Tagged: city arts and technology high school

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

A teacher’s book recommendation, plus a trip to the library, leads Gonzalo to a book he loves

my bloody life

favicon Many of us don’t entirely understand the power that teachers have to encourage young people to become engaged readers.

Gonzalo is a ninth grader at City Arts & Technology High School in San Francisco. Gonzalo’s ninth grade English teacher, Brittany Pratt, and his Reading Lab teacher, Marni Spitz, have built a strong culture in their classes to promote independent reading.

Yesterday, Gonzalo and his peers visited The Mix at the San Francisco Public Library and had time to check out books for the summer. To prepare for the field trip, Ms. Pratt arranged with SFPL to ensure that all students had library cards. In addition, earlier in the week, Ms. Spitz recommended several books to Gonzalo.

It looks like the library visit went well. This morning (yes, a Saturday morning), Ms. Spitz received this enthusiastic email from Gonzalo:

Hey Ms.Spitz thanks for the recommendation of the book “My bloody life” I absolutely love this book it’s so amazing and intresting I already read 50 pages in the span of an hour and that’s the most I’ve read in a day my whole life so excited to read more and possibly finish the book before I we go back to school Monday and share all about the book with you thank you again love this book so much!!!!

My experience says that it takes just three or four books (ideally in a short period of time) to change forever a student’s interest in reading.

This seems fairly easy — but it’s not, at all. For this transformation to occur, three crucial ingredients need to be in place: (1) Access to a ton of good books; (2) Teachers who have read widely and know how to recommend the right books to the right students; (3) Students who trust those teachers, who let them in, and who take a risk to follow through on their teacher’s recommendation that reading is for them.

Great work, Gonzalo, Ms. Pratt, and Ms. Spitz! favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

What students are reading this weekend

favicon The epicenter of the Kindle Classroom Project has recently moved to San Francisco, where reading activity has skyrocketed, thanks to excellent English teachers Kathleen Large (Leadership High School) and Angela Barrett (City Arts and Technology High School).

Kathleen and Angela are new teachers to the KCP, and they’re infusing energy, passion, and high levels of reading instruction into the program.

Their students are reading and requesting books, then reading and requesting some more. Today, one student requested Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please after reading a review that Michele Godwin wrote at LHS Books.

And the students’ reading doesn’t stop over the weekend. It just keeps going and going. Here is what some students are reading this weekend:

As I’ve said over and over again, when students get to choose what they read, they choose well. The same thing can be said about requesting books.

I don’t have the data yet to back up the assertion that I’m going to make, but I’m going to make it anyway: On average, students read much more and more often on Kindles than they do in print.

It’s wonderful to see students coming back to reading, reclaiming their love of reading, building robust reading lives, building their reading identities, and living a life of the mind. favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #3

Numbers, Reading, the Jackson 5, and Awesomeness

ms. spitz 4Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This is her third post for TEACHER VOICES. Donate to Marni’s classroom!

favicon Numbers. I love numbers. They mean so much. They can mean good luck, dates of birthdays, years of anniversaries, and how many spoonfuls of sugar you need in order to make the best chocolate chip cookies ever. So to all those number-loving educators, I, a Humanities teacher, salute you!

Numbers come up a lot in my U.S. History and Reading Lab classes. They teach us so much! Question: When was the Declaration of Independence signed? Answer: 1776! (a number!) Question:  What resolved the debate over the representation of slaves in the House of Representatives? Answer: 3/5th Compromise (another number! a fraction at that!)

In Reading Lab, a new class we’re piloting with our ninth graders this year, numbers are coming up all the time. Some insight: I use numbers to track my students’ pages on their independent reading books each day. My students use numbers to find quotes for their metacognition journals. We use numbers to set goals for reading and to chunk our reading.

But perhaps the best number of all so far has been the number of books students are finishing. That’s right. My Reading Lab-ers are voraciously reading and FINISHING their books. It’s honestly incredible!


After FIVE days of class (five, another great number: high fives! Five Guys Burgers! Five Spice Girls!), THREE of my students had already finished their books! THREE out of FIFTEEN in ONE week! The next week, there were another THREE, and the following week, FOUR more! By week six, ELEVEN out of FIFTEEN (that’s 11/15 for all you fraction lovers!) had finished a book. Some students have even finished more than ONE book!

