books, Literacy, Reading

A Few Favorite Books from Our Classroom for Teens Who Say They Can't Find a Great Book

One of the many benefits there is from being an educator who reads a lot is that I get to create many different reading lists in my head. From the child that asks me to find another book just like the one they just read, to the colleague who needs some books to take their mind off of bigger things, to the child who tells me that they have never liked a single book, there are lists in my head with ideas. These lists grow as I read, study what our kids are reading, and also get to know our readers better.

One of my most used list from my head is for the last group of kids, the kids that come to us saying that all books are boring. That all books they have tried are only okay or not worth their time. Who read a book only because they have to or fake read hoping we won’t notice. Those books are in high demand.

There are a few trends with many of the books that help kids find value in reading again. Many are free-verse or novels in verse, many have mature topics discussed throughout, many are shorter. In fact, I would say that the world needs even more of these books – books with mature, complex storylines that are around 200-250 pages, especially those written by #OwnVoices authors.

So which books make the list at the moment for our readers? Here are a few suggestions…

I have loved book talking Torrey Maldonado’s Tight to my students because you can see them get interested quickly once I share the book. After all, how many of my students can relate to the idea of trying to navigate demands from friendships without losing yourself.

I rejoiced loudly at the news that Nic Stone wrote a middle grade novel. Students love both Dear Martin and Jackpot but for some of my students they need a little more accessible language, which Nic so seamlessly delivers in this Clean Getaway, her new middle-grade novel without sacrificing the complexity of the story.

Another book that has been replaced multiple times is The Rose that Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur. I love when students discover this book because they so often check with me to see if this is “The Tupac” or some other guy.

I book talked Standing Strong by Gary Robinson last week and it had an immediate wait list. I can’t wait to see what the students think once they have read it.

Free-verse continues to reign supreme for many of our students and this new addition Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai has been gaining attention since I book-talked it a month ago.

I cannot wait to book talk Manning Up by Bee Walsh this week. It has a few common patterns that seems to do well in our classroom; it’s free verse, it is action packed, it is more mature, and it is about sports.

We have continued our discussions about influences, bias, and what causes us to do what we do throughout the year and so I book talked The Wave by Todd Strasser and the book has furiously made the rounds. It’s short, accessible, and a riveting read as we see just how frightfully easy it is to manipulate others.

I have lost of how many kids have read Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee.

Yummy – The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

I have replaced Yummy more times than I can count because it is one of those books where once I book talk, I tend to not see it again. One kid book talked it repeatedly as he tried to convince other us its rightful place in their reading lives.

One of our newer additions to must-read books has been Warcross by Marie Lu. This book is featured in our dystopian book club work and is a book that kids love for its fast pace and mystery.

If there is a book that defines our time together it is this masterpiece by Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down continues to be one of our most worn-out, passed around, talked about books more than a year after its release. I have lost count of how many readers have asked for books just like this after they finish its pages.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is the second most read book series in our classroom, and for the kids who are not quite ready to decode its many pages, the audio version beckons. With its complicated plot lines, incredible world building, and suspense, I am in awe of the talent that is Neal Shusterman and how he never underestimates our readers.

Eleven by Tom Rogers about 9/11 is a book that I book talk on the anniversary of the attacks and I see it passed from child to child. The kids I teach now were born after the attacks and long for books that can help them understand what happens. With its dual narrators, the book is fast paced yet accessible for many.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines is one of the more mature books in our classroom, but without fail it is one of the most read series we have. With its focus on football, small town, tragedy, and relationships, it pulls readers in from many walks of life.

Also more mature, the poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace is one that especially many of my 7th graders who have not found value in reading gravitate toward. I book talk it individually as well as to the class.

I have seen The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey dismissed more times than I can count by adults who deem it too easy for our readers, and yet, this series has single handedly transformed at least three readers’ lives in our classroom over the years. Why someone would dismiss a great series that a child wants to read continues to baffle me.

The Crossover – Graphic Novel Adaptation by Kwame Alexander and Dawud Anyabwile Even if a child has read The Crossover (which is also on this list), they still get so excited to see the graphic novel adaptation.

Handed Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren to one of my hockey players and she could not put it down.  Her word of mouth recommendation means that it is flying through the classroom, and kids who told me they hate reading are devouring it.

Image result for hey kiddo

Kids cannot believe that this is a graphic novel.  With its unflinching look at how addiction shaped his life and his talents, Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka is flying through the room.

