being a student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement

Creating Foundational Rights for Students Within Personalized Instruction.

A conversation I find myself having often with other educators is just what to do next for curriculum. How do we get everyone on the same page? How do we ensure that what we do is actually happening in different classrooms with different teachers? How do we ensure that the very kids we are entrusted with have somewhat similar experiences within our classrooms all while protecting the art of teaching?

You may think that textbooks with daily lessons are the answer, and for many it appears to be, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As Dr. Allington reminds us, “…no
research existed then, or exists now, to suggest that maintaining fidelity to a core reading program will provide effective reading lessons.” (What Really Matters When Working With STruggling Readers, 2013) . Yet, fidelity has become a major selling point as we see many programs being touted to schools who are unsure what to do next. Fidelity has become a point of judgment; how closely aligned are we? Do we use the same texts? The same worksheets? The same words in order to ensure the same experience for all? I was once told by a well-meaning but ill-advised administrator that “I better be on the very same page of the textbook as my colleague next door” as he passed from classroom to classroom.

And yet if there is one thing I know about teaching, it is that our kids are not the same. From class to class, from year to year, the kids have needed different things. Have needed educators that are adept at adapting, that are unafraid to try something new, that know their research, but also know to seek out others for more ideas. Who know their own areas of growth so that they can provide better and better experiences year after year. Sure, use a program to start you off, but don’t forget about the very art of teaching that asks to be responsive to the very kids we teach, that require us to be disruptors of inequitable practices that have shaped the educational experience of so many.

I teach in a district that puts an incredible amount of trust in their teachers and fellow staff who support our students. Whose very core of teaching is autonomy, responsibility, and professional development. Who believes in developing teacher craft so that students can be vested in classroom experiences that speak to them personally and not just whatever the pacing or curriculum guide has told them to care about. Who believes in disrupting inequitable education experiences and providing the room to do so, supporting each teacher on their journey. But how do you then ensure that students aren’t unknowing members of an educational lottery where their growth is based on the experience and know-how of a single teacher? How can you create room for your teachers to personalize while still ensuring that certain experiences are in place?

The foundational idea is deceptively simple; create student rights together. A living breathing document that shows which experiences every child should have in every room, no matter the teacher. Live by it. Work by it. Discuss and change as needed.

But in practicality, how do you get there?

The first step is to have time to discuss what the experiences of students should be. What do we, as the practitioners, believe every child should have as rights in their English (Or whichever curricular area) educational experience? Reading books they like, having a librarian and time in the library, abandoning books, picking writing topics, a teacher that will confer with them, discussing relevant topics. Brainstorm as many things as you can. Group them to see patterns. And then step back.

What is missing? This isn’t something that is done quickly, after all, this will be a guiding document. Do research on best practices within your curricular area. What do you not know about? What do people like Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Zaretta Hammond, or Dr. Louise Rosenblatt say about the experiences students deserve?

Then group all of the post-its or thoughts together. What are the clusters? What clearly speaks to all of you as a team? Try to come up with words that can tie it all together. Which patterns do you see? The right to read, to speak to one another, to have texts and materials that reflect their experience and the experience of others? The rights to connect with others? To free write? To skillful instruction? Again, pay attention to your own gap areas, which parts of instruction are you not thinking about? Do these potential rights mirror an entire experience or only parts of one?

Then translate the goals into actual experiences, such as if your team believes in student choice in reading, what will that actually look like? When will there be guaranteed time for that? How often do they get to choose? How will you support their choice? Who else will support it?

Then it may look something like this…

If students need…Empowerment – then we will commit to giving them choice throughout their time with us.

How: Choice in their independent reading book, choice in their topic of writing when possible, choice in who they work with, choice in who they share with, choice in how they work through learning. Space to reflect on their experience, speak up about it, and shape the teaching that happens.

If students need to read and write every day, then we will commit to giving them dedicated independent reading time every day and writing time every day.

How: Start with 20 minutes of independent reading focused on developing their relationship to reading and reading identity. An emphasis on free writing when not otherwise steeped in their own writing. Planning reading and writing experiences every day.

