such an independent time?  Did my students

room, our language arts time is set up in a way that allows

enjoy reading? Were they reading good fit books?  All of

students to fluidly move from one activity to the next. There

these questions filled my head as I continued to develop my

is no set timer and students move through stations such as

wondering.  I wanted to figure out a way to essentially “get

guided reading, Words Their Way (phonics), writing and read

inside” my students’ heads and monitor their comprehension

to self at their own pace or when a teacher calls them over

and strategy use during independent reading.  Therefore, the

to work with them.  This arrangement gives students free-

purpose of my inquiry was to figure out the best ways to sup-

dom to read and write for about 15-20 minutes when they

port my readers during independent reading to make it mean-

aren’t working with an adult.  As I worked with students com-

ingful and successful for them.

pleting their daily Words Their Way sorts, my wondering began.  I would glance at the carpet and around the room at

Statement of Wondering

students independently reading and I noticed many things.  Some students dove into a book and read the entire time,

With this purpose, I wondered what teacher behaviors and

others read with a partner, some flipped through a book that

strategies would lead to increased engagement and success

was much too difficult for them, and some were completely

for first grade students during independent reading time.

distracted by what was happening around them. This included looking through our classroom library, talking with


peers, or just being distracted by objects. I noticed students talking to one another, giggling, and at times it seemed they

To gain insight into my wondering, I began by reestablishing

weren’t being productive.  From a distance, I would get their

guidelines for read to self, revisiting the CAFE menu and col-

attention and try to get them back on track but it was diffi-

lecting baseline data.  Because I noticed students often got

cult while I was working with my own small group. I soon real-

off track during independent reading, I thought it would be

ized that this time could be much more efficient if we had a

beneficial to reestablish guidelines.  As a class, we dis-


cussed what it should look like and sound like during read to

knew what each letter stood for, so we talked about what the

self.  I wanted students to take ownership and have a conver-

acronym CAFE meant and what some of the different strate-

sation to establish the guidelines instead of telling them what

gies looked like.  This played a major role in my inquiry proc-

it should look like.  After talking about what read to self

ess because when I conferenced with students, we con-

looked and sounded like in our classroom, I introduced a

stantly referred to the menu and what strategy they were

poem “Elbow, Elbow, Knee, Knee” which is a fun way to re-

working on.  I also had magnetic pictures of each of my stu-

view expectations for reading with a partner.  My students

dents’ faces that could be placed on the section of the menu

love to read with each other, but I wanted to make sure they

on which they were working on.  Seeing their faces on the

knew the guidelines for it.  Although we had gone over these

board reminded them what strategy they were working on

expectations at the beginning of the year, I felt it was impor-

and was also motivating and fun for my students.  The final

tant to review them at this point in the year.  As I was begin-

way I collected baseline data was through surveys and inter-

ning my inquiry and collecting data, I wanted students to un-

views.  The interviews asked questions about using strate-

derstand appropriate behavior for independent reading and

gies while reading. (See Appendix E) The survey had them

reading with a partner. (See Appendix A)

answer nine questions related to their attitudes about reading and how they viewed themselves as readers.  They re-

With guidelines in place and signs posted around the room, I

sponded to questions by coloring in smiley faces (smile, no

made it known that for the next few weeks, I would be check-

smile, frown) and Garfield cartoons that showed different

ing in with them as they read to self.  Instead of being at a

emotions. (See Appendix F)

table, I was now sitting on the carpet near many of my students. This change was possible because the paraprofes-

Before beginning any type of conferencing, I met with a read-

sional in our room was able to take over the Words Their

ing specialist to talk about independent reading and how I

Way Station which allowed me to work with students in a dif-

could support my readers.  The main thing that I was strug-

ferent way during this time.  My presence on the carpet with

gling with was how to give them the freedom to read but

the readers also helped from a management perspective.  I

also make sure they comprehended what they were learning

was now overseeing them and was able to quickly guide any-

and actually reading with success.  Talking with her about

one off task back on track.  My PDA took systematic obser-

reading and what my main goals were for my inquiry gave

vations at different points throughout my inquiry process as

me a lot of ideas about how to progress.  We discussed how

data to see if the guidelines set in place and having some-

I could differentiate based not only on level but also by what

one monitoring read to self had an impact on behavior.

each student needed the most.  This included ways to make

 These observations noted behaviors such as talking to a

independent reading time more intentional.  I did not want to

friend, reading words, reading pictures, writing, partner read-

take away the fun or joy of reading, but I knew that students

ing, working with a teacher, etc. This data showed us which

could still enjoy reading while also challenging themselves to

students were engaged in reading books, which students

use strategies to help them better comprehend.

were working on stamina and following directions and other patterns. (See Appendices B, C & D)

After the new CAFE menu was displayed, the conferencing began.  I met with each student at least twice over the

Another way I got my students excited for reading was by

course of two weeks.  My class has several students who go

revamping our CAFE menu. From the authors of the CAFE

to Response to Intervention (RTI), so these students were

book, “The CAFE menu of strategies reflects the skills we’ve

not included in my conferencing and data because my data

researched and used in our own classroom… We encourage

collection mostly occurred while they were out of the room.

our colleagues to use them as a starting point, the base of

 This left me with 16 students to work with daily.  While stu-

comprehension, accuracy, fluency and expanding vocabu-

dents were reading, I sat next to them and asked them to

lary” (Boushey & Moser, 2009). The focus of CAFE is intro-

read to me for a few minutes.  While they read I asked ques-

ducing reading strategies on the menu, a chart visible for stu-

tions, helped with unknown words, and introduced different

dents to see.  One of the first things I did was make the chart

strategies to help them. The entire time I took notes on what

bigger than it was before, very colorful and added more

book they were reading, the book level, and whether it was

strategies to each category.  I wanted to make sure students

fiction or nonfiction.  I also took notes on everything I no-


ticed in their reading from their responses to questions, abil-

taught that they still need work on, or a new strategy- bring-

ity to retell, if they could stretch or chunk words, speed of

ing them step-by-step to independence.  I love the versatility

reading, and anything else I found important regarding their

of strategy lessons. You use them to coach students with

reading abilities.  This was eye opening in many ways be-

comprehension, fluency, print work – whatever it is you see

cause I was finally able to assess their comprehension,

several kids need support with” (Serravallo, 2010).

check if they were reading a good fit book, and provide students with about 10 minutes of one on one support. By the

This book guided me through my lessons and gave me so

end of the second or third conference, I talked with each stu-

much insight as to how to create groups, who should be

dent about what big topic they thought they should work on

grouped together, how to come up with strategies and how

the most under the CAFE menu (comprehension, accuracy,

to scaffold within each small group.

fluency or expanding vocabulary) and a goal.  Once we narrowed down what skill they fit with on the menu, we looked

As I developed strategy groups, I kept in mind where stu-

at specific strategies and chose a strategy as their goal

dents were on the CAFE menu and what specific strategy we

based on what was listed.  For example, when a student and

set as their goal to work on.  I grouped students depending

I agreed that their biggest need was comprehension, we

on the strategy they were working on, not by their reading

talked about their reading and would decide on a strategy.

level or their guided reading group. Serravallo writes,

 Some students acknowledged that they wanted to work on check for understanding or retelling.  I always connected the

“In deciding who will take part in a group conference, it’s es-

strategy to what I noticed in their reading and how I thought

sential that children need practice not only with the same

they could benefit from working on that strategy.

skill but with the same strategy for that skill. The more exact and careful you can be with your assessment, note taking,

At this point, my intention was to conference with each stu-

and forming of the groups, the easier it will be to manage the

dent and differentiate support based on what they needed.  I

group…and the more each student will benefit from the con-

planned on giving students different tasks each week, such

ference” (Serravallo, 2010).

as a worksheet, post-its or iPad app to accompany the strategy they were working on. This would have required me to

I kept this in mind as I created groups of between two and

check in with each student a few times during the week to

five students. I met with groups at least twice a week for no

see if they were completing their task.  After getting feed-

more than 15 minutes, so it did not take away from independ-

back from my mentor and PDA, I discovered that I needed to

ent reading time.  Each time we met, the group started by

make an adjustment.  I still intended to help each student

naming the strategy, discussing how it is used and its impor-

and support them but I also recognized I could not spend all

tance.  The first time we met, I introduced the strategy and

of my energy on assigning tasks to check how they were us-

modeled how to use it with my own book. Some big ideas

ing strategies.  Doing all of that while working with 16 stu-

such as check for understanding and retelling were familiar

dents could become challenging, so I had to find a new way

to students.  Other strategies such as chunking needed to

to support my readers while teaching them strategies and

be explicitly taught.  Students then worked on the strategy

checking in with them.   From this, I discovered an extremely

on their own for a few minutes as I conferenced one on one

effective way to conference with students and work on strate-

with them.  I asked questions and guided them through work-

gies in a small group setting: strategy groups.

ing on the strategy while they read a book of their choice. After a few minutes of independent work, we regrouped to

I began to develop an understanding of strategy groups and

share what we learned and examples of how they imple-

how to implement them through various resources. I used

mented the strategy while reading.  

the book Teaching Reading in Small Groups by Jennifer Serravallo as a resource to guide my strategy group instruction.

I worked with five different groups and met with them two

 She writes,

times over the course of a week.  The topics of the groups included check for understanding, retelling, back up and re-

“In these small groups, children have the opportunity for sup-

read, and chunking. Within each skill, I narrowed it down fur-

ported practice with a strategy- either something previously

ther to introduce a specific strategy.  For example, the strat-


egy that students learned in the check for understanding group was called flagging.  This meant that when they came

• Independent reading is more beneficial when students have support and guidance from a teacher.

across something they didn’t understand, an unknown vocabulary word, or something they thought was important for their understanding they “flagged” it with a post it.  The group that worked on rereading also used flagging to note

• When reading strategies are explicitly taught, students often have a better understanding of their importance and how to use them independently.

where they used the strategy.  For chunking, I provided students with a bookmark to write down words they found that they could chunk to sound out.  I taught a short lesson to the retelling group about what the important parts of retelling are

• The impact that strategy groups had on students' attitudes towards reading and views of themselves as readers varied based on gender, interest and ability level.

and how to summarize what happens on each page. Claim #1: Independent reading is more beneficial when While working with small groups, I did a few things to gather

students have support and guidance from a teacher.

data.  I took notes on each student and assessed their understanding of the strategy.  I noted if they understood it, what

Having support goes hand in hand with having a teacher pre-

they were unsure about and what they might need in the fu-

sent and able to monitor students during independent read-

ture, such as more modeling or if they were ready to work on

ing.  Prior to my interventions, my students had limited

the strategy independently.  This helped my planning for the

teacher support during independent reading.  There was no

next time I met with the group.  I was able to differentiate

teacher on the carpet, engaged in conferencing who was

and support each student in an individual way, but the small

able to check in with students and keep them on track.  A

group allowed us to share and learn from each other.  For

systematic observation done in early February showed ex-

example, after the first day of meeting with a group I deter-

actly what behaviors my students were engaging in during

mined which students needed more modeling and which stu-

independent reading time without direct support or close

dents were able to apply the strategy without additional mod-

proximity to a teacher. Not having a teacher to support and

eling. I still spent time listening to each reader, but I was do-

oversee independent reading had an impact on student be-

ing it in the small group setting.  I also video recorded

havior. This data told me that students were unengaged with

groups as another source of data.

the text and unable to read consistently for an extended period of time.  Students were often moving around and talking

Throughout the entire process from the very beginning I took

with friends.  Students might have also felt they could be-

pictures, videos and conducted interviews to document

have in these ways because it was difficult for teachers to

what was happening.  I interviewed four students before and

get them back on track while they were often preoccupied

after the use of strategy groups to see if their opinions on

working with their small groups. (See Appendix B)

reading and using strategies had changed at all.  I also asked every student “What strategies have you learned or

The next day a systematic observation was taken again.

use while reading?” before strategy groups were imple-

 This was done before any intervention had occurred, but

mented and the week after we worked in strategy groups

this time there was a teacher sitting on the carpet conferring

(See Appendix G).  Periodically, systematic observations

with students. Another intern comes to my room as her part-

were taken during a time period to keep track of student be-

ner class, so on this day she was on the carpet with them

havior and patterns observed during read to self.  My inquiry

while observations were taken.  Overall, students were much

is ongoing, so I am continuing to work with strategy groups,

more on task during these 18 minutes.  Instead of talking

placing students into these groups based on their greatest

with friends, students were engaged in conferring with a


teacher or reading quietly.  Students moved occasionally and were with friends at some points, but overall the behavior Findings

was much different and more on task. These changes could be due to the fact that there was a teacher in very close prox-

As a result of analyzing my data, three important things I learned include:


imity supporting them and guiding them through read to self.

Read), both the students’ and the teacher’s process of mak-

 (See Appendix C)

ing meaning of a text are invisible and can’t influence one another.  Teachers need to talk about how they make mean-

After interventions were put into place, a systematic observa-

ing of a text so that the process is ‘visible’ to students”

tion was once again conducted to closely examine student

(Miller & Moss, 2013). Teaching my students how to use

behaviors during independent reading.  Overall, students

strategies by modeling them using my own book of choice

seemed to be much more engaged with their books. This on

was my way of making my thinking visible to students.

task behavior could have been caused by students’ use of strategies while reading. Since students learned strategies,

To understand what strategies my students were using prior

they likely were engaged in using those strategies and felt

to my intervention, I surveyed each of them by asking, “What

more connected with what they were reading.  These three

strategies have you learned or use while reading?” The an-

systematic observations reflect the behaviors of my students

swers students gave were mostly fluency related, such as

during independent reading time and demonstrate how they

stretching words or sounding out.  One student said, “re-

changed when there was teacher support.  The data sug-

read” which is a comprehension strategy.  Three students

gested that having a teacher present to check in with stu-

said, “I don’t use any strategies.”  This really intrigued me

dents impacted their behavior and led to more partner read-

because two of those readers were in the highest reading

ing and independent reading rather than moving around the

groups.  I knew that they used strategies, but I wondered if

room and talking with peers. (See Appendix D)

they were just unsure of what exactly a strategy was. (See Appendix G)

Conferencing one on one with a student was beneficial because I was able to provide students with feedback and guid-

Over the course of the next week and a half, I began working

ance related to their book choice and use of strategies dur-

with students in strategy groups.  After a week of strategy

ing independent reading. During one conference, I noticed a

groups, I asked students again, “What strategies have you

student that flew through the book “There was an Old Lady

learned or do you use while reading?” This time, the re-

Who Swallowed a Fly”.  He knew every word because this

sponses were much different.  Each of the 16 students I

was a book he read everyday.  After we talked about his

worked with in strategy groups said the strategy they had

book choice, we came to the conclusion that it was time to

learned in the small group.  This showed me that even days

try different books and read various genres. Had I not

after not working on the strategy in the group setting, they

checked in with this student, he could have continued to

still remembered it and knew what it was called. Each time I

read the same book everyday, which was limiting because it

worked with a group, we started by naming the strategy and

wasn’t a challenge for him anymore.  I also noticed one stu-

talking about how to use it and its importance. This explicit

dent that had recently graduated from RTI (reading interven-

teaching impacted students’ responses to the question. (See

tion) was having trouble choosing good fit books.  I worked

Appendix G)

with her to find a series that was a good fit and more challenging for her. This change made her more confident, as

The three students that said they didn’t use strategies the

she is able to read fluently with few mistakes and little assis-

first time were able to not only say what strategy they now

tance from me.  Her book choice changed because there

used but were also able to explain it.  For example, one stu-

was a teacher checking in and assisting her with finding

dent said, “Retelling, where you read the whole book and

good fit books.

just retell the big ideas in a sentence or two from each page,” which was the specific strategy we worked on within

Claim #2: When reading strategies are explicitly taught,

the skill of retelling. Something else that the data showed is

students often have a better understanding of their im-

that some of the highest level readers were unaware of com-

portance and how to use them independently.

prehension strategies prior to teaching them.  The student in my class who is close to a third grade reading level said,

An idea that helped guide my inquiry is that, “With SSR (Sus-

“Sounding out words and flipping the sound,” the first time I

tained Silent Reading) and DEAR (Drop Everything and

asked her what strategies she used, even though she is a fluent reader.  After working on comprehension and checking


for understanding during the strategy groups, the second

Although I observed a positive change in students’ abilities

time I asked she said, “Flagging, check for understanding,

and willingness to use strategies while reading after imple-

sound out words, and reread the sentence.”  This data show

menting conferencing and strategy groups, student surveys

that when students are explicitly taught strategies, they are

and interviews showed that they did not necessarily have an

more likely to understand when they are using them.  There

impact on students’ attitudes towards reading or how they

is no doubt in my mind she used these strategies before, but

viewed themselves as readers.  I focused on four students

she most likely didn’t realize that she was.

and conducted interviews with them before and after any intervention. These students were from different guided read-

In using strategy groups, one of my goals was for students

ing groups and were chosen as a small sample to be used

to be cognizant of when they used strategies and how they

from the entire group. From analyzing the data from the sur-

could help them during independent reading.  When I met

veys of my focus students, I concluded that there was not a

with the check for understanding group the second time, I

significant difference of pattern in their responses.  For exam-

asked what strategy we were working on and right away, two

ple, for one student her rankings remained the same for

of the students said “flagging.”  I also asked “When do we

three questions, went down for three, and went up for three.

use this strategy?” and a student responded, “When you no-

 Her attitudes changed slightly and she ranked herself lower

tice something you don’t know.”  I followed that up with,

the second time for questions such as “How do you feel

“Why is this strategy helpful?” to which another student an-

about reading at school?” “How would you feel when read-

swered, “You can go back and find out what a word means.”

ing a nonfiction or teaching book?” and “I feel good when I

 This short exchange shows how students were aware of the

am reading a book,” which was somewhat surprising as she

strategy, how to use it and why it would help them.  They did

is in the top reading group.

this after only learning and using the strategy one time before.  The next morning, the boy from this group asked me

For my focus student who is one that recently graduated

for post-its to “flag” while he was reading during morning

from RTI, his answers reflected that my interventions could

work.  This small instance shows how powerful reading

have had an impact on his attitudes towards reading.  Three

strategies can be.  He wanted to apply what he had learned

of his rankings went up and the remaining six remained the

while reading on his own, which is the ultimate goal.

same.  He initially gave himself relatively high rankings, so I was interested to see that they mostly stayed the same. This

I continued to conference one on one after using strategy

contrasts to the previous student who is in the highest read-

groups, and this helped me determine if students were using

ing group and gave herself lower rankings on a few of the

the strategies and applying them on their own outside of the

questions the second time.  Overall, the survey data sug-

small group setting.  With one student in particular, I noticed

gests that there was no evidence to say that strategy groups

how well he applied the strategy of chunking words without

and conferencing had an impact on students’ attitudes to-

even being told.  When I checked in with him the week after

wards reading.

strategy groups, he used his bookmark to write down words he was chunking and was using the strategy on his own.


 This time, instead of guessing the word based on the beginning sounds like he did in our first conference, he was chunk-

There are many things that I have learned about myself as a

ing words like “amazing” and “Africa”.  He still stretched out

teacher, my students and how they learn and how I can ad-

some words, but he applied the strategy he had learned dur-

just my instruction in the future to better meet their needs.

ing strategy groups to his independent reading.

 Reading is such a vital part of first grade and from this process I have come to realize how much students will benefit if

Claim #3: The impact that strategy groups had on stu-

they have support during independent reading. My students

dents' attitudes towards reading and views of them-

are such capable independent readers, but sometimes they

selves as readers varied based on gender, interest and

need guidance and encouragement.  I learned so much

ability level.

about my students’ interests and attitudes towards reading through administering surveys and talking with them during conferences.  As far as supporting my readers, I learned that


giving students support does not have to mean limiting their

Reference List

read to self time.  It simply means adding on another layer to independent reading by implementing conferences or work

Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2009). The CAFE book: Engaging

in strategy groups.  My students still had plenty of time to

all students in daily literacy assessment & instruction. Port-

read on their own, but they also checked in with a teacher

land, Me.: Stenhouse.

multiple times a week, if not everyday.  I have learned that support during reading comes in many different ways and

Miller, D., & Moss, B. (2013). No More Independent Reading

can be as simple as having proximity to students to keep

Without Support. Portsmouth, NH.: Heinemann.

them on track or reviewing guidelines throughout the year.  We taught our students how to choose good fit books and

Serravallo, J. (2010). Teaching Reading in Small Groups.

what read to self should look like, but by the middle of the

Portsmouth, NH.: Heinemann.

year they needed to be reviewed.  I also learned that it is okay to change your practice and make adjustments based on students’ needs. This will often have a significant impact on their learning. I still have many unanswered questions but am excited to continue to grow and learn as much as I can in all areas, especially teaching reading. I want to continue to work on ways to ensure my students are using appropriate strategies while reading on their own.  I wonder how I can best keep track and encourage the use of strategies when I can’t conference with each student every day.  I was somewhat surprised that strategy groups didn’t seem to have an impact on students’ attitudes towards reading.  I thought that learning strategies would lead to enjoying reading more and seeing oneself as a good reader, but the surveys suggest that this was not the case.  My goal is that as I continue to work with these groups and help students have success in reading, they will feel even better about reading in the future. In my future practice I know I will always remember the importance of conferencing and providing one on one support for readers. First graders are learning to read and to understand what they read: they need support in developing the best practices and using strategies to support their learning.  I will continue to work on ways to support my students, in all aspects, but especially during independent reading because no student should read without support.


Appendix A: EEKK Poem

Appendix B: February 3rd Systematic Observation *Student names are pseudonyms


Appendix C: Interview Questions

Appendix D: Reading Interest Survey

How do you feel about reading?

What strategies do you use while you read?

Why is that helpful for you?

At the beginning of the year, did you use any strategies to read?

Is it helpful to learn new strategies? Why?

Do you like reading with a teacher? Why or why not?


Appendix E: Survey results Responses to: “What strategies have you learned or do you use while reading


3 To Best Assess

“Through inquiry, I have learned so much about my students and my teaching...I’ve learned how to plan lessons more purposefully...I’ve learned that students want to be engaged in their learning process and take ownership.” - Kayla Fox

The inquiries shared in this section by Kayla Fox and Meg Bowker explore the ethical and practical dilemmas teachers face in assessment.  Fox, concerned with best assessing her third grade students’ progress, and not simply their products, explored the use of formative assessment in purposefully planning for instruction. Connected to this, Bowker wondered how her secondary English students were interpreting and using feedback for revision during the writing process. Through inquiry into assessment, they discovered the power in including students in ongoing assessment, in providing students with ownership and deeper understanding of the learning process.

Exploring through Assessment Kayla Fox Kayla Fox was an intern in the Professional Development School during the 2014-2015 school year. She co-taught third grade at Easterly Parkway Elementary School with Nicole Titus. Kayla is currently teaching fifth grade at Manassas Park Elementary Elementary School. Abstract: As I started to plan Math and Social Studies les-

use as proof of completion, however, I see a more purpose-

sons in my 3rd grade classroom, I was concerned with how I

ful reason to assess students.

could best assess my students’ learning process. I wanted to purposefully plan my lessons in a way that would benefit

I want to learn how to grade my students fairly and purpose-

individual growth. I realized the best way to purposefully plan

fully. I want to learn how to best assess my students so that I

a lesson is to meaningfully assess students informally during

can use that information to benefit them. I want my students

each individual lesson and use that data to benefit the next

to understand how important assessment is for a teacher

lesson. As I planned my lessons, I used different strategies

who wants to use it for instructional purposes. I want to

to inform my understanding of each student’s learning proc-

learn how I can show students’ learning processes and not


just the final product. I want to find ways to best support my students. Their understanding and comprehension is one of Background

the biggest parts of school. If I can find a way for assessments and grades to benefit my students, together we will

As teachers, we are asked to use assessment strategies as

gather a deeper understanding of their learning process.

tools for grading and learning. “Assessment is the ways in-

Therefore, the purpose of my inquiry was to find assessment

structors gather data about their teaching and their students’

strategies to use in a purposeful and meaningful way.

learning” (Hanna & Dettmer, 2004). There are three types of Question

assessment: diagnostic, formative, and summative. Hanna and Dettmer (2004) suggest that teachers use a range of assessment strategies in order to benefit their teaching and in-

With this purpose, I wondered how might I create and use

struction. Some teachers prefer certain strategies over oth-

assessments during math instruction to help support my stu-

ers because they have found success with one or the other. I

dents and their academic success in the classroom to im-

wanted to find strategies that I like and find useful because

pact their grades and better understand their learning proc-

understanding students’ learning is key to providing stu-


dents with the correct instruction. So, I decided I would like to use more assessments in the classroom, but not for grad-


ing purposes per say, rather, I would like it to benefit my instruction. Many times throughout the year, I find my students

To gain insight into my wondering, I decided I wanted to col-

saying, “Is this for a grade?” or “Will we be graded on this?”

lect data on my students. I wanted to see if I could find a

and it upsets me that they seem more concerned about the

strategy where I could write down observational notes to

grade they might get and less concerned about the content

help inform my instruction. I created sheets for each subject

of the lesson.  I believe that assessments show students

I would be teaching (math, science, social studies) and in-

process of learning over time. I can observe students strug-

cluded a behavioral sheet as well to help remind me of chil-

gling in class while working in small groups, but I find it help-

dren’s behaviors throughout the day. I put together a labeled

ful to use an assessment to see the exact concept students

binder of each child’s group of four sheets. I realized early on

are struggling with. Maybe what I’m observing isn’t the same

that this was going to be a challenge. I love the binder be-

as what they are capable of? I know that I need to grade my

cause it’s nice and neat, but it’s unfortunately hard to use in

students’ work and I know I need to have final products to

the moment of teaching. I quickly decided to switch to using sticky notes as a tool for observational notes. In math I use a


whiteboard often, so I started to lay out a few sticky notes


How do you organize the evidence you collect for as-

on the back of the whiteboard so I could jot down my notes

sessment? What tools/programs/management systems

that way. I thought it would be perfect because students

do you use? How does it work for you?

would be unaware to what I was writing and I could put my sticky note right on each child’s sheet in my binder when I


How often do you assess your students (Pre, Formative, Summative)?

was done observing them. This would be just like the notes, but I wouldn’t be flipping through everyone’s name and sheets. The sticky note had the child’s name on it, quotes


Do you grade organization and neatness, too?

they said that show understanding, and additional teaching points, just as the sheet in my binder.

The responses I received from the two teachers were very similar. I will call the Kindergarten teacher, Ms. M, and the

A wonderful aspect of my internship is that I have a supervi-

first grade teacher, Mrs. C. Both teachers formatively assess

sor and mentor teacher who are observing me and/or teach-

their students more often than anything else. They use obser-

ing alongside me. With this privilege, I was able to have them

vations, conversations, conferences, and scope and se-

collect data of my students’ responses and questions as I

quences to lead their instruction. Andrew Miller, an educa-

was teaching. Between the two of them, they used my

tional consultant and online educator wrote, “I think forma-

binder and sticky notes as resources for observational notes.

tive assessment is one of the single most important things

This was a phenomenal tool. Because my mentor and super-

that teachers can do – and already do – for their students. In

visor were taking notes while I was teaching, we were able to

fact, great teachers use formative assessment whether or

have great discussions about my students understanding of

not they know it” (Miller, 2015). Ms. M also uses instructional

the lesson as well as my thoughts on the lesson. We found

tools such as Words their Way (Pearson, 2015) and

teaching points for my students and myself through these

AIMSweb (Pearson, 2014) to help with her instruction. Mrs.

discussions and observations. Not only were the notes bene-

C uses rubrics and unit tests as a way to summatively as-

ficial for my students’ understanding of math and social stud-

sess literacy and math. She leads her math instruction in a

ies, but they were also beneficial for my understanding on

math workshop format, challenging students to move for-

teaching. I started taking observational notes in the middle

ward in their learning, individually. When asked about her be-

of January and continue to do so. My mentor and supervisor

lief about assessment, Ms. M said, “What we do in the class-

would try to take observational notes at least once a week, if

room, determines what we do the next day” (Ms. M, inter-

not twice.

view). This is a quote from Ms. M on her belief about assessment. Ms. M also defined assessment as a tool for teachers

After a couple weeks of taking observational notes, I inter-

to determine “where students are in their learning.” She or-

viewed two teachers at Easterly Parkway and my third grade

ganizes her evidence by creating a notebook for each child

students. First, I interviewed a Kindergarten teacher who has

where she records data. She also puts portfolios together of

also taught first and second grade. I also interviewed a first

children’s work. Ms. M assesses her students all the time,

grade teacher who has also taught first and second grade in

every day. She also mentioned that she does not grade or-

public school, as well as at a Montessori school. There were

ganization and neatness in Kindergarten.

six questions I asked: “Assessment is the measurement of a child’s developed 1.

What kinds of assessment do you use in your class-

knowledge or natural ability” (Mrs. C, interview). Just as Mrs.

room (Pre, Formative, Summative)? Why?

