Four years ago, I caught a tweet from the incredible Jess Henze wondering if anyone would be interested in bringing an EdCamp to the Madison, WI area. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I immediately replied yes not knowing what to expect. Soon Kaye Henrickson and Emily Dittmar joined our team and for the past three years we have been the driving force behind this incredible event.
Now with huge moves (Goodbye Jess, Montana will love you), almost new jobs (Emily spreading her magic in Muskego) and crazy busy lives (how many things can Kaye magically organize?), we are ready to pass the reigns. This event should not die out, but instead should be taken over by a new team of amazing people that love EdCamp as much as we have.
So leave a comment, tweet us, or email us and let us know if you are interested. To the lucky people who take over, we will give you the domain, the background info and any support you need. If you are just curious, you can contact us as well.
I am so thankful to the three women I got to run this with. We have shared many emails, voxes, Google docs, laughs, and even frustration, but it has never been a chore working with you. You are why education has a chance to make a difference. You are true leaders and I am proud to have been a part of this with you.
I have failed as a teacher many times, mostly in small ways, but there have been epic ones as well. I think so many of us have had them. Yet, what we do with our failures is also what defines us and today, after two weeks of rotations that simply were not working, I was reminded again of what kind of teacher I want to be.
I want to be the kind of teacher that doesn’t give up. The kind that finds a new solution even when it seems like I could just stay on a path because it would be so much easier. That knows when to hold them, when to fold them, and yes, even when to walk away.
I want to be the kind of teacher that keeps the students in mind at every moment and with every decision I make, even the ones where my own pride may suffer. The one that problem-solves rather than rants. The one that fixes rather than breaks.
I want to be the kind of teacher that realizes when something is not working and has the common sense to stop it. That tries an idea with all of their heart and then makes it better when it doesn’t quite work.
The kind of teacher that dreams. The kind of teacher that listens. The kind of teacher that has students who are willing to speak up even if they know the message may cause temporary hurt, but in the long run will create a path toward a solution.
I want to be the kind of teacher that sees the learning in every problem. That sees what can be salvaged rather than throws everything out. The kind that can see the good in something or someone even in the bleakest of moments.
Today, when I realized that my dream for epic discussions had failed, I wanted to throw it all out, but my students once again reminded me that there were good moments too, things that worked that deserved protection and resurrection in a new format. So instead of ranting. Instead of raving about all of the hard work lost, how I now had to start over, I reflected, re-imagined and am ready to go for tomorrow.
I want to be the kind of teacher that never forgets their own vulnerability but sees it as a strength rather than a weakness. That isn’t afraid to show the world failure to inspire others to grow. That remembers that not everything is bad, not everything is broken even if it seems so at the moment. That’s the kind of teacher I want to be. One day I’ll get there.
I asked my students, all 114 of them, to show off their typical day in school. Then I asked the world to join in. Yesterday more than 3,000 students did the #studentlife challenge. Images shared through the hashtag, blog posts, or any other social media platform all to let the world in to what happens when you are a student.
I was not surprised when I saw all of the sitting. Students learning by listening rather than doing. I was not surprised when I saw many teachers teaching, standing at the front of the room handing out information. I was not surprised when I heard students tell us how tired they were. How many hours of homework they had. How every day was the same; monotony rules their world. We know this, I have been fighting that type of school for the last 5 years.
I was surprised though, when I saw how many of my students said these things. How many of my students told me they sat down, that they wished for more movement. That they wished for more breaks, longer lunch, more doing, less listening. That they wished for more freedom in their own school.
I was surprised because in many of the classrooms around my school, they do move. They do speak. They do rather than just sit. And yet few mentioned any of this. Few mentioned how hard their teachers work to try to make lessons interactive, engaging, and worthwhile. Few mentioned how little homework they have. How little we ask them to do outside of school. How much choice they do have in a day. My students sounded like all other students; like school was a punishment they had to suffer through every day until their real life starts.
