Before the Common Core were a twinkle in David Coleman's eye, Kelly introduced an assignment into his classroom called article of the week.
In the assignment, students read complex informational texts and responded to them in writing. That writing was nearly always a blend of the explanatory and argumentative modes, and it often culminated with a discussion of the issues in the text.
In addition to these academic practices, students began the assignment in class and completed it outside of class, meaning Gallagher's kids were getting a chance to develop their ability to manage their time outside of school (and thus they were developing academic self-control) with each assignment they completed.
Oh, and one more thing: this was a weekly assignment, giving Gallagher's students 40+ chances per school year to do all of these things.
Now look at the non-freaked out framework (below) that we sometimes talk about here on DaveStuartJr.com — circled in red, you'll find the elements of that framework that Gallagher's article of the week addressed:
Gallagher basically created, in a single assignment, what it's taken me two and half years to just start figuring out. He is a Jedi.
My first exposure to the article of the week assignment
I first learned of Gallagher's AoW assignment in Readicide, where he argued that we need to “augment the curriculum with as much real-world text as possible” so that kids don't come across words like “al-Qaeda” in life and ask “Who's the Al guy?” (46). Gallagher continues on page 47 of Readicide:
“One way I addressed this problem [of students not having the background knowledge required for being multi-textual readers] in my classroom was by adding a weekly reading task I call ‘The Article-of-the-Week.’ These are real-world writings taken straight from news stories, essays, editorials, blogs, and speeches. I cull them from newspapers, magazines, and websites. Sometimes the articles are related to the unit we are currently studying and sometimes they are completely unrelated, but all the articles have one purpose—to broaden my students’ knowledge of the world. This past school year, for example, my students read and studied more than thirty different articles.”
When I first read this, I was intrigued, but not enough to make the jump. This had nothing to do with Gallagher's point and everything to do with me being an overwhelmed, “I'm long-term subbing in a new school in a new town with a new kid” dude.
For years, I have recommended that teachers set aside about one day a week to read current articles and opinion pieces, especially in English, social studies, and science… Author and high school teacher Kelly Gallagher actually does this. He calls it ‘Article of the Week.'… We should redouble our efforts to integrate current readings into the curriculum. If we can get students interested in the issues of their own time (and we can), they will be far more interested in issues, people, and literature of the past.
And so it was that, several years ago, I found myself sold on the idea and diving into the task.
My article of the week journey
I began teaching and assigning the article of the week assignment in my world history classes, and it's still in these classes (rather than my English ones) that I give the assignment. This isn't because I think AoW is an illegitimate use of English time — it absolutely isn't.
The simple reason for using AoW in my world history classes is because, basically, I can. Every single one of my ELA students is also in my social studies classes, and I like the “fit” of AoW better in the world history hour than the ELA one.
With that being said, if I taught only ELA, I'd still do the article of the week assignment. It's worth it.
Step 1: Using Gallagher's articles of the week
I began by simply heading over to Kelly's list of AoWs and using those with my kids.
Tons of benefit here: he and his colleagues are masters at picking articles from a variety of publications, on a variety of topics, and with a nice balance of explanatory and argumentative pieces.
Also, Kelly's articles of the week are blissfully simple in format and consistent in expectations (see below) — something that, as you'll see, I've strayed from over the years.
For more on the “flow” of article of the week, check out the video below:
Step 2: Creating my own articles using Gallagher's format
When I started finding articles of the week of my own, I initially used Kelly's format (pictured above). He has kids do three things (and you can bet he teaches and models how to do each of these):
- Mark your confusion. In other words, mark spots in the text where you get confused. “Embrace confusion” is a Gallagher-ism that made me a better teacher. The idea is that mature readers are not those who can read every text perfectly, but instead they are those who know where, exactly, a text is throwing them. Mature readers don't say, “I didn't get it. Like, any of it.” They say, “I started getting lost in the middle of the article,” or “I got thrown when the author mentioned Boko Haram in Nigeria.”
- Show evidence of a close reading. As I'll argue below, this basically means annotate. I tell my students I'm looking for 1-2 thoughtful examples of mature thinking (more on that below). I show them student examples that do exemplify this and those that don't.