C stated, when using assessment in the classroom, teachers should develop their assessments to measure what a child


What is one belief you have about assessment?

has learned through instruction and help determine their natural ability of the subject matter. Mrs. C believes that as-


If you were asked to define assessment, what would

sessment should inform what you teach next. She uses a

you say?

notebook, running records, and checklist to collect data in literacy and math specifically. She stated that assessment is an ongoing process; it happens all the time. Three times a


year she collects running record data and at the end of every

During a seminar this semester, I was talking with another

unit she collects summative data. She does not provide stu-

intern about her inquiry project (Englert, 2015). She focused

dents with a grade on organization and neatness, however,

on setting goals in the classroom, which got me thinking,

she does give students a + or – on their report card on or-

“Could I some how incorporate goal setting into assess-

ganization and neatness, as it is a district requirement.

ment?” I created a goal setting worksheet on fractions where I wrote out each standard in a kid-friendly format with a

I found both of these interviews useful. Not only was I re-

happy, neutral, and sad face to describe how students felt

minded how important formative assessment is, but I was

about each fraction area. I then asked them to finish these

provided an example of how I could change the math format

three statements:

of our classroom to best fit the needs of our students. We had been doing math stations up until the week after my in-


I would like to focus this week working on…


I feel confident working on…


My goal for this week is to…

terview with Mrs. C., but after talking with her about how her math workshop looks, I found myself interested in trying it out for my students. She said she prepares a mini lesson every day and then students decide what they would like to do that day. I changed this layout up to fit our classroom. I gave my students a fraction assessment to see where stu-

Students completed the worksheet at my station during

dents were at the halfway point of the unit. I took that infor-

math workshop and I discussed their responses with them,

mation and created groups for each topic that needed more


work. From there I created a spreadsheet of student names and chose groups of students I would work with on a mini

Finally, I gathered six students for a lunch bunch. A lunch

lesson each round. There were three rounds each day and as

bunch is when students come back to the classroom to eat

long as students weren’t working with me on fractions or

lunch and talk with teachers about lessons they have previ-

working with my mentor, they had free choice of certain

ously taught together (co-teaching methods). My mentor cre-

games, activities, and IXL, a computer program the school

ated the idea of a lunch bunch through her dissertation work

district uses to help reinforce math concepts.

on self-study at Penn State (Titus, in progress). These six students were previously selected by my mentor and me to dis-

I also surveyed my students the same week I interviewed

cuss lessons we had co-taught each week. This lunch bunch

teachers. I wanted to find out how students felt about grades

was different than our weekly lunch bunches because I

and what they feel is appropriate to be grading. I asked my

wanted to talk about assessment, not a lesson. I wanted to

students four questions:

hear from them how they read their grades. I also wanted to see what they believe receiving a grade means and tells


How concerned/worried are you about your grades?

them about their learning. We hold lunch bunches because we believe students should be able to share their voice with


Do you think it would be fair to grade your organization

us about their classroom community and school. Teachers

and neatness on work? Why?

learn a lot from talking with their students and allowing them to have a voice in their classroom. Dana Mitra wrote in Stu-


Do you like knowing the expectations we have for you

dent Voice in School Reform: Reframing Student-Teacher

on each assignment before you are assigned the work?

Relationships, “Consulting with students on their views of

Meaning, do you want to know what will be graded be-

teaching and learning has improved students’ understanding

fore you are given the activity, paper, project, etc.?

of how they learn, helped students to gain a stronger sense


of their own abilities, and improved instruction so that teachers do a better job of meeting students’ needs” (Mitra, 2003).


Would you prefer to take a test to determine your grade

Just as Mitra stated, students and teachers gain a better un-

instead of doing projects, activities, and worksheets?

derstanding of learning and teaching when they hold a discussion together. One way we hold discussions with our students is through a lunch bunch. My mentor and supervisor


were also present to help push our talk about assessment

I found that I was more carefully observing students as I was

and the students thinking even further.

teaching. I was making notes in my head on what students were saying and doing. I was reflecting on my lesson by talk-


ing with my mentor, supervisor, or both about each day’s lesson using the information I had so intentionally noticed. I

By analyzing my data, I came to three important findings:

was either adapting my lesson plans in the moment or a couple hours later to make sure students were going to benefit

• Collecting formative assessment through writing is HARD, but being aware of it makes lesson planning much easier.

from my instruction. I also wrote journal entries on how the week’s lessons were going and what I was learning about my students’ learning processes. Numerous times through-

• Students are engaged and excited about their learning process when they have ownership and when their teacher explains his or her beliefs and personal goals.  

out this process I would ask myself, “How am I going to benefit from colleague feedback and observational notes this when I don’t have a mentor and supervisor to help me?” and although it will be hard, there are a few tools I can use in ad-

• Numerical grades frighten students, while goal setting comforts students.

dition to my systematic noticings: if I have permission from parents, I can video or audio record certain lessons that would benefit my instruction the most, I could ask a col-

Finding 1

league to observe my teaching, and I can conference one on one with students more often and take note of our conversa-

From my inquiry, I found that collecting formative assess-

tion in my binder.

ment through writing is hard, but being aware of it makes lesson planning much easier. As I mentioned earlier, I tried nu-

Planning lessons naturally became easier because I knew

merous strategies to help collect observational data. I cre-

where students were and where they needed to go. I used

ated a binder with tabs for each student in three subjects, I

my observation records (i.e. worksheet notes, journal entries,

tried putting sticky notes behind a whiteboard, and I had my

lesson plan reflections, lunch bunch audio notes) and my

mentor and supervisor take notes for me while I was teach-

mentor’s and supervisor’s notes to create future lessons. I

ing. Both the binder and sticky notes behind a whiteboard

could see who was struggling on a certain topic and plan to

were difficult to manage as I was teaching. Flipping through

return to the lesson as needed. Instruction became easier as

a binder while teaching a math mini lesson took too much

I was focusing on students’ learning processes because I

time away from student learning and the whiteboard full of

was becoming aware of what each student needed to focus

sticky notes was challenging because I needed to rewrite the

on in order to be successful in the classroom and lesson. I

students name, comments, and teaching points for each indi-

already knew a lot about students’ work habits from working

vidual student each round, gather materials and teach the

with them all year, now I just needed to know how comfort-

lesson. Again, this took time away from student learning. The

able they were working with fractions.

most successful strategy was having my mentor and supervisor take notes for me. Depending on the subject and topic of

For example, as I stated earlier, my mentor and I use math

my lesson that day, I had a specific question for my mentor

stations as our instructional rotation for math. After interview-

and supervisor to be taking note of for me. I realized that it

ing Mrs. C., I realized I wanted to assess my students to see

wasn’t the binder that made it difficult, it was the process of

where they were with the fraction concepts and then create

teaching a lesson, answering questions, asking questions,

a math workshop so I could focus on working with certain

keeping everyone on topic AND taking notes that was diffi-

students on their trouble spots. I found this to be extremely

cult. With that said, I didn’t lose valuable information about

beneficial. While looking at the fraction assessment, I recog-

my students from have a difficult time taking observation

nized common mistakes, misconceptions, and areas of

notes on my own because in systematically trying to take

strength for all students. Not only did the assessment tell me

these notes with various techniques, I learned more about

what students needed to work on, but it showed me the ar-

the process and was able to engage in it more automatically.

eas of strength for each student as well. I didn’t grade this assessment though. Meaning, I wrote down a score in my


binder so I knew the exact number of problems successfully

are engaged and excited about their learning process when

completed, but the students didn’t see that number on their

they have ownership and when their teacher explains his or

papers. Instead, I circled trouble areas and wrote words like:

her beliefs and personal goals for each student. When I ex-

wonderful, great job, wow, and excellent beside areas they

plained the goal setting sheet to my students, they were ex-

were strong in. On students’ papers where there were a lot

tremely excited to fill it out because they knew how powerful

of errors, I wrote, “Keep up the good work!” I wanted to see

it was for me to see how they felt about their learning. They

how students would respond to this. They may have not got-

understood that I was going to use this information to help

ten a perfect 10 out of 10 on this paper, but that does not

plan future lessons and they respected me for that. This

mean they didn’t try their best. That just means that they

wasn’t the first time students filled out goal setting sheet, so

have areas to work on. Mark Barnes, a seventh grade

they understood the process that comes with it. I also ex-

teacher who values learning over grades, wrote a blog entry

plained to my students the importance of honesty and how

titled, “How Eliminating Grades Changed Everything in My

this goal setting sheet would impact their learning for the up-

Classroom” (Sackstein, 2015). In this blog entry, Barnes de-

coming week. I had a meeting with my principal right after I

scribes his negative experience with grades and how some-

collected this data and he asked me if I looked at the stu-

thing had to change in order for him to remain in the educa-

dents’ goal setting sheets and compared it with my personal

tion profession. He states, “I would review each student’s

notes on each student to see if they correlated or not. He

work, summarize and explain what I had observed, and ask

brought up a good question here: Were students being com-

questions. Soon, students had these informative conversa-

pletely honest in their responses? I thought about it for a sec-

tions with each other, as they grew into enthusiastic, inde-

ond, and responded with, “Yes. The information does corre-

pendent learners, who never feared a bad grade, because

late.” The students had 15 minutes to complete this one

there were no grades. They never asked for extra credit, be-

worksheet and they took the entire time to do it. They asked

cause there was no credit; there were only learning opportu-

if they could shade in two faces if they felt like they were be-

nities. Learning for the sake of learning” (Sackstein, 2015).

tween two of them. They crossed shaded circles out and

Surprisingly, I only had a few students come up to me and

changed their answers after thinking for a while about them.

say, “Miss Fox, there’s no grade on here. It says great job

Students took this very seriously and I loved seeing that.

but I only got like four right. I don’t get it.” Or I heard, “I did

There wasn’t one student whose goal setting sheet didn’t

terrible. I missed five.” More students didn’t understand why

correlate with my personal notes and goals for them. Some

there wasn’t a numerical grade on their paper because they

of the students’ responses actually surprised me because

were so use to there being one. I wanted my students to see

they extended what I knew. I didn’t realize students felt that

that there is more to paper assessment than the number at

they needed more practice with certain concepts and that

the top. The few students that actually came up to me and

was great information for me to gain. From this goal setting

asked me why there wasn’t a grade, were students who are

paper and my notes, I recreated math workshop groups for

concerned about bringing graded papers home. I told them

each concept. I grouped students in no more than five per

that they did a great job and to keep working hard. I also

group so that I could focus my attention on each individual

asked them what they think they can learn from this paper

student. I did this for the trouble areas, but also for chal-

because I wanted to hear what they had to say. The two stu-

lenges, with more difficult work. This way, I met with each

dents that I had discussed this with realized that this paper

student at least once every two days for individual work with

showed them that they just had areas to work on and areas

fractions. My mentor teacher would also work with students

of strength. They felt better about their paper after discuss-

during this time, so every student was receiving at least one

ing the meaning behind it: learning for the sake of learning

small group instructional math lesson a day. This worked

(Sackstein, 2015).

really well for our classroom of students. Students knew that when they came to my group, they were to be focused and

Finding 2

ready to learn because they told me themselves that this was a trouble area and they needed more practice with it.

The intervention that I found to be the most successful was the goal setting sheet. I learned from this data that students

This is an example of one student who told me she needed more work with equivalent fractions, expressing whole num-


bers as fractions, and defining numerator and denominator. I

A: With the grade you would make us kind of sad because

know this because she colored in the neutral smiley face,

you see a 1 out of 10, which I don’t think you want to do.

which was the indicator for: I need help with this concept. “Teachers use formative assessment to let students know

Me: Why, because you see that number one out of ten?

where they are in the learning journey. Assessment is no longer a surprise! Student learning becomes transparent and

A: I wouldn’t see any number on the goal setting sheet and

also personalized. All students are getting what they need

you would help us with it instead of writing an F so you

when they need it, as opposed to when the teacher guesses

would help us understand it better than giving us a bad

they need it. What happens next? Increased engagement”


(Miller, 2015)! The dynamic of math changed immediately when I implemented this change after the pre-assessment.

Me: I want you to understand grades as a learning process.

Students were completely focused and engaged each round

So, with that goal setting sheet, that one confident circle out

because they were getting exactly what they needed, indi-

of the ten confident circles, that we said was a way to move

vidually. The groups were small, so each student was partici-

on. With that grade, you see that one out of ten on the top of

pating numerous times and I was able to observe and take

the paper, that means that could be the same as I under-

note of student growth quickly and easily.

stand this one concept in problem number 3, but need to work on the other nine, problems 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and

Finding 3

10. I want you to see the relationship between the two here. This is what I know (the number of answers I have correct)

Numerical grades frighten students, while goal setting com-

but this is what I need to work on (the number of answers I

forts students. It’s interesting to hear students talk about

have incorrect).

grades and assessment. While discussing assessment at the lunch bunch, the students and I came to a conclusion about

Students are scared about grades. The number posted on

grades: seeing a number or percentage at the top of a paper

the top of a piece of paper worries them to the point where

worries them, while filling out a goal setting sheet shows that

they might hide their work from their parents! No student

they have areas to work on and areas of strength. I asked my

should feel ashamed enough to hide work from their parents.

students, “When you look at a grade, how do you feel about

The goal for this lunch bunch was to hear how students felt

that grade?” This is the conversation we had and I will call

about grades and what they think grades mean. I hoped that

the student in this conversation, “A”.  These transcripts

leaving this conversation, they would feel better about nu-

come from a video recording of our conversation.

merical grades and look at them as a goal setting sheet, which I think they did. Before we ended our lunch bunch con-

A: If it’s an F, I would be soooo sad and I would try to hide it

versation, I made a point to explain how I hoped they would

from my parents.

look at numerical grades: as a learning process, just as the students saw the goal setting sheet. Each student added to

The thought in my head: Wow. This is a response from a

the conversation and agreed that they would try to see the

third grade student. She would hide her paper from her par-

value in a numerical grade: a three out of ten isn’t bad, there

ents if she received an F!

are just seven concepts left to learn! When I asked students previously in the conversation which grading technique they

Me: Say you were to receive a one out of ten on the top of

prefer (numerical grade or goal setting sheet), five out of the

your paper, but with the goal setting sheet you only circled

six students said goal setting sheet. This was powerful infor-

one confident face out of ten, which one would you prefer?

mation because it confirmed the negative impact numerical grades have on students. Students need to be included in

A: You would know what we wanted to work on.

their learning process. Mark Barnes, author of How Eliminating Grades Changed Everything in My Classroom (Sackstein,

Me: With the goals or the grades?

2015), stated that he sat down with each individual student after the nine-week quarter to discuss grades because his district mandated grades. They talked about in-class activi-


ties, projects, and how they handled any redirection. Then he

I have made a few changes in my practice since doing this

asked them one simple question: “What grades should you

inquiry. For instance, I started planning math as a math work-

get?” Barnes stated, “I was astonished by the quality of self-

shop instead of math stations. I have planned lessons more

evaluation from young people, who had never before been

purposefully because I have found strategies that fit my

asked to grade themselves. Some even said that they de-

teaching style. A few changes that I will make in my practice

served failing grades, because they didn’t work as hard as

will be to try to eliminate the stress over numerical grades. I

they could have. While I hated the idea of placing a label on

want to find a way for students to see the similarities be-

my students, the discussions about what they had accom-

tween goal setting and grades and I want this to start at the

plished and what they wanted to improve upon were invalu-

beginning of the school year. I also want to communicate

able” (Sackstein, 2015). Students need to take ownership of

this idea to my students’ parents. It’s important that parents

their learning, because when they do, they too, are able to

understand my beliefs about assessment and grades so they

see the power of the learning process.

can communicate appropriately with their child when grades and activities are sent home. I am also curious as to why nu-


merical grades have such a negative impact on students. I hope to find a way to express to students that numerical

Through doing this inquiry, I have learned so much about my

grades show their learning process because I believe that

students and my teaching. I’ve learned how to plan lessons

understanding the learning process is one of the most power-

in all subject areas more purposefully for my students. I’m

ful ways for students to understand their development in

aware of the actions they take in their learning process and

school and to find success within themselves.

how I can use that information to adapt and plan my lessons. I’ve learned how my students discover new concepts

While it does not fit into the scope of this paper, one major

and skills. I’ve seen the light go on in their heads when they

change I have made in my practice based on my inquiry is

understand a challenging concept. I’ve also learned which

with the use of student inquiry as a form of student-driven

students are self-motivated and which students need more

assessment for learning in Social Studies (Dana, Burns, &

of a push in order to challenge themselves. All of this informa-

Wolkenhauer, 2013). Because of my knowledge of student

tion helps me plan my lessons, which in turn makes me a

understanding through assessment, I adapted the district

better teacher.

curriculum to best meet the needs of my students and more intentionally connect a unit on explorers to them as global

I’ve learned that I still need to find a way to take observation

citizens. I report on this work in Wolkenhauer, Titus, Romig,

notes as I’m teaching. Or at least find a way to jot down

& Fox (2015).  

notes in between rotations and/or lessons. I’ve learned that I need to be flexible when planning lessons. A concept I think students will grasp quickly, might actually take planning a few lessons before students are able to fully grasp it. I’ve gained knowledge on which types of questions to ask certain students. For example, I can push certain students’ thinking more than others. I’ve also learned about the power of numerical grades. Students fear a “bad grade.” Having those numbers or percentages on the top of their paper is frightening instead of accepting. I’ve also learned that students want to be engaged in their learning process and take ownership of their strengths and weaknesses. When students understand the reason why we are continually reteaching certain concepts, they accept responsibility and engage appropriately in the lesson.


References AIMS web. (2014, January 1). Retrieved February 20, 2015, from http://www.aimsweb.com/ Dana, N.F., Burns, J.B., & Wolkenhauer, R. (2013). Inquiry into the Common Core. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Wolkenhauer, R., Titus, N., Romig, G., & Fox, K. (2015, July). Collaborative teaching and learning: Exploring the possibilities of student inquiry. Presentation for the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Network of Professional Development Schools, State College, PA.


Revising Revision: Exposing Current Understandings of What it Means to Revise and How We Go About Revising Meg Bowker


required pre-writing, major papers can be rewritten as many times as necessary to earn the desire grade.” I assumed, at

Throughout my year working with 11th grade students, I

the beginning of the year, that students would be excited to

found myself asking my students to revise their work, a lot. I

take advantage of this. It can be hard to know exactly what a

believed, and still believe, that providing students with a

teacher wants is or expecting on an assignment, so having

place to revise allows them to re-think and re-work their way

the opportunity to revise “as many times as necessary”

through an idea. However, my students seemed to think that

would be something to jump on in order to keep up the de-

revising was a time to go through their papers in order to

sired grades. When we read through the syllabus as a class

check capitalization, punctuation, and spelling, with the occa-

during the first week of school, the students themselves said

sional rewriting or addition of a single sentence. For me, this

that one of their favorite things about our class’s policy was

created frustration. A lot of frustration. But from frustrations

that there were endless revisions. This created the first dis-

comes questions, and I began to ask myself how my stu-

connect between what I believed would happen and what

dents were defining revision. How did I define revision? What

actually happened in class. Despite the facts that endless

exactly is the disconnect between my revision expectations

revisions were offered and that the students liked endless

and actuality of what I was seeing from the students? Is this

revisions, no one was taking advantage of it. For the first two

disconnect something that can be remedied? And finally, is

marking periods, half the year, less than five students took

revision even worth all the emphasis I was putting on it, or I

advantage of the open revision policy and these students

had just become stuck in a revising cycle?

were told by either my mentor or myself that they needed to revise their paper due to an exceptionally low grade, reveal-

Why Revision?

ing that the student had not mastered or even understood the content. This means that no students were showing a

I never questioned revision as an important part of the writ-

willingness to revise.

ing process. In fact, after years of studying English, revision had become the writing process. I had discovered that a first

The final piece adding to my frustration revolves around the

draft was almost always something that needed to be put

online format of the class. All papers, journals, and most as-

immediately into the trash bin (physically or dragged across

signments were completed through Google docs. This online

the computer screen). A first draft was where one wrote

format allowed students to share work with my mentor

down the first thing that came to mind, which wasn’t always

teacher and myself from any online device, allowed my men-

the most thought out, the most effective, or the most useful.

tor teacher and myself to “hand out” worksheets and/or as-

On top of that, I had learned that there was no such thing as

signments in a paperless fashion, link worksheets/

a finished paper. There was always something that could be

assignments to the online teaching portal used by the high

changed in order to make the paper better, always a new

school, check student work through their google.doc folders,

way to take the paper that more aptly got at the point, al-

and comment on student work from any online device. Most

ways a better verb that would convey just the right connota-

importantly, the students and myself always had access to

tions. In this way, revising had become synonymous with writ-

their assignments; there was no stack of papers we passed

ing. And this was a belief that I carried unknowingly into the

back and forth.

classroom. Now the downfall of Google docs: students have the authorWith this belief, one can imagine how excited I was to see

ity to resolve comments, essentially deleting them. Once the

that my mentor teacher had an open revision policy. To be

comment was resolved I had no way of seeing my original

specific, the syllabus stated, “if you have completed all the

comment on an assignment or paper. Going back and reread-


ing a paper with edits and not knowing what the original com-

their process? Can making students explicitly aware of their

ment had been, made looking at the revised piece of work

revision process and revising that revision process lead to

harder. Without the comments, I wasn’t sure on where I

improvement in writing? Exploring these questions is the pur-

should focus my re-reading of the paper. What changes

pose of this paper.

should I look for? What had stood out to me the first time I read the paper? As anyone who has graded a paper can say,

Defining Revision: Me

different elements stand out at different times and it is almost impossible to remember the specific comments left on

I’ve mentioned a little about how I see revision, but I want to

over 50 papers. It was, and is, important to me that specific

get a bit more specific.

and consistent comments are provided for the students. If I am going to say that a specific paragraph needs a more de-

Beyond the very generic “making changes to a piece of

tailed deconstruction of a quote, I want to be able to return

work,” revision can be incredibly hard to pin down. There are

to that specific paragraph and see what changes, if any, had

even multiple types of revision, such as in-text revision that

been made. How the students interpreted that comment?

happen during the process of drafting (a note here on the

Whether or not improvement or something along those lines

use of drafting and writing. The whole revision process is in-

is happening? Improvement is, of course, subjective, but in

cluded in the writing process. So, in order to remain perfectly

the situation where grades are dependent on me (the

clear, drafting is used to refer writing that is taking place dur-

teacher), improvement becomes tied into my own beliefs.

ing the process), and revisions that happen after piece is done (Limpo, Alves, & Fidalgo, 2014). I have found this year,

Marking my comments as resolved on their papers creates

that I generally use two words when trying to define what the

another disconnect between the students and myself. There

process of revision should look like: meaningful and signifi-

becomes a question of teacher understanding versus stu-

cant. Meaningful is intended to mean that the changes made

dent understanding. I do not know how the students under-

(whether during the drafting process of after) affect the over-

stand the comments and how that understanding is affecting

all understanding of the piece. A meaningful revision could

the way that they make changes. Based on the fact that I

be something as simple as fixing grammar or punctuation

wasn’t seeing too much revision from students, I wasn’t even

through a document. Both of these things would affect how

sure if the comments were being read before being deleted.

the reader understands, or does not understand, the paper.

When I asked students why they deleted comments I got re-

However, while these grammatical changes are meaningful,

sponses such as, “So I know that I already read that com-

they are not significant. A significant change is something

ment,” “Because I made the changes already,” and “To keep

that greatly alters the paper. Re-writing the claims of each

track of what I’ve done and what I still need to do.” These

paragraph could be a significant revision. If these changes

responses are concerning because going through the stu-

do not add to the overall understanding of the paper, how-

dents revision histories (another element made possible by

ever, they are not meaningful.

Google docs) I can see that students are not making changes, but still deleting the comments. This begs the ques-

Revision is a way to explore one’s thinking. It should provide

tion, how are students understanding the comment made

outlets and opportunities to take a paper in a new direction,

and how does that understanding move into a revision?

try out ideas that may not lead anywhere, and follow paths in

Later, during the contracted revisions of their The Great

the writing that may lead to new and improved understand-

Gatsby papers, I will start to see students refer to comments

ings. This revision, or exploration, happens through commu-

as “errors,” which is a very telling and interesting terminol-

nication. I have broken this communication into three parts:

ogy change. 1)

The writer’s communication with the text he/she is

These disconnects between what I saw as revision, the op-

writing about. In the case of my students, this refers to the

portunities in class to revise that were being taken advan-

communication between The Great Gatsby (the text about

tage of, and not knowing what criteria students were using

which they are writing) and the writer. If the writer has noth-

to revise led to a frustration that funneled the following ques-

ing to say about the text or object he/she is writing about,

tions: How do students revise? What information informs

then there is no communication between these two elements


and the writing as a whole will suffer. A writer needs to feel

on a student’s paper. Not only do students misinterpret com-

something or think something about their topic in order to

ments left behind by a teacher (or a peer or anyone, really),

write about it, explore it, and revise it.

but it is just as easy for the teacher to misinterpret what the student is trying to say. This adds to the confusion and puts


Communication between the text the writer is drafting

the student in a place where he/she does not really know

and the writer. While drafting and after drafting, the writer will

what it is he/she should change. Which leads me to the sec-

read through their work. This reading of one’s work creates

ond point that Beason makes, “students have a restricted

another aspect of communication, only here the writer is es-

view of revision.”

sentially communicating with him/herself. Often times, one does not know what one thinks about a topic or has not yet

I believe that it is through these three avenues of communica-

honed his/her opinion of said topic until he/she actually be-

tion that people come to new understandings of their ideas

gins the writing process. The communication between what

(or other ideas/concepts). This new understanding is the revi-

one has written down (or typed up) and the writer is essential


to re-visiting those ideas, exploring them further, and revisWith this in mind, the communication that the students have


with others, with their papers, and with The Great Gatsby 3)

Communication between the writer, the text being writ-

ten, and others. An exploration of new ideas or new direc-

help revise their ideas, therefore refining and revising their papers in meaningful and significant ways.

tions cannot usually be introduced without the help of a third party. The communication can take the form of peer editing,

Defining Revision: The Students

parent editing, margin comments, or conferences. I have often found during my many conferences with students, that it

While it would be insane to claim I know what is going on in

is through talking out their papers with them that I begin to

my students heads when they revise, I can say that some

get a solid idea of what it is they are trying to say in their pa-

patterns came out of revisions I was seeing earlier in the

per. Once I have this firmer ground to stand on as a reader of

year. From these revisions, I can say that my students were

their work, I can provide more detailed and specific feed-

focusing on what Beason calls Surface level changes or

back through the margin comments which will enable the

“cleaning up” papers. These surface level changes Beason

students to revise in a way that is more beneficial to the end

is talking about are the opposite of the meaningful and signifi-

product (which is a literary analysis on The Great Gatsby). I

cant changes I was expecting. Based on what I was seeing

cannot highlight enough how important these conferences

with my students work, I broke Beason’s “surface level

became in connection with the margin comments on Google

changes” into three categories that I saw repeating time and

docs. There is just not enough time in a one’s schedule to be

time again.

able to meet personally with every student for an extended period of time. Being able to briefly chat with the students to


figure out exactly what it was they were arguing, or maybe

ever my students were revising. This editing included adding

not exactly, but to be able to briefly talk out some of the

commas, deleting commas, fixing capitalization, spelling

ideas and concepts they are struggling to put into word on

changes, etc. Once they had gone through their work, in this

the paper, enables me to use the margin comments more

case Journal entries (during the reading of two novels the

affectively as well.

students had weekly journals that were graded; the students

Copy editing. This is what I saw most frequently when-

According to Beason, “Teachers’ comments frequently confuse students [and] to compound [this problem], many students appear to have a restricted view of revision, limiting their efforts to ‘cleaning up’ and making surface level changes” (Beason, 1993). Beason makes two important

were allowed to revise these journals, within the marking pe-

points here. The first is something I touched on above, and

riod they were written, as many times as they wanted for the

that is the confusion that can come out of margin comments

grade they wanted) fixing all the editing errors, students


would re-submit their Journals. I am not providing an exam-

esty. How does not getting involved equate to not being judg-

ple of editing, as this is a common “revision” strategy. At

mental?” There were two changes made, “her” was changed

times, these changes can be meaningful if the grammar was

to “this” and “husband” was changed to “man.” These

bad enough to impede meaning, and it is good that students

changes did clarify that Tom Buchanan was not Myrtle Wil-

know how to fix these errors. However, the type of revision I

son’s husband, but they did not show any type of re-

was looking for this year, as described above, was a re-

thinking, exploration, or revising of the actual answer. In this

thinking of the concept the students had already presented;

situation, I have to ask if the student is completely ignoring

an exploration of the ideas written down and those not yet

the comment because he/she does not understand it, is

written down.

avoiding the work, or if he/she believes that the changes he/ she had made are really revising the response?


