The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 103 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
So much of the learning we do comes from texts: articles, textbooks, novels, and all kinds of online publications. Sometimes, those texts come in less traditional forms: Our use of the word “text” has broadened over time to include things like films, images, and even diagrams. Regardless of what form they come in, texts make up the bulk of how our students experience learning.
But too often, when we assign texts to students, we find that they don’t experience them with much depth. One reason for that may be that we don’t set them up to do that. In many text-based classes (English, history, science), the learning cycle often consists of (1) consuming a section of the text, (2) answering teacher-created questions about the text, (3) taking a test after several sections have been completed.
For years, high school English teacher Marisa Thompson followed this same programming, and got typical results: Some students did the required work, but never seemed particularly invested in the books themselves. Others completed the questions unevenly, sometimes not answering them all, other times copying work from their peers. And when students didn’t do the work, they got calls home and office referrals. As this pattern repeated itself year after year, Thompson became more frustrated: The texts themselves were wonderful, but students weren’t experiencing them the way they were meant to be experienced. Instead, they had shallow interactions with them, doing whatever surface work had to be done to get a grade.
Finally, she started experimenting with a different approach, and the way she teaches texts now is completely different from the way she used to. Her current approach, which she calls TQE, is similar to Socratic Seminar, where students lead a discussion on a given text, but with a few twists. Since implementing this new approach, Thompson has seen her students reading much more than they used to, and with much more depth than ever before. They are having college-level conversations about books in class, and for the first time, they seem excited about the books they’re reading. On top of that, Thompson’s prepping and grading work for these lessons is down to almost nothing.
What I love about this method, and why I’m sharing it here, is that I think it could be applied in a lot of different areas, not just with the study of novels. In any class where students need to read a text in order to learn, something along these lines could be implemented, and I think you’ll find that the learning in your classroom gets much richer as a result. So as you listen to our discussion of TQE, think about how you might be able to apply it in your content area.
Before I play the interview, I’d like to thank you for the reviews you’ve left for the podcast on iTunes. If you’ve been listening and you’ve never left a review, but you think other people would like the show, take a few minutes to go over to iTunes and leave a review. Thanks so much.
Support for today’s show comes from 3Doodler. The 3Doodler is a really neat tool—it works just like a 3D printer, except the “printing” comes out of a pen. With the 3Doodler, students can create, design, and build, transforming abstract concepts into physical models, making those concepts easier to understand. 3Doodler EDU learning packs were designed with teachers, so they truly encompass the needs of classrooms at any grade level. With 3D pens, accessories, lesson plans and more all packed into one kit, you’re ready to start learning as soon as you open the box. As a Cult of Pedagogy listener, you can try your first 3Doodler Learning Pack with a special 10% discount by visiting cultofpedagogy.com/3doodler.
Support for this episode also comes from Peergrade. Peergrade is a platform that makes it easy to facilitate peer review in your classroom. Students review each other’s work, while Peergrade takes care of anonymously assigning reviewers and delivering all the relevant insights to teachers. With Peergrade, students learn to think critically and take ownership of their learning. They also learn to write kind and useful feedback for their peers. Peergrade is free to use for teachers and students. To learn more visit cultofpedagogy.com/peergrade.
The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast is part of the Education Podcast Network. The EPN family now includes 25 different podcasts, and each one of them has something to do with education. One show I think you should check out is the Books Between Podcast, where host Corrina Allen interviews middle grades book authors and shares a ton of excellent book recommendations for kids ages 8 through 12. If you’re always on the lookout for new books to share with your middle grades students, the Books Between Podcast is worth checking out.
Now here’s my conversation with Marisa Thompson about the TQE method.
GONZALEZ: Marisa, thank you so much for coming on.
THOMPSON: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really, really excited. I’m a huge fan.
GONZALEZ: Thank you. And we just sort of like ran into each other—this just happened a week and a half ago or something on Twitter that you posted a link to a blog post where you, the blog post itself is called, “We’re Killing the Love of Reading, but Here’s an Easy Fix,” and I read it and I loved this approach that you were talking about, and I thought, wow, a lot of other teachers are going to love this too. So basically I just wanted you to come on and talk to us about this TQE process that you’ve been using with your students. So tell us a little bit about your current role in education and what you do right now.
