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Book Study

Teachers at Milwaukee College Preparatory School recently completed a book study based on Freedom Writer’s, Writing for Social Justice.

Milwaukee College Prep is a school that has deep roots in academic excellence.  It is an urban Charter School (K4-8th grades) located in the heart of Milwaukee with a 98% African American student population and about 97% on free or reduced lunch.

After a team of four teachers attended the Milwaukee Writing Project (MWP) Invitational Summer Institute (ISI) in 2008, they decided to bring a quality professional development opportunity to others on their staff. Supported by the MWP and Carroll University, the Milwaukee College Prep book study class had a total of nine participants comprised of special education, elementary education, middle school, and resource teachers.  The class was facilitated by Joyce Cullen, a teacher consultant alum of the MWP 2008 ISI, with 16 years of successful experience as a classroom teacher. 

The class met for five months for three graduate credits.  Participants met twice a month to discuss classroom implications, strategies, ideas and applications.  They self-reflected, planned and implemented discussed methods.  Joyce also created a blog site to extend the discussion and support the teachers.

Inspired by Ms. Gruwell’s book, Milwaukee College Prep teachers extended their activities to include:

  • a school-wide blog
  • peer mediation
  • a food drive
  • a neighborhood clean-up event
  • a service project to Heifer International
  • the development of positive classroom creeds
  • a variety of self-esteem writing projects
  • contributions to an elderly home
  • contributions to a homeless shelter
  • “O Ambassadors,” helping to serve in West Africa)
  • a student centered Freedom Writer’s writing group
  • the creation of grade level community meetings
  • the implementation of DeBono’s thinking tools

A report from Badger High School Book Study in Lake Geneva Wisconsin

Dani Madecky, a former fellow of the 2007 Milwaukee Writing Project Summer Institute and a MWP Teacher Consultant, facilitated a Book Study for her school district on "Integrating Differentiation and Understanding by Design."  Dani, a National Board Certified teacher (English/Language Arts), is currently teaching senior and sophomore English classes at Badger High School in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Badger High School, with a student population of 1,403, is a Title I school with 51% of students receiving free, reduced, or low cost lunches. Badger is a rural school in the Lake Geneva-Genoa City School District, located in southwestern Wisconsin.

In Dani's own words . . .

While reading INTEGRATING DIFFERENTIATION and UNDERSTANDING BY DESIGN by Jay McTighe and Carol Ann Tomlinson (recognized experts in UBD and Differentiation, respectively), our Book Study Group actively discussed the UBD philosophy and practice, specifically focusing on skills, essential questioning, and assessment, as well as grading practices, and the challenges and successes related to differentiated instruction. To help facilitate our discussions, we practiced the active reading strategy of "PMI" ("Plusses" of the chapter, "Minueses", and areas of "Interest/ing". We also created two UBD'D lesson/unit plans to strengthen and reinforce ideas from the text. Participants in the study group commented, "[the text] forced us to look at a lot of critical ideas".  The group agreed that some of the most valuable strategies gleaned from the text and from the philosophy are using pre-assessments, offering ongoing feedback to students via differentiation strategies and assessments (different from grading), and helping students to make connections by relating all ideas back to the Essential Questions. An informal poll showed that most teachers in the group would continue using the UBD'D strategy in their own classrooms.

Our “Three Cups of Tea” Book Study Group was FABULOUS! We had the most thought-provoking conversations. Ultimately, we decided that in order to address literacy, we must have a spirit of community for students to buy in to . . .  Build community (ala Greg Mortenson), then spread literacy.

For our Tipping Point experiment, based on the book by Malcolm Gladwell, we all felt that our students responded positively to the incentives provided in the classroom, but our data did not correspond to our theory (missing assignments actually increased). We noted in our discussions and reflection that many factors could be to blame for this discrepancy that we did not account for in our experiment, such as absences, late work, etc.). We are ultimately undecided about whether incentives truly work, but we all agreed to keep up the experiment until the end of the year, even though the class is over. We will continue to meet and correspond via email. Exciting, huh?!


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