Word swaps. The next surface level change I saw a lot

of in the first part of the year was word swaps. This involved


The single sentence fix. The final surface level change

changing out one word for another. Take a look at the follow-

I saw consistently throughout the year was the single sen-

ing example:

tence fix. This involved changing one sentence, adding one sentence, or deleting a single sentence in order to revise a

Prompt: “At the end of chapter 3 Nick says, ‘Everyone sus-

piece of writing. Take a look at the following student’s writing

pects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this

in response to the same prompt as the previous example:

is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known’ (Fitzgerald, 64). Do you think Nick is an honest per-

Student response (revision is in bold): “I do not think that

son? What evidence from the text do we have that he is or

Nick is an honest person. At the end of the chapter, Nick real-

isn’t honest?”

izes that Jordan is a very dishonest person, but he says that “Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply’

Student Response (revision is in bold): “Nick seems like a

(pg 63). The fact that Nick dismisses dishonesty, makes it

person that tries to not be too involved with anything. By do-

seem like Nick is not an honest person. Nick’s acceptance

ing this he absolves himself from ever really having to lie. ‘I

of a person who isn’t honest taints his own honesty.

understand that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that

I responded with the following comment: “You need to ex-

has opened up many curious natures to me and also made

plain how a person who dismisses honesty makes that per-

me the victim of not a few veteran bores.’ He prides himself

son dishonest. Does dishonesty taint those around it? Or

on not judging others and many times throughout the text he

does something else happen? What?”

does just that. ‘Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand… Then Mr. McKee

In this situation, the student added a single sentence to end

turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from

of their response which almost directly took the language of

the chandelier, I followed.’ In this scene he stays by what he

the comment and reworded it in the revision. Again, the stu-

said, not judging the actions of his friend. However, no mat-

dent doesn’t really re-think their answer. There is no sign in

ter what the back story, these actions were uncalled for. A

this response that the student considered the comment,

true honest man would have stepped in and helped this de-

their answer, or the various possibilities that are possible.

fenseless woman and correct the ways of this her

The fact that the language is similar tells me that the student did read the comment I left. But once again, I am left wonder-

unruly man husband. I think Nick’s definition of honesty is

ing if the student didn’t understand the comment left behind

skewed, he takes the easy ways out by not getting emotion-

and decided to just morph the comment into an answer in

ally involved with things, and then later calls himself honest.”

order to appease the teacher. There is something in the rewording of the question as the answer, which is a good skill

Overall, this was a decent answer. However it was not

to have, that shows some sort of “teacher pleasing.” As

awarded full points and I left the comment: “Expand on the

though I would only notice the words in the answer as satis-

how not getting involved is connected to honesty or dishon-

factory and not the answer itself as rather unsatisfactory.


A Brief Aside: Teacher Comments

and prompts. This pre- writing was not something to help create a better paper, for a significant portion of the stu-

I want to step aside for a second and say something about

dents, but something they were asked to do. When pre-

teacher comments. There is an understanding among the

writing was optional, students rarely took the time to pre-

students that the teacher comment is the only comment that

pare. Then there was the writing itself. This was the part that


mattered, that part that students would be graded on. Postwriting only existed for the students if they were asked to re-

And in a way they are right. As one of my students told me,

vise. As mentioned at the very beginning of this paper, the

“You [me] control the grades. If you see something that

amount of students in first two marking periods who chose

needs to be fixed, we have to fix it or we won’t get the

to revise papers was small, less than ten, with only one or

grade.” This struck me as important. It fell in line with the

two choosing him/herself to revise for a better grade. In the

idea that comments are errors, as mentioned earlier. I think,

third marking period, it should be noted, students were very

from what I have written so far, that this idea is being sup-

willing to revise their journals, but still avoided revising pa-

ported. I guess this is another disconnect, slightly off-topic,

pers. This could be due to an intimidation factor as it is

but important nonetheless: teacher comments are not the

much easier to wrap ones head around the revision of a para-

end-all of comments. I see the comments I make as sugges-

graph response than an entire paper. However, if students

tions. I want to make the students re-think what they have

are grade motivated as I have been told an advanced class

written or thought, not correct it. Yes, there are things that

is (which is the level we are talking about), then the simple

need to be corrected, such as grammar and capitalization

math reveals that a good revision of a larger paper will raise

and plot mistakes about whatever they are talking about. But

the grade significantly more than several hurried revision of a

these are generally not things that I comment on, unless

journal, worth significantly less points. This fits hand in hand

meaning is being impeded. This begs the question then, how

with the idea that writing is linear. Once a paper has been

can a teacher create an environment where students don’t

written, that’s it. It’s done. Completed, there is nothing else

see comments as errors, but are also willing to revise and

that needs to happen. In order to move into a space where

rethink? Do these two things, perceived errors and making

revision could become a part of the writing process, the stu-

changes, have to go together? This is not something that I

dents need to move into a space where revision was no

explore too much with this paper, but it is a question that has

longer linear. Somewhere in the standardization of writing,

come out of my close work with students on their papers.

students became accustomed to a “finished product.” This took the writing process and narrowed it back down to that

So, seeing these three consistent types of surface changes,

linear model from before the 1970s, in a way. Students

copy editing, word swaps, and the single sentence fix,

would tell me that writing was a process because that is the

throughout my students journals helped me to begin to de-

language they grew up, but the way of completing that proc-

fine the disconnect between my understanding of what revi-

ess had been lost and revision, specifically, was the thing

sion should look like and what the students believed revision

that was being chopped off.

should look like. More recently, Early and Saidy have defined revision as a process where “[writers] may ask themselves questions about the effectiveness of the content, seek additional Defining Revision: The Experts

sources of support, rewrite and reorder sections and edit conventions” (Early & Saidy, 2014). What I find interesting

This idea of the writing process didn’t begin until the 1970s

about this idea from Early and Saidy, is the use of the word

(Fitzgerald, 1987). Up to this point, writing was viewed as a

“may.” The implication, of course, is that writers may do

“linear model consisting of pre-writing, writing, and post-

more than one of the following, one of the following, or per-

writing” (Fitzgerald, 1987). This is close to how I believe my

haps none of the following. Revision has gone from being

students viewed revision at the beginning of the year. There

and almost none-process in the first half of the twentieth cen-

was pre-writing, but only when the teachers assigned time

tury to being a process that is up for interpretation. Revision is now based on personal choice. The problem with this is


that students coming from a place of math homework, sci-

Revision: A Whole Class Discussion

ence labs, Spanish essays, and history dates to memorize choose not to revise. Is this okay? Is revision something that

Before I gave the contracts to the students, we completed a

is becoming non-essential to the student writer? Or more

whole class discussion on revision. This discussion allowed

specifically, the high school writer? I do not think that any-

me to hear what they thought their revision process was as

one would argue that revision, exploring new concepts, re-

well as inform the students as to what I expected to see in

thinking old concepts, or re-evaluating what one has already

their revisions from draft to draft. We were finally starting to

put the page are bad or unnecessary practices. The journals

close that original disconnect. Where the discussion ended

I have mentioned in this paper have been revised and re-

was defining the terms meaningful and significant. The pur-

viewed, looked at several times before being published. The

pose of defining these words for the students was to familiar-

novels, essays, and works the students are reading in class

ize them with my own ideas about revision, while also incor-

have all been revised before being published. Yet, schools

porating their own. The discovery I made was that the stu-

have, in part, created a space where revision is not as impor-

dent’s conception of revision was very close to mine, with a

tant as the initial writing. A place where revision is a choice,

one rather large difference. I believed that revision started

and if the students choose anything at all, it will be editing

with rewriting the paper, weeding out those ideas that were

conventions or whatever else will take the least amount of

not quite complete or up to par, and finessing the okay


points as a I went along. Students believed that revision started with editing. The students believed, based off our

The Big “R”

conversation about revision, that once the editing was done, one might go back and read the teacher’s comments to see

With all of this in mind, I created an assignment where the

if there were any errors to fix (there’s that word again: errors),

students would be contracted to revise a major paper. This

then again, they might not. When asked how many drafts of

major paper was a literary analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

a paper they typically completed before being “done,” the

The Great Gatsby. Students in my advanced classes where

students indicated that they wrote one paper and then only

asked to contract for a grade, which included contracting for

made minor changes in that paper until the teacher said they

a certain number of revisions. This allowed students some

were done. The students didn’t consider re- ordering para-

choice in the amount of work they wanted to put into the pa-

graphs or ideas. Nor did they think about changing claims in

per, but also kept in mind that as advanced students, they

paragraphs or going back and finding better quotes to sup-

wanted A’s. For the purpose of this paper, the important part

port their claims, unless of course the teacher left a note on

of this contract is as follows (the contract in it’s entirety can

the paper saying “find better quotes.” When creating a per-

be viewed in the appendix):

sonal list of how one revises, almost every student had “fix grammar/typos” and “check teacher comments” as the num-

For an A, students had to write at least three drafts of the

ber one step. Revision, for the students, was a like a math

paper, For a B, students had to write at least two drafts of

equation. There was a set of steps they had to do in order to

the paper, and For a C, students had to write one draft of the

get the “right” answer. Exploration and re-visiting the topic


was no longer a part.

Out of 54 students, one contracted for a C, ten contracted

Considering this, I knew there was no way I was going to be

for a B, and the rest were going for As. What these numbers

able to rid the students of that step by step process they

meant, was that most of my students would be writing at

saw in their heads: 1) edit, 2) re-read, 3) peer edit, 4) fix mis-

least three different papers, with at least two different sets of

takes, 5) teacher edit, 6) fix errors, 7) done forever.

comments to help them redefine the process of revision for him/herself. In this way, the contract was providing the stu-

What I could do was integrate my own ideas of meaningful

dents with an opportunity to revise their thinking about The

and significant into the play- by-play. No longer was editing

Great Gatsby and their understanding of the novel.

going to be on the list. And now, before fixing the “errors” students were going to ask themselves if the change they were about to make was meaningful and significant to the


paper. I wanted them to begin to think meta-cognitively

made sense. I wanted my students to begin to realize that

about why they were making the changes they were making.

the way the paragraphs were arranged affected the overall

Was it just because the teacher said so? Well, does he/she

affect of the paper. This meant, I wanted the students to

understand why the teacher made that comment? Does the

start to build up their arguments through the organization of

teacher seem to understand what he/she was trying to con-

paragraphs in order to support the overall thesis of the pa-

vey in the paper? How could the point be made clearer?


What changes would make the paper better? That was key. I wanted students to move into an area that Limpo, Alves, and


Deconstruction of the quote. This was the main focus

Fidalgo refer to as problem detection (2014). Limpo et al.

for me. I wanted students to be able to dig into a quote from

break revising into two camps: problem detection and prob-

a text a figure out why they felt about that line the way they

lem correction. Problem correction is revising those aspects

did. This meant pulling out specific words and phrases from

of the paper that one’s sees or that are pointed out to in or-

the quotes and explaining the various connotations that sup-

der to improve the paper.

port their specific way for interpreting the text. This is where students were beginning to realize that the thesis didn’t

Problem detection was the added skill of being able to pick

come from the text it came

from their own personal view

out where exactly these places were where one could im-

of the text. Of course, the interpretation needed to be sup-

prove (Limpo, Alves, & Fidalgo, 2014). I wanted my students

portable by the text, but they didn’t need to feel limited to

to become self-reliant revisers, able to read through their pa-

how other’s interpreted the text. It was the student’s ability

pers and pick out the weak points in order to make improve-

to explain his/her own interpretation through an analytical

ments. This is a skill that they would need as they moved

deconstruction of the quote that made the paper good.

from high school to college to what adults like to call “the real world.”

The Drafts: The General Trends

However, I could not expect my students to pick out every

So what happened when the students and I finally started to

problem or correct every problem that could possibly arrive

get to work on the drafts? With the first drafts, students were

in their papers. I don’t think anyone could do that, generally,

basing their papers entirely on plot summary. I was getting

the writer is a bit too close to a piece of work in order to be

eight to sixteen page papers that provided a more or less

self-critical enough to the point of perfection. With this in

correct plot summary of The Great Gatsby. Following these

mind, I narrowed the focus down to three specific aspects of

drafts, I began setting up writing conferences as well leaving


margin comments and summative comments at the end of the paper. The most important thing was that my mentor and


Finding quality evidence. I wanted students to be able

I provided students with an outline guide in order to help

to move beyond the sphere of just picking whatever quote

them begin to conceptualize what exactly a non-5-

from the text had the name of the character they were cur-

paragraph-essay paper could possibly look like.

rently talking about, to a place where they were reading the text critically in order to see where and how the text was sup-

With the second drafts students began to move away from

porting their interpretation. Again, I was asking my students

the plot summary and into a place of paragraphs made up

to become aware of their own thinking. The claims they

entirely of claims. There were almost no explanations to sup-

make about a text are based in their own interpretation of

port these claims. In order to combat this, the students com-

that text. How they interpret that text will not exactly match

pleted a Thesis Break Down. In this break down, students

up to how anyone else interprets that text. This means, as I

needed to isolate at least three essential assumptions being

explained to the students, that the text they pick becomes

made in their thesis statement. These would be the three ma-

extraordinarily important to their argument.

jor claims they needed to argue in their paper in order to support the thesis. This helped move the students away from


Organization. These papers were not the typical five-

papers made up entirely of claims, most of which were not

paragraph essays. With the first drafts, students had no idea

related to the actual topic of the paper. Student were also

how they were supposed to organize the paper in a way that

given a handout with yet another version of a potential out-


line as well as pointed questions that were to help them

cation with herself about her own ideas. This meta-

check whether or not a claim should be kept or thrown out

communication enabled the student to reach out to the

(The Thesis Break down can be seen in Appendix B, the

teacher, me, which created another aspect of communica-

Handout in Appendix A). Finally, I again provided students

tion between the two of us that allowed me to better guide

with conferences, margin comments, and pointed feedback

her as she continued to revise her own ideas and her paper.

at the end of the paper that addressed specific concerns

Whether the student realized it or not, we had moved into a

they left for me.

placed where the student and I were working together to revise her ideas and the Gatsby paper was just a medium

With the third drafts, the biggest change that happened was

showing the various revisions and developments of those

the communication. Students were beginning to leave notes


for me on their papers about concerns they have, areas that they thought were weak (problem detection), and places

It is harder to explain a generalized “trend” after the third

they were having trouble coming up with quotes or an expla-

drafts as the revision became much more specific to the indi-

nation. It was during this time period that more and more stu-

vidual student. From this, I can conclude that there was a

dents were signing up for conferences in order talk about

general confusion on how to write a paper that was not in

their papers. It was also during this point that my students

the typical 5-paragraph form, which the students had been

and I revisited what it meant to revise.

writing in up to this point. I would like to clarify this by saying that I do not believe that all the teachers the students had up

The development of the margin comments as a place for ad-

to this point asked them to write in 5-paragraphs essays, but

ditional communication between the students and myself

the students became used to writing in 5-paragraph essays

was the biggest shift that I saw in the first three drafts.

and that was their go-to form for writing. Specifically asking the students to turn away from this “go-to” form is what

Originally, students would either resolve my comments (as

caused the confusion seen in drafts one to three. The move-

mentioned earlier in the paper) or would use the communica-

ment from all plot-summary, to all claims, to a more individu-

tion available through the Google docs to let me know about

alized place of revision makes sense when considering this

make-up work. While this was a form of communication be-

5- paragraph rut. This trend of moving towards what I will

tween the students and myself, it wasn’t displaying any evi-

call the individual-revision (when the revisions happening

dence of revisiting ideas or concepts that would help the stu-

from draft to draft are more focused on the specific areas

dents to re-see revision and improve their papers. However,

that an individual student needs to work or expand on, not a

on the third drafts of The Great Gatsby papers, I began to

general idea that all students are a part of) corresponds with

see comments such as:

the use of communication seen in the student comment on the previous page. It is not a stretch to say, then, that true

Student A Comment: “I think I could have better evidence,

revision, or revision that is a significant and meaningful explo-

though I do like comparing her [Daisy] to the unattainable

ration of concepts and ideas, is connected to communica-

Holy Grail, as though she were a myth that consumes


Gatsby.” From this example we can see a step towards a metacognitive look at the ideas behind the paper. This student

The Drafts: One Student’s Journey in Revision

was able to acknowledge what it was that she liked about a particular argument she had presented, in this case it was

For a more detailed look at this trend moving into an

the idea that Daisy was like the Holy Grail or a mythical ob-

individual-revision let’s take a look at one students individual

ject, which was consuming Gatsby. However, she was also

journey through five revisions of the Gatsby paper. We’ll call

able to think critically about her own ideas, recognizing that

this student, Student Z. All five drafts as well as this stu-

while she liked the concept she was presenting in her paper,

dent’s Thesis Breakdown can be seen in Appendix B.

she didn’t have sufficient evidence to support the claim she was trying to make. This shows a meta- cognitive communi-


Student Z’s first two drafts followed the general trend of plot

ing to produce a 10-plus-paragraph paper. The instinct

summary and claims. In the first draft, his paper lacked a

would be to throw whatever one could into the paper without

clear focus as he struggled with the unfamiliar paper format.

considering organization. In fact, organization was of the first

Let’s take a look at the first body paragraph.

things I noticed that was lacking across the board in the first drafts, which couldn’t be ordered in the standard 5-

“Fitzgerald’s writing can best be described by his symbolism

paragraph essay. Moving away from the 5-paragraph paper

of characters for different American ideals and classes. In

moves away from the typical three body paragraphs with

The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses his main characters and

three pieces of evidence to the support the three claims

their interactions with each other as an allegory for how the

made in said body paragraphs. This caused students to lean

social classes of America interact. Gatsby is used to repre-

on plot instead of direct quotes to support their overall thesis

sent the American Dream of starting with nothing and becom-

statements. We can see that in this paragraph as Student Z

ing successful through some unorthodox methods, in an at-

introduces several characters in one paragraph, trying to ex-

tempt to win over Daisy, who represents materialism. Tom,

plain each character in only a line or two. Unfortunately,

who represents the upper class of America is married to

something as involved as character symbolism and the

Daisy who seems very unhappy with him but believes he is

greater implications from that cannot be satisfactorily

the only one who can provide for her and make her happy.

wrapped up in such a short span. The overall effect of this is

This creates a conflict with Gatsby and Tom, because

that the body paragraphs read as introduction paragraphs,

Gatsby had been her original lover and made her truly

briefly introducing a concept and then moving on to some-

happy, while Tom merely had the means to provide for Daisy

thing else in order to fit everything from the novel in.

the entire time drawing her to him when Gatsby was at war. This speaks directly to the interaction between the American

This desire to fit in as much as possible was another trend

Dream and the upper class in that the idea that the upper

that was apparent in almost all first drafts. I’ve talked a little

class wants to keep riches and materialism to themselves

bit about how this could be a result of an unfamiliar format or

even when those who work hard for their riches and material-

a deviation from the traditional 5-paragraph essay. But this

ism deserve materialism more. This conflict is directly

could also stem from the student desire to find the “right”

caused by the want of different classes for materialism.”

answer or topic for their paper. Based on the knowledge that students consider teacher comments corrections of “errors”

This first body paragraph reads more as an introduction or

in their work, it is not a great leap to assume that some part

an abstract, almost, of what is going to be in the paper. The

of the students’ inclusion of multiple ideas in their papers

first couple sentences are repetitions of the same idea indi-

stems from a desire to find the “correct” ideas in the first

cating that the student is trying to get a hold of what exactly

draft. In other words, the students are including everything in

it is he is trying to say and how to say it. Then we move into

order to find that one or two things that hit the mark.

a summary of what all the characters could symbolize, but no explanation of how or why these characters may carry

In moving towards the second draft, I had this student and

that symbolism. There are also general claims about charac-

his classmates focus on creating an argument in order to es-

ters, such as Daisy is “unhappy” and that Tom is the cause

tablish a focus that would provide a platform for analysis.

of said unhappiness, which seems to be a comment on the

This would move the students away from trying to put the

plot summary or marriage between Tom and Daisy, not ac-

entire novel in one paper and, I hoped, move them away

tual analysis of the text. There is no explanation or greater

from plot summary. Let’s look at a paragraph from Student

implication about the ideas presented.

Z’s second draft.

What this paragraph seems to indicate is a lack of focus.

“Gatsby is so obsessed with Daisy due to the fact that when

The movement from symbolism to character feelings ending

they had been younger she had been someone who ap-

on a hint at the greater implication between materialism and

peared to care for him. After he went to war and had to leave

the American dream tries to encapsulate the entire novel in

Daisy she remorsefully moves on to marry Tom. Her desire

one paragraph. From this, we can hypothesize that the stu-

for finer things in life allows for her to be easily taken from

dents may have been overwhelmed by the prospect of hav-

Gatsby and controlled by someone who does not even love


her. This is an important development to the idea of the

was making in the thesis and organize his paper around ex-

American Dream held by Fitzgerald, because Fitzgerald is

plaining the central argument (found in the assumptions

telling the reader that the overall goal of the American Dream

made in the thesis statement). The result of the thesis break-

is to have someone or something that is beautiful, all to one-

down was that students got another chance to take another

self. Fitzgerald uses this as a way to discourage the idea of

look at the specifics of their thesis statement. While this

what the American Dream should be, because he believes

could have happened at any point during the revision proc-

that if materialism is the goal of the American Dream; then

ess, the students rarely reworked the thesis unless specifi-

that dream is a waste and results in someone living solely for

cally asked to. The thesis breakdown gave every student a

something that physically stimulates them, as opposed to

chance to revise, or re-explore, the main idea of the paper.

something that will truly “fill’ someone's life.” Moving draft three, Student Z and his classmates had three In this paragraph we can see a main idea starting to appear

specific claims that came from their central arguments to

at the end, that Fitzgerald wants to discourage people from

focus their paper around. Students either broke those three

the idea of the American Dream because it is associated

claims down further in order to argue more precise ideas, or

with materialism, not happiness or fulfillment. This main

found several examples from the text to argue distinct as-

claim is based on Student Z’s interpretation of the novel and

pects of a certain claim. This allowed the students to move

has a clear focus to it. However, how the student arrived at

out of the 5- paragraph essay mind-set while still having a

this interpretation is unclear. The topic of the paragraph is

way to organize the paper. More importantly, I believe, the

once again based in plot summary and claims. The plot here

process of revision moved into a space where I was commu-

involves a very brief summary of Daisy’s life and then the

nicating with the students on an individual level. By this, I

claim from that summary that Daisy is attracted to the finer

mean that the revision process became about the distinct

things. Student Z then leaps to the conclusion about the ma-

arguments, ideas, and explorations of each students paper,

terialistic qualities of the American Dream without explaining

not the general trends of an entire class trying to figure out

the how or why behind it. This how and why is the most im-

how to manage this essay. Take a look at part of a body para-

portant part of the analysis as it is where the student shows

graph from Student Z,

the actual analysis that lead to his conclusion. The lack of any textual evidence from The Great Gatsby hinders the argu-

“To first analyze the failure of the American Dream, the char-

ment, again forcing the student to rely on plot summary.

acter who represents materialism must be established.

While this draft was an improvement over the first, Student Z

Fitzgerald argues that Daisy represents materialism through-

was still struggling with creating clear, focused claims that

out The Great Gatsby. One such example of Fitzgerald using

supported the overall thesis of the paper, and including tex-

Daisy as materialism comes from this passage in the book:

tual support for the claims that were being made. The two things go hand-in-hand, for if the student does not have a

Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright

clear idea of what he/she is claiming, they have no way to

eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excite-

find or pick out the appropriate text in order to support that

ment in her voice that men who had cared for her found diffi-


cult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while

It was at this point in the revision process that I had all stu-

since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the

dents complete the thesis breakdown in order to further re-

next hour.

fine the overall thesis of the paper and to determine what the major claims of the paper would be based off that refined

This passage is important to Daisy’s representation of materi-

thesis. Student Z entitled the document on which he typed

alism, because it describes the physical beauty that intrigues

his thesis breakdown, “New Thesis”. Now, this “new” thesis

people into giving her their attention. It also speaks to how

was very similar to ideas he had been expressing in his first

she invokes excitement in peoples lives much like material

two drafts, but he took a thesis that was separated over sev-


eral sentences and clarified it in one concise statement. This enabled him to pick out the three biggest assumptions he


The most noticeable change from the first two drafts is the

does not explain how this text supports this claim. It was af-

clear logic of the paragraph. There is a central argument of

ter this third revision moving into the fourth that the student

the paper, that the American Dream fails, and an argument of

began to have an “aha” moment. With the fourth draft the

the paragraph that builds off the central argument, the Daisy

student presented an outline of claims and supporting

represents materialism. Student Z also includes textual evi-

pieces of evidence. After the creation of this outline, which

dence to support this claim. By establishing a specific idea,

was fine though missing analysis, the student scheduled a

that Daisy represents materialism, the student can now re-

writing conference. At the conference he showed my one

turn to the text and figure out where exactly this idea is be-

paragraph and asked two questions, “Is this a good war-

ing conveyed. The logic of the paragraph, central argument

rant?” and “Is this what you were looking for?” The answer

to specific paragraph claim to evidence supporting that

for both was yes1. Here is that paragraph:

claim, shows a great improvement from the first two drafts. “To begin to understand what Fitzgerald is trying to convey What we can see in this revision is the student beginning to

to the reader, one must first look at how Daisy represents ma-

understand what it is he is arguing in the paper. Through the

terialism. An example of Fitzgerald using Daisy as a symbol

exploration of ideas in the first two drafts and the thesis

of materialism comes from this passage in the book:

breakdown, he was able to move through a meaningful and significant rethinking of the paper in order to find his own in-

Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright

terpretation of what The Great Gatsby could be about. Stu-

eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excite-

dent Z is in constant communication with himself, the text,

ment in her voice that men who had cared for her found diffi-

and other’s which allow him the opportunity to find and re-

cult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered ‘Listen,’ a

fine his own interpretation. He is no longer relying on plot

promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while

summary or claims to find the “right” argument. Instead, he

since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the

is exploring those particular claims that explain his own inter-

next hour. (14-15)

pretation of the novel and analyzing the text in which he found those interpretations. It is the student who needs to

This second question continued along with the idea that the

figure out what it is he wants to do with the paper, not the

students were very much aware that they were writing a pa-

teacher who needs to explain what exactly the paper should

per for me. As the teacher, I was the one grading the paper

contain (while this could work in certain situations, one of the

and the students never forgot this. For the students, a good

goals of the paper was for student to create their own claims

warrant was a warrant that I liked. What I explained to this

about the novel and explain those claims through analysis). It

student and several others, was that what I was looking for

is only through the understanding of his own interpretation

was a clear explanation of the student’s interpretation of the

and how he arrived at that interpretation that he can fully ex-

novel. I wanted them to know why they picked out specific

plain his claims and support his overall argument. The key

pieces of textual evidence and where their interpretation

idea shown here, then, is a meta-cognitive revision of con-

came from. A “good” warrant was able to explain these vari-

cepts and ideas. As previously stated, Student Z must be

ous things in the analysis of the text. I’m not sure this meant

constantly re-exploring and revising

anything to the students, however, because in the end I was still the one grading the paper.

his own ideas, which creates a constant communication with the self about one’s ideas. This creates a meta-revision.

To interpret this description of Daisy as a symbol of materialism one must look at how Daisy is described. Fitzgerald re-

However, it is important to keep in mind that this is only half

peats the words bright in the description of the things in her

the paragraph. The student moves on after presenting this

face, eyes and passionate mouth. He uses her features in

evidence to another claim and more evidence. Student Z

this context as a way to describe something that is physical


as something that is also bright. Much like valuable posses-

own thoughts, ideas, and concepts about a topic that en-

sions such as gold, silver, crystals, diamonds, and other pre-

abled the students to grow in their understanding of their

cious minerals and metals, Fitzgerald uses the body of Daisy

own writing, specifically revision process, as we see through

to represent something that almost glows when someone

the development of Student Z’s drafts.

looks at her. Along with Daisy’s physical appearance being representative of a glow that gets someone’s attention, her

Defining Revision: Students Revisited/Conclusion

voice is also described by having an excitement in it that men who cared for her found difficult to forget. Her voice is

When asked what has changed for the students concerning

also described as one that whispers “Listen” that provokes

how they view revision, I got responses such as, “I didn’t real-

a feeling of gaiety and beckons those who hear it to believe

ize this was going to be such a process. A long and difficult

in the excitement promised by the voice they are hearing.

one.” Here we see a student moving out of that linear writing

Much like how the appeal of a prized possession has a great

mindset and seeing the process for what it was. Yes, it was

effect on those who notice valuable objects, the voice of

hard and this revision process was especially long (it ending

Daisy is another subtle “whisper” that subconsciously draws

up take three months for the papers to be completed, with

people to notice her. The excitement promised by Daisy’s

five, six, and even seven revisions for some). But the impor-

voice compares to money and materialism,

tant thing was that we had shifted our thinking to a place

because it

shows itself as a deceitful power that has experienced every-

where the process was happening and where the process

thing life has to offer and will share this experience with any-

was not made up entirely of editing. One student mentioned

one willing to let it seduce them. Fitzgerald includes this de-

that revision was now “about changing the content of the

scription of Daisy in his novel to show that the beauty and

paper, not just grammar.” Several students mentioned that

promise of wealth easily enthralls many without them even

that process was hard, but that they knew this was going to

knowing it.”

be a great paper. This struck me because it reveals that students were starting to see value in the process of revising.

The most significant change from the first three drafts to this paragraph is the use of specifics in warrant. It has a clear

I’m not sure if they would ever go through with such a long

focus, a clear claim, and a clear argument. Student Z pulled

revision process again. But the skills they were interacting

out specific words and phrases from the text and explained

with now, problem detection not just correction, and seeing

his interpretation or his connotations of these words and

writing as something cyclical not linear in it’s process, were

phrases. This in turn allowed him to explain how he read this

skills to help them become better writers. Limpo et al. say

portion of text. Because the claim of the paragraph comes

that “the revision process can be activated at any point dur-

out of how the individual reads the text, by analyzing the con-

ing the writing process to evaluate and introduce change at

notations of the text the student is explaining his claim.

the word, sentence, or text level” (2014). I believe that my students were beginning to activate those revision skills that

This paragraph was the turning point, the “aha” moment,

had been buried under years of standardized tests and 5-

which I had with several students throughout the revision

paragraph essays. In the end, taking the time to revise and

process. One student even said to me, “Oh, that’s how you

re-think various concepts creates better writers, which cre-

analyze the text.” I believe that the students would never

ates better thinkers. And isn’t that what we want for our stu-

have reached this point or this understanding of their own


writing without the revision process we went through together. It was the explanation of what significant and meaningful meant that provided the students with an environment in which they needed to make purposeful changes to their


drafts. This kept them from the three surface level changes that they were making before.

