This week I took a detour into Professional Development reading with the book 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. And if my pictures are any indication, you can see that I found this book full of wonderful insights and ideas that I will be trying in the upcoming school year.
Gallageher and Kittle spent a year mapping, planning, and teaching to better discover and share the decisions they make during a school year in regards to their teaching. I consider both teachers to be two of the best English teachers around, and I knew that I would find many useful things in their book and was not disappointed. The one topic that they discuss is how they get everything they need done in a year; the simple answer is…they don’t. Which is why they make sure that they prioritize what they will be teaching, what will make the biggest impacts on the students and their learning.
They start the book by discussing their beliefs. One of the first quotes that I came across that really struck me was when they wrote, “A year of filling time is focused on lessons. A year of spending time is focused on students” (Gallagher and Kittle 3-4). They explain how they focus each year on the students that are coming into their classes; what THOSE students need. As they mention, too often English classrooms are not a place where students are actively engaged, and they should be. Another of their principle ideas is that they believe in grading less and assessing more. I think that a lot of times as teachers, we get stuck on the fact that we need to have grades, therefore the assessing portion gets thrown to the wayside. But students need to feel like they have a safe place to try new things, somewhere where they are not going to be judged on every thing they do, a place where they can make mistakes and by being allowed to make those mistakes can grow stronger in the process.
The book then goes into how they structured their year by establishing daily practice routines, how they mapped out their year of reading and writing instruction, and finally how to balance feedback and evaluation. Each of these chapters show the reader the decision-making process that took place during the year from the beginning of the planning, to the middle, and finally to the end. They not only discuss their successes during the planning and lessons, but they also discuss any failures that may have occurred. It was interesting to see how these two teachers adapted their planning schedules to meet their own schools’ schedules: Gallageher teaches in Anaheim, CA and has 53 minute periods daily while Kittle teaches in New Hampshire and her classes consist of 80 minutes every other day.
Two more pieces of this book that I found very interesting were the sections on their writing units and the fact that this book comes with video access for extended knowledge on all their concepts. I do wish, however, that they would have spent a little more time on discussing their independent reading and book club reading sections. I love the workshop ideas, but felt that these two sections were a little shy on depth. Overall, I really did enjoy this book and have gained many new ideas that I plan to incorporate into the following school year.