Be the change, being me, end of year

On Counting Down the Days…Again

Make those last days count Design

An older post from 2017 that still rings true today. I will not do a countdown for many reasons, even if I know how many days I have left. While the belief started as an epiphany of the wildness it was creating, it now rests more solidly in the notion that not every child has a safe place to be during the summer. And while this year of teaching has been like no other and every single person involved with schools deserves a break, to step away from simply making it through the day, I still know that for some being out of school does not allow them to thrive in the ways I hope every child has the possibility to; with food, a bed, adults to supervise and care, learning opportunities, and true rest. We can still celebrate a conclusion of an extraordinarily hard year without counting down the days together. We can still be glad to have the chance to step away to recharge without notching days.

The other day I was asked, “What is the one thing you would tell teachers to stop doing as the end of the year nears?”  I needed no time to think because my answer is simple; the countdown.

I used to do the countdown with my students.  20, 19, 18 days left of school.  Each day the kids would get more excited.  “We are almost out of here, Mrs. Ripp!”  They got crazier as the countdown neared the end, energy barely contained, and I loosened the reins, had fun, did less curriculum and more community building.  Except the days dragged on.  The kids grew restless, and I even started looking at the clock, wishing the day to be over.  Was this what teaching the last few weeks of school would always be like?

Six years ago,  after a particularly trying week, I had an epiphany – one that many have had before me.  I was creating the excited mess unfolding every day in my classroom.  My choices in doing a countdown and stepping away from our routines were signaling to the kids that school no longer mattered.  That what we were doing no longer mattered.  That all they had to do was wait it out and then this, too, would finally be over.  As if our students needed any more reminders that school is not a great place to be.

So I stopped the countdown, I went back to teaching and have not looked back since.  Because while the countdown may be fun on the surface; another way to show off student accomplishment – you made it through 7th grade! -it also sends a much deeper message; we are done with the year.  I am done with you.   Is that really what we want to tell our students?

Yet, this is not the only reason I hate the countdown.  One year, a child cried under his desk on the last day of school.  Inconsolable, I asked him what had happened.  Had someone said something to him that I had not caught?  Instead, he looked up at me, tears running down his face and said, “Don’t make me leave…I don’t want to go on vacation, I want to stay here.”  I cried with him and did the only thing I could, hug him and tell him I would always be here for him if he needed me.  Yet, his words have stayed with me all of these years.  This child did not look forward to summer.  This child faced a summer of unknowns, of food shortage, of not knowing who he would live with, of who would care for him.  Summer did not represent a break, but an uncertain future where he had to carry the weight of a society who has very few safety nets for children in poverty and home adults who are trying to survive.  Our classroom was his safe space.  In our classroom, he felt cared for, knew he would eat, and knew he had people with him. Outside of school that wasn’t always the case.  By counting down the days, I was reminding him every day of what was ahead after that last day of school; uncertainty, fear, hunger.  None of those messages were what I hoped to convey to my students. None of those messages were what my silly countdown was meant to convey to him. And I am sure there have been others who silently dreaded the end of school, who didn’t show it through their tears but kept it inside or showed in other ways. Who didn’t excitedly tell their peers about all the things they couldn’t wait to do but instead hoped that they could stay together, sta where they were, instead of walking out on that last day of school. So while school certainly doesn’t represent safety for all children, for some it does.

So It is not that I don’t know how many days are left.  That I pretend to be clueless as to the end of the year. It is just that I don’t advertise it. I don’t actively remind children how much better summer will be than what we are doing together, than what we have built together.  It undermines the entire mission we have had all year of instilling the importance of the work we do.  It undermines every single time we have said that school is important, that our community is valuable.  I have less than three weeks left and so much still to teach and learn, so many opportunities to keep connecting with kids, to continue to build community and provide resources that will hopefully make a difference in the days ahead. So now, when a child tells me that they are excited about summer, I tell them I am too, but also that I will miss them, that I will miss our learning, that I will miss our classroom.  That we have so much learning still to do.  That we will work to the very last day because our time is valuable.  Because we need every minute we can get. Because what we have built matters and I am sad to see it go. I am sad to see them go. I don’t need a countdown to remind me of that.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher

Some Favorite Picture Books to Discuss Our Perception of Others

I love using picture books to help my students relate to the world and grow as thinkers and humans and recognizing that our perception of others greatly influences how we treat them as is a great discussion to have repeatedly.

