How Do You Reach Your Vulnerable Readers?

This morning I was asked what we do for our most vulnerable readers to help them be successful.  As I took a moment to ponder this questions, I realized a big thing;  what we do for the most vulnerable is also what we do for all of our readers.

We have fidelity to our students, not to our programs.

I work in a district that believes in fidelity to the students and not to the program.  Think about that for a second.  Oregon School District believes in staying true to what the children need and not what an outside purchased program, no matter how research-based it is, tells us what to do.  We use components from incredible programs, but they do not dictate our decisions; our students do.

We place them with amazing teachers.

We give them the best teachers we have to work on interventions.  These teachers know their research and use best practices.  They are given longer books, they have choice, they do meaningful work.  We make sure they work on stamina in books, not chopped up passages to just check their skills.

And we do not put them in front of computer programs.  We need our students to read, to think, to work through a text and then come out on the other side with a deeper understanding.  We need face-to-face interactions to gauge what they really know, not what a computer may think.  There is no replacement for a qualified teacher and so every child deserves one, especially those who are not where we would hope they would be.

We have them surrounded by books. 

We have a beautiful school library, staffed by a fully certified librarian, and we also promote classroom libraries.  As Neumann researched, having a classroom library can increase reading up to 60% and so we believe in the power of great books within their reach at all times.  As one student told me Friday, “Mrs. Ripp, I love that we have great books right here, I never have to go far to find my next read.”

We are also mindful of the books we surround them with.  Inspired by the word of Dr. Simms Bishop, Chad Everett, Nerdy Book Club, and so many other passionate advocates for better library experiences, we think of how our library shapes our students’ identities.  Can they see themselves?  Can they see others?  Who is represented, how are they represented, and who is not?  All of this pushes us forward as we purchase more and better books.

We are careful with our language. 

I flinch a little whenever I hear the term “struggling readers.”  As Donalyn Miller has taught me, there is little hope in that term.  How about vulnerable?  How about careful?  How about developing?  How about just readers?  Our language promotes a growth mindset so we have to be aware of what our language does to shape their self-image.  How do we speak about our readers when they are around or not around?

 

We cultivate patience.

It is really hard to not lose hope when you have implemented best practices (choice, time, books, and a reading community) and then see little results.  And yet, sometimes we are working against years of a negative reading identity.  We are working on catching up years of stalled reading experiences.  We are working against unseen forces that derail us any chance they get.  So we must be patient.  Patient with the child who is trying.  Patient as the teacher hoping for results.  I have said it before and will say it again; sometimes we are just the tourniquet that stops the growth of the hatred of reading or the negative reading experiences, not the teacher that will see the actual seeds of change grow and bloom.

We balance our purchasing decisions.

While we may be going one to one with Chromebooks, my principal will also tell you that she always has money to purchase books.  Our literacy coach asks us if we want more books because if we do then she will get us some.  This speaks volumes because if a district is spending money on technology without spending money on books there is a serious imbalance in priorities.   And if that is the case, a conversation needs to be started about what is more important?

So when I think of what we do for our vulnerable readers, I once again see the thread that runs through our entire school community; every child a reader, every single day.  Every child deserves the best chance.  Every child deserves the best teachers.  The best experiences.  The best, period.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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Kids These Days…

Tonight is Thea’s birthday party.  She has planned this event for months as only a child can plan.  Decorations, chips, and even a guest roster waits for kids to show up.  She poured over the guest list, wanting to invite just the right amount of girls over for her first ever sleepover party.  I told parents if they didn’t feel comfortable with their daughter sleeping here that they could still come and just be picked up, just in case.  Invitations were sent out three weeks ago.  Thea held her breath, telling me about every single thing they were going to do.  How she couldn’t wait to show off Whiskers, her gerbil.  How she didn’t know how many balloons we needed in case they all wanted their own.

As the day approached, my stomach started to hurt as my email and phone stayed silent.

One girl told us she couldn’t come but would love a sleepover another night.  Yes, please!

Thea told me other girls had said they would be here.  She couldn’t wait.  All day today looking at the time, waiting for 5:30 PM to finally be here.  Running to the door at every small noise.

5:30 PM…

One girl came.

No one else.

