Be the change, being a student, Literacy, Student dreams

Disrupting the Narrative in Small Ways

I had the chance to sit with a few of my brilliant colleagues this week to plan our upcoming units together. Count this as another reason of why I love working for Oregon School District; the chance to get a sub so that we can collaborate and actually have time together to share ideas, push our learning, and try to craft meaningful experiences.

One thing that struck me among many was the careful selection of the types of materials we were using to illustrate teaching points. As an example, in our upcoming TED talk unit, where we hope students will not only deepen their passion for something but also be able to share that passion with others, we searched for TED talks that not only illustrate the teaching point such as engaging openings or illustrating a certain type of through-line but also spoke to potential social issues that our students are aware of in different levels, meaning some live it and some are not even aware it is an issue.

This purposeful selection of the materials we use to teach something is a big attempt for us to not just teach kids the “standards” but also expand their understanding of the world around them and hopefully find something to become invested in, to disrupt the privileged narrative that many of us live in. Yes, our students need opportunities to grow as students of reading, writing, speaking, and everything else that is involved in their education, but they also need so much more than that; to become (more) aware of the issues that face us all.

And so when I think of disrupting the narrative, of increasing social awareness within the classroom, it certainly is in the large units we plan, how we treat kids, and also the educational framework we place them in. But it is also in the day-to-day, the videos we show of speakers, the read alouds we use, the mentor texts we share, the images, and the quotes we use. Whose stories are we constantly framing our learning in? Whose experiences are the dominant narrative? Are we embracing the small opportunities that naturally present themselves within our classroom to question, to push thinking, to urge students to inform themselves so that they can formulate (better educated) opinions? And more importantly, are we asking students to take on the hard work of noticing? Of questioning? Of changing the world that they function in? Are we giving them the opportunity to explore the perimeters they work within in order to question that very same framework?

When we plan our lessons, we have so many opportunities to make the work bigger than the learning target we are trying to reach. We need to be aware though of our choices and then push ourselves to expand those choices. Whose stories are we upholding? Whose stories are forgotten?

PS: I wrote about the text selections disruption process we use more purposefully here.

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.     

being a student, writing

Reclaiming Handwriting

Every year it seems as if spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have become a little harder for students to master.  Despite the great lessons they have had before.  Despite the repeated instruction, reminders, and opportunities in previous year’s classes, the fundamentals of writing just seem harder to master.

Some might say that it is not a big deal.  That most written work doesn’t require handwriting anyway.  That handwritten work is slowly dying and so why waste time worrying about things that can be auto-corrected.  And sure, computers are definitely the way of the future, the way much of our society already is, and yet, there is still a place for handwriting.  For sitting down with a paper and pen(cil) and doing the work.  Even if kids choose to not do so on their own.  And while, I am a fan of spellcheck, Grammarly, and all of the autocorrections Google Docs does for us, we kept wondering as a team whether these tools were part of the problem.  Perhaps because we have moved so much of our writing to the computer, kids are not naturally noticing their own patterns?  Not noticing when they don’t capitalize on their own name, the beginnings of sentences, proper nouns because the computer does it for them?  Perhaps punctuation is being added at the end because it is easy to do on a computer and so it is missed while writing?    The only way to find out was to try to integrate more handwriting, see if it would make a difference.

So this year, every single time we do our free writes in our writer’s notebook, they are by hand.  Typing is no longer a choice unless it is a required component of an IEP.  Kids are asked to grab a pencil, we have plenty, and to formulate their thoughts on paper.  In the beginning, there were groans, complaints of how their hand hurt, which I get, how they preferred to type.  But we stuck with it.  Asking them to create in pencil, revise in pen, get a smelly sticker if you put in the effort (whatever they think effort might be).

And slowly, we are seeing a change.  More punctuation, for sure.  A greater awareness when sentences don’t make sense.  More capitalization.  The small components that seem to be needed as students grow as better writers.  Better letter formation as kids realize that they can control their handwriting because they need to.  We don’t assess their free writes, they are for them to play with writing, not for us to create a grade, but we do ask them to pay attention to the basics:  Does it make sense?  Did you capitalize?  Did you use punctuation?  But that is not the only change.  We are seeing more writing.  More ideas coming quicker.  Better ideas being developed.  Kids wanting to share their stories, their thoughts.  Kids experimenting with the way they write and what they write about.  An added bonus, but an important one, as we tackle all of the emotions that sometimes stop kids from feeling like writers.

