Be the change, being a teacher, being me, summer

Ending the Year on a High Note – Some Must Do’s As We Wrap Up

Yesterday, I wrote about what I wanted out of the year and how it had gone, and yet, within that post is also the hope for the coming few months, for the coming year. Isn’t it funny how we, as educators, already start to plan for the “new” year already in the spring?

And so with only a few precious weeks left, I wanted to once again share what my Must-Do’s for the year are in case anyone else wants a few ideas.

I plan on surveying my students.  While our school does both a home and student survey, I also need to know what I can work on.  Every year, the words of my students help me shape the experience to come.  Every year, the words of my students help me grow as an educator.  Don’t let the kids leave without helping you grow. To see this year’s survey, paper copy go here – I will do it as electronic version as well, to see that go here

I plan on keeping certain experiences and make a map.  Looking through the year and reflecting on what really worked, whether it was a lesson, an idea, or simply a moment, helps us think of the year to come.  Don’t let this year end without you realizing what worked.  Whether you go through lesson plans or simply write a bullet list, take note so that when the time comes for your ideas to come back, you have a place to start. We have started as a team to create our map for the upcoming year, this helps us plan and discuss what we want our students to experience with us.

I plan on face to face collaboration. Our district believes in paying teachers to collaborate over the summer, which I plan on once again taking advantage of. So as I take on a new class next year (Enriched English), I plan on spending time with those who know more than me. I am so grateful for this opportunity for concentrated learning.

I plan on getting rid of certain lessons.  While our experience inevitably changes year after year, there are also certain things that despite our best intentions simply didn’t work.  So I am getting rid of them both physically and mentally.  Goodbye feedback tracker! Goodbye reading rate tracker! Goodbye to you so that I can make room for better things.

I plan on freshening up the room.  Every year, i do revamp of our room, but this year I get to move rooms altogether to a larger room with more room for all of our books. So not only do I get to go through everything, but I also get to set up a whole new experience for the students. However, if I wasn’t moving, I would still move furniture, go through files, weed books, and just refresh everything. While we don’t have a lot of fancy furniture, these small changes help keep the pride in the room intact which shapes the experience.

I plan a focus.  This summer, I get to both teach others and learn from others and so I need a focus.  Where does my craft need to grow?  Writing continues to be a focal point, as well as the hard work of equity and social justice.  And so I go to conferences with a few goals in mind.  I read PD books with these goals in mind.  I reflect, invent, and write down ideas with these few goals in mind.  In the past, when I have had a broad focus, I feel I have learned little, but when I have a few questions in mind, such as how will I continue to help students understand their role in the world or how we will we create more meaningful writing experiences that will help students reignite their writing identities, then I leave summer with a few tangible ideas that shape our experience together. Some of these books are re-reads, others are brand new and I cannot wait to let the work of others shape the every day work I get to do with students.

My stack of summer PD reading awaits – I can’t wait.

I plan a break.  Teaching is amazing, it is my favorite thing to do as far as work., but it is also exhausting, heartbreaking at times, and hard.  So summer is time for a break, and not a kind of break where I still work, but one where I feel no guilt for not checking my email.  Where I feel no guilt for reading whatever I want even if it is slightly trashy.  Where I feel no guilt for not checking in, creating something, or coming up with new ideas.  But you have to plan for it or it won’t happen.  We know how consuming teaching can be, how it can spill into every part of summer, but don’t let it.  Allow yourself to detach completely so that you can get excited.  So that you can let ideas marinate in the back of your mind.  So that you can remember what it means to have a life, if even for a little bit, outside of teaching.  Because if you never leave, then you cannot get ready to come back.

Summer is a break.  A much-needed one for many.  But it is also an incredible time to become something more than what we ended as.  To remember why we entered teaching.  To get excited, to catch up on sleep, and to become the very best version that we can be of ourselves so that when September rolls around, or whenever our students come back, we can say, “I am so glad you are here,” and truly mean it.

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us as it kicks off next weekend!

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


assessment, Be the change, testing

Dear STAR Test, We Need to Talk Again…

Three years ago, almost to this date, I wrote my first blog post about the STAR test, a test sold by Renaissance Learning and employed in thousands of districts across the United States. That post started a discussion with the people behind STAR and while I wish I could say that it created change, isn’t that after all what we always hope for, it didn’t. Three years later, on the eve of my final STAR reading test of the year, I return to those same questions, once again hoping for some clarity, some light to be shed on how this test can be sold as a valid assessment tool.