I know that you’re thinking: But we’re only in week SEVEN! And your students are in a reading intervention class! I thought they don’t even like reading! How the heck is this happening?!?  Well guys, I don’t have a scientific explanation just yet, but I have spent some time pondering this incredible phenomenon. Here’s what I’ve come up with as to why my Reading Lab-ers are finishing books with Usain Bolt speed:

(FYI, these are in no particular order as I am not here to make numbers feel above/below each other. Hahahahaha — get it? I crack myself up.)

1. Our kids have access to AWESOME BOOKS!!! SO SO SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS!

If I do say so myself, my classroom library is amazing! We’re talking Beyonce dance moves amazing. This has everything to do with the books on the shelves and very little to do with me (although I love to take credit). With the help of my literacy coach (I’m talking about you, Mark!), DonorsChoose.com, and our charter network’s commitment to books, my classroom library is rich in variety of genre and level. And…the books are so new and so so pretty! Sure, we know that in most instances, looks don’t matter, but whoever said not to judge a book by it’s cover hasn’t worked with a group of struggling teenage readers.

2. I KNOW my classroom library like Indiana Jones knows how to rock cargo.

My first year with a classroom library was wonderful, but I had never read most of the books in it, nor had I beared witness to the effects each book had on its readership. As my library continues to grow, the more familiar I am with the heavy hitters. (For example: Perfect Chemistry will win every time! The Bluford series is a gem for confidence-boosting! You liked Dope Sick? I think you’d love Tyrell!). My librarian skills have really picked up and I am developing a niche for being a book-student matchmaker. My Grandma would be so proud!

perfect chemistry

I also spent a lot of time reorganizing my library this summer so that I can navigate my shelves with the grace and stamina of Michael Jordan. Just call me #23. (There I go with the numbers again).  Something as simple as knowing where the books are has made the book-student matching process far more effective! I can quickly direct a student to the “Fight The Man!” bins on the left, the “Back in the Day” bins in the middle, and the “Ulysses” bins on the top shelf. (Okay fine, we’re not quite there yet, but we’ll get there!)

3. The students are reading their books in a lot of their classes. A LOT.

They’re reading in English. They’re reading in Advisory. They’re reading in Math. They’re reading in Biology. My reading Lab-ers are getting so much time to read their books at school, thanks to the incredible commitment of the ninth grade team!!  When asked about reading at home, most of my students said that no, they didn’t read at home and never really had. At this point in the school year, whether or not my kiddos are reading their books at home is still unclear, but what is clear is that structured and routinized reading is happening in multiple classes.

Having their independent book with them is as essential as their pens, binders, and enthusiasm. Words cannot express what a joy it is to walk in the hallways during my prep, eat my snack (that’s what preps are for right?), and peek into ninth grade classrooms and see them reading. You can just FEEL the pages turning!

4. Reading is part of ninth grade culture!

It’s alive! It’s alive! (And, unlike Frankenstein, it’s far from terrifying. In fact, it’s arguably the most beautiful thing ever.) It’s alive in the hallways (student book reviews!), in signs on teachers’ front doors (Ms. Y is currently reading…), in passing conversation (“Have you read A Child Called It yet?”), when work is done early (“Done with your quiz? Open up yo’ book!”), in a grade-wide competition (Which advisory can read the most books?), and of course, on the ‘ole faithful bulletin boards. Finishing books is a thing! It’s a real thing that lives and breathes alongside the ninth grade experience. INCREDIBLE!

dope sick

5. We spend time previewing the books!

Call me crazy (not maybe), but I love previews! They get me pumped! Similarly, this year we spent two full days surveying and previewing the books. I may or may not have done some pretty fantastic book pitches, and I made sure to play the “EVERYONE-who’s-ever-read-this book-has-LOVED-it” card to really hone in on that peer pressure. A gallery walk of the books gave our growing readers a chance to familiarize themselves with the steps and value of the selection process. Every student but one selected a book they liked on their first go around. How’s that for numbers?