It may end up looking something like this then.

Go through each foundational right as a team and then commit to it as a team. Bring it up throughout the year to see whether you are actually living it. What are the opportunities for the students throughout the year? What is missing and needs to be added?

Having a foundational understanding of what the experiences should be for every child provides us with a guide of which direction to go while also being able to see our own gap areas. Where do we need to grow as practitioners? What are we not yet providing for students and how is that impacting them? How do our choices in our learning tie in with these rights?

So often we look at curriculum and think that is where to start with any changes when really what we need to do is step back and look at the foundational beliefs and rights that support and determine the curricular choices we make. Because those beliefs are what shape every single experience kids have with us. Because those beliefs sometimes hurt the very endeavors we are trying to accomplish. While I know our documents and guiding beliefs are not perfect, nothing ever is, it gives us a place to start when we discuss what we are working on, what kids need, and the disruptions that need to continue happening for all of our students. Perhaps these guidelines can help others as well.

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

being a student, being a teacher, new year

I Am Reminded

We continue to get to know each other slowly. Dancing around each other in this forced community which we hope to make our own. Feeling each other out as we wonder where in each other’s legacies we will fit. Will we matter or will we be a forgotten chapter? Simply a footnote in a story that spans a lifetime.

Four weeks into a new school year and I keep thinking how I am already a much better teacher than I was when I started because of the truths these kids, my new students, are offering up. How though they barely know me, and yet in their stories enable us to start havinge these moments together that become our narrative as we weave our pasts together in order to create our future. At least for a little bit.

And I remind myself to slow down.

And I remind myself to pay attention.

And I remind myself to pick up my pen and take notice.

To start the conversations.

To listen fully.

To continue to search for connections, for the stories that pass easily in order to get to know them more.

To give hugs freely and feedback carefully.

To take a breath.

To take a moment.

To feel the power that the adult in the room inevitably holds even when we think we don’t.

And I am reminded of how writing identity carries so many emotions when a child bursts into tears in front of me not sure how to take my words surrounding their writing. Because we don’t know each other that well, not yet.

And I am reminded of how quiet it can be when a child tells me a part of themselves that they weren’t quite ready to share but shared it anyway and I hope I earned their trust a little more. Because they don’t know what I will do with the stories of their life, not yet.

And I am reminded of how much our students notice when they ask if I will do that thing for them that I did for that other kid, and was that a tradition and if not, it should be. That they don’t know that I will pretty much go along with most new traditions because that’s just who I am, not yet.

And I am reminded of the bonds we created the year before when the big 8th graders shout “Hey, Mrs. Ripp!” as they pass my room and sometimes sneak in for a hug or a book. And I wonder if any of the ones I get to teach now will even say hello next year.

Because these moments, the small moments that we take, the ones that we make through our conferring, through our greetings, through our questions and our listening. Through our shared read alouds, through our discussion, through our music playlists, through our stories. Those moments become the foundation for the trust that I hope these kids will place in me as I try to guide them down a path of learning.

Because what I am reminded of tonight as our daughter tells me that her day was great, as usual, but that there were not enough hugs, is that we have only just begun. That there should always be time for the hugs. For the moments. For the connections. And yet the pressure to cover the content, to get through the material, to offer up all of the opportunities to learn urges us on at a breakneck pace but that the only thing we will accomplish from caving to the pressure is relationships left behind.

So I pause once more. Plan accordingly and search for the moments that will tie us all together.

being a student, books, new year, Reading, Reading Identity

Before We Hand Them a Book

I’ve been thinking about the hurry. The rush to get into habits. To get kids reading. To get kids writing. To not waste a moment of instructional time so that we can get to the real work. I see it surround us, this pressure to get moving, to get going as quickly as we can so we don’t lose time. So we don’t miss our chance for cramming as much as we can into a year. After all, we only get them for so long and the tests will tell us whether we did enough.

It plays out a lot when we meet kids who don’t like reading. Who either proclaim it loudly, or whose behaviors clue us in. The aimless browsing, the grab-and-go when it comes to book selection. The kids who go with the motions at times but you can tell that the book they are currently reading is not one that is going to make it home. Who look at us wide-eyed or with a grin when we tell they we hope they will read over the weekend.