And I now sit with the pieces of my daughter who is trying to put on a brave face and yet also tells me that she was hoping for at least one more girl to show up.  That this doesn’t really feel like a birthday party when there is only one guest, but “At least, one kid showed up, Mom…”

And I give her a hug and tell her that I am sure the invitations just got lost or something.  That perhaps we just picked a busy night.  That perhaps they couldn’t find or house or something.

Or something…

Because what do you tell your kid when the world is cruel like that?

What do I tell her when I know that it is not because of her kids didn’t come, but that it just happens?

What do I tell her when this event that she so meticulously planned for so long pans out into nothing?  I know that disappointment is a cruel but necessary partner in life, but dear lord, how much hurt can this child get this year?

And the thing is, we keep talking like this world is falling apart because of what “Kids these days…” do without ever looking at adults these days.

Adults who cannot be bothered to get off their phone to hold a conversation.

Adults who think “You do you” is actually an excuse to do whatever you want because you are just expressing yourself.

Adults who gladly point fingers and then forget to look at themselves.

Adults who tell us that kids these days don’t know how to work hard, how to be polite, how to have respect and then complain about every little thing that didn’t go their way, going out of their way to spew meanness on any social media account they have.

Adults who forget to rsvp to one kid’s birthday party.

And as her parents, all we can do is put on a brave face and tell her not to worry because there is absolutely nothing I can say or do to make this better, except share this story so that perhaps next time my kids come home with their backpacks, I will actually look through it right away.

That next time I think about these kids these days I am reminded of just how much goodness they bring.

That next time someone tells me about kids these days, I raise my voice louder to really speak about the kids I know, my own and those I get to teach.  About how they ask me every day how I am.  About how some even give me hugs, even though they are 7th graders.  About how they work hard, even when they are tired, even when home is rocky, even when what we do is really difficult.

About how kids these days are curious and sceptical, worried about the world we are passing on to them, and also wondering what has gotten into adults these days.

So the least we can do is do better.

The least we can do is remember that we are directly responsible for all of those kids these days.

The least we can do is at least see the part that we play in shaping them into becoming those adults that will one day, if they are lucky, get to talk about kids these days.

The 30 Day Unslump Yourself Challenge

If you are like me, January brings excitement, positivity but also exhaustion.  This quiet month is one where I sometimes find my energy running low, my creativity running out, and rather than take the time to take care of myself I barrel on as if that will do the trick.  So this year, I realized I needed to challenge myself.  Challenge me to take better care of myself.  Challenge me to slow down.  Challenge me to focus more on meaningful interactions, rather than hurried conversations.  And yet I know that as soon as I say I will do it, I just don’t.  Such is life.  Such is so many of our realities.

So I created a 30-day challenge to unslump myself.  To remember to take care of me.  You are more than welcome to join me or create your own.  My challenge starts on Monday.  I cannot wait.  To see the challenge document, go here.

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If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Small Ideas For Creating Visible Book Buzz

I start thinking of summer on the very first day of school.   As I greet my new students, I cannot help but wonder; who will leave us a reader?  Who will include books in their summer plans?

With this in mind, I teach with a sense of urgency as so many of us do.  I am not just teaching for the now, I am teaching for the after.  After the bell rings.  After Friday afternoon.  After the day before break. After the school year is over.

I teach for the kids who come to me loving reading; my job is to protect that love with all I have.

I teach for the kids who see no point in books.  Who scorn every day when I ask them to settle in, settle down, get to reading.  For the kids who would rather sit in silence and pretend to read than actually read a book.

And I hope that this year, this time in our classroom, perhaps a seed will be planted.  Perhaps an idea will form that reading is not the slow, quiet torture that they have decided it is and that perhaps there is indeed books out there for them.

And so in those very first days, we make reading visible.  I book talk a book on the second day of school.  This year it was Dear Martin by Nic Stone.  I make it the expectation that books are shared, discussed, rated, and abandoned when needed.  We speak books as our primary language, immersed in everything else we have to do.  The book buzz builds and at the end of the year when I ask what made the biggest difference, there it is, nestled in with time to read, a community of readers, a classroom library; recommendations. But what does that look like?  Here are the simple, yet powerful components, plus a few extra ideas that we use to create a visible book buzz.

