Book Clubs, Literacy, Reading, Virtual Learning

Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School

Tomorrow, our very first virtual book clubs kick off. The project has been an immense puzzle and also quite a time consumer, and yet, I am excited to see these hopefully take off and help the students not only discuss amazing books but also just be together. We have been apart for more than 8 months physically, I hope that this will be a social boost for many and also a meaningful learning opportunity. I am also excited to jump into this inquiry unit as its focus is whether we already live in a dystopian society? I cannot wait to see what the students come up with and how they will expand their questions and answers as the unit progresses.

As we first started to plan for these virtual book clubs back in October, we quickly realized that unlike previous years, there were a lot more moving pieces to consider and that the orchestration would be a lot more immense. After all, we are fully virtual, kids do not come to school, so how would we pull this off?

So I am sharing everything I have here in this blog post in case you find yourself wanting to do virtual book clubs as well but it feels a little unwieldy. Perhaps the behind the scenes work we have done can help you start with them or perhaps you have some amazing ideas of your own to share. Either way, here you, you can make a copy of everything if you want to edit, just give credit. To see what I have done in previous years when we are in regular learning mode, go here.

To select their books – 4 weeks prior.

We knew that selecting and then distributing their books would be the first major hurdle but once again our incredible librarian team were prepared. They already have a safe weekly pick up for books, what we needed to make sure is that they had enough time to pull the books and prepare them for the pick up.

A slide from their book club choices

I introduced very briefly the unit in early November and then assigned students this slideshow to go through and select their top 5 books. They were asked to please select a book they hadn’t read before and also pick one that would feel manageable to them. Once students had looked through the slideshow, then then filled in this form so that I could start puzzling them together. And puzzle them I did. It took a while to get all of the students into manageable groups (less than five kids) and also to make sure that we had enough books. Our librarian had given us total number of books available for each title and a colleague had taken the time to breakdown how many books each of us would get. We revealed them in class the following week and kids then could email me if for some reason they had ended up with a book they actually didn’t want or if there was another group they would rather be a part of. Only one student did.

New this year is the short story option, we have a few students who are really trying but life is just a lot right now. We wanted to make sure they could also find success and not feel even more overwhelmed with the proposect of reading a long book. We pulled three short stories (The Pedestrian, Harrison Bergeron, and The Perfect Match), one for each week, and then distributed those to students. We will meet on Wednesday’s (our fully asynchronous day) and discuss the stories. I am excited to see if this will work and how the participation will work out.

The following week, students then picked up their books during our three pick up times. If a students was not able to pick up their book, they would get it delivered right to their mailbox. This was a massive undertaking but it worked, I am so grateful to all of the people who made physical book copies possible for the students to have.

Setting Up their Reading Schedules – One week before

Now that students had their books they needed to create reading plans and also set up discussion norms. In class, we had them work through three tasks: 1. Set up their reading plan, 2. Sign up for their discussion time with me, 3. Discuss and add to their norms. This took about 30-40 minutes, a lot longer than it would in class, but that seems to be the normal pace for virtual learning.

Their reading plan document is housed in the Hyperdoc we have created for the students with resources. This is their one stop shop for everything related to their book clubs such as teaching points, rubric, discussion help, meeting times, and reading plan. While it is available to the students, I honestly don’t know how much they will use it and yet having a shared collection of everything they need can only help.

To figure out their reading plan, they all went to this shared document and broke down their book. We reiterated that they shouldn’t finish their book more than two days ahead of the last day and if they wanted a bigger challenge they could read more than one book. This was hard for some students and easy for others so I jumped around from breakout group to breakout group to assist where needed. One group I am still assisting and will pick up the pieces with them tomorrow.

For their meeting times, I am hoping to have 2 groups discuss in front of me live during our 70 minute block. That means that only one or two groups a class have to discuss outside of their class time. I am also grateful to the support staff I have embedded within our class that are also observing and assessing discussions with us. They know the kids and the curriculum as well as I do. Kids signed up on a first come-first serve basis as it then served as a motivator to get their reading plan completed. They can see the meeting times document at any time, but I have also sent Google Calendar invitations to all of them with the link to our Google Meet for when we discuss.