Typed writing is still a part of our class.  When we do large projects, when we research and such.  And yet, there needs to be a space for the written word by hand as well.  As more and more districts race toward one-to-one, I worry about the effect of eyesight with the increase in screen time, I worry about the lost instructional time every time a child has to log in, find the website, and the internet is slow.  I worry about how kids share that sometimes staring at a blank document is more overwhelming for some of our kids than a blank piece of paper.  So as my students tell me time and time again; everything in moderation, and that includes working on a computer.

For now, we will continue to sharpen our pencils every day, share a prompt, and ask the kids to fall into their writing.  To simply try to write something, even if it is not very good.  To focus on reclaiming this part of themselves that they may have become disconnected from in rush to computers.  Settle in, settle down, get to writing…

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

being a student, being a teacher, being me, writing

With Permission

We are about to write in class.  15 minutes of free write await.  I have a prompt from the amazing The Creativity Project, I am ready with my own pencil, my notebook, the document camera.  And yet…the hesitation from students is almost palpable.  So many of them already feeling defeated.  Feeling like this will be hard.  Asking if they can read instead of write.  Despite all of their years of great teaching, of great moments with writing, so many of our kids still feel like writing is something they will never like, nor is it something they will ever master.

On our wall hangs our writing rights poster, the rights we created as a writing community at the beginning of the year.  The rights that surround us as we play with writing, as we develop our writing voice.  And yet, something is woefully missing from it.

So I add it quickly.

“You have the right to write “bad” writing.”

And I tell my students this…writing doesn’t have to be great.  Writing doesn’t even have to be good.  You have the right to write bad stories, to write poems that you never want to share.  To write a few sentences that are so cringy that you can’t believe you came up with them.  You have the right to start, to stop, to think, to write whatever pops into your mind.  Not because it is any good but because you are simply writing.

And then I share the beginning of a story I wrote that morning with my first-hour class.  A story that I knew was terrible as I wrote it, filled with cliches, overused plot points and weird sentences, but U was tired and distracted and so that was all I could think of.  I read it aloud, laughing as I go.  At first, I can see the skeptical looks – this isn’t that bad, Mrs. Ripp – but when they get to the genie in the bottle part, they are laughing too.  As I finish, I shut my notebook and declare that I will never continue that story but at least I wrote.

One child yells, “But you write books, Mrs. Ripp, how can you write bad stories?”

“My book took me a year to write..” I answer honestly because it’s true, my books take a long time because I wrote a lot of stuff that never gets published.

We turn back to the prompt.  I remind them to sink into their writing, to simply write something, using the prompt or not, and off they go.  Every single child writing something.  Every child trying.  Not because they are all trying to write something powerful but because they are reminded once again that writing doesn’t always have to be everything we love about writing.  Something you just have to write badly and be okay with that.

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

 

being a student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

When They Abandon Every Single Book

White,  Free Image

“….well, I didn’t finish any books last year…”She turns to me and smiles.

“What do you mean?”  I ask, not sure I have heard her correctly, after all, I know what amazing work they do in 6th grade.

“….I just stopped reading them, I didn’t finish them.  I got bored…”

She puts the book down that she is abandoning and starts to look for a new one.

I love book abandonment.  It is something I preach should be a taught skill to all kids, a right even.  If you don’t like the book, don’t read it, it’s as simple as that when it comes to building a love of reading.  And yet, this year, we have been exposed to a new level of book abandonment.  A whole group of kids who never, according to their own recollection, finished a book of their own choosing last year.  Not one, not two kids, but many.  And they really don’t like reading.

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

So how do you protect or create the joy of reading, when you really need students to experience a whole book from start to finish?

In conferring with many of my students, the obvious place to start is their book selection process.  When I ask them how they find their next read, many of them confess to only doing a few things, mainly look at the cover and then start it.  They haven’t taken the book for a test run, haven’t considered the length of the book, they don’t really know their likes and dislikes and so when the book turns out to be other than what they expected, they abandon it.

So reading identity is once again where we start.  How well do they know themselves as readers?  What do they like to read?  What is their reading rate?  What do they abandon?  Is there a pattern?  Are they aware of their own habits at all?  I start by interviewing them and taking notes, then I also have them reflect on themselves as readers and we track this information.  I also check in with them more, how are they doing with the book?  How are they liking it?