What Mrs. Ripp Read over the Summer Display

This year, I didn’t just portray the covers, I made a display of the physical books that I had read and wanted to share from the summer.  On the second day of school, I pointed to the tree and told them that these were books that I would highly recommend.  That this tree would soon be overtaken by their favorite reads, but for now it showcased mine.

What is Mrs. Ripp Reading Display

Throughout our school, you can see a variety of staff reading displays.  I chose to not just display what I had just read but keep a visual record of all of the book covers for the year.  My students know that my goal is 90 books for a year and so this also keeps a visual track of that.  This hangs by our door so it is the last thing they see as they leave.

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Our Favorite Books Tree

Within the first few weeks of the year, the tree I used to display my summer reads turns into the students’ favorite reads instead.  If books are in high demand this is where they go, if a student loved a book, this is where they can place it to be read by others.  This tree is many of our student’s first stop to bookshop.  Hat tip to Nancie Atwell for this genius idea.

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A To-Be-Read List in the room

Our someday list, wish list of books, books I cannot wait to read.  Whatever you call it, I am grateful that advocates like Teri Lesene, Nancie Atwell, Donalyn Miller, and Penny Kittle remind us that students need to have reading plans and that includes having ideas for what they want to read next.  In our reading notebook, we have a few pages dedicated to just this, or students can choose to use their devices and Goodreads for example.  Whenever a book talk is underway, students are reminded to write down any titles that catch their eye.  At the end of the year, we take a picture of the list and send it home to parents/caregivers so they have ideas for summer reading.

A daily book talk.

After our ten minutes of independent reading, I try to start the day with a book talk.  Usually, it is a book I have just finished or an old favorite.  The book talk is short and sweet; what’s the book about, why did I like it and why might others’ like it.  Students have their to-be-read list out and ready to add titles to it.

30-second book talks. 

The day we came back from break, I asked my students to write down a 30-second book talk on a notecard.  They had to write the title, the author, a little about the book and then why others may like it.  It took us about 5 minutes.  I then collected the cards and now pick three cards every day for students to do their book talks.  The students experience little stress by it because the work is already done and I get to have the book cover ready to display for students to see while they speak.

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Book speed dating.

Another take on short book talks is when students split into two equal groups; one with a favorite book in hand, the other with their to-be-read list.  Students then line up in front of each other and when I say go, they have 45 seconds to book talk the book in their hand.  When the time is up, every child on one side takes steps to the side, thus standing in front of a new child.  We do this five or six times in a row.  The next day, the roles switch.

Book group book talks.

Once in a while, I will book talk an entire group of books centered around a format, theme, or author.  This way students are given multiple ideas for what to read next if they like one of the books.  Recently I did this with free-verse books, one of the most popular formats in our classroom, and the books have been flying off the shelves since.

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Book shopping 

We book shop every three to four weeks in our classroom.  It is a community event and one that we discuss how to do well.  The goal for every child is to walk away from the book shopping experience with at least a few new titles they want to read.  I have written more extensively about our process, right here.

Sharing on Instagram

I resisted Instagram for a long time as I didn’t want to share more aspects of my life, and yet, I needed a quick and easy way to recommend books without having to write an entire review.  Enter Instagram.  The bonus to sharing “live” recommendations of books on here has been that some of my students follow me on there to get recommendations.  As I only use Instagram for book-related things, I don’t have any hesitations with students following my account.  To follow my account, go here

There are more ways to build book buzz, but these are a few that work.  Other ways include book abandonment, creating enticing book displays, acknowledging our own reading gaps, involving the school librarian and other reading adults, and speaking books to all students.  I wrote about all of these and more in my book Passionate Readers, a book MiddleWeb has said should be required reading in all Reading Methods Classes.  While those are huge words to live up to, I think it once again speaks to the power of all of the little things we do to create passionate reading environments.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

My Favorite Chapter Books of 2017

I wasn’t going to write this post.  After all, how can I possibly whittle down the amazing reading experiences I have had in 2017 to just a few books?  And yet in the more than 180 books, I managed to read this year these books are the ones I keep recommending, these are the ones that have an extra special place in my heart and perhaps this little post will help others discover them as well.