So why not offer up a collection of picture books that does that just. Some are new, some are old, but all carry a powerful message of going beyond our initial assumptions and really seeing others for who they are not what we want or think they are and sometimes even seeing ourself in a new light, too.

What are your favorite reads for this discussion?

Daisy happens to be fluffy–she’s a young chick after all. Her friends can’t help but want to pet her, squeeze her, and tell her how cute she is. But Daisy doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed. She’s not just fluff; Daisy has substance! But how can she tell everyone to give her some space without hurting their feelings?

On the day it snows, Gabo sees kids tugging sleds up the hill, then coasting down, whooping all the while. Gabo wishes he could join them, but his hat is too small, and he doesn’t have boots or a sled.

But he does have warm and welcoming neighbors in his new town who help him solve the problem in the sweetest way possible!

A young artist has drawn birds and bird houses in corresponding colors. Now it’s time to match them up. The blue bird goes in the blue house, the orange bird in the orange house, and so on. But wait! The birds don’t agree with the narrator’s choices and, much to her distress, are rebelling by swapping houses. Can the narrator make the birds see sense? Or is it possible that you just can’t tell a bird by its feathers?

Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo–walking the same path, going to the exact same place–Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them.

Every day, a little girl rides to school on the back of her father’s bike. As they twist and turn through the streets, the little girl spreads her arms like wings and sings her birdsong for all to hear. But when they pass a strange woman in blue who carries a mysterious bag, the girl goes quiet until the woman is out of sight. One day, when they’re running late, the little girl discovers what the woman does with her bag each morning—a surprise that transforms her wariness into a feeling of kinship to be celebrated. 

Laxmi never paid much attention to the tiny hairs above her lip. But one day while playing farm animals at recess, her friends point out that her whiskers would make her the perfect cat. She starts to notice body hair all over–on her arms, legs, and even between her eyebrows.

With her parents’ help, Laxmi learns that hair isn’t just for heads, but that it grows everywhere, regardless of gender.

Norman is a porcupine. Mildred is a tree. Norman and Mildred are best friends. Just the two of them. And only the two of them. But when a surprise pops up, life will never be the same again.

Imagine you were asked the same question again and again throughout your life . . .
Imagine if it was a question that didn’t bring about the happiest of memories . . .

This is the experience of one-legged Joe, a child who just wants to have fun in the playground . . .
Constantly seen first for his disability, Joe is fed up of only ever being asked about his leg. All he wants to do is play Pirates.

But as usual, one after the other, all the children ask him the same question they always ask, “What happened to you?”

Understandably Joe gets increasingly angry!

Until finally the penny drops and the children realize that it’s a question Joe just doesn’t want to answer . . . and that Joe is playing a rather good game . . . one that they can join in with if they can stop fixating on his missing leg . . .

Because children are children, after all.

The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . . In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?

When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.

Nobody seems to understand that Hannah is not a girl.

His parents ask why he won’t wear the cute outfits they pick out. His friend thinks he must be a tomboy. His teacher insists he should be proud to be a girl.

But a birthday wish, a new word, and a stroke of courage might be just what Hannah needs to finally show the world who he really is.

Where Are You From? By Yamile Saied Méndez  (Author), Jaime Kim  (Illustrator)

When a girl is asked where she’s from—where she’s really from—none of her answers seems to be the right one.

Unsure about how to reply, she turns to her loving abuelo for help. He doesn’t give her the response she expects. She gets an even better one.

Where am I from?

You’re from hurricanes and dark storms, and a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep….