Because, dear STAR test, it just doesn’t seem like you have evolved much from when we first started together. That in the three years since I last wrote to you hoping for some answers, that you have changed much. I guess, I could count your fancy new interface as change, but really all that has done is cause me to spend more time searching for the things I need in order to try to figure out what my students’ results supposedly are and what they may mean. But the essence of you, a comprehensive reading test that will quickly give me an elaborate understanding of 46 reading skills in 11 different domains remains the same. And much like so many of your cousins, all of the other computer tests who are supposed to be useful in our instruction, I keep feeling like I get the short end of the stick. Like a fool when I tell my students to show off their knowledge, to prove to the computer what we already know; just how much they have grown, just how much stronger they are.

Because according to the tests today, I have pretty much made all of my students worse readers than when they started. Or amazing super readers whose results are so incredible I want to cry tears of joy. It happens every year it seems. That the computer test tells us that they exploded, or that they didn’t grow or in fact reversed their abilities, but the face-to-face tests tell us a different story. The conversations we assess in their book clubs that show deep critical analysis and understanding. The written depth of their knowledge as they explore what it means to think about others’ stories and how it may affect them. How we see them share books, read books, recommend books.

And so that old letter stands the test of time, which is why I am reposting it, because honestly, now three years later into this relationship, I am still wondering why I bother. Why I get my hopes up for reliable, useable date? Why I tell my students to try their hardest? Why we take the time to try to do it right? Because I want to believe in you, STAR, I really do, but at this point, I am just not sure you are worth my time.

So Dear STAR test, we need to talk…again

We first met five years ago, I was fresh out of a relationship with MAP, that stalwart older brother of yours that had taken up hours of my 5th graders time.  They took their time and the results were ok; sometimes, at least we thought so but we were not sure.  But oh the time MAP and I spent together that could have been used for so many better things.

So when I heard about you, STAR, and how you would give me 46 reading skills in 11 different domains in just 30 or so questions, I was intrigued.  After all, 34 timed questions meant that most of my students would spend about 20 or so minutes with you.  You promised me flexibility and adaptation to my students with your fancy language where you said you “…combine computer-adaptive technology with a specialized psychometric test design.”  While I am not totally sure what psychometric means, I was always a sucker for fancy words.   Game on.

With your fast-paced questions, I thought of all the time we would save.  After all, tests should be quick and painless so we can get on with things, right?  Except giving my students only 90 seconds to read a question and answer it correctly meant they got awfully good at skimming, skipping lines, and in general being more worried about timing out than being able to read the whole text.

In fact, every year I have a child in tears who tell me that the timer popped up when they were still reading, that their anxiety is peeking because of that timer.  (Fun fact, if a child times out of a question it is treated as incorrect).  For vocabulary, all they get is 45 seconds because either they know it or they don’t, never mind that some of my kids try to sound words out and double-check their answer all within those precious seconds, just like I have taught them to do.  I watched in horror as students’ anxiety grew.  In fact, your 90 second time limit on reading passages meant that students started to believe that being a great reader was all about speed.  Nevermind, that Thomas Newkirk’s research into reading pace tells us that we should strive for a comfortable pace and not a fast one.  So yes, being a slow reader= bad reader.  

And sure, we could just turn the time off except that is not a decision I am allowed to make as an educator because that is a power given to the administration level, not the individual. On a larger scale, the fact that the product even comes with a time limit should be debated further; what does time have to do with reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge besides the selling point of being able to administer it quickly or as you say “there are time limits for individual items intended to keep the test moving and maintain test security?” What does that do to bolster the validity of our test? How is that supported by best practice?

And so for some reason, year after year, I keep hoping that this will be the year where the data will truly be useful. Where I will gain knowledge that I can use to shape my teaching, isn’t that, after all, what the whole purpose of collecting data on our students is? But much like previous years, the results are a kaleidoscope of fragmented stories that refuse to fit together into a valid picture.  Students whose scores dropped 4 grade levels and students whose scores jumped 4 grade levels.  Students who made no growth at all.  Once again, I spend the day questioning my capabilities as a teacher because I don’t know what to take credit for.  Is it possible that I am the worst teacher ever to have taught 7th grade ELA or perhaps the best?  You confuse me, STAR, on so many occasions.  

