assumptions, Be the change, being a teacher, parents

On Parent Assumptions and Fear of Change

“But how do parents react?”

Just this morning, I was asked again as my latest post about getting rid of homework was circulated.  I get the question a lot, I think we all do.  I think it marks a great educator when we ask, when we value what parents think.  And yet…often our assumptions about what parents will think of a change we implement are just that; assumptions.  Not based on actuality, not further pursued.  Not questioned, but instead assumed as true, because, perhaps, it happened to someone we know.  Or because there was that one time where it happened, so now it must be true for every time.

I think the fear of parent reaction holds us back as much as our own fear of change.  We assume they will protest.  We assume they will be upset.  We assume they will rebel against the changes we make because parents always want school to be like it was for them.  But it is not true, at least not always.  How do I know?  Because for the last seven years I have asked.

When I got rid of homework, most parents cheered.  They told me that they wanted their child to pursue other things outside of school and now could.  They told me how tired their child was after school, how much homework was a struggle between them, how it became one more point of contention in their relationship.  How they did not mind the learning, but the tediousness, the worksheets, the assignments that made little sense did nothing for their child.  Those who disagreed asked for resources and I gladly handed them to them, a list on a website sufficed.

When I got rid of rewards, parents told me that they were happy their child was not coming home with trinkets,  That their child did not need any more stickers, or pizza, or other things that had nothing to do with their accomplishment.  That they wanted them to feel proud of their learning, not to be handed anything.

When I got rid of behavior charts, parents told me of their relief, how their child had been anxious, how their child had not cared whether they moved their stick because they already knew they were a “bad” kid and the stick was just more proof of that.  They are still telling me in the comments on posts about Class Dojo and behavior charts.

When I changed the focus from letter grades to personal development, parents were still happy as long as they knew how their child was doing.  As long as it still made sense to them so they could understand their child’s journey, understand how to support.  Understand where they were still developing and where they had succeeded.

So if I have learned anything in these years of trying to be a better teacher,  in trying to create more student-centered classrooms, it is that we should not assume how a parent will react.  That we should not assume they will hate what we do because it is different, or new, or even a seemingly crazy idea.  They care that their child is happy.  They care that their child is challenged.  They care that their child is supported.  That that their child is accepted.  They care that their child likes school and does well.  It seems we perpetuate our own myths and create the barriers ourselves.

So when I asked parents how I could be a better teacher for their child, they told me when they had ideas, and I tried to act on it as best as I could, because it turns out that when we ask parents; they have a lot of great things to say.  They are not as set in their ways as we may think, they do not hate everything we propose.  So jump in, stop assuming, and start asking.  It will change the way you teach.

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 to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

assumptions, Be the change, being a teacher

Problem Finders or Problem Solvers?

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

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

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

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

I want to be a problem solver.

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

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

 

 

 

aha moment, assessment, assumptions, being a teacher, being me, conferences, connect, Passion, student voice

How Can I Make This Better For You?

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For the past three days my students have read.  They have sat wherever they wanted, immersed in the book of their choice.  They have book shopped.  They have reflected, but mostly just read.  Whispered about their books.  Handed those in they have finished.  And waited for me to call their name, knowing that soon it would be their turn.

I have sat at a table and spoken to them all, one by one, taken the time it takes.  “How is English going…How can I be a better teacher for you….What is not working…”  Armed with the survey they have takes as we finished our very first quarter, they have told me their truths.  They have looked at me and then gladly told me everything I have needed to change.   And I am so grateful.  Think of the guts that it takes to look at your teacher to tell them that something is not working for you.  Think of what that says about the community we have.

So for the past 3 days, I have listened.  I have nodded and taken notes.  I have asked for further explanation, and I have also asked for help.  How can we make it better?  How can we find more time?  How can we make it easier?  More engaging?  More of what they need?  How can we…

We read books to become better teachers.  We ask colleagues for help.  We meet with administrators.  We reach out to parents.  We connect and we ask and we ponder together.  Yet, how often do we ask the very kids that we teach?  How often do we stop what we are doing simply to conference with them?  Not about their work but to uncover how things are going?  What they need?  How we can change?  How often do we stop so we can learn from them?  Not often enough, but that can change.  It starts with us.  And it starts with a simple question; how can I make this better for you?