What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns: Locke, Katherine, Passchier,  Anne: 9780316542067: Amazon.com: Books
What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns by Katherine Locke and illustrated by Anne Passchier

Whenever Ari’s Uncle Lior comes to visit, they ask Ari one question: “What are your words?” Some days Ari uses she/her. Other days Ari uses he/him. But on the day of the neighborhood’s big summer bash, Ari doesn’t know what words to use. On the way to the party, Ari and Lior meet lots of neighbors and learn the words each of them use to describe themselves, including pronouns like she/her, he/him, they/them, ey/em, and ze/zir. As Ari tries on different pronouns, they discover that it’s okay to not know your words right away—sometimes you have to wait for your words to find you.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher, books, picture books, Reading

#PernilleRecommends – My Favorite Books January through April, 2021

If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that I recommend a lot of books on there, in fact, it is the number one thing I use my account for. Perhaps you follow me there? If you don’t, or if you missed some, I figured a blog post to pull them all together would be helpful. That way you can see what I have read and loved, see what age groups they may work and order some books yourself. I don’t post all of the books I read, just the ones I love so much that I want to share them with others. I use the hashtag #pernillerecommends and they get cross-posted to Twitter as well if you want more than 1,000 book recommendations. Either way, here are the books I loved and shared from January until today!

Picture Books

Someone Builds the Dream: Wheeler, Lisa, Long, Loren: 9781984814333:  Amazon.com: Books
The One Thing You'd Save: Park, Linda Sue, Sae-Heng, Robert: 9781328515131:  Amazon.com: Books
Amazon.com: The Gift of Ramadan (9780807529065): Lumbard, Rabiah York,  Horton, Laura K.: Books
Your Mama: Ramos, NoNieqa, Alcántara, Jacqueline: 9781328631886:  Amazon.com: Books
The ABCs of Black History: Cortez, Rio, Semmer, Lauren: 9781523507498:  Amazon.com: Books
Zonia's Rain Forest: Martinez-Neal, Juana, Martinez-Neal, Juana:  9781536208450: Amazon.com: Books
The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art: Levinson,  Cynthia, Turk, Evan: 9781419741302: Amazon.com: Books
The Boy and the Sea: Andros, Camille, Bates, Amy June: 9781419749407:  Amazon.com: Books
El Cucuy Is Scared, Too! (Hardcover) | ABRAMS
Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier: Gottesfeld,  Jeff, Tavares, Matt: 9781536201482: Amazon.com: Books
Ambitious Girl: Harris, Meena, Valdez, Marissa: 9780316229692: Amazon.com:  Books
The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness: Trimmer, Christian,  Juanita, Kaylani: 9781419742262: Amazon.com: Books
Pre-order for April 27th!
Blue Floats Away: Jonker, Travis, Snider, Grant: 9781419744235: Amazon.com:  Books
Sharing a Smile: Kramar, Nicki, Evans, Ashley: 9781534497856: Amazon.com:  Books
Kamala Harris children's picture book 'Rooted in Justice' coming soon
Together We March: 25 Protest Movements That Marched into History:  Henderson, Leah, Feder, Tyler: 9781534442702: Amazon.com: Books
A Sled for Gabo | Book by Emma Otheguy, Ana Ramírez González | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster
Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon: Zhang, Kat, Chua, Charlene: 9781534463639:  Amazon.com: Books
A House for Every Bird by Megan Maynor: 9781984896483 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Curls: Forman, Ruth, Bowers, Geneva: 9781534446311: Amazon.com: Books
Jump at the Sun | Book by Alicia D. Williams, Jacqueline Alcántara |  Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster
Standing on Her Shoulders: Clark-Robinson, Monica, Freeman, Laura:  9781338358001: Amazon.com: Books
Milo Imagines the World: de la Peña, Matt, Robinson, Christian:  9780399549083: Amazon.com: Books
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners: Ho, Joanna, Ho, Dung: 9780062915627:  Amazon.com: Books
I Am a Bird: Lim, Hope, Yum, Hyewon: 9781536208917: Amazon.com: Books

Watch Me: A Story of Immigration and Inspiration: Richards, Doyin, Cepeda,  Joe: 9781250266514: Amazon.com: Books
Cover art

