being me

Good Enough

We got the news last Sunday at 2 PM, while we were standing at our public library, stocking up just in case. “Schools are closed until April 6th.” The two days of goodbyes we had planned for getting food, devices, and books to kids no longer an option. Of giving phone numbers and reassurances. No “see you later,” no clean out your locker, no what do you need? Nothing.

So, as parents, we went home and did what we do best; plan. Create a schedule for the very next day where some sort of home learning would have to happen. Try to explain to our own kids, ages 6, 7, 7 and 11, what this meant. Answer their questions in a factual way without scaring. Try to come to grip with this new unprecedented reality. Take a deep breath and simply do the best we can.

We have been doing the best we can since then.

We all have.

And now as we face schools being closed indefinitely, we will continue to do so.

Yet the best we can is very much dependent on the day. Yesterday, I felt on top of the world. My kids did their academic work we have scheduled for an hour each day. They invented adventures together, I baked a cake with my son and it tasted good. I wore earrings as I prepped for my Facebook Live in our Passionate Readers community. The kids liked dinner. We laughed, we danced, we went outside, and we learned things about the world, letting our curiosity guide us. This whole deal – we got this.

But today, my kids slept in, they didn’t want to get up. They decided it was pajama day. They decided that they didn’t have to follow the rules of math that have been around for thousands of years because they “don’t like them.” They didn’t want to hold their pencils right, or trace the words, or read because “reading is stupid.” They couldn’t do their enrichment packets sent from their schools because all of the instructions are in Spanish, and their dad and I don’t speak Spanish. They left a mess in the kitchen, upended my teaching supplies, and decided that they were done. Just in general done. As my son exclaimed, “I hate the Coronavirus.”

And so I tried different methods, and I took a deep breath and tried again, and I gave them choice, and I gave them rewards, and I listened to their feedback, and I chunked it out, and I problem solved with them.

But the learning; that still wasn’t happening.

Despite having the tools. Despite having the time. Despite being an experienced teacher. Despite being able to provide a life filled with privilege when it comes to the basic needs of us all.

And so I yelled, even though I knew better. I shared my frustration because even though I am the adult; the world seems really scary to me right now too. Because my worries are stopping me from sleeping; I am the lone income in my family and while I am grateful for my teaching job, with my extra work all being cancelled, the threat of financial insecurity is real. I am worried about my students. I am worried about the community that is lost. I am worried for our economy. For all of the many inequities we see play out and how it will affect the future we are looking toward. And the worries are real even though I know they are not helpful, and much like my kids, I am just trying to do my best.

And the yelling did nothing. Only splintered the day more. Instead, I stepped back, let my husband take over and crafted a new plan.

So today, we are doing recess. We are doing art. We are doing bike rides. We are doing reading if we want. Games if we want. Videos if we want.

And we are going to call it good enough for today. Good enough for right now because right now is all I can influence.

And so I share this as reminder; that what we are doing right now is not homeschooling.

That we cannot ask the adults who care for our students to become teachers overnight. That we cannot ask adults who are carrying the weight of their families on their back to also shoulder the responsibility of becoming their teachers.

That as schools plan for this remote/virtual/online learning that we are all expected to be able to do now, that we cannot for one moment think that it is going to be like school. That even if we invent amazing learning adventures to go on using online services, those websites may not be able to handle all of our traffic. That even if we provide devices and hotspots that doesn’t make our learning equitable. That we cannot ask our students to sit in front of screens for hours each day, trying to patch together what would have been the learning we would have done together. That we cannot expect our students to be in a healthy place for learning. That even if we send home work to do, it may not get done. And we need to be okay with that.

Because we are not together. Because we are not there to support. We are not even there to hand out paper, or pencils, or ideas if needed. So how can we expect those at home to take over?

What we can do though is simple; be ready. Be ready to pick up the pieces and help the students that return to us wherever they are in their learning journey. Be ready for push back. Be ready for the reality of what this new path will look like. Be ready to be okay with good enough. Be okay with being partners and not always leaders.