Why not picture books as well?  Because there are simply too many.  To see some of our favorites in room 235D, go here or follow me on Instagram for live recommendations.

What a year of reading it has been.  What a year of reading 2018 promises to be. I cannot wait to turn the page.

Middle Grade-ish

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor 

Yes, I am aware that this book was originally released in 1976 and subsequently won the Newbery.  It is by no stretch of the imagination a “new” book, but it was for me.  As part of our reading identity challenge, I wanted to close some of my classic American children’s literature gaps (growing up in Denmark, there are just some books I have never read), and so I chose this amazing book.  I am glad I did.

How do you tell others to read a book about child abuse knowing that it will probably make them cry?  You just do.  The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott comes out October 17th and is a must add for middle school classrooms and up.  While the topic may be harrowing this is one of those books that could actually save a life.

It is not often that a middle-grade novel about a girl who suffers from OCD is this well-written.  I simply loved Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz for its lack of sugar coating, for its brutal portrayal of a girl who realizes what she is doing is not normal and yet cannot stop herself, for the story.  OCD is sometimes portrayed almost as a gimmick, but not in this book.  It was heart-wrenching, to say the least, and written in a way to bring all readers in.  
I grabbed  Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank  is one of those books that delivers every time I need it to.  from my ARC book pile on a whim.   I love this middle-grade novel for all of its nuances when it comes to sharing the story of one school’s integration in the 1970’s and so will you.

A book about periods?  Yup!  Well written, humorous and very informational, how many girls wish we had books like this in our libraries when they first enter puberty? Helloflo, The Guide, Period is a book I wish would be in every library.

Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of my three must-read books for 2017.  It was a bad idea reading this on an airplane, as this book kicks you right in the heart.  5th grade and up.

I don’t know how I have been a teacher and never read a Gordon Korman book before?  I am so glad that has now been remedied with Restart.  This middle-grade book is sure to pull in those kids who identify as not liking reading and is also a Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.

A book about a boy who loves a skunk and will do anything in his power to keep it.  A book about a boy who just happens to seem different from others but without being about that.  A Boy Called Bat is another Global Read Aloud contender for 2018, 3rd grade and up.

I always feel bad putting books on here which are not out yet, but The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson has to be one of the best middle grade reads for me this year.  Coming out in March, this story that on the surface is a child detective mystery book has so many layers to it, I found myself reading passages aloud to my husband just so he could understand the reading experience I was having.  This is a must pre-order.

Another book that is not out yet but so worth a pre-order is the first book in a new series, The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz and illustrated by Hatem Aly.  This book is everything I would want in an early reader chapter book – fantasy, mystery, great characters, and not a unicorn in sight.  This book set out to fill a true gap; longer books that are fun to read but easy to read and I am so grateful for it.

As an adult, I needed to read Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee, the story of a girl who returns to school after battling cancer.  All she wants to for normalcy to return and yet those around her, including her teachers, keep seeing her as a single story.  Fantastic story and reminder to us all of how we view others.

I was lucky enough to read Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai before its arrival in the world on January 2nd, 2018. It is one of those books that leaves you grateful for what you have but also wondering how you can do more for others.

This list would be woefully incomplete without the stunning Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder.  How she managed to pack such a story into a middle-grade book is beyond me.  This is one of those books that kids always want to talk about after.

YA-ish

The book landscape continued to change this year and one of the reasons for this positive change was the release of  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  This book is desperately needed in our classrooms but not just to be read by students, no, it also needs to be read by us adults.  And then we need to sit with them for a long time and take a long hard look at ourselves and see where we need to start our work with checking our privilege and our bias.

If this post was a list in order of favorites, Dear Martin by Nic Stone would be very close to the top.  In fact, this begs for a re-read as I want to continue to think about this book, another Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.  7th grade and up.

I read  Scythe (Arc of a Scythe) by Neal Shusterman in two nights and then handed it to one of my students.  A week later she handed it back and said, “This is the best book I have read all year.”  Enough said, this is PG13, but a must add and read.  (Thunderhead, the sequel, is even better which I thought would be impossible!).
Yes please to a YA book where the female lead character doesn’t need to be saved, isn’t waiting to be changed by the boy she falls in love with, has a family that actually is functional, and is also not a hopeless mess.  I am a fan of First & Then by Emma Mills .