For the discussion of their norms, we used Jamboard. I have had mixed results with it, but this time I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. You can see what it looked like here. Kids had decent discussions about accountability and also how they wanted this experience to run.

While all of the students have done book clubs multiple times before, 7th grade tends to be the first time they have to decide what they will be discussing and prepare accordingly, rather than the teacher telling them what to track. So we have a “cheat sheet” which really is just scaffolds in order to help them be successful. Some of these discussion points are learning targets from the Teachers College Dystopian Unit which we use as a foundational guidance and others are once we have discovered with book clubs throughout the years. Choice reigns supreme and it is important for us that students can steer their discussions ina natural way, they do not have to stick to these but this is a starting point.

Actual Book Clubs – Three Weeks

So how will all of these moving pieces work? Well, I am hoping (because I am writing this before I have kicked it off tomorrow) that our next three weeks will offer students a chance to work independently, as well as not feel overwhelmed. So in order to make that happen, I wanted to offer them up some self-paced learning opportunities using Peardeck, as well as short mini-lessons using our mentor text Ponies by Kij Johnson, and then give them time to read and discuss as much as possible in class much like we would if this were regular book clubs.

In class time will be spent on a mini-lesson – learning targets again are pulled from the Dystopian Unit created by Teachers College. I will be reading aloud our mentor text so we can refer back to it throughout the next three weeks, as well as any of the mentor short films they will be watching asynchronously. I will also have them go into breakout groups for 5 minutes in order to decide what they want to focus on discussing in their groups this week, before my listening on their discussion I ask them what they focused on and I listen for anything attached to that. They can use the “cheat sheet” linked previously in order to help them. Since tomorrow is the first day, I am thinking it may take a little bit longer to get them started but I need to wrap it up within 35 minutes in order to leave them 35 minutes to read, discuss, and work.

So during their in-class learning time and outside learning time, they will have a few things to work through. 1. They need to read their chapters and be ready to discuss. 2. They need to write down any ideas for discussion as well as find evidence. 3. They need to discuss in front of me. 4. They need to work through two learning opportunities in order to expand their knowledge. They will have all week to do this.

So for their discussion, students will be assessed live. I have yet to create a good electronic version of my rubric so I may just do what I normally do, which is print a ton of these rubrics as I like to write directly on them while they speak, as well as tally how much they say and any page numbers they use. I will then either scan and email it to them after their discussion, or transfer it to a markable rubric that will be posted in Google Classroom under their assignments so that each child has one ( I have it posted right now as an assignment for me to fill in).

For their Peardeck self-paced work, they will focus on two learning targets. The first one is simply diving into a book club discussion and understanding better what it is we are looking for. We normally do this during class time but due to virtual time constraints, it is moved into independent work. The Peardeck looks like this, it is short and sweet and to the point because this is not meant to feel like just one more thing to do but rather an exposure, example, and then a quick check for understanding. For the second learning opportunity of the week, they will learn more about utopia, dystopian characteristics and then compare and contrast their book to these definitions. They will also watch a dystopian short film and then write about the rules and how it links to our current society. This Peardeck looks like this. The students will be assessed on the analysis and evidence they use to draw their conclusions. Normally they would also be doing this in class but these are not normal times.

The next two weeks will follow the same format, I have not created the self-paced learning opportunities yet but you can certainly reach out to me if you would like to see what they look like. We will be focusing on our inquiry question; do we already live in a dystopian society and so the learning opportunities will center around that.

So there you have it, so many moving parts but I am excited and I think the students are too. I hope this was helpful to you, let me know if you have any ideas or questions.

being a teacher

To the Some…

Many of my students have yet to finish a book this year.

It’s 2nd quarter. We are fully virtual and have been since the beginning. We read almost every class together, dedicating at least 10-15 minutes of our much too short time together to the act of reading itself. I tell them to find a great book. To sink into the pages. To allow themselves the freedom to just read without a care of what comes next, without having to do work surrounding their book.

And yet, week after week, pages are barely being traveled, some books are not even being opened.