As in previous year, students whose score differences are significant sometimes get to re-test, after all, perhaps they are just having a bad day?  And sure, sometimes they have gone up more than 250 points, all in the span of 24 hours, but other times they have dropped that amount as well.  That is a lot of unmotivated or “bad day” students apparently.   And yet, you tell me that your scores are reliable, and you’re not alone, many studies say you are too, yet that is simply not what we see every day in our classroom.  Although, this study (sponsored by you_did point out that you are most reliable between 1st and 4th grade, so where does that leave my 7th graders?

And last time I dug around your reports, I found that according to your own research at the 7th-grade reading level you only got a score of 0.73 retest reliability which you say is really good but to me doesn’t sound that way (page 54) 0.73 – shouldn’t it be closer to 1.0? If we look at the Cronbach’s Alpha Reliability that is only acceptable. And I guess that’s what I keep coming back to. Is your reliability simply measured as compared to other tests who are also problematic in their assessment methods and who we also know do not give us overly valid results?   Who knows, you would need a math degree to dig through your technical manual to make sense of all of the numbers.

Yet through all of this, you have dazzled me with your data, even know when I dig into your research I keep getting tripped up in your promises of reliable test scores, of comparable rest results, of scores that mean something, but what it is they actually mean, I am not quite sure of.  With all of the reports that I could print out and pour over.  Perhaps you were not accurate for all of my students, but certainly, you had to be for some.  It wasn’t until a long night spent pondering why some of my students’ scores were so low that I realized that in your 0.73 reliability lies my 0.27 insecurity.  After all, who are those kids whose scores are not reliable?   I could certainly guess but the whole point of having an accurate assessment means that I shouldn’t have to.  So it doesn’t feel like you are keeping up your end of the deal anymore, STAR test.  In fact, I am pretty sure that my own child will never make your acquaintance, at least not if we, her parents, have anything to say about it.

So dear STAR test, I love data as much as the next person.  I love reliable, accurate data that doesn’t stress my students out.  That doesn’t make them really quiet when they realize that perhaps they didn’t make the growth.  I love data that I can rely on and it turns out STAR, I just don’t think you fit that description, despite the efforts of those who take you.  Perhaps I should have realized that sooner when I saw your familial relationship with Accelerated Reader.  Don’t even get me started on that killer of reading joy.  You even mention it yourself in your technical manual that there may be measurements errors.  You said,  Measurement error causes students’ scores to fluctuate around their “true scores”. About half of all observed scores are smaller than the students’ true scores; the result is that some students’ capabilities are underestimated to some extent.”  Granted it wasn’t until page 81.  So you can wow me with all of your data reports.  With all of your breakdowns and your fancy graphs.  You can even try to woo me with your trend scores, your anticipated rate of growth and your national percentile rankings.  Your comparability scores to other state testing. But it is not enough, because none of that matters if I can’t count on you to provide me with accurate results. It doesn’t matter if I can’t trust what you tell me about my students.

So I wish  I could break up with you, but it seems we have been matched for the long run for now.  All I can be thankful for is that I work for a district that sees my students for more than just one test, for more than just their points because does anyone actually know what those points mean?  I can be so thankful that I work in a district that encourages us to use STAR as only one piece of the data puzzle, that chooses to see beyond it so we can actually figure out a child’s needs.   But I know I am lucky, not everyone that is with you has that same environment. So dear STAR, I wish you actually lived up to all of your fancy promises, but from this tired educator to you; it turns out I don’t need you to see if my students are reading better because I can just ask them, watch them, and see them grow as they pick up more and more books.  So that’s what I plan on doing rather than staring at your reports, because in the end, it’s not really you, it’s me.  I am only sorry it took me so long to realize it.

Best,

Pernille

PS: In case it needs to be spelled out, this post does not reflect the official view of my employer.

Be the change, being a student, Book Clubs, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Join Me for the Summer Book Study of Passionate Learners!