Grandpa Across the Ocean: Yum, Hyewon, Yum, Hyewon: 9781419742255:  Amazon.com: Books
My Day with the Panye: Charles, Tami, Palacios, Sara: 9780763697495:  Amazon.com: Books
Our Favorite Day of the Year: Ali, A. E., Bell, Rahele Jomepour:  9781481485630: Amazon.com: Books
Laxmi's Mooch by Shelly Anand: 9781984815651 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Call Me Max (Max and Friends Book 1): Kyle Lukoff, Luciano Lozano, Luciano  Lozano: 9781478868972: Amazon.com: Books
Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter: King, Shani, Martin Jr, Bobby C.:  9780884488897: Amazon.com: Books
Amazon.com: In My Mosque (9780062978707): Yuksel, M. O., Aly, Hatem: Books
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace  Engineer: Sorell, Traci, Donovan, Natasha: 9781541579149: Amazon.com: Books
Wishes: Van, Muon Thi, Ngai, Victo: 9781338305890: Amazon.com: Books

We Are Still Here! – Charlesbridge
Pre-order for May 4th!
I Am an American by Martha Brockenbrough | Little, Brown Books for Young  Readers
Pre-order for November 2nd!
Too Many Bubbles: A Story about Mindfulness (Books of Great Character):  Peck, Christine, DeRoma, Mags: 0760789306037: Amazon.com: Books
Pre-order for July 6th!
Hello, Star: Lucianovic, Stephanie V.W., Harrison, Vashti: 9780316451758:  Amazon.com: Books
Pre-order for September 21st!
On the Trapline by David A. Robertson: 9780735266681 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Pre-order for May 4th!

Early Readers

Too Small Tola: 9781406388916: Amazon.com: Books
Indian Shoes – HarperCollins
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott: 9781524770488 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books
Global Read Aloud 2021 choice!

Middle Grade

Amazon.com: Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street,  and the Tulsa Race Massacre eBook: Ball, Alverne, Robinson, Stacey,  Anderson, Reynaldo, Robe, Colette Yellow: Kindle Store
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids: Cynthia Leitich Smith:  9780062869944: Amazon.com: Books
Could also be used with early readers
Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, 1): Alston, B.  B.: 9780062975164: Amazon.com: Books
Amazon.com: Starfish (9781984814500): Fipps, Lisa: Books
Alone | Book by Megan E. Freeman | Official Publisher Page | Simon &  Schuster
The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga, Book 1: Robertson, David A.:  9780735266100: Amazon.com: Books
Middle School Global Read Aloud Choice 2021!
History Smashers: The American Revolution by Kate Messner: 9780593120460 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Jumbies (The Jumbies): Baptiste, Tracey: 9781616205928: Amazon.com: Books
Global Read Aloud Choice 2021!
Amazon.com: Flood City (9781338111125): Older, Daniel José: Books
The Year I Flew Away: Arnold, Marie: 9780358272755: Amazon.com: Books
Rez Dogs: Bruchac, Joseph: 9780593326213: Amazon.com: Books
Pre-order for June 8th!
The Fabulous Zed Watson! by Kevin Sylvester
Give This Book a Title: Over 100 Activities to Kick-Start Your Creativity:  Lerner, Jarrett, Lerner, Jarrett: 9781534489790: Amazon.com: Books
Could also be used for early readers
Amazon.com: The Deepest Breath (9780358354758): Grehan, Meg: Books
She Persisted: Claudette Colvin: Cline-Ransome, Lesa, Clinton, Chelsea,  Boiger, Alexandra, Flint, Gillian: 9780593115831: Amazon.com: Books
Could also be used for early readers
The Canyon's Edge - Kindle edition by Bowling, Dusti. Children Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Strong As Fire, Fierce As Flame: Supriya Kelkar: 9781643790404: Amazon.com:  Books
When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller: 9781524715700 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Young Adult

