Three Keys to Creating Successful Reading Experiences

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It’s January.  In the perfect world all of my students would love reading by now.  All of my students would bring their self-chosen book to class, eager to dive in, begging for more reading time.  In a perfect world, every child would have a goal they were working toward, every child would be eager to book talk their books, to browse our library, to read outside of class.  I don’t teach in the perfect world, I don’t think anyone does.

Instead, by now here in January, I have kids that still show up with no books.  That still tell me they hate reading.  That still would rather flip the pages and not actually read anything.  I still have kids who don’t read outside of class, who have no goals, who would rather do everything they can to avoid having a reading check in with me.  Not a lot, the numbers have dwindled, but they are still there, they are still prominent, and I still lose sleep over how to help them have a better relationship with reading (or writing, or speaking, or English, or even just school…)

We all have these kids in our classrooms, in our learning communities.  These kids that seem to defy the odds of every well-meaning intention we may have.  Who do not fall under our spell or the spell of a great book.  Who actively resists not so much because they want to but because they feel they have to.  And so our initial thoughts are often to tighten the reins.  To tell them which book to read.  To hand them a reading log so that you can see when don’t read.  To tie in rewards to motivate or even consequences to punish.  We create lesson plans with more structure, less choice, less freedom overall thinking that if we just force them into a reading experience, perhaps then it will click for them.

We must fight our urges when it comes to the regimented reading experiences.  What these kids need is usually not less freedom, more force.  What these kids need is not more to do when it comes to their reading.  What these kids need is not the carefully crafted worksheet packet with its myriad of questions that will finally make them read the book.

What they need is patience.  Repetition.  Perseverance.  I am not in a fight with these kids.  I am not here to punish them into reading.  I am not here to reward them into reading either.  I am here to be the one that doesn’t give up, even if they have themselves.  I am here to be the one that continues to put a pile of books in front of them and say “Try these…”  I am the one that will repeat myself every day when I say, ‘Read…” and then walk away.  Who will crouch down next to them and ask them how they feel and listen to their words, even if I have heard them a million times before.

We look to external systems and plans because they entice us with their short-term promises.  We fall under the spell of programs, of removing choice from those who have not earned it, in an effort to get these kids there faster.  Yet, what I have learned from my students is that every one is on a different path.  That every child is on the journey  and while their pace may be excruciatingly slow, they are still moving forward.

So our classroom is not perfect, and neither am I.  I cannot force my students to read but I can create an ongoing opportunity where they might want to.  And so that is what I will do, every day, up until the last day, hoping to reach every single one, even if I have not reached them yet.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

A Story of A Child that Can

For the past three years, on December 19th, I have written about the miracle that is our youngest daughter, Augustine.  About her much too soon arrival.  About the fear.  The uncertainty.  The guilt…

I have written about my hope for others to see how a child’s start in life may still haunt them many years later when they show up in our classrooms.  I have written about how the very least we can do is love them when they come.  How we can prepare all we want and yet never be fully ready.

Augustine’s much too soon arrival has shaped our lives in many ways, and yet…last night when I came home from school I did not see a baby that arrived too early.  I did not see a 4 pound miracle.  I did not see a child wrapped up in long nights and frightening futures.  In machines and medical personel.  I saw an almost three year old showing me her pig, Pua.  I saw an almost three year old that wanted to watch that monster show.  I saw an almost three year old that kept her siblings awake by making cat noises.

She will always be the baby that came too soon, but she no longer is just that child.  She is no longer just a preemie, she is my willful, loud daughter, making her own place in the world.  She is the child that crawled at 5 months, who walked at 9 months.  She is the child that is perfectly average.  A child that defies the odds.  Who didn’t wait for someone to tell her that she should do what her siblings were doing but simply ran after them and did. And with every naughty thing she tries not to get caught doing, she is rewriting how we see her.

How often do our students show up with haunted pasts?  With files that follow?  With reputations and beginnings that yes, have shaped who they once were, but now no longer defines them?  How often do our students come to us with assumptions laced around them so tight we can hardly see past them even though that child is no longer the child that presents itself.  How often do we acknowledge the past, even if the past is just yesterday, but then purposefully readjust our focus to see the child that stands before us now?

Augustine was the child that came too soon, but she is now the child of can’s.  The child of will’s.  The child of average.  No one who meets her now will ever guess her tumultuous beginning, and I am glad. How many of our students are trying to escape a past that no longer is them, that no longer is all they are?

I became the mother of a premature baby 3 years ago, but I am now the mother of an almost three year old.  A little girl that didn’t care what the doctors said.  A little girl that from the moment she could, she did.  She asks to be seen for who she is now, not what she was before.  The least I can do is adjust my vision.

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I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

Look for the One

There is always one moment of good, our job is to find it. @pernilleripp

This year has been a year of amazing reflection opportunities for me.  This year has brought these incredibly resilient and demanding (in all of the best ways) students into my life.  There have been glorious days and then there have been those days where I feel like the worst kind of teacher.  Where I feel like all of my best laid plans, all of my great intentions, all of the dreams that I carefully crafted meant nothing, did nothing and I stand there feeling like the worst kind of teacher.  I am not alone.  As speak to my fellow educators, we all have those days, we all have those long nights where we reflect on what we did wrong and how we can get better.  So I write this to myself, to all of us, for the days where I feels like nothing went right.   I write this a reminder, as a message on the days where I forget.  On those days where we all forget.

