being a teacher, new year

We Should Teach

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I asked, “If you were to create a genuine bill of promises for each child you will teach this year, what would it include?”

And while the responses were beautiful, they shone of promise, of high hopes for every child, of a community for all, not just those that fit what we have decided school should be like, I cannot help but wonder what happens to those promises when the day gets hard?

What happens when a child pushes our buttons?

When a child refuses to sit down, sit still, be quiet?  When they refuse to fit into the box we have created?

Because in that moment how we act says more about the classroom community we are building than any dream or promise we may have made.

The first time a child pushes our limits tells us more about how we define success than what we may have written down in our idea books.

So we should teach the way we would want our own children to be treated; with dignity, with respect, and with love – not just in words, but in action.

We should teach as if we are the determination between that child’s success and that child’s failure because sometimes we are.

We should teach as we would have wanted to have been taught when we were young.

And when a child inevitably doesn’t like us whether it is for a moment, a day, or a year, we don’t blame the child, jump to anger and punishment, but instead step back and try to see what they are really telling us.  What their actions are really pointing to.  Recognize how we are a part of the situation and the system that is causing this child’s pain.  And we should ask ourselves; what kind of future do we want? One filled with success only for those who fit into the boxes of school or success for all, even if they blast the boxes?

So this year we should teach with urgency, not just the curriculum, but the love, and realize that we truly hold the destiny of our nation in our hands every day.

But more importantly than that, we teach the children, and the children need us to see them for everything they are; wondrous, challenging, and deserving of our love, even on the tough days.

That’s my promise for the year.

 

Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Tier 1 and 2 and 3

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For years, I couldn’t understand why my own students weren’t growing as readers.  Why the same names showed up at our data meetings as kids who were failing to progress.  Why some kids made the yearly growth and others sat stagnantly.   I was trying, using the framework of balanced literacy, yet I didn’t see how my own lack of knowledge, my own lack of tools, was directly leading to them not growing.  How, although I had the components in place, there was so much more I could be doing for all of the kids. Instead, I looked outward hoping that surely someone else; special ed, reading specialists, ESL support, someone must know how to reach these kids.  How to teach these kids.

I am a classroom teacher. Every day, I am responsible for not just the literacy lives, but also the well being of more than 100 students.  Every day, I am expected to provide the very best instruction that I can to every child that walks through our door.

Despite their mood.  Despite their situation.  Despite their past interactions with our educational system.  Despite their life circumstances that may or may not stand in their way.

I am the facilitator of what is meant to be meaningful literacy experiences that will suit all of their needs.  Every day.  Every class. Every child.

My job is no different than so many others.  This is what I became a teacher to do, I am supposed to provide my students with what we know works within literacy instruction: time to engage with meaningful reading and writing, including time to read and write, supported and explicit instruction, personalization to meet their needs through one-on-one conferring or small group instruction.  Utilizing an inclusive classroom library filled with books that I have read, coupled with visits to the school library (with a certified librarian).  I am supposed to develop my skills so that every child has a chance to not just survive but succeed within our classroom.  That’s my job.  That’s our job.

And yet, in many classrooms, kids are not getting these foundations of literacy.  They are not getting time to read.  They are not surrounded by books.  They are not being provided personalized instruction to suit their needs.  Instead, they are forced to sit in front of computers who quiz them on their skills, read through basal texts that allow for little to no personalization, told that only books that fit their level is allowed reading material.  Taught by teachers who are trying so hard yet are meeting resistance every step of their way, whether from the systems, the decisionmakers, or even their own lack of training.

And then we wonder why so many kids end up in tier 2 or tier 3 interventions?

So this year, I will continue to examine my own practices as the teacher of Tier 1.  I will make sure that the instruction I am providing is effective, focused, and research-based.  I will make sure that my foundations are in order and also well-taught so that kids have a chance to grow in our classroom.  I will disseminate my own practice before I look outwards.  And I encourage other teachers, other decisionmakers, other schools to do the same.  If too many kids are in intervention, then foundations are missing in our classrooms.  If too many kids are not making growth, then we look at what is happening with us first.  And we look at it from a systems place.  Are systems in place to support kids on their reading journey?  Are systems in place to helps kids develop their reading identity?  Are systems in place to teach the joy of reading and not just the skills?  Which systems stand in their way of success?  Which systems harm rather than help?

And that’s where we start. Not with pull-out, but with better in class instruction.  Not with intervention, but with reexamination.    With a commitment to the best classroom instruction, we can provide, supported by the administrative decisions that are being made.  Perhaps a lofty dream, but a dream worth pursuing nonetheless.

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 teacher, Literacy, new year, Reading

Our ELA Curriculum Map for 7th Grade 90 Minute Block

As some of you may know, we are moving from a 45-minute block of ELA time to a 90-minute block.  I cannot tell you how excited I am for this to happen.  To actually have more time to dig in, to have fewer students so I can know them better, to be able to pull small groups more often and really support student growth – yes, please!  But with this change comes a lot of decisions.  We want to make sure students are engaged and challenged well within the 90 minutes.  We don’t want it to drag on, we don’t want it to be lecture.  So as the year starts to come closer, the ideas and aspirations we have had are starting to take shape and I thought it would be nice to share them here, in case others need some inspiration.