- Write a 1+ page reflection. The goal here is for kids to respond thoughtfully to the article. Gallagher consistently provides 1-3 possible response questions that help kids who are stuck.
Step 3: Getting better at that hustle
Finding or creating articles was only the first step in my article of the week journey — it was then that the fun happened. I learned a lot of things the hard way as I grappled with how to really make the Gallagher-esque article of the week something that promoted the long-term flourishing of my students.
Here are some Article of the Week Domination Tips, to put a technical label on them, that I picked up in those initial years. It's worth noting that so much of what I learned I did in the community of life-dominating teachers I get to do the Teaching Dance with every day — one of them even has a blog herself, and you ought to check it out!
Hook it real good.
When motivation to read a text increases, the complexity of the text decreases. Tattoo this on your arm if you have to because it's one of the key truths we must cling to if we're to help our students read things they might not choose to read on their own. In the video below, I walk through a couple hooking strategies (that sounds wrong); I also write about one here.
Don't simply assign the article of the week; teach it.
This is simple but pretty important. As an educator who posts articles of the week on his website, I worry that some well-meaning teachers will simply print it, copy it, and assign it to kids, saying, “It's due Friday.”
That's not doing it right.
If doing the Gallagher approach to article of the week, we need to teach our students the three basic parts (see Step Two). To pose them as questions:
- How do I monitor my own comprehension of a text? Where do I tend to get confused in real-world texts? What do mature readers do when confusion happens?
- How do I stay focused while reading a text? How do I engage in a conversation with the author of an article while I'm reading? How do I work smarter not harder, so that I can both read the article and prepare for the one-page response at the same time?
- How do I respond to texts in a professional, thoughtful manner? How do I express my opinions on current issues while remaining grounded in a text? How do I organize my thinking in response to a reading?
At the start of the year, we're modeling the most elementary answers to these questions. As the year progresses, we want to keep pushing our students into greater degrees of sophistication in answering these questions.
For example, several weeks ago with my first AoW, I simply wanted students to get to the one page mark with their written responses. Based on what I saw in those responses, I wanted them to keep producing that quantity of writing, but then I also wanted them to use paragraphs (more than a few didn't) and to go beyond solely summarizing (some wrote responses that were 100% summary).
Teach it by modeling.
Going back to the three things Gallagher's AoW format asks students to do, it's important that kids frequently get to see us doing those things through brief, think-aloud modeling.
So if I'm modeling “marking confusion,” I'll choose a paragraph in the text where I legitimately stumbled as a first-time reader of the article. I try putting myself in my students' shoes, showing them how things like lengthy, complex sentences can be broken down into chunks.
Modeling is quick, on-the-fly work. While modeling a “move,” I explain the rationale behind it (this shouldn't be done just once at the start of the year! Our students deserve frequent and creative approaches to the “Why do I have to do this?” questions) and then do the move in front of them using a document camera. (By the way, if you don't have a document camera, make a Donorschoose request and get one — it's the most useful piece of teaching technology in my classroom.)
Teach it with exemplars.
I also love typing up 1-2 exemplary student-written responses each week. (Here are a couple examples of article of the week exemplar student responses from this school year.)
When using an exemplar, focus on 1-2 elements of the text that you want students to focus on with their current article of the week assignment. In the example linked to above, I wanted my students to notice 1) the use of paragraphs and, more importantly, 2) the reflective, “this is more than a summary” elements of each piece.
Instead of “close reading,” teach kids to annotate purposefully (read: DON'T have them fill the margins with busywork).
As I've written elsewhere, close reading has pretty much ceased being a useful edu-term. (I even wrote its obituary.)
With articles of the week, I want my secondary students to annotate strategically. The question they need to ask themselves any time they read is, “What is the purpose of me reading this text? What am I going to do with it?”
For AoWs, they know they need to write a 1+ page response to the article. So in the spirit of working smarter not harder, I teach them to respond to the article as they're reading it with margin notes (i.e., annotations) that respond to what they're reading. I explicitly state that 1-2 thoughtful, mature annotations per page is acceptable because quality annotations will lend themselves to writing the 1+ page response much more than mere quantity will.
