being a student, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, student driven, student voice

Our Reading Conferring Sheet

One of my most successful ways in establishing trust and urgency with my 7th grade students and their reading choices is through our one-one-one conferring time. This established time happens during our independent reading time, every day for 20 minutes we start class with this self-selected reading time where every child is invited to fall into the pages of a book. It is the cornerstone of much of our continued work together and allows me a peek into who how they see themselves as readers, as well as the work they want to undertake.

Every conference is five to seven or less minutes after the initial one, that means that I usually can meet with three students every day. With class sizes ranging between 25 and 29 kids, this gives me a chance to meet with every student once every three to four weeks depending on what else I might need to help with during their independent reading time. When I taught 45 minute classes, it took longer as we only had 10 minutes of self-selected reading to start the class with.

I always take notes while I meet with them, it is to help me remember what we discussed, help me support their pathway and also keep track of who I am meeting with, I usually meet with them alphabetically because every child deserves a reading conversation and they can always see what I write down. I don’t want any child to wonder what notes I am taking and worry about that for some reason.

The conferring note-taking sheet I use changes as I think about its use further every year, so if you like this current version make sure you make a copy of it because inevitably it will change.

The whole sheet

The top portion of the sheet is dedicated to when we meet for the very first time, while my students fill in an initial reading survey which offers me a glimpse into their thoughts of who they are as readers, it is really not until I sit down with them and get to know them that we start the work. After all a survey is just an invitation but a conversation is where we can start to explore their identity if they feel comfortable to do so.

The top portion

The different components mean…

  • Confer by me or them – where would they like to have these conversations? I want to respect their boundaries and make them feel as comfortable as I can as we work to establish trust.
  • Book reading and rank – What’s the title of their current book and how would they rank the current book they are reading on a scale form 1 to 10.
  • Goal – What is the initial goal they have set for themselves as readers in the 7th grade reading challenge?
  • Why – Why have they set this goal, this is an important conversation to have because many of my students set a goal to just make the teacher happy, not a goal that they actually care about.
  • Last Year – What did their reading lives look like the previous year?
  • Progress – By the time we meet they have been working on their goal for a few days, how has it been going?
  • Hard about reading – what do they find difficult about reading?

The subsequent sections are shorter, I take fewer notes in order to be able to meet with students more frequently. Of course, if a child needs more time then we take it.

Subsequent sections

Some of the components remain the same, but the new ones are…

  • Read next – Do they have ideas of what to read next? I so often find that the vulnerable readers I teach have few ideas for what to read next and then spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to find a new read, this question will allow me a peek into their process and help them start book shopping before they finish or abandon their current book.
  • What are you working on as a reader – what is the goal they have been working on?
  • Progress – How has it been going?
  • Next step OR how is this challenging you – What are next steps they can take, what are next steps I can help them with and/or how does their current reading goal challenge them?
  • What did I learn about this person today? It is vital to me that I leave with a deeper understanding of who they are as a person and not just about reading, this question reminds me of that.

While this conferring sheet is only a small sliver of the work that happens all year as they explore and develop their reading identity further, it serves as a conversational touchpoint that reminds us of the goals we have, the work we need to do, and who we are as human beings in our classroom. While some kids are eager to share their journey as readers, others are much more hesitant or fully unwilling and I respect that as well. After all, they don’t know me yet so they have no reason to trust me. We then take the time needed to develop our relationship and continually invite them into this conversation. It takes patience and dedication but every child is worth it.

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

being a student, being a teacher, Student, student choice, writing, Writing Identity

Using Oral Storytelling Kits with Middle Schoolers

A few years ago I traveled to do a day of learning with passionate educators in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in British Columbia. After flight cancellations and changes in airports, Denise Upton, one of the district’s helping teachers, graciously agreed to pick me up and take care of me during the stay. While together, she told me excitedly about Story Workshop, oral storytelling grounded within playful literacy, that they were doing with children as part of their literacy approach. She shared all of the work that they did with students in order to give them natural materials to manipulate and create stories with before they ever sat down to write. She spoke of Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and how they were working on bringing the rich traditions of the peoples’ whose land their school buildings sat on and whose tribal members were within their school population back into the classrooms as a way to honor, teach, and preserve a broader envisioning of writing I was inspired and intrigued. Particularly, after she told me how they were using these material kits with their upper grade levels as well and that the response they had was incredibly positive. After a whirlwind visit, the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while, hoping to someday become something I wanted to do with my own 7th graders.