“Mrs. Ripp, I only want to read books like this one…” so said one of my most resistant readers this year, and it happens every year.  Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies is one of those books I can count on to be a great reading experience for almost every child I hand it to.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is one of those books that takes you by the heart and then twists it painfully.  Unyielding in its honesty, this book stays with you long after the last page.

What happens when the alpha bully at a middle school hits his head and forgets everything about himself?  I think so many of my students can connect with Gordon Korman’s Restart for many different reasons.  It is fast-paced and Chases’ dilemma makes you want to read on; will he go back to how he was?

Also by Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales – Spiderman is the first full-length novel that features the comic book character Miles Morales as Spiderman.  Need I say more?

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt has hands-down been the biggest game changer for a lot of my readers.  I have 7 copies circulating and none of them sit on the shelf for more than a day.  We have it on Audible as well for students who prefer to listen to their books.

 Rhyme Schemer also by K.A. Holt is about a bully who becomes the victim.  I love how students relate to this story and often see this passed from kid to kid.

Who would think that our most resistant readers start to fall in love with reading through free verse?  What Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover has done for our reading life cannot be underestimated.  I have already had to replace my copies of this book this year and students are eagerly awaiting Booked on it’s arrival date of April 5th.

Reality Boy by A.S.King may have a very angry protagonist but I think the anger and “realness” of the books is what draws readers to it.  This is another book that is often recommended from student to student.

Another free verse book, this one is House Arrest by K.A. Holt has been making the rounds as well.  The discussions in class that this book leads to are powerful for many students.

When a resistant reader recommended this book to me I knew it had staying power in our classroom.  Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy is not your typical sports book and I think that is why it has been so popular with many resistant readers.  It is a little bit raw and a little bit unresolved, a perfect choice for many of my more picky readers.

Another Jason Reynolds book, Ghost is book one in the Track series and left my students wanting to read the next book, Patina, right away.  Easily accessible langueg with a relatable character who does not have the easiest life, this was a book many kids declared as a favorite.  

Boost by Kathy Mackel was book talked last week and has not been in my classroom since, quickly passing hands from student to student.

For the first time ever, I used We Were Liars by e.lockhart (Emily Jenkins’ pen name for her YA books) and I was not disappointed.  It was clear that my group of readers quickly became absorbed as they begged for just one more minute of reading time.

It can come as no surprise that Monster by Walter Dean Meyers is a book many readers gravitate to.  I have loved the reflections and thoughtful dialogue that this book creates but even more so how many students have recommended to each other.

What are your must adds/must-reads that you pull out for the kids who say they can’t find a great book?

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

being a teacher

Meet our Emergency Stash Cart

A few weeks ago I came across a genius idea from my friend, the incredible Julie Jee. She showed images of a plastic rollaway cart filled with emergency supplies that her students had requested. As Julie so often does, she shared this great idea freely through Twitter and in that sharing, I was inspired. It made perfect sense, after all, I am sure there are things that our students would love access to without having to ask.

So I followed her plan. I asked our students what they wish we would have an emergency stash of, I gave them a few examples. It was a paper survey so that they could speak freely without others knowing what they wanted. Immediately a few things stood out; gum, hair ties, snacks, and menstrual products.

So then, I purchased a cart. Now, one of my resolutions this year is twofold – spend less money on items for my classroom (because I spend way too much of my own money) and also, don’t use Amazon if I can help it (because they don’t need more money). This time I made an exception and ordered this cart, which then arrived rather quickly, I was pretty excited!

Last week, I unveiled the cart. All organized and ready for their usage. I introduced the items in each drawer to every class. We discussed that they should be mindful of usage as I was funding most of the stuff, and that it was to be used for emergencies and not because they felt like snacking their way through class. We also discussed taking care of the things in the cart like the fidgets, as well as continuing to follow school expectations when it comes to eating snacks and such.

So what does it look like and what is in it?

Tucked in a corner, with everything labeled pretty much.

 Shelf 1: Gum, mints, and fidget toys to be used in class when needed.

Shelf 2: Band-aids, hand and body lotion, nail scissors, mouthwash, wet wipes, and shower wipes – I will be adding deodorant spray as soon as I get some.

Shelf 3: School supplies – extra pens and pencils, binder clips, paper clips of various sizes, rubberbands, post-its, and also erasers.

Shelf 4: Hair ties, hairspray, a comb (that I wash after use), cottonballs and q-tips, hair pins.