The questioning that has wrapped itself around my literacy decisions is at times suffocating. Other times it spurs me onward. It pushes me to constantly stay in creative mode, to try to think of new and perhaps inventive ways to invite them into reading. To entice them with books. To give them space to come back, to return to habits they left behind on March 13th when school first shut down. But the guilt and feeling of inadequacy is also there, a constant companion as it probably is for many educators teaching during COVID. What normally works, isn’t, because what I am doing is a shell of what it can be. By now, in November we would be soaring in our independent reading, almost all kids would have finished several books and the students who would have loudly declared to hate reading would be working on their relationship with reading and making some small progress. We would be getting excited for our upcoming book club unit, eager to venture into more books with people by our side, ready to discuss, to dissect, to grow in our understanding of society.

But that is not where we are right now. Not many anyway. Not this year.

And so in the search for yet another idea to try, I am reminded of my husband’s words tonight, he is student teaching (can you imagine?) during this time. He reminded me that all of the kids are trying to connect to reading. That they all want to make it better but that they may not be in a space to do that just yet.

That there is no sense in comparing this year to any other year because we have never lived in a time such as this. That when we compare we fail to see the beauty of what is happening, the resilience that continues to be shown and grown in all of our students, in all of us, every day. That perhaps the students have not finished a book just yet, but they are trying. And more importantly, they trust me enough to tell me the truth. They trust me enough so that I can be a part of their journey rather than apart.

They trust me enough so that I can Design

Because our students could lie so easily about the books they have or have not read. They could check the boxes. They could walk away and sometimes we would not know.

But instead, they show up. Despite the internet failing. Despite their computer freezing. Despite being quarantined because another member of their family tested positive. Despite everything being cancelled. Jobs being lost. Friends being far removed. Despite the world and its endless hatred toward so many. Its endless inequities and disparities. Despite having never met me in person, never stepping foot as a 7th grader into our middle school. Owing me nothing. They still show up, they still tune in, and they still try.

So I continue to try as well. Not driving myself to exhaustion because this has to work for all of us but falling back upon the ideas we know work even if they don’t in the same way right now.

I book talk books that may never be read. But every class, there is a new one being introduced.

I offer to bring books to their mailboxes that they may never read.

I give them time to read even if it is not used.

I ask them to search for value within reading even if they see none.

I ask them to tell me about their reading lives even if they have nothing positive to tell.

And we discuss. And we build trust. And we build community.

One conversation at a time. One decision at a time. One page at a time.

And I read aloud right now, even if I don’t know if they are tuning in. Because some are. Because some are ready to be reactivated into reading. Some are ready to fall into the pages of a book because their lives allow them to. Some never left.

And so we make space for them all, we center our practices and decisions not in further work for them to somehow increase accountability but instead in what we know works. Even now, even if it takes longer.

We center it in choice.

In access.

In time to read.

In community.

In conversation.

In finding stories that they can see themselves in and in stories of lives they will never live.

We center it in them. Their chocies. Their lives. Their words. Their journeys.

And we make space for them all. Not for the kids we hoped would be here but the kids who show up. Who show up despite the world trying so hard to stop them.

And we show up too. And we see the small moments of success for all the kids who are trying and remember to give ourselves some grace too. Because we are right there trying as well. Because we are also far from what we had hoped we would be at times and yet we show up too, and we try, and we create, and we breathe and step away so we can come back the next day.

Perhaps what I need right now is not another new idea, but instead a moment of celebration. Of appreciation for all of us and what we are creating.

The reading will happen. It may just take longer. But look at how far we have already come.

I am excited to get to work with other colleagues around the world doing virtual and in-person coaching collaboration, and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

How About a Digital One Pager?

I continue to teach virtually 140 minutes a week English with my 7th graders as COVID-19 explodes around us. As we settle into the 2nd quarter we wanted to increase our focus on independent reading, as well as center our community in a read aloud. Looking ahead to December, we will be doing virtual dystopian book clubs and we wanted to provide students with some scaffolds leading into the discussions we hope to have them have do while recognizing that students are in many different parts of their reading journey. The COVID reading slump is significant, some kids are still not reading, and some still struggle with sustaining their attention to a text even when they are reading.

