Be the change, being a student, Literacy, Student dreams

Disrupting the Narrative in Small Ways

I had the chance to sit with a few of my brilliant colleagues this week to plan our upcoming units together. Count this as another reason of why I love working for Oregon School District; the chance to get a sub so that we can collaborate and actually have time together to share ideas, push our learning, and try to craft meaningful experiences.

One thing that struck me among many was the careful selection of the types of materials we were using to illustrate teaching points. As an example, in our upcoming TED talk unit, where we hope students will not only deepen their passion for something but also be able to share that passion with others, we searched for TED talks that not only illustrate the teaching point such as engaging openings or illustrating a certain type of through-line but also spoke to potential social issues that our students are aware of in different levels, meaning some live it and some are not even aware it is an issue.

This purposeful selection of the materials we use to teach something is a big attempt for us to not just teach kids the “standards” but also expand their understanding of the world around them and hopefully find something to become invested in, to disrupt the privileged narrative that many of us live in. Yes, our students need opportunities to grow as students of reading, writing, speaking, and everything else that is involved in their education, but they also need so much more than that; to become (more) aware of the issues that face us all.

And so when I think of disrupting the narrative, of increasing social awareness within the classroom, it certainly is in the large units we plan, how we treat kids, and also the educational framework we place them in. But it is also in the day-to-day, the videos we show of speakers, the read alouds we use, the mentor texts we share, the images, and the quotes we use. Whose stories are we constantly framing our learning in? Whose experiences are the dominant narrative? Are we embracing the small opportunities that naturally present themselves within our classroom to question, to push thinking, to urge students to inform themselves so that they can formulate (better educated) opinions? And more importantly, are we asking students to take on the hard work of noticing? Of questioning? Of changing the world that they function in? Are we giving them the opportunity to explore the perimeters they work within in order to question that very same framework?

When we plan our lessons, we have so many opportunities to make the work bigger than the learning target we are trying to reach. We need to be aware though of our choices and then push ourselves to expand those choices. Whose stories are we upholding? Whose stories are forgotten?

PS: I wrote about the text selections disruption process we use more purposefully here.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.     

being me, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Book Quantity and the Damage It Can (Sometimes) Do

Note: This post is a personal reflection with more questions than answers. In no way is this post meant to be used as a way to to argue for lowering expectations for kids when it comes to increasing reading quantity. The research shows us again and again that access to great books and the time to read them in both supported and unsupported ways is what creates reading success. Both of these are also privileges and not something that all kids, still, despite the numerous years of research have access to as Donalyn Miller reminded me of. What this post is meant to highlight and discuss is when we teach kids who have access to books and set incredibly high goals that then destroy their reading experience. That change their reading experience into one that chases only books as a point, a notch, or a number, rather than helps support their development as readers who experience books.

Today our students did a midyear reading goal reflection, a quick check to see whether or not their reading goal for the year should change. A quick check for them to take the pulse of their own reading life. It is always interesting to listen in as kids discover that they are either reading a lot more than they thought or need to step it up a bit to make their challenge goal of reading at least 25 books in 7th grade. For some 25 books is not a big deal, for others it is a mountain that they are steadily climbing, slowly putting one foot in front of the other as they find yet another book to hook them to a readerly life. They know there is no punishment for not meeting their goal. They know it is meant as a motivator for them to increase their reading. It has taken several years and different iterations for us to reach a reading challenge that seems to be successful for nearly all. And today, was a day to check in on that challenge.

As I meander by the students, a girl asks me how I am doing with my reading goal; 105 books? They like to check in now and then to see if I am staying on track, even if it is just to marvel at the goal itself. 105 books?! Who in the world can read that many books? She is trying to keep up with me but she is only at 30. I quickly tell her that one of the things I am also working on is slowing down when I read and yet the look she offers me tells me of her disbelief. After all, if my goal is to slow down then how come I am trying to read so many books?

Today, that look really hit me. I usually shrug it off, it is not the first time a student stares at me in disbelief, but today amidst the slowness of the day it gave me pause. Why is my goal so high? Why am I trying to read so many books? I don’t need to impress anyone. I am not in competition with anyone. Sure I love to recommend books but I am not the only one capable of doing so. What started as 80 books a year five years ago only keeps growing and to what end? Why the need for the high number, when 70 or even 50 would suffice?

And so I sit tonight realizing the danger of my own reading goal. Of setting it as a quantity one rather than one that calls for me to challenge myself. With this goal of 105 chapter books for the school year, I am falling into the same old habits as our students do when we focus on speed versus quality; picking shorter books, skimming texts, forcing myself to read even though my heart is not in it. With the increase in quantity comes a seemingly decrease in enjoyment. Reading is now a task in order to reach my goal, rather than something I do to relax. My to-be-read bookshelf is now work waiting for me to complete rather than adventures beckoning me to join them.