Because right now is maintenance. Keeping kids in the game of learning. Of drilling down to the most important essence of what education can be; community, connection, relevance, and grace.

That while the adults surrounding our students are facing an unsafe world, we need to make sure we do not do more harm than good. That we push back against district mandates that will further inequities. That we keep our reality in stark focus so we don’t add further stress to an already unpredictable world.

Right now is not normal, and nothing we invent or create or implement will make it normal. So perhaps like I had to, we all just need to take a deep breath and be okay with good enough for now.

And my kids? Well, I have recess to go do. A new adventure awaits and tomorrow we try again.

Take care, I’m here to help.

authentic learning, being a teacher, choices, Personalized Learning

Choose Your Own Adventure – 4 Learning Options As We Go Virtual/Online

Note: Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, but please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how I wanted to honor the work we have already been doing in our community as we switch to virtual learning starting next week. Because this shut down of our school does not come with an end date at the moment, I am pacing out instruction by weeks rather than days. If we go back sooner than I expect, which would be incredible, then I can switch this particular project to in-class as well.

We were also given guidelines yesterday from our district; plan for about 35 minutes of learning time for each class, I have a double block but am trying to keep it to around that time still, instead with the extra time, I am hoping kids will find the time to read. Kids are not expected to sit in front of a computer all day. We have guidelines in place for making sure kids are connected to us with virtual office hours. We also need to check in if we are not hearing from kids or seeing them do any learning. We are trying to think of things we cannot even think of yet.

We are trying to keep it relevant, accessible, and not overwhelming.

We are trying to help kids continue their learning even when we are not right there with them.

So, for our students, I have created a “Choose Your Own Adventure” two-week exploration. This, hopefully, continues the honoring of their individual needs and desires, while still helping them with their growth. There are different levels of independence for them to choose from, as well as choices for recording or writing their responses. There are different levels of teaching involved that will unfold once they select their choice.

From a longer letter welcoming kids into our project

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

The connect-four template we use for this.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

I wanted to honor the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, so I gathered picture book recordings for the students to listen to – one a day – and then created questions to go with it such as the one below.

While I love all of the picture books I am finding, I am still changing some of them out to have a wider representation of creators shown. I am also still working through questions, so this document is very much a work in progress. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community.

Project requirement:  

  • Identity an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  • Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  • Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every two days.
  • Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults . To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

I know some of us have longed to do some creative writing, so here is your chance.  Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

Project requirement:  

  • Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  • Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  • Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  • Produce 2 or more pages in a coherent writing form, you choose the writing form.
  • Schedule 2 conferring times with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is 4 times over the two weeks.  These can be via Google meet, email discussion, chat, or some other mode of communication.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.

We have done creative writing in small spurts throughout the year but not enough in my opinion, so this is our chance to do it more. I am hoping this will offer up those who choose it a way to sink into their writing and create something meaningful. To see the project guidelines, go here.

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on a survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because all of the work we are doing right now is formative as per our district guidelines. As the closing continues, we will be given updated guidelines. What this means is that when the two weeks are over for this project, I will either recycle the options and ask students to choose a different option or brainstorm further learning with my students. If we switch to live school in the middle, then once this project is done we will go back to our regular scheduled learning, which is debates and Shark Tank presentations.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. I teach 76 students, I am not sure how this will look, but we will make it work.

Want to connect with me? I am going to do a Facebook live in the upcoming week in our Passionate Readers Facebook group to take questions and share book recommendations. Join me!

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

being a teacher

Switching to Remote Learning While Still Offering Choice

Unknown future Design

I have never experienced a world so quiet before. Not for this long. Every day as I look out our window, I am reminded of the quiet that shrouds us all on January 1st where the world holds its breath and we sit with our dreams in hand, hoping for a new start.