Beason, L. (1993). Feedback and revision in writing across the curriculum classes. Research in the Teaching of English,

It was also the explicit connection between communication

27(4), 395-422.

and revision, the meta- cognitive quality of re-exploring one’s


Dix, S. (2006). I'll do it my way: Three writers and their revision practices. The Reading Teacher, 566-573. doi:10.1598/RT.59.6.6 Early, J., & Saidy, C. (2014). Uncovering substance: Teaching revision in high school classrooms. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(3), 209-218. doi:10.002/jaal.333 Fitzgerald, J. (1987). Research on revision in writing. Review of Educational Research, 57(4), 481-506. Fitzgerald, J., & Stamm, C. (1992). Variation in writing conference influence on revision: Two cases. Journal of Reading Behavior, 24(1), 21-50. Harris, J. (2003). Opinion: Revision as a critical practice. College English, 65(6), 577-592. Hillocks, Jr., G. (1982). The Interaction of Instruction, Teacher Comment, and Revision in Teaching the composing process. Research in the Teaching of English, 16(3), 261-278. Lane, B. (1993). After the end (pp. 11-215). Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann. Limpo, T., Alves, R., & Fidalgo, R. (2014). Children's highlevel writing skills: Development of planning and revising and their contribution to writing quality. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 177-193. doi:10.111/bjep.12020 Nikiforou, E. (2012). Revising writing in an online writing environment. The EUROCALL Review. Proceedings of the EUROCALL 2011 Conference, 20, 125-127. Revision. (2013). College composition and communication. Sengupta, S. (1998). From text Revision To Text Improvement: A Story of Secondary School Composition. RELC Journal, 110-137.

Tillema, M., Bergh, H., Rijlaarsdam, G., & Sanders, T. (2011).

Appendix A

Relating self reports of writing behavior and online task execution using a temporal model. Metacognition Learning, 6,

Literary Analysis Advanced English 11 Paper/Revision Con-

229-253. doi:10.1007/s11409-011-9072-x



A+ (97.5-100)

Strategic use of evidence (analyzed on the level of

symbol or theme) to support the claim ∞

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim which in-

cludes social commentary about a major theme of the book

Detailed and specific warranting of each claim. Decon-

struct each quote to discuss specific connotations or words ∞

Strategic use of the best evidence (analyzed on the

and phrases to build an overall interpretation

level of symbol or theme) to support the claim in the form of three smaller, supporting claims; multiple quotations used to

Paper includes the mention of a counter-argument

support the three minor claims

and refutation of one competing interpretation of the novel on the level of theme/ social commentary

Detailed and specific warranting of each claim and

sub-point. Deconstruct each quote to discuss specific con-

The conclusion reiterates the main point of the paper

Quotations are placed strategically within paragraphs

notations of words and phrases to build an overall interpretation and argument

to support writer’s claims ∞

Paper includes a counter-argument and refutation of

one competing interpretation of the novel on the level of

theme/ social commentary

or mechanical errors

The conclusion of the paper takes the reader to a dif-

ferent level of understanding than originally stated, including

Only Minor spelling, grammar, paragraphing, citation,

Transitions between paragraphs are intentional and


an understanding that was new to you during the process of reading/writing about the novel

Length: 12+ paragraphs

Must complete at least 3 drafts (including the final)

Quotations are fully integrated into sentences

with significant and meaningful revisions from one draft to ∞

No spelling, grammar, paragraphing, citation, or me-

the next

chanical errors A- (89.5-91) ∞

The writing transitions smoothly, flowing from one

idea to the next

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim about a

theme of the novel ∞

Length: 12+ paragraphs ∞

Must complete at least 3 drafts (including the final)

Strategic use of evidence (analyzed on the level of

symbol or theme) to support the claim

with significant and meaningful revisions from one draft to the next

Detailed and specific warranting of each claim. Decon-

struct each quote to discuss specific connotations of words and phrases to build an overall interpretation and argument. ∞

Paper includes the mention of a counter-argument

and refutation of one competing interpretation of the novel A (91.5 - 97)

on the level of theme

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim which in-

The conclusion reiterates the main point of the paper

cludes social commentary about a major theme of the book


Quotations are placed strategically within paragraphs

B (81.5-87)

to support writer’s claims ∞ ∞

Only minor spelling, grammar, citation, or mechanical

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim about a

symbol of the novel

errors, but perhaps a few minor paragraphing issues ∞ ∞

Transitions between ideas and paragraphing are at-

Strategic use of three pieces of evidence to support

the claim

tempted, but not quite mastered ∞ ∞

Length: 10+ paragraphs

An analysis of each claim. Deconstruct each quote to

discuss specific connotations of words and phrases to build an overall interpretation and argument

Must complete at least 3 drafts (including the final)

with significant and meaningful revisions from one draft to

The conclusion reiterates the main point of the paper

Quotations are placed strategically within paragraphs

the next B+ (87.5-89)

to support writer’s claims

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim about a

Spelling, grammar, citation, or mechanical errors, but

theme of the novel

they don’t make the writing too difficult to comprehend

Strategic use of evidence (analyzed on the level of

Only minor paragraphing issues (topic sentences are

symbol or theme) to support the claim

still used)

Detailed and specific warranting of each claim. Decon-

struct each quote to discuss specific connotations of words

Transitions are at least attempted between some para-


and phrases to build an overall interpretation and argument. ∞

Length: 7 paragraphs

Must complete two drafts (including the final) with sig-


The conclusion reiterates the main point of the paper

nificant and meaningful revisions from one draft to the next

Quotations are placed strategically within paragraphs

B- (79.5-81)

to support writer’s claims ∞ ∞

Spelling, grammar, citation, or mechanical errors, but

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim about a

symbol of the novel

they don’t make the writing too difficult to comprehend ∞ ∞

Only minor paragraphing issues (topic sentences are

Strategic use of three pieces of evidence to support

the claim

still used) ∞

An analysis of each piece of evidence is attempted


The conclusion is present

Several spelling, grammar, citation, or mechanical er-

Transitions are at least attempted between some para-

Length: 7+ paragraphs

rors ∞

Must complete two drafts (including the final) with sig-

nificant and meaningful revisions from one draft to the next


Each paragraph includes a topic sentence, piece of

• Make sure that you aren’t just highlighting topic sentences, but that you are finding what you

evidence, and explanation of the evidence

are actually arguing in each paragraph. Each ∞

Length: 5 paragraphs

Must complete two drafts (including the final) with sig-

paragraph should only be arguing one thing • It is possible that you have a paragraph with no claims OR that you have paragraph with more

nificant and meaningful revisions from one draft to the next

than one claim. C/ C+ (71.5-79.5) ∞

• Once you have isolated your claims decide whether or not they are relevant to your overall

Compelling, arguable, and debatable claim about a


symbol of the novel ∞

Strategic use of three pieces of evidence to support

the claim

• Look at the assumptions you pulled out from your thesis statement. These are the ESSENTIAL ARGUMENTS for your paper! Use these as a comparison

An analysis of each piece of evidence is attempted

The conclusion is present

Several spelling, grammar, citation, or mechanical er-

for your claims and ask yourself: • Does this support my thesis (one of the assumptions you pulled out)? • If the answer is no, get rid of the claim.

rors ∞

• If the answer is yes, move to the second question.

Each paragraph includes a topic sentence, piece of

evidence, and explanation of the evidence ∞

Length: 5 paragraphs

Only One draft of the paper

• Do I have a similar claim that is better than this one? • If the answer is yes, get rid of it. • If the answer is no, keep it. **These do not ensure that you claim is the best for you argument, but will hopefully help you weed out some of the claims that aren’t working. • Organizing Claims

Appendix B

• Look at the claims you have left. Keep in mind that you may need to add more claims or that you may think of better claims as you move through this activ-

The Handout • Choosing Claims

ity. • You should have:

• Go through your paper and highlight your claims.


• 3 Claims that are based off the assumptions in your thesis statement • At least one smaller claim that supports each of these. • Fill in the outline (you will need to adjust the outline depending on what grade you contracted

• Each body paragraph should have a quote! • Warranting • Every quote needs a warrant (this means each body paragraph will have a warrant). This warrant must include:

for. This is the A/A+ outline). • Claims should build understanding as the paper continues

• An explanation of the connotation of the quote. This means explaining how you interpreted the quote, not the plot summary or a paraphrased version of the data. To do this, pick out specific

• You don’t want to argue that George killing Gatsby is the lower class murdering

words and phrases from the quote that lead to your interpretation or understanding of it. Make

the American Dream if you haven’t yet

sure you are explaining how these specific

argued that George and Gatsby symbol-

words/phrases created your understanding.

ize the lower class and the American Dream • Supporting Claims

• An explanation of how your interpretation of the data supports the claim of the paragraph. So, how does the explanation you give about the connotations of the quote support the claim

• Take a look at the evidence you choose. Now that you have re-organized your claims you need to sort through the evidence. • For each quote, ask yourself:

you are making in that paragraph? • Finally, you want to explain how supporting the claim in this paragraph supports your overall thesis. Remember, an argument needs to be built up. You need to take the pieces everyone

• Is this quote describing the context in which claim takes place?

has (the text) and show how they can be put together to show your argument.

• If the answer is yes, it might be supporting plot summary and not the actual argument. Find new data. • If the answer is no, go to the next question. • Are there specific words and/or phrases in this quote with connotations that support my argument. • If the answer is no, you’ll want to find new data. • If the answer is yes, move on to the warrant!


4 Building Classroom Community and Communication

“I allowed my natural curiosity to shine through with my wonderings and learned that I could have a hand in changing my classroom for the better.” -Katie Lynn O’Donnell

The inquiries shared in this section by Kristin Lawlor, James Garrett, and Katie Lynn O’Donnell explore the construction of classroom communication and community in Kindergarten, second grade, and tenth grade English.  Lawlor details a “bucket filler” strategy with her students to develop an awareness of how students’ interactions with each other can be emotionally supportive.  Garrett describes classroom discussion activities that de-emphasize right answers to promote dialogic conversations among students that impact social belonging as well as support diverse voices.   O’Donnell explains how a service learning project can build connections to the home and community in ways that deeply enhance the literacy learning and engagement of her students.


Be a Bucket Filler, Not a Bucket Spiller: Helping Kindergarteners Be Aware of their Actions Kristen Lawlor Kristen Lawlor is a first grade teacher at Glen Forest Elementary in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The school is a Title One ESL school, and has taught her so much about culture and diversity.  During her PDS year, she taught in Kindergarten with Lisa Spock at Easterly Parkway Elementary.  She credits the PDS and my inquiry with her preparation for her first year of teaching.  She knew exactly how to set-up my classroom, implement a solid classroom management plan, and create purposeful lesson plans. For Kristen, the PDS is a family of teachers who are all there to support one another, and help each intern strive to do their best. Abstract: How many times do you hear, “I’m telling on you,”


or “That’s mine!” in an elementary classroom?  Studies show that young children have difficulty understanding other peo-

Despite all of the growing friendships, there have been some

ples’ feelings as  developmentally they are in the egotistical

recurring issues within my classroom.  At the start of the

phase.  My wondering formed as I observed my students ex-

New Year, tattling that is hurtful to other students had been

hibiting ego-centered behaviors.  I wondered: “How I could

occurring more frequently.  For example, “Lilly called me

increase positive communication and appropriate student

mean, or Tommy is not doing his work.”  I had also noticed

choices within my classroom community?”  My idea to incor-

that some students in particular bossed other students

porate bucket filling into our Friday Friendship Circles was

around by telling the other students that they were wrong or

implemented as a result.  This presentation explores how

not doing their best work.  This continued especially through-

bucket filling encourages students to consider how positive

out read alouds.  Several students would continue to call out

peer actions and communication fills everyone’s invisible feel-

while Ms. Spock or I were reading.  This would interrupt me,

ing buckets.

and other students trying to share.  Other students were moving around and bumping into peers on the carpet.  I was wonIntroduction

dering how I could bring the community together, and help students see through other people’s perspectives.  Accord-


ing to Meline Kevorkian, Executive Director of Academic Review at Nova Southeastern University and author of Prevent-

I am student teaching in a diverse kindergarten classroom at

ing Bullying: Helping Kids Form Positive Relationships,

A Elementary School.  The classroom is made up of Caucasian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Croatian, Russian, African

“Working as a team is a great way to help kids make new

American and Native American children.  Multiple children

friends.  Teams offer opportunities for them to get to know

are bilingual in languages such as, Chinese, Korean, Japa-

someone else and for others to get to know them...For chil-

nese, Spanish and Russian.  The financial demographics of

dren to be successful on a team, they must learn to compro-

the students range as well.  Some students are on free/

mise and trust others.” (Kevorkian, 2006, p. 14)

reduced lunch, while other students come from affluent families.  The family and living situations vary.  Some students

The I-Messages had been my previous intervention to have

live in apartments, the Women’s Center or houses.  There is

students listen to others’ perspectives by discussing feel-

a lot of energy, play and blossoming friendships within in our

ings.  Although the students answered, they did not appear

classroom.  From the beginning of the year, I have noticed

to be processing the other person’s perspective because the

that there were really no cliques.

same issues kept occurring in the classroom community. My wondering formed as I observed my students exhibiting these ego-centered behaviors, and as I read about the importance of teamwork and community.  Therefore, the purpose


of my inquiry was to use my Friendship Circles and class-

 Bucket fillers help students learn to strive to fill their buckets

room bucket filling to help the students become aware of

to feel positive, rather than earning a prize and receiving posi-

how their words / actions affect our entire classroom bucket.

tive reinforcement.

“Based on principles of developmentally appropriate prac-

After reading the book, I introduced a classroom bucket to

tice, positive child guidance focuses on helping young chil-

represent our classroom community.  There was a different

dren feel safe and secure, develop healthy self-esteem, re-

goal or challenge on the bucket each week related to the

spect themselves and other, and learn to cope with a variety

books we read at the Friendship Circles such as, ‘Be Caring

of stressors” (Young Children, 2013, p. 6)

and Respectful’, ‘Think before you Erupt’ and ‘Worry about Yourself’.  The goals were in line with our school-wide behav-


ior plan.  Throughout the following week after the Friendship Circle, I would observe students who were filling the class-

With this purpose, I wondered to what extent can explicit "fill-

room bucket by acting out the goal in different settings.  Af-

ing your bucket" social skills be introduced during weekly

ter the first Friendship Circle, an element of the Care Chair

Friendship Circles, to increase positive communication and

was born.  I created a colorful chair with a big bucket on the

appropriate student choices within my classroom commu-

top as the home for our classroom bucket.  After the game


and greeting, I had a quick sharing of two drips that I pulled out.  I would say what the person did first and then share his Methods / Procedures

or her name.  To make the lessons more intrinsic, I asked the model students how they felt when they made their good

To gain insight into my wondering(s), I used our weekly

choices.  The students would get to sit in the care chair for a

Friendship Circles to introduce the concept of bucket filling.

picture, while holding a certificate.  The class gave the stu-

 My mentor had already implemented Friendship Circles

dents a round of applause.  This element of the circle has

every Friday afternoon as a community building strategy.

been a real motivation for the students.

 The format of the Friendship Circles begins with a game.  Games that involve all students’ participation are important

The first Friendship Circle had the goal to ‘Be Caring and Re-

to motivate the students and have them work together.  The

spectful’ after reading How Full is your Bucket?  The stu-

next part of the Friendship Circles is a greeting.  Greetings

dents provided examples of how filling buckets should look,

are very important because students build their manners,

sound and feel.  If students were making positive choices

while interacting with multiple peers in a positive way.  The

that filled the classroom bucket with care and respect, their

third part of the Friendship Circle is a read aloud addressing

names/actions were written on a slip and placed into the

different social skills, such as kindness, or tattling.

bucket.  The students were extremely engaged for this lesson, and a variety of the students.  They listened, looked and

The element that I implemented through the Friendship Cir-

participated.  The students were eager to comment on the

cles is the concept of bucket filling.I began my community

book, and give examples of bucket filling.  I called on almost

building inquiry by reading the book:  How Full is your

every single student at least once.  The activity supporting

Bucket? by, Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer.  This book ex-

this lesson was goal setting.  I made each individual student

plains how we all carry invisible buckets over our heads that

their own bucket to take home, along with a letter to the par-

contain our feelings.  When our buckets are full, we feel

ents introducing bucket filling (Appendix F and G).  The stu-

great!  When our buckets are empty, we can feel sad and

dents had to write and draw a picture of how they were go-

lonely. The book provides an excellent, kid-friendly explana-

ing to fill our classroom bucket.  There were a variety of ex-

tion of how helping yourself and others fills your invisible

amples ranging from, “I will use kind words to my friends” to

bucket.  The key to these friendship circles is to make posi-

“I will raise my quiet hand on the carpet.”  The students were

tive choices intrinsic to children.  The children learned that

very excited and engaged throughout the entire lesson by

bucket fillers represent how people feel better about them-

listening, looking and participating.

selves when they are kind to others, and try their best.


My following theme weeks were determined based on my

and required the students to draw bucket filling examples in

beginning data of pre-surveys, field notes, videos and litera-

pairs.  Each pair had a prompt that they needed to draw like,

ture.  Throughout the week leading to my first bucket lesson,

‘Wait for your turn to talk’ or ‘Listen and follow directions’.  I

I broke students into small groups to take a pre-survey.  The

was able to instill actions that I wanted to see in our commu-

survey gave situations where a student was either making a

nity, while having the students be the ones to show what it

specific good choice or poor choice (Appendix E).  For exam-

looked like to them.  These posters were hung in our room

ple,  “The teacher is working with Lilly during Kid-Writing.

right near the Care Chair (Appendix G).  The lessons to fol-

 John takes his paper to the teacher and says, ‘I’m ready for

low the first bucket lesson, and this beginning bucket lesson

writing!’  Is John making a good choice or poor choice?”

were chosen based on common negative behaviors I found

 The students had to answer by circling a happy smiley face

occurring in the classroom data charts.

for a good choice, or a sad smiley face for a poor choice.  Almost all of the students got a 100% of the pre-survey.

There were several different patterns I found within the class-

 The few students who did not get 100% only got one

room data charts.  Many of the recurring negative behaviors

wrong.  However, in the short video recordings of the survey,

were students tattling on one another, not letting others play,

I noticed several students making poor choices.  One stu-

using unkind words to one another, and calling out.  There

dent was poking a peer, while another student continued to

was also a pattern among the students.  I found that there

interrupt while I was talking.  The surveys were helpful in that

were a group of students whose names came up more fre-

they showed me my students could identify good choices

quently on my data sheets for negative behaviors.  Starting

from poor choices.  I did not find this surprising after reading

March 2nd, I started taking data on these 5-8 students (fo-

“Beyond ‘I’m Sorry’: The Educator’s Role in Preschoolers’

cus group).  So as I selected specific themes for my weekly

Emergence of Conscience”, Charles A. Smith identifies how

Friendship Circles through the classroom data, I changed my

“we can teach social skills and help children understand the

daily data collection.  I took 15-minute daily field notes of the

difference between right and wrong.  But just telling children

focus group students in the mornings during our read aloud

to feel sorry for what they have done does not result in them

time (Appendix B).  There was one time where I took notes

actually feeling sorry” (Smith, 2013, p. 78).  This quote from

during an afternoon read aloud.  I wanted to see how the

Smith supports the result from the pre-surveys because the

bucket lessons were affecting the students who most

students showed through their answers that they know the

needed them.

correct social responses in situations because Ms. Spock and I have addressed good choices in the beginning of the

My following bucket lessons that addressed the common

year.  However, when students are simply walking through

behaviors focused on interruptions and bossiness.  I chose

the I-Messages without looking at the other person or paying

to read My Mouth is a Volcano by, Julia Cook because she

attention, they appeared to not have fully exhibited the “I’m

gave specific student examples of how calling out and inter-


rupting can make others feel upset, or frustrated.  The book also gave advice on how to prevent yourself from ‘erupting’.

The field notes are what really helped me identify the specific

 After my read alouds, I always have a little discussion about

behaviors and goals that needed to be addressed.  Before

how we can make the good choice and achieve our bucket

my bucket lessons started, I began charting positive and

goal.  So for the interruptions theme, I had students tell me

negative behaviors I saw in the classroom each day (Appen-

how they can ‘Think before you interrupt’.  Then, the stu-

dix A).  The charts were comprised of three categories: stu-

dents wrote about how they will achieve their goal next week

dent name, positive behavior or negative behavior and

on a volcano worksheet I prepared (Appendix H).  These

teacher intervention.  I began the charts on January 28th,

worksheets are hung above our carpet as reminders, along

and continued them until February 27th.  I had the goal for

with a giant volcano poster I made.  According to Dr. Charles

my first Friendship Circle predetermined to introduce the gen-

A. Smith, professor and director of a university child develop-

eral concept of bucket filling (Be Caring and Respectful).

ment center,

 The second Friendship Circle with bucket filling had the same goal as the first because there had been a huge gap

“Children can acquire social knowledge through stories that

due to snow days.  This bucket filling was on February 27th,

activate empathy and compassion.  By identifying with the


characters, children can feel a level of emotional involvement

day? by, Carol McCloud after the Care Chair.  Looking at the

not possible in every day conversation” (Smith, 2013, p. 81).

students, I could tell that they were disengaged and tired.  One student even said that they already know what bucket

The next theme of bossiness had the goal of ‘Worrying about

filling is.  So I decided to choose specific parts of the book

yourself’.  Bossy behaviors occurred very commonly in our

that I wanted to address.  The students had shown me prior

class, and were identified through my original classroom

that they met the objectives by sharing how others had filled

data sheets.  For example, students will tattle on students

their bucket.  Also, during the read aloud Student A of my

for not coloring in the lines, or if they were not following direc-

focus group started crying because she was moving that

tions correctly.  Even in Guided Reading, students would tell

day.   On the spot I decided to have a group hug before the

the students if they got a word wrong.  So I chose to read

activity with Student A in the middle.  I set the expectations

the book, The Recess Queen by, Alexis O’Neill for my fourth

of being safe and gentle beforehand.  Student A told me that

Friendship Circle on March 20th.  This book talks about a

this made her feel so much better.  I could see in the stu-

bully, Mean Jean, who would boss people around on the

dents’ faces that they all were smiling, and saying goodbye

playground.  During our discussion, I related the book to ex-

to Student A.  I asked the class how their buckets felt, and

amples of bossiness within the classroom.  For example, I

they all said full.  Reflecting on the disengagement, I would

mentioned a situation of one student telling another student

have skipped the bucket filling explanation and read the new

that they were not doing best coloring.  I asked the students

examples.  I would have also asked the students to hunt for

to give thumbs up if they thought my examples were of bossi-

the new bucket filling strategies.

ness, and they all answered yes.  This showed me that students knew what bossy behavior was when I explicitly asked

I am glad that I chose to end the book earlier so there was

them.  The activity required the students to make a Mean

enough time for the activity because I felt the activity was

Jean head and write how they were good friends, not a bully.

more important.  I am also happy that we took the time to

 Several of the students wrote how they did not tell friends

give Student A a nice goodbye.  Although this Friendship Cir-

what to do, and asked them to play (Appendix H).  Other stu-

cle did not go completely as planned, I believe the students

dents wrote about how they helped people and used kind

and I learned the most from this one.  We talked about how

words.  These posters were hung up in our hallway.

our classmates were filling each other’s buckets.  Students who normally argued came up and asked me if they could

The weeks following each Friendship Circles are when I con-

write a drip for the other one because he or she compli-

tinued to take daily notes on my focus group students.  I

mented their outfit, or helped them zipper their coat.  We

also began taking field notes on the entire class specifically

also got to come together as a community and say goodbye

on the mention of bucket filling to me or another peer.  There

to one of our classmates.  This was the moment that I real-

were many students outside my focus group that were posi-

ized the success of the Friendship Circles.  The student com-

tively mentioning the filling of our classroom bucket.  For ex-

munity took charge of the lessons as the students shared

ample, students were asking if they were filling the class-

their personal compliments and bucket filling experiences.  I

room bucket when they were focused, and following direc-

had the opportunity to listen rather than completely lead.

tions.  Other students were telling me that another student

 This was my final bucket-filling lesson for this inquiry; how-

filled their buckets.  So the influx of bucket filling mentioned

ever, I still continued them every Friday.

from other classmates outside of the focus group is what made me decide to take field notes on the bucket filling com-

The following week after this Friendship Circle is when I took


the post-surveys (Appendix E).  I individually read the surveys to each student in the focus group, and videotaped

My final inquiry Friendship Circle did not go exactly as

each one.  I also finished the survey by asking them what

planned on March 27th with the theme of revisiting the con-

they had learned from the Friendship Circles.

cept of bucket filling.  For the Care Chair, I shared a drip that a student asked me to.  The students were very eager after the Care Chair to share how other people filled their bucket.  I originally intended to read Have You Filled My Bucket To-


Findings • Not all students could internalize strategies for positive communication and actions • Utilizing children’s literature and visuals to encourage the development of positive communication and actions creates more social awareness within children • The actions and communication of a few students can cause a positive or negative spread within the classroom community After analyzing the data of each individual student in my focus group, I realized that not all students could internalize strategies for positive communication and actions.  The pre and post surveys showed me that all of the students could identify a good choice and poor choice when read a hypothetical situation.  After tallying the 15-minute observations I took on each individual student for each day, I’ve recognized

Unlike Student B, Student C’s positive behavior was increasing; however, Student C’s negative behavior was increasing as well.  The positive behaviors that Student C was expressing were raising many quiet hands, and sitting criss cross.  The negative behaviors were more extreme than the other students as she was stepping on students’ hands on the carpet, waving around the beads in her hair and poking other children.  Since the data has shown more extreme behaviors, and an increasing slope in them, this student is going to begin to have a behavior plan involving the counselor.

that some students’ positive behaviors were negatively sloping, and negative behaviors were positively sloping.  This means that some of my focus students’ positive communication and actions were decreasing during my bucket filling interventions.  Each time a student raised a quiet hand, I tallied that as a positive behavior, and a student sitting criss cros was marked down as one behavior.  For negative behaviors, I mostly tallied calling out, or moving around. The goal of my bucket filling interventions have been to increase positive communication / actions, and decrease the

Student D does have a decreasing negative behavior slope,

negative.  As you can see the intervention was not success-

but also shows a decreasing positive behavior slope.  For

ful for these three students because their positive actions

the majority of the data collection days, you can see on the

were less than their negative actions, or their negative ac-

graph that there were more negative behaviors than positive

tions were increasing as time went on.  Student B had an in-

behaviors.  However, there is a very big space in dates be-

creasing negative behavior slope, with a very little positive

cause this student was on vacation after spring break.  The

behavior slope as you can see in the graph below.  The par-

combination of missing a lot of school, and being on vaca-

ticular negative behaviors that this student was presenting

tion could have affecting why the bucket filling interventions

were spreading her legs out, calling out and making faces at

were not intrinsically successful with Student D.

others, including the teacher.  I know Student B can identify good from poor choices, and was reminded during our Friendship Circles.  However, the data shows the negative behavior reaching to 8 during one 15-minute data collection.  Student B has less data recorded because she moved into another school district.  There is a possibility that a big life changing moment such as moving could have distracted the student from internalizing the bucket filling lessons.


On the other hand, some students showed an increasing slope of positive behavior with a decreasing slope of negative behavior.  So according to my data, some students were successful in internalizing the intervention strategies.  For almost all of the days, Student E showed more positive than negative behaviors.  His positive behaviors of raising his quiet hand and sitting criss cross have been increasing as time goes on, identified in the charts below.  His negative behaviors of calling out have been decreasing as identified in the chart too. Studies show that young children have difficulty understanding other peoples’ feelings, as they are cognitively not able to understand others’ perspectives.  Dr. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, psychiatrist and professor of Cognitive Neuroscience documented her research on historical and brain imaging studies demonstrating changes in neural architecture during puberty and early adolescence in “Development of the adolescent brain: implications for executive function and social cognition”.  The data from several MRI studies on adolescents show “A steady increase in white matter in certain brain regions during childhood and adolescence… a higher volume of

Student F began with having more negative behaviors than

white matter in the frontal cortex and parietal cortex in the

positive behaviors; however, as we have been doing more

older children than in the younger group” (Blakemore and

bucket filling lessons, he has been showing a positive slope

Choudhury, 2006).

with positive behavior, and a negative slope with negative behavior.  This student in particular is an ELL, and has been

The white matter within the prefrontal cortex determines a

responding to visual models I show during expectation set-

person’s ability to make intellectual and social decisions.


 The amount of white matter expresses the cognitive and social development of a person.  Since kindergarteners are at the beginning stages of adolescence, they generally have much less white matter than older children (Blakemore and Choudbury, 2006). “It was proposed that the structural developments in the adolescent prefrontal cortex and the concomitant change in the hormonal environment differentially affect neural circuits involved in particular aspects of emotion recognition” (Blakemore and Choudbury, 2006). Due to the lack of white matter in the prefrontal cortex, the development in emotional recognition is lacking in most young children.  So some of my students may have cognitively been unable to internalize how their communication and actions affect others.

Student G is similar to Student D as she also began with more negative behaviors.  But as time with the bucket filling went on, Student G’s positive slope is increasing very high, and negative slope is decreasing quickly.  The student now either has 0 or 1 negative behavior.


