Some Ideas for Better Student Revisions

I have never been good at helping students understand how to revise better.  It seems like every idea I have had has only made them more dependent on other people, rather than develop their own skills.  Sometimes I feel like I have tried it all; from checklists, to peers, to specific directions from me. From strengths to goals to next steps, for some reason the art of revising and revising well has not truly blossomed in our classroom.  Until now.  Because if the last two days are any indication, we are finally on to something.

This unit came from my own realization as a writer.  When I write, I edit as I go, but I also step away and give it time.  I don’t jump right back in even when my editor emails me back.  I marinate, I process, and I try to make it better when I finally do jump back in.  I take my time, I make it a priority and I don’t try to squeeze it in.  This is what I want my students to realize; that revising and editing creates more beautiful work.  That it is not just something a teacher makes you do.  That it is not just some thing on a check list.

So what have we done so differently these past few days?  Here are few things:

We stepped away from our written work for a while.  And by a while I mean over a month.  The two pieces my students have been revising were handed in before winter break. One is a short story, another is either an opinion piece or a summary.  Some of my students did very well, others did not do at all.  Before break they were asked to hand in their best draft (thank you Kelly Gallagher for that term) and then I told them to not do anything with them until I asked.  I told them that rather than they trying to figure out what to work on we would work on our revisions in class.

Why?  Because when we do revision during our writing process we cannot look at our own work with fresh eyes.  We get tired of it.  We don’t see our own mistakes.  We go through the process because the teacher told us to, not because we see anything wrong with what we have done.

We have one next step.  Inspired through a conversation with my friend Lauren, she told me how she tells her students what their specific next step is when she reads their writing.  I loved this idea; one next step, not ten things you still need to work on. So after my students had self-reflected on their work, I wrote what I saw as their strengths in their writing and then the very next thing they should work on next.

Why? This means that as a I handed my feedback to them, they knew where to start.  Instead of “just” trying to read the rubric, which most of them admit that they don’t read or understand, they knew how to get started.  Their process then developed from that next step.

We read our work aloud.  And not to get through it quickly but as if we are narrating our very own audiobooks.  My students do not believe me when I tell them that I read every thing I write aloud, but it’s true (I am reading this aloud as I type right now), however, this approach has helped me catch many mistakes.

Why?  I have been sharing with my students how when they read things aloud their ears often catch things that their eyes did not.  Once I got students to actually believe me, some moved into quiet spots and started to read.  They were often amazed at how many things they caught.

We edit on paper.  I asked every child to print their short story and hand it in.  Not because I needed it, but because they did.  On Wednesday, I handed it back to them as I asked them to read it aloud and then asked them to edit directly on it.  Not because we did not have computers in the room, but because they needed to see the mark ups that happen when we edit by hand.  As they read their story aloud, their papers filled in.  I did not tell them how to mark up their paper; they need to figure out their own symbols, but I told them I expected to see change.  And change I saw.

Why?  Because when they only edit on a computer they mistakenly believe that they either have little to change because there are no squiggly red lines, or they think they have already changed a lot.  When they sit with a paper version of their story they can see what they are changing, they can feel their story better, and they then get to type their changes into typed story.  This also offers them another hidden chance of editing their work.

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A student let me share their marked up paper after they were done editing it.

Everybody edits and revises.  Often times we only tell our kids who may not have mastered something to edit/revise their stories deeper.  We assume that the kids who show us strong written work already have edited/revised it a lot, but that is not always the case.  In fact, I have seen how little editing/revising some of my more developed writers do.

Why?  For this every child was expected to change their work, even the ones who clearly had exceeded expectations, because they need to realize that there is no such thing as perfect work.  We can always make something better, we can always polish something more.  And sure enough, some of my more developed writers made their stories even better.

We took our time.  This was a unit in itself, not just one day’s worth of activity.  This was an event, something important that I hope they carry with them.  I explained how when I taught younger grades we used checklists and fabricated peer edits to show them what to focus on but that now they were ready for the next step; the idea editing rather than a checklist.  This means that I offer them ideas of what they can work on and sometimes even where but that they must critically evaluate their own work to see what it needs.

Why?  This is hard work and deserves to be treated as such.  This is why it stood on its own and not just the two final days of our writing project unit.

I didn’t partner them.  While I love a great writing trio (trio so that one child doesn’t do all of the work), I purposefully did not put them with a  peer.  I instead wanted them to shape their own process by choosing who they could work with.  And they did, often trading computers and leaving each other comments.  Were the pairings always the most powerful?  No, but they were honest.