Many now sit with fears in their hands instead, a pervasive uncertainty that permeates even the smallest moments. But the hope is still there, a hope for a world that doesn’t quite feel so unwieldy and uncertain. That doesn’t promise us death, financial losses, and long-term fall out.

And so we went into self-isolation the day after I turned 40, trying to do our part to keep the rest of the world safe, while knowing what it would do for our own children to shut the door on the world as much as possible.

On day 1 of isolation, I thought of all the things I would catch up on during this time; sleep! Books! Cooking! Learning how to play guitar! Writing a book!

On day 2, I was reminded of how extroverted our kids are compared to my husband and I. Do they ever crave quiet? (The answer is; not yet…)

On day 3, I realized I needed to take control over my newswatching or my fear for the world would grow. (CNN check in’s only a few times a day as well as with local news and purposeful social media use).

On day 4, I was reminded of how much I love being a classroom teacher because I love the everyday moments, not just the big ones, the check ins, the community, the being able to reach out to make sure a child feels seen and valued. And I miss it a lot, the putzing around, the excitement to see plans come to life, the moments where it doesn’t work and you have to find a solution. I continue to be a classroom teacher because of how much I love the kids.

On day 5, I recognized that we all needed a moment of space. That our schedule works for the most part but who knows how long it will. That while planning it down to the 30 minute mark works for our kids not going crazy, it doesn’t work for us, the adults, and that there needs to be a balance. That my books are calling and so is my creativity at times.

Turns out the new normal is anything but.

And so as we are told by our district to prepare for our remote virtuel learning, knowing how inequitable that is, and also how I am decidedly not trained in online learning, I keep thinking about what our community has been built on the whole year; read aloud, reflection, inquiry and choice. How in this uncertain time, there are certainties I can hold up for our students; that I will do everything I can to support from afar. That I want them to find success not insurmountable challenges, that I want this to work for them in any way I can. That I want them to have each other.

So rather than assigning one thing, they will have different choices for the un-foreseeable future.

All will be asked to please read for 20 minutes every day something of their choice with nothing but joy and value attached to it.

They can choose to read a fiction book of their choice and do some analysis as they progress through it, using an online one-pager assignment. If they have books at home they are set or they can access our Audible account to choose one to listen to. They can record or write their response to the prompts, whatever seems to work for them the best.

They can choose to do an inquiry project into something they want to learn about, craft a learning plan for me to discuss with them and then create a product at the end of it to teach us about their topic. We have done an inquiry into inquiry and also just finished an inquiry into a self-chosen topic for their TED talks. Their final product should showcase their deepened understanding in some ways, ideas will be offered and support will be based around their learning plan.

They can choose to listen to a picture book read aloud every day by a different creator and then record or write a response to the question I will pose along with it. Questions will range from what is the theme and how do you know? What does this thing (insert specific thing) symbolize and how do you know? How would the message of the picture book change if we changed the narrator? Whose perspective is missing and how does that impact the story being told? How did the perspective of the narrator influence their actions in the story? How did the main character change throughout? How does this picture book connect to your world? If you were to teach this picture book, which questions would you ask to start a discussion?

They can choose to write a story, alone or by themselves, working on all of the tools of storytelling we have been discussing through the year. Before they begin, they will be asked to identity how they want to grow as writers, how they will work on that, and then how I can support them (this is what we do throughout the year). The story can be fiction or from their own lives and teaching points will be based on what they are working on.

Throughout the year, we have done a lot of learning, now is simply the next step to put it all into action. Can they use what we have learned on their own? Have the skills been transferred? How can I continue to support them on a meaningful journey that will help them grow while also recognizing the realities of this world we are faced with right now. While also recognizing that right now schools in Wisconsin are closed indefinitely and so I don’t know how long of a timeline I am even preparing for.

Will it be perfect? Absolutely not. Will it be okay? I hope so. After all, that is the best I can do right now. To be here, to keep trying to connect, to reach out and be there for all the kids.

