The Reading Identity Challenge

img_page_1_58b194043aba4.png

At the beginning of the year, I asked my students to tell me how they felt about reading.  I do this every year as it offers me a baseline, a glimpse into their reading truths.  I was not surprised at the results, 25% told me they loved it, 50% told me they didn’t mind it, and the final 25%?  They told me they hated it.  Perhaps slightly higher than normal, but nevertheless, teaching 7th graders, I was not worried.  After all, every year it seems this happens and every year, children change their minds.

This year, though, some have proven to be stubborn.  Those kids that hate reading, they still were fighting me every step of the way.  Abandoning books, which we do embrace, every single day.  Refusing to book shop even.  Flipping pages aimlessly day in and day out.  Not having any desire to change their hatred, content with being part of the statistics of kids that don’t read.

So I created the Student Reading Identity Challenge.  Not just for the kids who still hated reading, but for those that needed a spark, those that needed to stretch their reading legs a little.  For myself to challenge my own reading life, nervously glancing at Hatchet and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as two books I had no desire to read but knew I should.

A reading challenge for us all, so we all could get better, whatever better meant to us.  The concept is simple; over the course of three weeks or so students would select one aspect of their personal reading life and challenge themselves to make it better or change it.  Much like a personal goal; there was no right challenge, instead, it was based on the individual’s needs, the hopes for the future.   There was no limit to what they could work on and they would be given around twenty minutes every day to read, rather than our usual ten.

We started with this five-page survey; yes, five pages.  I needed students in all their stages of reading relationship to uncover new truths about themselves.  It needed to go beyond whether they liked to read or not and into their actual reading habits.  Where are they reading, what are they reading, why are they not reading more?  Where are their book gaps?  Where do they get book recommendations from?  All those little things that play into who they are as a reader.  It took the kids almost two days to fill it out because I asked them to please slow down, please really think about it, and then show your goal to me.

The goals varied; I want to enjoy reading again, I want to try a new genre, I want to read every day.  Some couldn’t think of one until we looked through all of their answers and something jumped out at us.  Whatever the goal was there was a reason, a personal one, that this was the one thing they felt would help them become a better reader.  Some kids even chose a read aloud with another teacher so they could have a shared experience around a book, trying to help them actually like reading more.  For every goal there was a story; a story of reading blossomed or reading gone wrong.  For every goal there was either excitement or reprehension; how would this actually change anything?  Once all the goals were in place, I asked the kids to somehow keep track – how will you know you are working on your goal?  Some chose a calendar to write down minutes or rank their reading of the day, some chose a peer to speak about their reading.  This is the one component I am still working on, I did not want it to be a writing experience, one where the students would have to jot down their thoughts every day, but instead, an organic process for them that helped them have a great experience, not one more thing to do.

So we began; some kids book shopped the first few days, having to find a great book as part of their goal as well,  others dove right in.  I taught a mini-lesson every day and then the rest of the time was for them to read.  I pulled small groups, conferred with students, and otherwise watched.  Were they actually reading?  Was this actually working…

One child told me she was so confused in her fantasy book and this was exactly why she never read fantasy because “It doesn’t make any sense!” and yet because of the challenge she read on, declaring at the end of the book that she couldn’t wait for the sequel. Another told me she was stuck in the boring part and this was always when she abandoned a book, but now because of the challenge, she read on.  A child who has yet to read a single book this year, no matter my support, is on page 60 of Hatchet, telling me yesterday that he read 20 pages in one day.

Whatever their goal, I saw it gradually start to happen; kids finding a way to make reading better for themselves.  Kids realizing more deeply who they are as readers, where they are on their reading journey.  For some, it has proven to be a huge revelation, for others just a small one.  But for most, it has changed something in them as a reader.  For most, there is a deeper urge to make reading enjoyable, no matter what they are reading.