THOMPSON: Okay. So I have been in education for 12 years now, I’m going into my 13th year in teaching. I’m high school English language arts, and I’ve taught everything that we offer from English support to ELL classes and all the way up to AP. I haven’t taught seniors yet. We’ve got some really awesome senior teachers, and they’ve got a nice grip on the senior class, and they’re perfect for it, so I can’t give them a hard time on that. But I’ve been in the classroom, and I absolutely love it now, and then I’m a professional development instructor for University of San Diego, and that is a blast. I get to meet a lot of educators from all over the country and some out of the country, which is super fun too. I get to see what everyone’s doing. And then just last year I started presenting at conferences to kind of share what’s been working for me, and then that started really the conversations going with other educators who were wanting to try something new and we have all these really great aphorisms, these quotes about, “Students should own their learning,” and “Empower students.” And it’s like, well that’s great, but how in the heck do we do that? Like, thanks for the, you’re right, I agree, but I need the tips on how that looks in the classroom when I’ve got 40 people looking at me, you know? So I started blogging a month ago, and that has been a really great way to get that information out there, get the materials out there, and provide the how-tos, because I love the quotes, but I need to share what I’ve seen work so that we can empower students, and we can let the students own their learning, but we have to deal with the how, the nitty gritty.
GONZALEZ: Exactly. Oh man, I’m right there with you, yeah. It all sounds good, but how do you actually do it? And you’re going to be sharing that with us today, this is a problem that you were noticing in your English classes, and you kind of came up with this different way, basically, of teaching literature, right?
THOMPSON: Yeah, absolutely. And it started pretty slowly, but then it started to pick up steam, and I’ll never go back to what I was doing.
GONZALEZ: Okay so tell us a little bit about the problems you were seeing before you decided to make the shift. What was going on before this?
THOMPSON: Well I think it’s a really common experience, especially for English language arts teachers, right? You send the students home, maybe you get them started on Chapter 1, and then, “Hey guys, I need you to go home and read Chapter 2. Come on back and we’ll talk about it, and here’s your list of questions; you’re going to have a reading quiz.” And then I realized I wasn’t really assessing their reading with homework and with quizzes. I was assessing whether or not they did their homework questions, and then that led to all sorts of problems. It made reading seem like a hassle. It made students feel like, “Well I guess I have to do this, because I have to complete these questions.” I started getting a bunch of cheating. Like one year I had 10 kids copy off each other. And yeah, it turned this amazing story, this beautiful novel that everybody should read and enjoy and love and take in into a discipline problem.
THOMPSON: That’s not encouraging. I don’t want to come into a class and, “You have to read this book.” And it’s like, “Well, I should be inspired to read this book.”
THOMPSON: So I didn’t like that, and I just really didn’t like, you know, having these gorgeous discussions, these really meaningful discussions with my students about how we treat each other and the way we see people, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” has such an impact on so many of my kids and “Fahrenheit 451” and looking at technology, and do we have anything going on really with our souls? And what do you think? And are you thinking? And the beauty of thought. All these things, and then I’m going to kind of just winnow it down to a multiple choice test? Like, Bradbury would freak out, you know. So I just was not, I definitely wasn’t satisfied, and then I, when I started looking at my questions, I realized that I was doing all of the thinking. I was taking their head and pointing it to a part in the book. Like, “Look at this character. Look at this part.” Instead of having them practice those skills of, “What did you see?”
THOMPSON: Let’s approach it a different way, and then as soon as I did, the students started seeing a lot more relevance. They started caring, and the reading kind of increased, so we started having fun, which was, they’re great books. They should be fun to discuss.
GONZALEZ: Right, right.
GONZALEZ: So what did you change? And I know that this has been kind of an iterative process, that you’ve developed it over time. But just take us back to the sort of first change that you made.
THOMPSON: Well, I think the first time that I started playing with it, it wasn’t successful so I’m sure that we’ll get a second to talk about that, but instead of going with reading questions, I started to really pay attention to who was doing the talking, what kind of questions did they have, because if you can ask a really detailed question, something that’s really insightful, you read the book.
THOMPSON: Just because you don’t have the answer, you know?
THOMPSON: If you can ask a great question, I know you’ve read the book, and I know you’re reading at grade level, because that’s that it says, right, is to be able to read at grade level, the standard?
THOMPSON: Read at grade level and be able to analyze author’s purpose, character motivation, you can do that with a question. So I took “The Things They Carried,” which is an amazing novel.