A close up – I did add a few organizer baskets after this

Shelf 5: Utensils for eating.

Shelf 6: Napkins, ziplock bags, and dryer sheets in case of static.

Shelf 7: Tampons, pads, liners.

Shelf 8 + 9: Granola bars, trail mix, chococalte, and fruit snacks.

Shelf 10: Food, right now Cup of Noodles for those who need lunch.

I figured that students would use it a lot the first few days and I was right. Lots of mints, gum, and snacks have been taken. But also the other things have been in need. Now almost a week in, it is quieting down a bit. The students use it when needed, we have re-discussed when to use it after grabbing several snacks at a time became a minor thing, and as always students express their thanks.

But it’s not for them to be grateful more so than they are or for me to feel great about myself. It is for all of our kids to just have one more way to navigate school that may make their day better. An easy idea to give kids what they might need even as we attempt to address all of their needs. I am so grateful to Julie for sharing the idea the first place because her idea is now impacting our students in Oregon, Wisconsin, perhaps me passing it on here will allow it to impact others as well.

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

being a teacher, being me, conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

What's Important in Your World – A Small Question to Boost Conferring

I have been having small conversations with students. Isn’t that what teaching is in so many ways? Much like we live life in the moments in between the big, we teach in the moments in between the big as well, the big assignment, the best draft, the presentation. We go throughout our day using our voice to connect, our bodies to show our listening, our eyes to show we care. We seek out those moments in between hello’s and goodbye’s to make sure that with us, these kids, our kids, feel seen, challenged, and cared for.

So in thinking about how I could structure more conversation to build trust, I have been starting each reading conference with a simple yet meaningful question. Inspired by Sara Ahmed’s work in Being the Change, after I have asked them how their night was, how their day is going, I then ask, “What is important to you in your world right now?” It took some finessing with the question, in some conversations it flows seamlessly and the students latch onto it and take it in the direction they need it to go. Others ask for clarification which I typically bumble through, but what it shows me each time, is that continued need to connect that drives everything we do in room 203.

That there is still much to be done.

That all of the community we think we have built is still not enough. That each child is still carrying so much within them that ties in with their day, their mood, their thoughts, their actions, their dreams. From the worries about homework as the end of the quarter nears, to friendship issues they are navigating. From coming to terms with sports ending and figuring out what else to use their time on, to not quite knowing what to do with something they know, these kids take that question and allow us one more glimpse into their lives. One more way to build a way for them to trust us with the emotions that are tied into the work we are doing.

Because I can start a conversation asking just about their book.

Because I can start a conversation getting right to the skill.

Because I can start the conversation by asking what they are working on as a reader.

Because I can start the conversations moving into the work as quickly as possible.

But what that will never do is build the kind of trust we need to have with each other when kids tell me how they really want to grow. Why they worry about reading. Why they worry about writing. Why they worry about being in a community where some seemingly don’t understand them. Why they worry about grades, about the future, about the news.

So for now our conferences are taking a little bit longer. So for now, I am not quite sure how the conversation will go. I am not sure when we will get to the work they are doing as readers. But we will and we do.

But before then. Before that.

I get a tiny glimpse into their world and isn’t that what teaching is also about in so many ways? A tiny glimpse so we can help them capture the world the way they want to.

It is for me.

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

being me, new year

Here's to Life in the Mundane

Seated around the breakfast table with our kids this morning, it was hard to not get wistful for a moment. To take a moment to appreciate the last decade, the wonder of the ten years that have passed, a decade that brought us three more kids through the miracles of medicine. A decade that started with me in my second year of teaching, ready to give up on it all but instead beginning a blog, which led to a book and then three more books, and then to travels around the world trying to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. A decade shaped by new friendships but also lost ones. Of more love, of new wrinkles, of back problems and first world privilege. And a year that was for the most part uneventful in the best of ways, a year that came in quietly and leaves us in a flurry. As the kids made funny jokes, threw mini tantrums, and we celebrated Thea’s 11th birthday, we asked what they loved the most about the last year. What stood out?

A few things were crowd favorites; travels to Costa Rica , Taiwan, and New York, going to school and starting new classes (phew), getting Piglet, our hedgehog after many months of research. All extraordinary events that shaped our year. Events out of the ordinary. Events that we counted down to, saved up for, commemorated in our albums of pictures. And yet, it was in the moments after that my thoughts gathered. The little moments that make our years, the routine and ordinary. The life lived in the mundane that truly shaped this year.