Amazon.com: The Gilded Ones (9781984848697): Forna, Namina: Books
Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers: Obama, Michelle: 9780593303740:  Amazon.com: Books
Amazon.com: Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet eBook: Kemp, Laekan Zea:  Kindle Store
Amazon.com: Firekeeper's Daughter (9781250766564): Boulley, Angeline: Books
The best book I have read so far this year.
Game Changer by Neal Shusterman
A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
Amazon.com: Fadeaway (9780593180198): Vickers, E. B.: Books
Amazon.com: Chlorine Sky (9780593176399): Browne, Mahogany L.: Books
Amazon.com: VIRAL: The Fight Against AIDS in America (9780425287200):  Bausum, Ann: Books
Amazon.com: Muted (9781338673524): Charles, Tami: Books
Amazon.com: The Fell of Dark (9781250155849): Roehrig, Caleb: Books
Amazon.com: Things That Make White People Uncomfortable (Adapted for Young  Adults) (9781642590227): Bennett, Michael, Zirin, Dave: Books
Amazon.com: Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything  (9781534448636): Gilliland, Raquel Vasquez: Books
Amazon.com: Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle) (9781534441606): Deonn,  Tracy: Books
Amazon.com: Early Departures (9780062748409): Reynolds, Justin A.: Books
Wings of Ebony | Book by J. Elle | Official Publisher Page | Simon &  Schuster
Amazon.com: Burn (9780062869494): Ness, Patrick: Books
Pre-order this thing of beauty now – it is incredible!
Amazon.com: How It All Blew Up (9780593202876): Ahmadi, Arvin: Books
Just Like That: Schmidt, Gary D.: 9780544084773: Amazon.com: Books
Amazon.com: Three Things I Know Are True (9780062908025): Culley, Betty:  Books

Wow, what a lot of incredible reading! I am so thankful for all of the creators who continue to give us opportunity for great moments and memories.

As always, I am also curating lists on Bookshop.org – a website who partners with independent bookstores to funnel book purchases through them, if you use my link, I get a small affiliate payout.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

Be the change, being a teacher, being me

To All the Tired Educators

Before the first day of school, oh the excitement and nervousness present

Dear Pernille, and perhaps so many others

You have been losing a lot of sleep this past year. The world has felt so heavy, so hard at times, and when you finally have found your stride, life has thrown yet another turn your way. Events that will shape you the rest of your life, experiences that are being lived through that will follow you until the end.

You have worked too much, you have tried to create boundaries as well as anyone else, and yet you have felt the insatiable hunger of failure nipping your heels every day, haunting your every decision. Never enough. Never good enough. You have felt like the role of teacher came first, above mom, above wife, above person. You have stayed up too late, gotten up too early, pondered and wondered, sought out idea upon idea in an effort to continue all of the dreaming that shapes the classroom community you build every year with your students. And you have looked at the constraints and tried to plan your way through them, busting the chains of the old ways that have stood in your path, getting tangled up in obstacles unforeseen, expanding energy quicker than you could replenish it.

And now you face the creeping end of the year and you hear the whispers of learning loss, of failed year, of not enough so loudly they feel like drums beating a new path ahead. They drown out the voices of the educators who innovated, who created, who invented and rose to the occasion. Of the kids who met us in the pursuit of learning despite all of their obstacles. Of the home adults who kept trying no matter their own circumstances. Do not listen to them. This past year was not lost. The moments we have lived through, the experiences we have created, the learning that has happened has transcended what we thought was possible. We did the impossible, we did it, despite everything in our way.

Because this year the learning was perhaps not as much in the standards. It was perhaps not as much in the pages of textbooks. Perhaps it looked nothing like we had ever tried before. It was a year of navigating new. Of hearing the words “unprecedented” and “Covid” too many times. A year of figuring out how to connect through screens and distance. Of asking kids to tune in when their reflexes were to tune out. Of asking ourselves to try again when we were beyond exhausted. Of sending one more email, making one more phone call, of showing up and trying again.

It was in living through experiences that will help these incredibly resilient kids for years to come, will help us, the school staff who kept trying for years to come; how to problem-solve technology, how to advocate, how to manage time, how to learn independently, how to chunk out assignments, how to get the help deserved and needed. How to recognize what is the most important in everything we do; not the content but the kids, not the grades but the growth. It was in showing up in whatever capacity we could despite everything that stood in front of us. It was in digging in even after the energy was depleted. In not painting a year in failure before it had even begun.

