Recruiting Engagement and Establishing Expectations So That Kids Actually Read- Even When Classrooms Brim With Resistance

Cornelius Minor took us to the church (Riverside Church) during his session titled “Recruiting Engagement and Establishing Expectations So That Kids Actually Read- Even When Classrooms Brim With Resistance”.  He opened up his session with an interesting combination: being good natured and being real.  Basically he said we will be focusing on the kids that want to be there but don’t easily engage.  

Engagement is not just about amusement or being fun, it is about trying something that is difficult and when you fail, having the energy to keep trying.  During his session he demonstrated multiple ways to engage the learners (in this case, us).  The following is a list of ways he engaged us throughout his dynamic presentation:

  • High Five to signal that partners are ready to work
  • AB Partners- each having a different focus/ building energy
  • Infusing humor into partnership focusing on arguments by saying “In my neighborhood we call it protect my turf.”  
  • Choice- we chose the topics to talk about and the skill to focus on (give the audience what they want)
  • Being a storyteller (ushered us into his teaching day)
  • Being relatable (talked about his experience-we are a community)
  • Personalizing instruction by bringing the kids into his life through storytelling (I care about my students)
  • Giving them an out (I’m not perfect.  If you can’t work with your partner write me a one page note on why…No one ever wrote a note)

Cornelius broke engagement down into three vehicles:

  1. Books being used (thinking about our audience). He recommended that when planning  read aloud, it’s important to select books that appeal to the interests or students. We should have the “coolest books around” and always be asking the question, “What do they love?”  This made us think about Steven Lane – In Defense of Read Aloud where he stresses the importance of accessing a variety of genres so that read aloud is accessible to all students’ likes.  Maybe Science Fiction is not a teacher’s favorite – student in the classroom may be longing for it – so… it’s got to be part of the offering if engagement is the goal.  He also shared an interesting way  to create text sets which put the students in charge of the work.  A SWAT    team is formed that includes: a bossy girl (the executive who organizes the text), the early kid (finds the text), the expert (knows how to think about a topic) and the class diplomate (keeps the team at peace).  This team will identify topics that interest the class, locate the text and organize them into text sets to increase the classroom library.
  2. Explicit Teaching (clear and demonstrative) Cornelius reminded us that “Teaching does not make kids better…practice makes them better.”  It is our job as teachers to be explicit when teaching our students.  A skill is something that matures over time. Strategies are meant to be outgrown- as we evolve in our functioning at any given skill.  He brought us through an activity focusing on the skill of inference using a short narrative poetry from:  Teen Inc.  This a great free resource for teachers it’s worth taking some time to look through.  Explicit teaching means not just naming the strategy but a brief stepwise method for engaging the strategy,  This is something we believe and have been focusing on for a long time- but it was great to have confirmation of our work.
  3. Talk (books are social) When teaching talk, you have to have a partner.  Partners need to have clear expectations and temporal boundaries.  He went into setting up partnerships for talking by discussing this idea of Partnership Day.  The thing that makes the talk meaningful is the ritual teachers create around partnerships.

To learn more from  Cornelius Minor check out his blog:  Kass & Corn or follow him on @twitter – @MisterMinor .  He is doing really important work and is a source of inspiration for us all.

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