I can still remember a student named Caleb who struggled getting the written part of articles of the week done until he discovered that annotations could serve as a starting point for his written response. As is so often the case, Caleb's epiphany became my epiphany, and the seeds for this idea of teaching kids purposeful annotation were planted in my skull.
Regularly do it yourself.
When I actually try marking my confusion and strategically annotating toward the written response and then writing a 1+ page response, I get all kinds of insights into the article of the week assignment. I can feel the parts that are clunky, the parts that make me pause, and the parts that I've probably not taught well enough.
It also doesn't hurt my street cred with students when they hear that I, too, do the assignments I give them. We're a family and a team, baby.
Don't underestimate the power of the Friday discussion/debate.
At the end of each Gallagher article, there are possible response questions. In most cases at least one of these can only be answered argumentatively.
Just as I try to schedule fifteen minutes each Monday for teaching/modeling/getting students started with the article of the week, I also try to schedule fifteen minutes each Friday for a quick, graded discussion and/or debate. Even with large classes, it's possible to get every kid talking and getting some public speaking practice around the text in fifteen minutes — the pop-up debate strategy is a key routine for making this happen.
This is powerful, not just because speaking and listening are way undervalued in most classrooms, and not just because argumentative discussions can draw even the most disengaged students in, and not just because having these kinds of Friday rituals motivates more students to read the article of the week.
It's powerful for all those reasons and probably more. Don't under-estimate the power of this end-of-the-week fifteen minutes!
Step 4: Adding onto the Gallagher model (and possibly over-complicating it)
As DaveStuartJr.com readers began noticing last year, I made several tweaks to the Gallagher article of the week format based on several things I was learning in my teacher-book reading and through problems I was seeing in student performance on the article of the week assignment.
If Kelly Gallagher were to actually have visited my blog during this time period, he probably would have thought, “Oh good — this yahoo from Michigan has turned a one-page-front-and-back assignment into a several page packet. Awesome. The word ‘bastardization' has a new mascot, and it is Dave Stuart Jr.'s insane Frankenstein of an AoW.”
So let's look at how a simple assignment became a packet.
I want to explain the thinking behind each of the pages I added, and I'll go in the order that the pages appeared in a typical article of the week. (Here's a link to the article of the week I use for screenshots in the sections below.)
I added a rubric.
Before last year, I think there were only two teachers in my building using article of the week: my work sister Erica Beaton and me. But at the start of last school year, this expanded a bit as several additional teachers decided to augment their curriculum with the assignment.
This was a net win for kids in our building, but it did create one concern amongst teachers, parents, and students: grading wasn't standardized enough. One teacher was giving a 2/10 for articles of the week that were completed but had poorly written responses, whereas I was, in my head, giving up to 5 points for the reading and 5 points for the writing for a total of a 10 point assignment.
So people started asking me, “Well, surely there's a rubric for this thing, isn't there?”
And I was just thinking, Oh crap — everyone's going to find out that I just kind of go into a fugue state when I grade these things!
So I made the rubric, which you can see blown up if you click the image below.
Strengths of this change:
- Clearly communicates to students, parents, and teachers how points are allotted.
- I'm not a rubric guru. I got into teaching because I want to help kids flourish long-term, and mastering the art of writing rubrics hasn't yet risen to the top of my personal PD list. All that is to say that my AoW rubric is by no means high-quality or guru-certified. That's why I'm pumped to start reading Rethinking Rubrics by Maja Wilson soon; E-Cash recommended it to me, and it sounds like a non-technical, thoughtful look at rubrics and whether they are actually awesome or not. For now, I just think it's worth stating that throwing a rubric on the front of an assignment doesn't automatically make it better or worse — that's where my head is on that.
- At least 4 of the 300,000 people who marched in NYC last week were there in direct protest of my paper-heavy AoW format, and that paper-heaviness began with this rubricky cover page.
I added Reading for Meaning statements.
Last fall, I read Perini, Silver, and Dewing's The Core Six, and in it the authors explain a strategy that I found pretty intriguing. While I explain Reading for Meaning comprehensively here, the gist of it is that mature readers seamlessly engage in before-, during-, and after-reading thinking with every text they read, and to help our struggling readers habituate these phases of reader thinking, we can use Reading for Meaning (RFM) statements. (Click on the image below to see a larger version of the example RFM page.)