Well, after a year of teaching unlike any other, after too much screen and not enough togetherness. After once again teaching kids who repeatedly told me how much they hated writing, how writing was so hard, whose sentences were forced across the pages, I decided that some day was now. With a commitment to reconsider every unit and every idea we build our classroom learning on, taking our writing in a much more tactile and playful direction was exactly what I need right now to get excited about next school year. Hopefully, my incoming students will think so as well.

So with a loose idea of what it was Denise had shared with me, the seeds started to grow; what if I build some oral storytelling kits for kids to use in partnerships, trios, or by themselves before we begin to write? What if I collect natural materials for them to manipulate and play with as they share stories from their own lives and also from their imaginations? Surely someone had done this before?

The answer is yes, many have! None of my ideas shared here are really original but I got so many questions on social media when I shared the kits I was building that I figured a blog post would be nice. If you are learning about Indigenous storytelling, there are so many wonderful resources shared, such as this one. If you google “Loose Parts”, you can see a lot of information. If you follow the work of Angela Stockman, she has been sharing so many ideas for years and is truly inspirational. If you are trained within Montessori, you know this work. If you know Reggio Emilia principles, then you know these ideas. If you have worked with younger grades, you probably do this already. There are so many resources out there, so dig in and learn.

My purpose for these kits are to get kids talking more before they write out stories, whether they be stories from their own lives or stories they invent. I want them to build scenes or entire stories together or individually depending on the exploration we are doing. I want them to play with their imagination and ot be forced into written production as quickly as we have done in the past, I want them to build community through story, I want them use their hands more. I want English to have more joy and I want it to authentically fit into the identity-centered work we already do in our literacy explorations.

Building the Kits

I had a million ideas right away and needed a way to ground them so I started by focusing on ideas for what to put in them and also building the kits to give me a more tangible sense of what it would look like. I hate so much that educators are almost always forced to purchase things out of their own pocket, so I spent school budget money to purchase the toolboxes. I bought two different kinds, five altogether, so that I can share them between tables – I typically teach 28 students at a time, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough kits to share materials between 10 different groups if need be. I also needed the kits to not take up too much space in our classroom, be easy to store and move, as well as have different size compartments. The first kind I bought was this one and the second kind was this one.

All the boxes are removable in both kits so we can spread them out on the different tables as needed.

Once I had the boxes, then I got more serious with my materials. I had a few guidelines I wanted to follow:

  • Natural materials whenever possible
  • Different sizes of things to use
  • Material that doesn’t necessarily look like “one” thing in order for them to be used for many things
  • Low cost and easy to replace

Then I wrote a list, there are so many lists floating on the internet but I posted mine to Instagram and got even more ideas as well as a huge “Duh!” moment. Notice on my original list, I have nuts on it. That is not going to work at all for some of my students due to their allergies. After a helpful educator made me see the light, I updated my original list.

I knew that if I felt like spending a ton of money, I easily could just order all of these things but I don’t want to. So, instead I turned to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and asked if anyone had any materials they could donate. So what you are looking at in the kits above, almost everything is donated from kind strangers or friends who happened to have materials lying around. Amazing!

So right now in the kits I have:

  • Seashells, all sorts, all sizes.
  • Pine cones – I need to gather more.
  • Small popsicle sticks – they are pointy and I don’t know if I love that.
  • Wine corks that do not have wine labels on them.
  • Small cork buttons.
  • Wood buttons – I bought a giant bag off the internet.
  • Wool yarn in different colors – I have cut lengths of string in a variety of lengths.
  • White rocks.
  • Feathers – I think I may add more of these.

I also purchased felt mats in green, gray, and brown for the kids to use as a background. They can use more than one if we have enough left over, again I went with natural tones as a way to center us in nature even if the story takes place in a different setting.

Things I would still like to add:

  • Glass beads of some sort
  • Beach pebbles for more color
  • More cork
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Wood slices
  • Acorns
  • Large popsicle sticks

Ideas for use

So while the kits themsleves are a lovely work in progress and bring me happiness right now as I plan, what matters more than the stuff in them is making space for them to be used with our students. So as I planned for the first two weeks of instruction (I do this in order to be able to walk away for awhile, not because I want to work all summer), I planned with the kits in mind.