THOMPSON: And it took forever for us to get it into the classroom. And so one of the first years that I got to teach it, it was the end of the year, I already knew my kids, they had tried some project-based learning things with me, and I had them, you know what I mean?
THOMPSON: And so they trusted me, and I said, “Look. We’re going to read this book, and we’re just going to read it and talk about it.” And I really think that they didn’t believe me. Like, you’re not going to have study questions. You’re not going to have any reading quizzes. But I’m going to know if you read or not. I’m going to know.
THOMPSON: But we’re going to come in, you’re going to have kind of a Socratic seminar-style discussion. It’ll probably take a little while. We’ll have some growing pains there. But it was awesome. And I started to have these kids who usually were kind of in the back, shied away from anything really, and they were emerging, you know?
THOMPSON: As leaders, as reading leaders, and I’m like, man, I think I’m really on to something here. Yeah. I told them, “You will be assessed on your participation in these discussions.” And of course we had some students where that was not going to be comfortable, so we had some alternatives there. But I had students who started reading more than they were assigned, and they were finishing the book early. I had used piece from the novel. They were reading the other pieces as well, and “Can we talk about this chapter?” I’m like, “Well, I didn’t assign that chapter,” and then you’ll hear a couple kids like, “Well I read it. What do you want to know?”
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: So it was exciting. It was fun.
GONZALEZ: So that first version of it was just, we’re going to read “The Things They Carried,” we’re going to come to class and talk about it, and your grade is basically based on my perception of whether or not you’ve read the book, based on how you participate?
THOMPSON: Yes, yes. And if they are not super comfortable with participating in this way, we did have some alternatives set up for them.
GONZALEZ: Okay. What did those look like?
THOMPSON: So I said, hey, if I’m wrong, because that happens, if I’m wrong with your score, and you’re like, “No, I read that book,” and I gave you an eight out of 10, then we need to come up with some sort of alternative. So they were used to taking annotations, taking notes on their thoughts while they read. Like, you can show me those. You can sit down and have a conversation just one-on-one, or you can take a test. So if you got an eight out of 10, and you’re like, “No, I want the 10 out of 10,” I have a multiple-choice test on the book.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, right.
THOMPSON: You know? I ditched it, but you can, if you want to take it, go ahead. And I did have a lot of students who had a B for their assessment, and they’re like, no, I want the A. Great. And they took the test and then it was cute, because they were like yeah, I didn’t really read all of it. So my assessment was, on average, about 3 or 4 percent higher than what they were normally getting on their tests.
THOMPSON: And then my other students who got a six out of 10 or a five out of 10, they failed the test. They didn’t read. If they had read, they would have been inspired to say something.
GONZALEZ: Right, right, right. Okay.
THOMPSON: It was really accurate.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, gosh, that’s fantastic. So the earliest version of this, the discussion, you said it was a Socratic seminar, and did you have just the one conversation with them? Because we’re still sort of working our way toward the system that you have now.
THOMPSON: Correct. You’re right, yeah. So we would have about a half hour, 40-minute discussion. I’m on a block schedule.
GONZALEZ: Okay, nice.
THOMPSON: I get a lot of time in one sitting. So we would have a good 30-minute discussion and that was it, and once I saw that they could have these types of conversations without much guidance from me, then they were, I knew that I could do something, you know?
GONZALEZ: Okay, yes. You knew that it would work, like basically you’d have these discussions. And did you have any kind of a rubric or anything, or you just basically said, “Show up having read the book, and I’m going to know”?
THOMPSON: Yeah. Show up having read the book. I’m going to know.
THOMPSON: So I just, I had like a little chart, and I just crossed out, “This kid read. I know he did.”
THOMPSON: “This kid read. I know she did.”
THOMPSON: And that was it. Because the standard says, “Be able to read and analyze at grade level.”
THOMPSON: And if they’re doing that, I mean, yeah, cross their name off. Move on.
The TQE Method
GONZALEZ: Okay. So then what did you end up changing? What has changed now from then to now? Because we’ve got this acronym TQE that we’re eventually getting to that is what you’re using now.
THOMPSON: Right. So I read a Grant Wiggins article, and there were all these wonderful suggestions, and I’ve used, actually, a couple of them. But this one talked about having students start the class with questions, and they write in on the board, and then we address those questions. And so I adapted kind of those Socratic seminars to happen in small groups, to make the more reserved student feel a lot more comfortable. And then I also wanted to take care of just those plot questions that don’t need to be discussed in a group of 40.