Masterful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and stays with you long after that last page.  Long Way Down is another absolute must-read of 2017.  Global Read Aloud contender 2018, 7th grade and up.

I have been recommending this book to anyone I can think of.  The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater follows two teenagers as their lives become intertwined in the worst of ways in Oakland, CA.  This is the true account of what happened that fateful day on The 57 Bus.

Story told through graphic novels still rule our classroom and I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina is one that is sure to make an impression.  This fictionalized account of an all too familiar story of a young black boy getting shot and killed by a white police officer delves into the history of these shootings and the Black Lives Matter Movement.  Powerful and unforgettable.

Another not-new but new to me book I am glad I discovered this year is Bronx Masquerade by the Great Nikki Grimes.  Set in a high school classroom in the Bronx, it makes poetry come alive for us, the readers, as it does for the kids in the book.

I was not sure what to expect in Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End and yet it didn’t matter.  This story of two young boys who are told that today is their last day to live sat with me for a long time.  It turns out that sometimes we don’t need a long life to truly live.

It is not often I get to read a book featuring a geeky strong girl who is not looking to change who she is for others, but that is exactly what I discovered in When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.  What a great book for all of our teenagers to read.

 

A fantasy book set in feudal Japan that featured samurai is not my typical reading choice, but I am so glad that this beautiful cover called to me as loudly as it did.  A powerful female character who decides to change her fate, coupled with action and magic, yes, please to Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh.

Haunting.  This graphic novel depicting the story of a residential school survivor is just a book we all need to have in our libraries so that our students can understand what happens when we refuse to treat others like fellow human beings.  I am so glad David Alexander Robertson wrote this (Bonus; all of his books are amazing!).

Books that Changed Me:

Ok, so The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp and many amazing creators is neither YA, MG or a chapter book, but I truly think it is a game changer for us as teachers of writing and helping kids connect with their own creativity.  This book comes out March 13th, the day before my birthday, and I truly feel like it would be the best birthday present for any educator.

I was sick for two full months this year and ended up with pneumonia feeling absolutely awful.  My good friend, Reidun, told me to read this book to help me get back in control of what mattered the most to me.  I can tell you, Essentialism by Greg McKeown was exactly what I needed as I reframed my priorities and got healthy again.  I wrote this blog post for other educators who may need some balance in their lives as well.

It feels weird to put my own book on the list but the release of Passionate Readers this summer has truly changed me.  It is daunting to write a book about better reading instruction within the confinement of our current educational practices and yet to hear from others that something I wrote, along with my students, is helping them change their reading instruction is incredible.

There you have it, my favorite books of 2017, I know there are more but this will do.  Which books changed your world for the better this year?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

On Flexible Seating

Our classroom, room 235D, is an open door classroom.  Anyone is allowed in to see us learn together at any time.  Our classroom is nothing fancy.  We have tables covered in whiteboard paper, that has seen better days.  We have chairs.  We have yoga balls.  We have ratty old beanbags that are definitely on their last leg.  A few pillows of varying sizes.  And we have books, many, many books.

That’s what you might see, but if you stayed awhile, you may notice something else; freedom.  Shared control.  Freedom to sit where we would like.  Freedom to choose who we work with.  Freedom to move the furniture around.  A sense of shared control over our shared space so that we all can feel comfortable together.  It is nothing much but is ours and you would think that the students would realize just how unfancy it is.  And yet, every year when I ask my students how I could change our classroom, the answers are similar, “It’s fine, Mrs. Ripp. Perhaps a few more pillows. We like it the way it is…”

While I have a milelong wish list of furniture I wish we could get, I find comfort in their answer.  The room is working for us, as well as it can.  The control that they have over what the room looks like is working for them.  The flexible seating that has been a part of our learning for years, works for us.

And I see it spread across the globe; the push for more innovative seating.  For yoga balls and wiggle chairs, pillows, and getting rid of desks.  On Pinterest I drool over classrooms I will never be able to recreate, and yet, I wonder; how often does the furniture actually match the teaching?  How often does the furniture match the educational philosophy that needs to be in place for this to truly be flexible?