Taking long walks with Brandon as we contemplated our lives and tried to figure out the everyday trials and triumphs of parenting.

Reading books in small moments, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Text messages received from family and friends. Emails, phone calls, and letters.

A fresh cup of tea awaiting in the kitchen when I came home.

A car with heated seats, finally.

Friday movie nights ensuring us that our love of Star Wars was dutifully passed on.

Bike rides.

Pool time naps.

Quiet work time before the students show up.

Thea trying out a new sense of humor.

Ida discovering her dyslexia super strength.

Oskar making sure to say I love you.

Augustine deciding that school is fun even it is work.

Saying thank you. Saying please. Saying yes.

This is when we lived. These are the moments that have shaped us. That will continue to shape us. All of the everyday decisions and breaths that we take that make up our entirety.

And while 2020 will carry many extraordinary events into our lives; Brandon’s graduation with a degree as a tech ed teacher (need a teacher in your school?), my 40th birthday, travels to Iceland and Puerto Rico, Thea starting middle school, it will be in the mundane that we live. In the moments for small contemplations. In the moments of quiet. Of loud. Of sameness, routine, and commitment. Of embarking on a year of yes and more. Of stretching ourselves to the fullest when we can and retracting when we want to. Of looking up, as Joanna Gaines, reminds me to do, of soaking it all in, of shutting down and tuning in. Commitments to a life best lived not in the magnificent margins but in the everyday extraordinaires.

I am so grateful for 2019, for a life lived in the daily. Perhaps our paths will cross?

A quiet moment with a cup of tea in the middle of the rainforest in Costa Rica

Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

What Does Student Independent Reading Look Like? A Whole District Audit

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For a long time, I felt like an oddity within my reading beliefs: provide students with independent reading time every single day, provide a fully-stocked culturally relevant collection of books, remove all of the reading projects that stood in the way of reading joy, focus on reading identity at all turns. But then I discovered others who shared those same beliefs, who had held those beliefs long before I had reached them, who had pioneered the work spreading the word around the globe. The relief and power that finding others provided is one that cannot be underestimated. The strength that comes with working for a district that shares these beliefs is a blessing.

And yet, I know there are many others that have felt and do feel like the oddities in their school. Who constantly have to defend why self-selected independent reading is a cornerstone of their work. Who have to explain why they continue to spend their own money, ask for money, write grants and do anything they can to purchase more books. Who spend so much time trying to keep up with new books, who weed and discard books that do not have a place in their collection. Who feel alone but might not be.

An incredible honor for me is when I am asked to work with a district or school who is on a journey of trying to reach their readers in a more significant way. Who knows they have work to do and who are ready to take the next step. Who are not afraid to reflect and change even when change is hard. When I am asked to do this work, I always have many questions; what does reading look like now? Which experiences are each reader guaranteed as they go through their journey? What are the rights of your readers when it comes to book choice, independent reading, and reading identity? These questions lead to many discussions, many aha moments, and provide a road map for change. Much like we need to give students the space to create their rights a readers within our community, we need to also create our expectations and rights as a district. What are the experiences that each reader is guaranteed at each level of their schooling beyond the curriculum we use? How can we then make curricular and business (because let’s face it part of schools’ direction is determined by the business aspect) decisions that protect and further these rights? How can we offer training and funding to support these rights? Hw can we invite the community into this conversation? How can we embrace antiracist principles and establish an emphasis on the individual’s rights and needs?

In the spirit of this pursuit, I offer up several questions that should be asked at a district level or at the very least, school level, in order for student reading rights to be protected. After all, if our goal is for students to leave our care not only being able to read well but also find an inherent human value within reading then we need to create experiences that safeguard that.

So please start asking…

How much time is each child guaranteed for self-selected independent reading time each day?

Too often we see independent reading get cut due to fewer instructional minutes, particularly as students get older and we bring in more whole class novels or book clubs. We also see it limited for students who are in intervention or have other needs. Yet, if students are not offered up time to independently ready every single day, how can we then support them in their reading?

What are students “allowed” to read?

While the answer should be “anything they want” this is often not the case as choice is often limited due to well-meaning intentions. Students who read below grade level are often given the least amount of choices, in order to help them have more successful reading experiences, yet within the helpful intent of that we can end up doing real damage. Can you imagine always being told what to read and never being able to work through a book of your choosing? What we should be focusing our energy on is how to help students navigate the choices they make as well as develop better book selection habits.