Last year we decided what we believe when it comes to our literacy work together and this is what grounds our decisions.  While the chart below is just the overarching theme, our original document discusses things much more in depth, such as the need for equitable practices and for creating opportunities for students as changemakers.

The overarching beliefs we function in are:

If middle school learners need… Then we will commit to…
Empowerment Giving them choice
Read/write every day Give them time
To have a voice Discussion/authorship/ownership
Developing/understanding their identity Reflection/guidance/exposure/structure
See connections to themselves and others Incorporate global/local topics and connect to other classes
Adult role models

Peer role models

Read/write/think/discuss with and in front of students

  • Opportunities for student learn with and from each other.
  • Teachers model/share their love of reading/writing in their own life.
  • Teacher is part of the classroom reading/writing community
  • Exposure to mentor texts
Visible/continuous growth Mini-lessons, explicit/targeted instruction etc., exposure to many genres and formats (balanced literacy), and goal setting.
Need personalized learning communities Small group instruction and conferring

My tentative schedule for our 90 minutes together looks like this:

  • 10 min = independent reading

  • 2-3 min = book talks

  • 15 min = mini-lesson (can be read aloud)

  • 20-25 min = work time (reading practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • BELL BREAK – 3 minutes
  • 10 min = Grammar/mentor text work/free write

  • 15 min = mini lesson focused on writing or speaking

  • 20 min = work time (writing practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • 5-10 min = read aloud/picture book read aloud/share/closing

Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with colleagues and spend some time tentatively mapping out our literacy year.  Inspired by the maps in 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, we thought providing ourselves with an overview of the year meant we would have a better feel for what to plan for.

This map is intended for 45-minute readers workshop followed by a 45-minute writers workshop.  We wanted to make sure that students had two different times to read within the 45 minutes, one chunk of time that was focused on reading for pleasure without any extra “work” attached to it, and one chunk of time where they would be working more on the skills of reading, most often within their own self-chosen texts, but sometimes in a text chosen by us.

We also wanted to make sure that students have time for meaningful embedded grammar instruction, as well as time to free write.

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We are a standards-based district and so we have 9 separate ELA standards.  These are not assessed every quarter but are instead assessed at least twice throughout the year so that students can see their own growth.  Here are the standards we have 5327283641122816.png

The students have not started yet, so all of this is aspirational.  I will keep updating it as the year progresses but thought I would share.

There have been a few books that have really shaped my thinking for the upcoming year.  They are

Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by [Shalaby, Carla]

Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby

180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts

Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

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Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

Passionate Readers by myself – weird to say your own book but this book holds my reading beliefs and also my ideas for how to reach our goals.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Book Love by Penny Kittle

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell and Anne Atwell Merkel

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 teacher, first day

A True First Day Back

I have been stopping by our classroom, dropping off books, bringing in new yoga balls, rearranging, cleaning, taking the time to do all of those little things that get us started as we think of the year ahead.  As we get excited for the year ahead.  As we plan in our heads, hold on to our dreams, and try to make a path for the year that lies ahead.

I have been thinking about that first day, the almost 80 minutes I will have with each of our new classes as I pour over their names and class lists get settled.  About the type of experience, I want to try to set up for these kids who may be nervous about middle school, who may be excited or not to come back to school.  About that very first day and the first impression that I would like to give these kids.  After all, I want them to feel welcome, I want them to feel safe, I want them to feel challenged, and I want them to want to come back.

That can be a tall order for just a simple first day.

And while there is an abundance of great first day ideas online; puzzles, team building, challenges, no work, no syllabus! I also worry about whether some of these activities set kids up to only disappoint them later.  Do these activities entice kids to think that this year, that our class, will be different than what they are used to – yeah! – but then only to be disappointed the next day when all of the first day “fun” is now gone and the traditional structure of school begins? I guess it depends on the type of classroom we create.  If our class is not one filled with choice, if our class is not one filled with hands-on challenges, if our class is one mostly centered around the teacher but the first day isn’t like that, then what are we trying to make the students believe?

So I think there is a balance to be had.  Yes, of course, get kids excited but at the same time don’t hide the type of class it will be.  Find components that will give students a feel for what they can expect so that they can legitimately start to feel welcome.  Be honest in your expectations and set the groundwork.  Ease back into school but do it through meaningful work.

Besides, it will never truly be about the activities, but always about how the kids end up feeling after being with us.

As for my own first day back?  I am not sure, yet.  There will be picture books, there will be book shopping, there will be choice and there will be conversation.  There will be a chance for us to feel each other out and for students to start to fill in the gaps of what this year may be like.  I still have a few weeks left of summer to dream, we shall see what happens.

