being a teacher, being me, books, classroom setup, Literacy, Passion, Reading

If My Classroom Library Was For Me

image from icanread
image from icanread

If my classroom library was for me there would be no dog books.  Well, almost no dog books because Rain Reign deserves to be there.  There would be no sports books, except for maybe Stupid Fast.  There would be no books with mermaids, unicorns, or any kind of princess, except for the feisty ones.  If my classroom library was for me, I would have only books that I know would fit all of my readers, that no one would ever object to or question.  I would take the easy way, after all, who needs more worries in their life?

There would be shelves and shelves of dystopian science fiction mixed with a little bit of love.  There would be historical fiction but mostly the more recent stuff.  Realistic fiction would be a major section, but fantasy would be reserved for the stuff that makes sense, after all, who needs books about dragons?

But it is not.

Our classroom library is filled with dog books.  With books about kings and queens, footballs, and dragons.  It is filled with books about men who went to war and never came back, and women who conquered the world.  It is filled with science, with history, and even with joke books because who doesn’t need a good laugh now and then.

Our classroom library is not just for me.  It serves more than 120 students and some may have similar tastes as me, but  most of them don’t.  So when I choose whether a book deserves a spot in our library, I cannot just think of myself.  I cannot be afraid to place books in it that scare me.  I cannot be afraid of what others may think if I know that a book is needed.  I cannot use myself as a measuring stick.  If I did, our library would not be for the students.

So when we purchase books.  When we decide what to display.  What to book talk.  What to remove, keep this in mind; our classroom libraries are meant to be homes to all readers.  Not just the ones that are like ourselves.  Not just the ones who have seemingly quiet lives filled with normal things like family dinner and soccer.  Not just the ones who love to read.  Not just the ones who tell us which books to buy and raise their hand when we ask who wants to read it next.

Our classroom libraries are for all kids that enter our classroom.  Especially for the ones who are lost, who have not found that book, or that story that made them believe that they are a reader, that their life matters.  We must have books that allow all children to feel that way.  To feel like there is not something wrong with them.  It is no longer a matter of just having diverse book, it is about having the right books for all those kids that come to us and wonder whether they are ok and then displaying them.  Whether they are normal.  The books speak for us, so make sure they speak loudly.  Make sure that in your classroom children can find that book that will make the biggest difference.  Make sure you do not stand in the way.  Make sure fear of what others may think does not stop you from helping a child.

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!

books, Literacy, Passion, Reading, student voice

On Reading Identity – An Essential Question to Ask Our Students

I have been watching my students carefully the last few weeks, waiting, holding my tongue, and just seeing what happens.  We have started every day with 10 minutes of independent reading, which yes, sometimes is so hard to give because I feel the pressure of what I have to cover bear down on me.  And yet, I know that giving my students independent reading time, particularly in the middle school, will make the biggest difference between whether they are readers or not.

So I have watched, and I have noticed the child that has already read 5 books on his device.  Absorbed, enthralled, and recommending books to me.  The child that is still re-reading the same old books that he has re-read the last few years, afraid to take a chance on something new.  There is the child that has asked me if she could please listen to the next book and will that count as reading?  (The answer is yes, of course).  And then there is the girl that has been sharing her truth with me in small casual comments; she hates reading, always has.  Reading was fun in kindergarten when she had to listen but that was it.  She says it likes it’s no big deal.  Like it is fact.  Reading is not for her and never will be.  So I tell her I will try to make reading better and she answers “That’s what they all say, Mrs Ripp.”

That’s what they all say.

Every teacher who has had her has told her the same thing; I will help, I will make it better, I will try.  And yet, she stands before me now confessing that reading makes no sense to her.  That even when she has pictures it makes no sense.  And it doesn’t matter how many strategies she tries, it’s too hard and she will just read whatever,just so she can get through it.  Because getting through reading is the only thing she knows how to do.  Even though she has support.  Even though she has teachers who care.  And So I ask more questions, trying to discover just who she is, and what her reading identity means to her.