As you can see in the data, all of these students were present in class almost all of the data taking days.  So their consistent presence in school with practice of social interactions could have influenced their intrinsic development of positive communications. Co-author of “Development of the adolescent brain: implications for executive function and social cognition”, Dr. Suparna Choudhury, performed her own study on the social cognitive development of young children and adolescence. Student H is also at almost no negative behaviors, with an increasing positive behavior slope.  She is rarely calling out, or giving negative looks to students while on the carpet.

 She concluded “Changes in social behavior are driven by both social and biological factors. During adolescence, it is likely that peer interactions and societal influences as well as genetically determined hormonal milieu influence social behavior” (Choundhury, Blakemore and Charman, 2006, p. 171). Although the average pre-adolescent lacks white matter in the prefrontal cortex, the study shows that peer interactions, societal influences and genetics have a factor on each individual in differently.  So some students may genetically have more white matter in their prefrontal cortex, and more positive peer interactions than others, explaining why some of my students did have an increase in their positive actions through my bucket filling intervention.  My students could

Student I has a higher increase in positive behavior in the

have the cognitive capacity to begin to understand how their

more recent data collection days, and a continued decrease

communication and actions affect others.

in negative behaviors.  I noticed him catching himself much more before calling out.  Calling out was a behavior we dis-

Another finding I have gained from my inquiry is that utilizing

cussed frequently at Friendship Circle Friday and are re-

children’s literature and visuals to encourage the develop-

minded of frequently when connecting to the classroom

ment of positive communication and actions creates more

bucket throughout the week.

social awareness within children.  Through my general classroom field note data and the teacher intervention notes on the focus group, I have noticed more often that when I refer to how my bucket looks, the students know my exact feelings.  For example, the class continued to talk after I told them several times passively and directly to raise their quiet hands.  When I stopped the class to tell them my bucket was empty because the class was continuing to ‘erupt’ (a reference from My Mouth is a Volcano), the students were silent.  I even asked the students for strategies to use when you are about to erupt, and many students gave responses like, “Breath it out,” “Keep it in your brain,” “Raise your quiet hand,” and “Tell the teacher at recess.”  This event happened two weeks after my Interruption themed Friendship Circle.  These responses show me that the students were


able to remember the strategies we discussed, and from the

‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behavior, which is important for a child’s

book.  After I mentioned my bucket and the eruption, the

social and emotional development” (Kara-Soteriou and

rest of the lesson went without any more interruptions.

Rose, 2008, p. 35).

I continue mentioning bucket filling throughout the week by

The third finding that I developed through my inquiry was

integrating the concept into read alouds.  Instead of asking

that the actions and communication of a few students can

how a character is feeling, I ask how the character’s bucket

trigger a positive or negative spread within the community.  I

looks.  Sometimes children have trouble reading and express-

made a daily overall focus group recording of the percentage

ing facial expressions and feelings (Choundhury, Blakemore

of students in the focus group that had a more positive than

and Charman, 2006).  However, the bucket filling has given

negative day.  In order for a focus group student to have

students the chance to focus more on the evidence.  For ex-

been considered a positive day, he or she had to have more

ample, in the math book I read, The Little Red Hen Makes a

positive behaviors than negatives behaviors.  As you can see

Pizza, I asked the students how the Hen’s bucket looked.  A

from the chart, 2 of the 4 negative days were days where all

couple students said empty because she had to do all the

of the focus group students had more negative behaviors.

cooking by herself and no one would help her.  The students

 After those two completely negative behavior days, all but

focused more on their evidence to explain their answer.

one of the seven following days over 50% of the focus group

 “The more often children are reminded and can practice get-

had positive days.  This data shows me that the students in

ting along and treating others kindly, the sooner it will be-

the focus group were doing well together, and having the

come habit” (Freeman, 2013, p. 311).

same bad days because everyone was more negative.

I videotaped individual students in the focus group when I gave him or her their post survey.  I did not get a chance to interview Student D since she was on a long vacation.  Student F was not surveyed because he is still working on learning basic English, and the student who translates directions in our class sometimes gives Student F the answers.  Four out of the six students surveyed / interviewed mentioned a specific reference to our bucket visual, and a book read during the Friendship Circles.  When I asked one student what he learned from our Friendship Circles or bucket filling, he said, “Our theme this week is ‘Worry about yourself.’  Like we learned not to be mean or bossy like Mean Jean.”  Another knew immediately during the survey that a quiet hand was the signal that you wanted to speak.  With the mention of interrupting, the student quickly identified the book, My Mouth is a Volcano as a book explaining how erupting was a poor choice.  Although not all of these students showed an increase in positive behavior, I can see that the students were remembering the Friendship Circle books, and able to make connections to these books.  The Friendship Circles might not have completely changed all students’ communication and actions, but at least all the students have shown awareness of the books and messages. “The good character is not formed by the end of a short unit on good character traits; rather, good character develops over time.  Nevertheless, there was a definite awareness of

In my most recent Friendship Circle, I shared a drip that a student wrote for another student.  The student who asked me to write the drip was a student who surprised me.  This student is usually more reserved during our Friendship Circles by not verbally participating as much in our discussion; however, this student had mostly positive behavior when he was participating.  After sharing the student’s drip, the following week students were coming up to me telling me ways that other students filled their own buckets by giving me specific examples.  Well over half the class has been writing drips of how a variety of students were filling their buckets. I have observed through my field notes that positive reinforcement can go a long way.  I noticed that when I acknowledge a student for good manners, or for being a good model, many students explicitly start using good manners and quickly check themselves.  One time when I was hand-


ing out papers, a student thanked me.  I said I was welcome,


and complimented the student on their nice manners.  Every single student following used his or her manners.

Blakemore, S.-J., & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: implications for executive function and

“Giving children mindfulness attention training in combina-

social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry,

tion with opportunities to practice optimism, gratitude,

47(4), 296–312.

perspective-taking, and kindness to others can not only improve cognitive skills but also lead to significant increases in

Choudhury, S., Blakemore S.J., & Charman, T. (2006). Social

social and emotional competence and well-being in the real-

cognitive development during adolescence. Social Cognitive

world setting of regular elementary classrooms” (Schonert-

Affective Neuroscience, 1(3), 165-174.

Reichl, 2015, p. 63). Cook, J., & Hartman, C. (2008). My Mouth is a Volcano! NaConclusion

tional Center For Youth Issues.

This inquiry has showed me my values as a teacher, and

Freeman, G. G. (2014). The implementation of character edu-

taught me so much about my students.  I learned how impor-

cation and children's literature to teach bullying characteris-

tant community building is within a classroom, and how this

tics and prevention strategies to preschool children: An ac-

building affects classroom management.  The finding of the

tion research project. Early Childhood Education Journal,

inquiry that stood out to me most was how the actions and

42(5), 305-316.

communication of a few students can trigger a positive or


negative spread within the community.  This shows me how important setting a positive mood for the students is.

Kara-Soteriou, J., & Rose, H. (2008). Using children's literature to teach about positive character traits. YC Young Chil-

The bucket filling lessons has allowed me to make quick ref-

dren, 63(4), 30-36. Retrieved from

erences to the stories and characters, an easy and intrinsic


classroom management strategy.  The children now under-


stand what I mean when I reference a person’s bucket, and have learned strategies from the Friendship Circles to check

Kevorkian, M. (2006). Preventing Bullying: Helping Kids Form

their behavior.  The book that seemed to have the most suc-

Positive Relationships. Lanham, M.D.: Rowman & Littlefield

cess in the classroom has been My Mouth is a Volcano.  Sev-


eral parents at conferences had mentioned how students said they are holding in their eruptions.  I notice during the

McCloud, C., & Messing, D. (2006). Have You Filled a Bucket

class if I mention that there are too many eruptions, the stu-

Today?: A guide to daily happiness for kids. Ferne Press.

dents begin raising their quiet hands. Neill, A., & Beith, L. (2002). The Recess Queen. New York: The students are still very excited about our Friendship Cir-


cles.  However, the Friendship Circles are still only a couple months old.  I am wondering if the students’ behaviors and

Positive guidance in the early years using developmentally

communications will continue to improve, or if the students

appropriate strategies. (2013). YC Young Children, 68(5), 6-8.

will eventually become bored of the intervention.  I have

Retrieved from

learned so much from taking data during my inquiry.  But


most importantly I have learned from my students, the power


of making time for community building: to greet, compliment and learn from each other.

Rath, T., & Manning, M. (2009). How Full Is Your Bucket?: For kids. New York: Gallup Press.


Schonert-Reichl, K., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D.,

Appendix A: Overall Classroom Data Notes

Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development

These are samples of the notes that I took in the beginning

through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school

of my inquiry of the entire class in order to find trends within

program for elementary school children: A randomized con-

the students, behaviors and times.

trolled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1647825320?accountid =13158 Smith, C. A. (2013). Beyond "I'm sorry": The educator's role in preschoolers' emergence of conscience. YC Young Children,68(1), 76-82. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1437629714?accountid =13158 Sturges, P., & Walrod, A. (1999). The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza. New York: Dutton Children's Books.


Appendix B: Overall Focus Group Data Tallies

Appendix E: Focus Students’ Surveys

This data is how I tracked each focus group student’s behav-

These are the pre/post surveys that I gave the students

ior during our morning read alouds. I looked for respectful or

about making good choices.  The students got all answers

disrespectful behaviors including interruptions, quiet hands,

correct both times.

sitting criss cross and moving around.


Appendix F: Parent Letters

Appendix G: Bucket Filling Wall and Displays

These were two of the letters I have sent to my classroom

This is the home of our classroom bucket, and where I dis-

parents introducing my inquiry and discussing bucket filling.

played all of our bucket filling posters that the students made in pairs.


Appendix H:  Friendship Circle Worksheets These are a few of the activities that the students worked on at the end of our Friendship Circles.


Finding Your Tribe: Social Differentiation and the Dialogical Classroom James Garrett James Garrett is currently teaching high school English at Colonel Richardson High School on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He held the coveted title of “most tattooed intern” in the 2014/2015 year, and sought to create with his ninth grade students an experience of dialogic discussion in his English classroom. Introduction

profoundly different conceptions of the world around them, but with one common thread that binds them: they are all

Some students and teachers love and appreciate the oppor-

new to this school. Moreover, these students were separated

tunities that collaboration and group work affords them; oth-

at two middle schools in their previous year. When these stu-

ers loathe group work and wish for a totally independent

dents are recombined in their high school classes, the rela-

working experience, a chance to focus solely on their own

tionships strained, broken, or reformed cannot be dis-

efforts to create their own product. Given that this discrep-

counted when considering the social dynamic of my classes.

ancy exists and has real world effects in and out of the class-

Some of my students have been friends since preschool;

room, how is a teacher to respond? I will advance the idea

some of my students met the first day of high school. This

that all learning is inherently social because of its linguistic

provides the teacher a stark look at one facet of these stu-

basis and that the teacher is obligated to provide differing

dents’ lives and leads the active teacher to wonder how

and diverse means through which students’ voices will be

these students have decided upon their social groups, those

heard and valued in the classroom context. With this in

with whom they interact the most often. Each student could

mind, I advocate for instructional strategies that move be-

have conceivably chosen any of their peers to form intimate

yond the academic sphere and seek to engage both the so-

connections with and to seek out, but, of course, that is not

cial dynamic of each class and the individual voices of every

the case for most if not all people.

student. In this way, I will detail how a teacher moves from a monologic classroom to a dialogic classroom, thus opening

I pause here to make explicit a connection that I hold to be

conversations for wider interpretation and deemphasizing

self-evident but that is insidiously masked all too often: stu-

the idea of a “right” answer or a “correct” manner in which

dents are people. They may be much younger than their

one understands themselves and their social world.

teachers or they may be profoundly different than their teachers, but if there is one necessary precept that spans the

My understanding and application of the idea of social differ-

bounds of this paper and beyond, it is that I am considering

entiation is best summed up in an equation. Social differentia-

these students as self-determining human beings who en-

tion is found at the convergence of two core ideas: that (1)

gage their liberties and make decisions stemming from their

each individual’s ideological beliefs about the meaning and

implicit agency. I mention this because of the easy pitfall of

significance of human differences combines with (2) each

saying “why are these kids doing this? Do they know what

individual’s innate power to put their ideological beliefs into

they are doing?” I want to be clear that I am consciously try-

practice (Livesey). The concept of social differentiation is inti-

ing to not objectify thereby dehumanizing my students. As

mately tied to power structures within the individual and

human beings do, my students make conscious choices and

within the social context in which the individual is positioned.

I find the most intriguing facet of my students’ lives to be

In this case, the ninth grade classroom provides a wonderful

where and how they choose to focus their language.

staging ground for watching this process take place. Learning is a social activity that is communicated through My ninth grade classes at State College Area High School

linguistic means. In this sense, language in its multiple forms

are made up of students spanning the socioeconomic spec-

is a social phenomenon. Consider how language is transmit-

trum; they come to my classes with differing experiences,

ted or



learned in a foundational sense. Human beings learn by ex-


The meaning of an utterance is always contextual.


The word is only half ours.

ample, through a social process of watching and repeating ad infinitum. As such, language is learned through social means. My own father is a prime example: a man of great linguistic ability, he was treated for and conditioned out of a speech impediment as a child, a manner of speech which he picked up from his older brother. By internalizing and repeating what he experienced in his social context, my father certainly did learn to engage with and use language, but his

Each of these ideas provides a more fully-formed concept of

“flawed” usage shows the inherent effect of one’s social sur-

how the dialogical classroom is formed through the process

roundings on learning and development. My father valued

of social differentiation, perpetuated by the teacher and by

his older brother’s voice, so he learned from it. The question,


then, is: what voices do students value and what effect can Ideological Layout

those valuations have on their learning? In combining the ideas of social differentiation and students’

First, in considering how social differentiation operates it is

valuations of voices, the picture becomes clearer as to

essential to uncover and face one’s own ideologies that ef-

where the teacher should apply their influence. By construct-

fect not only the ways in which one sees the world but also

ing an idea of one’s class as dialogical, the teacher imparts

how one reacts to new ideas presented in texts and to new

an understanding for students that every voice is needed to

people or experiences in general. These ideologies are not

come to a more fully realized version of any and all ideas that

an impediment to the classroom; rather, they are a necessity

are confronted in texts or that are presented in their lives.

thereof. The English teacher at the secondary level must be

The dialogical classroom is an end-goal that benefits both

concerned with having students engage with, apply, and

students and teachers by creating an environment of mutual

question their own ideologies. This is essentially the process

respect for every voice and a context in which those voices

of critical thought, a process which is fundamental to the

are valued. My conception of the dialogical classroom is con-

English classroom. The lack of definite knowledge, of objec-

structed in two ways: through the ideological layout present

tive answers, in the language arts necessitates the allowance

in the class and through the physical layout of the classroom

of a diverse range of possibilities in answering many if not all

itself. I will describe the ideological layout of my classroom

questions in the subject area. When the teacher asks “what

and highlight some key activities that contributed to my ideo-

does this passage/sentence/word mean,” they are really ask-

logical construction and I will also detail my students’ and

ing “based on your experiences with life and language and

my own conception of how the ideal English classroom is

through your personal critical lens, what does this idea sig-

physically constructed. First, though, is necessary to expli-

nify to and

cate how I am using the terms “dialogic/ dialogical” as well as the intellectual backing that allows the terms to operate

for you?” As such, the dialogical classroom is contingent on


this multiplicity of perspectives, for the idea of a single correct answer is an impossibility. Beyond students’ minds,

Trying to nail down Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of dialogism (1981)

there is also the issue of the context in which their minds are

is a difficult task, but educational anthropologist Joe Tobin


managed to distill the concept into four manageable components, three of which I will focus on in conceiving the dialogi-

Context is critical; in a sense, context is everything. The con-

cal classroom (Tobin, 2000). The precepts are as follows:

text in which any meaningful activity takes place must be considered when attempting to ascertain that which makes it


The content of psychic life is thoroughly ideological.

meaningful in the first place. An utterance is generally defined as any object that is imbued with and attempts to convey some meaning: a painting is as much an utterance as a word or a song or a thought is. The context of these utter-


ances holds such a vast amount of import because attempt-

Beyond valuing each student’s voice, the major ideological

ing to come to any kind of conclusion about what an utter-

precept that leads to a dialogical classroom is an embracing

ance means necessitates understanding the background

of indeterminance and uncertainty. This embracement leads

from which the utterance is originating, where and how it is

to an understanding for students that no one perspective is

situated, what prompted the utterance in the first place. The

inherently correct in the language arts. To some, that is the

indeterminate nature of these questions is evident, but they

beauty of the subject; to others, this lack of certitude is an-

are still necessary questions in the search for meaning and,

noying at best.

in a deeper sense, truth. The dialogical classroom considers the layers of context surrounding that which is deemed

However, the uncertain nature of making claims about texts

meaningful by the individual students and by the class as a

is not something to shy away from; rather, it is a quality that

whole. In this way, a monologic view is not elevated as the

necessitates analysis, deconstruction, and discussion. Given

“right” answer because, frankly, a right answer may not ex-

this, the importance of each voice is obvious and immediate,

ist, hence the emphasis on engaging as many voices as pos-

in that the class can only scratch the surface of the ideas of

sible. The voices are needed because, as Tobin (2000)

texts if one voice is allowed to reign supreme, if a monologic

phrases it, the word is only half ours.

understanding is enforced. But, how do teachers engage more than the typical cadre of voices?

If language is a social phenomenon then it follows that our thoughts and conceptions about anything meaningful are not

I have successfully used a technique based in the Mikhail

entirely ours, if only in the sense that one’s words originate

Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia (Bakhtin 73), literally

from a source outside oneself. More so, the idea of the word

“differnet-speech-ness,” that requires only post-it notes and

only being half ours attempts to show that a fully formed

a writing instrument. Consider the following example:

idea or concept becomes rounder and more rigorous when it is subjected to the perspectives and consideration of others. The dialogical classroom aims itself at engaging students’ social nature in order to provide the greatest possible chance for the greatest number of people to consider any and all utterances encountered. I consciously prompt students to consider not what they know about a given question but what are they thinking in regards to the question. This simple linguistic nuance leaves the possibility open that each students’ thoughts will change, that their view is developing and not yet fully developed. This understanding is also seen in the drafting process that is a staple of the modern English classroom. An often used practice in the drafting process is a stage of peer editing and revising in which students give their papers to others to consider, comment on, and “correct.” This practice seeks to give students feedback as provided by an audience of sorts; the practice also emphasizes the process of writing and the good that can come from getting one’s writing out from under their own eyes and into the view of another. By giving students the support to explore their own partially formed ideas, it is possible to move them away from the idea that their ideas are definite answers and more towards that idea that their ideas are flexible, changeable things, an understanding that will certainly prepare them for the changing nature of not only their own minds but of the world in which they are positioned.

Students were given two post-it notes and asked to write an idea, word, or artistic representation that represents a quality of a monster. On the other post-it note, they were asked to cite something that they saw as being non-monstrous. After students arranged their post-it notes in the proper category, my job was to take these physical representations of students’ voices and vocalize them. I read each idea out loud and then we considered the connections in a full-class discussion. Some examples that students came up with included:


Monster: Frowning face, Non-Monster - Smiling face Monster: Bad, Non-Monster: Good Monster: Inhuman, Non-Monster: Human By using the post-it notes, students who are reluctant to talk are spared the attention and embarrassment of being centerstage while still having their voices heard. More so, however, my students were also participating in a form of linguistic play: heteroglossia. When Bakhtin conceived his idea of heteroglossia, he was very clear that “any concrete utterance …serves as a point where centrifugal as well as centripetal are brought to bear” (Bakhtin 75). In the given example, each student was asked to produce an utterance that attempted to show the difference between monsters and non-monsters. Of course, this task was met with fits of upheaval by some students. This was an intended pedagogical consequence stemming from the book that we were reading at the time which thoroughly intertwined and complicated the concepts that monsters and non-monsters are separate. By asking students to respond to not only their own ideas of what these categories might hold but to reflect on and analyze what meaning their peers’ ideas hold, the tension between Bakhtin’s centripetal and centrifugal tensions is seen. Centripetal forces move toward a central point while centrifugal forces move outwards from some central point; when my students were responding to my question, they had to internalize the question and produce an answer (centripetal) while also designing their answer in such a way as to respond to the given prompt and appeal to or make sense to a linguistic audience outside of themselves (centrifugal). However, this is only a single class’s example. What might happen when the dialogue goes beyond the confines of a single class? The following exploration was literally centered on the question “what makes a young adult novel.” Utilizing the whiteboard as a shared sounding-board, students displayed their ideas for the class. Their ideas were not relegated to their own classes, though. See how the web builds over the course of the day.

In the first word map, one class’s ideas were written on the board and then each term was considered in succession by filling in the semantic blank i.e. how does relate to or define young adult literature? In this case, the first class was at a distinct advantage: their initial ideas were the easiest to come up with and, thereby, the easiest to transmit and consider. For example, two students wrote “teens” and “the Y.A.,” both of which are entirely fitting answers to the given question. There may be a sense of getting the “obvious” answers out of the way, but often the obvious answers are the most fertile for questioning and reconsidering a new way of looking at cliches - could a young adult novel be written about an old man? As the day progressed, the other two classes participating in this activity were able to see the previous classes’ answers and then add their own. If the first class had an advantage, would that mean that the last class was at a disadvantage? Not as much as one might think, especially considering the dialogical form that I utilized. By literally seeing the thoughts of the previous classes, the last class was able to scaffold their own thinking and move beyond the bounds of what may seem like the “easy” answer to the given question. One example that stuck out to me from the last class of the day


was the hashtagged submission in the bottom-right corner

necessary to physically arrange one’s classroom in such a

that reads “#TheStruggleIsReal.” The student who put that

way as to make collaboration and student voices as easily

idea on the board may have been attempted to make a slight

engaged as possible.

joke, but their idea is an excellent one in various ways. First, they were playing on a common theme that their generation

Physical Layout

recognizes instantly - the hashtag. More so, consider the hashtag’s purpose in social media. By hash tagging a word

My classroom and seating arrangement therein are arranged

or phrase, the user is creating a searchable term that others

in purposeful ways, focusing in particular on the my own feel-

can search for, find, and interact with - an unintentional but

ing that there is a critical need for students to collaborate in

notable usage of dialogism. Finally, the actual words the stu-

the English classroom. Again, that feeling comes with signifi-

dent chose are so fitting for the mindset of the young adult

cant cognitive dissonance. As a student, I felt as if I flour-

novel’s audience: the struggle is real. The trials of your life

ished with a deep measure of independence and autonomy;

are facts; they affect

however, as a teacher, I certainly want to build my students’ independent thinking and working skills, but I am profoundly

more people than you think; the struggle exists, even if oth-

focused on their ability to collaborate as well. It is a self-

ers do not recognize it. How powerful a statement from a po-

evident truth of life outside of the schooling context that col-

tential joke. I left these maps on the board for the next day’s

laboration is at least helpful in completing tasks if not abso-

classes to see because I wanted the first two classes to see

lutely necessary. By engaging this social dynamic and requir-

the summation of their work and that of their peers. By com-

ing collaborative practices in my classroom, I am continually

bining all of these ideas into one communal space, my peda-

building on my own initial idea. Though, I wanted to know

gogical goal was to broaden students’ conceptions of what

what my students thought about the physical makeup of our

is a simply worded but intellectually weighty question. How-

shared classroom and how it relates to their conception of

ever, this process does not need to be relegated to the white

learning and doing English.

board; there are other, more modern ways of accomplishing the same goal with different media.

I prompted my students with the following question: what does your ideal English classroom look like? This question

For the more technologically-minded, online forums that are

spawned many corollaries, e.g. what kind of furniture would

posted on and accessed through course management soft-

be in the room, how would the seats be arranged, what tech-

ware are excellent resources for establishing another form of

nology would be present in this ideal class. I also asked stu-

social heteroglossia. The following example came in the way

dents to explain their thinking, to uncover where their

that so many excellent ideas do: through an unintentional

thoughts were coming from and give some data or experi-

error. Each class was supposed to have their own separate

ences to back up their thoughts. The following responses all

forum in which to discuss and respond to ideas from that

explicitly mention a key idea: collaboration, whether that

class, but this segmentation was not implemented properly.

means “ask[ing] your table mates about questions about

As such, every class’s responses were open to the other

your assignment/paper” or “interact[ing] with one another if


they don’t understand the assignment” or something else entirely.

Interestingly enough, when students were prompted to respond to two different posts, some chose to step outside the confines of their own classes in their responses. To reiterate, the ideological purpose of these exercises was to engage as many student voices as possible in order to more fully consider and comprehend the given subjects. If we consider the classroom as a chorus of sorts, the operation only works if everyone is singing. More so, if someone is not singing, they stick out. Based on this understanding, it is


Moreover, the communication skills learned through collaboration and conversation are inevitably going to serve students in their lives outside of school much more than their simple ability to follow directions and complete assignments. One way to see this collaborative communication in action is to map out conversations in one’s class. Consider the followBeyond these three examples, 97 of my 100 students con-

ing conversation maps that I made during different classes’

structed classrooms that included some sort of group set-up

Socratic seminar discussions.

rather than individual desks or, in one case, bean bag chairs with lap desks. I would argue that the significance of this trend is great; the activity speaks volumes for how students think about their classroom environments and it implies in a very real sense that students want to talk to each other. This may seem obvious, but it also plays on and counters a popular concept that a quiet classroom is an ideal classroom. If the idea of a language arts class is to facilitate students’ engagement with and usage of language, talking and interacting linguistically must be inherently valuable if not explicitly stated as being valuable. As the following student shows, social tasks such as “picking a partner” and “making groups” for various assignments are made easier and more understandable through a preexisting arrangement that emphasizes sociability.

In considering the above graphs, unsurprising trends in who students are speaking with certainly come up, but there is also significance in noticing who talks less and considering how the format of different discussions might affect those students’ tendencies to talk or not. In the left map, it is obvious that Student 1 is all across the spectrum with whom she is discussing; Student 7 is noticeably subdued in her responses. This characterization fits these students well, perhaps displaying more of their learning styles or the ways in which they contextualize information i.e. Student 1 prefers to talk through her ideas while Student 7 is more of an creative


artistic learner, in that she draws out connections by literally drawing. However, in the right map the students who are speaking less are Students 4 and 5. In their particular physical layout and based on how the conversation flowed, it is possible that they felt less apt to speak because of their supposed distance from the locus of conversation, a possibility that would certainly make sense: we tend to not engage with conversations that are physically removed from our immediate surroundings. The next map provides a different picture though.

In the above map, Student 5 is the notable outlier in a group discussion that has almost unanimous participation by the other members of the group. Again, this was not surprising based on my experiences with this student and his lack of vocal participation in class on a regular basis. In contrasting his reticence with that of Student 6 in the previous map, the idea emerges that not all forms of engagement will work for all students, thus providing a new spin on the idea of social differentiation. Student 5 in the given example, based in the concept of social differentiation, has removed himself from the social context of the socratic seminar, in that he only responded when prompted in a discussion format in which the main objective In this map, the conversation certainly is more varied in who

is to allow for and encourage the free exchange of ideas.

is responding to who and how the flow of the conversation

However, this student evidently deemed some part of the

jumps around the circle without any one student emerging

social context as being something with which he did not

as the definitive leader of the discussion. In particular Stu-

want to fully engage. I would not call this a failure of this dis-

dent 6 sticks out for me. This particular student is not usually

cussion format as an inherent possibility that must be grap-

one to speak out in class or offer answers voluntarily. As is

pled with in any realistic context.

obvious by his contributions to the seminar discussion, something changed or was engaged that is not usually

The importance of social differentiation and dialogism is that

reached in conventional class set-ups. Perhaps he felt more

these ideas and their ramifications extend beyond the

apt to speak because of the people he was grouped with as

reaches of the classroom, thus creating an invaluable link

opposed to speaking as a lone participant in a whole class

between what happens in and outside of school. By engag-

discussion; he may have also been swayed by the fact that

ing as many voices as possible in their everyday lives, stu-

this conversation was being graded based on participation

dents will come to a more full, global understanding of their

and depth of electrode thought. Or, frankly, there could have

own context and the world around them. In this way, they

been another reason entirely for his change of conversational

will provide opportunities for every voice they encounter to

character. Needless to say, his ability to accommodate to the

be heard and considered with thoughtfulness. Students will

seminar style and to engage with the discussion is notable.

also recognize that they are always in dialogue with those

Of course, this is not always the case.

around them, those signifying utterances more than physical


people. And, extending the idea of dialogue, students will


recognize that their tribe, that which identifies them, is a social mechanism that is made up of individual people and the

Abbey, Nicholas. Developing 21st century teaching and learn-

ideas, ideologies, and voices that have affected each stu-

ing: Dialogic literacy. New Horizons for Learning - Johns Hop-

dent. In these ways, students become more fully aware of

kin School of Education. n.d. Web.

and engaged with themselves and the world. Alexander, R. J. Towards dalogic teaching: Rethinking classroom talk. Thirsk: Dialogos, 2006. Bakhtin, Mikhail. The dialogic imagination.” The Bakhtin reader. Ed. Pam Morris. New York: Oxford University Press. 1994. Domers, T. (2011), Writing in the Dialogical Classroom: Students and Teachers Responding to the Texts of Their Lives. Bob Fecho. 2011. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55: 88–90. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.55.1.10_10 Livesey, Chris. Social Differentiation, Inequality and Stratification. sociology.org.uk. n.d. Web. Tobin, Joseph. Good Guys Don’t Wear Hats. New York: Teachers College Press, 2000.