THOMPSON: So if it’s in the small group, it’s always something like, “Did that guy die?” You know?
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: No, he’s still with us. So they have the small group discussion, and then they take their top two, and I couldn’t come up with what it was that I wanted. And finally it was, like, your thought, you know? Whatever your thought is, the best thought out of this group discussion or a lingering question, a question that the group could not answer, a lingering question, or some sort of an epiphany, and you gotta teach the word epiphany.
GONZALEZ: Right, which is a great word to know.
THOMPSON: It is. And it got a little wordy, so then we started calling them TQEs.
THOMPSON: So they put the TQEs on the board, and then I discussed those things, I kind of lead the discussion.
THOMPSON: Based on what they’ve mined for, you know, those golden nuggets.
GONZALEZ: Mhmm. And so, okay, I’m going to sort of summarize it back to you to make sure I understand. So they come in, this is sort of the “due date” basically of the book? Or is this just a section of the book that you’re working on at this point?
THOMPSON: It’s a section of the book. We do this almost every day.
GONZALEZ: Okay, okay. So they come in for this section, maybe it’s a couple of chapters or something, and then they get into small groups first, and in the group they can talk about whatever they want, or do you have questions for them, or they’re just basically coming up with their TQEs there?
THOMPSON: In the beginning I have question stems for them.
THOMPSON: And that’s where I started to struggle in the beginning, where we weren’t having the quality that we wanted, my question stems were awful.
THOMPSON: Or not awful, pardon me, they weren’t as productive, they weren’t as insightful, they weren’t producing those TQEs. Everything was plot-focused, or “I liked this part.”
THOMPSON: And it’s like, “Okay, well that’s great.” And so I realized that it was actually my question stems that were getting them there. So I changed my question stems, and I have those posted on the board for the first, I don’t know, month or so, and then we don’t need them.
GONZALEZ: Is this, I’m looking right now at your blog post, at this turquoise image where it’s got the start here questions on the left, and then the other, is that what this is? It’s sort of like the really —
THOMPSON: It’s exactly, yeah, that’s exactly what it is. So I now see these wonderful, you know, units that teachers are coming up with that have book talks, and it’s, “What part interests you and what part did you like?” And those are great questions to start a discussion, but that’s not my end goal, right? I need the students to analyze author’s purpose and character motivation and why did they use that device, and how does that support the theme, and what do you think about all of this, and how does it relate to your life? So you’ve got there, yeah, on the left, those are the questions that really do not get me what I need, but it might be the right question to get people talking.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. You know what I love about this too is that it sort of shows them where they are, and it gives them something to reach for. You know? If they see the stuff on the left and say, all right, I get those questions, and that’s the kind of stuff we talked about, let me look at what the advanced version of that is, which is, I think it really helps them to stretch.
THOMPSON: Right? That’s a good point. And they do, and it takes time, and that’s also explicitly done on the board, so if they do put something on there that is not at the quality or as thought-provoking as we need it to be for the class to discuss, we’ll edit it together, the 40 of us.
GONZALEZ: Oh, wow.
THOMPSON: This is a great point in the novel, and we should talk about it, but how would we change this information? So it becomes a writing lesson.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. In terms of actually how to structure the question itself.
THOMPSON: Right. And so at one point, I started walking around, because I realized what we need is to, especially for ELA, include the author’s name. So we started going around. “I want you to say ‘Steinbeck’ five times.” I don’t care, I mean I do care, I love Lenny and George. I love Lenny. I’m so sorry that he’s not with us anymore, but he’s totally fictional. So when you start asking questions like, “Why did George do that?” George doesn’t exist. Why did Steinbeck have George do that?
GONZALEZ: Oh yeah.
THOMPSON: And what theme is Steinbeck trying to convey to the rest of us by having his character do that? So it’s not about the character. It’s almost poorly written in the standard. It’s not about the character’s motivation, it’s the author’s purpose in providing that motivation for the character.
THOMPSON: Does that make sense?
GONZALEZ: Right, oh absolutely. You’re teaching them how to have conversations about books, and that’s the thing is that I think sometimes as teachers we expect kids to just know this, but if they haven’t sat in like a college literature class, when would they ever hear these conversations? Unless they happen to have been born to parents who sit around and talk about books like intellectuals all the time, which is not something every kid has. And if we really want to push all of our kids to be able to do that, we have to give them those tools.