I see this happen with students too who for some reason believe that high quantities of books mean that they are automatically stronger readers. For some of my kids who set goals of hundreds of books in a year who seem to be missing most of what they are reading. Now, don’t get me wrong, research, of course, shows the positive correlation between reading large quantities of texts and being a better reader, but at what point for some kids and even for some adults does it become detrimental rather than good? At what point does the hurried race after too high of a goal in order to impress encourage students to skim read, to skip pages, to develop poor reading habits rather than lose themselves in the experience? Instead of setting a goal that challenges them in a new way? How do we balance the need for students to read more, which many need, but also to read well?

There is a balance, of course, that sometimes gets lost in the school shuffle where kids’ reading lives are made into contests through public book challenge displays, leaderboards, and reading scores. Where it often matters more how much you read versus what you read and what you get out of it. Where students are celebrated for reading quickly, even if they didn’t fully get the chance to actually appreciate what they read. Yes, quantity, and increasing quantity and access to great reading material matters for all of us, but so does slowing down, savoring text, and actually enjoying the experience. This is how we help students become or remain the types of people who cannot wait to read for fun. Where is the balance?

So today as the students did their midyear goals, I changed my own. I don’t want to read 105 books this year. I want to read 80. 80 amazing books that I cannot wait to finish. 80 books that I cannot wait to share. 80 books that allow me to fall back in love with reading and see it for the great gift it is, not for the job it has become. And who knows, perhaps I will read more, but I am allowing myself to slow down. To sit with the books. And I cannot wait.

PS: It is not too late to join the winter book club study for Passionate Readers – it starts this Sunday. Come join the conversation with hundreds of other educators as we try to create reading experiences for all of the kids we have. Also, I am currently planning my summer speaking schedule, see this page for more information if you would like me to help reach your vision for creating a school experience where students are empowered and engaged.

being a teacher, Literacy, picture books, Reading

Our Mock Caldecott List 2019

After winter break, we welcome our students back with one of our favorite units of the year; our Mock Caldecott unit.  And while I have blogged about the process before, I see this as a great opportunity for students to not only immerse themselves in incredible works of art but also to think about how to read complex imagery while building community.  But to do this incredible work, we need to have the books whose images will draw us on, hopefully, mesmerize us, move us, and make us invested when the awards are broadcast live on Monday, January 28th.

Here is my lesson plan for the unit

In no particular order, here are the books (I think) our students will judge this year.

Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts by Leah Tinari (Author, Illustrator)

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales 

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Drawn Together by Minh Le and illustrated by Dan Santat 

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin 

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? By Chris Barton and illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Katherine Roy

The Prince and the Dressmaker by [Wang, Jen]

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Heartbeat by Evan Turk

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

What Can A Citizen Do by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris

Image result for the day you begin

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Thank you, Omu! by Oge Mora

What If…by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato

Possible Additions that I am Still Pondering:

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Love by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Loren Long

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken

assessment, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading

A Notecard Check – A Simple Way to Check for Understanding

Students’ answers to when I asked when does reading suck…

Ask our students what makes them hate reading and many of them will say the work that comes after.  The reading logs, the essays, the taking notes when reading, the post-its, the to-do’s.  Not the act of reading itself.  They share their truths year after year and year after year, I wonder how I am going to see whether they really are understanding and learning without making them drown in assignments that make them hate reading.  It is a hard balance to find, especially if your students like ours have reading abilities that range from years above grade level to years below.

While the students will be working on other skills with their reading, right now, we are working on increasing stamina and enjoying their books, a skill that some of our students need a lot of work on.  When we introduce too much to them to do, that is when they end up not really working on their reading but rather hunting the text for their answer. This is when they start to dislike reading.  While being able to disseminate a text and do the heavy work with text analysis is important, I cannot have them do that all of the time, not every time they read.  After all, how many adults do that every time they read?

This year, my colleague, Reidun offered up a great idea;  the simple notecard.  The notecard is unassuming.  It is limited in its scope based on its size and it also does not take much time.  Rather than writing anything long, which we only do once in a while, when students have been introduced to a teaching point such as writers using emotive language, we then ask them to return to their own self-selected text and look for an example.  As they read they find a sentence or two, write it down and hand it to us.

A student’s example of descriptive language found within her text.

When I have a moment, I am able to quickly scan through to see who got it and who didn’t, make a note of it and then figure out who needs to be in one of our small groups.  Who gets it, who doesn’t.  The kids spend most of their time reading, rather than taking notes, and I get a chance to peek into their thought process.

