Be the change, building community, community, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

A Few More Steps Toward a Successful Reading Experience for All

Voting ends for the Global Read Aloud 2019 in two days. In two days, they will be tallied, I will sit and ponder, feel the gravity of the decision and finally, at some point, make it official. The weight of it is sometimes paralyzing. After all, I am not just selecting a book to read aloud to my own students, but making the largest recommendation to the world as I can. Holding titles, and with them the creators behind the work, and telling the world that these experiences are worth every moment of their time.

It is not much different, in a way, from the way we hold books up in our classrooms day after day. How we share our opinions on social media. How we give our blessings any way we can. The weight it carries is the same; we shape our students’, our children’s, our own reading lives by the choices we make. By the texts we give our time to, by the texts we don’t. We tell the world what we value within every choice, within every recommendation, within every ounce of time we give something. By ever instructional minute we offer up in order to dive in, dig in, tease out.

So when I am asked how to help someone like reading more, I keep coming back to the choices we make. The finite amount of time we have for any kind of influence. How it is impossible for me to change someone’s feelings about reading, but what I can do is provide them with an opportunity to change them themselves. So where does the work begin for us because, as we know from so many of our readers, it is not enough to simply find a book that may change their mind, even if that is where the journey may start.

Think of your environment. What are kids surrounded by as you promote reading? Is it books (I hope)? Is it comfort? Is it calm? Is it safe? Reading carries a lot of emotions and so for a child to immerse themselves in a text they need different things. Some need slight noise, others need absolute quiet. Some need to feel safe because reading does not feel safe for them, in fact, for some being surrounded by books just feels overwhelming rather than good. Some need a friend, some need a corner. Knowing how kids feel within our environment is key to helping them adapt to it in order to create a successful reading experience.

Consider asking: Where do you read best? What do you need to feel comfortable so you can focus on a book?

Think of your requirements. What are kids expected to do once they are reading? What are they expected to do while reading? So often, it is not the act of reading itself that kids want to stay clear from, it is all of the work that they have to do with it. Also, how are readers being limited? What may seem as no big deal to us, such as telling kids they can only select books that are over 100 pages or they can’t read children’s book if they are older, may be the exact obstacle that stands in the way of a reader.

Consider asking: What makes you want to stop reading? What obstacles need to be removed in order for you to have a better reading experience?

Think of your community. Do you speak books? Does your classroom or school community? When we speak book we speak in shared experiences such as read alouds or book clubs, we pass books and other texts from hand to hand, we share recommendations not because we are forced to but because we want to. We find as many people to speak books to, including all of the other adults in the building, and then we try to come up with ways to include those outside of our school community to speak books with us as well.

Consider asking: Who do you speak books with? Who are your book people?

Think of your emotional investment. We have to recognize that for some reading is a reminder of everything they have failed at, that unless we protect the hope of being readers in all kids, then we may be inflicting additional negativity when it comes to the reading experiences we create. Trust and honesty then are pillars of a functioning reading community, and that includes kids who identify as kids who hate reading to still have a space within our community. So how are all readers handled? Are their identities honored and given space to change and grow. Are the small steps toward a mores successful experience being honored or only the big ones?

Consider asking: Who are you as a reader and how do you know?

Think of your reasons for reading. Are kids reading for points? For grades? To pass levels? To avoid punishment? Or are they reading because they find true value in it? Joy even? While extrinsic motivators certainly can cause a sense of urgency within a child to read, they are often short lived, and research shows again and again that the only rewards that truly change reading behaviors long term is to have more books and time to read. Not trinkets, grades, or achievement boards. Why do we then continue to gravitate toward extrinsic motivators? Because for some kids they do work in the short-term (and yes, short-term can be a whole school year), for some kids they seem to spark a change, yet, how often do those kids then stop reading the minute the program/reward/grades are removed? How many of the kids who were motivated to read to get a high score on the test are also motivated when there is no test to be taken? We do this a lot in education; implement short term solutions that do long-term damage. So instead of going for the “quick” fix, invest in the long-term building of a reading community, which yes may mean kids are slower to change their reading identities but it should mean a more meaningful long-term change is happening.

Consider asking: Why do you read? If programs are implemented ask: How do you feel about the program? Do you plan on reading over the summer – why or why not?

Think of your timeline. Just because a child is not liking reading more half-way through the year or even by the end of the year, does not mean it has all failed. It might just mean that it is going to take a lot more time. That is why continuation of shared reading beliefs is so important for kids and for the educational communities they are are in. If there is a foundational right to self-selected, teacher-supported, independent reading in the early years then that right should be carried through until graduation. It doesn’t help if we merely implement best practices for a few years and then forget all about them as children grow older. In fact, it is awfully hard to change reading behaviors and feelings all by yourself, and it often leads to an artificial change, one that is not sustained after they leave you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but it does mean that you should be involving your broader school community in the work as well.