A New Leash on Life in the Classroom: A Service Learning Journey with PAWS Centre County Katie Lynn O’Donnell Katie Lynn O'Donnell works in Bucks County and is a math tutor to elementary students.  During her PDS year, she taught in Kim Wilson's 2nd grade classroom at Park Forest Elementary with Linda Margusity as her PDA.  She was born in Virginia, moved around a lot while growing up, and spent most of her time in Bucks County, Pa.  She started at Penn State, University Park, as a freshman and immediately started working towards getting accepted into the PDS program for her senior year.  For Katie, the PDS community was like a second family to her, where everyone was supportive, willing to collaborate, and lend a helping a hand. Abstract: Service learning is a teaching and learning strat-

chance to read some articles about service learning and

egy that integrates meaningful community service with in-

learned about some teachers who shared their personal ex-

struction and reflection to enrich the curriculum and stu-

periences of incorporating service learning into their class-

dents’ learning experiences, teach civic responsibility, and

rooms. In September, the interns were lucky enough to have

strengthen communities (Learn and Serve America National

two members of my school’s staff come in to speak to us

Service Learning Clearinghouse). I noticed that my 2nd

about service learning. I quickly realized that service learning

grade students had a soft spot and love for animals, and I

is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful

wondered how I could use this observation to increase stu-

community service with instruction and reflection to enrich

dent motivation and attitude towards various subject areas.

the curriculum and students’ learning experiences, teach

To do this, our classroom paired up with Centre County

civic responsibility, and strengthen communities (National

PAWS in order to make the needs of the community come

Service Learning Clearinghouse). In other words, service

alive within our very own classroom.

learning allows students to actively learn and contribute to their communities (Kielsmiere, 2011, p.4). I remember sitting


through that class in awe and just being fascinated by what these guest speakers had to share about their experiences. I


thought to myself how incredible it would be to find ways to connect my students to the community around them and

I have twenty students in my second grade classroom; there

see the effects it could have on them and the classroom dy-

are eleven girls and nine boys. I have one student with an


IEP for a physical disability, and I also have three English Language Learner students. Two of these students moved to the

Being an intern in a PDS elementary school definitely played

US from Saudi Arabia in September and get an hour and a

a role in further fueling my interest in service learning. Every

half of direct English instruction a day, as well as one student

school has its own values and culture, and this school is no

whose first language is Spanish and goes to ESL for a half

different. With Ms. C as our principal, we have an amazing

hour each day. Eight of my students are pulled out to receive

school with unique ideals. Our school really respects demo-

an extra half hour of reading instruction daily in addition to

cratic values such as collaboration and student voice is a

four students pulled out for an additional half hour of math

huge proponent of service learning and therefore is very sup-

instruction daily.

portive and encouraging to those teachers who are willing to try it. I knew that by choosing to do an inquiry on service

Background Before joining the PDS community, I had never heard of service learning and knew nothing about the effect it could have on students in an elementary school classroom. In the fall, during my Social Studies Methods course, we got the

learning, that I would have all of the support and guidance I needed to make it the best it could be. From observing my students, I noticed that there were some students who seemed to have negative feelings associated with coming to school each day. It was also evident that


many of my students had strong feelings, positive and nega-

To gain insight into my wondering, I first started by reading

tive, towards certain subjects throughout the school day. I

up on service learning and techniques to connect commu-

wondered why this occurred and how I could change this

nity needs into my classroom and curriculum. I spent a lot of

phenomenon. Therefore, the purpose of my inquiry was to

time at the library finding books that described various expe-

boost the attitudes and enthusiasm of my students. I wanted

riences with service learning in elementary school class-

to see if integrating the community and the students’ inter-

rooms and its effect on the students. I also scheduled an in-

ests into our everyday class routine would make them have a

terview with my principal because she is a big supporter of

more positive outlook on school or towards certain subjects.

service learning and has had a lot of experience with con-

I wanted to know if my students could grow and evolve into

ducting service learning within her own classrooms in the

more passionate, hardworking students if they were more

past (See Appendix B). By doing this, I learned about differ-

interested in the work at hand.

ent ways to make service learning the most meaningful to my students. She also connected me with a wealth of other

Wonderings With this purpose, I wondered:

resources to guide me along through my inquiry journey. Next, I began to record field notes while observing my students more closely. I would join in during conversations at

What effect does service learning have on student attitude

recess, listen in to their conversations while they worked,

and enthusiasm within a second grade classroom?

ask about their interests outside of school, and also occasionally let them come up with the sentences when we


played telephone during afternoon meeting. I did this to find out what my students interests were and to see if there were

What is service learning?

any reoccurring themes. One topic stood out to me: animals. More than half of the sentences students came up with cen-

How is it different than community service?

tered around animals, so I began to research into the State College community to see what I could do with this. I

How can I make my lessons more meaningful and realistic

teamed up with Centre County PAWS, and via emails and

for my students?

phone calls discovered what some of PAWS main needs were. I felt that this was important because “partnerships in

How can I make the community come alive within my class-

service learning have been found to be associated with multi-


ple benefits, including students’ acquisition of skills, information, resources, and technical assistance needed to meet a

Would it be possible to bring the community into our class-

genuine community need” (Billig, 2011, p.11).

room while still meeting state standards? Before planning lessons and jumping right into things, I deHow would incorporating service learning into a classroom

cided to create a survey to administer to each student in my

affect the classroom community or relationships between

classroom (See Appendix C). I did this in order to learn more


about my students’ attitudes towards each subject, and towards school in general. I then assigned a number score to each survey and interviewed a total of six students: two who scored the highest, two who scored the lowest, and two who had average scores in the middle. This allowed me to gain more insight into why they answered the way that they did,


and also to learn more about why certain subjects were more appealing and enjoyable for them. I used this information to pick the subject areas I wanted to focus on more heavily within my inquiry.


to make PAWS Centre County more real for my students. I introduced this after realizing that we talked about PAWS ofMy mentor and I worked together to come up with ways to

ten as a class, but it still seemed like an abstract concept for

incorporate these needs into our classroom and to see what

many of my students to grasp. Each power point focused on

our students could do. We took time to look into the upcom-

a dog and cat from the shelter and included information

ing units and collaborated to find ways to integrate PAWS’

such as the animal’s name, age, birthday, breed, and three

needs into our curriculum in a realistic and meaningful way. I

fun facts.

thought that the best way to accomplish this goal would be to integrate it across all subject areas. In The Complete

I sent home parent letters inviting them to talk to their stu-

Guide to Service Learning, Kaye explains that “because serv-

dents about what we were doing in the classroom and ask-

ice learning can be applied to almost every subject area, this

ing for them to donate whatever they felt comfortable (See

naturally encourages cross-curricular integration, which can

Appendix G). According to Cathryn Berger Kaye, service

help students grow, retain what they have learned, and im-

learning allows parents to “find new avenues for conversa-

prove in several areas simultaneously” (2010, p. 9). To intro-

tion with their children, and may help support service learn-

duce the topic, I started by reading Two Bobbies by Kirby

ing within the school” (2010, p.2). After collecting donations

Larson during afternoon meeting. This was a picture book

for a month and a half, the students worked with the items to

based on a true story about a dog and a cat that were home-

create different types of graphs so they could visually repre-

less after a natural disaster, and after months of living on the

sent what we had collected (See Appendix H). I also started

streets ended up in a shelter and eventually were adopted.

a “Pennies for PAWS” initiative amongst the primary class-

Following the read aloud, we had a class discussion about

rooms because PAWS relies heavily on donations (See Ap-

shelters, if the students thought there were any animal shel-

pendix I). The students counted the money collected and

ters around our area, and what services a shelter may offer.

worked in groups to determine what supplies PAWS could

This led to the students coming up with a list of needs they

purchase with the money we would be donating.

predicted a shelter would have, followed by some partner writing on what they could do to help a shelter and why that

To coincide with our science unit on magnets, the students

would be important (See Appendix D).

designed and created informational magnets to donate to PAWS Centre County (See Appendix J). The students de-

Shortly after, I created a book bin for the classroom full of

cided that the magnets should include information such as

books about shelter animals, as well as books about dogs

the name of the organization in addition to the address,

and cats in general (See Appendix E). I collected data before

phone number, and email address in order to increase aware-

introducing the book bin on how many of the students al-

ness in the public that PAWS exists and how they can learn

ready had books in their own book bins that had to do with

more about it.

animals. I then continued to collect this data at the end of each week to see if more students chose to read books

I decided that I wanted to do some whole-group writing as a

about animals in their free time as we delved deeper and

big part of my inquiry process, but this is something that I

deeper into working with PAWS within our classroom.

had no prior experience with. I contacted Dr. D, an Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Curriculum and

I also wanted to see if there would be a correlation of weeks

Instruction at The Pennsylvania State University, and invited

when more students were reading books from the PAWS

her into my classroom (See Appendix K). I interviewed her to

book bin to weeks when our afternoon meeting read alouds

learn about her techniques and teaching style when it comes

focused on animals and animal shelters.

to writing, and also to bounce some ideas around with her.

Since it wasn’t possible to do a PAWS related activity in the

I had her join my classroom a couple of weeks later to model

classroom every single day for two months, I created an “Ani-

a whole-group persuasive writing piece with my students. To

mal of the Day” power point that I showed during snack time

prepare for this lesson, I began teaching the persuasive writ-

each day (See Appendix F). This was a quick three-minute

ing unit to the students and implementing the scaffolding se-

presentation each day for the students that served as a way

quence of “I do, we do, you do” so the students would have


exposure and experience with the persuasive writing genre


before De. D’s visit. As Dr. D taught my students, I videoed the lesson so that I could reference it and learn more about

As a result of analyzing my data, three important things I

how to structure my own lesson. I also used this video to

learned include:

look into how well the students grasped the persuasive writing process before beginning my whole-group writing. I took

Service learning can make students enjoy coming to school

notes on Dr. D’s teaching practices, student responses, and

and eager to learn.

the students’ ability to volunteer their thoughts in a wholegroup setting. Based on this information, I began a week and

Integrating service learning into the classroom can bring stu-

a half long persuasive writing project with my class focusing

dents together and create a more positive classroom environ-

on persuading the State College community to go to PAWS


Centre County. We brainstormed and then wrote a roughdraft, followed by editing individually, with a partner, and as a

Service learning can be integrated into a second grade class-

whole group, and then came up with our final copy (See Ap-

room as a teaching method and learning strategy.

pendix M, N, and O). Our article was published in a local newspaper, The Centre Daily Times, in addition to our school

Claim One: Service learning can make students enjoy

newsletter, Penguin Pride Newsletter.

coming to school and eager to learn.

Once I started teaching lessons that tied to the needs of

From my inquiry, I found that students began to have a more

PAWS Centre County, I would check in with my students

positive outlook towards school. From comparing the pre-

with quick little interviews as often as I could. I did this in or-

inquiry survey scores to the post-inquiry survey scores, I

der to have the students reflect on what they were doing so I

found that while some scores stayed relatively the same,

could learn more about their thoughts and feelings on the

55% of my students’ scores increased by at least two

various interventions. After working hard in the classroom on

points, and of that 55% more than half had scores that in-

so many different projects and activities related to my in-

creased by at least six points. This shows that my students

quiry, I decided to give another survey two months after the

had more positive feelings towards school and felt more com-

first one so that I could compare the results of the two sur-

fortable in our classroom once service learning became a

veys in order to see if attitudes, feelings, or favorite/least fa-

part of our everyday routine. The increase in survey scores

vorite subjects stayed the same or changed, and if so, how

also indicates an overall increase in student ratings of enjoy-

they changed (See Appendix P). I gave the same survey and

ing certain subjects more after service learning was incorpo-

scored it the same way in order to compare the scores and

rated into them. I attribute this increase to the students be-

results for each individual student as well as the class as a

ing more interested in their work because it related to their

whole. I added a couple of questions specific to PAWS and


the activities we had done to learn about whether or not the students enjoyed them, in addition to what their favorite

When looking more in depth at the first survey, I also noticed

PAWS related activity was.

that 60% of the students answered either “often” or “almost always” when asked how much they agree with the state-

Again I interviewed six students to gain more insight into

ment “I enjoy coming to school every day.” On the final sur-

their answers on the survey and to have them explain their

vey, 60% of the class circled “almost always” followed by

responses regarding the PAWS lessons and activities. The

35% circling “often” or “sometimes” for this question. In

students I interviewed were based on the scores from their

comparison of the answers to that question on both surveys,

survey, exactly like I had done the first time. Due to a change

25% of the students reported higher terms of agreement on

in students’ scores, there was a mix of new students to interview as well as some of the same students I had interviewed in January.


the second survey (See Appendix Q). Based on these re-

viewed noted that it was hard for them to choose because

sults, I learned that my students enjoyed coming to school

they loved them all. While it was hard for the students to pick

more once service learning was introduced into my class-

one specific activity, the students’ mentioned the persuasive


writing piece and magnets often. When I asked the students in the interviews, they stated that they liked those two best

Of the interventions that I integrated into my classroom, we

because they knew it was going out into the community, so

spent the most amount of time on incorporating PAWS into

it made them want to put a lot of effort into it to make it the

our writing. I decided to do this because from the pre-inquiry

best it could be. This explains why 100% of my students re-

survey, I learned that overall, writing was my students’ least

corded “almost always” or “often” for the statement “I put a

favorite subject because many claimed it was difficult for

lot of effort into my school work” on the final survey, in com-

them to think of what to write or to get their thoughts on pa-

parison to only 70% on the pre-inquiry survey (See Appendix

per, and that they didn’t like editing or revising their work

Q). In addition, 100% of the students recorded that they

when they were done. Through the interviews, I learned that

looked forward to the Animal of the Day presentations each

many of my students didn’t seem to see the point of writing

day because they could see the real, live animals that they

or understand why it was important, even though my mentor

were helping. Lastly, 95% of my students stated that they

and I mentioned it often. I wanted to target these thoughts

“almost always” enjoyed doing things for PAWS within our

through my writing intervention, so while teaching the persua-

classroom, with the following 5% answering “often” (See Ap-

sive writing unit I went step by step through the process

pendix Q).

from brainstorming through publication. I also decided to introduce my students to graphic organizers to help them

Claim Two: Integrating service learning into the class-

learn how to organize their thoughts and scaffold the proc-

room can bring students together and create a more

ess to make it more manageable (See Appendix L). Dr. Anne

positive classroom environment.

Whitney told me that one of the best ways to make writing more motivating for students is to provide them with a more

This service learning inquiry really brought my students to-

authentic purpose and authentic audience (A. Whitney, per-

gether as one. Our classroom is run in the workshop model

sonal communication, February 16, 2015). I choose to do a

for our core subjects in order for the teachers to differentiate

unit on persuasive writing because it is a type of writing that

and meet the needs of each student in the classroom. While

the students can utilize in their everyday lives and have the

the groups are considered flexible groups, students often

chance to see a direct result occur from their writing, there-

find themselves working with the same students each day

fore making it more motivating. After the students worked on

and working alongside those with like skills and abilities.

their own persuasive writing pieces, I brought the class to-

Service learning offered opportunities in my classroom for

gether to do a whole-group persuasive writing piece related

the students to all work together and work with students

to PAWS. I contacted various media outlets in the commu-

they may not usually be grouped with. Every student in the

nity, including The Centre Daily Times, State College Maga-

class was fully capable of thinking of things a shelter may

zine, and our school’s very own Penguin Pride Newsletter

need and how he or she could help the shelter…it didn’t mat-

that goes home to every family in the school. I was hoping

ter if student A was a stronger math student or student B

that having this end result would make the writing more moti-

was reading at a higher reading level; that was all irrelevant

vating for the students and help them see the point of per-

when it came to my service learning lessons. As Kaye states,

suasive writing. From looking at the results of the post-

“Students of all ages and most ability levels can participate

inquiry survey, I found that 75% of my students stated that

successfully, and almost every subject or skill can be en-

writing is now their favorite subject due to our PAWS persua-

hanced through the practice of service learning” (2010, p.9).

sive piece of writing.

While the teachers and I may have occasionally had to make some accommodations for some students, that was all done

In my interviews, I discovered that my students seemed to

behind the scenes so that the students weren’t aware of it.

have a difficult time picking a favorite subject because they enjoyed them all. When asked what their favorite PAWS related activity or intervention was, all six students that I inter-


Afternoon meeting is a time of our day that we come together as a whole class around the carpet. During afternoon meeting, we would have conversations centering around

paid close attention to my students and really took time to

PAWS and what we, as a class, could do to help. I noticed

learn about my students’ interests. I also utilized teachable

some of my students who are typically more quiet and shy,

moments that could build off of the natural curiosity of my

came out of their shells by participating more and offering

students. By choosing a simple read aloud book, the stu-

their own ideas more often. This was especially evident to

dents became genuinely concerned about the animals and

me during conversations that followed a read aloud about

how they could help. If the students didn’t show any real in-

animal shelters, especially when the books were based on

terest in the topic of animal shelters from the book, I would

true stories. Donnan Stoicovy told me to pay close attention

have gone back to the drawing board to think of other inter-

throughout my inquiry journey because it would really bring

ests the students may have had other than animals. Instead,

out empathy in all of my students, but I wasn’t fully aware of

my students immediately began talking about how sad the

how true that statement would really be (D. Stoicovy, per-

story was and wondering if there were shelters in our area

sonal communication, February 11, 2015). During the read

and what they could do to help. Once I captured their inter-

aloud and class discussion, the students’ faces showed

est with a vague topic, I knew that by making that topic more

genuine concern for the animals and their curiosity and ea-

real to them and incorporating their own community into the

gerness to learn more to help was very evident. I overheard

classroom, it would make them that much more interested

many conversations revolving around the animals the stu-

and motivated.

dents learned about during Animal of the Day; many students would even tell me they would go home and show

Once my topic was picked, I then had to create lessons and

their parents the website and animals they learned about

activities that would not only align with my school’s curricu-

each week. In addition, the PAWS book bin played a role in

lum and state standards, but that would also be easy to inte-

bringing my students together. Before introducing the book

grate into our daily routine. Because I was able to make my

bin, about three students had books about animals included

service learning project relate to the curriculum, I was able to

in their own personal book bins. Just one week after intro-

teach numerous lessons and activities for my students. Dr.

ducing the PAWS book bin, eighteen of the twenty students

Shelley H. Billig, an active researcher and evaluator in the

in my class had animal books in their book bins. As more

field of service learning, states that “research in service learn-

and more students began book shopping from the PAWS

ing consistently demonstrates the positive effects of linking

book bin, I began noticing more “book talks” occurring be-

curriculum to activities” (2011, p.9). Service learning projects

tween students in the class about those books, as well as

must be cautiously selected to allow for integration into

multiple students asking to read a book once a friend was

classroom routines while also aligning with upcoming units

done with it.

within the curriculum, therefore meeting standards.

Claim Three: Service learning can be integrated into a

According to Dr. Kielsmiere, founder of the Center for Experi-

second grade classroom as a teaching method and learn-

ential Education and Service Learning, “teachers use service

ing strategy.

learning as an instructional method, linking their classroom objectives with carefully designed service experiences in or-

Before planning lessons and deciding what I wanted to do

der to foster academic achievement” (2011, p. 4). Fortu-

for my service learning project in my second grade class-

nately, my service learning project with PAWS Centre County

room, I sat down with my mentor teacher to look at the up-

met these qualifications allowing me to easily conduct it

coming units; I knew I had to find ways to tie my project to

within my own classroom.

the curriculum of what the students would already be learning. Some of the topics that stood out to me were Our Town: Then and Now, magnets, persuasive writing, informational writing, graphing, and money, so with these topics in mind I began to move forward with my planning process. I



the chance to change their classrooms and their classroom dynamics in order to meet each student’s needs and make a In the beginning of embarking on my inquiry journey, I be-

difference in the community. I have learned that “service

came worried that my topic would be too difficult to incorpo-

learning provides meaningful ways for students, teachers,

rate or that I wouldn’t have enough time to do what I wanted

administrators, and the community agencies and members

with it. I also feared that my topic was too broad for what I

to move together with deliberate thought and action toward

thought was such a structured process. I was concerned

a common purpose that has reciprocal benefits” (Kaye,

that my predictions and what I hoped to find when complet-

2010, p. 2).

ing my inquiry wouldn’t align with my findings. After voicing these concerns to my colleagues, mentor, and advisor, I be-

Reflection is of the utmost importance in the life of a teacher;

came reassured that inquiry is an on-going process and

teachers reflect on their teaching practices, lessons, student

something that I already engaged in as a teacher by reflect-

actions, etc. on a daily basis, but how incredible is it to actu-

ing on my practices each week. Another concern I had was

ally do something based on those reflections? I allowed my

that my service learning inquiry would end up just being a

natural curiosity to shine through with my wonderings and

community service project. I soon learned that the key differ-

learned that I could have a hand in changing my classroom

ence between the two is that with service learning, “educa-

for the better and implement various interventions until I

tion of students and young people is always at it’s core” al-

achieved my desired result. Though the findings may not al-

lowing the students to “actively participate in the process of

ways turn out as one may have expected in the beginning, it

understanding, integrating, and applying knowledge from

is always a learning experience and one can always find

various subject areas as they work to improve their communi-

something to take away from that experience.

ties” (Kaye, 2010, p. 9). Taking on this new perspective made me feel more confident in going forward with my inquiry and

I have also had the pleasure of watching my students grow

anxious to see what I would find.

and change. I am so proud of each and every one of my students as they came out of their shells and did what they

Now thinking back to those beginning feelings, I can see

could to make a difference in their community. Research

how much I have grown in such a little amount of time. This

shows that service learning helps “teachers make school

inquiry journey has been by far one of the most rewarding

and education more relevant for their students, often seeing

experiences of my life thus far. I have grown as a profes-

students blossom and develop previously untapped

sional and as aneducator thanks to this process. Reflection

strengths in the process, and collaborate with their col-

is such an important part of an inquiry, and because of my

leagues and community partners to develop exciting curricu-

work in the classroom with my inquiry, I have noticed myself

lum” (Kaye, 2010, p. 2). We worked together to truly make

becoming not only a more reflective educator, but also a

the community come alive within the classroom and to make

more reflective person overall. I have learned about my teach-

a change. I got to watch first hand as my students learned to

ing practices and style and how it can help students come

work together in order to meet real-world needs. They have

out of their shells. The more lessons I taught that related to

taught me that people of any age can make a difference in

PAWS, the more I learned how to make all of my lessons

the world when properly motivated to do so. Service learning

more authentic and meaningful for my students. I learned

has life long effects on those who participate in it at an early

that by making the learning more meaningful for my students

age. For example, according to Cippole, students who en-

and tying it to their own community, I was able to take an ab-

gaged in service learning during their early schooling years

stract idea and make it more concrete for them therefore

later said that it “impacted their personal growth, values, and

making the lessons and activities more engaging.

identity” (2010, p. 18). This is something that I hope is true for all of my students as well. In addition, I have learned that

I have learned the importance of observation and getting to

service learning has the ability to put every student in the

know each of my students on a more individual basis to gain

class on an even playing field. This ensures that all of the stu-

insight into who that student is as a person and what his or

dents know that their contributions are valued and appreci-

her interests are. I have learned about the importance of in-


quiry as well; through the process of inquiry, educators have


Going forward in my professional career, I can definitely say


that I see myself incorporating the community’s needs into my classroom in any way I can. This service learning project

Billig, S. H. (2011, February). Making the most of your time:

has done wonders for my second grade classroom in such a

Implementing the K-12 service-learning standards for quality

little amount of time, so I can only imagine how much more I

practice. The Prevention Researcher, 18(1), 8-13.

will be able to accomplish with my future students if I were to start it earlier in the school year. As of 2011, only 20% of

Cipolle, S. (2010). Service-learning and social justice: Engag-

elementary schools had classroom teachers that incorpo-

ing students in social change. New York, NY: Rowman & Lit-

rated service learning into their classrooms, so if I am em-

tlefield Publishers.

ployed by a school that doesn’t already practice service learning, I would love the chance to share my passion for

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. (n.d.) Generator

this teaching method (Kielsmiere, 2011, p. 4). I also now real-

School Network Web.https://gsn.nylc.org/clearinghouse.

ize the importance of connecting the curriculum to student interests in general. In 2003, the National Research Council

Kaye, C. (2010). The complete guide to service learning:

conducted a review to show that “students enjoy learning

Proven, practical ways to engage students in civic responsibil-

more, and they learn better, when topics are personally inter-

ity, academic curriculum, & social action (2nd edition). Min-

esting and related to their lives” (Billig, 2011, p. 9). I now

neapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing Inc.

know that this is important in order to make the content more meaningful and valuable to the students, so this is

Kielsmiere, J. (2011, February). Service-learning: The time is

something I will continue to do for the remainder of this year

now. The Prevention Researcher, 18(1), 3-7.

and in the years to come. Stoicovy, D. Personal Communication, February 11, 2015. Whitney, A. Personal Communication, February 16, 2015.


APPENDIX B: Interview Questions

APPENDIX C: Pre-Inquiry Survey

How would you define service learning?

I enjoy coming to school every day.

How does service learning differ from community service?

Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


never What are your personal experiences with service learning? I put a lot of effort into my schoolwork. How do you think service learning benefits the students? Almost always What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered with

Often Sometimes Not often



service learning? I like when the teacher calls on me to answer a question. What are some good resources for service learning that we can access to help guide us along through this inquiry proc-

Almost always



Have you seen differences among primary and intermediate

I like working alone.

Often Sometimes Not often


Often Sometimes Not often


grades when it comes to choosing service learning topics? Do you suggest keeping certain ones within primary or just

Almost always

within intermediate?


Can you give any suggestions on following the fine line be-

I like working in groups.

tween inquiry service learning and it becoming a class project?

Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


never How can we connect these ideas to the academics within the classroom?

I feel comfortable asking a teacher for help if I am confused. Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


never I enjoy Reader’s Workshop. Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


never I enjoy Writer’s Workshop. Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


never I enjoy Math.


Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


APPENDIX D: Inquiry Brainstorm and Partner Writing

never After the read aloud that introduced the idea of shelter aniI enjoy Science.

mals, we had a class discussion about what some possible needs of shelters are. The students worked with a partner to

Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often



come up with things they could do themselves to help a shelter and then shared with the class and added to the list.

I enjoy Social Studies. Almost always

Often Sometimes Not often


never My favorite academic subject is: Reading

writing math science

social studies

It is my favorite subject because My least favorite academic subject is: Reading

writing math science

social studies

It is my favorite subject because


APPENDIX E: Books in PAWS Book Bin

APPENDIX F: Animal of the Day PowerPoint

A Home for Dixie: The True Story of a Rescued Puppy by Emma Jackson A Kid’s Best Friend by Maya Ajmera Cats by Gail Gibbons Daisy Gets Lost by Christopher Raschka Dogs by Gail Gibbons Dogs and Cats by Steve Jenkins Duke, the Dairy Delight Dog by Lisa Campbell Ernst Ginger Jumps by Lisa Campbell Ernst How to Talk to your Dog by Jean Craighead George Lenore Finds a Friend: A True Story form Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Names Baltic by Monica Carnesi Rrralph by Lois Ehlert Rescuing Rover: Saving America’s Dogs by Raymond Bial Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich Trooper by Meg Kearney Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson Where Do Cats Live? By Ron Hirschi Why do Dogs Bark? by Joan Holub Zorro Gets an Outfit by Carter Goodrich


APPENDIX G: Donation Letter to Parents

APPENDIX H: PAWS Donation Graphs

Dear Parents,

Here are some student work examples when we took data on what supplies had been donated to our classroom so far.

