My fantastic 7th graders are working on short choral poetry performances and would love a real-live audience. Well not live, but actual kids to watch their short videos and then give them feedback on their performance. We are looking for 4th grade and lower to assess us, videos will be shared via Google Drive and feedback will be given via a short Google Form. This is open to anywhere in the world. Videos will be posted next week and then we would love feedback by the following Monday, November 9th.
If you are interested, please fill in the form below and you will receive a link with the videos when they are available, you can do as many as you would like.
For the past few days student engagement has been at the forefront of my mind. Well, who am I kidding, it is always on my mind. As I gave a workshop on student engagement, I was asked for quick tips on how to re-engage in class. While these aren’t just simple ideas, I hope they can help you work through engagement lulls in your own classroom.
You can have an honest conversation with students. If the same class is off-task or the same group, please pull the whole class or group together to discuss. Do not judge, simply ask what is going on and then ask them to help you solve it. Often students will blame being bored so then ask them how they can make it more exciting. Part of creating classrooms where students are engaged is that students are expected to take control of their learning journey meaning you should not be trying to solve everything.
You can change it up. Too often we fall in love with a routine like the workshop model and then forget that too much predictability can be a bore. While I am not advocating for a zany show, I think it is important to be tuned into whether the routine is working at its optimal level or not, then tweak and change as needed.
You can turn on some music. I have found that using music that has the opposite tempo of my students’ mood is great for refocusing them. So if they are slow and lethargic, I play upbeat music while they work, if they are very energetic, I bring out the mellow tunes.
You can practice mindfulness. I started using some short breathing or yoga videos after assemblies with my students because there was no way they would settle in on their own. Once my 7th graders get past their giggles, they also benefit from 3 minutes of focused breathing.
You can stop a train-wreck. When a lesson was going poorly, I used to ride it out to the end hoping that by then they would get it. Now I know to stop, ask why they are not understanding, and then fix. I also have the luxury of completely revamping it throughout the day since I teach the same class five times in a row (one of the only positive things about that).
You can move location or just move. Sometimes my students have simply been sitting too long. Past elementary level we sometimes do not realize how much time students spend sitting since we only see our slice of the day. A natural restlessness is therefore bound to occur. So we move around in the classroom either by sharing with peers, doing short book recommendations, or showing off our work, or we pick up and move altogether. We can head to the library, outside, or into our team area.
You can affirm and replace. This is a technique I adapted from the awesome book Awakened by Angela Watson. When my students seems bogged down as a class, we spend a few minutes speaking about what is going on and then I try to help them replace those thoughts by shifting the focus to something else. It is important for students to feel validated in their thinking but then also for them to move beyond it.
You can find a different way for them to show off their knowledge. We use turn-and-talk quite a bit, but I also ask students to act answers out, draw things out without speaking and any other way that will get different areas of their brains to light up. This is not something I do the entire class period, but it is vital that we have students show knowledge in a variety of ways, rather than just one way.
You can make it personal. Yes, personalized learning is a major buzzword right now, but I am talking about the personal connections that students can have to the learning and how we can tap into that. A lot of disengagement comes from students being bored with the content, so we do need to re-evaluate the content we are focusing on, as well as what the students are doing with it. Students may want to engage with the content in different ways but we won’t know that without knowing our students.
You can use technology. We integrate technology throughout the year but sometimes introducing a new tool like Kahoot does fire students up in a new way. However, with any new ideas, moderation is key because this does not address the problem in the long-term but simply changes the pace at that moment.
In the end, student engagement is just about the quick fixes we can make, but about the instrumental changes we need to have in our teaching philosophy. It is too easy to just blame the students, although they do carry responsibility in all of this, so we must reevaluate whether what we are doing in our classrooms is truly worth being engaged in. The bottom line is; we have to believe in what we are doing and show that passion every single day, because if we don’t, we have no right asking students to.
