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.

books, Literacy, notice and note, Passion, picture books, Reading

Great Picture Books to Use for Notice and Note – All Signposts

Yesterday I posted my final picture book post for all of the signposts in the amazing book  Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  It has truly been awesome finding picture books to go along with the strategies that can be used for many grade levels and through so many lenses.  I thought it would be nice to gather all 6 posts here for easy reference and also to highlight a few rockstar picture books that can be used for more than one signposts, that way if you have a limited budget for book buying (don’t we all), you can start with these few and still cover a lot.

Here are the links to the original posts, make sure you check out the comments as even more picture book ideas were shared there.

Contrast and Contradiction

Aha Moments

Words of the Wiser

 Tough Questions

Again and Again

Memory Moments

And here are some of the best picture books that can be used with multiple signposts:

The Creatrilogy by Peter H. Reynolds featuring Ish, The Dot, and Sky Color will cover almost all of the signposts.  All you have to do is add You and Me and The North Star and you can teach all 6 signposts using picture books that Peter H. Reynolds and Susan Verde has created.  How is that for the power of amazing picture books.

You Are Not Small by Anna Kang showed up on several lists.

So did a lot of Eve Bunting’s books, Fly Away Home is one of my favorites.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson breaks my heart every time I read it and was mentioned several times.

The Yellow Star by Carmen Agra Deedy also was mentioned several times.

Which books are you must have’s?  Which books are the ones you can use for more than one signpost?  Please share your ideas.

aha moment, being a teacher, being me, books, Literacy, Passion, students

A Story of A Boy and a Book

This originally was posted on The Reader Leader Blog from Scholastic.  You should really see the other posts on the blog!

He came to me with anger seeping out of every pore, a cloud of dismay surrounding him. Looking at us with eyes that told the world that he was not afraid, that he knew that we could not make him do whatever it was we intended to ask. That he would fight us with every cell in his body just to stay in control. Yet, for all of his anger, for all of his glances directed my way, he wasn’t one of mine. I didn’t have the pleasure of teaching him. He was in a separate English class, trying to be taught all of those things he had missed because of his anger and outbursts.

He wasn’t afraid of me, nor very angry. I posed no threat since I was not one of the ones asking him to please do, please sit, please stop. So every day I greeted him, smiled when our paths crossed, and told him that all of those books I had in my classroom could be his if only he wanted to read one. That even if he wasn’t mine, those books were still meant for him. Every day, he smiled and went on his way, seeing little need for any of the books I might have to share. As the weeks passed, he grew. He pushed his boundaries as children can do so well, always inching along that very fine line of control and struggle. I watched from afar; after all, he was not mine, so all I could do was smile and nod and remind him of the books that awaited.

One day, he didn’t just smile, but instead asked in all earnestness, “When can I be your student? When can I come to your class?” It wasn’t because he didn’t like the class he was in, or the teacher who taught him, but the books were calling, as they often do to so many kids that feel lost. I smiled and shrugged, repeated that the books were there for him whether he was mine or not. For weeks this played out until one day, he entered our classroom and I held my breath; after all, now he was mine, now I was one of the ones that would ask him to stop, to sit, to do. And I was scared of what would happen.

He sat quietly that first day in class. Bent his head and wrote ever so slowly, picking out his words with care, wanting so much to fit in and not just be known as that kid with anger issues. As the other students cleared out, he lifted his head, looked at the clock and asked, “Is it now? Can I pick my book now?” And he walked to the shelf of the book he had eyed and grabbed it, holding on to it as if I would ask him to put it down. “What do I do now?” he asked. “You read it,” I said, “And then you bring it back.” “That’s it?” “That’s it.”

So he left that morning, clutching Amulet: Book 1 to his chest as if it were a safety blanket. And I figured that the minute he left our classroom, that book would be forgotten; his day would develop, and soon our conversation would be a distant memory as his ingrained behaviors clouded his judgment once again. So I wasn’t surprised when at lunch he walked up to me and handed me back the book. “Did you not like it?” I asked, already running a possibility of other titles in my head that I could offer him. “I am done,” he said. “Done? But I thought you were so excited to read it?” I asked, my voice laced with confusion. “I did…I loved it…Can I have the next one please? I promise to bring it back.” He had read it already. He had fallen in love with a book. He was ready for the next one. For one moment in that day, he was just a kid who loved a book, just a kid like all the other kids, asking for the next book in a series that had spoken to him. So we walked into our classroom, found the next book and he left, clutching it to his chest once more, ready to wrestle anyone who would try to take it away.