Why?  The kids knew that they could help each other and were chosen to be a help and so they did their best to offer critical feedback.  I also want them to make connections without me so that they can shape their own writing process.  It was exciting to see how much students supported each other when I got out-of-the-way.

Once again, I am in awe of the small tweaks that we can implement to create a better writing process.  I have seen incredible changes in the work that my students have revised.  I have seen care taken to a new degree.  I have seen a re-investment, rather than just a shrug off.  By giving them the time and elevating this process to something that was treated with importance, my students now see a larger value in editing.  Now the very next step is to help them hang on to that as they continue to shape their writing identities.

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.

 

3 Questions to Ask for a Critical Re-Evaluation of Your Classroom Library

“Really, Mrs. Ripp, another book about Civil Rights?” Spoken by one of my African American students as I pulled out the picture book I intended to use in our mini lesson.

Another book about Civil Rights….

His words followed me all of the way home.  Not because I was worried he didn’t know enough but because of what had followed those first words.

“You always pick those books…”

And he was right.  In my eagerness to embed more knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement into our mini lesson on advice from older characters, I wasn’t thinking about his representation to the rest of our mostly white class.  How once more what I showcased only supported a familiar narrative.  His words prompted a realization that seemingly the only picture books I used or that we even had in our classroom library featuring African Americans in them had to do with either slavery or Civil Rights.  Not every day life.  Not non-famous African Americans.  Just those two topics.  This realization has shaped a lot of my book purchasing decisions as of late and just how much work I still have to do.

I have been focused a lot on diversity of books, it’s hard not to when our world seems to need understanding, empathy, and fearlessness more than ever.  While our classroom library has been ever expanding with more diverse picks, I have realized through the help of my students that diversity is not enough.  That simply placing books that feature anything but white/cisgender/Christian characters in them is not enough.  It is a start, sure, but then how do we go further than that?

We ask ourselves; how are characters represented?

Prompted by the comment from my student, I now look for how characters of any race/skin color/culture are represented in all of our books.  Is everyone represented?  Even sub-groups that my students may not even be aware of?  Are we only showcasing one experience?  Are we only highlighting the famous people of that sub-group?  Are we only representing one narrative of a group of people that live a myriad of narratives?  My own ignorance has often led to blunders, such as the one described here, but I can do better. I can make sure that the books I bring in lead to realizations and understanding about others, not more of the same.

So don’t just ask who is represented, but ask how are they represented?  How would I feel if my own children were represented in this way?

We ask ourselves; do we have #OwnVoices authors represented?

The #OwnVoices hashtag is one I have been paying attention to as I look at the diversity of our classroom library and even on my own reading experiences.  Started by Corinne Duyvis the hashtag focuses on recommending books written/illustrated “about marginalized groups of people by authors in those groups.”  That is why I know Google who the author is and what their background is as I decide on placing a book in the library.  That is why I read blogs like Disability in Kidlit  (soon to be shut down which breaks my heart), follow Reading While White which had an entire month dedicated to OwnVoices books,  and also try to educate myself on what is out there.  If we want true representation in our classrooms then we have to do the legwork to make sure all marginalized groups are represented in the books we share with students.

So don’t just ask do I have broad representation in characters, but ask do I have broad representation in authors/illustrators?

We ask ourselves; how are books highlighted and selected?

Gone are the days where I haphazardly selected books to put on display or book talk.  Now my displays and selection process takes a little bit more time; which books are put out to grab for students?  What do the covers look like?  Who are the stories representing?  I also do not “just” put African American books on display for February to celebrate Black history month, but have them out all of the time.  My students should be immersed in a diverse reading experience at all times, not just in carefully selected months.

So don’t just grab a few books to put out because they are new; grab books that will offer students a wide reading experience and will expose them to new authors/titles that will broaden their own world.  Do not reserve diverse texts for a few months but have them on display at all times.

While I have grown, I have a long way to go.  My wish-list of books right now are a few hundred titles deep, especially as I focus on the sub-groups that are severely underrepresented in our library.  I am still educating myself, seeking out new titles, and seeking out those that know more than me.  If you want to see books that are getting added to our classroom library, follow me on Instagram as I share all new titles there.

One picture book that I urging every one to read and buy is this one

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When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Fleet.  