With all of this in mind, we decided to focus on a read aloud in November; Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson. A few key factors led to this incredible book; it is a beautiful story of family, community, and friendship and how you navigate hardship. It is free verse, it is accessible for all kids, and it is short. We knew we would only have 7 x 70 minutes for the read aloud and for the mini-lessons, that’s not a lot. Alongside the read aloud, we wanted students to focus on their independent reading books but also give them a little more urgency in their reading. While we do not have students write about their reading all through their year, we wanted to use this month to get them set up for discussions and deeper explorations into their texts. In the past, we have used one-pagers for this work or character autopsies. I have loved the art component of these assignments, as well as the brief glimpses of text analysis it would provide us with but had to wrap my head around doing this digitally as I cannot assume access to art supplies. We could use these projects as a way to review and introduce new concepts without students having to write a literary essay.

As I searched online for digital options for this project, I found many for sale but none of them seemed to fit what I wanted to introduce to our students or even review. So I decided to create one that fit our needs and hopefully would also be manageable for the students and not create an unnecessary burden in their reading lives, as did my amazing colleague, Liz.

So here is a copy of what we are mostly using with students. This one is a bit longer than the one I am using but I like all of the options provided here. I envision this being cut down to fit the unique needs of your students, I would not assign all 13 slides. This is not anything new or hugely innovative but it does help us see where students are at in their reading comprehension, as well as help guide them.

The first slide is a review of story elements. One of the concepts we see a need to develop is simply recognizing narrator, as well as the setting’s effect on the story.

The next slide speaks to plot diagram, while we discuss that not all stories are told in this way, we do want students to be able to recognize different parts of their stories as a way to think about their own writing as well. Many of my students are still working on figuring out the climax of a story so this provides them with a review of some of these components.

We will be discussing conflict in our story more than once, this is a slide I did not assign this time though due to time constraints.

Analysis is a huge focus in 7th grade and we want students to find meaningful quotes and then be able to discuss why they are meaningful to them. This also leads into work about connections to our books and to the world, as well as how literature can be powerful and lead us to action.

Characterization is also a major focus as my students are developing people watching skills. We discuss a lot how analysis in literature is really just practice for how to read life situations and that when we can read people and situations well, we can often navigate them more smoothly. Tracking one character and how they change throughout the story is proving to be interesting for many students as they can often see the changes happening but don’t necessarily understand why the character changed.

In 7th grade we expand upon theme, moving from theme idea to theme statement. Many students are great at recognizing theme ideas but have a harder time putting into word what specifically is being said about this theme. For this slide I want them to have an introduction but not dive too deep into it yet. In our dystopian unit, we dive much deeper into power structures, societal messages, as well as what calls to action a text provides us with, this therefore serves as stepping stone into that work.

Finding images or drawing images that have a connection to the text is another way to deepen our understanding and analysis of a story. When we can see beyond the story and conceptualize further connections, we are digging deeper into our analytical skills and complex thinking. One way to practice this is to ask students to move beyond the obvious and think of abstract representation and connections to the curriculum.

The slides attached also have 3 choice options; a deeper dive into the setting, finding a song that connects to the story, as well as timeline slide – all comprehension strategies that will further the understanding of the book.

We have made a few adaptions as well for some students: A few students are refusing to read outright or this work is simply too overwhelming, so they are working through these using a short story instead. We have also discussed having students record answers rather than write them out if needed. Students could also choose to do this by hand and do more of a true one-pager with a bigger emphasis on the artistic components which are downplayed here, rather than this digital version. In my student version I also link to the one I am working through with students, as well as have videos explaining how to fill it in.

As always, feel free to use, or let me know how you would improve it, this is definitely a work in progress and always hindsight is 20-20. After releasing this to students to start working on Sunday, there are already many things that I would do differently, this is therefore the new and improved edition.

I am excited to announce that I am doing virtual speaking and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

WriteReader – A Powerful Book Creator for Students

My own kids have been busy writing. In this time of virtual school where screen time is seen as both exciting and dreaded, and school is mostly something to be done with because they have been sitting in their rooms dictating, writing, and creating books for each other to read, running excitedly out to show me their latest creation.

Ida wrote a 5 pages story about a witch who lost her way.

Oskar wrote a story about candy and how he is the coolest, clearly.

Augustine continue to play with her letters as she tries to figure out how to best write the few words she knows how to spell in her story about her puppy.

The glee is contagious and the writing is furious.

What has gotten my own kids so fired up about writing, even the 6 year-old who has repeatedly told me that she does not need to learn how to write?