Disheartened, I wonder if students will ever notice, or whether it even matters? Will students ever see how hard their teachers are working to change their educational experience? Will students ever realize that the way many are teaching now is not the traditional way of teaching anymore? Will students ever realize that they do have a say in their education but that they need to speak up for us to change?
There seems to be two lenses of education; the one shared by students and the one shared by teachers. And they don’t seem to mesh up at all. You ask a teacher what their classroom is like and they will show you pictures of happy students doing learning. You ask a student what their day is like and they will show you a picture of textbooks and teachers standing at the front speaking. Where is our educational narrative not matching up?
I will never stop tying to engage my students. I will never stop trying to make their days active. To give them choice. To give them voice. I will never stop trying to make school a place of curiosity and fun, rather than mandatory listening. I wonder if I am being too optimistic that students would notice all of this? Does it matter whether students recognize what we do?
I knew when I moved to 7th grade that book clubs would be one of the things that moved with me. That shared reading experience where students would get to just read and discuss is something I have loved having in the classroom the past few years. I knew it would be a different experience in the middle school classroom, after all their maturity would push their thinking, what I had not accounted for was also how my whole approach to the purpose of it would need to change to cater to a more critical mindset. So what do book clubs in the middle school classroom need to be successful?
An honest conversation. I would not have gotten student buy in if I had not had an honest conversation with them beforehand. They needed a chance to vent all of their frustrations with book clubs in order to see how this time around they might be different. They needed to know that their thoughts and yes, feelings, were validated and considered. While most would have invested themselves in the process simply because it was expected, I didn’t want that type of buy-in, I wanted a genuine desire to use this for good, to enjoy the 4 weeks or so it would last.
Choice in books. I know it is easier to have a small amount of pre-selected books for students to choose from so we can help facilitate the conversations, but with more than 100 students to cater to I knew I needed choice and lots of it. With the help of my amazing library team, bonus points from Scholastic, and the phenomenal Books4school, I was able to present the students with more than 50 different choices for titles. This way no group needed to share books and all students should be able to find something to agree on. I also told them that if they couldn’t find anything, to let me know, we would find the right book for them.
Choice in rules. While I may have an idea for how a book club should function, I needed student ownership over the reading, as well as how their discussions would unfold. All groups decided their own rules and posted them on the wall. It has been powerful to see them guide their conversations, and yes, also dole out consequences to members within their groups that have not read or are not participating.
Choice in speed. All of my groups read at different paces, so they determine how many pages a night they need to read as well as when they would like to have the book finished by within our 4 week time frame. One group, in fact, has already finished a book.
Choice in conversation. Book clubs should not function around the teacher, in fact, I have noticed that when I do listen in to an otherwise lively conversation the students immediately get timid in most cases. I have learned to listen from a distance and only offer up solid small ideas to push their conversation further when they really needed it. Too often our mere presence will hijack a group and students don’t learn to trust their own opinions and analysis. Removing yourself from the process means students have to figure it out. For those groups that struggle we talk about in our private mini-lesson.
Choice in abandonment. I do not want students stuck with a book they hate, so some groups chose to abandon their books within a week and made a better choice. Rather than think of it as lost reading time, I cheered over the fact that my students know themselves as readers. All of my students are now reading a book that they at the very least like and that is an accomplishment in my eyes.
Choice in length and meeting time. Students are allotted time every other day to meet in their book clubs and have 28 minutes to discuss and read some more. While I have told student to try to push their conversations, I have also urged them to keep them under 10 minutes unless they are having a great discussion. Students vary the length of their book clubs depending on what their self-chosen topic of discussion is and figure out how their group works best in the process.
Choice in final product. While our true purpose of having book clubs is to have a shared reading experience, I am also asking the students to do a book talk of some sort when they finish. There are two reasons behind this; to assess the standards we are covering in the quarter but also for them to develop their critical thinking skills. If the book they read is not suited for future book clubs then I need to know why. I don’t want students to have a lengthy project because that is not what book clubs are about.