The final quarter of last year, our classroom was a limited B.Y.O.D. zone, meaning yes, bring your own device but check it at the door unless we had a purpose for it. I instituted this because I felt we were getting distracted, myself included, we were having a hard time resisting the instant temptations that our smartphones seem to provide for us. So we left them out of the room and the students were just fine with it. I was too. In fact, there were times where I knew that our conversations, our reflections, our thinking traveled to deeper levels because we did not have a device nearby to distract.
Yet, I felt like I had taking the easy way out. That declaring our room a device free zone was limiting the students. So I have been thinking a lot about meaningful purpose lately, because much like I would not take a pencil away from my students unless I had to, I don’t think we should be taking devices either. What we need instead is purpose, and purpose starts with us. Especially in our literacy classroom where we have such an opportunity to use the devices to further a love of reading.
The beauty of students with devices is not just the instant access to information, but the ability to give them a voice even if we are not discussing. To give them a further purpose than just the immediate one in the classroom. To create a digital platform for them to share their voices with the world. Therefore, this coming year, we will not be device-free but rather device-purposeful. Together we will be deciding how to use, when to use, and what to do with our devices. There will be clear student-set expectations and they will be a natural part of our classroom, not something to always leave at the door.
A few ideas so far for the purpose part are: (For students with no devices we will have access to Chromebooks to do some of these things. )
An ongoing TodaysMeet backchannel. This idea, shared by Ira Socol at ISTE, means that I am creating a TodaysMeet room for each class and having that as a place for students to discuss, ask questions, and also to take the pulse of my classroom. Because, of course, students will probably veer off the prompted conversation, but will they do it all of the time? This will allow my shyer students a way to speak up, allow students to help each other, and also a way to leave me questions that perhaps they don’t feel they need the answer to right away. This backchannel will also allow me a way to assess to see engagement, interest, and confusion. All useful tools as I prepare and plan.
A Goodreads community. I plan on using Goodreads with my students this year as a way to log their books, share recommendations, and explore new books. It is the same tool I use for myself and so adding it will be a natural extension of what adult readers use. For those who teach younger students, you could use Biblionasium to do this as well.
A Padlet Wonder wall. I really want us to start being more curious and wondering more, so having a Padlet with things we wonder about will be another tool for the students to access. I plan on sharing a daily wonder as well, and may use Wonderopolis if we have time.
A Padlet book share wall. This idea shared by the inspiring Kristin Ziemke at ILA is having a place for students to post “Book shelfies” plus a recommendation of the book. I loved Kristin’s idea especially of opening this up to the world and having students around the world sharing their books as well.
Those are just a few ideas, but I am sure more will come soon. I cannot wait to discuss these ideas with my students and see what else they have to offer. What ideas would you add?
One of the top questions I work through with friends, family, parents of my students, and even my own children is what to do when a child doesn’t want to read. Or I am asked for ideas for how to increase a child’s desire to read. This is not a question I take lightly, nor one that I have a magical solution to. I wish. But I do have a few ideas that may help a reluctant reader get more interested in reading taken from my own experience as a teacher and parent.
First of all; be a reader yourself. Nothing speaks louder to a child than having reading role models. Read as much as you can, discuss your reading, share your reading, and read widely. Switch it up to showcase that reading is not just one thing to you, but can consists of many types of books and genres. I always have a book in my purse, backpack, and in my house. I read when I am waiting for people, when we sit a traffic lights, whenever we have an errand to run and I stay back in the car. Be a reader yourself so that the children in your life can see the value of it, not just hear about it. Also pass books on in front of your children, I often hand books to others and discuss why they might love it. My children and students have started doing the same.
Secondly, keep reading aloud. We read aloud to all four of our children every single night. They pick the books and we gladly comply. It is a perfect way to end the day and allows a moment to create a shared experience. This goes for older children as well. Several of my students have reported sharing a book with a parent and I can tell you; it makes a huge difference to them. I also cherish the read aloud time we have in class, much too little of it unfortunately, but again it allows us to have a shared experience that will shape future conversations about books. (One tip: Read the first book in a series aloud to ensure students get hooked and have more books to read). Create a shared read aloud experience with the world by joining The Global Read Aloud or other shared read aloud projects. This helps students connect with the world and also gets them excited about incredible books.