What are your plans?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

Passionate Readers, Reading

Picture Books Read Aloud Videos for Lesson Use

I am at our public library right now and it is deserted. Wisconsin was ordered to close their schools this coming week as more and more cases of Covid-19 pile up. The world is upside down.

As we prepare to switch to online learning, I have been thinking of the power of the read aloud. How having the social connection through shared books can bring us together. How doing a read aloud in this stressful time can calm us. And so as we plan for what we will do, I immediately thought of reading picture books aloud to my students and having them respond to them in a short paragraph through Google Classroom. However, there is one glaring problem; copyright violations, I don’t want to break copyright by reading aloud a book and then sharing it with students. So instead, I compiled as many lists as I could find here featuring the creators reading aloud. Perhaps the list will be helpful to you?

Kate Messner has a post that details which publishers have given limited permission to read their books aloud following their guidelines, see the post here.

Indianapolis Public Library has a compiled list here with more than 100 titles

Storyline online has a compiled list right here with some great titles

Kate Messner is compiling videos right here featuring authors and illustrators sharing their work and resources

Susan Tan has a great video channel featuring writing prompts and read alouds

Kidlit TV has a great compilation here

Harper Kids Has their read alouds compiled here

Vooks Online are offering a free first year for teachers and have videos compiled here

Brightly Online has a compilation here

Storytime with Bill from Little Brown Books can be found here

Mrs. P’s storytime can be found here

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is posting videos of her books as well here

Unite For Literacy has many stories read aloud in multiple languages compiled here

Free Kid Lit Visits and Authors Read Aloud compiled by A.Keene can be found here

Storytime from Space features astronauts reading aloud

I will keep adding resources here as I find them and as they are shared with me. If you know of any more, please share.

Take care, stay safe, and take care of others. We will get through this.

And by the way, if you can’t feed your family in the coming weeks or months, please reach out to me. I will try to send you a giftcard for groceries if I can.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

being a teacher, global read aloud, Literacy, Reading

What Are We Reading Aloud? Survey for K-8 Educators in the United States

I have written before about the read aloud and its power for older students. I have written about how read alouds brings us all together, how they offer us a new language to speak as we build our community. How read alouds allow us to step into a world we might not know or invite others into one that we already live in.

Since founding the Global Read Aloud in 2010, I have been responsible for selecting a read aloud to be shared around the world. The task always feels heavy. The task also brings a lot of joy, but as I have mentioned, the task of selecting the books to be read aloud have also made me curious; what is already being read aloud in the United States? What are the corner texts that, we as communities, keep coming back to year after year? What do our students get to experience from year to year as they travel through our classrooms?

Rather than just be curious, I figured I would ask. So will you help me out by taking this survey and sharing it with others? I tried to make it easy to take but still offer up valuable information. I will share the results once I have enough responses, because once we know more we can learn together.

conferences, connections, Reading, Reading Identity

Reading Action Plans: An Invitation into Further Exploration

This blog has been quiet. Not because life has been by any means but because what we are doing in our time together in the classroom is quiet. It’s not very flashy. It’s not really that new, at least not for us. Every day, the routines we have worked on all year are in place; most students quietly reading during independent reading time, most students finding great books, most students knowing more about themselves as people than they did in the beginning of our journey. Most because not all, not yet any way; some still lament about how they dislike reading, how they do not plan on reading a book over the summer, but many others devour books, seeing their own accomplishments, challenging themselves to grow.

But for those who are not quite there yet, where reading is hard, where reading is not a comfortable activity. For those where reading is something they have spent a lot of time avoiding or simply don’t see the value in yet, at this time of year I add in an extra layer; a reading action plan. A quick invitation into further conversation about their reading life that runs 2 weeks and sometimes more.

I have written about them last year, but the idea is so simple and yet so powerful that I wanted to re-share it. Because all it is is an invitation into conversation every single day for a few minutes about their reading life. No pressure, but instead extra personal support, and an adult meeting them once again where they are at without judgment and helping them along their journey.