Dear you,

I am so sorry that today seemed like one of those days where there was a perfect storm.  Where we seemed stretched too thin and it is almost as if kids picked up on it and every single thing that could go wrong, went wrong in the worst of ways.  As if every dormant issue rose up and came alive to create one glorious, awful day.  Where we feel like a bad day kind of teacher and we are not sure just what to do.

So know this, as you lick your wounds and go home downtrodden; it is one day.  One day of awful.  One day of not so great among many days of great.  Know this; that what separates the good from the bad is that you choose to go home and not blame the children, but instead look at what you could have done better.  Asking; how can I make it better and telling yourself that tomorrow will be a better day.

And on those days, when that feeling of awful settles into your stomach, ready to overshadow your night, then you must look for the one moment.  The one moment where what you did mattered.  The one moment where what you did today was not a complete loss for that one kid.  Because there is always one kid.  Even when everything else burns around us and our walls come down and we feel like the biggest fraud in the classroom, and we feel like we are a part of the problem and not the solution.  There is one kid who had a good moment today, and so your job is now to find that one good thing.   To find that one good thing so that you will remember that even the best teachers have bad days.  That you are better than you think you are.  And that having a bad day is just that; a human being having a bad day, and because you had a bad day does not make you a bad teacher, nor does it mean that tomorrow will be bad.

So look for the one.

Look for the one thing that you forgot, that you missed as you look back on the day.  Hold on to that one as you think of the bad and don’t beat yourself up too much.  We were never promised it would be easy but only that it would be worth it.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

We Have Already Grown

I realized today as my students sat quietly reading that if a stranger were to walk into our classroom, it would all look so effortless.  As if the kids had always quietly settled in with their books and this hush had fallen over us.  As if the kids had always read when I asked them to.  As if they had always known just what to do and when to do so.  Yet, that is not the true story.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you; creating a space for independent reading time is not easy, nor does it just happen.  It is hard work.  It takes effort.  It takes planning, and boy, does it take a lot of patience.  It takes great books.  It takes dedication.  And it takes a community, takes trust, takes respect, and takes conversations.

We build our communities in small pieces.  We plant the seeds on the very first day when we welcome our new kids into our lives and into our classrooms.  When we say this is your room, these are your books, and we mean it.

We build it when we ask them to pick up the books.  To read a few pages.  To talk to one another and to share their truths.  We build it when we accept their truths about why reading does not matter and promise that we will try to help them change their minds.
Every day as we plan our lessons and build our communities, we give them the reading pieces to place into the puzzle of their identities and hope they will see the value.  And we do it one day at a time.  One conversation at a time.  One book at a time.

It may be almost December, we have so much time still left, and yet I cannot help but marvel at how far so many have come.  How many actually will read, not because I ask them to but because it is their habit.  How many of them will casually abandon a book because they know they can find a better one.  How many of them will recommend a book because they want to,  because they need to share it, because someone else deserves to have the same experience with this book that they just had.

This is work.  This is love.  This is what we do.  And we do it in such small steps that sometimes we forget to look back at just how far we have come.  So as I sit tonight, exhausted, thinking back to all of the moments we shared today, I also realize that while we are not all there yet, we have come a long way.  We have already grown.  We have become better readers, even if if for a second I may have forgotten that.

 

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

We Continue the Path

In an hour our oldest daughter, Thea, will wake up and ask us the inevitable; who won, mommy?  We have not shielded her from the election, nor overtly exposed her to it.  Instead she has picked up the commotion surrounding her piece by piece as kids have taunted each other on the playground and we have answered her many questions.  Why do people like Trump or Clinton?  Where will the wall be built?  Why does it matter, mommy?

To a 7 year old the election is only a Tuesday night blip.  An event out of the ordinary but soon forgotten.  Yet as her mom, I keep thinking about the conversations that lie ahead, of what path our country will take now, of what questions she may bring home after she hears things on the playground.

I refuse to be afraid of the future that lies ahead.  I have faith in the American people that we will choose kind even if those in office fail to do so.  I have faith that our healing lies in our classrooms, where we will continue to teach all of the children, no matter their political beliefs, no matter their origins, no matter their stories.

While our presidents may define us outwardly as a nation, they will never define our classrooms unless we let them.  Unless we choose to shape our morals based on the actions of someone else.  It does not matter where your political affiliation lies; this election has changed us all, has brought a darker side to our united nation and it is now up to us to show the good that is America.

Our children may not care who sits in the Oval Office.  Our children may not care about the political mudslinging or the decisions that are to come.  We will, and yet we can teach such that we continue to focus on what we have always focused on; kindness, empathy, awareness and critical thinking.

America may feel like it has changed overnight, and yet it still looks a lot like the America I knew yesterday.  It is still filled with good people, with dreams of a better life, of teachers who work tirelessly to help shape the future of our country.  Of children who strive for knowledge and a place they can belong.