So yesterday, I taught my first two classes, followed my lesson plan to the tee.  But in my 5th hour, the students asked if they could please read for ten minutes today, knowing I had only allocated ten.  Of course, I said.  When the fifteen were up, they asked for five more minutes.  Of course, I said.  When the five were up they asked if they could please just read the rest of the class.  As twenty-five students stared at me, seemingly holding their breath, I said, “Of course.”  And then watched the thickest of silences fall over the room as they each retreated into their books.  Even the ones who tell me they hate reading.  Even the ones who used to flip pages.  I did the same for the rest of my classes, and it didn’t change; silence, except for the pages being turned, and one child telling me triumphantly that they had read fifteen pages today – more than they read all of last week.

The reading identity challenge is not the end all be all, but it is another step in helping students uncover another aspect of who they are as readers.  It is another tool to help them become empowered in their own reading journey.  It is another step to tell all of my students that reading matters and that they control so much of their relationship with reading.  That new genres await, that it is possible for reading to be fun, that they can make it through the boring parts, that they can go deeper in their text.  That reading should be a part of who they are and therefore also should be something they mold and shape as they develop further.

As for me?  It turns out that Hatchet and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry were amazing books.  That I have realized that perhaps I should be looking at other classic children’s book gaps to make sure I am able to recommend them to kids.  That even though I love reading, I still have things to work on.  Just like my students, just like we all do.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

Problem Finders or Problem Solvers?

I try to be honest with myself, I feel like it is the only true way I can grow.  After all, how can I expect my students to accurately reflect on how they are as 7th graders if I don’t reflect on how I am as a teacher?

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about assumptions.  The assumptions I make about the choices my students make.  The assumptions I make about what will happen if I try something.  The assumptions I make about the actions of others and what they mean for me.  We all know what they say about assumptions and I believe it.  Assuming does not really get us further with anything, instead, it plants needless doubts, worries, and even conflict that isn’t really there.

Yet, the thing about assumptions is that they are safe.  That when we assume, we don’t have to find out, we can just think we know and then adjust our course accordingly.  We can continue with whatever we have determined is the truth and not really question it, not really question ourselves.  Our assumptions can take us far if we let it.  Yet, I wonder how often I have incorrectly adjusted my thinking, my doing, my plans because of something that wasn’t really true?  How often I have traveled down a path that I found necessary based on things that were not accurate?  How much energy have I wasted thinking about the versions of events that I think occurred?

So the very first we can do with assumptions is to realize we have them.  To really questions ourselves, and not in a punitive way, but to check how much of what we think is based on truth or our perception of the truth.  To seek solutions and answers rather than more problems.  In fact as one of my smart colleagues said today, “We are always great at being problem finders, but what about being problem solvers?”

I want to be a problem solver.

So are your assumptions stopping you from moving forward?  From positivity?  From having better relationships with your colleagues, with your students?  In fact, I bet if you think about it, a situation probably will come to mind where assumptions you had did more damage than good.  I know mine have, I cannot be alone in this, but that also means there is hope, and in hope, there is always a way to move forward.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

Some Favorite New Chapter Books, Part 1 2017

If my early reading of 2017 is any indication, this year is shaping up to be a powerhouse of a year in children’s literature.  And for that I am excited.  So what are some of the great books I have read, loved, and now am sharing?

Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang by Victoria J. Coe

If you have been within a mile of me and asked for a book recommendation for younger classrooms (1st grade and up you will have heard me mention Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe.  After all, this new series written from the perspective of a dog captured my heart last summer and is now a GRA contender.  So I am delighted to add the second book in the series as another must read.  How can you not love the adventures of Fenway as he tries to navigate the very confusing life of being a dog?

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.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen 

I may be the only teacher left that had never read Hatchet before, at least that is what it felt like.  I now get why it continues to pop up in contemporary classrooms as a must read book.  I was hooked once that plane went down.

In my opinion, right now there are three must-read YA books this spring; Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  All desperately needed in our classrooms but not just to be read by students, no, these also need 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.

As mentioned above, American Street by Ibi Zoboi is another must read.  As an immigrant, I related to it, but as someone who is viewed as another white American (even though I am Danish), it was an education. Raw, poetic, and sure to make you think, this needs to be in our 8th grade and up libraries.  