WriteReader.com

A research-based web-based book creator that not only allows for exploration of language but also drives them to expand their stories through letter-sound tools, recording capabilities, and a variety of templates that let them control the look of their book.

Why are we loving it so much at home? Because my three youngest kids with varying degrees of writing capabilities are totally engaged in their books and the excitement for writing is contagious as they create, publish, and read.

Ida’s book about a witch that had to find monsters was a big hit with her siblings as she recorded the story.

There are a few things that are really pulling my kids in with the biggest for me the less is more approach. As my own kids are inundated by “educational” games that are more focused on the gaming aspect rather than the learning aspect, WriteReader is a breath of fresh air. This tool is used for creating beautiful books, for exploring their writing skills, for written language acquisition, and for feeling accomplished. The kids can easily navigate it on their own, have figured out how to add pictures, speech bubbles on the pre-loaded templates, and also how to record their own voice. The reward is the creation process, the ability to be authentic writers beyond just the teachers’ eyes, and seeing their published books being read and shared, not points or tokens.

Augi’s book about a frightened puppy is taking shape

I also love how this product offers kids a way to learn through creation, taking chances with their writing and still feel like accomplished writers. This looks and reads like a book that they have created. There is no dumbing down of the work they are attempting and the finished product looks polished. The pride is palpable in my own kids.

Another lovely feature is that the books can also be printed, which my kids wanted to do immediately of course. They can also be shared with others through a link, so you bet the family is getting some reading materials right now.

As a teacher, I can see using this tool in many ways implemented into stations and throughout writer’s workshop and even though it is geared more toward younger students, I do think that older students could also use it for things like flash fiction and prompt writing. You could create templates for the students to go into and edit and students could see each other’s books as they are published. All it takes is an account for students to log into and they are ready to go. If students want to share their book in a broader way, the sharing capabilities open up great potential for impacting others with our words.

In our virtual learning right now, I keep thinking of how important it is to build community. For years telling stories, creative writing, and sharing our stories has been the cornerstone of my classroom. We have seen how storytelling can bond us all so why not use a tool like WriteReader to share our stories? We may not all be together right now but on the bookshelves in our classroom we can be. The free version allows for up to 100 books to be created plus other basic features, a great way to get started with this tool.

Still not sure if WriteReader would work for your students? My 6 year old just asked me to bookmark it so she can find it any time to write more stories and then told me that she didn’t want watch TV because she would rather tell more stories. I don’t know what further testimony you need.

I am not getting paid for this post, this post is written to hopefully help others discover this powerful tool, a way to pay it forward since I was lucky enough to be shown this tool myself. So where could WriteReader fit in for you? Perhaps as another powerful writing tool that can seamlessly fit into the components you already have? Or perhaps a much needed boost that brings our students together in a world that seems upside down?

Wherever it goes, I think you will be as excited about it as I am.

I am excited to announce that I am doing virtual speaking and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

Helping Students Navigate the COVID Reading Slump

One of the most common conversations I have had with students over the last 7 weeks has been a description of what COVID has done to their reading lives. How they haven’t read a book since March, how their attention just seems to not be there, how they cannot seem to find the time, energy, or even the books they want to read. They know they should read but…the world just seems too big right now, their work is piling up, they are just too tired, and they just can’t. And we are not even together, I teach fully virtual, a constant reminder that here in Wisconsin, much like many other places, COVID is exploding and claiming more and more lives. The kids are not okay and neither are the adults.

It’s not just in our classroom that this is playing out. I recognize this disconnect from reading in my own life. Since March 13th, the world has been heavy. The work has been heavy. The books call quietly but I look at my to-be read shelves and it feels like work, not like an escape. Not like something I can do to relax. When I speak to educators globally, they share the same stories; the kids are not reading, how do we help them find joy in reading again? How do we make reading something important to us all when there is hardly any time to do anything?

So in room 203, we have focused on connecting with each other again. We have focused on meaningful work, conversations, and access to books. Is it fully working, not yet, but I am seeing a difference using the following tools to bring them back, one by one, and I think they are seeing a difference too.