Hello! I’m the PDS intern that works with your children each day in the classroom ☺☺ As part of my program, we are required to do an inquiry. This basically means that we pick something that we are questioning within our classroom and then think of some different things to implement and see the effect it has. I have chosen to do service learning to see its effect on the students’ motivation and engagement towards various subjects. Service learning is when a teacher picks something within the community that has needs and incorporates it into the classroom so that the children are learning while also making a difference within their community. Based on observing the students and their interests all year, I have chosen to have our class work with PAWS. My ultimate goal is to increase the students’ attitudes and motivation in various subject areas and towards school in general. In order to do this, I have different plans of tying PAWS needs to our curriculum and having the students work on things within the classroom. One thing that PAWS has stressed to me that they are in need of is donations. If you feel inclined to donate and help out a cause near and dear to our hearts, here are some things I will be collecting: Paper towels,Tissues, Zip lock bags (pint and gallon sizes), Trash bags (13, 33, and 55 gallon sizes), Creamy peanut butter, and Monetary donations Anything you feel comfortable donating would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much in advance for your support while I embark on my inquiry journey! ☺ ☺ Sincerely, Miss O’Donnell


APPENDIX I: Pennies for PAWS Letter to Parents


This is a little blurb that I sent home in the Take Home folders of every primary student. Hello! My name is Katie Lynn O'Donnell and I a PDS intern. I am working on a service-learning project within my classroom, and we have teamed up with Centre County PAWS to do so. We have received permission to collect donations, so we are going to be doing something called “Pennies for PAWS” within the primary classrooms. My students will be placing a container in each classroom for the primary students to bring in any loose change from home that they would like to donate! Anything you feel comfortable donating would be greatly appreciated! Thank you so much in advance for your support! ☺ Sincerely, Miss O’Donnell


APPENDIX L: Writing Graphic Organizer

APPENDIX N: Student Persuasive Writing Rough Draft Pre-Editing Below is the typed version of our persuasive rough draft written by my class. I typed it up exactly as they had verbalized to me, and they used this piece to edit independently and with a partner before coming back whole-group to edit and revise.

dear editor we think that people in community should go to PAWS. First all dogs and cats need home. The pets may be lonely and need someone two play with. When pets have a home, they  may be able to run around freely and get some    exercise. If you go to PAWS, you can adopt dogs and cats. Some cats and dogs there are already trained so you don’t have to worry about them making messes in the house Some of the animals’ adoption fees are already paid for. This is great for families who may not have been able to afford the adoption fees. Even if you don’t want to permanently adopt, PAWS is always loking for foster homes. This will give you a chance to see what it’s like to own a pet. If you can’t take care of your pet, PAWS can help. If you're moving somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, you can bring your pet to PAW and they’ll take good care of them. If you're renting a house and the owners don’t want pets, you can go to PAWS. You should donate money and supplies to PAWS because it’ll help them use the money on the animals. Cats and dogs   need food and chew toys, which costs a lot of money. There are a lot of dogs and cats there that might need some new cages that cost a lot of money. PAWS will need to purchase beds so animels aren’t laying on the hard floor. Some dogs and cats need medications so you should donate money sot hey can get them. Expensive medicines may help sick animals. There are a lot of things you can donate. Bills can get expensive as well so they really need  money. Sincerely: XXX Elementary second grade students


APPENDIX P: Post-Inquiry Survey


5 Fostering Empathy

“This inquiry has shown me that students are not the only ones who are learning within the classroom. I continue to learn as I reflect on this inquiry.” – Ashley Lope

Fostering empathy is crucial in the social and academic development of children. While many schools and teachers understand the important role empathy plays in learning, understanding, and cooperating with others, there is still a great deal to learn about effective empathy education and how it relates to our students’ increasingly multicultural and information-rich world. The authors in this section explore the implications of empathy development for young children. Lope, Renninger, and Harris grappled with the importance of teaching multiple perspectives in their classrooms. While Lope wondered how to broaden her homogeneous students’ perceptions of “community” by partnering with a very different group of 2nd graders in another state, Renninger wondered how to bring together her very diverse group of elementary school students within their own classroom community. Harris, on the other hand, examined if and how her high school students might develop an empathic understanding through reading, writing, and dialogue. These teachers’ inquiries focused on learning from the perspectives of others in order to better know the world, and honoring the knowledge of diverse groups of people. They learned the value of voice, communication, and self-awareness for students’ development, and learned that by focusing on empathetic community in their teaching, they had the power to impact their students as both learners and citizens of the world.

A Classroom without Walls: Extending the Classroom Community in the 21st Century Ashley Lope Ashley Lope has been thrilled to see her inquiry research come full circle! As a student at The Pennsylvania State University, Ashley spent her final year of undergraduate education as an intern for the Professional Development School. It was through this internship that Ashley was able to create a “classroom without walls.” She was determined to connect two classrooms in different grades, from different schools, in different cities, from different walks of life. And, with the help of many, she was able to find a collaborating school in order to accomplish this. Today, Ashley is teaching first grade in the school she collaborated with in her research. She has grown to know this new community and has already begun a similar project with her current students. Ashley is incredibly thankful for her own educators, and stands tall on the shoulders of those who have come before her. She hopes to pay her own experiences forward by continuing her career in elementary education while also furthering her own education. Abstract: As I pondered the significance of community in my

wanted to challenge my students to think of themselves from

students’ lives, I wondered what a classroom without walls

a more global perspective.

would look like. What would the effect on my students be if I concentrated on broadening their perspectives of commu-

The opportunities for this extension seemed endless as I con-

nity from classroom citizens, to global citizens? Through

sidered the wealth of resources that I had access to. I felt

21st century collaboration with a classroom in Virginia, my

this way because community can lie within race, family, or

students in Pennsylvania had the opportunity to interact with

friends. It can lie within a university or location. Perhaps it

a mix of personalities and cultures in a community far differ-

can lie within a cognitive construct. Community can be de-

ent from their own. This journey took us 220 miles away, and

fined as so many things, all coming together to make up who

became the vessel through which encounter, communica-

we are as global citizens. And so, as a learner myself, I

tion, and awareness blended together into memorable mo-

asked, “How can I acquire the knowledge of existing class-


room cultures and communities and get this material to my own students in a relevant and inspiring way?” It was then Introduction

that I thought about my sister’s students in a neighboring state, who exist within a community far different from

Lemont Elementary School in the village of Lemont, Pennsyl-

Lemont. My older sister, Chelsea, who I will refer to several

vania, has a wonderful small-town feel about it; community

times, teaches third grade. I have visited my sister’s school,

runs deep. As a second grade intern at Lemont Elementary

which is right outside of a large metropolitan area and have

School, I quickly discovered that my students certainly felt a

heard plenty of stories that make me wonder, “What makes

part of this supportive community. The school itself is unique

our students similar, and what makes them different? How

to the larger community in that it is small in size and number,

do the two communities impact our children, and create dif-

each year housing approximately 190 Kindergarten through

ferences in educational opportunities?” I wanted my stu-

second grade students, 92% of which are Caucasian

dents to encounter a variety of personalities, backgrounds,

(http://www.publicschoolsk12.com).  As I pondered the sig-

ethnicities, abilities, and attitudes beyond our classroom

nificance of community in my students’ lives, I wondered if

community, and decided that collaboration with my sister

my students saw themselves as classroom citizens of

would be the key to achieving this. As an intern, it did not

Lemont Elementary, but not as global citizens, despite living

take long for me to realize the need to collaborate with other

in an increasingly globally connected world. Community and

teachers throughout my learning journey, just as I expect my

its relationship with education is something I am really pas-

own students to collaborate with one another. Together as

sionate about, and so I was curious to see how I could

teachers, we share the responsibility for teaching our chil-

broaden my students’ perspectives of the world around

dren, and for learning what the best practices are in order to

them in order to see community on a much broader scale. I

do this. And so this idea took my sister and me on a collabo-


rative teaching journey 220 miles apart, where we would

I began first by looking at the community that already existed

have opportunities to empower our students to think criti-

within our classroom. There were several methods that I had

cally about what it means to be a global citizen, and what it

in mind while planning my initial data collection. Because a

looks like to be a part of a community beyond our classroom

great deal of my inquiry would be looking at perspective, I


needed to take into consideration that something as internal as perspective would be very difficult to measure. Therefore,

Therefore, the purpose of my inquiry was to explore what the

this indicated that a great deal of my data would be com-

effects would be on my students if I concentrated on broad-

pleted in the form of interviews, discussions, field and anec-

ening their perspectives of community from classroom citi-

dotal notes, videos, voice recordings, and student work.

zens, to global citizens. How do children’s communities, and their knowledge of other communities, impact their develop-

Before telling my own students about the pen pal exchange,

ment and education? I thought about factors such as cul-

I started to facilitate small group discussions and activities

ture, socioeconomic status, and academics, and wondered if

that would frame my students’ perspectives on community.

these topics of discussion would arise throughout this proc-

The entire class participated in these activities, which in-

ess if I launched a pen pal program between the two commu-

cluded several tasks that required students to write about,

nities. And so, through 21st century collaboration with a

draw about, and talk about their lives in the context of com-

classroom in another state, my students had the opportunity

munity. The data I collected looked at several scales of com-

to engage in written and oral communication with a mix of

munity. Some tasks included questions like, “What is a com-

personalities and cultures in a community far different from

munity? Who exists within your community? If you could

their own, in order to see what discussions and experiences

change one thing about your community, what would it be?”

would arise.

Additionally, the students drew pictures and wrote poems that depicted their lives, both inside and outside of school. Wondering

As a collective whole, these tasks depicted the students’ feelings, connections, wants, and needs as they relate to com-

With this purpose, I wondered:

munity (see Appendix A).

What might the effect on my students be if I concentrate on

In addition to collecting data on my own students’ perspec-

broadening their perspectives of community from classroom

tives of community, the students in our neighbor state also

citizens to global citizens by creating communicative ex-

participated in several of these tasks and discussions with

change with a third grade classroom in a large metropolitan

Chelsea in their own classroom. In order to analyze any differ-

area in a neighboring state?

ences and/or commonalities between the two groups of children, I believed it to be imperative that I observed perspec-


tive from both sides of my inquiry.

To gain insight into my wondering, I began collecting data in

The collaboration between the two communities officially be-

three categories: (1) community, (2) differences and common-

gan when I provided the opportunities for both classrooms

alities between the two groups of children, and (3) communi-

to participate in several of the discussions and activities

cation. These three categories were interdependent as they

about community. My wonderings with these collaborative

each approached my ultimate wondering from a different an-

tasks were centered on how similar and/or different the two

gle. I wanted to see how each of these categories was im-

classroom responses might be, and how I could use these

pacted by the project. Of these three categories, I chose to

responses to inform the ways in which we would carry out

first look at community. In order to share and extend our

communication between the students. Overall, I had antici-

community to the students in the large metropolitan area in

pated that these tasks would reveal a great deal about my

our neighboring state, we first needed to have a grasp on

students, but I knew that I would still need more from them. I

what this community within even was. 

was certainly seeing patterns, and now I needed to continue to dig deeper in order to prepare an appropriate agenda for what would become the “Pen Pal Project.”


As the inquiry process progressed over time, my students

in the classroom with four or five students at a time. Eating

became very familiar with the word “community.” Because of

lunch with groups of students, twice a week, allowed for free

this, I felt that I had enough of a solid grasp on my students’

discussion and sharing time that was not occurring at any

perspectives of community that the communication between

other point in the day. In addition to lunch bunches, I deliber-

the two classrooms could begin. And so, with great enthusi-

ately added more strategies such as Turn and Talk, where

asm, I introduced the Pen Pal Project with my class. I guided

students were communicating more during academic time. I

the class through a group letter, which we emailed to my sis-

also changed the groups in which students worked fre-

ter. Throughout this entire process, I was also recording the

quently. I observed the interactions of students, specifically

students’ comments and reactions to these new encounters.

the students that did not tend to interact much. I was notic-

It was not long before we received a letter in return. After

ing cliques within our community, and I used this inquiry in

that, my students launched the process of exchanging indi-

order to diffuse them and unify the class more. And so, as

vidual letters by generating handwritten letters for individual

we strengthened within, we began to complete projects

pen pals (see, for example, Appendix B). These pen pal part-

aside from handwritten pen pal letters that demonstrated our

nerships were assigned by looking at each student’s writing

growing classroom community.

abilities, and pairing the students up with someone that seemed developmentally appropriate. The students all chose

There were small procedures throughout this inquiry that

a handful of questions to ask their pen pals, most of which

were added to the process in order to deepen the meaning

were determined through small group brainstorming activi-

for my students. For instance, in math, the students com-

ties. Additionally, we talked about the balance between writ-

pleted a map activity, where they looked at three different

ing about ourselves and asking questions about our pen

routes to their pen pals’ elementary school. This data ad-

pals. I used strategies such as this in order to use these mo-

dressed the students’ curiosity about geographic location,

ments to teach life skills about empathy, thoughtfulness, and

and was a great example of how inquiry can be integrated

other admirable traits. During this process, I also observed

into several other aspects of the school day.

and recorded student engagement and motivation. I wanted to gauge how they felt about these encounters. The timing

The way in which we communicate in the 21st century be-

worked out so that I could personally deliver these initial pen

came relevant as we moved past handwritten letters, and

pal letters.

explored several means by which we could communicate with our pen pals. Because community lies at the core of this

Because my inquiry involved two classrooms, it was essen-

inquiry, I decided to create a place capsule with the class.

tial that I became familiar with both classroom communities.

The students were given a box, and asked to fill this box

One month after beginning the inquiry process, I traveled to

with artifacts and symbols of our community. In essence, we

my sister’s school where I spent a day with our pen pals. It

asked ourselves, “If we had to box up our community so that

was during this time that I took field notes on this class, and

our pen pals could learn about it, what would we include?”

interacted with them as they read their letters and wrote

The students brainstormed and helped me collect pictures

back to my own students. This visit took place toward the

and artifacts that were unique to our community. Next, they

beginning of the Pen Pal Project. I took note of their discus-

each wrote about the pictures and artifacts. Additionally, the

sions and reactions, just as I had taken notes in my own

students used iPads to create a virtual tour of Lemont Ele-

classroom, and took several pictures of this environment

mentary. They traveled in groups of four or five around the

(see Appendix C). During my visit, I used this data to seek

school, taking videos and pictures as they narrated the jour-

commonalities as well as differences, as I began to analyze

ney. And finally, they exchanged thoughts through the appli-

what this meant for my wonderings.

cation, KidBlog, as they continued to communicate with one another through an online class blog. Towards the end of my

As we extended our community outwards through the Pen

data collection, the students requested that we Skype with

Pal Project, we also needed to continue to strengthen our

our pen pals.

community within. Therefore, I began interventions within the classroom in order to make this happen. For instance, I used

It was during the inquiry process that my sister was asked to

lunch bunches, which is simply the practice of eating lunch

pilot six iPads in her classroom on behalf of the entire


school. She was hoping to use these iPads in order to en-

point that I knew I needed to make some adjustments with

hance student writing and technology skills. Because of this,

my inquiry.

we decided to use the iPads as much as possible. While my goals were directed more towards social and emotional de-

The beginning stages of my research had a profound impact

velopment, hers were directed more towards writing and

on my findings as well as the process by which I carried out

technology development. This project allowed us to merge

the remainder of my inquiry. With a weekly agenda set in

our teaching goals and assist one another in accomplishing

place from the start, I discovered a major roadblock that

these goals. The communicative exchange occurring be-

took my inquiry in a completely different, yet impactful, direc-

tween the two classrooms had now become much more rele-

tion. While interviewing the students on community, I found

vant to 21st century skills, which was a great asset to the

that they hesitated when asked to define this word. In every

inquiry process.

activity that dealt with community, the majority of the students identified as classroom citizens. They expressed, how-

As my inquiry came full circle, I collected my final data the

ever, that community only existed within their friends groups

same way I collected my initial data. Through voice record-

in school. Additionally, the majority of students defined com-

ings, video interviews, and written responses, I asked the

munity as a physical place. This got me thinking - How will I

students the same questions about community, as we dis-

get my students to share their community with other kids, if

cussed what we were learning through the Pen Pal Project.

they do not even know what, or the depth of which, their

Prompts were given that encouraged students to think about

community is? This led me to my methods of communica-

the differences and commonalities of the two communities.

tion, and how these methods shifted as I responded to the

In order to provide a clear before and after picture of our ac-

needs of my students.

complishments, discussions about community really became the bookends of my inquiry.

As we moved through the inquiry process, I was very surprised each time my students did not recognize the unique-


ness of their own community or lacked enthusiasm towards their pen pals. When we brainstormed artifacts for our place

As a result of analyzing my data, I was able to create three

capsule, for instance, the students had trouble thinking of

claims that reflected my learning. (1) If students are to ex-

specific places and symbols that would represent our com-

tend the classroom community outwards, it first needs to be

munity. They came up with representations that were com-

present - and strong – within; (2) students are more moti-

mon in several communities, rather than specific to our own

vated to learn about their own community when they can

community (see Appendix D). Had they not been exposed to

take pride in sharing it with others through multiple means of

these symbols and places, or did they just lack an apprecia-

communication; and (3) when students are connected to the

tion for them? I needed the students to take pride in their

larger community, they are able to more easily view them-

community before they were capable of sharing this commu-

selves as global citizens.

nity. Therefore, I traveled around town, collecting pictures and brochures. When I brought them in, I handed out the bro-

If students are to extend the classroom community out-

chures and allowed students to read about these places and

wards, it first needs to be present - and strong - within.

look at the pictures. We talked about our experiences with these places, and I watched the students’ enthusiasm rise as

The day to introduce the Pen Pal Project to my students had

they made connections. This took time, but I did not move

arrived, and I was ecstatic to share the news! My sister had

forward with the process until I felt that they were confident

already reported that her students showed great enthusiasm

enough within their own community to be able to share it. I

for this project, and I was looking forward to experiencing

found that, as students became more knowledgeable about

the same enthusiasm from my own students. Their reaction,

their own community, they were more motivated to write to

however, was underwhelming, to say the least. I had twenty

the pen pals. I noticed a sense of pride in my students as

blank stares looking at me as I asked them to help me write

they wrote about their school mascot, their connections to

the first letter. After a moment of silence, one student raised

Penn State, and more. I heard comments like, “I am so glad I

his hand and asked, “Do we have to do this?” It was at this

live here,” and, “I wish our pen pals could taste Creamery ice


cream!” Now, we were ready to move beyond our classroom

skills that were being taught, which was an unexpected, yet


fulfilling, outcome.

Students are more motivated to learn about their own com-

By utilizing several means of communication, be it oral or

munity when they can take pride in sharing it with others

written, the students were demonstrating a deeper sense of

through multiple means of communication.

kindness and caring. They were practicing speaking with details and thorough explanations. And, because they wanted

When the time came to write about our community’s sym-

to make good impressions, they were becoming slight perfec-

bols, places, and attributes, I noticed a change in attitude

tionists with spelling and conventions in their own writing.

from the students. I watched as they wrote in-depth details

The side effects, if you will, of this communicative exchange,

about the artifacts, and asked questions on our blog page

were vast and influential.

such as, “This is how we reward star behavior at Lemont. Do you show star behavior?” or, “This is how we raise money for

When students are connected to the larger community, they

our school. What kind of fundraisers do you have?” Not only

are able to more easily view themselves as global citizens.

were they sharing their community with the students of my sister’s school, but there was an exchange occurring, as

In the beginning stages of this inquiry, the majority of my stu-

well. The students were actively seeking connections with

dents defined community as a physical, and limited, environ-

their pen pals. They voiced that this was important because,

ment. One student went as far to say that a community only

“Our community’s artifacts tell our pen pals about how we

exists within a friend group, including only friends that you

learn, where our parents work, what kind of places we like to

like. However, after multiple exchanges with our pen pals

visit, and what we like to do for fun.” They were establishing

and multiple class discussions, this perspective of commu-

pride as well as ownership in their own community, and they

nity grew larger. During the final stage of student interviews,

achieved this by learning enough about it that they could ex-

one student expressed to me that, “It was so cool that my

plain it to a group of students who were completely unfamil-

pen pal played the same video game as me!” When I asked

iar with the community.

him why, he exclaimed, “I was so surprised! I didn’t even think he would know what it was!” Why my student made

I knew that my students were broadening their communica-

this assumption is unclear. However, the enthusiasm that he

tion skills when my sister received an email from a parent

demonstrated showed me that his community had broad-

that read, “I just wanted to send a quick email to tell you

ened when he was not expecting it to do so. In the book, Re-


thinking Elementary Education (2012), the author states, “When we create writing assignments that call students’

impressed I am with the extra efforts you are taking in your

memories into the classroom, we honor their heritage and

classroom. I have never seen my daughter so excited about

stories as worthy of study,” (Christensen, p. 4). This inquiry

going to school! Normally, getting my children to share de-

gave students the opportunity to not only access, but to

tails about their school day is like pulling teeth. But lately,

share their own community. This quote frames my belief in

[student] has been very animated about sharing details of

the significance of this learning experience. Not only were

the pen pal arrangement you set up with your sister.”

my students’ perspectives broadened and diversified, but also they were also able to take pride in their own commu-

By opening the door to the world a little wider, my students

nity through writing. I wanted my students to meet a group

were communicating more effectively with one another, with

of students, only to find that they have so much in common,

their families, and with their pen pals. I can only imagine how

despite living hours apart. My goal was not be to address

much their communication skills could expand if given more

the differences, but to simply expand the small community in

time to exchange words and ideas with one another. When

which my students reside.

students began to single-out the differences between them and their pen pals, they quickly drew connections, which

As I concluded my work with this project, I collected some

they were very enthusiastic about. I watched as student en-

final inquiry data that was very encouraging as I worked to

gagement and motivation grew much larger. These were life

make my wonderings come full circle. For one thing, the en-


thusiasm that so many of my students expressed when talk-

in a classroom that was very different from our classroom at

ing about their pen pals was so much fun to see. They were

Lemont Elementary School. This school had greater cultural

beaming, leaning far into the conversation, and using expres-

and SES diversity, different school routines, and different

sive language. Their eyes were full of excitement and full of

teacher-student relationships. Even still, as I watched these

pride as they shared their learnings and reflections. I have

students write to my own students, the similarities were as-

recordings of the kids yelling, “My partner is so cool! We

tounding. These students were full of vitality as they read

have so much in common!” when before I was hearing com-

their letters and worked to respond. They focused on the

ments like, “What does a kid so far away have to do with

similarities, which included things like a love for video

me?” Naturally, comments like this spurred on even deeper

games, sports, reading, or the movie Frozen, just to name a

discussions about our similarities and differences. Some stu-


dents acknowledged how their perspectives of community and culture had changed. Some expressed being surprised

I have mentioned that my inquiry had been shifted im-

by how similar they were to their pen pals. For instance,

mensely when I found that, in order to extend our classroom

while writing her first pen pal letter, one student expressed

community outwards, we needed to first have a strong com-

that, because of her pen pal’s apparently unique name, she,

munity within. My inquiry became less pen pal work, and

“probably has black hair,” and, “probably doesn’t have much

more inner-community work. Of course I wanted to do more

in common with me.” This same student later talked about

pen pal work, but the need within our classroom needed to

how similar she felt that she was to her pen pal and, if they

be met first. I am seeing acts of kindness that I was not see-

went to school together, they’d, “probably be best friends.”

ing before. On the playground, I am seeing the social circles

Ultimately, when I sat and compared the group of second

being mixed up, as I have encouraged this in the classroom

graders just a few short months ago, who showed zero reac-

routine. I am seeing a more cohesive group of students who

tion to my introduction to the Pen Pal Project, to that same

actually say, “good morning” to one another and to me.

group of second graders today, who could barely stay

What is most interesting about this is the fact that the out-

seated out of enthusiasm, I was really pleased with the evi-

comes I now have are not at all what I thought I would have

dent shift in perspective and enthusiasm. This was not all,

when I planned out this inquiry.

though. One student went as far to tell me that it was not the distance that created our differences. “We talked about how,

This inquiry has shown me that students are not the only

sure, we have differences because of where we live. But

ones who are learning within the classroom. I continue to

really, the differences we have with kids in a large metropoli-

learn as I reflect on this inquiry, which brings forth future won-

tan area in a neighboring state are differences we can also

derings for my practice. A few future wonderings that I am

have with kids sitting next to us.” I also heard, “We are all

now considering include:

like snowflakes, unique in our own ways. But when you look at a bunch of snowflakes, you’ll find that they have a lot in

What practices can I implement as an educator to better the

common, too.” This is acquiring a more global perspective of

classroom community?

community. What would the impact on my students be if I implemented a full-year Pen Pal Project? Related to this, I am also thinking more deeply about the ways one’s geographical location impacts the resources Conclusion

available to his or her school, as well as his or her development and educational opportunities.

Extending our classroom community beyond our walls took us down unplanned paths and taught us valuable lessons about perspective, student voice, communication, community, and more. Visiting our pen pals, for instance, placed me

Community must be strong within a classroom before it can grow outside of the classroom. As I continue a career in education, I will make sure that a classroom community runs deep enough that my students are willing to share this com-


munity with others. Through this journey, my students en-

Christensen, Linda (2009). Teaching for joy and justice. Mil-

countered people and experiences that they would not have

waukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools.

encountered otherwise. It is my hope that I can continue to allow these types of opportunities and encounters for all my

Cowhey, Mary. (2006). Black ants and buddhists: Thinking

students to come.

critically and teaching differently in the primary grades. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers. Houserville/Lemont Elementary School. (2010, January 1). Retrieved April 17, 2015, from http://publicschoolsk12.com/elementary-schools/pa/centrecounty/422277001357.html Paper clips [Motion picture]. (2006). A-Film Distribution.

References Christensen, Linda. (2012). Rethinking elementary education. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools.

Appendix A:
 Collecting Data on Community in the Context of Student Life (Before Interventions) Examples of Student Work:


My Life in Pictures: What is Community?


Appendix B:
 Excerpts from Student Pen Pal Letters


Appendix C: Photographs from Visit - Seeing Both Sides of Inquiry


Appendix D:
 Brainstorming Representations of Our Community for the Place Capsule


Building Classroom Community Through Multiple Perspectives Rachel Renninger

Rachel Renninger enjoyed co-teaching third grade as an intern at Radio Park Elementary in the State College Area School District. She graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in May 2015 with a degree in Childhood and Early Adolescent Education with a certification in English as a Second Language. After she spent over a month in Ecuador teaching English in a local community, she became very interested in learning about other cultures. Currently, Rachel teaches English to Speakers of Other Languages in Fairfax County, Virginia. Abstract: Being a new student to a school can be very diffi-

feel included, we have an English language learner in our

cult, especially if you do not know the language. Our class

classroom whose mother told us that he had been feeling

has had many experiences with new students, which got me

left out. I was wondering whether giving the class a taste of

wondering about how empathetic the students are to new-

what this student was feeling through role play would encour-

comers to our class. Do they understand how it feels to be a

age them to include him and befriend him more. Since, “one

new student? Will learning about multiple perspectives

way to help a child experience the world from another’s per-

strengthen the classroom community? Through simulations,

spective is through the use of role-play and moral dilem-

read alouds, writing activities, discussions, and role-playing

mas,” (Upright, 2002, p. 17).

activities the students took a look into other people’s perspectives and why perspectives are important.

This inquiry connects to my personal professional goals because I want to be able to create a safe classroom learning


environment for all students, and I wonder if learning about multiple perspectives might positively impact this. Also, I

The readings from my social studies methods class first got

want students to learn about multiple perspectives because I

me interested in teaching and learning about multiple per-

hope it will help them to develop positive relationships and

spectives in the classroom. It introduced me to thinking

problem-solving skills, as well as increase their empathy.

about how books and maps along with other sources can be

Therefore, the purpose of my inquiry is to try and get the stu-

written from multiple perspectives. That class got me think-

dents to understand how it feels to be left out, and what they

ing about how learning about multiple perspectives could

can do to try and include everyone.

impact the students in my third grade classroom. We have students from many different countries, and students that


have joined the class since the start of the school year, so I was wondering what the students thought about how new

With this purpose, I wondered how learning about multiple

students felt. According to Coffen, Fox, & Good (2011), “em-

perspectives through read alouds, class discussions, role

pathy development and learning culturally acceptable social

play and writing activities might affect the peer relationships

skills begins early in life an understanding of different cul-

in a third grade classroom? Can native English-speaking stu-

tures and perspectives must also begin early and the school

dents take on the perspective of an English Language

setting provides an ideal stage” (p. 24).

Learner (ELL)? How will learning about multiple perspectives affect the way new students are treated?

When there was word that we were getting a new student to our class that had previously attended our school, some stu-

Methods and Procedures

dents were visibly upset and worried about the new student coming into our classroom. The new student had previously

To gain insight into my wondering, I gave all twenty-two stu-

exhibited bullying behaviors. I wondered if they learned

dents in my class a pre-survey to see what their thoughts

about how it feels to be a new student, then would they be

about our classroom environment were. Also on the survey

more sympathetic towards the new student, and give him a

were scenarios where I wanted to see how well they could

second chance? Along with trying to make a new student

take another’s perspective and act with kindness. I included


three different scenarios that the lessons were going to

from a new student in the United States back to her Aunt in

touch on, so I could use the survey as evidence to draw from


after the lessons as well. The four questions on the survey included:

For the first lesson focused on bullying and how it feels to be a new student in a school, I first had the students close their


A new student is playing by himself at recess because

eyes and imagine what their first day at our elementary

he does not know anyone. How do you think he feels

school was like. Then, we read the book and the students

and why?

discussed things that they could do or say to make new students feel welcome (See Appendix B for their responses).


Sam sees Jim’s book on the table and picks it up to

After the students had a list of things to say, the students

read. Jim sees Sam reading his book and yells at him.

wrote letters to the new student welcoming him to our class-

What would you do if you were Sam? Why? What

room. All of the students included a welcoming remark and

would you do if you were Jim? Why?

their favorite thing about 3rd grade. After my lesson, I asked the students for a volunteer committee to stay in at recess


Imagine you are a new student in a new school where

and help to make a welcome poster.

people do not speak the same language as you do. How would you feel?

The next lesson that I did was with the book that offered two different perspectives about the same event of a boy getting


Do you feel safe in our class this year? Explain your an-

a puppy. After this read aloud, the students had a great dis-


cussion about how everyone’s opinion is right and everyone’s opinion is never wrong. Then I had the students write

I analyzed these surveys by reading over each student’s pre

down what kind of animal they would want for a pet and

and post survey and noting differences in a spreadsheet (Ap-

why, to help the students understand that everyone may

pendix A). I used these surveys to decide whom to interview

want different animals, but no one is wrong with their opin-

about changes in their thoughts.

ion. This activity was a little difficult to get a lot of data on, but it was more of a precursor to the next story, which uses

The first thing that I did to plan my lessons was to research

four different viewpoints. The data I did collect was what

and consult my mentor about selecting possible read aloud

kind of pet each student wanted, which the students had

books. Heath et al. (2011) states, “sharing carefully selected

written about, and some notes from my internship supervisor

stories provides enjoyable group activities, builds cohesive-

on the lesson and what the students said during the discus-

ness and bystander support, teaches social skills, and in-


creases understanding of others’ viewpoints,” (p. 12). I wanted to include a book on how it feels to be a new student

The next lesson was using the book Voices in the Park

in school to help the students understand what being a new

(Browne, 1998), where there are four different viewpoints on

student feels like. My mentor showed me a book called The

the same event. After reading the story together and discuss-

New Kid by Katie Couric (2000), which illustrated how a new

ing why the author would write a story from four different per-

kid was bullied and left out until one student was kind to

spectives, the students did a writing activity where they de-

him. I was also looking for books that offered multiple per-

scribed how each voice was feeling during their time at the

spectives on a same event that occurred. The books that my

park and then if their feelings changed over the course of

mentor offered me were: A Pup Just for Me: A Boy Just for

their time at the park (Appendix D).