With the bustle of April and all of the excitement that that brings, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a summer that calls for reflection, relaxation, re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore summer for all of its passion and courage, and also time to just be a reflective practitioner.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that there will be a summer book study of my first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students , which will kick off on June 1st and run for four weeks until June 28th. Why June? Because while I am still in school in June, I am also itching for some reflection for the new year. And then comes July, where I take time off in order to be a better person and I hope others do as well.

This book is what started it all, it reflects the journey I have been on, inspired by research and people who did the work before me, to create a more human and engaging experience for all of my students, particularly the kids who felt that school was not a place for them. The book is an honest view into what I did then and what I have learned from my students in order to be a better teacher for them while also working within the restrictions of a public school system. It is not meant as a step-by-step guide, but instead as a way for you to reflect on your own decisions and how you can change your teaching to allow room for your students to have more control and power over their learning experience. While the book study will take place in the Passionate Readers Facebook group, it is not a book focused on reading specifically, but rather overall student engagement.

So join the Passionate Readers Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, Facebook Lives, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this school year the best one yet.

In the book club we will explore how to:

  • Establish or expand a learning experience based around giving space for student voices.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behavior.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  June 1st -June 28th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free – you do need a copy of the book, though, you can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

Sign up: Please fill out the Google Form in order for me to email you all the details when we kick off. Don’t worry, I don’t use your email for anything else. Also, join the Passionate Readers Facebook Group in order to be a part of the discussion.

Thank you for wanting to be a part of this conversation, I cannot wait for this opportunity to learn together!


Be the change, technology

One Year as a Cell Phone Free School and Not Looking Back

White,                Black,                 Free Image

For many years, I was so thankful for the power of BYOD. Working in schools that didn’t have the capital needed to provide chrome-books or other computers for easy access to all, BYOD – or bring your on device – was a game changer. We could take pictures, film video, search up things and connect with the world. A few years ago as Chromebook slowly increased in quantity, I started to notice a trend with the way phones were being used in our school. While it wasn’t so much that they were used during class, after all, most students were engaged most of the time, it was more that the minute someone screwed up, which inevitably happens often in middle school, there was a device out to record it. To share it, to snap it, to make sure that everyone who was not present now had a front seat. And its effects showed. Our students started taking less risks, afraid that someone would film them. Afraid that the world would know of their mistakes rather than their attempts at success. Anxiety went up, social interaction went down.

I started to pay attention to my own phone habits, how my world seemed to be ruled more by notifications and interactions with people far away, rather than the life that was happening right within my reach. Digging into the research surrounding anxiety and the presence of phones, proved to be eye opening. While there are many benefits to the connectivity of phones, the noted increase in mental health related issues could also not be dismissed. At what cost, was our connectivity and the ease of BYOD causing our students anguish?

And so, we did an experiment. We took a quarter off from our phones in class, me included, and we waited to see what would happen. I wrote more about here in this initial post explaining our thinking and then as a follow up to how it went. It was eye opening but also anti-climactic. Many kids reported it was no big deal, that they were fine without their phones, they didn’t miss them, we didn’t need them because we had the privilege of having enough technology at our fingertips that didn’t require students to have their phones. A few kids grumbled, these were often the kids who were less engaged and more prone to use social media during class. And then there were the few; the kids were it made a huge difference. The ones that reported that they finally felt safe in our classroom. The one that told us of how they had realized that they were constantly checking their phone for fear of missing out and that they hadn’t realized how much time it took. The ones that appreciated how people seemed more present, less worried, more there. I was not the only experimenting with this and the results were similar in other classrooms as well.

And so as a staff, we started to discuss whether this should be a school-wide policy: ask students (and staff members) to leave their cell phones in their lockers from bell to bell in order to provide a safer learning experience, an experience that focused on meaningful technology integration, and also an experience that allowed them a larger opportunity for face-to-face connections, particularly during their lunch and recess time where we often saw kids have little to no interaction with those surrounding them because they were too busy using their phones. And while I am not one to dismiss the power of interactions between people using social media or gaming, we wanted them to have a chance to also interact live and face-to-face. After voting, we implemented it for this school year.

As I have had visitors come and see our classroom, they have asked about our noticeable lack of phones everywhere. And I have been asked to write more about it, thus this post. So today, I asked all of my students to give me the honest truth; how does it affect them to be phone-free at their school? Are they missing out since this seems to be a major discussion point in the phone or no phone debate? Are we doing them a disservice by not embracing the tool and teaching them how to use it well? Their answers were enlightening.

