being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

I Don’t Read

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“I don’t read” has been a refrain heard loudly in our classroom for the last three weeks.  Several students have informed me that reading is not something they do.  Not something we can get them to do.  And they have been right.  For the past three weeks, these few kids have stood by their words, proven them to be true and we have pondered what the solution may be.

I bet those students are in your room as well.

So what have we done, when children loudly claim this identity of children who will not even pick up a book?  Who will not even open a book? Who will not even book shop?  Who will not even give it a try?

We start with what we have a lot of; patience.

I think of the kids who come to us declaring loudly how much they hate to read and how many negative reading experiences they must have had to get to that point.  How many times they must have felt defeated in the face of a book and now have found a way to protect themselves.  When you refuse it is much easier to not get hurt. When you refuse it is not to anger the teacher, but o shield yourself from more embarrassment, more harm, more hurt.  How every moment we do not force them to but instead offer them an opportunity for enticement is one more moment of negative counteracted by a moment of positive.  Of how we tread lightly, offering up multiple opportunities to read every single day, but never shaming, never demanding.

Instead treating their refusal as the gift that it is; a view into the minds of a child who feels like the act of reading is not something that is safe for them.

So we treat it with care.  With gentleness as we whisper our repeated question; how can we help?  And we offer them an array of enticing books, leave them at their fingertips and walk away.  Pop up books, picture books, graphic novels and other safe books placed within their reach with no judgment wrapped around them, but instead only an opportunity to try.

And we repeat that motion every day, reminding them that they should read but leaving it at that.  Pushing books toward them and holding ourselves back from rushing over there if they do, indeed pick one up to flip through the pages, instead allowing them time to sit in the moment with a book, and not a teacher that tells, “See, I told you they weren’t all bad.”

And we speak books with them.  Including them as a full-fledged reader in our classroom, sharing recommendations and not giving up despite their many shutdowns.  Despite their many refusals.  We invite them to book shop, to abandon books, to read books that matter to them even if they are not yet reading.  There is no punishment attached to not being a reader who reads actively in our room, why should there be?

And we repeat this every single day for as long as it takes.  And we smile, and we invite, and we try to help them feel safe.  To see reading as something that is not hurtful, but instead a moment of quiet in an otherwise overwhelming world of noise.

And every day as they declare that they do not read, we acknowledge their truth and then offer them a word of hope, “yet…they do not read yet.”  And that’s okay because we have a whole year to 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.

 

 

Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Passion, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

The Rights of Our Readers

Today was the second day of school.  the second day of trying to get to know these incredible kids that have been gifted to us.  The second day of trying to establish the seeds for the habits that will carry us through the year, hopefully leading us to a year where they leave feeling like this year was worth their time, that this year made a difference.

Today was the day of one of our big fundamental lessons; when reading is trash or magic.  I shared my past reading mistakes in teaching, we shared when reading sucks or when it is lit (student choice of words).  As the post-its crowded the whiteboard, the questions and statements inevitable came.  Will we have to read books you choose for us?  Will we have to write every time we read?  Will we have to do post-it notes?  All things that in the past, I would have answered yes to but now the answers are different.  You always choose your books, even in book clubs, you will have plenty of choices.  You will not always write after you read, sometimes you will, and because of the work of teachers before me, you will be better at it than ever before.  And post-its?  Sometimes, when it makes sense, but not every time and not at home.  Only here because at home I just want you to work on your relationship with reading, the skills teaching that will happen in class.

As we finished our conversation we merged into what their reading rights are this year.  the things that I will not take away.  The rights they have as individuals on a reading journey.  This is not my idea, nor something new, but once again the work of others who have paved the way for my better understanding of what developing student reading identity really looks like.  As we discussed what rights they would have and what they meant, I wrote an anchor chart, a reminder that will hang all year so we don’t forget just what we can do together.  What choices we may have.  As we went down the list, the relief was palpable, the excitement grew.  Even some of the kids who had not so gently told me how much they hated reading right away, looked less scared, less set in stone as we talked about what this year would like.

And so this is where we stand tonight…  Our very first anchor chart to remind us of what it means to be a reader that is honored within our community.  What it means to be a reader that already has a reading identity, that we will continue to develop together, honoring everyone wherever they are on their journey, rather than forcing our well-intended decisions down over the top of kids.  Perhaps, once again, this year kids will develop a better relationship with reading, will grow as readers, will grow as human beings.  What more could we hope for when it comes to teaching?

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, Reading, Reading Identity

7th Grade Reading Challenge

So much of the work we do in room 235D comes down to students discovering new facets of their reading identity.  Whether it means the books they like to read, when they read, or even if they read, all of the work that comes with being a reader is part of what we do.

I believe in meaningful goal setting with kids, but I also know that much like us, adults, kids are great at setting goals and then doing nothing to pursue them.  They are great at having us set goals for them, relinquishing ownership so that they don’t really need to do anything to work toward them.  And so our work has been centered on developing their reading identities through personal goal setting and it starts with the introduction of the 7th-grade reading challenge.   What used to be a quantity based challenge is no longer “just” that but now asks students to really think of the reader they are right now and how they would like to grow as they move through 7th grade.