My two week plan can be viewed here, but please know that it is so much a work in progress, that some of the ideas in it are my own and others are based off of the incredible work others have kindly shared, and that I have given credit to those whose work I am borrowing from or copying. Please feel free to also borrow or use my ideas, just give credit. The kits will be utilized, hopefully, on the third day of school in an activity where students continue to think of the stories they carry and start to build scenes from their own lives that they then, in turn, share with their peers at their tables. After their initial appearance, they will continue to be integrated into our work as we start our first longer writing exploration; personal narrative. Students can use events from their own lives or springboard events from their own lives into a fictional story.

I also want us to think of how the kits may help us work within the emotions we have tied up with our writing, how we can use them to go deeper into story and how stories can weave us together even when we don’t see eye to eye. I am hoping that as we explore our own identities and how that makes us view and react to others, these tangible items will ground us and make us feel safer within our burgeoning community. I am hoping that having these tactile explorations will bring more playfulness into our classroom, as well as more joy. We will also create expectations of how to use the kits with each other. My main focus for that is to be respectful of the material and of what is shared within their stories, but I will ask the students to also think of how to use the materials, how to clean up in order to preserve the kits, and how to work together. It really all ties into the community work we do throughout the year.

My own children helped me eagerly build the kits and have since then also used them. It has been amazing to see them build scenes, stories, and whole worlds using just these materials and then walking me through their stories that they now see so clearly. Even my son who has repeatedly that he hates writing has been using the kits and telling me his stories. I hope I will see the same willingness to try in my 7th graders.

So there you have, my entry in oral storytelling kits. I will share more ideas as I use them with students, but for now, the kits are being built, the ideas are coming together, and the work is just beginning. Have you used kits like this before? Do you have any ideas or questions? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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

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

When They Abandon Book After Book After Book

When a child abandons one book after Design

“….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. And the pandemic shutdown didn’t help their habits in any way.

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

And it is not for lack of trying. Many of my students will pick up a book to try, some gladly, some more reluctantly, but many simply don’t find that right book. That book that transports them further into the pages than they have ever been. And I see it in my own reading habits that seem to have been altered by the pandemic. My attention span is shortened, my stamina for making it through slower part is nonexistent at times. I look at my own shelves and see more work rather than adventures waiting to happen. Books are no longer calling my name as loudly as my TV or gaming console.

So how do you re-establish, protect or create the joy of reading, when you really need students to experience a whole book from start to finish? When you know that somehow our readers need to stick with a book but you don’t want it to be out of force because that typically doesn’t change habits long-term but instead just cements the pre-existing tenuous relationship to reading?

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 grab and go, often a new book every day or every couple of days. They go into it thinking that as long as they grab a book then that is all they need to do right now or that is all the have space for right now. And yet, in this hurried book shopping, often with pressure from the teachers in the room giving limited time comes one of our missed opportunities. When book shopping is not given enough time, the conversations that need to happen with our serial book abandoners have no room to take hold and grow. It doesn’t allow them to leisurely browse, to flip through the pages, to consider things like the length of the book, the font, the text size, whether it is a stand alone or a series. They haven’t reflected much on their likes or dislikes and what draws them into stay for longer periods of time. And so when their book shopping results in yet another less than stellar book, it just adds further proof to the notion that all books are boring, that reading sucks.

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 pace?  What do they abandon?  Is there a pattern?  Are they aware of their own habits at all?  Have they had pleasurable reading experiences at any point? If yes, what was it? If no, why not? 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? Getting kids to recognize that book selection carries many components starts with a reflection of self and where they are on their journey.

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?  How do they browse a book to try it on? Thinking of all of this can help them with their next selection. COVID has added an additional layer of complication to this and so we have been browsing books by me pulling them out and acting as concierge of sorts, spreading opened books out in the room so they can read the blurbs, see the font and text size, helping them glance without touching. Opening up our room to more book discussion and recognizing where everyone is on their journey. Slowing down and making space for all of this may seem like wasted time but it is exactly what needs to happen.

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 can track this on this form or we can simply discuss when we have our reading conferences,  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. We often then set goals together, if they are in a pattern to only give a book 20 pages then how long do they want to try this one. Looking at their own patterns and habits help them discover where they can tweak and try new things.

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. I have also had kids successfully read two books at the same time, declaring that when one book got boring they simply switched to the other one. This ping-pong between books may seem counterproductive but for some of my most set in their ways abandoners, it changed their reading.