We rush them with book recommendations. Have you tried this one or this one? We tell them they just haven’t found the right book yet and then we hand them a stack hoping that in that stack will be that right book. You won’t know until you start reading, so read.

And I get it, I do it too, after all, the year looms and we have so much work to do. Yet, to quote Taylor Swift, I feel we need to calm down. To take these moments, these aimless wanderings, these negative reading relationships, and ask more questions. Sit in silence and let kids think. If a child can’t answer why they hate reading beyond that they just do, then they haven’t been given an opportunity to fully think about their relationship with reading. They haven’t been given a moment to recognize that their path with reading has been filled with choices, both their own and others, that have now brought them to this point in time where they feel that they are not readers. That reading has no value. That reading is not something they need. Nor something they feel they can do.

So when we hand them another book without conversation beyond “What types of books do you like?” Without seeing the child and giving them a chance to reflect, we are not changing habits long-term. We are not changing lives long-term. Sure, they may love that book – hooray – but what happens when the book is done? Have they really changed their relationship with reading or was it just a fluke?

  Instagram · Square,

So before we rush to our piles of recommended books, we slow down. Yes, we surround them with incredible books, people who love to read, we give them time to read, we give them the space to read, the air to read, and then we talk. (This should be a right not a privilege of all kids). We reflect. We give kids the opportunity, the expectations, to know themselves as readers so that we, the adults that surround them, can invest in long-term change.

I am not teaching kids to just like reading this year. I am trying to teach kids to find value, inherent value, in the act of reading itself. While books and texts are the tools, the real work starts with the recongition of one’s own journey and subsequent relationship to reading and how it impacts the child that stands before us.

It takes time. It takes patience. It takes careful planning. And it takes us realizing that being a reader is not just something we want kids to experience in the brief time they are with us, but instead be a part of their being that exists without us after the year is over. That doesn’t just start with a book. That book needs to be wrapped up in reflection, in time, and in conversation. Then changes may happen.

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, Classroom, classroom setup, new year, our classroom

Welcome to Our Classroom – A Tour Before the Kids Show Up

I moved to a new space this year. Still teaching 7th grade on the “O” team at Oregon Middle School, go Sharks! However, with the departure of one of my closests friends, her room opened up and I was allowed to move into what used to be the choir room (Choir now has a beautiful new space).

All summer, I have been tinkering with things. Trying to figure out the flow, the space, the needs of kids who I haven’t even met yet. And so while the room is as cleas as it will ever be, as organized as it will ever be, it is still not ready. it won’t be until the kids show up tomorrow – finally – and make it their own. They will get to move the furniture, find the spots that work, tweak the systems I have thought up and make it our space.

But until then, this is what our classroom looks like right now as it sits in suspense, waiting for the kids to show up.

So a few questions I get a lot are

How do you have so many books?

It is a triple answer: My school district, Oregon School District, believes in funding books. Last year they gave us each $500 to buy more books. So some of the books come from them. Some of the books come from publishers who graciously send me books in order to consider them for the Global Read Aloud. If they send me an advanced review copy, I always purchase the book as well when it comes out to place it in my classroom collection.

And finally, I buy a lot of books. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is, so I do. I spend too much money each year buying books for our students in order to help them have a better relationship with reading. Funding books does not seem like a priority in many places, and I don’t understand it, why wouldn’t we want all kids to have access to this many books in every classroom? If we can fund Chromebooks, then we can fund books. Pair this with a certified librarian running a fully-stocked library and you have the ultimate reading combination. All kids deserve to have this many books in their lives, not just those whose teachers spend their own money to do so.

Where do you get your books from?

I get many of my books from Books4School.com, a great warehouse here in Madison that sells overstock supplies of books for about $2 each. I also use my Scholastic money to buy books. I use our independent book store, A Room Of One’s Own, when we are downtown. I try to support my local Barnes and Noble as well because I don’t want them to go out of business, and I use Amazon. Sometimes the prices can’t be beat.