The challenge starts with self-reflection.  I need to know more about them as readers, but I also need to know how well they know themselves in order to support them well.  We do this with a simple survey about their reading habits which they start to fill out on the first or second day of school.

After that, we unveil the actual challenge:  Set a goal to begin the year, while you are expected to read at least 25 books this year if this is not a stretch for you, then set a different goal.  That goal can be a quantity goal or a habit goal.  They can choose whatever books they want to read, I will recommend many different types of books but not force them to read different genres.  We will, instead, read different genres as mentor texts in our work.

Once the survey is filled out and the challenge has been revealed, we meet one on one.  I ask questions based on their answers and together we craft a meaningful reading goal for them.  This can be anything from reaching 100 books in a year to a goal of simply finding a book they would like to actually read.  Because I teach so many different readers, their goals will always be different.  And there needs to be room for all of them, as much as I want every child to read many, many books, sometimes where we start is simply by helping them want to read and that needs to be celebrated as an accomplishment as well.  They write the goal down on this sheet and we glue it into their reader’s notebook, that way it is accessible when I meet with them again.

A few of the questions that I ask to help them uncover or further dissect their reading identity are:

Who are you as a reader?  This question is the baseline of all of the work we do.  Often times kids who have negative experiences with reading will not know what to write, which tells me that they are not aware of the facest of being a reader.  This then becomes a question that tells me throughout the year how they are developing.

  • Where do you read?
  • When do you read?
  • What do you read?
  • How do you read?
  • How do you choose books?
  • How do you abandon books?
  • When do you abandon books?
  • Who are your reading people?
  • What do you do when you finish a book?

And then we start with independent reading time, every day, every class, every kid.  And I will check in with them as quickly as I can to see how they are doing.  They reflect at least quarterly on their goal, if not more.  We reflect together and with peers.  We celebrate all accomplishments so that all kids can see themselves as accomplished.  And we continue to work on what it means for them to be a reader.  One text at a time, one conversation at a time, one child at a time.

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.

 

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.

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

On Boy Books and Girl Books

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I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books.  And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.

I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.

When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.”  That a boy will not like a book about feelings.  That a boy only wants books that have action.  That have other boys in it.  That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.

As if every single boy thinks alike.

When written like this it is easy to see the problem; when we assume that there is such a thing as books for girls and books for boys, we are continuing a tired and sexist narrative that has only furthered the power inequity that already exists within our society.  We are creating a new generation of mansplaining, of groupthink, of toxic masculinity.  Of girls only liking one thing, and boys liking another.  Of men and women being from different planets.  Of readers being shaped more by their assigned gender than their actual interests.

We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about girls because they see little value in what girls do.

We are furthering the stereotype that boys don’t like to read about feelings because they are somehow above all of that.

We are furthering the stereotype of what it means to be a boy which translates into what it means to be a man and not seeing the incredible harm in that.

Because what about the boys that love a good tearjerker?  What about the boys that don’t like sports?  What about the boys that love to experience the emotional development of a character?  What about the boys that love a great female lead character?  What about the girls who don’t fit into the opposite boxes?  Do they not deserve to have books suggested to them, no matter the gender of the protagonist?

And I think of my own children, my three girls and one boy, whose reading interests are as varied as their personalities.  Sure there are Minecraft books being read by Oskar, but not until Thea reads them first.  Sure there are unicorn books with pink sparkly covers being read by Augustine but not until Oskar sees if the unicorn gets rescued first.  I would hate for anyone to assume that they knew who they were as readers based only on their gender.

So when we claim that a read-aloud featuring a female protagonist will likely not catch the attention of our boy readers, we have whittled the male reading identity down to practically nothing.  Males – good.  Sports – good.  Action – good. We have diminished what it means to be a reader who develops with the books they read.  We have diminished what it means to identify as male.  We have diminished their chance to learn from a perspective that may at first seem foreign but in the end may just be more similar than they ever thought.  We have effectively boxed our boys in only to then wonder why they may act a certain way.

How often does this thinking then translate into the very books we recommend to the boys we teach?  To the girls?  How often do our assumptions about their needs as a reader surpass what they actually need?  How often does this translate into the read alouds we choose?  The texts we bless by spending our time on them as a community?

And I realize that I don’t get asked the opposite very often.  That often when I am asked for a recommendation for a female reader, the gender of the protagonist is hardly ever brought up.  That instead the most common descriptor is a strong story development, a story that will hold their attention.  Why do our boys not deserve the same?

So I am wondering if we for once and for all, can we all agree that there is no such thing as a girl or a boy book?  That kids need to be exposed to characters that inspire them, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to characters that will expand their worldviews and invite them into new worlds that they knew little of before, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to great books, without us adults thinking that they will only read a certain type of book based on what we see in front of us.

We must give them a chance to experience more than what they are.  Books allow us to do just that, but not if they never read them.  Not if we never recommend them.  That’s on us, which means we can change it, so let’s do that starting now.

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.