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.

assumptions, being a teacher, books, Literacy, student choice, student driven

How We Can Help Our Book Abandoners

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I have watched her every day, picking up a book, reading, kind of, and then at the end of class casually placing it into the return bin of our classroom.  Another book abandoned.  Another story given up.  In the past, I would have grabbed that book and handed it back to her. ” Give it another day or so.  This one you’re sticking with.”  But not now. Not anymore.

I used to think that when a child abandoned a book, they simple had not given it enough of a chance.  That the act of abandonment was a badge of honor; look at how I am not reading!  That they abandoned books because it was a way to not read, after all, you cannot read when you do not have a book.

So I helped them by creating rules…  You cannot abandon a book until you are 50 pages in.  You can only abandon one book, then the next one you have to read.  You must tell me when you abandon a book so we can discuss why.  The rules were meant to discourage it, to make abandoning a book a hassle, to inspire students to give the book a proper chance.  And they kind of followed them, or I thought they did, until I noticed that the students were no longer abandoning books, instead they were fake reading, getting the timing just right of their meticulous page turns, yet their eyes were not on the page.  My helpful rules had thus created a bigger problem; children who would rather sit and do nothing but turn a page rather than read a boring book.

Yet, I now know that book abandonment is a sign of a larger problem.  That it is not something most students pride themselves on but instead becomes yet another sign that reading is seemingly not for them.  That book abandonment becomes proof of their failures as readers.  And the students seem to not know what to do about it.  So if teaching 7th graders (and 5th graders, and 4th graders) has taught me anything it is that we have to face it head on.  So I had to find a new approach, we had to bring book abandonment into the limelight and embrace it for the reading beast it is.  Therefore, in our classroom, we…

Share our own abondenments.  I celebrate my book abandoning because it tells the students that I am reader who knows herself.  That I am tuned in to my own reading needs to find a book that works for me at that moment.  And that those needs change depending on what is going on in my life.  Students need an abandonment role model so that the stigma can be removed and the conversations can begin.  Because that is what we need; more discussion.  More reflection.  I never tear a book apart, I instead explain why it is not a great fit for me right now, and then offer it up to others.  Most of the time someone grabs it and proves me wrong.

Log it.  No, not a reading log,  I don’t need to know minutes or pages read, but instead a list of books they have finished and books they have abandoned.  They have a readers notebook in our classroom that has a section for this so they can easily do it in class.  Students need to have a way to examine their own actions, and so the simple sheet with the title on it helps them do just, which leads to the next thing.

Ask why.  Assume that all students abandon books, not just the “bad” readers and then ask them why they abandoned that book specifically.  Have them examine their own habits so that they can figure out who they are as a reader.  My students reflect on their reading habits several times a quarter so that they can see patterns.  They look at their list of books they loved and books they didn’t so they can get clues to what they like to read, and then start to pay attention to it.  They need to study themselves, and be given the time to do so, so they can learn from this rather than just view it as an inevitable part  of their reading habits.

Ask “Now what?”  Too often our students expect us to come up with the answer, to hand them the next book.  I have learned that while we should support their book browsing, we also need to pull back to let them become “Wild readers” as Donalyn Miller says.  Readers who know who they are and what they like.  So when a child abandons a book and ask me for another recommendation, I ask them to look at their To-Be-Read list, to think for a moment about what they need right now, what their life looks like, and how much energy they have.  They then have to find a stack of books to browse through so they can find their next read.  They usually let me know at the end what they pick, not because they have to, but because they want to share their find.