From Amazon:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.

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.

5 Tenets of Choice

I have long believed in putting the “person” back in personalized learning.  In creating engaging classroom experiences with our students as we try to help them discover how they learn best and what they still need to grow in.  However working in the public school system in a state that has mandates and tests to take, means that we sometimes cannot just do whatever we want as we explore 7th grade English.  Means that I am not always able to tell my students to create whatever they want and make it work within our standards.  Means that sometimes we all do the same lesson or produce a similar outcome.  Even if I work in a district that is focused on doing what is best for each child and puts immense trust in its teachers.  Even if at my core I believe that children need to feel like they have control in their learning experience so that they will invest themselves.  And I think this is the reality for many teachers that are trying to do their best in engaging all of their learners.  So how do we truly create experiences where students feel empowered and engaged and have choice, even when it is not free rein at all times?

One of the foundations in our classroom is the five tenets of choice.  These ideas by themselves are the foundation for many successful educational experiences, these ideas have been around for a long time, and these ideas, when coupled together, mean that my students always have choice in something, even if it is not apparent at a quick glance.  While the optimal experience would be for them to have all of these choices at any time, sometimes this is not possible within the system I work.  So, instead, I strive for at least two of these, but preferably more, at any given time.

This tiny excerpt from my forthcoming book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Engaging and Reaching Every Child, details the five tenets of choice, hopefully they will be of help to others as well.

1st Tenet

Choice in engagement, meaning how they access the learning; do they need small group instruction, one-on-one conferring, are they independent or want to work with a peer?  I have students do a pre-assessment of how they would like to work through a project and then plan my classes according to their needs.  To see a sample pre-assessment survey, please see the appendix.   

2nd Tenet

Choice in product, meaning what would they like to create to show their understanding and exploration of a concept.  Sometimes this means full control of the product depending on the standards we are working with, while other times it only means minimal choice such as the format of their written work.   

3rd Tenet

Choice in setting, meaning how and where would they like to learn.  As discussed previously, students need to be afforded opportunities to manipulate the learning community environment to suit their needs.  This is part of their learning journey and so students can choose where they sit, how they sit, whether they work in the learning community or in other designated areas, as well as how they use the environment they are working in.   

4th Tenet

Choice in timeline, meaning when they are ready to be assessed.  While this one is harder to do at times, I do try to provide flexible timelines for students, as well as stay in tuned with what else is happening in other classes.  This may mean that for a longer project I will tell students what the final day is for them to turn something in but that they can turn it in any time they are ready before then.   

5th Tenet

Choice in assessment, meaning how and what I assess as far as their mastery of concepts.  Inspired by Kelly Gallagher I will often ask students to turn in the piece that they think showcase their depth of understanding the best and then assess and confer with them regarding this one piece of work.  This allows students more flexibility and control over how they are assessed, as well as gives them the opportunity to reflect on what mastery really means.  This tenet also means that once students have shown mastery for a quarter, they do not have to prove it to me again but can instead move on to more challenging work.  This is a way for me to ensure that students are provided with learning that matches their needs better and also allows them for more self-directed learning.  

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.

Our Mock Caldecott Winners 2017

For the past week my students have been busy dissecting, discussing, and loving picture books as we tried to select the one winner and three honors books for the 2017 Caldecott.  This is the second year I have done this exploration with 7th graders and as one student told me, “This is one of my favorite units” and I agree.  Picture books allow all of my students to access tough issues, complex ideas, and also to gain a new appreciation for this artform.  They are a constant companion of what we do in our classroom and in our reading journey.  They form the ties of our community.  Delving into these books have allowed my students to think deeply about their own opinions and also worked on their debating skills.  While our exploration was short, I used some ideas from Jes Lifshitz’s longer Caldecott unit and then meshed my own ideas with it.  To see her post go here.

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Some of our Mock Caldecott potentials

 

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Love these beginning thoughts from my students.

I asked each class to come up with one winner and three honors books.  Here are our choices:

 

1st Hour

Honor:  Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Honor:  They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:  Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

 

Winner:  The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

 

3rd Hour

Honor: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor: 

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner: A tie between 

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

And

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

5th Hour

Honor:

Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campory and Theresa Howell, ilustrated by Rafael Lopez

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

6th Hour

Honor:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Honor:

Ada’s Violin – The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

7th Hour

Honor:

The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers

Honor:

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Honor:

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman illustrated Beth Krommes

Winner:

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

Now we wait until January 23rd to see how right or wrong we were

Small Victories

It is within the small victories we find the biggest changes.