6. We celebrate finishing a book like we just won tickets to a Prince concert!

Never underestimate the power of a round of applause accompanied by a photo. Just last week, a student finished a book, and the class’s applause was super weak. He demanded we do it again. Heck yeah, Sergio: Get yours!  Quantifying reading can be tricky, but I think that the number of finished books can provide some priceless insight on so many factors:

– Are students actually reading during SSR? (You bet!)
– Do you have enjoyable books in your library? (No doubt!)
– Are students reading outside of your class allotted SSR? (For real!)
– Do you need more copies of a certain book? (YES! ALWAYS!)
– Do student book requests work? (Why yes! They most certainly do!!)
– How are your students feeling about reading in general? (They get it. And if they don’t, they want to and are on their way.)

I guess what I’ve been trying to say in so many words  is that: Numbers are awesome. Finishing books is awesome. My Reading Lab-ers are awesome. Beyonce’s dance moves are awesome. Classroom libraries are awesome. When it comes to numbers and letters, the Jackson Five (there’s five again!) is awesome. They were really onto something when they sang: “A,B,C, easy as 1,2,3.”

See what I did there? favicon

 /  By  / comments Please comment!

Let’s make reading public. Here’s one way.

favicon There are many teachers out there building independent reading programs, encouraging their students to read, raising money to buy books, and recommending good books to their students.

With all that going on, there’s not very much time left for teachers to invest in one crucial step: making reading public.

Too often, all that reading goodness is cooped up in classrooms. Students talk about their books to their classmates but keep things quiet with their friends. Teachers glow when Danny reads his 10th book of the year but dare not share that accomplishment with colleagues.

This reading bashfulness needs to change. It’s time for a reading revolution. The public needs to know that teenagers like to read. Let’s make this happen!

Take a look at what Math teacher Brandon Barrette is doing with his advisees at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. Here’s what’s outside his classroom:

Sure, this takes dedication and effort, even with Mr. Barrette’s snappy template. But over time, book reviews will line the hallway, and students will take notice, get ideas about what to read next, and see their friends taking on academic identities.

In schools, what’s public is what matters. That’s why I’m happy to see Mr. Barrette taking part in his school’s reading revolution. favicon

 /  By  / comments 1 comment. Add yours!

TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #2

Top 10 Ways You Can Tell It’s the 1st Day of School (from a teacher’s perspective)

ms. spitz 2Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This is her second post for TEACHER VOICES. Donate to Marni’s classroom!

favicon Today was that most magical of days, when anything is possible, when copies are ready days in advance, when your outfit is picked out the week before (or is that just me?), and when music is on in the front lobby to welcome you! Beyonce! Rihanna! Well, good morning to you, too!

I like to think I’m not the only teacher that has a summer alter-ego.  In July, Ms. Spitz exits, and I become the super-fun, extra-social, late-night-talking “Summer Marn.” I stay out past 9:30 pm on a school night, I can hold a conversation during dinner time, and I’m not afraid to attend a social event on a Friday night. I may even watch TV during lunch. Gasp! It’s hard to say goodbye to Summer Marn, but then the first day of school comes along and makes you so excited to welcome back Ms. Spitz — cardigan-wearing, clip-art-loving, cheesy-quote-finding and all).

I may be a grown woman and eighth-year teacher, but I still get the same butterflies on that first day that I did when I was a student/first-year teacher/attending a Justin Timberlake concert. In fact, I’d like to take a moment to compare the school year to a Justin Timberlake concert. If the school year is a concert, then the first day is the opening song. When Justin (we’re on a first name basis) opens his concert, he chooses a song that gets everyone on their feet, so excited to see the rest of the show, and so in love that they want to buy T-shirts with his name on it for $45. Similarly, as a school, we’ve got to make that first day one that gets our kids on their feet (well, in their seats),  makes them so excited to see the rest of the show (“I love this syllabus! I can’t wait until Unit 3!”), and so in love that they want to buy T-shirts with our name on it (but only for $10). With so much pressure and build-up, the first day is exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It happens. And then just like that, another school year is underway.

For me, that first day/opening song of the concert was today. It’s over. It happened, and I am tired. I am happy.  Some might even say thrilled.  I also realized that Ms. Spitz is completely out of teacher shape. Summer Marn has not completely left the building and I need to do something about that.

Currently, I’m in my classroom, and as I sit here reflecting on the day (by reflecting, I mean staring off onto my beautiful new bulletin boards, sparkling with their new trims and posters that have not weathered a school year), I’m thinking that you know it’s the first day of school when:

1) Your throat hurts.
Turns out, teaching on the first day requires you to use far more of your vocal chords in seven hours than you have all summer. Also-the first day is lot of me talking. Like-a lot. I need to work on that.