Because the reality is that while many districts are gladly spending money on new furniture in order to promote innovation, the educational philosophy in many of those same districts is not changing. The students are still sitting through a scripted curriculum, where teachers have limited choice in how to teach and the students are expected to learn through the same process.

This is the problem in education; we so gladly throw money at new educational initiatives that look great, but then do little to think about our thinking.  And yet, our educational philosophy is what really determines the experience that everyone has within our schools, not the fancy new chairs.  Buying new furniture is easy, changing the way we educate is not, and then we wonder why the furniture ends up being used in the exact same way as the furniture was before.

So I wonder; what good is flexible seating if we don’t also have flexible thinking?

One of the central questions of our year together is for my students to explore how they learn best.  This includes the room manipulation and where in the classroom they need to be to access the learning.  They cannot do this if I am constantly telling them where to sit, how to sit, and also with whom to sit by.  There has to be room for experimentation, bad decisions, and reflection on what works best for them.

So before we invest more of our already limited funds into newfangled furniture, let’s look at what flexible seating should really encompass, here are a few questions to help.

Can the kids move the furniture?

Flexible seating should be flexible both in function but also in where it is used.  If students need to explore how they learn best then deciding where to sit is just as important, if not more so, than what to sit on.   Do they need to move tables into a corner so they can think or will being in the middle of the classroom work better for them?  Will they learn best sitting on the floor in the front or pacing in the back?  Where in the classroom can they access the learning best?

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Do they always need permission?

When permission is tied into flexible seating, we often tend to say “no” to the same kids; the kids who may have made poor decisions in the past.  And while there certainly can be different guidelines at times for some kids, they need to, at some point, go back to having the same blanket permission as everyone else.  Schools are meant to be safe places for kids to experiment with learning, to try new things, to learn about who they are and what they need.  If we constantly limit that for some kids, think of what will happen to their self-advocacy and also their sense of belonging.

Is it choice for all or just for some?

Are kids earning their way into the flexible seating or is it an automatic yes to all?  While there are times I have doubt about some of the choices my students are making, I will tell them to prove it to me.  If they do, then great, if they don’t, then we discuss further.  We have to be careful that flexible seating choices do not become one more way to segregate the kids.  After all, it is often some of my most challenging learners that benefit the most from having a different way to work in the classroom, but we won’t know that if they don’t get a chance to choose.

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Does it encourage new ways of working?

I have seen beautiful classrooms with lots of flexible seating where students work through traditional lessons; teacher-centered, and one process for all.  Where is the innovation in that?  One of the things I love the most is how my students move around the classroom and try new configurations when needed.  Not at all times by any means, but when they need to.  They know they have the tools at hand to move their group onto the floor or a table in the team area.  They know they can make the furniture support their learning rather than work around its limitation. They know to use each other as writing peers, reading partners, or project collaborators because they know that with their choices in seating also comes the choice in who to work with most of the time.  They think about how to work, rather than always look to me to make all of the decisions, thus growing their independence and once again their knowledge of how they learn best.

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Is there choice throughout?

Flexible seating should truly just be the outward indicator of the choice-driven learning that should be happening.  We operate under the five tenets of choice at all times, meaning that I try to give my students as much control and power over how they learn, what they learn, who they learn it with, and how they are assessed.  This is what matters most to me.  Not the yoga balls, not the pillows, not how they can move things around, but that the students feel like they have a shared power and responsibility for what happens in our classroom.  It is a work in progress every single year, yet, at the end of the year, I am always amazed at how far we have come.

So as a new year begins, it is time for us to really reflect on the educational innovation we are pursuing.  If we are looking at adding more flexible seating to our schools, are we also having the educational discussions that need to go with it?  Are we asking ourselves how this will change the way we teach?  The way our students learn?  Are we asking ourselves how this will be better?  Or is it just an outward show of supposed innovation that does not really change the educational experience our students have?

The choice is ours; it is not enough to have great new furniture if we don’t also have new ideas.

PS:  If you are wondering what the research says, here are a few great articles to get you started.  One that discusses the need for our classrooms to match the type of learning experiences we would like to have, so once more focusing on intentionality within our environment.  And another that is a conglomeration of research that discusses the need for students to feel empowered within our classrooms.  And here is another that while lengthy discusses how the way we have students sit can help them learn deeper depending on the activity they are engaged in.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.