Consider asking: What are the reading rights of children every year?

So often when we really want kids to love reading, we forget to dig deeper into all of the components that go into creating meaningful reading experiences. In fact, this goes for so much in education. We implement and support short-term solutions that do not really change the foundational experience as much as they should and then wonder why it doesn’t work for all kids. But the change can start within the very questions we ask and we reflect on. So much of what I have learned through the years have come from our students. Have come from our team conversations. Have come from our community. So while all students deserve choice, access, time, and meaningful reading opportunities, they also deserve a safe community with an ongoing dialogue about how else their reading experiences can be shaped. And that starts with us.

being a teacher, books, community, Literacy, Passion, students

A Powerful Lesson in Book Choice and Discovery

image from icanread

I felt so guilty this morning planning final details of my lesson.  After all, we are three weeks into the quarter and there is so much to do already.  Three weeks and what have we really done?  And yet, the books had been piling up.  I had seen the students book hopping, abandoning at a rapid pace.  And I knew there were so many great books to share.  If only we did not have to do these other things.  If only we had the time.

So this morning, I realized that we needed to find the time.  That book shopping was not a luxury I could hope to get to but instead was a necessity.  And not in a hurried, five minutes at the start of class kind of way either.  Not in a “let’s fit it in quick so we can get to this other thing” kind of way.  No, we had the need to make book shopping THE thing to do today.  No matter what else we should have been doing.

They came in and immediately saw the piles of books; my favorite reads from the summer, brand new books that I haven’t even read, and some older favorites that I know they need to discover.  Right away, the questions started.  “What’s this?  Did you see this?”  As the students grabbed their readers’ notebooks, I interrupted their conversation.  “Come on over.”  And they did, surrounding me in the rocking chair as I read aloud the inspiring It’s A Book by Lane Smith.  I love reading this book aloud to older students because they always giggle and then look to me to see if I got it too.  And I do and I giggle too, and we marvel at the wonders of simply reading a book.

I asked them how they find new books to read and we brainstormed a list together.  Nothing extraordinary but a simple reminder to indulge in the art of looking for a book.  To take the time to truly go through the books and not just cast a glance at the cover and then make a decision.

They were itching to go. The books calling out for them and yet, I held them back for another few minutes as I book talked a select few books in each pile.  Already the students were writing down titles.

“I know Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan looks like a giant book, but the pages will fly by as you read.”

“You think that The False Prince is a good book, but then you get to page 88 and it becomes a book you have to read as quickly as you can to see what happens next. And did you know the same author wrote A Night Divided?

“In my hand I am holding the best book I have read so far this year.  Yes, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is really that good.”

Finally, I told them to take their time, that I would give them the whole class period if they wanted it.  And off they went.  Their papers clutched tightly and their hands reaching out for all the books.

I stood back, observed, and smiled.  Everywhere students were reading pages, sharing books, offering recommendations and scribbling down titles.  Questions floating through the air as students told each other why they had to read this one, or how they couldn’t wait to read this other one.  One child proudly showed me they had already found 10 titles to read and they knew they would find more.

As I walked around, the students came to me and offered up book recommendations, asking me to please write it down because they knew that so and so would love the book.  They asked me if they could book shop our regular shelves or if I knew of a book that was like this other one they loved?

As I stood there and observed, I realized that it was not merely book shopping that was happening in front of us.  It was the beginning of a community of readers.  Of students that want to talk about their books, that want to share the stories they love with others, and that cannot wait to read a book.  Not all of them, but many, and the others I will continue to work with.

We may not have gotten to that other lesson I thought we needed.  We may not have gotten all the work time we need for the first speech we are giving.  We may not even have had our independent reading time that we so ferociously protect.  Instead through the discovery of books, we really discovered each other.  I cannot wait to see where these communities will go next.

PS:  If you are wondering which books I book talked, many of them can be found right here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

being a teacher, building community, community, new year, students

They Are Not Mine…Yet

image from icanread
image from icanread

I almost know all of their names.  All 118 of them.  Not because I have some magical brain penchant for memorizing names and faces.  Not because they all wear name tags.  No.  Every night I have pored over their faces, trying to remember each one, trying to figure out who they are.  Because I still teach strangers.  Strangers that I am trying to establish a community with, strangers I am trying to get to trust me.