We fall in love with books when they speak to us. When within their pages, we find a piece of ourselves we didn’t know we were missing. We clutch these books to our chests long after we have stopped reading them as a way to shield us from a world that we sometimes do not understand. Books become absorbed into our identity and allow us to risk, to love, to care about something even when we feel the most vulnerable. Even when we feel the world is not for us, we can find safety within the pages of a book. That is why my classroom is filled with books–so that every child has a chance to find a piece of armor, so that every child has a chance to find a vessel that will hold his dreams and protect them when they need to be.  My students may not understand each other’s pasts, each other’s behaviors, but they understand books, and so when a child falls in love with a book and it becomes part of him, it builds a bridge for others to understand that child better. For others to be let in.

Books provide us with the magic that we dream of as teachers. Books, whether fiction or non, chapter or picture, give us the building blocks that we need to connect with our hardest students. To connect with those that we sometimes feel at a loss to reach.  That boy didn’t stop being angry. He didn’t stop feeling that the world was out to get him, but he did start believing that somewhere in the world was a place for him to fit in. That he too could be a reader, that he too could belong. That his anger would not be the only thing that defined him, even when it spoke the loudest. That boy knew he had a home with us whenever he needed it. He still does, even though he is no longer around. My door is always open, the books always calling out for anyone who needs to belong, if even for a moment. I will never forget that boy and his book.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

aha moment, assessment, assumptions, being a teacher, being me, conferences, connect, Passion, student voice

How Can I Make This Better For You?

For the past three days my students have read.  They have sat wherever they wanted, immersed in the book of their choice.  They have book shopped.  They have reflected, but mostly just read.  Whispered about their books.  Handed those in they have finished.  And waited for me to call their name, knowing that soon it would be their turn.

I have sat at a table and spoken to them all, one by one, taken the time it takes.  “How is English going…How can I be a better teacher for you….What is not working…”  Armed with the survey they have takes as we finished our very first quarter, they have told me their truths.  They have looked at me and then gladly told me everything I have needed to change.   And I am so grateful.  Think of the guts that it takes to look at your teacher to tell them that something is not working for you.  Think of what that says about the community we have.

So for the past 3 days, I have listened.  I have nodded and taken notes.  I have asked for further explanation, and I have also asked for help.  How can we make it better?  How can we find more time?  How can we make it easier?  More engaging?  More of what they need?  How can we…

We read books to become better teachers.  We ask colleagues for help.  We meet with administrators.  We reach out to parents.  We connect and we ask and we ponder together.  Yet, how often do we ask the very kids that we teach?  How often do we stop what we are doing simply to conference with them?  Not about their work but to uncover how things are going?  What they need?  How we can change?  How often do we stop so we can learn from them?  Not often enough, but that can change.  It starts with us.  And it starts with a simple question; how can I make this better for you?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

aha moment, being a teacher, books, Literacy, Passion, student voice

Then It Just Doesn’t Matter

I have some staunch book haters this year.  Some kids who really hate reading.  Some of them hate writing as well.  And  not just in a “7th grade trying to be cool” kind of way, but in a deep-seated notion that rules their decisions, their actions, and their days.  They hate reading.  And they are telling me loudly.

They are pushing me to think about what I do in our classroom.  How I try to wrap them up in the excitement, how my own relentless quest to find that perfect book along with them is one that deserves the time it gets.  That the very act of loving reading (or writing or math or science) is something that we must find the time to cultivate in our schools.  Even when I feel the pressure of the year and the deadlines looming over me.  Because when they hate reading (or insert whatever school related subject here) then it just doesn’t matter what strategies I try to teach them.

When they hate reading then it just doesn’t matter that I am trying to teach them how to think deeper about text.

It just doesn’t matter that I am trying to teach them to find the signposts.

It just doesn’t matter that I am trying to teach them how to write about their thoughts.  How to access harder texts.  How to understand text features or write a summary.  How to analyze rather than paraphrase.

When they hate reading then that is all they can think about.  They refuse to access the skills that they need to practice because everything we do is attached to something to something they hate.

And I get it, why would you want to do more with something you despise?

So when they hate reading we must attack that first.  Not the strategies, not the skills, but the emotion that is attached to everything we are trying to do.  We must dig and dig and dig to find out why.  And we must ask, and we must talk, and we must give them a chance to change their mind, if even just in the slightest way, as we create classrooms that are run on a culture of love for our subject, rather than a need to cover curriculum.