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 teacher, first day, first week, Reading, Reading Identity

Questions to Assess our Classroom Library Before Back-to-School

I have been spending some time in my classroom these last few weeks. Getting ready,  getting excited.  At the end of last school year, I moved all of our bookshelves, rearranged the furniture, and tried to update this little space that hopefully becomes our space as it is filled with students.  Tried to create some sort of new space that would shape the experiences we are bound to have; places to gather, places to pull away.  Slowly, but surely, it is starting to come together.

The tables stand ready, the ideas are too, but the books? They are not ready.  Not yet. They beckon to be looked at, sorted, re-displayed, and yes, even gotten rid of.  New readers mean new book adventures ahead, new needs arising for the kids I am entrusted with, new relationships waiting to happen.  Weeding through my classroom library is always a must before the beginning of the year.

Books are an extension of our beliefs and so when students enter into our school or classroom libraries, they become the very first indicator of who we are and what we believe in.  They are a direct reflection of which type of reading experience we want o create with our students.  Which type of teacher we are.  What we hold dear, what we value.  This is why book displays cannot and should not be haphazardly put together.  This is why we must look at the books we bring in, the books we offer up for students to experience, and see which experience they are actually creating.

So to go through our classroom library, I ask myself the following questions starting with the fairly simple to the more in-depth.

How do the books look?  Which books are falling apart and need to either be thrown out or replaced?  Which books have really outdated covers that are preventing them from being read?  How about text size and font?  For books that I know would be read but might not be because of “outside” factors, I create a replacement wishlist.

How do the bins look?  Just like the books, some of our bins get fairly beat up, do they need to be replaced?  Relabeled?  Moved around?

How is our overall organization?  Because our library is one based on genres and sub-genres, these are changeable, meaning if I feel like we have a large collection of some books perhaps they need their own sub-genre?  Perhaps a genre is not being read and needs to be reorganized?  That also includes which bookshelves the bins are on, are they being read where they are or do they need to be moved somewhere else?

How is our checkout system?  Ours is a simple one – paperbacks you just grab, hardcovers you give me the dust cover with a post-it with your name on it and I file it away until the book is brought back.  Will this still work for the students I have?

How will I introduce our library?  Students will bookshop on the very first day of school with piles of books awaiting them on the tables but how will they be introduced to our library?  This year, as in past years, it will be an actual lesson on book-shopping, yes, even in 7th grade, and an exploration of different genres as we start our to-be-read list.

Will this book be read more somewhere else?  Sometimes when we have a book abundance problem, books are simply not being discovered.  So looking through and pulling books you wish students were reading but they aren’t and then handing them to another teacher may just get that book back in circulation.  This is also a great way to create space for incoming books in your library because chances are you will be adding more books this year.

Whose stories are being represented in our library?  And whose stories are not?  Where are my book gaps, which genres of books or authors do we not have a lot of?  Can all children find windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors to quote Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

Not just whose,  but how are people’s stories represented?  Are we only representing the Native experience as a thing of the past?  Is the African American experience only represented through slavery, Civil Rights, or police brutality?  Are all the books featuring everyday things featuring white characters?  This is an ongoing assessment that needs to be attended to with every book purchase we make.

Do we have harmful representation?  Back to school is also a good time to be on the lookout for problematic text.  Knowing what is being questioned in the wider literary world is really important and provides us with a chance to learn.  I think about books like Little House on the Prairie or even newer books that come out that may not be healthy to have in our libraries.  I turn to people like Debbie Reese and Edi Campbell to guide me in this work.

Which books are you blessing?  Critically evaluate which books are on display whether it is first in a bin or on an actual shelf.  Whose experiences are you highlighting?  Whose voices are you urging others to read?  I take a lot of time pulling books and displaying to offer our students a varied reading experience from day one.  I want them to see the possibilities in our classroom library of what types of reading experiences they can have and that starts with all of the books enticing them.

As summer winds down and the school year beckons, I am excited to meet the kids that will soon become part of our family.  I am excited to help them have meaningful experiences with text that will help them in their reading lives.  I am excited to see who they are and how they will grow this year.  This work starts in our library, in what is the heart of our classroom, so it needs to be ready for all of the readers that are coming our way.

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 teacher, new year

Our Welcome Poster

Last year, I took a quote from a blog post I wrote and made it into a poster.  The quote was simple but a powerful reminder to anyone who walked into our room about the worth of the very kids that showed.  A powerful reminder to me on days where I felt like I was not enough.  A powerful reminder to kids when they felt that perhaps school was not a place for them.  The poster I made was small but hung proudly outside of our room all year.

This year, I needed a bigger poster.  Same message, but larger.  Something that would be harder to miss.  So my husband, who is my partner in everything, made me one.  I shared it on Instagram and Twitter and now others would like to use it.  So here you are

Feel free to use but please give credit.  And then believe it, every day, every kid, even when it is a hard day.  That would be the best gift of all.

Here is the link to the file, I just ordered a poster print through Walgreens.  If you use it , let me know, I would love to see it out in the wild.