2) Your handout speed is a lot slower and your handout counting is off.
Oh wait: There’s ten of you in this row? You didn’t get one? Sorrrryyyyyy.

3) Your whiteboard writing is slanted.
It’s embarrassing.

4) You forget that cute shoes are not teacher shoes.
It’s the first day back, and you want to look your best. So perhaps you decide to wear, say, cute ankle boots to tie your adorable back-to-school outfit together. This was a mistake, one you will be paying for by lunch. Ankle boots are not orthopedically sound nor are they designed for someone who is on their feet all the live-long day.

5) You are wearing an outfit that has no marker stains.
It’s amazing what time away from the Crayola can do for your wardrobe. Oh hi, stainless green dress! It’s so nice to see you again!


6) Students are saying “hi!!” to you super-enthusiastically in the halls.
In fact, some may even be running up to you (yeah, RUNNING!) because they are THAT EXCITED to see you! (“Oh hi honey! I could’ve sworn you hated me last year, but look at you! You loveeee me!”)

7) Your desk is clean. Impeccably, irresistibly clean.
Want a highlighter? Sure–it’s right in my super-organized Highlighter Bin! Need a paper clip? No problem. Please see the drawer labeled “Paper Clips.”

8) The copy machine is available because everyone had their first day lessons printed.
Over-prepared might be the MVP of day-one lessons. Syllabus? Check. Weekly agendas? Check. Surveys? Check. Bathroom passes? Check. Copies for tomorrow? Don’t be ridiculous.

9) There are bagels in the teachers lounge!
Free breakfast?!?! Today must be special!!! And…there are donuts! And a variety of cream cheese flavors! And wait-orange juice!! What?!?!?!

10) Your face hurts from smiling so big because you are so darn excited to be back where you belong. **

** You also need to take a nap. Like, right now. favicon

 /  By  / comments 1 comment. Add yours!

Please say hello and get ready for magic: Teacher Extraordinaire Marni Spitz

ms. spitz 4favicon People are talking (really, they are!) about TEACHER VOICES, the new feature on Iserotope set to launch this week. The excitement is palpable.

That’s why I’m so excited to introduce you to Marni Spitz, who is going to start things off with a bang.

Marni is an extraordinary social studies teacher at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. This year, she’ll teach U.S. History.

That’s pretty great, right? Well, it gets even better: Marni will also teach a section of Reading Lab, a new class for ninth graders who don’t know (yet) that they love reading (and might even say, in a moment of weakness, that it’s boring). (The students have no idea what’s coming!)

There are so many reasons that I think Marni is great, but I don’t want to give away too many secrets, because, after all, maybe she’ll want to be a consistent contributor to TEACHER VOICES, and it’ll be best for you, dear Iserotope readers, to learn about those secrets directly from Marni.

But I can’t stand myself, so here are a few:

1. Marni believes unapologetically that reading is the thing.
This means that Marni has built a robust classroom library; instituted an independent reading program with her partner English teacher; conducted regular one-on-one conferences with her students to track their reading interests, progress, and goals; and launched an Instagram campaign, #catsterscaughtreading, to encourage reading outside school. There’s a lot more, of course, but I wanted to give you a little teaser.

2. Marni is strongly loved by students and colleagues.
Sometimes, this whole teaching thing gets tough. But there’s no reason to be Dour Debbie Downer. Marni understands that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and that personal relationships with students and colleagues matter markedly. Her smile is infectious, her wit wonderful, her humor hilarious. Even when times get rough, Marni remains optimistic and looking for “miracles.”

3. I’m lucky because I get to work with Marni every week.
Yep, she’s one of her school’s instructional leaders, which means I get to visit her every week, observe her teach, takes notes about all the great things she’s doing, and meet with her to plan her next steps. Plus, Marni lets me collaborate with her on her projects, which from time to time leads to some significant fame. Like when we were on the student-run newscast last Spring. Please enjoy:

I can’t wait for you to get to know Marni, listen to her stories, and bask in her successes. Plus, no pressure, but you’ll likely laugh a lot. Please enjoy!

If you’re advanced, write a little note to Marni to introduce yourself! (Or, if you’re shy, wait until her first post, which comes out next week.) favicon