What are those ledges on the wall?

Built by Ryan, my friend’s husband, they are wooden ledges with a lip drilled into the wall. Now, you can also use rain gutters to display books. I had rain gutters below my whiteboard in my old classroom and loved having the extra display space. Another idea shared by someone (and if it’s you please let me know so I can give you credit!) was to have a bulletin board with books clipped onto it using larger binder clips tacked to the wall. That way kids can easily check out the books and you can easily replace them.

Where did you get the spinning rack?

I was handed it when I moved to OMS, however, you can order them online as well. Beware that it needs to have some sort of metal or solid base or it will not carry the weight of books, we discovered this the hard way last year when we purchased one with a plastic base. The spinning rack, while full right now, will be emptied within the next few days as students use it to recommend books to each other. When you place a book on the rack it is an automatic recommendation. I also use it to keep our “hot” books in circulation as they are returned.

One addition this year to our recommendation ideas is this stamp inspired by the stamp that Cassie Thomas shared on Twitter. I ordered mine from Amazon here and changed the wording slightly to just be the books I loved, I will be stamping books as I come across them in our library.

No photo description available.

How do kids check out books?

Well, all books are stamped on the inside cover with a customized stamp I got from Amazon.

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This helps books come back. If it is a softcover, kids just grab the books. If it is a hardcover, then they remove the dustcover, write their first and last name on a post-it, place it on the dustcover, and file the dustcover under their class section. Then they grab the book. When done, they reunite the dustcover with the book and place it in their return bin.

Where did you get your posters from?

The ones on the cabinets are from Amplifier.org and are from last year where my colleague, Katy, pointed them out to me. They offer incredible lessonplans to go with these posters. I am so excited for the coming year as well to see who they will focus on.

The @SonofBaldwin quote and poster that will ground our work was an image shared online that I blew up and ordered through Walgreens.

The Battlestar Galactica Happy Birthday Cylon poster is from Keyanna

The poster on the glass that says “You are just the child…” is one my husband designed for me, the file can be found here.

The poster “the only Reading Levels that Matter…” is created by Dev Petty and can be found here.

Which picture books do you have on display?

Right now, we have a lot of picture books on display that have to do with personal essay and identity. I wanted kids to see themselves potentially reflected in the picture books as we work to create a community.

I also have a few piles of books pulled for our writing process lessons, as well as our first day read aloud.

How are books organized?

Well, it changes depending on needs but mostly by genre and sub-genre. So books can have multiple designations and they have the abbreviation of the genre under the stamp on the inside cover. We don’t have a lot of author bins because kids asked me not to to do that in previous years.

Are there other questions?

I try to make the space functioning, welcoming, and flexible. I want the space to feel welcoming and safe for all kids. And I want the space to work for us, not for us to have to work to fit into the space. Yet, even though, I am know I am in an incredible space to start the year, it won’t matter if what we do doesn’t matter. Because while sharing my space is easy, doing the work is not.

And also, that we have an inequity in the US when it comes to funding for our schools. I am privileged that I get to work in a district where we have funding to have clean, inviting spaces. Every child deserves that and yet not every child gets that. Until we fix school funding, our system will continue to be horribly inequitable and not conducive nor safe for all kids. We have so much work to do.

This year will be another year for exploring our identity, for connecting with the world, for hopefully finding value in our time together. And that matters more than any piece of furniture or any poster I can put on the wall.

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, new year, Student Engagement

Space

I have been thinking a lot about space lately.

Not the kind that surrounds us on a dark night, but the kind that surrounds us as individuals.

Perhaps it is because I have been flying more and as a woman, I constantly find my space taken by white men sitting next to me, refusing to even share an armrest.  I am so used to it, I have found I slip into patterns to make myself smaller in order to not encroach on their space.

Perhaps it is because in my thinking work this summer I keep coming back to how white my professional space is within my district, reflective of the lack of diversity of so many districts here in Wisconsin.  How can we change this to be reflective of the kids we teach?