“Are we reading today?”  A child asks as the bell rings.

Usually my answer would be obvious, of course, but today we had speeches to get through and so reading would wait.  I tell him so and he says, “Good, because I hate  reading…”

How often does this scene play out in our classrooms.  I know it has been playing out in here since September 1st, sometimes multiple times in a day.  Sometimes new voices join the chorus or nod their head vigorously.  I hate reading too, and so they bond in their shared hatred.

I smiled at the boy in question yesterday and I asked him, “Do you hate reading as much as you did on the first day of school?”

To which he answered, “No…”

This is the small moment I live for.

This is a victory beyond belief.

This is progress.  He may not be a convert, sometime the kids never are, but his opinion has changed.  His mindset has changed.  If even just the slightest.

Too often we look for the big wins.  The kids who declare that we are the best teacher they ever had.  That this is their favorite class above them all.  That reading , or doing math, or experiencing science, or whatever you love so much is their most favorite thing to do in the whole world, now.

But the reality is that those big wins don’t happen very often.  Those big life changing moments for a child don’t always come in school.  Or they don’t tell us about them.

But when this kid shared his truth with me, knew that his words were safe, knew that although I had not converted him he had changed his mind just a little, that is what I aim for; growth, change, giving something a chance.

Too often we feel like failures, like we are not enough because we the kids have not grown enough.  Have not come far enough.  This is what happens when we only look for the big moments.  You will wear yourself out chasing them.  So instead, look for the small victories.  Look for the truths being shared.  Look for the child that perhaps still hates whatever you are doing but hates it just a little less.  This is what change is built on.  This is what it means to teach; finding the small victories and realizing that what we do makes a difference even if we don’t see it every day.

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.

 

Three Keys to Creating Successful Reading Experiences

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It’s January.  In the perfect world all of my students would love reading by now.  All of my students would bring their self-chosen book to class, eager to dive in, begging for more reading time.  In a perfect world, every child would have a goal they were working toward, every child would be eager to book talk their books, to browse our library, to read outside of class.  I don’t teach in the perfect world, I don’t think anyone does.

Instead, by now here in January, I have kids that still show up with no books.  That still tell me they hate reading.  That still would rather flip the pages and not actually read anything.  I still have kids who don’t read outside of class, who have no goals, who would rather do everything they can to avoid having a reading check in with me.  Not a lot, the numbers have dwindled, but they are still there, they are still prominent, and I still lose sleep over how to help them have a better relationship with reading (or writing, or speaking, or English, or even just school…)

We all have these kids in our classrooms, in our learning communities.  These kids that seem to defy the odds of every well-meaning intention we may have.  Who do not fall under our spell or the spell of a great book.  Who actively resists not so much because they want to but because they feel they have to.  And so our initial thoughts are often to tighten the reins.  To tell them which book to read.  To hand them a reading log so that you can see when don’t read.  To tie in rewards to motivate or even consequences to punish.  We create lesson plans with more structure, less choice, less freedom overall thinking that if we just force them into a reading experience, perhaps then it will click for them.

We must fight our urges when it comes to the regimented reading experiences.  What these kids need is usually not less freedom, more force.  What these kids need is not more to do when it comes to their reading.  What these kids need is not the carefully crafted worksheet packet with its myriad of questions that will finally make them read the book.

What they need is patience.  Repetition.  Perseverance.  I am not in a fight with these kids.  I am not here to punish them into reading.  I am not here to reward them into reading either.  I am here to be the one that doesn’t give up, even if they have themselves.  I am here to be the one that continues to put a pile of books in front of them and say “Try these…”  I am the one that will repeat myself every day when I say, ‘Read…” and then walk away.  Who will crouch down next to them and ask them how they feel and listen to their words, even if I have heard them a million times before.

We look to external systems and plans because they entice us with their short-term promises.  We fall under the spell of programs, of removing choice from those who have not earned it, in an effort to get these kids there faster.  Yet, what I have learned from my students is that every one is on a different path.  That every child is on the journey  and while their pace may be excruciatingly slow, they are still moving forward.

So our classroom is not perfect, and neither am I.  I cannot force my students to read but I can create an ongoing opportunity where they might want to.  And so that is what I will do, every day, up until the last day, hoping to reach every single one, even if I have not reached them yet.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.