Writing Thesis Statements, Conferring, and Peer Conferencing, Oh My!

As the sole secondary literacy coach in my high school, I am often between many different subjects, courses, and grade levels. Today, my schedule looked like this:

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Four different teachers, five different classes. Yet, in each, I am welcomed by both students and teachers. Because teachers have an open door policy with me, as the coach, I must maintain their trust in their classrooms, letting them take the lead with the teaching style and setting the tone for the relationships in their classrooms. I need to adapt to them, not vice versa. Luckily, these four classrooms are all incredible places of learning with passionate teachers, so this is not hard to do.

The two ninth grade global classes were working on shaping a thesis for a paper. Through true co-teaching, the classroom teacher and I were able to play off of his knowledge of the content and my knowledge of the skills needed to build a strong thesis: topic, argument, and so what?

Together, we modeled how to write a thesis with one of the student’s own statements and stopped to record the class’ metacognition along the way:

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At the end of each hour, the student left smiling and thanking us for the help. When there are two adults in a room who truly are having fun teaching students together, the energy and passion is infectious. One student even said to me while leaving, “You two make a great team!” I completely agree.

The three honors classes were all working on papers so I spent 3 hours conferencing with kids on their exploratory essays.  The students were building upon their experience reading the book How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon by exploring key topics in the story involving race: education, mass incarceration, gun violence, gang violence, and single parent families. The lens they were looking through related to the focus question: How have the ideals/principles in the founding documents either been upheld or violated?

The students were tasked with exploring how their thinking changed over time from an assumption at the beginning of the unit. They tracked how the research process helped to shift and shape what they came to learn, ultimately ending with more questions than what they began with.

Through conferring, I learned that a student was studying the relationship between human nature and the formation of gangs. He decided that the issue is not getting rid of violent gangs, for the gang serves a need, but rather looking at how to educate gang members to channel their energies in more positive directions. Another student is studying the different ways in which countries around the globe treat single parents. She found that in Europe, some governments give single parents money until the child is 20, and only adjust the amount in very specific cases, unlike the United States where parents often have to fight to get help, and it is often just temporary, causing stress and ambiguity for the family.

These are just two of the thought provoking, insightful conversations that I had with sophomores today that changed my own thinking about these ideas while I helped them structure their papers.

I am always amazed that I can walk into three classrooms that are all teaching the same content, yet the teachers have their own unique styles of doing so. Some are more structured, some more free form, but the fact that the paper was centered around a focus question that allowed so much student choice and critical thinking created a powerful learning environment for all.

At the end of the day, I was mentally exhausted but so excited about all that I was able to accomplish with the teachers and students I worked with. There was collaboration, thinking, laughing, a few tears, frustration, epiphanies, and most of all learning. And a final text from a teacher just to say:

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Nothing could be better at the end of the day.

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