Practice total honesty.  I ask my students to be completely honest in their reading habits, whether when we speak or when they reflect, because if they are not I cannot help them.  They have to trust me to not punish them or somehow degrade their answers.  And I don’t.  Total honesty is paramount to how we work in our classroom.  And that starts with me; I do not sugarcoat my own habits.  If I did not read the night before they know.  If I am dragging in a book, they know.  And they also know my reading goals because I set them right alongside them.

Ask probing questions.  I will ask a child the harder questions, I will ask them if they are just giving up because they are in a pattern of giving up.  I will ask them if they think they should try a few more pages or if they have given it careful thought.  That does not mean there are rules for when you abandon, but I do want to make sure that the decision to abandon is one that they know should be carefully considered.  That yes, sometimes we know after 1 page that we do not want to read a book, and that is perfectly fine, as long as we know why we don’t want to read anymore.

Have an enticing library.  Many researchers have solidified the need for incredible classroom libraries, and yes, I know that means that we probably pay for the books out-of-pocket.  But it is worth it.  Having students be able to immediately try to find another book can be both a blessing and a curse, but in the end, I would rather have a child that is faced with many choices than one who has to wait for a pass or our scheduled time to go to the library to get one.

Creating classrooms where students are passionate about reading, requires many things; a great classroom library, time to read, choice, and also the courage to break some of the rules that surround traditional reading instruction.  That includes facing book abandonment head on.  What have you tried that has worked?

PS:  For ideas on how to get reluctant readers to read, read this.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

aha moment, assumptions, being a teacher, control, student voice

When I Finally Stopped Speaking

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It struck me as hard as a hammer.  6th period Friday.  The fourth time I was teaching this lesson.  The fourth time I had students go through the discussion questions, do the turn and talk, and then come back together.  It hit me so hard that I instantly cringed a little bit, because why in the world I hadn’t thought of this sooner?  If only I had listened to that little nagging voice we all have inside, if only I had tuned in as it screamed,  “Stop talking, Pernille.  Stop interrupting their conversations.  Stop rushing them through what you think they need to get through and let them speak to each other.”

And yet, after only a minute of talking, I felt the ticking time.  I saw the hands moving as class slowly trailed away and so I kept interrupting them.  Guiding them to the next thing that we had to do.  Telling them to finish up So that we had the entire foundation laid.  So that I could place a check mark in my planner and move on to the next thing, knowing that we had done everything we were supposed to and gotten to the end of the text.   Yet, this is exactly what we should not be doing in our classrooms.

Too often, we rush.  Too often, we hurry so that we can cover things.  Too often we get through a lesson rather than realize that what we are doing in that moment is the lesson; is the point of school.  We say we want students who speak up and exhibit deep thinking, yet then limit this very thing as we teach.  We must slow down.  We must stop our incessant teacher talk, our incessant interruptions as we guide and mold and let students think, then let them speak.  And when they are done speaking let them sit in the silence for just a moment so they can be sure they are completely done speaking.

Teaching is not about getting through.  Teaching is not about getting things done.  Teaching is not about completing every single lesson we had planned so we can say that we did it, we followed the path and now we have taught.  Now our students have learned.  It is about the path we take to get there.  The exploration we have along the way.  The time we give to our students to speak so that we may listen.

So in that 6th hour on Friday, I finally stopped speaking. I finally stopped interrupting them and just let them speak.  Those who ran out of words looked at me expectantly waiting for me to start again, but then saw how others were still going in their conversations and that spurred them on to keep speaking.  I bounced from group to group, not interjecting, but listening instead.  Nodding and smiling as I saw them start to become what I hope they will be; kids that have an opinion, kids that have a voice.  After a few more minutes, a child asked a question so good that I knew we could discuss this as a class.  And so we did.  And I didn’t interrupt.  I didn’t shape the conversation.  I let them speak and they loved it.  Because it was about them and not me.  Their learning and not just my teaching.  Just the way it is supposed to be.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

assessment, assumptions, Be the change, being a teacher, grades, ideas

7 Simple Things that Make Feedback and Assessment About the Students Again

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I think we all are always looking for ways to ease the assessment and feedback process in our classrooms, I know I am!  And I get it, giving feedback and doing great assessment with 120 students, or even just 20 students, can seem like an unwieldy beast at times.   So while I wrote about lessons I have learned while trying to limit grades, I thought I would also offer up the practical things that have made my day-to-day better.  Behold, a few things to maybe make your feedback and assessment process easier.