While most of my students own a phone, a few don’t, reporting everything from cost prohibitions to no desire to own one as the reason why. This led me to think of the equity aspect of expecting kids to all have a phone. Not every family can afford one, not every family wants to provide one to their child, yet when we assume that all students have a phone and then base our instructional experiences around using them, we are creating a noticeable gap between students that may lead to tension and awkwardness in the classroom. As one students said, sure, I could just use a Chromebook but that still makes me stand out and look different than the rest and that can be embarrassing.

I asked my students whether they cared about lack of access to their phones. Overwhelmingly they reported that it wasn’t a big deal, that they didn’t feel they needed them. That, sure, they would love to have them, but that they were not missing out on any educational opportunity in their eyes. I am not saying that phones can’t be used for amazing things, but in this case, the students didn’t see that. In fact, it was interesting to see how many students who did want their phones also reported that they would only use them for Instagram, Snapchat, and texting if they had them, nothing else. A few reported wanting to use them as calculators or to search up words. Not exactly deep reasons to bring them back as we can do all that with other tools provided for us.

Many students reported that not having their phones caused them to speak more to their friends. That while they missed out on some conversations that would take place on social media they were more likely to have more conversations with those around them. One student wrote, “I honestly enjoy it because it annoys me how often people (or my friends) are distracted by social media. I know social media is for “Socializing”, but you have people around you to socialize with. Even if you are not on social media and playing games instead, it still frustrates me.”

Another point often brought up is that we should be teaching students how to use their phones well. that much like all of the other tools the world has introduced us to, phones should now be a part of the school experience so that kids can use them well. I am not sure about this point. While I agree that as educators we adapt our curriculum to face the modern construct, I wonder whether the responsibility of teaching students how to use their phone well should fall on us? Should that not fall on those who provide the tool? That doesn’t mean that it can’t be supplemented in school, but I am not sure the main responsibility starts with us. And what is it exactly we can only do on phones that we cannot do with a Chromebook or iPad? A few things come to mind, and perhaps I simply don’t know enough about the amazing things phones are being used for, but I am not sure it is enough to warrant the blanket blessing of phones without thinking about the potential for increased anxiety, bullying, and overall distractibility that these powerful computers can also bring with them, even for the adults.

As I scanned through all of their responses, what really stood out to me was one common thread; that they wish they could have their phones in case “something bad happened.” That a major reason for why they wish to have their phones is in case of an emergency. Think about that for a moment. Our students don’t always feel safe at school, perhaps now more than ever, and so they see their phones as a lifeline to get help. It shook me to the core, because of course, I feel the same way; I need my phone in case something bad happens, but to hear it repeated again and again from 7th graders was startling.

And so we will continue to be cell-phone free for now. We will continue to ask students to leave them in their lockers so that we can be together. I will continue to leave my phone in my bag unless I need it for a specific purpose. To be more present, to think of the technology opportunities kids do have in order for us to connect, to become more than we were. Does this mean that phones in schools are bad or should never be there? No, it just means that for us, the learning experience we have right now, it makes sense to be cell phone free. That we have seen less phone-related anxiety and stress. We have seen less drama due to kids being filmed or ridiculed when they should have been safe in our classrooms. That we have been more thoughtful when we did bring out devices.

I share this in order to start a conversation, to perhaps plant a seed for others to explore within their own learning communities. Not to dismiss the power of technology, nor the power of what can happen when we connect with others. But as someone who knows the anxiety that a phone can produce, who is “one of those parents” that is holding off on getting a phone for her own kids, I think it is valid to have these discussions. That often in our eagerness to embrace technology, we forget about the mental health impact more technology and how it is used can have. That sometimes when we bring in more devices it traps our students rather than frees them, and that is not something to easily dismiss. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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

Be the change, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice

On Student Voice and How All Means All

If I asked most of my students, they would consider me a great teacher for them. They would tell you how safe they feel in our classroom, how they feel respected, how they feel like what we do is worth their time. It is easy feeling like a great teacher if those are the only voices you pay attention to. But if you were to speak to a few, perhaps the ones who would need some extra goading, perhaps those who choose to remain mostly silent throughout our time together, a different story would emerge. They still hate English, they still hate reading and writing, they find little value in what we do, and some, probably, also see little value in me.