THOMPSON: Well, and that’s exactly what I tell them. I go, what we just did, that was a collegiate literature course, what we just did right now. That was amazing. You could walk into a college course and have this discussion about “Gatsby” or have this discussion about “Fahrenheit.” It’s so much fun. And you can see that they’re enjoying it.
GONZALEZ: Well and I remember one of the things that you’ve got somewhere in this blog post, that you said that some of your kids who hadn’t even been real readers for the whole year said to you that this made them feel smart.
THOMPSON: Yeah, yeah. A lot of their epiphanies, a lot of their reflections on this process really supported everything that I was going for, besides just the standards and the content. I wanted them to feel that they are smart. When they walk in without their homework, they feel bad, and it has nothing to do with the reading itself or whether or not they can read. Their grades are plummeting, and “I’ve never liked English,” and I’m using my air quotes, you can’t see me. “I’ve never liked English.” “I’m bad at English.” Is it? Or is it just that you aren’t doing your homework?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Yeah.
THOMPSON: You know? So they got to come in and they have read the book, and as soon as you start this process, the peer pressure of everyone’s discussing this book, that becomes cool.
THOMPSON: To have an idea, to have an opinion. So the kid comes in, student comes in, and all of a sudden it’s, “Wait, I read that part, and I think,” this. You know? And you want to talk about empowering a student, you just turned that student into a part of the classroom community.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. So they come into the room, they get into their small groups and come up with their TQEs, and then you now have the whole class, where it’s basically each group has contributed some TQEs, and then as a class, you just start talking about those things?
THOMPSON: Yeah. It’s really, really simple. And the amount of planning is nil.
THOMPSON: I’m not creating, I’m not copying, I’m not collecting, I don’t need to waste my time. I am only focused on this, so the kids even come in going, “Oh my gosh.” Because I purposefully end on cliffhangers, right?
THOMPSON: “I can’t believe he did that.” And I’m like, it’s okay. Sit down. Sit down and you guys talk about it, we’ll talk about it in about 15 minutes.
GONZALEZ: Right, right. And so who is actually, first of all I want to make sure that I highlight and underline what you said about not copying, not planning. Like, that is fantastic, because I don’t know of another type of teacher, outside of maybe the special ed teachers, who has more paperwork and stuff to do than English teachers. And it’s ridiculous, because we’ve already got these great books. And so the fact that, I don’t know, I just think teachers are just going to be saying hallelujah over this.
THOMPSON: Right? But it’s not even, not copying, not prepping, and you’re prepping. I read the book too. I’m on year 13. I’ve read these books more times than should be allowed. But I know these books, but I still read the night before, because the kids start picking up information that is so, so small, so detailed —
THOMPSON: — that I have to know what they’re talking about. So my prep is reading before bed every night.
GONZALEZ: How nice. That’s awesome.
THOMPSON: It’s great. And they’re great books. But I don’t have to grade.
THOMPSON: I don’t have to grade those things.
THOMPSON: So it is a time saver beyond everything, and now I have energy to have these discussions.
GONZALEZ: And so let’s get into the issue real quickly of grading. So you are, I’m guessing you’re sitting there during this conversation with some sort of a clipboard or an iPad or something where you’re marking off names as they participate? Or how is it that they’re actually, because I know everybody wants to know about the grading.
THOMPSON: Yeah. I should do that. That’s a really good idea, Jenn. I should do that. I don’t do that. At the end of each conversation, I have a chart with their little pictures, and I cross them off as I go. So I’m not necessarily grading them every single day. Like my student Sally might have participated a ton one day, skipped a day, the next day. But my standard-based grading says she is grading and analyzing at at least grade level.
GONZALEZ: Right, right. So reading and analyzing, yeah.
THOMPSON: I don’t need to score each of my 40 kids every single day.
THOMPSON: They need to know that they’ve met that standard. So I have the whole class discussion. I’m very aware of who’s talking to me. But even in that initial small group discussion, I’m not sitting down having my coffee. I am having my coffee, but I’m walking around to each of these different groups going, “Oh, what are you guys talking about? Oh yeah!” You know? And so even if the student isn’t participating in the whole class discussion, I’ve already talked to them. I get to talk to every single kid every single class period.
GONZALEZ: That’s great.