Because there were many who wanted us to fail. Who told us that the only way to do school was the ways we had done it for hundreds of year, a way that has failed so many before. There were many who couldn’t wait to tell us how this would never measure up, how this would never be enough. And yet we came, we worked, and we kept trying long after our contract hours, long after our energy had left.

So dear Pernille, you have to let the whispers of failure go. You have to rise from the ashes of your own doubt, burn down the defeat and recognize the strength that you carry within you after the last 13 months. You have to look back at this year and see the small triumphs that have risen through the cracks. Not as an attempt to dismiss the things that didn’t work, the kids where traditional learning was put on hold, but to recognize that among the fires there were things that did succeed. That success is not just found in standards and grades, which you have known for so long, but in the small conversations, the openings into their lives, the bonds that have been formed no matter they had to work their way through. No matter how much you worried.

That you and all of the kids in your care did incredibly hard things. They spoke up when they would rather stay muted. They turned on their cameras even when they would rather have sat in the dark, they chatted when they could, they handed in what they could, they asked questions when they could and they hopefully recognized that every day, no matter how much work they did, they were cared for, they were accepted, and they felt safe.

Because what happened in the past year in education is so much bigger than just learning content. Is so much bigger than just one singular experience. It is about community. About innovating through unforeseen obstacles. About a relentless pursuit of connection, of seeing our own mistakes not as places to rest but places to grow. Of knowing that you did the best you could and that what we did mattered, that what you did mattered.

So celebrate these last few weeks. Revel in the kids and their amazing fortitude. Cherish the times that you still get to have with these incredible kids that you got to call yours for a while. And rest. Rest in the knowledge that you did it. That you worked through it. That you learned lessons you will use for the rest of your teaching career. Rest in the knowledge that there will be more learning and growing in years to come and that we did not get lost, we instead found a new path that we had to forge together and that the content and the skills is still on our path. We may just need a new way to get there.

Love,
Pernille

Ready for yet another change – now only 3 feet between desks and 21 kids in the classroom as of April
Be the change, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

A Question to Center Reading Joy

What are the reading experiences Design

I have been thinking a lot about reading experiences of kids lately. If you follow my writing, you know that this is something I think about a lot. Perhaps it is because I finally have big classes of kids in front of me rather than small cohorts. Perhaps it is because we have only 7 weeks left of the year and I feel the urgency of the mission we have been on all year to help kids change their relationships to reading. Perhaps it is because I am presenting on this topic around the world and so I keep thinking of what else we should discuss about it, what else we can do to potentially change the narrative that seems to be repeating itself this year despite our best intentions.

Because I see a lot of kids not reading. I see a lot of kids disengaged from reading. I see a lot of kids who don’t see reading as something valuable or even something they have want to spend time doing. And I see a lot of adults not quite sure how this keeps happening despite everything we are trying.

So perhaps, this post is a way to remind myself to take a deep breath, perhaps it is an offer to us all to rethink the dialogue that surrounds kids’ reading lives. Perhaps this is a reminder to those who need to hear it that this disconnect between books and readers is one we have been working through for a long time, one that we will continue to work through for a long time, and it also didn’t just happen because of the pandemic. And that there are things we can do but that sometimes we create obstacles that we can’t even see, we don’t recognize the long term consequences of short-term ideas.

I could blame previous curricular decisions, after all, wouldn’t we all like to assume that it is solely because of the decision some other teacher made that created the readers we have. And yet, when we do that, we don’t see our own part in this either. We don’t see how we often have to interrogate, audit, and change an entire system rather than just one teacher. It is too easy to blame one year or one experience for killing the love of reading. When we get stuck there, it does us no good, it doesn’t allow us to see past those small decisions and instead focus on the entire experience. It doesn’t allow us to see that perhaps the whole system we function in needs to be aligned and adjusted. That what we see as “okay” may not be at all.

So instead, I would offer up that we use our worry about kids and their relationships to reading to urge us forward. That we start to invest in long-term solutions, discussions, and curricular choices that offer up an opportunity for all kids to connect or re-connect with reading year after year. That we shift the focus from what one teacher can do to what an entire system can take on. That we recognize that to center reading joy is not just the work of one, but the work of many, and that kids need more than one great teacher urging them to read.