Recognizing the enormity of the world. We will never work through this if we don’t recognize and try to understand the unique situations that students are working through. With the pressure to do school like normal when our times are anything but, we can easily forget that this is not normal, that it makes total sense that kids are not reading, and that assigning more accountability work is not going to be the way to bring them back to reading, far from it. So resist the urge to assign more work with their reading so they have to get a grade or get it done, more than likely assigning all of that extra work surrounding their reading is going to push them farther away from wanting to read rather than the opposite. Instead focus on each child’s humanity, recognizing that we are all doing the best we can everyday and that while that means for some reading is not a part of their life at this moment it doesn’t mean it won’t be. But we cannot plan and teach as if the world is not upside down.

Assigning less work. If I want kids to read then they need time to read, this means I need to assign less asynchronous work in order for them to actually have more energy to read. But it cannot just be English class, across the board we should have a schoolwide conversation about the work being assigned because if we are piling on so much work that kids don’t have energy or time to read then we have lost our way on the experience we should co-create for all kids. I know many of us are striving to keep the work challenging and plentiful but let’s not sacrifice reading joy on our way there.

Physical book access. I have marveled before at the comprehensive plan our librarians created to make sure students could still request physical books from our library and how they have helped us get books out to students. And it is working, one book at time, we see kids get excited about the stack of books they are either picking up or having delivered. Students can request both books from our school library or classroom collection using different forms, they can request specific titles or a bag of books that fit their interests and needs. While we also have digital access to books, the physical books seem to be making the biggest difference.

Continued conversation. I have written before about the daily reading conferences I am doing with students and how much hope they bring me. Every child is scheduled via a Google Calendar invite for a 15 minute reading conference every three weeks. We discuss how they are doing, how school is going, and then how their reading goals are coming – in that order. I have Wednesday off as our collaboration day for adults and kids who miss their check-in meeting can either reschedule with me or do a Flipgrid video where they answer a few pre-determined questions and I at least get a small glimpse into how they are doing. Then we try to meet again in the next cycle. The conversation is casual and centered in their reality. It allows me a chance to check in on them as far as how they are doing, if I can support with anything and then we talk about reading. There is no judgment as far as where they are at in their reading and whether or not they have been reading, but instead a conversation about how they can work on their goal. Do they need books? Do they need a new goal? Do they need help in some way? As one student ended our conversation with last week, “This was so nice, I really needed this,” and I couldn’t agree more.

One of the pages of their reading identity digital notebook can be seen above, this is the 6-week reflection page they will be filling in tomorrow.

Setting 6 week reading goals. Within our Digital Reading Identity Notebooks, students have a place to set a 6 week reading goal. We do it in class together, discuss what realistic goals can look like, and then discuss it during our individual reading conferences. Goals range from slowing down their reading to actually reading outside of class time and many other aspects of their reading journey and identity. Tomorrow in class, we will spend time reflecting on their first goal, write about it, and then use their reading data to come up with a new reading goal for the next 6 weeks. Their goals should be specific to their journey, challenging in a realistic way, and also something they actually want to work on. This gives me yet another glimpse into who they are and how I can best support them.

A snapshot of some of the question on their reading survey.

Weekly reading reflection. Every first class of the week, students do a very brief survey that allows them to take stock of their reading habits for the previous week and allows me a quick glance at their reading and what they may need from me. This is the data they will look at tomorrow when they reflect on their last 6 weeks. The survey takes less than 5 minutes, the students think it is easy to navigate and best of all, they answer honestly, knowing that it is a tool to help them not punish them because there is no grade attached to their answers (or to their independent reading for that matter).

Tomorrow’s book talk slide

Daily book talks. I am still doing very casual daily book talks featuring new or old books. While they are not having the same impact as when we are face to face, a few books have been requested after I have book talked them and that is enough for me to keep doing them. The booktalks are short and sweet, I have the cover on a slide and then discuss what I loved about the book, then I read the blurb. It takes us less than 2 minutes but allows the students to get a feel for the books we have available to the them in class.

Book Speed Browsing is coming back in November

Book Speed Browsing. I wrote about the September book speed browsing here and how it gave students a larger glimpse of the books we have available to them. I am currently working on one for November, the major change is that students will be asked to read about each book rather than just choose 5 and there is not a form they have to fill in but instead that students can choose to request books if they would like. This tool is meant to give them a broader access to our library and hopefully entice some more reading for the kids.