THOMPSON: Which also is different, yeah.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Okay, so we, and I’m also assuming, since you’re teaching ELA, you said that you do this every day, but are the students also choosing other books to read? Are you doing writing projects and other things in your class? Or is this primarily a literature class?
THOMPSON: Well, so I am on a block schedule. I get two hours every other day. So this takes up about 45 minutes. It’s 15 minutes for the small group discussion and to get the TQEs on the board, but it’s about another half hour or so of the whole class discussion. We take a little break, and now we’re off and running with something else. So I do get that time, and every time we’re reading the book, that’s our typical start to the day.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And so there are other periods during the year when you’re not doing a whole class novel, and you’re just doing other things, but this is how you teach a whole class novel?
Advice for Teachers
GONZALEZ: Got it, got it. Okay, so we talked ahead of time. I asked you if you would put together a list of do’s and don’ts. If teachers are listening to this, and they want to get started, why don’t you share some tips, basically, for implementing this.
THOMPSON: Okay, well do’s, right? I would, I guess I want teachers to know, I want you to know, teachers, that you’ve probably tried something pretty similar. Either you’ve had students create study questions, you know, “Get together with your group. Come up with a question.”
THOMPSON: You’ve probably tried something like this or a reflection on an exit ticket, or “I want you to reflect on this novel.” You’ve done these things, but this is just a lot more and a lot more consistent. So I would say I want you to feel really comfortable with it, even though it might, you know, have some growing pains in the very beginning. There might be some hiccups. I would read the Grant Wiggins article.
THOMPSON: And that is included in the blog post, I believe, and if not I will do that.
GONZALEZ: And I’ll make sure that people listening have a link to your blog post, so they can find all this stuff too.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, sure.
THOMPSON: I would, for questions, make sure it’s lingering questions, something that the group could not answer, and make sure, especially if it’s a novel, use that author’s name as often as you can, and that will shift the conversation from being plot-based to being much more analytical.
GONZALEZ: Good, good.
THOMPSON: Yeah. When you start seeing your students kind of get a little bored with the routine, there are so many ways to switch it up. Have a student get up and lead the conversation for the whole class or have the class vote on, “We only want to talk about these three things.” There’s lots of ways, there’s so many different ways to do it, but you have these beautiful questions up there.
THOMPSON: For them to play with.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. It seems like a big key is having those stems to start with and really teaching them the language of how to do this.
THOMPSON: Yeah, I think so. I do think that if you’ve got one up there that is not quite at the quality that you need, it’s a lot easier to kind of, not pick at it, but have the students fix it a little bit, because it didn’t come from a single student. It came from a group of students. So it should be a little bit easier to go ahead and say, “This one isn’t quite there yet. What would you do to make this one a little bit more elevated, so we can have a nice conversation about it?” I would head that route instead of, “This is not what we want.”
GONZALEZ: Right, right, right. Try to elevate it. I like that word too, elevating it is nice, it’s optimistic. Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: Right? Yeah.
GONZALEZ: I’m also seeing on this list, “Try no other homework.”
THOMPSON: I mean, if you think about how long it takes you to read that section, they’re reading probably at a slower pace. And then now you’ve, well you may have eliminated, hopefully, please, those study questions, and that’s great, but if you add more homework, chances are the reading is going to be pushed to be lower on the totem pole of priorities.
GONZALEZ: Right, right.
THOMPSON: So if you really want them to read and analyze, I mean just think of how many skills are going on: You’ve got critical thinking skills, collaboration, analysis, reading at grade level, writing. All of these different skills are going into it. It’s chock-full. So get rid of the other homework while you’re working on this.
THOMPSON: And let this be the main focus.
GONZALEZ: And what about students who show up not having done the reading?
THOMPSON: Yeah, I don’t have the most beautiful, I almost don’t want to admit it, I don’t have the most beautiful solution. It does work, and I’m happy with it, but when students come in, I ask them to, “Hey, if you need to go outside to read, I need you to head out in the hall and read,” and usually they think there’s going to be some sort of a punishment.
THOMPSON: Because they’ve been trained, right?
THOMPSON: They’ve been trained to think there’s a punishment, and I just say, no, it’s fine.
THOMPSON: I mean it’s not, but whatever. “Head outside. Read. We’re going to discuss for a good 15 minutes before we even get the TQEs started.”
THOMPSON: “So go read, and when you’re done, come in, and you’ll catch some of the class discussion.”