Background:  I now work in a district that is doing Standards Based Grades and moving away from letter grades.  We also believe that formative work is practice work and can therefore not count toward a summative score, and finally, that students have the right to re-take work.  At my middle school, we have a 2 week automatic re-take policy that we encourage students to use in case they need extra help with a concept.  

They have a notebook that stays in the room.  I have learned the hard way that when students leave with their notebooks,  they sometimes do not come back with them.  So this year, I instead created a readers notebook for them to keep in the classroom.  Yes, it was a lot of paper, but it means that my students always know where to write their thoughts, it means that all writing about reading only happens in the classroom, and it also means that I have access to them at all time.  This means that not only do we have a routine established for responding to reading, which frees up time, but also that student scan see their thoughts develop over time along with the feedback I give them.  Each class has a bin on my shelf for easy access every day and they grab them when they come in before they start their independent reading time.

They have a manila folder with their names on it in real life or electronically.  Each class is separated into 5 different groups and each group has a folder.  All work that students do that is not in their readers notebook go in these folder.  This year, the students will even file it themselves to save time.  Why collect the work?  Because my students write way more than I can assess, so this allows them a gathering place for all of their work.  When a unit is nearing its end, I ask them to pick the one piece that they want me to assess.  I also do this for anything we do electronically (but I respect the fact that some of my students want to hand write rather than type).  The discussion that happens based on what they select for me to look at are richer because I know they had to think about it and not just hand me the last thing they wrote.  This also signals to them that they are not working to get through things, but to learn, and that every piece of work they create has value eve if it does not get assessed

I have pre-printed labels with comments.  Not for everything, but when I give feedback in their readers notebooks there are certain things that crop up again and again.  That is what the pre-printed labels are for.  These change throughout the year and I do not reuse the same ones from unit to unit.  It is always catered to what we are working on  what I am noticing with the students, and are explained before they are put on their work.

The students self-assess before I assess.  At the end of unit, before anything is handed back by me, the students will then set goals and reflect on their work.  This involves them scoring themselves as far as where they are with their  proficiency in the chosen standard.  The score is based on a standard they have deconstructed to put into student-friendly language, and also based on a rubric they have built with me or we have discussed.  I want my students’ to have a chance to reflect before their confidence is skewed by my words.

Standards are assessed twice at least.  We have 7 standards to cover in English this year and all of them will be assessed for a summative score at least twice in separate quarters.  It is a chance for students to truly see that mastery may come at a different time for them than their peers and that that is ok.  It also allows us to establish a baseline score and then see how they grow.  When a standard is only assessed once, we assume that all students grow at the same rate, which we know is not true.   So instead, make it a point to show students that knowledge is something we gain at all times and that they are the masters of their growth.

They have a chance to disagree.  Once students have self-assessed, it is my turn.  I will either handwrite their assessment or speak to them about it.  But even then it is not final, it is a conversation, and students know that this is their chance to speak up.  Too often we gloss over the assessment piece by handing things back at the end of class and forget that this is one of the largest opportunities we have for meaningful conversations about their learning journey.  Don’t rush through it but take the time to discuss, reflect, and set new goals.

All work is kept in the classroom, pretty much.   I need to know what my students know.  Not what others know, not what they later figured out, but what they know right now.  So any kind of summative work is done in the classroom, not at home, so that I can see how they work on a product with time management and the need for them to think deeper.  This also fits into my policy of limited homework.  And it forced me to evaluate what I am asking them to do, since I can see how much time something takes.  ( I also do all of the work my students have to do, which has definitely been an eye-opening experience).

PS:  For the how-to for eliminating or limiting grades, please consider reading my book Passionate Learners.  There is a whole chapter dedicated to not just the why, but the actual how.