So do not stray from your path of goodness.  Do not forget to teach the every day lessons of kindness, sharing, listening, and building community.  We say that we as teachers help shape the future of of our country, we do, so now we shall continue down the path we have been walking for so long.  One that focuses on unity.  One that focuses on education for all.  One that focuses on coming together, rather than apart.

 

The Least We Can Do

What follows is my ITEC Ignite…

On December 19th, 2013, our youngest daughter, Augustine, was born almost 10 weeks early.  She came so fast that there was no doctor in the room, just the nurse.  She came so fast that I now know what the big red emergency button in a hospital room does.  She came so fast that I did not see her.  I did not hold her.  She did not cry.  For the first minute of her life, I did not know if she was alive.  It wasn’t until my husband, Brandon, told me she was breathing that I think I took a breath.  That life started up again because for that longest minute of my life, with no wailing to calm me down, I had no idea if I was still the mother of three or the mother of four.

They whisked her away from me into their machines, into the equipment that would help her tiny body breathe, stay warm, and her heart keep beating.  See when babies are born that early they need help with everything.  And we can prepare all we want but it is not until they actually arrive and we see how much they need us that we realize that all of a sudden we have started a new journey, one that will take us down a perilous path where we might not be able to see our destination for a long time.

In the week leading up to her much too soon arrival, I was in the hospital waiting.  Willing my body to slow down.    We were not ready.  She was not ready.  One night a doctor from the NICU visited me to help me prepare for what would happen in case she came.  His words has stuck with me all of this time.

He said, “When she comes we will be ready.  We will have the machines that will help her breathe.  We will have the machines that will keep her warm.  We will monitor her heart and we will be by your side.  We will do everything in our power to keep her alive, to keep her safe, to help her no matter what.  While we can help her with her needs, we will not know about her brain.  We will not know what long term effects being born so early will have on her learning.  We will not know if her brain will be damaged,  we will not know until she grows, until she reaches her milestones.  We will not know what her future path will look like when it comes to learning but we will be ready.  We will be by her side because that is what we do.”  That is what we do…

As I held Augustine for the very first time more than 24 hours later, I held all of our dreams for her as well.  As we sat in the quiet, listening to the alarms and the beeps on her monitor, I knew that her future was now in my hands as well, and that all we could do now was our best.  That all we could do now was to be by her side and hope that her future teachers would see her for the miracle she is and not just a child who might have difficulties learning.

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Every year as the new year awaits, our students arrive in all of their glory.  They arrive with all of their dreams, their hopes, and their needs.  They show up whether we are ready or not.  And so we prepare, we plan, we dream over the summer that this will be the year that we reach every single child we teach.

We do not pick who we teach.  We do not pick who shows up.  We do not pick who these kids are that we are supposed to have life-changing experiences with but instead we stand by our doors  like the Statue of Liberty and say; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

We can prepare all we want as teachers.  We can create classrooms where most of our students will thrive.  We can plan for fictitious children and hope they will fit into the boxes we create.  Or we can teach the kids that come.  We can create classroom experiences that center on the kids that actually show up instead of the kids we hope to teach.  

 

We can open our classroom doors wide to make sure that every child that enters, that every child that shows up, know that with us they will learn, with us they will create, with us they will matter.  Because they do.   And we can ask those kids how we can be the types of teachers they need.  We can ask those kids how they would like to learn and then we can listen to their truths and become the teachers they need.

So we can take them all and we can love them all because that is the least we can do.  We work tirelessly every day so that those kids that become our kids know that with us they belong, that with us it does not matter what their start in life was because in here they have a chance at success.  That with us it does not matter whether they were born 10 weeks early, don’t have a good home life, or have never liked school.  That with us all that matters is that they showed up.

 

Augustine did not ask to be born early, she did not ask to have such a hard start in her life.  She did not ask to have harder path than our other kids.  The kids that come to us with their broken dreams and their battered hearts, didn’t ask for that either.  Didn’t ask to have a different life than so many others.  So our job is to teach.  Is to love.  Is to be by their side.

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This summer, as Augustine went to her NICU check up appointment, we heard the sweetest words.  “Your daughter is perfectly average…” and while her path is still unwinding and we are not in the clear just yet, we see hope with every word she learns, every task she accomplishes.  We see her for the miracle she truly is, a child that would not have lived not too many years ago.  So may we all see the miracle that is the child that enters our schools.  May we all know just how lucky we are to teach these kids, even when our days are long and our lesson plans are broken.  Even when we feel we are not enough, may we still try.

As teachers, we were never promised it would be easy.  We were never promised that our jobs would be effortless.  Or that our hearts would stay protected.  But we were told that it would be worth it.  That this may be one of the hardest jobs and yet also the most rewarding.  So every day as we welcome the kids, make sure it is every child we welcome, not just the easy ones, the ones that barely need us.  Make sure your classroom is a place for any child to succeed.  No matter their start in life.  Because much like the NICU doctor told me almost three years ago; we are ready, we are here, and we will stay here until you no longer need us.  It is the very least we can do…

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out January, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.