Me (Seeber, 2000), which showed two different perspectives on the same situation, and Voices in the Park (Browne,

The fourth lesson that I did with the students was a simula-

1998), which offered four different perspectives on the same

tion on how it feels to be a student who does not know the

event. Also, I wanted to include a book on an English lan-

language they are taught in. First, the students listened to a

guage learner, because I hoped that it would offer some in-

Tumblebook, which is an online e-book, out loud in Spanish.

sight to how that feels. I researched and found a book called

There was a murmur of confusion among the students. After

The Quiet Place (Stewart, 2012), which is written as letters

the book, I asked two students who speak Spanish to give


the class directions in Spanish to take a quiz, which was also

my mentor and supervisor about how the lessons went, and

in Spanish. Then the students and I had a discussion about

they added their input on what the students got out of the

how it felt not knowing what was going on in the lesson, and


what they could do and say to make ELL students feel more welcomed and included into the classroom. Afterwards, I

I analyzed the Voices in the Park (Browne, 1998) papers by

read a few pages of the book The Quiet Place (Stewart,

reading over them to see if the students wrote down an accu-

2012) aloud to the students, which is about an ELL student

rate feeling of each character and if the character’s feelings

coming to America, written in letter format. Finally, after read-

changed and why (Appendix D). If they had accurate feelings

ing the book character’s letters, I had the students write

of the characters then I took that to mean that the students

emails to me imagining that they had moved to Mexico, and

could take on the different perspectives of the characters. I

what it would be like at their new school. The students also

analyzed the two new students’ answers to what other stu-

reflected on the lesson in their emails (Appendix C).

dents did to welcome them by placing them in a chart to compare how each student was welcomed (Appendix E). I

For the final lesson, I was originally planning on doing a de-

wondered if one student had experienced more welcoming

bate where the students had to defend the opposite view-

behavior compared to the other student. I analyzed the

point than their own. But, after seeing the students’ choices

emails by tallying how many times students wrote about be-

of who they wanted to sit with when we changed seats, my

ing sad, lonely, and frustrated. In another row I tallied if they

mentor and I noticed that no one put down our ELL’s name.

mentioned that they did not understand. The third row I tal-

This troubling fact caused the lesson to go another direction;

lied if they mentioned having a hard time making friends. In

for the final read aloud, I found a book called The Invisible

the final row I tallied if the students made a connection to the

Boy by Trudy Ludwig (2013), which is about a boy that feels

ELL in our school (Appendix H).

left out because no one includes him. Seeing that our ELL felt this way, I decided that this book was perfect and I

Learning Statements

started to make a lesson on kindness. After reading the read aloud to the students, I showed them a video on kindness (A

As a result of analyzing my data, three important things I

Better World, 2013) and how it can “color our world.” Then

learned include:

the students were assigned to make their own video and video script on showing kindness with the scenarios that I gave them. I thought it would be important for the students to actually get practice doing kind things instead of just talk-

• Having a lesson on what it feels like to be a new student will help students to be welcoming when a new student arrives.

ing about them. They proved to me that they could talk about kindness, but I wanted to see if the message really stuck.

• The lesson on English language learners can help students understand how it feels to go to a school where you do not know the language.

After all of the lessons, I interviewed each of the students to find which read aloud they thought was the most helpful when learning about perspectives and kindness and why

• Read aloud books can help students understand how others are feeling in the classroom.

they thought it was helpful. I analyzed this data by tallying which book they found the most helpful and then took that

Learning Statement #1

to mean that the students learned a lot from the book and they think it is an important lesson. I also used this opportu-

From my inquiry, I have found that having a lesson on what it

nity to interview specific students on their surveys. Another

feels like to be a new student can help students to be more

piece of data I collected was written reflections on each les-

welcoming and inclusive when a new student arrives. In our

son where I wrote about how the lessons went and how I

classroom this year we have had two new students join us

could improve them. I also have notes from the discussions

during the school year. One student (Student A) came before

that we had, and pictures of the charts that we made during

my inquiry began and Student B came during the inquiry. Stu-

our discussions. Along with these data I also reflected with


dent B was the child that some other peers in the classroom

who spoke Spanish knew what was going on while everyone

were worried about. I interviewed both students and asked

else did not. He thought that I had taken it too far, even

how welcomed they felt when they first arrived in our class-

though it was only for about five minutes. When the class

room and what other students did to make them feel wel-

was saying that it was unfair, I brought up the point that Eng-

comed and included. I found that Student B felt more wel-

lish language learners feel this way every day, and the class

comed than Student A, because he reported more welcom-

got quiet. I think that this was the “Ah-ha” moment for the

ing behavior including, other students inviting him to sit with

students to realize how unfair it was to ELL students to have

them at lunch, playing with them at recess, making him wel-

to speak and do schoolwork in English. After this lesson, and

come cards and signs, and showing him where things were

the lesson on kindness, a student asked for our ELL’s phone

and how things worked in the classroom and school (Appen-

number to invite him to his birthday party. This shows that

dix B & Appendix E).

the student was trying to include our ELL student.

Another piece of evidence that led me to this conclusion was

Another piece of evidence I collected was the emails that the

from my reflective journals. During the lesson, I was very sur-

students sent to me telling me about how it would feel to go

prised to find that 15 out of 22 students were willing to give

to school in Mexico (Appendix C). One student said in her

up their recess to help make the welcome poster. Some stu-

email, “I feel frustrated and I feel like I can do nothing.” Many

dents who were not chosen for the committee even decided

students talked about how frustrated they felt because they

to make their own welcome poster in their spare time during

could not answer questions in a language that they did not

the school day. When our new student arrived to our class,

understand (Appendix H). Another student said that he now

many students went over to say, “hi,” or introduce them-

knows what other new kids who are new to our language

selves. Students were showing him where to put his things

feel like, like the student in our class. Many students in-

and seemed excited to meet him. When working with part-

cluded how they felt sad, lonely, and confused because they

ners, many students were willing to be his partner. Overall,

did not know the language so they had a hard time making

my mentor and I were impressed with how well the students


welcomed and included the new student into our classroom. A third piece of evidence that I collected was the pre- and A final piece of evidence I have is from the student inter-

post-surveys (Appendix A & Appendix F). The third question

views about which read aloud book they felt was the most

dealt with how it would feel to be at a new school where you

helpful. Seven of the students found the book The Brand

do not speak the language. This question had the most no-

New Kid (Couric, 2000) to be the most helpful book when

ticeable changes from the pre-survey to the post-survey. In

learning about perspectives and kindness. This shows that a

the post-survey the students added more description to their

good amount of the students found this book to help them

answers using many more details and stronger words. They

or others understand what it feels like to be a new student.

also included more personal responses, such as referring to the lesson and how it made them feel. For example, on the

Learning Statement #2

pre-survey a student said, “Scared and I would feel like I wasn’t learning at all.” On the post-survey he stated, “I feel

The second thing that I learned from my inquiry was that the

sad, mad, angry, lonely, because everyone would probably

lesson on how it feels to be an ELL student helped my stu-

be not answering me when I would ask a question. I would

dents understand what it feels like to not know the language

be sad because I would be the only one not done with any-

in school. During the lesson when I gave students the quiz

thing because I could not understand at all.” Many students

written in Spanish and two of the students were giving direc-

also included their fear or frustration about being unable to

tions in Spanish, the students got very frustrated and started

answer questions in another language.

to speak out. “How are we supposed to do this?” “This isn’t fair!” These phrases were heard throughout the classroom, and some students just wrote big question marks all over the paper. One student got so upset that he started to cry. One

Learning Statement #3

student thought that it was unfair that two of the students


The third thing that I learned from this inquiry was that read

Through this inquiry, I have learned that the students in my

alouds can help students understand how others are feeling.

class are very capable of being kind to others. This inquiry

For example, in my read aloud lesson on the book Voices in

was a good reminder to the students of how to treat others

the Park (Browne, 1998), I collected data where the students

with kindness. Reminders are helpful for everyone, and now I

identified and discussed how each of the four characters felt

know that they are all more aware of acting with kindness

during their time at the park and if they changed over that

towards others. As I go on in my teaching career, I will re-

time. All of the students were able to identify how each char-

member that everyone needs reminders, including reminders

acter was feeling in their writing. Having the students write

about being kind towards others.

about each of the four characters shows that they comprehend what the characters are feeling (Appendix D).

I have also learned many things about my own teaching. The first thing that I learned about my teaching with the help of

Another example is when we did the lesson on The Invisible

my mentor teacher is how to plan and create lessons that

Boy (Ludwig, 2013), where the students made up their own

are engaging for my students. I found books that were re-

skits on kindness based off on scenarios that I gave them.

lated to what I wanted to talk about and then tried to find ac-

These skits showed that the students were able to take the

tivities that the students would enjoy, for example, writing

role of someone else and solve problems with kind solutions.

emails to me. In the future, I will remember to try my best to

One scenario, which was similar to the story, had a situation

use my students’ interests to make my lessons more engag-

where a few students were talking about a birthday party at

ing. Another thing that I learned about my teaching is how to

lunch but one student was not invited. The students solved

lead discussions. At the beginning of my inquiry one of my

the problem by saying, “Don’t talk about that now, not every-

goals included facilitating student discussion more effec-

one was invited so now is not a good time.” This shows that

tively, and I feel that I got some practice with this. After

the students used the lesson from the read aloud to under-

weeks of inquiry, I think that I am improving when facilitating

stand how being left out of a conversation can feel.

discussions with the whole class, but I will continue to work on it. A third thing that reinforced my learning from earlier

My third piece of evidence that shows that read alouds can

this year showed just how powerful read alouds in the class-

help students understand how others are feeling is the sur-

room can be. In the future, I want to find and use read

veys (Appendix A & Appendix G). From the surveys I found

alouds to discuss tough situations with my class because I

that the students used more descriptive language during the

feel that it helps students understand the situation better and

post-survey compared to the pre-survey. They also used

be able to start a discussion in a safe place.

more details with stronger words than the previous survey. For example, one student said, “He feels very sad that know

A change that I would make in my inquiry would be to add

one wants to play with him,” for her pre-survey. For her post-

more role-playing activities because I think that acting and

survey she wrote, “He or she feels like she is left out be-

doing skits gives students more practice being kind rather

cause she or he feels invisible like nobody knows he’s

than just having a discussion. New wonderings that I now

there.” Also, the students started to use the first person

have include:

point of view on the post-survey compared to using the third person point of view on the pre-survey, which shows that the

• What activities help the inclusion of ELL students?

students are stepping into others’ shoes. For example, one student wrote on her pre-survey, “He probably feels lonely and sad because he is all by himself and he has no one to

• How can I more effectively use read alouds in my classroom to discuss difficult situations?

play with.” For her post-survey she stated, “I think he feels really lonely because no one is playing with him. I would feel

To continue my inquiry, I am reading the book The One and

like no one cares about me so they don’t play with me.”

Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2001) and I plan on having the students write Tweets to post on our class Twitter page from different characters’ perspectives. In my future classrooms, I am hoping to continue inquiry involving student kind-



ness and perspective taking to help improve the classroom


community. A Better World. (2013, Nov. 9). Color your world with kindness. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwelE8yyY0U Browne, A. (1998). Voices in the park. New York, NY: DK Publishing. Coffen, R., Fox, J., & Good, J.S. (2011). Fostering the development of empathy in the classroom: A strategic response to the problem of bullying. Teaching and Professional Practice, 5(1), 24-30. Couric, K. (2000). The brand new kid. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Heath, M. A., Moulton, E., Dyches, T. T., Prater, M. A., & Brown, A. (2011). Strengthening Elementary School Bully Prevention with Bibliotherapy. Bethesda: Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/872165573?accountid= 13158 Ludwig, T. (2013). The invisible boy. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books. Seeber, D. (2000). A pup just for me: A boy just for me. New York, NY: Philomel Books. Stewart, S. (2012). The quiet place. New York, NY: Margaret Ferguson Books Upright, R. L. (2002). To tell a tale: The use of moral dilemmas to increase empathy in the elementary school child. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(1), 15-20. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1016585713774


Appendix A:

Appendix B:

This is the survey data that I collected that shows the difference in the students’ answers from the pre-survey to the post-survey.


Appendix C:


Appendix D:

Appendix E:


Appendix F:


Appendix G:

Appendix H:


Breaking it Down to Build it Up: Exploring Empathy in the English Classroom Jessi Harris Abstract: Is empathy teachable? Hearing someone share

sixteen-year-old black youth who is on trial for his life. The

her story might be the closest thing we have to “walking

story takes place in Manhattan and Harlem, New York City,

around in her shoes.” Students being able to identify with

mostly in a city lockup, but sometimes in the neighborhood

the storytellers who are seemingly “different” from them

where Steve Harmon lives. Because the book offers com-

could foster a breaking down of cultural barriers and the

mentary of its own about the judicial process for minorities,

building up of empathic understanding. This inquiry paper

we thought it apropos to begin the year reading it.

examines if and how students can develop this empathic understanding through reading, writing, and dialoguing.

As I looked at State High’s demographics, it was quite clear that the “relatability” factor between the State High students


and the Steve Harmon had a chance of being very low to non-existent. About eighty-six percent of students are white,

Class Demographics

non-minority, mid- to upper-middle clas. Not to mention, the school itself is settled in central suburbia, PA – a place with

My two featured English 10 classes consist of thirty-four stu-

the nickname “Happy Valley”. Needless to say, these kiddos

dents and have English-Language Arts instruction for forty-

have little to no first-hand understanding of youth criminal

seven minutes each day. There are two tenth-grade ELA

activity in general, let alone felony murders. However, it is a

courses taught at State High: Advanced English 10 and

very real issue, oftentimes with racial implications.

“Regular” English 10. Students who are “lower-level learners” are grouped into the “Regular” English 10 classes. These classes are referred to as CTI classes, or Collaborative Teaching Initiative classes. CTI classes are comprised of a careful mix of learning support and regular education students, and of which require two teachers at all times in the classroom, in an effort to fully meet all students’ needs. My sixth period class is a CTI class consisting of eleven students, only one being female; my eighth period class consists of twenty-three students, only six being female. Getting to My inquiry Question Pre-reading Activities At the start of the 2014-15 school year, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri was the number-one-

To prepare for the Monster unit, I created an anticipation

covered news story, and a major focus of many conversa-

sheet called “PRIVILEGE”, which I adapted from Peggy McIn-

tions. The events surrounding the Ferguson case brought on

tosh’s 1988 publication “White Privilege: Unpacking the In-

a nation-wide conversation about race and social inequity in

visible Knapsack”. From this essay, I used the following


twelve questions:

When my mentor and I began discussing texts we would be

covering over the course of the year, we came to an agree-

people of my race most of the time.


I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of

ment that our first unit text would be Monster by Walter Dead Myers. In this story, the protagonist is Steve Harmon, a



Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I

can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance that I am financially reliable.


I can think over many options, social, political,

imaginative, or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.


I can do well in a challenging situation without

being called a credit to my race.


I can be sure that if I need legal or medical

help, my race will not work against me.


I can be fairly sure of having my voice heard in

a group in which I am the only member of my race.

With these questions, I had my students put themselves in four individual perspectives – White Teen, White Adult, Black Teen, and Black Adult. From these perspectives, they had to answer the aforementioned questions by writing a “Y” for


I can go shopping alone most of the time, fairly

“Yes” and an “N” for “No”. While explaining the directions to

well-assured that I will no be followed or harassed by store

my eighth period students, I overheard several students say-


ing that the survey was “racist” or “so racial”. Although I was not prepared for this reaction, I was pleased that I had the opportunity to have a discussion about why they thought asking these questions would be offensive, and to whom the


I can turn on the TV, or open to the front page

would be offensive.

of the paper, and see people of my race widely, and positively, represented.


I am never asked to speak for all the people of

my racial group.


If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I

haven't been singled out because of my race. Example Completed Survey


I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture

books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race.

In this completed survey sheet, the student indicated, in almost all cases, he could answer “Yes”, except for Statement


I can go home from most meetings of organiza-

#7, where he marked an “N” indicating that all individuals

tions I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than iso-

have to speak for their respective racial groups. He also

lated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a dis-

marked an “S” to indicate “Sometimes” when it came to

tance, or feared.

situations regarding shopping without being harassed as a


White Teen, Black Teen, and Black Adult, and when doing

black or white – has to experience the burden of speaking

challenging tasks without it being a credit to a Black Teen’s

up for all the people of his/her racial group. Most of the dis-


cussion, however, centered upon this very noticeable disparity among the responses for Statement #8. As shown, the

After gathering all the data from all English 10 students, I

students signified that both Adult and Teen Black would

highlighted significant points of interest and shared them

worry they were being singled out if a police officer pulled

with the class. As we looked at the results together, I opened

them over, but that neither the Adult nor the Teen White per-

the class up for discussion, asking them what they found in-

son would have to concern themselves with this matter. With

teresting or not surprising.

this exercise, I assessed that the students were able to  consider other perspectives, and perhaps even imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s situation. The second pre-reading activity I created was a whole-class “Agree or Disagree” discussion using a Google Slides presentation. I prepared four statements regarding justice, education, power, and familial background of “people in this country.”

I gave the students four different colored squares of paper where on them was written either “SD”, “D”, “A”, or “SA” representing “Strongly Disagree”, “Disagree”, “Agree”, or “Strongly Agree”, respectively. When I would display a statement, the students would hold one of the squares up to indicate their level of agreement with the statement in consideration.

As shown above, Statements #7 and #8 were two distinct points of interest for the students, as were they for me. However, these two data points were singled out for different reasons. Regarding Statement #7, one can assume that the students understand it to be true that neither adult nor teen –


The Inquiry Question As I ruminated about these discussions, and as I thought about the other texts we would be visiting throughout the year, I realized that many of the stories explored issues that none of my students would be able to relate to, like my own unit on Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir Night. As I thought about the Monster unit and the discussions that arose from it, I tried to think about a common thread that would help me explore the teaching of differences in race, religion, culture, lifestyle, gender, and anything else that would be considered the “other” to these students. I realized then that what I was trying to do was get my students to not only see different perspectives of the world, outside their “bubble”, but to actually understand the how and why of those perspectives. Why do people make the choices they make? Why do we have events like Ferguson? The Holocaust? Apartheid? Digging Once a rough tally was taken, I would initiate dialogue

within myself, looking at my own beliefs and assumptions,

amongst the students by asking for explanations for their re-

and trying to answer these questions myself, I realized that

sponses. During these prompted discussions, I heard several

the thing I was talking about – the common thread – was

things that intrigued me. I heard: “I think everyone has the

“empathy”. All teachers go into their classrooms with their

same opportunities. If you work hard, you can be success-

suitcases full of their own personal experiences, beliefs, and

ful,” and  “Compared to other countries, I think our country

assumptions. This suitcase of lifelong material will show

gives everyone a good education,” and “Yes, most people in

through every lesson that teacher plans and executes. From

jail are bad people who come from bad families.” I also

this, I was able to unpack my own beliefs and assumptions,

heard some derogatory remarks, such as “It’s all those Mexi-

which was that these viralized** and televised tragedies –

cans [in jail].”

from Ferguson to ISIS to Charlie Hebdo – stem from hatred or misunderstanding caused by a lack of genuine empathic

In this eighth period class, I have two African-American stu-

understanding. It is with my own suitcase that I was brought

dents who are both transfers from other schools, one male

to this hypothesis: by reading, writing, and dialoguing with

student from Brooklyn, Shawn*; one female student from

others, one develops empathy; with the development of em-

New Orleans, Jane*. Because these two students had other

pathy, one is able to gain a better understanding of cultures

experiences, they were able to offer a different voice. Jane

and realities outside of their own and be more inclined to

spoke up when a debate was happening about whether or

concern themselves with those differences in positive and

not everyone in this country has access to a good education.

productive ways. To put it simply, empathy is the pathway to

“Where I’m from, the schools are not good at all,” she said.

a more peaceful world, where people are able to be critically

“It’s nothing like it is here. We’re lucky if we have actual text-

aware of the reality of not just themselves, but everyone.

books.” When I observed the reactions from the students, which changed to a quiet, subdued state, as if something had just been discovered, I realized how important that moment was. Because I created a space in which the students had a voice, and because that one student with a different reality of the way the world works chose to use her voice, the class was able to take a step outside what they had once known to be true and step closer towards an alternate truth; thus, understanding was born.

From my reflection, I developed this inquiry question(s): Can empathy be developed and/or fostered within students in our English classes; Can we “teach” empathy through read-


ing and writing? Is there a way that I could get my students

ing empathy in our students to ensure a more compassion-

to empathize with an African-American teenage boy who

ate society, one in which we share, listen, and put value in

may or may not have been involved in a felony murder? Or a

each others’ experiences. If there is ever an urgent time for

Jewish Holocaust prisoner who had lost his entire family in a

this, it is now.

concentration camp? Could I really find a way to make them understand the “other”?

What Can I Do to Promote the Development of Empathy?

Connections to Citizenship and Social Justice

Developing empathy takes practice, like anything else. As an English teacher, I find it my duty to figure out how to facilitate

President Obama’s “empathy standard.”

this empathic “exercising”. The task of facilitating the development of empathy in the English classroom, however, will

Faced with his first nomination to the Supreme Court in

certainly involve more than just handing out a book and hop-

2009, President Obama offered his personal litmus test for

ing something “sticks”. This process involves careful plan-

judicial nominees, now commonly known as the “empathy

ning, an establishment of a comfortable environment, and a

standard”. Obama announced:

certain level of rapport and modeling with students.

“I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't

Choosing books.

about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of peo-

What a teacher assigns young minds to read will play a big

ple's lives … I view that quality of empathy, of understanding

role in the success of empathy development. Attempting to

and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an es-

empathize with one whose experiences and backgrounds

sential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and out-

are similar to our own would not be as ambitious as would


attempting to do so with another whose life is very distinct from our own. That is to say, it is important to offer books

In dealing with this very important decision, Obama had to

where the story challenges the reader and forces him or her

consider an entire nation and its people’s many individual

to critically analyze human emotion, motivation, thought, and

needs. This is quite similar to the process I engaged in while

behavior. Rather than reaching for books where we are

thinking about my purpose as a teacher. Obama and I share

merely looking into a mirror, seeing only ourselves in the char-

the principle that in order to be fair, in order to be aware and

acters, we ought to reach for the ones where we are stand-

anticipate the needs of others, it is necessary to possess this

ing outside ourselves, looking out at an unfamiliar world

one quality. My goal as a teacher above anything else is to

through someone else’s eyes. State High is fortunately on

develop this skill in others, because I truly believe it has the

board with this concept. Just a few years ago, the English

most value when it comes to one’s virtues.

Department implemented several multi-cultural options into their curricular Reading List. Among those are Persepolis,

Empathy is foundational when it comes to embracing differ-

American Born Chinese, Things Fall Apart, and The Color of

ences, standing up for one’s self and others, gaining a wid-


ened perspective, and communicating more effectively. Empathy is an essential ingredient to building meaningful, suc-

My Unit

cessful relationships – on both small and large scales. Empathy is the cornerstone of language and literature; it is not

One of the responsibilities of an intern is to plan and execute

only important to learn how to express one’s own thoughts

an entire unit from one of the Common Core aligned novel/

and experiences effectively so others will understand, but it

memoir selections. My mentor and I decided that I would be

is equally as important – if not more so – to learn how to ef-

responsible for Night, Elie Wiesel’s harrowing account of his

fectively understand others’ thoughts and experiences, as

experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz during WWII. Elie is

well. Moreover, empathy is a lot like a muscle, it gets

fifteen turning sixteen during the time recounted in the mem-

stronger the more you work it. We should focus on develop-


oir, so I knew the students would be able to have that to re-

gle Docs, all the while modeling my own ability to empathize

late with him, if nothing else.

with them.  

Essential Questions

When it came time to discuss the corresponding reading assignment, the students were then well prepared to talk about

For this unit, I considered both the important takeaways of

and compare their own thoughts and experiences with those

this memoir and the possible ways n which I could facilitate

of Elie’s. In these discussions, it was common to hear a stu-

development of empathy. Prior to assigning readings, I

dent they felt differently about the experiences or beliefs

asked the students to first consider these essential ques-

they wrote about after reading the assigned section.

tions: 1.

What causes others to remain silent and indifferent to the suffering of others?


What are the causes of racism, prejudice, and stereotyping in society? With this first Journal Entry, students were to imagine an ex-


What prompts action or inaction when a group’s rights

perience in which they had to quickly choose the items they

are being denied or infringed upon?

would take with him in the event that they were forced to leave their homes with only a backpack and anything that


How do these texts reveal truths about human nature?

would fit inside.


How do people survive under and cope with forced

Student A Response:

hostile conditions? 6.

How can life events lead us to question our underlying beliefs and morals?

As one can gather from these questions, they all are probing the students to put themselves in a position consider motivations of others. This was a deliberate move on my part, because I wanted the theme of perspective to be a constant throughout this entire unit. Writing Prompts

Here is an example of a common response I got from this

Before assigning each reading, I would assign a journal entry

to survive in the wild, as if they were just going on a camping

for the students to complete. The prompts I created for these journals corresponded directly to the next due reading assignment. My purpose in doing this was to initiate selfexamination of one’s beliefs, values, and personal experiences. It is important for one to evaluate and understand herself before she can understand and begin to empathize with another person. In addition, these journals would act as the highway to gaining rapport and trust with the students; I made comments and left feedback on their journals via Goo-

question. Many students answered it as if they would have trip. It is a very practical response for someone who does not know why or where they are going. Of course, after reading the first section of Night, students were able to look back on their entries and think about how different, perhaps, their choices in items may have been different. Had I not assigned this activity, and assigned it prior to assigning the correlating reading section, the students would not have considered as thoroughly this first experience Elie shares with us in his story. They were able to understand their own reactions and


then actively re-consider it after being walked through some-

his own idea about lying. At first he admits he does not think

one else’s experience.

it is okay to lie, but then quickly contradicts himself in a way when he shares hia opinion that maybe “we do not always have a choice”, which I took to mean that maybe he thinks there exists certain situations where it would be impossible not to lie. This journal entry possesses two distinct characteristics of empathy: evaluating one’s beliefs and experiences and actively taking the perspective of another person and reevaluating those beliefs. Student C Response:

In this latter Journal Entry Assignment, I gave the students two options. In the first option (A), I asked the students to evaluate a specific decision that Elie had to make. This journal entry assignment was one in which was asked post correlating reading assignment. I wanted to begin evaluating and comparing pre- and post-reading assignment journal responses. Student B Response:

In this entry from Student B, I highlighted in red the areas in which the student was expressing his opinion about Elie’s actual decision, and in blue the areas where the student was actively putting himself in the perspective of Elie. In this journal entry, a reader can observe the students “limboing” between his own established belief and the potential new belief. A reader can actually observe the student’s struggle with



These specific neurons fire in the brain when both and action is performed and when an action is being observed or witnessed.

White Children’s Attitude Toward African-American

Children White children’s attitudes toward African-Americans changed after reading. After reading stories with multiethnic characters, white second graders’ attitudes toward African-American students had markedly improved  (Litcher and Johnson, 1969). Alsup notes that there are dozens of studies that show a connection between reading stories and the development of morality or empathy. Jurecic – “Empathy and the Critic” Ann Jurecic’s  article “Empathy and the Critic” speaks not only of the importance of the ability to empathize, but also wther or not we can develop it through literature. She states, “Teachers of literature, including medical humanists, claim that reading will nurture empathy, making college students and medical practitioners more humane.” Jurecic concurs that the widespread assumption that empathy can be taught through books seems reasonable, but emphasizes that it can be “fairly simplistic” and “antiintellectual”.   Opposing views on empathy affirm the social and political value of literature and criticism at a time when their status is diminishing both in the academy and in society at large. Unanswered Questions What do experts say?

After my unit, and after considering all of the approaches to facilitating the developing empathy, I am left with new ques-

Alsup – “Teaching Literature in an Age of Text Complex-

tions to think about. My first question is this: How can I/we


measure empathy? Or, in other words, is there a way to

know that empathic development or growth has taken “Mirror Neurons”

Mirror neurons in the brain show evidence of empathy after reading stories

place? I think, moving forward, it would be important implement a follow-up survey with the students to see if they, themselves, believe they have grown in any way from this unit.


My second lingering question is: Will the student(s) be better


able to identify with others once s/he leaves this classroom? The only possible way to get an answer to this question

Alsup, Janet. "Teaching literature in an age of text complex-

would be to have a semi-longitudinal study of the students,

ity." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 57.3 (2013): 181-

but that simply would not be practical, especially because I


do not think their ability to empathize lives and dies in my classroom alone. As I stated before, it is a skill that one must hone and actively exercise. The question still remains, however, did these practices make a difference?

Jurecic, Ann. "Empathy and the Critic." College English (2011): 10-27. McIntosh, Peggy. "White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Excerpt from White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of coming to see Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies." Wellesley College Center for Research on Women (1988). Wallace, David Foster. This is water: Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life. Hachette UK, 2009.