Book selection comes next.  What are their book shopping habits?  We refer to the lesson we did at the beginning of the year and help them book shop.  Who are their book people?  How do they find books to read?  What are their preferences?  What is on their to-be-read list already?  Thinking of all of this can help them with their next selection.

Track their abandonment.  While all students are expected to write down finished or abandoned titles, we are finding that many of our serial abandoners do not, so we will help them do that.  This is so they can start to see their own patterns; when did they abandon a book, why did they abandon it?  How far were they?  What type of book was it?  What strategies did they use before they abandoned it?   They will track this on this form.  This is only something we will do with these serial abandoners, not students who abandon a book once in a while.  What can they discover about themselves as they look at this information?  I also know that some of our serial book abandoners are not on our radar yet, so this survey will help us identify them so we can help.

Teach them stamina strategies.  Many of our students give up on books the minute they slow down or “get boring” as they would say.  They don’t see the need for slower parts to keep the story going.  They also, often, miss the nuances of these “slower” parts and don’t see the importance of them.  So a few stamina strategies we will teach are asking why the story is slowing down and paying attention to what they have just figured out about the characters.  Another is to skim the “boring” parts for now so they can get back to the story.  While this is a not a long-term solution, it does help keep them in the book and hopefully also helps them see that the book does pick up again.  They can also switch the way they interact with the text, perhaps they can read these sections aloud, or listen to an audio version for those parts.

Realize we are in this for the long haul.  Too often our gut reaction is to restrict.  To select books for the students to read no matter what.  To set up rules where they are not allowed to abandon the next book they select, and yet, I worry about the longevity of these solutions.  What are they really teaching?  So instead, we dedicate the time and patience it takes to truly change these habits.  We surround students with incredible books, we book talk recommendations, we give them time to read, and we give them our attention.  We continue to let them choose even if we are questioning their abilities to choose the correct book.  Becoming a reader who reads for pleasure, or who at least can get through a book and not hate it, does not always happen quickly.  We have to remember this as we try to help students fundamentally change their habits with books.  Restricting them in order to help them stick with a book can end up doing more damage than good as students don’t get to experience the incredible satisfaction of having selected a book and then actually finishing it.

I know that this year, I will once again be transformed as a teacher.  That these kids that I am lucky enough to teach will push me in ways I haven’t been pushed before.  My hope, what I really hope happens, is for every child to walk out of room 235d thinking; perhaps reading is not so bad after all.  Perhaps there are books in the world for me.  A small hope, but a necessary one.

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, being a student, being a teacher, books, Literacy, Reading Identity

On Boy Books and Girl Books

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I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books.  And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.

I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.

When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.”  That a boy will not like a book about feelings.  That a boy only wants books that have action.  That have other boys in it.  That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.

As if every single boy thinks alike.

When written like this it is easy to see the problem; when we assume that there is such a thing as books for girls and books for boys, we are continuing a tired and sexist narrative that has only furthered the power inequity that already exists within our society.  We are creating a new generation of mansplaining, of groupthink, of toxic masculinity.  Of girls only liking one thing, and boys liking another.  Of men and women being from different planets.  Of readers being shaped more by their assigned gender than their actual interests.

We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about girls because they see little value in what girls do.

We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about feelings because they are somehow above all of that.

We are furthering the stereotype of what it means to be a boy which translates into what it means to be a man and not seeing the incredible harm in that.

Because what about the boys that love a good tearjerker?  What about the boys that don’t like sports?  What about the boys that love to experience the emotional development of a character?  What about the boys that love a great female lead character?  What about the girls who don’t fit into the opposite boxes?  Do they not deserve to have books suggested to them, no matter the gender of the protagonist?

And I think of my own children, my three girls and one boy, whose reading interests are as varied as their personalities.  Sure there are Minecraft books being read by Oskar, but not until Thea reads them first.  Sure there are unicorn books with pink sparkly covers being read by Augustine but not until Oskar sees if the unicorn gets rescued first.  I would hate for anyone to assume that they knew who they were as readers based only on their gender.

So when we claim that a read-aloud featuring a female protagonist will likely not catch the attention of our boy readers, we have whittled the male reading identity down to practically nothing.  Males – good.  Sports – good.  Action – good. We have diminished what it means to be a reader who develops with the books they read.  We have diminished what it means to identify as male.  We have diminished their chance to learn from a perspective that may at first seem foreign but in the end may just be more similar than they ever thought.  We have effectively boxed our boys in only to then wonder why they may act a certain way.