As the year progresses, our skill focus will change, our questions will deepen, and yet, offering students time to “simply” read is something that we will continue to protect every single day.  The notecard allows me to peek at skills, to inform my instruction, and to collect data.  All without causing a major interruption in their time with the text.

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

Small Disruptions in Text

I have been so incredibly inspired by the work of the women behind the #DisruptTexts movement.  This movement, started by a group of fearless educators: Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena Germán, Dr. Kimberly N. Parker, and Julia E. Torres, have been leaders within the work that is needed to disrupt the cannon and also help all of us change the work we do with texts in the classroom.

While I am lucky in the sense that I don’t have canonical texts I am forced to explore with my 7th graders, I have realized that habit and ease had gotten me stuck in certain texts, that sure, seemed to work for students, but didn’t do much for their exposure to other points of view, nor did it represent all of the lives of the students I teach.  Thus a mission for the year began – disrupt the texts I use with students, pay attention to my own selection process, and ultimately create a broader experience for all kids in order for them to have more critical exposure to many perspectives.

So what does that look like for me?  Well, it began with two questions; why am I selecting the texts that I am and how can I select others?  As I looked at my lists of short stories, read alouds, picture books,  and even book talks, I quickly saw a pattern.  While my own reading life is fairly inclusive, my academic usage was not.  The same texts were used year after year and many of them were predominantly created by white, cisgendered, heteronormative people.  Even though I had been trying to purposefully select more inclusive texts!  While there were units where the scope had broadened, there was still this dominance, a thread, of the same type of texts used and highlighted.

So for the past few months, I have spent a lot of time on text selection within a few areas.  By auditing my habits and my patterns, I found plenty of opportunities to disrupt my own “canon” and also help others find better texts.  Here are the areas that I have focused on:

Picture books.  Reading a picture book aloud is something sacred to us, and while I have a fairly inclusive picture book collection, I was not really keeping track of which I was choosing and sharing.  By having a visual representation of the picture books outside our room I am reminded to look for a broader scope and to include many different perspectives.  (To get ideas for great books to read or share, follow my Instagram where I do “live” recommendations as I discover books.)


Read alouds.  I have always mostly selected our read alouds based on the merit of the story.  Is it a story that will elicit interest and conversation?  Will my students be changed after this read aloud?  And yet, I did not pay much attention to the author and the identity they represented.  Now, the two go hand-in-hand.  Questions I use to assess whether a book should be read aloud are many, but a few are:  How is this author’s identity represented within the text?  How is it different than what my students have already been exposed to?  How is the main character different than the last main character we got to know?

Book talks.  Once again, random selection was the way I did book talks.  Sometimes it was a book I had just finished, other times an old favorite.  This meant that I didn’t always remember which books I had book talked and surely did not pay attention to whose stories I was book talking.  Now, my system is twofold – I write down the books I plan on book talking and also keep a written poster in our classroom, which I fill in after a book talk.  While the poster will need to be replaced soon, it allows me to see the bigger picture of what I am blessing through book talks.  Just looking at it today, I realized that I had not book talked any books featuring characters from within the LGBTQ community, which is something I plan on rectifying.

Seeing this was a reminder to book talk more books by female authors, as well as authors from within the LGBTQ community.

Short stories and text excerpts.  This is where I needed the most disruption.  I had some great short stories that captured the interest of students, but most were by white authors.  I simply had not paid attention to this part of the selection process and had instead just grabbed stories others had recommended or stories that I knew.  And this is part of the problem I think for many of us; we recommend the same stories over and over, we remember the same stories being used and somehow they then receive more merit as legitimate texts than they really deserve.  Now, my selection is focused on the author’s identity, the main character’s identity, as well as whether the story fits our purpose.  By using fantastic short story collections such as Funny Girl,  (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, and Hope Nation, as well as first chapters from great #ownvoices books I am ensuring that my students are meeting new fantastic authors and stories that will hopefully not only better represent their own experiences and identity, but also the identities of others whom they may not know.

So what can you do if you want to start disrupting your text choices as well?  The first would be to follow the work the movement #DisruptTexts  and the women behind it do, but then also audit yourself.  What are you reading?  Book talking?  Sharing?  And using with your students?  Whose identities and experiences are being represented as the norm?  Whose voices are left out?

Read more inclusive texts and start a document to track texts you may potentially use with students and their purpose.  We have a shared mentor text document as a team where we can drop text in as we find them.  Create visuals that show you just what you are blessing and share and take the vow to do better, to notice your own patterns and change the texts you use.  While I still have a long way to go, I am already feeling better with the intentionality of the texts I am exploring with students, as well as the opportunities we still have to do better.

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

I Don’t Read

White, Black,  Free Image

“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.