And that starts in conversation rather than reading logs. That starts in meaningful work rather than computer quizzes. That starts with making space and time for kids to explore the parts of their identity that is tied in with reading and asking them how they ended up where they are. That starts with recognizing what the reading rights are of all kids, not just the ones we get to teach on a daily basis and then wonder how the experiences they are all guaranteed shape their readerly lives or not.

And so we must put our emotions aside for a bit in order to step into these conversations, to recognize that everything we do should be put on the table in order for us to weigh what may work for all kids. What should be instituted on a whole-school or all-district schedule.

It means that we offer space to think and then space to do. That reflecting on the journey we are on becomes a part of the curriculum, even when we feel pressed for time like this year. That we listen to student voices and have them move us into action. That we consider the weight of their words as we plan for future units and experiences and not just assume that we know what they need or even what they want.

The work of creating joyful reading experiences centered in powerful instructions, access to books, free choice of independent reading books, culturally relevant teaching and ongoing conversations should not and cannot fall on the shoulders of just one teacher. We are not enough, the year we may have with students is not enough. It has to be a whole district or at the very least a whole school conversation and plan.

So where do you start? We start with one single question to guide our work; what are the reading experiences EVERY child is guaranteed in our care. We lay it all out on the table in order to constructively look at what the reading experiences are for every child no matter the reading experience and skills they have had before this year. We truthfully recognize what often happens when a child is identified as being behind in whatever scope the data says and how often that impedes the choices they get to make throughout their day and even the joyful reading experiences they get to be a part of. And then we fight to give them access. We fight to give them equality in their reading experiences and we monitor what happens to the kids in our care.

And we cannot do that work without listening to the voices of our students, without asking the home adults what they see happening while we have kids in our care. We cannot do this work without revisiting the question again and again to re-align and readjust. Without truth, courage, and a recognition that sometimes our best ideas are not the ideas that should continue on.

It takes humility, patience, and toughness to do this work. Our students deserve that their experiences are carefully constructed around choice, around freedom, around receiving the care they absolutely deserve. We can do it and it starts with a conversation and it continues with a commitment.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

acheivement, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

But What Happens to Our Readers – On the Unintended Impacts Computerized Reading Programs Can Have on the Development of Readers

what does it matter if a child can Design

I have never worked through so many changes in my educational model as I have for the past year. COVID teaching has pushed us all to the max, not just with what we are expected to do but also in how we are supposed to adapt to whatever ideas, programs, and decisions that come our way. It has been thrilling some days to invent and re-think at such a rapid pace, but many other days it has been exhausting. I have felt like a fraud on more days than I can count, a terrible teacher too. And yet, a year into this COVID teaching, I can also start to look back and ponder what the long-term effects are going to be on our instructional model. What will stick around from all of our innovations and what will disappear?

One of the components I worry about is the increase in the use of computerized programs to teach children especially in teaching reading. I have seen these programs play out in our kids’ lives as our 7- and 8-year-olds all spend more than an hour and a half a day in a variety of computer programs; Lexia, Dreambox, Smarty Ants, Raz Kids all expected to be done every day. The programs are woven in throughout their curricular day, used as a way for their teachers to do small group lessons and other supported work, and yet despite our best explanations, our own kids don’t care. They beg us to let them skip the programs, asking us if they can please just read a book instead, do a math workbook. “I will do whatever you say, mom, just please not that… ” is an often heard refrain in our house.

My kids are not alone in the change of their programming, in many districts around the US at least, teachers have been asked to implement new self-paced computerized teaching programs in order to close the opportunity gap, to stop “learning loss,” and to continue to engage all learners no matter our proximity. I can see the appeal of these programs easily; it allows us to place kids at their prescribed level and the computer does all the work as far as which lessons they should be invested in.  It provides us with more data and hopefully allows our students to develop further skills that they may otherwise not have mastered yet.  It is one more tool as we work on the opportunity gap for all of our kids. It is one more way to engage kids and to keep them learning, even when a global pandemic stopped us from sitting right next to them, stopped us from so many educational opportunities.