The note sheet I use to keep their journeys straight looks like this at the moment, or at least the front does, they change when I don’t see them fitting our purpose. You can see it here. This is not for the students to fill out but for me to take notes, which they can see me take because no one wants another person taking secret notes.

I usually use our reading data (which is just how many pages they are approximately reading within a week by signing in with their page numbers as inspired by Penny Kittle) to see who may be great candidates for some extra care. Who are the kids where reading is still a slog, where they are not really making progress or jumping from book to book? I try to keep it to 3 or 4 kids a class at any given time for a few reasons; I want to make sure I am really focused on them and I also want to be able to still meet with another few kids every day. While we typically start on Monday’s, you can start them any day.

I ask them to meet with me during reading time and explain my idea for some extra attention, I don’t want to force it on them but instead discuss what they could gain from it. This is important because too often when students are vulnerable readers we remove all choice from them which leads to further resentment toward their reading lives. If we are going to meet every day, I like their to be a genuine discussion of why and how it may help them. This is instrumental to everything I believe in; keeping a child’s wellbeing in mind before I implement anything. I can’t do that without conversation. If a child doesn’t like the idea, we come up with something else for them, however, this has not happened in my years of doing this.

The first day takes longer because we discuss their current book. Questions I ask are pretty standard:

  • Which book are they reading?
  • How far are they in it?
  • Why did they choose it?
  • How are they liking it so far?
  • Where will they be in the book in a week?

Then I move down into the notes section, where I ask them about their outside reading life – this is an ongoing conversation throughout the year- and we discuss what their reading plans are for outside of English. My job here is to listen and to ask questions that explain their thinking when it is not clear, not to judge. They also tell me where they think they will be in their book the following day. This is again an important aspect because we so often set the goals for the students and those goals are unrealistic and also have little concern for the reading journey they are actually on. So instead we discuss what is a realistic goal and what the steps are they will take to reach that goal. Some students don’t have any plans to read so we discuss why not and how we can change that. Some have other obstacles in their path and so we discuss those. Whatever is going on, we discuss, and we brainstorm together. Once we have a goal and a plan in place it is time for them to read, so I thank them for their time.

The next day, we meet again, except this time I only ask about how far they got – no judgement – and what their reading life looked like in the past 24 hours. If they read, awesome! If they didn’t, why not? Again, I am not here to make them feel bad but coach and support instead. As we wrap up our quick 3 or so minute conference, they set a goal for the following day and then they are off to read.

And then we repeat that for a week. At the end of the first week, we discuss successes. These range from reading more than normal, to knowing when to abandon a book and picking a different one. From reading at home one night – wahoo – to actually not hating the book. There is no success that is too small to be celebrated, this is important as the goal here is for the kids to learn more about themselves as readers and people, not for me to punish them into reading.

The following week, we continue with our quick check-ins, celebrating successes along the way, and at the end of the week we decide on what the next step should be. There are different options:

  • Another round of daily check-ins for those that are not quite ready to fly on their own.
  • A gradual release to a three time a week check-in for two weeks.
  • A once a week check-in
  • Or released back into the larger pool, which means a check-in every 3 to 4 weeks depending on what we have going on.

Once again the child and I discuss and decide together. So why bother with this? Beyond the obvious of all kids deserving as much as one-to-one time as possible in our limited time with them, you also uncover so much of what is really going on in their reading lives and what they may need to move further in it. From recognizing that some kids simply forget to bring books home – we have plans in place for that – to not knowing how to fit reading into their lives – we have a plan for that – to still not being able to find books they actually like, having a few minutes every day can get them steered back on course in a way that wouldn’t happen unless you had more time.

While I wish I had time to discuss reading with every child, every day, I don’t, but this takes me one step closer to connecting with all the kids, to helping all the kids. It is not anything flashy. It is not anything brand-new, but it works, much like we know it works. Perhaps the idea can work for others as well?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.