Third, take them to the book store. Yes, I love a great library but there seems to be a stigma to some kids about “those old books” that they can find in the library versus the new and shiny ones they can see in a book store. My trick, so that I don’t go bankrupt is to take my own children to the book store first , let them select all of the amazing books they cannot wait to read, write them all down, and then head straight to the library to get them from there. Once in a while they get to select a book to purchase from the book store and we make a big deal out of it.
Fourth, keep handing them books. Be specific with why you are handing it to them. “I read this book and think you might like it because…” and keep doing it every chance you have. Don’t be offended when they don’t want to read it. I tell my students all of the time that even if I think a book is great they may hate it, which always turns into a great discussion of taste. Children need chances to develop their own taste and in order to do that they need to be presented with a lot of books to choose from. (This is also why I have a large classroom library and many books at my house). And don’t just hand them the Classics, or whatever you think they should read, if they express interest in something hand that to them. My mother never limited what I read even if she felt something was too hard or outside of my interest, she just let me read. When we micromanage we stop children from discovering themselves as readers.
Fifth, don’t let your own ideas of what great reading looks like ruin great readings for others. I think we are all super guilty of thinking we know what great reading looks like. Whether it is reading a certain book or genre, whether it is reading in a certain type of environment or noise level, whatever we prefer is what we assume must be best for all. Just don’t. I have had students get deep into the reading zone while listening to soft music. I have had students only want to read one certain genre and nothing else no matter what I presented them with. I have had students swear that the best reading they can do is when they walk around the room. Yes, really! And guess what? They were right. Their best reading is their best reading, not the silent lying on the couch method I prefer. But you should have the conversation with them, ask them what it looks like and then have them cultivate that. Discuss your own reading preference so they can find their style as well.
Sixth, don’t do rewards. Ever. Reading is its own reward. The minute we start to tie reading with a tangible reward, we remove the intrinsic pleasure we hope our readers discover. Although reading for a reward can offer a short-term solution to get a child reading, it will set a long-term precedent of what reading is for. It is not worth it. It will almost never lead to some sort of revelation of how pleasurable reading is and instead you have created a new bad habit; the “give-me” monster whose outstretched hand will only read when there is a tangible prize at the end. So don’t start, even if it seem like it might help a little, the damage it will do will not be worth it in the end.
Seven, give it a break. I can be a high-strung reading parent, particularly because reading has not come super easy for one of my own children. When we saw her struggle, my immediate reaction was to want her to read for longer periods of time in order to practice more. My husband intervened, thankfully, and reminded me that when she does read it is hard, concentrated work and so we want to keep it short and sweet. Make it a pleasurable experience, not a drill sergeant moment. So if your child is really fighting you on reading, or struggling, don’t force them to read for a long period of time every day, keep it short, pleasant, and predictable. Let them browse books, read a bit and support them throughout. They will get there, it may just take time and that one great book, but making something already difficult or hated into a long battle is not going to change their mind or help them love reading.
Eight, talk about reading but in a non-threatening way. My daughter and I invent stories a lot on our drive home, sometimes based off of read alouds we have done. My students and I discuss movies all of the time, particularly if they are based on a book and we need to compare it. I show book trailers, I do impromptu picture book read alouds, and I get very, very excited about new books that I am reading. Books are a constant undercurrent of my life and I do my best to bring it to the attention of the children I am surrounded by, but in a non-obvious way. So go to author talks and signings, do read alouds, go to movies based on books, leave books out, listen to audio books on road trips, be excited about being a reader and don’t give up. You never know at what moment a child will start to love reading.