THOMPSON: As soon as they realize that they’re not going to be privy to the class discussion, and how useful it is, especially when we start heading toward an essay, to have had those discussions, that group that goes outside is smaller and smaller. Usually it ends up being the same four or five students.
THOMPSON: And now you get to have that conversation, you know. So I offer things like, “Hey, if you’re in a sport,” I’m high school, right, so if you have a job, if you have a sport, “why not get the audiobook and listen to it or read along to it,” that’s usually my rule. “Do the audiobook, read along to it. At least you know before you start, look, it’s only 20 minutes. It says right there, 20 minutes.”
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: “You can do that,” you know? So that’s been a solution. I’ve only, I think last year I only had to call home and really discuss with the parent twice.
GONZALEZ: Wow. That’s awesome, yeah. You know, one of the things you said, I want to just run back to it for a second, because you said especially if all of this is leading to an essay. And so are there usually sometimes or always at the end of reading these books, is there a writing assignment also?
THOMPSON: Yeah, I’m big into writing.
THOMPSON: But I think that if you jump to, “Hey, let’s analyze through writing,” that’s so difficult for a student who’s just still trying to figure out how to embed quotes, how to get some differentiation between the body paragraphs, and now they’re supposed to be able to write why Steinbeck had the character Bob, you know? It’s so difficult. My approach is, let’s practice the analysis, let’s get the thought process to the quality that we need it to be.
THOMPSON: Great. Now let’s apply that —
THOMPSON: — into writing instead of verbal.
GONZALEZ: Oh that’s great too, because then they’ve already had so many of these conversations, and it’s, and they’ve got the vocabulary for it and everything. Yeah, I love that. Okay. So you also had some don’ts listed for implementing the TQE process.
THOMPSON: Yeah, we started to realize that students would have these conversations and have an epiphany, and so they would quick run up there at a minute and a half, and I’m a little sarcastic, and “Oh my gosh. You already had the best epiphany from all six of you in a minute and a half? That’s amazing. I can’t wait to see it. Yeah, sit down. Have a conversation. If it’s still the best thing that came out of the conversation, awesome, I can’t wait to hear it. But sit down.”
THOMPSON: They’re just trying to, they’re trying to complete.
THOMPSON: Just like they do with their homework.
THOMPSON: So to me, you can’t get up to that board until at least eight minutes.
THOMPSON: Everyone should have a chance to speak. So I would keep them there and having those conversations. I would only really settle for kind of those lesser TQEs for the first week or so, because at that point, we have already edited some on the board, we’ve had those discussions. I’ve said, “Steinbeck, Steinbeck, Steinbeck.” We’ve done those things. So if you want the quality where you want it, okay, it’s a new process. Give them a week. But we have some expectations here. We have some real learning to do, so I need these to be at a level that I know you can do. There will be hiccups, so don’t give up. The more practice they get, the better. If you’re on a regular class schedule, I would really recommend a 50-minute period. If you’re on a 50-minute period, I would recommend at least once a week, if not twice a week.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: It’s all the skills you want.
THOMPSON: So I would recommend that. I don’t punish the kids who go outside. If anything, I actually complement them for having integrity.
THOMPSON: “Hey, thanks so much. I’m sure that there was a reason why you couldn’t get to it. Thank you so much for having integrity and just going and doing that, because I know it takes a lot to stand up.”
THOMPSON: And then a couple more kids will stand up when they see that. I don’t punish them when they go outside.
GONZALEZ: Okay. All right. That’s a really good point to make then. So just to wrap up, before we end this, what are some of the most positive outcomes you’ve seen since making this change?
THOMPSON: Well the best is that the kids are reading and liking it, right? That would be the best one. A lot more participation, and that leads to so much more confidence. Usually the kids are passive and now I see them really kind of coming out of their shells, and that’s really fun, especially by the end of the year they are very, very comfortable and doing an awesome job with their analysis. I love when a student will come up with an idea that I’ve never thought of. You know, I’ve read the book 30 times —
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: — and I’ve never paid attention to this one part, that’s amazing. So it’s super fun. I also like that they start to see me as I guess like a team member, a mentor.