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 or determine how many pages they mus read, and yet, I worry about the longevity of these solutions.  What are they really teaching?  So instead, we must 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 wondering how developed their abilities to choose the correct book are.  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. And so realizing too that we may not see the fruits of the labor we invest into our students’ reading lives come to fruition is also part of the journey we need to be on. Because recognizing that when a child abandons book after book after book is not a weakness but rather an opportunity to study and reflect further on their journey as readers invites us into this work more delicately. It reminds us at the core that we all carry emotions within us when we read or not read and that for many what may seem as an easy decision or a cop out is instead a way to shield themselves from more negative experiences.

I know that this year, I will once again be transformed as a teacher, I already have been.  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 203 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.

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

being a student, being a teacher, being me, student choice, student voice

Disrupting Our Assumptions About Our Own Failures

Our hurry Design

I have been thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves. The constant negative self-talk we, as educators, can quickly sink into due to the supposed reactions of children we teach. How we can spiral so easily into defeatist thinking. Into thinking we would be better off quitting, or surely, everyone else is doing a much better job at teaching than we are. That has led us to question the path we felt so sure of before a global pandemic hit.

It’s easy right now to fall into this trap. After all, with pandemic teaching many of us have grieved the loss of normal human proximity to our students. Unsure of how to connect through a screen, a camera that is turned off, a silent chat, a muted microphone, or a face covered by a mask, 6 feet away. Unsure of our safety as we crave normalcy in a world that is anything but. And yet we have risen to the occasion, isn’t that what we always do, tirelessly inventing ways to engage, reinventing the ways that used to work, we have reached out, we have shared ideas, we have searched for pieces we can bring in in order for us to feel a bit more effective. And yet, the weight of defeat has also been crushing at times.

When that learning experience we worked so hard on falls flat. Again.

When more kids turn their camera off. Again.

When the emails we send offering our support remain unanswered. Again.

When rather than engage we are met with shrugs. Again.

When the space for discussion remains silent. Again.

When COVID robs us of one-on-one conferring, small group work, or huddled together learning opportunities.

We carry our defeats in the back of our minds, the assumptions of perhaps how much we have failed, how terrible we are at teaching this year, death by a thousand cuts.

Because what has shifted in Covid teaching is one of the biggest tools we rely on; the small body cues that shift our direction, the facial expressions, and the feel of the room. The small signs that tell us to change, to go a certain way and not another, that allows us to read the energy and transform our teaching on the spot. When met with silence and blank screens or stares it is hard to know which direction to change to.

It doesn’t have to be lost though, it just needs to be transformed. I write this blog post to remind myself of tools I already use, that give me the answers I have been searching. Because my teaching life has been riddled with assumptions, and often negative ones of my own success this year, despite the evidence to the opposite. Perhaps yours has too?

So suppose we remember to ask instead of assume.

Suppose we take a moment and create a survey asking how we can grow and be better. What is working? What is not? What do you need from me?

Suppose we do it after every unit or even once a week. Suppose we believe that survey rather than our negative self-talk.

After all, all of the assumptions we make are more than likely not accurate.

I have been doing so on a regular basis, nothing new in my practices, after all, centering the needs of students based on their individual reactions is what I have been pursuing for years. Centering the identity of each child as they take control of their learning is the work I have been sharing for a long time.

And yet, my practices got lost this year. I forgot to ask as often as I should have. And I didn’t believe the results when they came in, assuming (there it is again) that kids were just being nice because they saw how hard I was trying.

Yet, if I look at the survey responses, the path forward is right there. The answers I haven’t been able to see as easily because I haven’t been in the room with my students for 330 days.

The questions have been simple. What is working? What is not? How can we make this experience better for you? What do you wish I knew? And then ideas to see whether we should change course. Offer up opportunities to do group or solo learning. Keeping a “Anything else you want to tell me option” just in case.

The answers have been straightforward, “I like our unit…No need to change anything…I’m having fun…” Ideas have also been shared, “Can we work together….can we have more work time….can we split into groups?” All statements I would not have thought possible if I believed my own assumptions.

And they have bolstered our path. I have tweaked and changed the way I teach based not on facial cues which easily get lost in virtual teaching or behind a mask but rather in the words they share. I have asked for their feedback when we are together and we have changed course mid-morning. I have put voice to the questions that run through my mind where I would normally find the answers in their behaviors rather than needing an explicit conversation about it.

And so I wanted to share the importance of asking once again. Because perhaps, like me, you had forgotten the power of a simple survey. Of relying on students to guide us when we feel we are teaching blindly. On looking at all of the cues that we can receive from other ways than those we traditionally rely on. There are many questions you can ask, I recommend starting with those that you have made the strongest assumptions about, such as whether kids care about what they are learning, how to change your teaching, why they choose to not share in some way in class.

