Ever attend a professional development training and think to yourself, “Yeah, I’d like to see you try that with my students!”
Or maybe you find yourself disregarding the advice of your administrators, writing them off with, “But how long has it been since you’ve been in a real classroom?”
Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle
If you are a secondary English teacher, you are probably very acquainted with the names Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. They are generally considered two of the great gurus in ELAR pedagogy. While both are accomplished writers (most notably, Kittle’s Write Beside Them and Gallagher’s Readicide), they are both still full-time teachers.
Kelly Gallagher teaches at Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California. He shares that his urban classroom often has to accommodate upwards of 35 students. He is most known for writing about how to improve adolescent literacy.
Until quite recently, Penny Kittle taught at Kennett High School in a quaint, New Hampshire village. The size of the community and the resources available to its schools allow for smaller, more optimally-sized classes. Her emphasis has been on student writing.
Two Great Educators Working Together
A couple of years ago, they embarked upon a professional experiment. They spent a year planning together, collaborating throughout the year, and reflecting while implementing those plans.
The result was the truthful and inspiring book, 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents.
There are a plethora of books out there about how to teach English, so many that it can seem like guesswork to pick one, and they either propose strategies that are completely impractical or simply regurgitate the ideas.
180 Days is not one of those books! It is practical, insightful, and motivational - exactly what many of us need after this very trying year.
Gallagher and Kittle invite readers into their classrooms, illustrating honest interactions with students and their reflections on both the successes and failures they encountered.
The authors do not shy away from the fact that teachers have to balance using varying levels of standardized curriculums with doing what they know is right for the specific needs of each one of their students. Nor do they shy away from addressing the burden of grading, much less individualizing, for 100+ students.
As educators who are looked up to by so many, it is so comforting to read their candid portrayals of when and how their plans were successful, when they had to be altered in the moment, and when they went awry.
They address the fact that students come to them with a wide array of reading and writing abilities and interests. Their goal is to produce students who not only can read and write effectively but who have also found the transforming power of both.
In alignment with the various works on reading and writing that both Gallagher and Kittle have published, they not only emphasize the importance of having students read and write every day, but they give practical examples of how to do it, how to build stamina in students, how to be flexibles as needs arise, and how to model those practices for your students.
Balancing Curriculum and Individualization
Encouraging teachers to read this book, with its emphasis on creating lessons and units around what teachers know is best for their students may seem to directly contradict a school’s desire to have a standard curriculum, but it does not.
Classes must be aligned vertically in order to ensure that students are being developed and prepared appropriately for success at each level and in order for students to be held accountable for what they have learned in the past.
It is also important that horizontal alignment exists as students may be moved from one class to another for any reason at any point in the year.
But within these structures and curriculum guides, there must be the flexibility for teachers to practice the craft they have been trained for and developed through years of experience while also being allowed to exhibit their unique pedagogical giftings and creativity.
It will always be important to individualize instruction. There will always be times that we have to take time to review concepts that they have struggled to be successful with. And, teachers will constantly have to battle with what to cut after adding or revisiting concepts.
The philosophies of Gallagher and Kittle may be idealistic, but the experiences they relay in this book reflect how to make these things happen while still accomplishing the tasks and goals laid out for teachers. There are also videos online that accompany the book and an audiobook version that provides an even more personal take on content with Kelly and Penny doing reading and discussing informally.