I don’t think I am alone in that. Our schools are filled with both kids who flourish and those who don’t. Those who see the value added to their lives in what we do and those who don’t. Those whose days consist of success and those who have limited success. But whose voices are being heard in our conversations? Whose voices are shared in assemblies? Whose voices are shared when we invite incoming families in to discuss what a school experience consists of with us?

And what happens when we don’t monitor whose voices get the most space within our school? When we once again select the few kids that we know will speak up, speak eloquently, and will stick to the message that we know reflects us best? It means that we create a false sense of accomplishment, as if student voice is something we can checkoff, as if everything we do is exactly right and all we need to do is just stay the course.

I worry about the echo-chamber we sometimes create, whether inadvertently or purposefully. How many of us purport to support student voice but then only give the biggest space to those we know will shine a positive light. How we assume that a child must view their schooling as favorable as long as their scores, grades, percentages show them as successful. How we squelch the voices of those who may have less than stellar experiences to share. How we dismiss their voices as simply kids carrying a grudge, or not understanding, or simply just being in a tough spot. How easily we dismiss their experiences rather than recognizing them for the incredible learning opportunity they are. A chance to dive into what we still need to work on, a chance to create a partnership with those whose experiences are not successful despite our carefully laid plans and best intentions.

When I ask others to make space for students to reclaim their voices, I don’t just mean those whose voices echo our own sentiments. I don’t just mean those who will present us in the best of lights. All means all and that includes those who will tell us the unguarded truth even when the truth hurts. This is why in all of my presentations there is truth that hurts, statements that made me grow, that felt like failures when I first was given them. It is important to model to others what real feedback looks like, to acknowledge that at times we will fail our students. That at times we will not be the teacher, or the school, or the district that they needed us to be and we now have to figure out how we can do better, with them. Because that is what the truth does; it gives us a chance to grow. To become something more than we were before, but we cannot do that if we only make space for those voices who will tell us all of the good we are doing without mentioning the bad. If we only select a few to represent the many without giving everyone a proper chance to speak up, to be heard, to shape their experience.

So survey all of the kids. Give space to all of the kids. When students are invited to speak at your training events, at your staff meetings, at your school board meetings, invite a broad range of perspective. Sure, invite those kids in where the system is clearly working, but also invite those who tell us through their behavior that it’s not. Who perhaps may be doing well but who really do not love it. Monitor who you give space to so that all experiences can be represented because if you don’t then it is really just a sham representation. And then ask meaningful questions, not just those where students will provide you with sound-bytes that will do little to move the conversation along.

Ask them if they feel respected.

Ask them if they feel valued.

Ask them if they feel represented.

Ask them if what we do matters.

Ask them how by working together we can make it better.

And then listen to their voices, all of them, and instead of dismissing their words take them for what they are; the biggest gift to do better, to be better. An invitation to create an education that matters to all, not just some, and who can say no to that?

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

Be the change, building community, community, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

A Few More Steps Toward a Successful Reading Experience for All

Voting ends for the Global Read Aloud 2019 in two days. In two days, they will be tallied, I will sit and ponder, feel the gravity of the decision and finally, at some point, make it official. The weight of it is sometimes paralyzing. After all, I am not just selecting a book to read aloud to my own students, but making the largest recommendation to the world as I can. Holding titles, and with them the creators behind the work, and telling the world that these experiences are worth every moment of their time.

It is not much different, in a way, from the way we hold books up in our classrooms day after day. How we share our opinions on social media. How we give our blessings any way we can. The weight it carries is the same; we shape our students’, our children’s, our own reading lives by the choices we make. By the texts we give our time to, by the texts we don’t. We tell the world what we value within every choice, within every recommendation, within every ounce of time we give something. By ever instructional minute we offer up in order to dive in, dig in, tease out.

So when I am asked how to help someone like reading more, I keep coming back to the choices we make. The finite amount of time we have for any kind of influence. How it is impossible for me to change someone’s feelings about reading, but what I can do is provide them with an opportunity to change them themselves. So where does the work begin for us because, as we know from so many of our readers, it is not enough to simply find a book that may change their mind, even if that is where the journey may start.