Then believe their answers. Learn from them. Take the positive as the boost you may need, and the negative or neutral as ideas to move forward. Repeat as needed.

We can think we know all of the ways we are failing as teachers, all of the ways we are not good enough. Or we can ask. Base our answers on actual reality. Engage students in our planning, our tweaking, in the shaping of our learning community much like we always should be doing.

After all, kids are experts too, we just need to remember that.

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

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, new year, PD, student choice, Student Engagement, student voice

Final Free PD Masterclass: Getting Ready for Going Back – How Do We Learn Best?

This summer has been one of worry. Of anxiousness. Of too much time spent thinking about possibilities that seemed to shift every day. Of waiting for answers. Of too many times trying to not think about the fall. But the countdown to go back to school has started for many of us, the future, while still uncertain, has at least been hinted at, and I still have so many questions.

A few weeks ago we were told we would be fully virtual for the first quarter and with that information I knew that I could stay overwhelmed and anxious or I could move into solution mode. To take it day by day, rather than try to figure out my whole quarter; focus on the first week, and then have an idea for what might come after. It has helped calm me as I think of all of the unknowns. (Not that I am feeling calm by any means).

And so, as I move ideas into action, it is time to invite you into the thoughts and discussion in my final masterclass of the summer: Masterclass – How Do We Learn Best – Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice. While some of the underlying research and ideas will not have changed from May when I offered it last, I have updated it with ideas of how I plan on establishing conditions to build community, to determine how we can feel safe with one another, how I will embed choice and space for students to speak up and change our time together as we start fully online. This class dives into why it is vital that we center the voices and identities of students as we plan on our instruction and interrogate the systems we have in place. It is meant to inspire, spark discussions, and also offer practical ideas. The accompanying office hours will allow you to ask follow up questions, to share your ideas, and also to have a collective of experts help you with your problems of practice.

So join me for this free PD session offered through CUE and sponsored by Microsoft, just hit the “Join this Session” at the time listed and it will allow you access. Spread the word if you think this masterclass will be helpful to others. This will also be the final free PD I offer for a while as the school year looms large and I have to balance the virtual schooling of my own four kids with the needs of my 80+ students while also trying to keep my sanity.

The class sessions will be:

  • August 13th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 20th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 27th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST

The office hour sessions will be:

  • August 15th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 16th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 23rd 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 30th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST

Don’t forget to check out the other incredible free PD sessions as well that are still being offering during the month of August.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

being a student, Literacy, new year, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student-Led, tools

A Work in Progress: Digital Notebooks for Reading Identity Development

Just the front cover, to see the whole notebook, press this link

While my district gathers information as we try to determine what the fall can look like my wheels have been spinning. While I may not know whether I will be in a hybrid setting or completely virtual, I know that it will not be school as usual and so a huge question I am wrestling with is how do I translate what we do as a community face-to-face into this new mode of teaching? How do I continue to center our classroom on reading and writing identity when we won’t have the same opportunity for daily discussion and community exploration? When I won’t be right there to kid-watch and adjust my instruction and care of them accordingly?

Every year our readers’ notebooks become a trusted place for many of our students to reflect on who they are as readers, how reading impacts them, and how reading fits into their lives. It is all-year work that ties in with the overall focus on identity, how they see the world, how the world sees them, and how our lens of the world impacts our action. It is at the heart of what we do and yet, this year, I don’t know when I will be with them to do this work. How do we still do meaningful work in our notebooks without kids having to upload every image into our learning hub, how do we center our work in our identity and see how we grow throughout the year?

Enter digital notebooks which really are just fancy templates to make slide shows look like notebooks as my husband pointed out. And yet within the fancy template also comes a familiarity. These templates look like the notebooks we would use with kids, they can be organized in ways that will hopefully make it easier for kids to navigate the work and will ground our work for the year whether we are face-to-face or online.

And so last night, I created a digital notebook for our reading identity work based on a template created by Laura Cahill and while it is a work in progress I wanted to share it here as I know a lot of people are trying to wrap their heads around this work as well. As I write this, my former students are assessing it to give me feedback, I have also asked for feedback from other educators. I know it could be better, I know that collaboration will always improve my teaching.