I am a sucker for fantasy series that pits good against evil.  Throw in a slight romance and I am hooked.  I loved the concept of Frostblood (The Frostblood Saga) by Elly Blake, and while there certainly were similarities between this and other books in this type of vein, it didn’t matter.  It was a great read; entertaining and worth my time.  I cannot wait for the next book in this YA series.  

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 sugarcoating, 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 heartwrenching to say the least and written in a way to bring all readers in.  
In my book, Dav Pilkey can do no wrong.  His genius is one that ensures that so many kids see themselves as readers and I will never be able to personally thank him enough for his dedication to creating amazing books.  So Dog Man Unleashed (Dog Man #2)  was a natural read for me.  I laughed out loud, I did the flip-o-ramas and then I book talked it to my 7th graders.  I have not seen the book since.  This addition to this list also shows me how randomly I read at times, which I totally love.
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.
I grabbed  Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank  from my ARC book pile on a whim.  Two hours later I finally looked up and realized that I was not supposed to be sitting in my chair still reading.  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.  I also hvae two different students reading it right now and they agree; this book is a must add to 4th grade and up.
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 .
So there you have it, a small slice of my reading life from the past 7 weeks.  To see more up-to-date shares of what I read follow me on Instagram.  And to see all of the lists I have created through the last three years or so of favorite books, go here.
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

The Ideal Class – Perhaps You Already Have It?

 

I left school yesterday with a smile.  It had been a busy day – when is it not – and yet the energy in almost all of my classes was infectious.  The sun was shining, it was Friday, and while the kids certainly were ready to learn, they were also ready to use their energy and channel most of into class.  As I taught my classes how to infer deeper, I laughed along with them, asked them to hush when needed, to focus back in, but otherwise loved the conversations that seemed to happen.  They were not all on topic, but they were together, and they were learning and they left English with a smile.

A great colleague of mine asked me yesterday what my ideal classroom would be like and I couldn’t help but think that after a day like yesterday; that was my ideal.  For kids to be engaged with whatever we were doing, to be talking, to be sharing, to be laughing.  While they certainly had their moments where I had to wait for them to focus back in, while some kids still chose to remain quiet, while some kids probably still didn’t get as much out of it as I could hope for, most of them did.  And that’s it for me; when most of my students are engaged, when most of my students are discussing, working, and being a part of whatever it is we are doing; then I am in my ideal classroom, and it turns out, I already have that.

Of course I will continue to shoot for all.  For every child to share, for every child to participate, for every child to be on task and engaged in work, but right now, after yesterday, I realized that what we have works.  At least for me.  At least for almost all of the kids.

Too often I beat myself up when not every child is engaged.  When not every child likes what we are doing.  Too often I feel like I am not a great teacher because I focus in on that child that is not doing what they should be doing, rather than focusing in on all of the ones that are.  It is exhausting to think like this and doesn’t make my teaching better;  I simply can’t be a great teacher when I only focus on what doesn’t work.  I can’t be a happy person when I only see all of the things that are still not in place.

So as prepare for Monday’s work, I will make a reminder to myself as well; my ideal classroom is one of smiles, of happy, of engagement, whether it is reading quietly or being loud.  My ideal classroom is one where students feel safe, feel accepted, feel like they can let loose a little and still be welcomed in.  Not one of silent and compliant, not one of focusing only on me.  And I have that already, now it is up to me to remember.  So what is your ideal classroom?  Are you already teaching in it?

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

A Few Ideas to Teach Inference

My students have been discussing theme and how to analyze for it seemingly all year.  I have seen their growth, I have seen their understanding as they feel like they are mastering tough concepts.  I tell them that analyzing text is really just practice for being better human beings, for being able to read verbal and nonverbal cues in any given social situation and being able to navigate it successfully.  I am not sure they fully believe me, not yet anyway, but in order to help them understand that these skills are really human skills and not just something an English teacher wants them to do, our focus is shifting back to inference.  That skill that we have been teaching for years, that skill our students have been exploring for years.  I needed new ideas and here is what I came up with.