We can assume that they hate it because it is hard.  We can assume that they hate it because they find it boring.  That they hate it because they have to sit still, because they cannot focus, because they would rather be doing so many other things.  But we won’t know until we ask.  We wont know until we acknowledge the hatred or whatever emotion they carry so that we can do something about it.

Too often we barrel on, hoping that within our teaching something magical will happen.  Yet within our race to teach to the standards, to explore the strategies, to cover, cover, cover, we cannot forget to develop the love, develop the relationship that students need to have with what we teach so that can become invested, even if just a little bit.

So when they hate reading, or whatever other thing they loudly proclaim to hate, don’t just teach.  Listen.  Ask.  And then do something about it.  And not just by yourself, but with them.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, Passion, Personalized Learning, student driven, student voice

Some Ideas for Personalizing Learning in the Younger Grades

“Mom, you have to see this…?”

Thea hands me her science project, her very first in in 1st grade, and she is so excited she has a hard time standing still.

“I have to do this thing and I get to choose and I know I want to do coyotes and a video so we need to learn stuff…”

I grab the paper from her hand and once again marvel at the ingenuity of her teacher and the district we both are in.

Personalizing learning in the younger grades has always been something I felt slightly clueless about.  After all, most of the kids I have taught have been older than 9.  Yet, by watching what Thea is experiencing in her 1st grade classroom, I have a few ideas for how learning can become more personalized in the younger grades in order to create more passionate learners.

Give  scaffolded topic choice.  While this seems like a no-brainer, I think giving choice looks a lot different in a 1st grade classroom versus a 4th grade.  I know that 6 year olds often have many ideas, which can either lead to brilliance or indecisiveness, so I have seen how a limited amount of choice in specific areas can really help them get engaged.  In Thea’s science project she was told to study a Wisconsin animal and was then given a suggested list to select from.  She knew right away when we read the words “Coyotes” that they would be her choice, however, her teacher also left it wide open for any animals not on the list as long as they were found natively in our state.  Having choice, but with limitations helped Thea get straight to work, and helped her get excited about her topic.

Have many ways to access information.  Her teacher did not place a limit on how she should access the information but gave us ideas instead.  We therefore watched real coyote videos on YouTube, checked out books, found a PBS kids show, and also found pictures online.  Not being limited to one method of finding information meant that we could adapt it to what we had access to, as well as what would work for Thea in the moment.

Have various ways to show learning.  While all the students had to do a fill-in-the-blank written report they also had to come up with a way to present their knowledge to the class.  A few choices were given; diorama, poster, or a video, but again you could also come up with your own idea.  Thea immediately wanted to do a video because she thought it would be fun.  As we discussed it more in detail, she decided to act like a teacher because she wants to be one when she grows up.  Again, having this choice in how she would present her information made the assignment even more meaningful to her because she got to express her knowledge in a way that made sense to her.

Have selective goal setting.  The students all have several goals in each subject area, but the teacher lets them choose which one they want to pay special attention to.  That goal gets a star next to it.  When they have centers, one of their stations is for working on their selected goal, a clever way of tapping into what they think they need themselves.

Let them pick partners.  Even if you think it is a bad idea.  We assume more often than not that students will make a bad choice rather than a good one.  Yet, Thea tells me proudly how often she selects a new partner for math because she wants to try working with them.  This experience not only offers her a way to learn alongside someone else, she also gets to explore more kids who might be a great friend for her.  What an awesome skill to work on.

Have them self-asses with smiley faces.  Thea is just learning how to read and write, so having them self reflect through writing would take a very long time.  A quick and easy way to self reflect is by using smiley/frowney faces as you go through their learning.  Again, this allows students to take control of what they felt successful in and set goals for upcoming learning.  Another idea is to have students do a video or voxer message where they self-reflect.  This can then also be shared with parents to see how a child thinks.

Discourage parent over-involvement.  When I first saw the science project, my heart sank a little because I thought of how much work this might be for Brandon and I.  Yet, in the rubric itself, it said that to get a “4” or a “3” the work should not be parent produced but rather originate from the child with only minimal parent support.  So that is exactly what we did.  While we discussed with Thea what she wanted to do, we really wanted the ideas to come from her and then helped her as she needed.  The end result; a kind of messy but pretty funny video (who knows if there is a king coyote anywhere?) that clearly shows her enthusiasm for the topic, as well as her knowledge.

I am amazed at the trust Thea’s teacher puts in her little learners and am also reminded in how often we underestimate kids.  Personalizing learning is not something we should start when we think kids are old enough, they are never old enough.  It is something we should start right away because that is what will create classrooms filled with curious students.  That is what will create passionate learners. 

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!) just came out!