While my method for integrating book clubs may seem loose at best, I have found incredible buy-in from the students. They have been excited to read their books, they have been excited to share their thoughts, and the accountability that they feel toward one another is something I would not be able to produce through force. Middle schoolers need a framework to grow within, they need our purposes to be authentic as much as possible, and they need to have a voice in how things function within our classroom. Book clubs offer us a way to have these moments in reading that abound with deep reading conversations that I may not be able to have as a whole group, they allow even the quietest student to have a voice. They allow students to feel validated in their thoughts and they allow them to share their knowledge with each other. What have you done to create successful book clubs?
I pulled her aside, wondering how I could help as we face another half a year of 7th grade. Carefully I asked why she was with me, what had held her back from understanding what I had planned out. What stood in her way of not completing her work. I searched for clues to be a better teacher for her and hoped she would she some light on why she never asked the questions I am sure she had.
“Do you get what the assignments ask you to do?” I asked searching for a place to start.
“No.” She answered matter of fact.
“Well, why don’t you ask me questions about them then?” A classic follow up question.
“A teacher once told me I asked too many questions. Whenever I raised my hand he would say, “Oh here comes another question…” and so I stopped. I figured I didn’t want to upset my teachers. I figured they didn’t want to hear it.”
The weight of that statement swallowed me for a moment, the enormity of a child telling me they had stopped questions, so I looked her and said the only thing I could.
“You have our permission to ask as many questions as you need. You have our permission to ask even after you have asked and you still don’t understand. Don’t ever let someone stop you from asking a question. Part of my job as a teacher is to answer your questions, don’t forget that.”
I think of what I have probably said in the past when I have been in a hurry. When I have been annoyed that a student asked that question. When I felt sure that they just hadn’t listened and so they didn’t really deserve for me to answer their question. I shudder at the permanent damage I may have caused from my own terrible judgment. I shudder at the things I have taught students just because of my own impatience.
The thing is with teaching that I sometimes forget; part of our job is to answer questions, not judge them with our answers. Not judge them with our veiled contempt at yet another question. Part of our job is to create classrooms where students feel safe to ask. Safe to ask again. Safe to ask in a different way. Our job is to teach all of the kids. Even the ones who don’t understand. Even the ones who ask us question upon question. Our job is not to teach students that they should never ask a question. Think of the damage our words may cause. Think of what we truly teach children with our words.
I used to think that teaching students to become great readers meant that I showed them as many reading strategies as I could and then we would practice each one until they could do it practically in their sleep. Connections – check. Predictions – check. Inferring, visualizing, character changes – check, check, check. We had our strategies under control.
I used to think that providing my students with as much time as possible to discuss reading would make them stronger readers. After all, through the talking they would be able to dig deeper into their own process and mimic others.
I used to think that my students constantly had to stop and jot so they could record and prove their thinking on little post-its. That the more post-its they had in a book, the better of a reader they were becoming. I used them for proof that they were growing. I used them for proof that they understood the steps.
I used to think that reading was all about talking. I used to think reading was all about taking it apart. I used to think reading was all about proof.
Now I know that reading should be about reading. That in all of that talking there was very little reading. In all of that jotting there was no room for flow or getting in the zone. That in trying to give the teacher proof that they were reading, they were losing valuable reading time. We stopped all of the time. We lost independent reading minutes because we had to make sure we had something written down.
For students to become better readers, they need time to read. We know that, I know that. Yes, they need strategies, yes, they need to speak about reading, yes they need to think and grow, but what they need most of all is time to read. Every day, any chance, and it needs to be uninterrupted. So now as I plan my days, my sacred 45 minutes I get with every class, 10 of that is dedicated to no-talking, uninterrupted, choice based reading. 10 minutes of quiet in the zone reading where no one tells them what to do. I wish it was more, the students wish it was more, but it is a start. It is their chance to read, everything else comes after. Everything else is less important.
What do you do in your room to preserve independent reading time?