How often does this thinking then translate into the very books we recommend to the boys we teach?  To the girls?  How often do our assumptions about their needs as a reader surpass what they actually need?  How often does this translate into the read alouds we choose?  The texts we bless by spending our time on them as a community?

And I realize that I don’t get asked the opposite very often.  That often when I am asked for a recommendation for a female reader, the gender of the protagonist is hardly ever brought up.  That instead the most common descriptor is a strong story development, a story that will hold their attention.  Why do our boys not deserve the same?

So I am wondering if we for once and for all, can we all agree that there is no such thing as a girl or a boy book?  That kids need to be exposed to characters that inspire them, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to characters that will expand their worldviews and invite them into new worlds that they knew little of before, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to great books, without us adults thinking that they will only read a certain type of book based on what we see in front of us.

We must give them a chance to experience more than what they are.  Books allow us to do just that, but not if they never read them.  Not if we never recommend them.  That’s on us, which means we can change it, so let’s do that starting now.

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.

 

 

being a student, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Reader Identity and Its Importance

I was asked recently why the need to focus on reader identity.  Won’t that develop normally if we just focus on skills and all of the things we do within our reading communities?  In the past, I would have said, maybe, perhaps reader identity develops no matter what we do, now, however, my answer would be a little more complicated than that.

Yes, reader identity develops in whichever way with whatever we do in our classrooms.  This is how we end up with the difference in readers.  Those who love to read, those who tolerate it as a means to a purpose, and those who cannot wait to tell us just how much they hate reading.

But to develop a meaningful reader identity, one that goes beyond the obvious questions of are you a reader or not, we have to have teaching opportunities where students can explore what their reading identity is to begin with and then chart a specific course to further explore it and grow.

That means we spend an awful lot of time self-reflecting, discussing and also setting goals so that every child has a chance to answer thoughtfully, who are they as a reader.  So that every child can leave our year together having a fuller sense of what it means for them to be a reader, particularly outside of school and our set reading environments.  This discovery is what creates lifelong readers, but it won’t just happen for all if we don’t make it a point to actually bring it into our teaching.  If we don’t actually plan for the development of all reading identities within our time together.

So where do you start?  Well, I start with a survey (it can be found here or here ) not just so I can get to know the kids but so that they can start getting to know themselves.

Then we confer: what are their reading goals?  No longer do I set the goals for kids, instead they reflect on the relationship and needs they have within reading and then set a goal.  One that is meaningful and personal to their growth.  Some need a lot of help uncovering what that is and others seem to know right away what they need to work on.  We use the 7th-grade reading challenge to help them goal set as we discuss that for some quantity of reading is a great goal, while for others it is much more about habits and developing who they are.

And then we start the work.  The reading, the lessons, the experiences that create our reading community.  Woven throughout all of that though is the need to go back and reflect on the goal they have set and to help them process their own growth.

So every time I confer.

So every time we reflect.

So every chance we get, I ask, “What are you working on as a reader?” and let their answers guide our conversation.

Those who set a goal just to set a goal are quickly helped to try to come up with a goal that is more meaningful to them.  Those who set a goal that doesn’t make sense are quickly prompted to dig deeper.  And those who set a goal that they have little way to reach on their own, well, that’s where our teaching comes in.

It is within the constant conversation always circling back to the question, “Who are you as a reader?” that our students can start to piece together their answer. That they can start to understand the identity that they carry as a reader.   That answer goes beyond their book likes, their reading minutes, their skills.  It speaks to how they handle books, now just how much they read, but when they read, how they select what to read, and what they do with it once they are done.  How they view reading within the broader scope of their lives and who they will be as readers one they leave us.

So whenever I am asked, why bother with student reading identity, I think of the students who started out simply telling me that reading was not for them but left us knowing so much more.  That reading was for them if they found the right book, had the right place and took the time to read.  That reading was for them because they had found meaningful moments within the pages of a book the previous years.  That they perhaps would even consider reading outside of class now.  This is where we see the change.  This is where we do the work.

PS:  Yup, I am still stepping back and doing less.  This post felt like I should write it so I did.  Who knows when the next one will come.