So often, we feel the pressure to teach.  We feel that every time we speak to a student we must offer them up a kernel of truth, some inspiration, and a thing to try.  We do it so that reading can become better for them, so they can comprehend deeper, understand it more, and develop their skills.  Yet, in slowing down these past few weeks, I have learned yet another lesson when it comes to our readers;  We cannot teach them well if we do not know their reading identities.  And sure, that comes through speaking with them, but it also comes through quiet observation and casual conversations.

The students know what we want to hear.  They will not tell us their truths until they trust us. So I withhold my judgment, reel back my eagerness to fix, and I pay attention, and I listen.  Our students speak so loudly, yet we often forget to hear it.

So as they read or not read, depending on their choice, I sit next to them and ask quietly; “Are you a reader?”  They are often surprised at the question, yet how they answer it tell me so much.  I thank them and I move on.  I take notes on my reader profile sheet and I ponder what the next step should be.  How this year will help them and not hurt them.

We are not yet ready to talk strategies.  We are not yet ready to talk goals, other than finding great books.  We are not ready to analyze text, break it apart, or even compare.  Not as a class any way.  But we are ready to share our truths.  They are ready to declare whether reading is for them or not.  And I am ready to listen.  Are you?

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!

Be the change, being a teacher, being me, Passion, power

A Rally Cry for Our Girls (And Boys)


A woman I admire greatly, Joyce Valenza, keynoted today on female leadership.  Before her keynote she asked me and other women I admire greatly to share their experiences of what it means to be a woman in education.  The following is roughly what I shared in a short video clip, I thought it only best to share it here as well but written instead of spoken.

I am the mother to 4 children all under the age of six.  I am the mother to 3 daughters that will one day, hopefully, become independent leaders, not afraid to speak up or speak out.  But for them to become just that, our society has to change.  Our classrooms need to change.  Our language needs to change.

In how many classrooms are girls expected to follow the rules better?  To sit still?  To listen quietly?  If a girl runs around, full of energy she is “acting like a boy.”  If she does it on a regular basis then something must be wrong with her.  If a girl raises her voice, has high energy, then she must be having a bad day.  She is labeled “wild” and “unruly.”  Because that is not how girls are supposed to be.  It goes against their very nature.

The same goes for boys, except only opposite.  If a boy is quiet, if a boy shows emotion, then something must be wrong.  If a boy does not engage in rough housing he must have a problem or be a wimp.  We call our boys “sensitive” like it’s a swear word.

As educators, we must see our students as full human beings that can act in whichever way they choose, even if that means not being a “good” girl every day.  As mothers, we must protect our children from the language that is sure to shape their identity so that they can be what they want to be, not just the archetype of a woman that society has bestowed upon us.

We are raising the future so I raise my girls to be independent.  To be brave.  To be fierce.  I raise my son to be proud of his emotions and to say no when he wants to.  That he does not have to fit into any gender stereotype someone else has decided for him.  But most of all, I raise my children to be themselves, no matter their gender.  Our classrooms, our very language, should protect that.

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!

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!

advice, being a teacher, being me, Passion, student driven, students

These Three Areas May Be the Root of Student Disengagement

image from icanread

Yesterday, I shared my students’ reasons for why they become disengaged, yet sometimes it is hard to figure out the why for longterm change.   It is easy for us to blame curriculum or things outside of our control, yet often, disengagement is happening because of a few simple things in our classrooms.  Therefore, I offer you up the three areas to evaluate as you try to engage your students.

Evaluate yourself.  Are you the reason they are off-task?  Did you speak too long or did you not make sense?  Do they like you?  This is huge.  If students do not like you, they are much more likely to be off task and the more we hammer down our authority, the more they will battle us.  So if you are not creating real relationships with students, then off task behavior will often turn into disruptive behavior.

Evaluate the content.  Does it make sense?  Is it engaging?  If it is something that you need to “get through” then students will treat it as such.  I often tell students that we are working on creating a foundation of knowledge that we can use to try new things, I try to steer clear of saying we have to just “get through” anything.  Also, does the content allow for them to speak to others, to move around, to use the information or are they listening to you deliver the content and then working silently with it?  Try to think about how much we ask students to work in silence all day, and then we wonder why students lose their voice?  Student choice and voice is a huge part of this.