In this work, I also know that I need to be careful with my students’ reading lives. That year after year they tell me how much they hate to write about their reading, how when we attach to-do’s to their reading it becomes a chore rather than a journey. That when we are constantly asking kids to prove that they are reading they start to not read. This is not anything new, I have written and shared the words of my students for years and it grounds me in every decision I make as the teacher who starts our journey and guides it throughout our year.

With this in mind, I had components in my instruction that I wanted to address as I created this tool.

How will I support kids through this tool? Each component is a separate lesson that we place the foundation for in the beginning of our year together and then return to throughout the year. I have written about all of them on this blog throughout the years as well as gathered all of my thoughts in my book Passionate Readers. So when I ask students to use their to-be-read list or reflect on who they are as a reader, they are not going into this unsupported, instead we weave lessons throughout these conversations such as about our reading journey, which emotions tied in with reading we carry, and many other things. It is also so much bigger than this notebook, this is work embedded in the conversations we have, the media we surround ourselves with, the quiet reflections, the surveys, the connections, the trust, the community, and everything else that we do with the realizations and questions we have. Please do not think that this notebook is all we do or encapsulates all of the work that happens throughout our year, it can’t be and it won’t be.

How will I know whether they are actually reading? I won’t. That comes down to trust, where they are on their journey, as well as which role reading plays in their life. There is no single tool that is worth me implementing for all kids that may not cause more long-term damage to their reading identity. When we are face-to-face, I usually have kids sign in for attendance with their page number that day, this allows me to get a quick glance at their reading that then is deepened in our reading conferences, that is not a fully viable option this year. So instead, the “Accountability” tab offers them an option to choose a way to show me when they have finished a book, and the “Reading data” tab gives them a way to keep track of what they are reading. I will be stressing to kids that their reading data is not meant to capture every minute or page read like a traditional reading log would, but instead to let them give a broad statement about their reading life the previous week. It is the two sections in particular I am still not loving, that will probably change as the year gets going and that I will be keeping a deep eye on as far as potential harm to reading habits. I also know that some kids will not want to use this reading notebook at all, that they would rather refuse than engage, so then that will simply be where we start our conversation. I will be utilizing reading check-in conferences as well, I am just not sure what they will look like yet since I don’t know my school year will look like. I will share my ideas for that when I have them.

How can we get ideas for what to read? Book shopping and surrounding kids with books is a cornerstone of what we do and kids need more than audio and digital books to really continue their reading journey. I have already written about ideas of how to help kids get books in their hands if in a hybrid or virtual learning environment and I will be sharing more ideas as I plan with our incredible librarian and other colleagues for when we know more. I know I will be doing live book talks whenever possible, but also dedicating time in our instruction for kids to book browse virtually, as well as continue to suggest books whenever I can to individual kids. Another idea that I am loving is that when students pick up or drop off books, we add extra books to the bag that they may also like, so that instead of just one or two books, kids get a bag of five or so.

How can students set reading goals that matter to them? For too long, I set the reading goals for my students. Luckily, I saw the light several years ago and I haven’t looked back since. Having students set meaningful reading goals, though, takes time. Many kids, even kids who have fantastic relationships to reading, want to hurry through the goal part and set it just so their teacher will check it off on their to-do-list. This is why setting a 6-week goal at a time and following it up with conversation will be so important in our year together. This is why our goal is not just focused on quantity but habits. Yes, they should read more than they have in the past if they can, but “more” encompasses many different things not just quantity. Kids can use the same goal for more than one round of 6-weeks as needed, some of my students work on the same goal all year. I just want to ensure that we have built in reflection time for the goals and will add dates when I know what my school year calendar looks like.

How will they develop their thinking about who they are as a reader? “Who are you as a reader?” is a question we have used for a few years now in our work with students. At first, many of my students have no idea what to answer, they don’t know necessarily what the question means or are not sure what I am looking for in their answer. That is why this is a year-long reflection question and one that we unpack together, especially because reading identity really just equals identity and so when I ask who are you as a reader what I am really asking is who are you? Since trust is something we build, I see a significant change in students’ responses throughout our year together.

While this is not a finished tool, it won’t be finished until we start using it because my new students will surely impact the work we do and how we do it. For now, this is my best draft and so I share it with the world in the sense of collaboration. That also means that you can certainly make a copy of it and use it, but please do not sell it or forget attribution. This is the work that I along with others have developed over several years. I am grateful that Laura Cahill shared the template for free, so this work is shared, as always, in the same spirit. Feel free to leave questions or comments for me.

To see the full reading identity notebook, click this link.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in a virtual and hybrid model throughout the summer and would love to help others as well.