Nine, realize it’s ok if they don’t love reading. I can’t believe I just write that but it is true. Yes, we should make opportunities for all children to love reading but we also need to be ok with a child if they don’t. My mother raised my 4 siblings and I to love reading (I really have 11 siblings but these were the ones at my mom’s house) and 4 out of the 5 kids love it more than anything. My one brother… not so much. He is a great reader and once in a while will fall in love with a book series, but most of the time he is busy doing other things. His life is not less full or less pleasurable than mine. So we need to be ok with having a child that doesn’t love reading as much as we do…That doesn’t mean we stop, but it means we stop judging them on it.
What did I miss? What ideas do you have to share? I know many of us struggle with this.
I was going to write about all of the things we have been doing to try to break down the barriers to poetry in class. All of the eye rolls I have been seeing, the grunts and groans. The many “Roses are red…” poems I have sen in the last few days as I ask them to write me a poem, any poem, just write something. I was going to write about how many of my students hate poetry because of all of the rules we have forced upon them in our pursuit of helpfulness and understanding. I was going to write about how my students are slowly inching further away from a disinterest or total hate to a small interest or even like when it comes to listening to poetry. Writing it is an entirely different battle.
But I decided that this was bigger than that. This moment, in our classrooms, is bigger than that.
It is not that my students are the only ones that hate poetry. In fact, some of them do, some of them don’t.
It is not that my students are the only ones who hate writing. Hate reading. Hate book clubs. Hate English. Some of them do, some of them don’t.
It is not that my students are finally expressing their hatred not to be mean or out of spite, but so we can do something about it.
It is not that my students are different from most students.
It is more that I have had the same conversations every year.
It is more that every kid has something they hate about school because of choices I have made, choices we have made, when we decided to teach a certain way.
It is more that student curiosity seems to have been drowned out by our carefully planned lessons.
That inquiry and critical thinking have been buried by the pursuit of the one right answer.
That we have taught students that school is black and white while life is multicolored.
That we tell them to sit still so much that they forget their own voice.
That we make all of the choices for them and then get frustrated when they cannot create on their own.
That is what I need to write about because that is what I have discussed with my students. That is what teaching poetry has revealed so far. That is what I need to change.
Who knew poetry would be the place my students found their voice.
I didn’t know I was doing personalized learning when I first changed the way I taught. It wasn’t until I wrote about it in a blog post and someone gave me the name and description that it clicked. It made sense really; I wanted students to have a voice, have choice, and to be re-ignited passionate learners within my classroom, all tenets of the personalized learning philosophy. For me it was a no brainer; why not teach in a such a way that students would want to be part of the learning? Why not teach in such a way that students became experts and have a place alongside the teacher? Yet, wherever I go resistance remains for personalized learning. In fact, some educators or districts are quite against it, but for many different reasons. I cannot be alone in seeing this resistance, so I thought a discussion of what those barriers may be and how you can approach a discussion to work around them would be in order.
Barrier: It’s one more thing to do. We are faced with seemingly more tasks every single year as teachers, from major ones forced upon us to the little ones we cannot wait to do because we were inspired. When will we ever find the time to do personalized learning as well?
Discussion Point: Personalized Learning should not be an add-on but a replacement. So if you are already doing something, change it with a lens of personalized learning. Can you add choice into a pre-existing project? Can students show mastery in a multitude of ways? Embrace personalized learning as a way to become a better educator by sharing more control with the students, keep it manageable for you and integrate in a natural way to alleviate the feeling of one more thing being added to the to-do list.
Barrier: It is overwhelming. It is easy to see why personalized learning can be viewed as overwhelming. Often those who discuss its merits have been doing it for years and has framed their whole classroom around it. Their personalized learning initiatives is a long list of to-done’s.
Discussion Point: One small step at a time. When discussing personalized learning focus on how to start, what to do in the beginning, and the small changes that can make a big difference. Certainly keep the end-point in mind, but don’t worry about it yet. Worry about where you are right now and how you will start your journey, not when you are going to get to the end.
Barrier: It will be chaotic. We often envision chaos when we stop doing a one path to the learning format for students and that when students are given choice they will not know what to do.