Where and how can students access books?

A well-developed school library with a librarian should be a right for every child, as should a well-stocked culturally relevant classroom collection curated by a teacher who reads. We need books to entice every reader at all turns, so asking this question can open up discussions of inequitable access, culturally insensitive books, gaps in collections, as well as the need for teachers who teach reading to be readers themselves. How is funding appropriated for books? How are collections developed? How are books placed in the hands of kids?

What are students expected to do once they finish a book?

So often, and in my own experiences, we have a lot of work lined up for kids once they finish a book all in the name of accountability. Whether it be forced book talks, book reports, summaries or readers’ responses, reading logs or other tools that involve counting minutes and needing signatures, or having to take a quiz on a computer, we are so busy policing the experience of reading that we forget to look at what we, as adults, want to do when we read a book. These accountability practices can do a lot of damage, particularly if students are exposed and expected to do them year after year. By asking this question, we can start to look at long-term experiences and how that may be impacting reading identity throughout our years together.

What does reading “homework” look like?

While currently in my own classroom, students are expected to try to read at least 2 hours outside of English class every week, this is not how it used to be. I had packets and worksheets lined up for their reading, as well as small summaries, and book talks with friendly adults who had not read the book. This question goes hand in hand with the previous one as it looks at the components we attach to reading, as well as potential inequities within our practices. What are we tying in with the homework being completed or not? Not all kids are in a position to read outside of school, not all kids have access to what they need or are in a place in their journey where they see enough value to dedicate outside class time to reading.

Who are kids expected to read?

While this is a question that speaks to a much larger issue surrounding the canon and who we, as educators, constantly expose students to as literary masterminds, it is also important that we locally audit across grade levels to see who is being shared and more importantly who isn’t. Often we base our read alouds, book clubs, and text selections on our own favorites with little thought to what has come before and what will come after for our students, but since publishing skews heavily white, cisgendered, and heteronormative, this tends to become the reading experience for many students as well, particularly those within white majority districts or taught by mostly white educators. Diving into this questions can and should fundamentally change the canon we present to students year after year.

While there are many other questions to ask, the few shared here will offer up a path way to further investigation into the reading practices embedded within a district. It is definitely a conversation that is needed and should be pursued on an ongoing basis. After all, if we don’t ask the questions and reflect on the journey we place students on, how will we ever change?

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

authentic learning, being a student, being a teacher, being me, Personalized Learning

Re-thinking Our Learning to Infuse More Joy and Choice

One of many things I love when on break is the chance to simply reconnect with amazing people, and when said amazing people are fellow educators, you can bet that it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to how to make the educational experience better for all kids.

After dinner, I was left thinking about how often we get so caught up in all that we need to do that so many of those grand ideas, the ideals we dreamt up this summer or whenever we have room to be inspired seem to be forgotten as the year starts and the pressure resumes. That while we implement many things, tweak many others, there are many notions and ideas that simply don’t happen. And who can blame us? There are so many days that I am just keeping my head afloat trying to stay a few steps ahead of the students in order to create and sustain relevant educational experiences.

Last night, the conversation turned to joy and play. How little there seems to be purposefully implemented throughout especially older students’ daily routines in school. How the minute they come to us in the upper years there are few opportunities for infusing joy and allowing more creative approaches to learning. And while both of those concepts are foundations of learning I hold dear, I also look back at my own curricular choices for the year and see how easily those two tenets of learning get siphoned away as I feel the need to do more, dig deeper, and make sure that the learning is “serious.” However, the siphoning itself relies on a untruth – joy and creative choice does not equate easier learning and is serious business, in fact, often purposefully creating moments for joy and creative choice requires a broader commitment and self-reliance within the learning happening. So with this in mind, I have done some restructuring of a few upcoming units and also rededicated efforts in other places, so what might that look like coming up in room 203?

The main questions I focused on in my reflection is: how might this spark joy and engagement and how do students have creative choice?

Re-committing to picture books. I usually read a lot of picture books aloud to my 7th graders and also use them in a variety of ways throughout our curriculum and yet, this year, I feel like with the busyness of it all, picture books have been less of a central tenet to us. It’s time to change that. In a little more than a week we kick off our Mock Caldecott unit for the year, a two week investigation into twelve incredible picture books for the year that will lead into a persuasive speech in which students will try to sway others to their choice of winner of the Caldecott. Reading picture books together is something that we already see as joyful and doing it in small groups will hopefully bolster that. Creative choice comes in how students want to persuade their peers – how will they deliver a message that is persuasive in nature and which tools will they use?