So this week has been about them.  About why they love or hate reading.  About how they see themselves.  About how they react to picture book upon picture book as we try to weave a common thread.  And it seems to be working.  Slowly.  The stories are gently coming, the nervous laughter disappearing.  The hand raised a little faster.  We have a long way to go but ever so slowly the seeds have been planted, the foundation is being laid.

So today I will do my name competition; do I really know all of their names after just 3 days?  I will read another picture book as I rock in my chair and they share the tattered bean bags.  I will thank them for the few days we have spent together and wish them a happy long weekend.  I will hope for a smile, a high five, and a farewell, knowing that hopefully some day I will get to take these things for granted.  I will hope for a hallway greeting, a quick goodbye before the bus comes.  Little things that show the relationship we have built.  Those things that I miss so much.

I don’t know my students.  Not yet.  But it will happen.  Even if it feels like they will never be our kids.  They will.  They just don’t know it yet.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

being a teacher, books, community, inspiration, Literacy, Passion

How I Select A Picture Book For Our Classroom

Yesterday a new student wandered into our classroom with his parent and younger siblings; locker drop off was happening in preparation for the first day of school.  As I looked up something for him, I heard them excitedly talk about the books in our room.  “Here’s that one that you wanted to read…Oh, do you remember this series….”  And then they saw the picture books.  After all, they are hard to miss.  Right away the comments came, “Oh, I loved this one…”  “Have you seen this one, that looks fun…”  And so forth and I smiled ever so wide, because picture books once again have proven to be a way to connect in our classroom.

But how do you pick the right ones for your classroom?  How do you know which ones to get?  I make lists, as do many others, but how do I even know which to put on the list?  I thought a few helpful tips may be in order.

I am connected.  I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club and through Twitter  I am connected to many picture book loving people; teachers, librarians, parents, and all of the other amazing people out there.  I follow hashtags like #Titletalk, #pb10for10 and #nerdybookclub to stay in the know.  And I tweet out asking for recommendations all of the time.

I keep a written list handy.  I have a journal book with me at all times, and while I often add books to my wishlist on Amazon, I like having the list in my bag.  I am always adding to it and will cross out as I either purchase or reject.  This also makes it easy for me to recommend books to others that they may not know about.

I read them beforehand, most of the time.  Many times we will wander to the nearest book store so that I can  browse the books before purchasing them.  How do I know that this will be a great one for our room, well there are few things I look for…

Do I react to it in any way?  A picture book doesn’t always have to have a deep message for me to react to it; was it funny, did it make me think, did it leave me with questions?  All of these are things that I look for.

Is it easy to follow?  Sometimes it takes more than one read to really get a book and while I love those books too, most of the time, I am looking for a book that my students will get rather quickly.  At least most of them.  However, I do purchase picture books to use with smaller groups that have layers we can peel away.

Is the language accessible?  Yes, I teach 7th graders but their reading development levels ranges from 2nd grade to high school, so can all students access the text or will I need to “translate” it?

What purpose does it have?  I often look for picture books that can be used as community builders, self connections, or conversation starters.  We also use them as mentor texts as we develop as readers and writers throughout the year.  But I also look for picture books that will make my students laugh, make them reconnect with being a little kid again, or help them get out of a bad mood.  I try to get a balance of all of these types of books in the hands of students.

Will we read it more than once?  Because I buy most of the picture books in my classroom, I look for enduring books that we will return to again and again.  Different things make books repeat reads; the illustrations, the phrasing, the story.  Bottom-line: it is a gut feeling most of the time.

Do we have other works by the author?  My students feel closely connected to the picture book authors and illustrators whose books we love so I try to expand our favorite collections as often as possible.  Some of our favorites are Mo Willems, Peter H. Reynolds, Ame Dyckman, Jon Klassen, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Sometimes I just take a chance on a book.  Sometimes I have no rhyme or reason for  what I bring in other than a small feeling that some kid at some point will connect with it.  I never know which picture book my students will love, so sometimes I just sit back and let them explore and then pay closely attention.  Then I go out and get more of those.

And, of course, I cannot write a post discussing picture books without sharing a few of my new favorites or ones that I cannot wait to get.

Laugh out loud funny, The Pretty, Pretty Bunny by Dave Horowitz is in my first day pile for kids to choose from.

The Promise by Nicola Davies is a beautiful tale of making a difference.  This would also be great for a science classroom.

I cannot wait to get Finding Winnie – The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick.  I wonder how many students will love this tale of the real Winnie the Pooh.

Why do I have a feeling that Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum will become a favorite of my students?