Evaluate the time and place.  My third hour class (after study hall) and my sixth hour class (after lunch) are loud and take a lot more to become engaged.  They are wired with energy and need ways to work that off.  Their work often looks different that that of other classes because I need to tap into their energy.  I may play soft music when they come in, speak in a calm tone, and also have them reflect quietly for a few minutes after their independent reading time, all so they can get back in the zone of what we need to do.    My first class and my last class of the day needs energy.  They are tired.  They have either just woken up or have been sitting most of the day.  So I play fast music, get very animated and I create opportunities for them to get up and move around the room focusing more on group learning to get their energy up.  Are you adapting your teaching style to the time and place of the day?

While there are many sub areas we should also be evaluating, I have found that most of the time the answers lies within one of these.  And if in doubt, ask your students.  I know I sound  like a broken record but sometimes I spend hours thinking about why something is happening where I should have just asked the people it involved.  Yes, some times students will tell us things that are hard to hear, but I would rather hear the truth so that I may change, than pretend that I have it all figured out.

PS:  Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, the final part is all about the small changes we can make.

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, ideas, Literacy, MIEExpert15, Passion, picture books

But How Do You Really Teach With Picture Books?


2 days into the year and already we have shared 5 picture books.  Today I read How to Read A Story by the amazing Kate Messner 5 times as we discussed what we love and hate about reading.  As we discussed what makes a great reading experience.  As I invited my students to come on over, one boy clapped his hands, “Story time!” he said.  And not in a sarcastic 7th grade too-cool-for-school kind of way, but in the way that little kids say  it; excited to hear the story.   Excited to share in this moment.  No one laughed at him, instead others joined in, murmuring their appreciation as well.  Story time began as we sat around the rocking chair.

So I read aloud, and we added one more book to our “How many picture books in a year” bulletin board and my students left feeling like there was absolutely nothing wrong with doing just this; sharing a picture book even though now they are in middle school and maybe too old for some things.

I am often asked why picture books?  Why spend the money on these seemingly simple books?  Do I really teach with them or is it just for fun?  And sure, sometimes it is just for fun, but most of the time?  Picture books are serious business in our classroom.

I don’t just buy picture books because they look fun.  A lot goes into the selection process.  These are sacred texts we are bringing in, ones that will build our community, inspire us, and make us better readers and writers.  That is something I take very seriously.

Selecting one to be read aloud is not done lightly either.  At the moment I am contemplating whether to use The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier or Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman as we get ready to discuss how we stop identifying ourselves as readers or writers tomorrow.  I use them as a way to bridge a conversation that otherwise might be hard for some of my students to start.  I use them as a way to access topics that sometimes my students cannot speak about because they are afraid of how others will react.  Yet, when a character in a picture book goes through a situation that resonates with them then it becomes a safe conversation for them to have as well.  You want to speak about loneliness in your classrooms?  Read The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig or To the Sea by Cale Atkinson.

I use picture books as mentor texts, guiding us as we hone our own craft as readers, writers, and speakers.  We read them once to find out the story, and then later I bring them back as we look at writers craft.  We use them to figure out how to tell our message in a powerful way, such as by studying the careful word choice of Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.  We use them for setting up plot while still leaving our reader in suspense such as the storytelling found in The Skunk by Mac Barnett.  We use them for when we are seemingly stuck for topics to write about and forget how extraordinary something simple can be such as the stories shared in Float by Daniel Miyares and Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton.

Picture books are not just something we read, we write them ourselves in our epic nonfiction picture book project.  We study them.  We speak about them.   We get ideas and inspiration from them.  We carefully protect the time we have to read them.  They are the mentor texts we shape our instruction around.

They become part of the tapestry of our room and something the students search out for solace when they need to feel like they are readers again. As one child told me yesterday after I had shared our very first picture book, “Picture books make you remember your imagination again.”  And I knew that these kids got it.  That they knew that this wasn’t just me having some fun, but that picture books will teach us some of the largest lesson this year.  That picture books are not just for little kids and laughter.  They are for readers of all ages, and in particular, those who have gotten lost.

PS:  If you want to know which picture books, or at least a small sample of which I have in our room, see these lists.

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!