Perhaps it is because I see the critical conversations surrounding education online and how often it is silenced because people say we need to speak nicely to each other, to not make the space unwelcoming or unkind.  We use these platitudes so often to silence the voices of those who have been silenced for so long that we fail to recognize the same destructive patterns.

Perhaps it is because I see my own daughters apologize for the space they take up at times as we remind them to be nice, to be kind, to speak appropriately, whatever that may mean.  Even as I cringe when the words slip out inadvertently, taught to me by many years of public socialization where we are taught which type of women should be heard in this American society.  And I can tell you from experience that the minute you raise your voice, you are deemed angry as if anger is a bad thing.

Perhaps it is because I feel like as a white woman I am often afforded more space because of my skin color than I really deserve.

Space, and how much space we are given, seems to be crowded with well-meaning intentions and misguided constraints.  Space and what we do with it also seems to be dictated by those who feel their space encroached upon and who must make a decision of whether enough there is enough space for us all.  (I think there is, but that is for a different time.)

I think of space when it comes to our students, how for years I have discussed student voice on this blog and how I have attempted to create an environment where students can speak up no matter what they are saying.  How for a long time, through my personal reflection, I have implored others to give students’ voice without recognizing the inherent problem in that statement; students already have a voice, they come to us loudly, yet, it is within our pursuit of calm and compliant that we silence them for the benefit of “learning for all.”  And so I come to the natural conclusion that my work is not about giving students a voice but instead about space and more specifically, giving them back the space we took from them in the first place.

And that starts with the very first day, the inequity of our voices as we go through our day with kids we don’t even know.  How many of us talk about those first days as exhausting because our voices are constantly heard?  How many of our students feel drained not because of all that they had to do but instead all they had to listen to?  How many of us plan out to the minute what we will be doing in order to “Set the year up right” without a care for how welcome or even safe students may feel in our rooms? Perhaps what we need is a little bit of silence, more them than us, more we than I.

So as I plan for those first of many days, I am thinking about the space of my voice.  The space of me within the room and how it needs to be balanced with the space of others.  How I need to think of my voice, the adult voice, as something that also takes up space and therefore needs to be weighed in order to give back space to others.  And not just in the classroom, but in life.  After all, we get one chance to start off right with these new kids, why not get our priorities straight from the get-go?

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, building community, new year, student choice, student voice

Getting to Know Our Students Survey

Every year, I do several surveys at the beginning of the year, I don’t think I am the only one.  As we try to get to know these kids that have come into our lives, I think it is so important to gather as much information as they are willing to tell us in order for us to be better teachers for them.  But I also think about how hard it can be to answer questions those first few days of school when you don’t really know what your answers will be used for, when you are not quite sure who this person is who is asking you these questions, when you are perhaps not even sure what the questions mean.

So this year, I am changing my approach a little bit.  The questions have been changed to be more of a progression of trust, not because I am under any impression that from Tuesday to Friday the students will trust me, but because I want to honor the relationships we are building and the fact that they take time.  Students will be asked to answer a few questions every day, but can also choose to speak to me about these things.  They are focused more specifically on what the child needs from me potentially to be successful and not so much on academics.  Students will do a separate survey every day, while not ideal, it will allow me to see their answers as the week progresses and then create one answer froup per student at the end of the week.

Along with these questions, I will also give my reading and writing surveys during that first week.  Those will be on paper as I place them in my conferring binder alongside the notes I take during our conversations.

Before the children have shown up, we will also have asked those at home about them.  We want to reach out to parents and caregivers as experts on their children and honor the knowledge they have through a home survey.  It is sent electronically before school starts and I respond to each person that takes it with follow up questions, those who do not have access to email or choose not to take it online are handed a paper version once school starts.

While the first-week surveys are not done, I am sharing here in order to receive feedback.  What have I missed?  What have I misworded?  What would you add or remove?  You are more than welcome to make a copy and make it fit your students, just please give credit.  To see the surveys, please see here:

Tuesday – Go here

Wednesday – Go here

Thursday – Go here

Friday – Go here

Thank you to those who have already helped me make it better, here are all of the questions together.

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.