And yet, as always, I wonder about the unintended consequences of our new implementation of so many programs, many of them focused on developing reading skills. How will these computer programs affect the reading identities that we are so carefully developing with our kids? How will a computer care for them as human beings and not just participants in a program, (hint; it often won’t)? Because I see it play out in my own house, as well as with my own students. I hear it from teachers who wish they would have funding for books but are told there is none and yet are asked to use these programs which we know all come with a hefty price tag. I see it when my own kids would rather lie to me about whether or not they have done their Lexia minutes, knowing I will get a report from their teachers when they haven’t, than actually do it.

And so I wonder if we are checking in with the children who are asked to use these programs and how these programs are affecting their already tenuous relationship to reading and to being a reader.  I cannot speak about any other kids than the ones I teach and the ones I raise but the impact of reading-focused computerized programs have been deeply felt by many of them; they often hate them, they fight every step of the way when asked to do them, they see no purpose for the programs other than to punish them. To remind them that they are lesser readers than their peers. They are exhausted by the screen and by the questions so much so that when I ask them to please find a book, they don’t want to. That they would rather put their head down, leave the room, or argue than actually invest into the work we do with reading outside of the computer. So these curricular choices are making the work that we are trying to do with them as far as wanting to pick up a book on their own, wanting to invest into an emotionally fraught reading journey and change their relationship to reading to something more positive, even harder.  And that cannot be dismissed as a trivial side effect.

If we look at the research that surrounds reading enjoyment and motivation, we see a direct correlation between the effects of reading intervention programs and how kids feel about themselves as readers.  They can do so much good but they can also do a lot of damage.  Richard Allington and others remind us of the incredible impact the reading curriculum decisions have on our most vulnerable readers.  That “the design of reading lessons differs for good and poor readers in that poor readers get more work on skills in isolation, whereas good readers get assigned more reading activity.” That our most vulnerable readers are “often placed into computer programs or taught by paras rather than placed in front of reading specialists. That their experience is fundamentally shaped around their perceived gaps rather than their full person. So how does that play out year after year when a child is not placed in front of a trained and caring reading specialist but instead of a computer that cares nothing about their reading identity or how hard they are working? How will it play out when kids only see their reading value in the points they get, the levels they pass, and the scores they receive? Not books read, not experiences created, not background knowledge developed, or small accomplishments celebrated.

These pandemic choices will have long-term impacts, and not always positive ones, on the kids affected, especially if we don’t revisit the choices we made in the past year. What may have worked while deep in pandemic teaching may no longer work when we are back with students and again able to hand them books, teach them in small groups, and center our reading work not just on the skills they need to develop, but also who they are as readers. We must make space for both explorations within our curriculum.

I am not saying for these programs to never be used, at least not some of them, but I believe that we need to include the voices of the children who are being asked to use the program and to consider the unintended consequences that this program may be having for some of them. And also ask their families, if the school of my children school asked us, we would have plenty to say. As it stands, they haven’t, but we may just be speaking up anyway.

So what are the conversations we need to have? We need to move past the data and ask our students how our chosen programs affect them, whether they see them helping or hurting them, how we can make their experience better? How could we use a program without doing harm? How much time would they be willing to invest into a program if needed, what else we should do in our reading experiences. And we should ask the home adults and the teachers the impact they see the program having, negative or positive. And then we should listen, and then we should do something with what we are told.

All this to say, that as always, we need to speak up and make space for the voices we may have excluded. That it is easy to roll our eyes and vent behind closed doors, but that we must also find the courage to question the programs and decisions being made within our districts and within the lives of our own children. That while computerized reading programs may seem like the solution so many of us have been looking for when it comes to filling in knowledge gaps, that they may actually move us further from our goal of bolstering children who see themselves as readers outside of what school makes them do. We must remember that what may be viewed as a short-term gain may have unintentional long-lasting negative effects on the very kids we are supposed to be nurturing. After all, what does it matter if a child can read better but chooses to never read again due to their hatred of the tools we used to get them there? As Kamil reminds us, “Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.” So how are we protecting and caring for their motivation and engagement? Because I don’t see many computerized reading programs doing that.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.