Independent reading in class. The first thing we do after I have greeted all students is to read. While we have a lot less time together than we would normally, the most important part of our time spent together is the time we dedicate to independent reading every class. We read at least 30 minutes in class spread throughout our two classes of the week. Students start to read after I have greeted and spoken to them, I ask them to keep their camera on if they can or once in a while they flash me their book cover quick as they read. Are there kids that don’t use the time for reading? Absolutely! We are working on that just like we would in class when kids choose to fake read or not engage at all. But many kids are reading and for some kids it is the only reading they are doing every week. This will always be the most protected activity we do. I cannot tell students that they should read outside of class and then not give them time to do so in class.

Listening to tips from students. As always, our students have great ideas for how they can navigate their reading lives. A few ideas from students have been reading two books at the same time – switch between books as one gets boring in order to actually finish books and keep their attention. Try a new format – what is something you haven’t tried before, now is a great time to try graphic novels, novels in verse or audio and shake up our reading habits. Try a new topic or genre – perhaps changing up the familiar will help you. Find a new routine – our routines have been disturbed greatly and so the habit of reading may have slipped out of routine as well, when does it make sense to let reading happen?

Patience. We are facing uncertain times and even if we feel like we are ready for the Corona virus to be done, it is still here. That means that kids, and adults, will continue to have their mental health affected, that the world will continue to be heavy, that reading will continue to be a chore for many. But we can take small steps, we can continue our focus on it as a central gathering point in our class, and we can continue to encourage our students to find books that speak to them, that connect to who they are, that they can find value in even if joy is not there right now. And we can wrap that up in the best practices we know, not forcing ourselves into more accountability work, but instead allowing the act of reading independently to be something we do as a community, something that we do to take care of ourselves, something that we do because it allows us to transport ourselves to a new world, even if just for a moment, and that can sustain us for a long time.

So I hope this blog post was helpful, please share your ideas in the comments, and allow yourself to breathe. Reading is not lost for all, it may just be hidden right now, but together we can reignite reading for ourselves and help others as well, as long as we start with connections first.

I am excited to announce that I am doing virtual speaking and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

Introducing Virtual Consulting

There have not been many silver linings in the past seven months. With a world that continues to be upside down and an unknowable future, it all can seem too much at times. And yet, one thing has evolved in my life that I am finding great joy in; virtual consulting.

When we shut down in March, we saw conferences get cancelled or moved online. For the past 7 months, the learning I have done and created has been through a computer screen, trying to help others as they face uncertain school years, as they rethink practices, as they wonder how do we make this better for the students? For ourselves? I have been fortunate to be asked to be a part of many different school’s and district’s work as they brainstorm, plan, and implement new ideas, and not so new, in education.

It has been an honor and a joy to see the ingenuity and resilience of educators as they once again rise to an unsurmountable challenge and try to keep kids at the center of the decisions they make.

And so, I wanted to alert readers of this blog to the work I am available to support you with. Virtual consulting can look many different ways but the heart of it is the same; we work together to create experiences centering students’ literate lives, centering their identities, and help one another see our way through all of the decision-making that seems to be piling up every day in this new landscape of education.

I can be brought in for an afternoon or for a longer stretch of time. Every consultation period is personalized, of course, and grounded in research, best practices, and the practical tools I have developed or am developing in my own teaching practice. It is set up to meet the specific needs of the community that brings me in while honoring teacher sustainability, identity, and joy in learning.

Fees are flexible in order to meet the needs of the community and are based on length of time, number of attendants, and also the depth of the work. I try to stay as flexible as possible with school districts as much as I can as I get the budget constraints that many are facing.

My Areas of Expertise:

  • Creating a passionate literacy community.
  • Personalized learning environments for staff and students.
  • Student engagement and empowerment.
  • Global collaboration through technology infusion.

What You Can Expect:

  • Personal attention and development of project intended to fit your purpose.
  • Prompt communication.
  • A personalized and interactive delivery that will fulfill the needs of the target audience.
  • Accessibility and an ongoing relationship after the talk.  I become a trusted resource for the audience as they move forward.

So if you feel that I could be of help during these times, please reach out. You can send me an email psripp@gmail.com or through this page right here and I will get back to you as soon as I can.