Using wordless picture books

I need my students to fully believe that you can read situations and text in many different ways and that how you understand something sometimes depends on the very lens you come with.  Wordless picture books put us all on an equal playing field, students are not tying their understanding into direct language decoding, but instead reading the pictures and filling in the gaps.  I love to see how different their ideas can be based on their background.

Using America’s Funniest Videos

Students, at times, forget how much inferring they already do throughout a day.  So I played a few clips from America’s Funniest Videos and stopped them before the “fail” happened.  Students used background knowledge, as well as reading the evidence in the video to try to guess what would happen.  We only watched about two minutes but it was hilarious and worth it.

Using “Whodunits”

I love a good “whodunit” story and gave groups of students the same story today to solve.  Could they figure out who the murderer and more importantly, back it up with the correct evidence?  I loved the way students dissected the text, tried on possible solutions, and then attempted to solve the mystery.

Using half a story, at first.

I love a great story with a twist and was delighted to be handed a great short story about a vampire today from one of my amazing co-teachers.  I plan on giving students the beginning half of the story and have them do a characterization of the main character together.  Then they will get the second half of the story which reveals that the main character is a vampire, clues were strewn throughout the first half, and we will now go back to find them.  This is a great lesson for kids to truly understand; sometimes we don’t know what we have missed until we have gone all the way through the text and then start over.

Asking them what happened.

Another great way to use stories with a twist is to ask them what actually happened, especially when the story is rather ambiguous.  I like when students have to wrestle with a text for awhile and can land on opposite sides and still both be right.  A story I have enjoyed using for this is the story My Dog by Kevin ONeall.

Using music videos without the sound.

Something we will be trying tomorrow is looking at music videos, I will be using ones from the 80’s, but without the sound playing.  I will play a minute or so of the video and see if they can figure out what type of song it is and what the lyrics might be about.     We shall see if they can come even close.  A fun one to use will be Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything for Love or Bjork Human Behavior.

Using short movies.

I love the idea of using various media with students and so it makes sense to use a short film to ask them what happened.  This movie, Francis, is 7 minutes long and a little bit scary.  I cannot wait to see what the theories of my students will be when I ask them; what happened to Francis?

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

When They Still Just Hate to Write…

Our son Oskar hates writing, truly hates everything about it. From the holding of the pencil, to the forming of the letter, to the message itself; there is no love lost here.   Last week he was asked by his school to write his name on all twenty  Valentine’s day cards he will be handing out to his friend.  For a week this has been the ongoing conversation…

“Mom, this is like 100 cards, did you really count them?”
“Mom, I only have five friends, so I really only need to write five…”
“Mom, my friends know that I have a “K” in my name so I don’t need to write these letters…”
“Mom, I want to be a job that has no writing in it…”

Oskar is four years old.  I am truly not worried, not yet, after all, he is at the beginning of his writing journey.  Holding a pencil is hard work.  Forming letters that others can read is hard work.  Sticking with something more than five minutes is hard work.  Yet…

I see his words echoed by some of my students, my twelve and thirteen-year-olds.  Not just the boys, the girls too.  We hate writing, writing is hard, please don’t make us write. And they don’t, they fight me every step of the way.  They write something once and then never return to it.  They do not care that it doesn’t make sense, they do not care that words are misspelled, they do not care that their writing is sometimes terrifyingly simple.  There is no love for the fine art of writing because as they tell me, they will never be writers when they grow up.   So I wonder, what can we do to protect the love of writing and are we doing enough?  Are we offering students a chance to feel like writers rather than see it as something to just get through?

And I get it; how many adults identify as writers?  How many adults feel like they know how to write well?  How many teachers see themselves as writers who would quickly identify as readers?  Why is it that this incredible method of communication seems to have had all of the joy sucked right out of it?  So I wonder, what can we do to protect the love of writing and are we doing enough?  Are we offering students a chance to feel like writers rather than see it as something to just get through?

I know we preach about free choice in writing as if this simple change will fix anything, yet even when given free choice I have students who prefer not to.  Who would like the choice to be that they do not have to write.  So what else can we do beyond giving them time?  Giving them freedom?

We can speak to authors.