Discussion Point: Personalized learning does not mean giving up control, but rather that control is shared with the students. It also means multiple paths to mastery, but these are planned out either by yourself or in conjunction with your students. Yet, you know yourself best; what can you give up control of and what can you not. You are also a member of this learning community so if there are certain things that need to stay in order, such as an assignment being done a certain way, or students sitting in a particular way, it is okay to hold onto that. Find the things that you can let go of, invite student input into the process, and grow together.
Barrier: My subject matter won’t work. Personalized learning means hands-on and project based; how do you do that in English, Spanish or any other class?
Discussion Point: Personalized learning can be implemented into any classroom, the lens just has to switch. I had a lot easier time giving choice in social studies and science because a lot of our learning was hands-on, project based. So when I switched to just teaching English, I had to change my way of thinking. Personalized Learning in my English class means students have choice in how they show mastery (different project choices), when they show mastery (timeline), and often how they work within the classroom (classroom setup/management).
Barrier: It will be replaced with another idea soon. Education is a long list of new ideas and change is the one constant we have.
Discussion Point:Personalized Learning really just means great teaching and great teaching will not be replaced with a new idea. So while new initiatives are bound to come, the ideas of personalized learning helping you be a better teacher remain because it speaks to student autonomy and re-igniting a passion for learning.
Barrier: I don’t want to integrate more technology or don’t have access. Technology inequity is a real problem. So is technology fear. Some teachers want to feel comfortable with the technology they bring in before students use it, and others will never be able to get the things they wish they could.
Discussion Point: Personalized learning is not about the technology. Personalized learning is about creating an education process that takes into account the needs and desires of each child, while still working through the set curriculum. Technology is a tool that can be used in this process but not a central tenet. I started out with 4 computers in my room for 26 students. We naturally did not incorporate a lot of technology and we didn’t need to. Choices involved the things we did have and students bringing in things from home if they wanted to. We made it work with what we had.
Barrier: I won’t be a good teacher. It is hard to change the way we teach because we may already be teaching really well.
Discussion Point: Change is hard for all of us, but modeling risks for students is instrumental in their learning journey. I am uncomfortable every time I make a big decision about the way I teach or something we will do, but I think the discomfort makes me a more thoughtful practitioner. By sharing and modeling this for students, I am showing them that I take risks and that sometimes those risks pay off and other times they don’t. We have to grow to evolve and sometimes that means even leaving behind things that were just fine. Besides, our students change every year, so should we.
Barrier: I have to do the same as all the other teachers in my subject or grade level. We don’t want students to be a part of an educational lottery where the quality of their education hinges on which teacher they get, so sometimes uniformity and in turn, conformity, is preached above all else.
Discussion Point: Have what other teachers do as one of the choices for students. This brilliant idea was shared at the task force meeting I was a part of in my district. Instead of dismissing what other teachers are doing, simply make it on e of the paths that students can take. That way you are also catering to the myriad of ways that students learn. You may learn best in a hands-on project based environment, whereas others may learn best with a read/reflect/discuss with a test at the end pathway. make room for all of your learners and include the ways of other teachers in your room.
Barrier: Parents/administrators/community will be upset. When we are faced with unknowns our first instinct may be to revolt.
Discussion Point: School should look different than when we were students. Yet communication, understanding and examples are vital when integrating more personalized learning into your classroom our school. Any change is hard for parents who want to try to help their children, so make sure you are communicating the why and the how behind your changes whatever they may be. If administration is wary bring them in to see the change, show them other classrooms, and explain your motivation. Tell them you will do a trial period and you can discuss and evaluate. Just like you are asking others to be open to change, be open to frank discussion yourself.
Moving toward personalized learning has been one of the most significant changes I ever did in my educational journey, but it wasn’t always smooth. I have faced many of these barrier myself but now love being in a district that has it as part of its vision. Wherever you are in your journey, or even if you haven’t started, don’t be discouraged by the barriers that may face you. Reach out, connect with others who are on the same journey, and find the support you need to be successful. I am here to help if you need it.
If you want to see 6 things you can change to start your personalized learning journey, read this.