- The statements allow me to check specific comprehension points.
- They can serve as a hook into the reading.
- They lend themselves to Friday discussions/debates.
- They reinforce the idea that we need textual evidence to prove or disprove text-based statements.
- They add another page to the AoW, resulting in increased tree death and adding to the increasingly unwieldy feel of the assignment.
- They add another task for kids if you're still using Gallagher's three tasks.
I added several scaffolds for the written portion, including a self-editing checklist and a Graff/Birkenstein They Say, I Say two-paragraph template.
And then we get to the written portion. I was seeing several consistent problems in my AoWs, and so I sought to add elements into the assignment to help students dominate those problems.
First, I was seeing work that reflected no care for detail. We're talking about the lower-cased “i,” the uncapitalized proper nouns, the missing periods. I don't expect grammatical flawlessness (nor do I produce it as a professional writer *scratches back of neck*), but I do expect a best effort at conventional writing, and I think a certain standard is helpful for even my most struggling writers. Thus was born the self-editing checklist (see image below).
But then I was also noticing kids spouting off their opinions in response to the articles without any connection to the articles themselves. Students would say that we should close our borders and keep everyone out without any acknowledgment of the complexities of the issue discussed by the article's author.
This led me to pursue an argumentative bend to the article of the week, initially with the requirement that students use a two-paragraph They Say/I Say template a la Graff and Birkenstein, thus ensuring that kids would take the time to grapple with what an author actually says before joining the conversation.
All of this culminated with an additional page on the assignment and much, much more structure.
- Students had a list to which they could refer for self-editing.
- I was scaffolding argumentative responses for students with Graff/Birkenstein's two-paragraph template.
- I wasn't able to hold them accountable to doing the self-editing (not enough time to closely grade them). As a result, most students didn't use the checklist. It was there, it might have looked good, but it wasn't really used.
- The two-paragraph template isn't meant as a lock-step scaffold, but rather as a guide. It's meant to illustrate for students that we need to spend some time accurately representing the views put forth by a text's author before we bring our own views into the conversation, and it's meant to provide students with some sentence templates, some “moves” that can get that done. Unfortunately, many of my students began getting “stuck” with the exact words and phrases of the template (Erica Beaton, who now teaches last year's students, is working to unstick them 🙂 ).
Step 5: Moving forward and backward at the same time (boom)
And that, dear reader, brings us to today.
To sum up Step 4, I took a smart, simple assignment and attempted to respond to the needs of my students and the pressures of my school by adding various scaffolds.
And don't get me wrong: I still see value in every one of those scaffolds.
Reading for Meaning statements are still a great strategy for getting kids to do the before-, during-, and after-reading thinking that mature readers do. Rubrics, until I read Wilson's book, still seem at least somewhat helpful for my students to know their way around an assignment. They Say, I Say is still a critical part of my composition instruction — that won't change. I plan to use the two-paragraph They Say/I Say template with my students later this semester, and I know that the they say is still something far too few of my students are doing in both their written and spoken arguments. And yes, I still want kids proofreading their work for the conventions we learn during the year, because details do matter.
What I don't want to keep doing is including all these scaffolds with every single assignment. In doing this last year, I feel a bit as if I created a monster, and also as if I was working harder, not smarter (or at least I was making the copy machines work harder).
This year, I'm printing out the rubric once (and modifying the language — see next week's post) and giving it to kids to keep in their binders. If I use reading for meaning statements for a given article of the week, I'll do so on the article itself — but this won't be an every time element of AoWs, just as Gallagher's window quotes aren't an every time element of his.
For the writing pieces, these are again things I'll print out for students once. I'll include Graff and Birkenstein's two-paragraph template, as well as the more extended list of templates we use with kids.
So if you're one of the teachers who uses my AoW list consistently, I guess this is a 3,700-word note saying, “Be ready for more of the simple, elegantly formatted Gallagher-style articles of the week and less of the unwieldy, ‘Dave Stuart Jr. is a noob‘ packets.”
In next week's post, I'll provide some of those scaffolding documents I mentioned so that you can use them if you'd like.
In the meantime, thank Mr. Gallagher for the article of the week assignment. Let's see if he'll comment on this blog post and drop some knowledge for us.
Have a great day.