THOMPSON: They’ll tell me, “But you’re the expert, how do you not know this?” I’m like, I didn’t write the thing. I just read it. I don’t know. And there’s not really somebody for me to ask, because they’re, you know, not with us anymore. But those kinds of things, and then every once in a while, you know this, every teacher gets this, but you’ll have a student who says something that’s not about a novel, or I got an email this summer from a student who said, “Hey, I just saw this play, and I found myself analyzing the props,” and I guess the characters changed shoes to represent different groups, demographics. And he thought, “I thought it was really interesting that they decided to change the shoes, and it seems like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and then I liked that they only dealt with one demographic and then another demographic instead of mixing them up, and I thought that was really interesting.” So I mean I’ve got this kid analyzing a play and then emailing his English teacher about it.
THOMPSON: How cool is that?
GONZALEZ: That’s fantastic.
THOMPSON: You know? Just on their own time.
THOMPSON: But things like that. We went on a field trip. This was also my first year of field trips. And we went to the Museum of Tolerance in LA, and we got back, and we were reflecting on it, because it was a very emotional day.
THOMPSON: And one of my students said, “You know what I really loved was the structure of the museum.” I was like, what? “Yeah, you start at the beginning, and you spiral down,” because it’s a spiral walkway, “You spiral down into darkness, and it’s super claustrophobic, and the lighting is,” this, and I’m looking at him going, okay, you’re analyzing the structure of the building and how that connects to the theme. And he’s like, “And then once you do that you spiral back out of it into the light.”
THOMPSON: “That there’s hope, that there’s possibility.” I’m like, okay, thank you, 15-year-old. That’s great.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Well and that’s the thing, gosh, if any museum people are listening to this, they’re probably jumping up and down, because one of the best things I’ve ever read was this piece about how they designed the 9/11 Museum in New York City, and all the thinking that went into that, and it was just so, so interesting. And I think a lot of that stuff, especially nowadays, is not accidental. I think that kid picked up on something that was intentional.
THOMPSON: Yeah. And I loved, first of all, that he was thinking that way, and second that he was willing to share it with the class.
THOMPSON: So I kind of, I excused him from writing the essay on the novel, because we read “The Book Thief.” I said, why don’t you write an essay about the museum?
GONZALEZ: Wow. Man, that is a cool assignment.
THOMPSON: I mean it’s the same skills, right?
GONZALEZ: Yes, exactly. Yep.
THOMPSON: And you’ll get literary analysis, I promise we’ll do that. Why don’t you write about that?
THOMPSON: You know?
GONZALEZ: I love that.
THOMPSON: Yeah, it’s super fun.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
THOMPSON: Super fun.
GONZALEZ: So I’m going to be linking people to the article on your blog, and we’ll make sure that they have good access to that. So if they want to find you, if people want to find you online, where can they find you?
THOMPSON: So my blog is unlimitedteacher.com, and I use the same hashtag, #unlimitedteacher, and then my Twitter handle, is that what it is?
GONZALEZ: I think so.
THOMPSON: I’m new to this whole Twitter world. My Twitter handle is @marisaethompson, because I’m sure there are more than one Marisa Thompsons.
GONZALEZ: And it’s just one “s” in Marisa?
THOMPSON: Yes. There’s one of everything but the a’s. I would love to connect. I have so much fun discussing this stuff, that’s why I’m presenting, that’s why I’m a PD instructor, that’s why I do that. I would love to answer questions and help out any way I can. But my blog is really about what we were saying in the beginning where we have these conversations about what we should do or what schools should be, and then my blog is really about helping teachers with the how-to.
THOMPSON: What I’m seeing working.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, and people who go to your blog need to also see your screens.
GONZALEZ: The collaboration screens.
THOMPSON: Yeah, it’s been fun. We got an entire restaurant’s worth of furniture.
THOMPSON: No joke. A restaurant had gone out of business.
THOMPSON: And when they saw that we were trying to redo our classroom, they dropped the price to a ridiculous cost for us, and then we were able to bring in some TVs. And it sounds so backwards to have an ELA classroom have a whole bunch of screens.
GONZALEZ: No, I love the way you have that set up though.
THOMPSON: It’s awesome. It’s doing such great things for us.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Thank you so much, Marisa. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about this.
THOMPSON: Thank you so much for contacting me. I sure hope everybody found it helpful.
GONZALEZ: I think they will. I think we’re going to hear from a lot of teachers now about them trying out this TQE process, and that should make English class just a lot more enjoyable this coming year for people.
THOMPSON: For everybody, for everybody.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yep, yep.