Through Skype we have had wonderful conversations with authors who have told us all about their writing process.  Not only has this given the students a deeper connection with the very books they read, but it has also given them a chance to realize that not every writer felt like a writer as a child.  That not every writer gets great ideas with no work behind them.  That writing is hard work and something that even those who have gotten a book published say they get frustrated by it.  This opportunity to speak to those who make it seem so easy has cemented lessons that I have tried to teach for years; writing is hard work, writing does not always come easy, and it is okay to doubt yourself as long as you don’t give up.

We can find out why.

I used to assume that I knew why my students didn’t like to write, after all, it seemed to almost always be the same reasons.  I stopped assuming several years ago when a child told me they hated to write because they did not want a peer to edit it.  They had not written a single word yet.  So now I ask, and we should all ask; what about it do you not like?  When did you start not liking it?  What has helped?  What has hurt?  What small steps can we do to make it better if even just a little bit?  Sometimes they don’t know, other times they do, but we don’t assume to know the answer, so we always ask.

We can sit in silence.

Too often we assume writing must commence the moment an assignment is given and yet those of us who do write regularly know how much writing happens before we actually write any sentences.  I need silence to write.  I need inspiration.  I need to find something that is worth writing about.  This is where free choice is so powerful in our writing curriculum, but so is wait-time, quiet, and a way to manipulate the learning environment to work for the individual.  My students know that when they write they are expected to make the room work for them, not the other way around, so they do.  And they sometimes stare into space for a really long time, but almost always, they finally start to write. And those that don’t?  Well, they are a conversation waiting to happen.

We can provide self-chosen support.  

I used to partner students up by need, by whatever skill they needed to work on.  Now I ask my students to please find a partner or two to work with as they process through their writing, rather than artificially pair them up.  Why?  Because sharing your writing is a vulnerable process.  Sharing your writing and asking someone for feedback can make or break future writing.  Because when I write I self-select those that will see my unfinished work so that I know that they are judging the work and not me.

We can give breaks.

Writing is hard work.  Even as 7th graders, some of my students do not have the stamina to do writing well for more than fifteen minutes.  That is ok, as long as we are aware of it.  For my most ardent non-writers we try to give breaks, sometimes through conferencing, but others time just a movement or water break, so they can shake their hands, clear their minds, and recapture the energy they were feeling before.

We can be honest.

I speak about my own writing process with my students as we explore our writing lives.  I speak of the frustration, of how hard it can be to receive criticism, of how I get in writing slumps, how I seek out inspiration.  I tell them that there are millions of ways to write, that none of them are perfect, but that what matters is that they find their own path.  That they experiment, that they explore, that they do not give up even when they are certain that writing will never be anything they actually will need for anything.  I ask for their concerns and complaints, they share their needs so that I can try to adapt the writing curriculum to fit their needs.

We can make it matter.  

My students rarely write in isolation.  Their bigger projects almost always extend beyond the classroom to make a difference in the lives of others.  To make a mark in the world around them.  Sharing our writing globally has helped some students realize the direct impact that their words can have on others.  Giving them tools such as blogging or simply sharing through Google docs, have made them realize that what they write can matter to others beyond our classroom walls.  That their opinion may shape the opinion of someone else.  That what they write may provoke an emotion in others.  It is not the ultimate solution, there are still children who fight me, who fight themselves, every step of the way.  But it’s a start.  It is a way to try to make writing seen as something important, rather than just something we do in school, never to be applied to the real world.

When Oskar finished his twenty Valentine’s Day cards tonight, they were a bit of a mess.  The “O’s” looked pretty good but everything else was illegible.  He had a smile on his face and so we gathered them up and put them in his backpack.  We have a long way ahead of us yet for him to like writing more.  We picked our battle tonight, knowing that if we had asked him to re-do them all, the damage to his already strained relationship with writing would have been significant.  Perhaps this is my last advice for tonight then, spoken more to myself than others; one battle at a time.  One hurdle at a time.  Small successes matter, even if we haven’t completely changed a child’s mind just yet.  As they say in Denmark; mange bække små gør en stor å.”

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.