Think of your environment. What are kids surrounded by as you promote reading? Is it books (I hope)? Is it comfort? Is it calm? Is it safe? Reading carries a lot of emotions and so for a child to immerse themselves in a text they need different things. Some need slight noise, others need absolute quiet. Some need to feel safe because reading does not feel safe for them, in fact, for some being surrounded by books just feels overwhelming rather than good. Some need a friend, some need a corner. Knowing how kids feel within our environment is key to helping them adapt to it in order to create a successful reading experience.

Consider asking: Where do you read best? What do you need to feel comfortable so you can focus on a book?

Think of your requirements. What are kids expected to do once they are reading? What are they expected to do while reading? So often, it is not the act of reading itself that kids want to stay clear from, it is all of the work that they have to do with it. Also, how are readers being limited? What may seem as no big deal to us, such as telling kids they can only select books that are over 100 pages or they can’t read children’s book if they are older, may be the exact obstacle that stands in the way of a reader.

Consider asking: What makes you want to stop reading? What obstacles need to be removed in order for you to have a better reading experience?

Think of your community. Do you speak books? Does your classroom or school community? When we speak book we speak in shared experiences such as read alouds or book clubs, we pass books and other texts from hand to hand, we share recommendations not because we are forced to but because we want to. We find as many people to speak books to, including all of the other adults in the building, and then we try to come up with ways to include those outside of our school community to speak books with us as well.

Consider asking: Who do you speak books with? Who are your book people?

Think of your emotional investment. We have to recognize that for some reading is a reminder of everything they have failed at, that unless we protect the hope of being readers in all kids, then we may be inflicting additional negativity when it comes to the reading experiences we create. Trust and honesty then are pillars of a functioning reading community, and that includes kids who identify as kids who hate reading to still have a space within our community. So how are all readers handled? Are their identities honored and given space to change and grow. Are the small steps toward a mores successful experience being honored or only the big ones?

Consider asking: Who are you as a reader and how do you know?

Think of your reasons for reading. Are kids reading for points? For grades? To pass levels? To avoid punishment? Or are they reading because they find true value in it? Joy even? While extrinsic motivators certainly can cause a sense of urgency within a child to read, they are often short lived, and research shows again and again that the only rewards that truly change reading behaviors long term is to have more books and time to read. Not trinkets, grades, or achievement boards. Why do we then continue to gravitate toward extrinsic motivators? Because for some kids they do work in the short-term (and yes, short-term can be a whole school year), for some kids they seem to spark a change, yet, how often do those kids then stop reading the minute the program/reward/grades are removed? How many of the kids who were motivated to read to get a high score on the test are also motivated when there is no test to be taken? We do this a lot in education; implement short term solutions that do long-term damage. So instead of going for the “quick” fix, invest in the long-term building of a reading community, which yes may mean kids are slower to change their reading identities but it should mean a more meaningful long-term change is happening.

Consider asking: Why do you read? If programs are implemented ask: How do you feel about the program? Do you plan on reading over the summer – why or why not?

Think of your timeline. Just because a child is not liking reading more half-way through the year or even by the end of the year, does not mean it has all failed. It might just mean that it is going to take a lot more time. That is why continuation of shared reading beliefs is so important for kids and for the educational communities they are are in. If there is a foundational right to self-selected, teacher-supported, independent reading in the early years then that right should be carried through until graduation. It doesn’t help if we merely implement best practices for a few years and then forget all about them as children grow older. In fact, it is awfully hard to change reading behaviors and feelings all by yourself, and it often leads to an artificial change, one that is not sustained after they leave you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but it does mean that you should be involving your broader school community in the work as well.

Consider asking: What are the reading rights of children every year?

So often when we really want kids to love reading, we forget to dig deeper into all of the components that go into creating meaningful reading experiences. In fact, this goes for so much in education. We implement and support short-term solutions that do not really change the foundational experience as much as they should and then wonder why it doesn’t work for all kids. But the change can start within the very questions we ask and we reflect on. So much of what I have learned through the years have come from our students. Have come from our team conversations. Have come from our community. So while all students deserve choice, access, time, and meaningful reading opportunities, they also deserve a safe community with an ongoing dialogue about how else their reading experiences can be shaped. And that starts with us.