Bringing back our immersion project. Two years ago, I did an extended genius hour project in which students got to pick something to learn for themselves in order to teach others about it through a mini-lesson. This consisted of identifying an area to immerse themselves in and then spending time figuring out how to create an enticing lesson for others to learn from them. The topics were broad: How to do a card trick properly, what integration methods are necessary to integrate any function and how are they used, how do you play guitar and so on? These were all catered to student interests and were very broad on purpose. We then infused note-taking skills, how to find sources to teach them how to do the skills, and how to engage an audience in order to help them understand a concept, as well as created a speech rubric in order to practice public speaking. This year, I will finetune it with a few more scaffolds for those who are not sure what they would like to teach, as well as opportunities to tandem-research. This project sparked a lot of joy the first time we did it because students got to self-select their learning, immerse themselves into something they found relevant, as well as show off their knowledge in a fun way. There was a lot of natural choice embedded throughout.

Re-thinking our TED talk unit. Every year, the students get an opportunity to create a TED talk on a chosen topic and then give it to the class, and while the unit itself is solid, I want to spend more time helping students choose topics that they are invested in already. This year many of our students have expressed a deep interest and commitment to social justice work, as well as the overlooked history we have explored. This will, therefore, be my starting point in reminding students of what they already know and which questions they may have to push their thinking further. So often we push students into new learning without realizing how much work it is to research and then synthesize and process all of the information into a brilliant short speech. With the re-introduction of our immersion project, I want to implement more time for students to dive into their identity and what they are already interested in so that their TED talk work can be more focused on filling in knowledge gaps, rather than starting all over with research. This will also be an opportunity to jump into persuasion, how advertisement plays on our biases, and how we are influenced by social media. Choice plays into topic, as well as the angle they want to take in their talk.

Asking for more student input and taking the proper time for it. In the Enriched English class I teach, we have 6 vocabulary lessons consisting of 25 vocabulary words each that we need to somehow process, understand, and implement into our vocabulary. While I have gamified it in the past and also allowed for choice in how students show mastery, I have never really loved what we did. The words seem like a chore no matter how I spin it This year, I plan on showing students the vocabulary and then having them come up with opportunities for how we can learn it together. While there will undoubtedly be traditional methods for students to choose from such as rote memorization with a quiz, I also want to give them the opportunity to come up with other methods for learning that they will be able to choose from as we move into the vocabulary. While I already try to get as much student input as possible, I feel it often gets rushed, so this is a reminder for me to slow down and let it take the time it takes, and this goes for all classes, not just the Enriched English class.

Re-committing to free writing. We have been dabbling with free-writing throughout the year but due to book clubs in December, we changed our process. While students continued to write on their own, the community piece was lacking and so as we enter into January, I want to bring back the prompts and self-selected choice and the time to then share the creations we have. I also want to bring back the notion of playing with writing that so often gets lost as we write. Students so often fear that they have to write great pieces every single time which is an incredibly damaging notion for anyone trying to work through the emotions of writing and so I want to model my own not-so-great writing that tends to happen when we do a free-write. Students don’t need perfect role models, they need real ones.

Skyping with authors. Talking with actual authors is magical at any age and the advent of World Read Aloud Day reminded me to sign up to bring authors into our classrooms more. This is something I used to do a lot but once again seem to have gotten away from. I cannot wait for students to hear from Kevin Sylvester, Juana Martinez-Neal and Ishta Mercurio as they discuss their writing process.

Participating in Global School Play Day again. I love this initiative created by Scott and Tim Bedley with the idea to infuse more play into schools again. I have done this day before with 7th graders and while I am not able to do it the day it is scheduled for this year, I will do it instead on February 7th where students will get all of English to simply play with each other. You should sign up as well.

While this is not an exhaustive list, I am glad to be bringing this lens back to our work together this year to hopefully create experiences where it is not just students learning from me, but more from each other. Where there is more cooperative problem solving, more relevance, and more choice. Where maybe, just maybe, students can think of English class as a class that is meaningful to them beyond developing a love of reading and writing and helping them find themselves. Who knows, but I will keep trying.

I posted the following question on Twitter last night and the responses are definitely worth checking out – so many great ideas for infusing more play and creativity into our work.

And now I ask you as well; how will you restructure or continue to reinforce the notion of play and creative choice in your class these upcoming months?

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