Picture books are a part of our tapestry and something that I am proud we use in our middle school.  I hope being vocal about the benefit of using picture books with older students will help others take the jump.  I got to discuss more of this in this article here.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being a teacher, being me, community, new year, Passion

Confessions of a Dream Crusher

We call ourselves the dream makers, the curiosity protectors, the people who will change education from within.  We see ourselves as open-minded, always willing to change, and always looking to do what is best for students.  We come to school on those first few days with dreams spilling out of our arms.  New ideas floating around our heads as we dream of the possibilities.  As we eagerly embark on a new journey.

Yet a few weeks in and our arms seem to be empty.  The dreams gone,  reality set in, and  we think, “Well, maybe next year will be the year we change education, maybe next year these dreams will work.”

We can blame politicians for crushing our dreams.  Sometimes we can even blame administration.  But more often than not the blame lies within our own communities, our own teams, and ourselves.   After all, how quick are we to dismiss the dreams of others before we even hear them out?  How often do we think that we know better than someone else?  How often do we make it a point to share just why something will not work.  Yet, we get upset when someone dares to tell us that our dream is impossible, that our idea will never work, but forget that we say those some words to others.

We are so quick to tsk tsk other people’s new ideas.  We are so quick to jump in with our own opinions, to share our own better ideas.  To not truly listen because in our minds we have already decided that that idea will never work.  We are so quick to burst the fragile bubbles of hope that we all bring back at the beginning of a new year.  As if bringing someone down to Earth is a good thing.

And we can blame society.  We can blame standardized testing.  We can blame the Common Core.  Or we can take responsibility for how we speak to others.  For how we judge.  For how quickly we dismiss.  We can stop crushing the dreams of others.

Schools starts in 10 days.  I will not be a dream crusher anymore.  I will not be the one that says that something cannot work.  I will not be the one that discourages others.  Instead, I will be the one that says, “How can I help?”  What will you be?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

being a teacher, community, parents

It Is Not Just Student Relationship We Should Worry About

Today our incoming 7th graders found out which teachers they will have.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they are excited.  I hope they have heard wonderful things about our team.  I know we can’t wait.  Today was also the day that Thea, my now 1st grader, found out her teacher, a moment that was exciting yet filled with questions as well.  Will her teacher “get” her?  Will she love school?  Will this be another incredible school year for her?  What will my role be as a parent of a 1st grader?

For years I have tried to create a welcoming environment for all the people that are attached to our classroom.  For years I have tried, along with my team, to create spaces where parents/guardians can feel like they have a voice, are welcome, and also can engage in tough dialogue with us when needed.  It is something that we pride ourselves on because it has not just happened, we have had to work at it knowing that parent/guardian relationship is vital to a child’s success.   So I was dumbfounded when I came across an article titled “Ten Types of Parents that Teachers Secretly Hate.”  I read it  (I won’t link it here because I don’t feel like giving it traffic) and I was so disappointed in it.  Is this really what we as educators want to tell parents?  That we secretly hate them when they are involved in their child’s education?  That if they don’t follow our rules for engagement then we will complain about them behind their backs?  Is this even what we want to be told as parents?  That teachers secretly label us and hate some of us?

Yet, it wasn’t just the labeling of the various types of parents that upset me, it was the complete disregard for the cause behind this behavior.  There was no discussion of why a parent might be over-involved, might be absent, might be going straight to the principal rather than us.  There was no acknowledgement of what can lead to these types of parental behavior that we “secretly hate.”  No discussion of what a poor school experience can do to future relationships.

I have worked alongside many types of parents and guardians.  Some have been wonderful interactions, others have been tough.  Some led me to tears while others led to great moments of joy.  I am thankful for every single interaction I have had, even if it was a hard one, because each one has made me grow as a teacher.  And sometimes the hardest ones have been the ones I have grown the most from.

So before we assume that parents are a certain way to annoy us, to discount us, to somehow make our workdays harder, how about we assume that all parents/guardians want what is best for their child?  How about we assume that the reason they approach us in a certain way is because that is what they have had to do in the past? How about we assume that they may be absent because circumstance is keeping them from our schools, not choices?  How about we afford them the benefit of the doubt and try to get o know them before we label them as being a certain way.

Much like we try to uncover the past of our students to find out how it affects them now, we should also be trying to uncover the pasts of the adults attached to them.  I am sure I will meet many of the archetypes of parents listed in the article in the coming year, but what I won’t do is assume that I know why.  What I won’t do is hate them.  What good will ever come from that?

We all know relationships matter most when it comes to a successful school year, so why not actively build a relationship with adults as well?  It starts now, not when something comes up, not when it is too late.  What will you do to reach out to them before they reach out to you?

PS:  I posted my welcome parent survey today, I cannot wait to read their answers.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.