being a student, being a teacher, Student, student choice, writing, Writing Identity

Using Oral Storytelling Kits with Middle Schoolers

A few years ago I traveled to do a day of learning with passionate educators in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows in British Columbia. After flight cancellations and changes in airports, Denise Upton, one of the district’s helping teachers, graciously agreed to pick me up and take care of me during the stay. While together, she told me excitedly about Story Workshop, oral storytelling grounded within playful literacy, that they were doing with children as part of their literacy approach. She shared all of the work that they did with students in order to give them natural materials to manipulate and create stories with before they ever sat down to write. She spoke of Indigenous oral storytelling traditions and how they were working on bringing the rich traditions of the peoples’ whose land their school buildings sat on and whose tribal members were within their school population back into the classrooms as a way to honor, teach, and preserve a broader envisioning of writing I was inspired and intrigued. Particularly, after she told me how they were using these material kits with their upper grade levels as well and that the response they had was incredibly positive. After a whirlwind visit, the idea sat in the back of my mind for a while, hoping to someday become something I wanted to do with my own 7th graders.

Well, after a year of teaching unlike any other, after too much screen and not enough togetherness. After once again teaching kids who repeatedly told me how much they hated writing, how writing was so hard, whose sentences were forced across the pages, I decided that some day was now. With a commitment to reconsider every unit and every idea we build our classroom learning on, taking our writing in a much more tactile and playful direction was exactly what I need right now to get excited about next school year. Hopefully, my incoming students will think so as well.

So with a loose idea of what it was Denise had shared with me, the seeds started to grow; what if I build some oral storytelling kits for kids to use in partnerships, trios, or by themselves before we begin to write? What if I collect natural materials for them to manipulate and play with as they share stories from their own lives and also from their imaginations? Surely someone had done this before?

The answer is yes, many have! None of my ideas shared here are really original but I got so many questions on social media when I shared the kits I was building that I figured a blog post would be nice. If you are learning about Indigenous storytelling, there are so many wonderful resources shared, such as this one. If you google “Loose Parts”, you can see a lot of information. If you follow the work of Angela Stockman, she has been sharing so many ideas for years and is truly inspirational. If you are trained within Montessori, you know this work. If you know Reggio Emilia principles, then you know these ideas. If you have worked with younger grades, you probably do this already. There are so many resources out there, so dig in and learn.

My purpose for these kits are to get kids talking more before they write out stories, whether they be stories from their own lives or stories they invent. I want them to build scenes or entire stories together or individually depending on the exploration we are doing. I want them to play with their imagination and ot be forced into written production as quickly as we have done in the past, I want them to build community through story, I want them use their hands more. I want English to have more joy and I want it to authentically fit into the identity-centered work we already do in our literacy explorations.

Building the Kits

I had a million ideas right away and needed a way to ground them so I started by focusing on ideas for what to put in them and also building the kits to give me a more tangible sense of what it would look like. I hate so much that educators are almost always forced to purchase things out of their own pocket, so I spent school budget money to purchase the toolboxes. I bought two different kinds, five altogether, so that I can share them between tables – I typically teach 28 students at a time, so I wanted to make sure that I had enough kits to share materials between 10 different groups if need be. I also needed the kits to not take up too much space in our classroom, be easy to store and move, as well as have different size compartments.

All the boxes are removable in both kits so we can spread them out on the different tables as needed.

Once I had the boxes, then I got more serious with my materials. I had a few guidelines I wanted to follow:

  • Natural materials whenever possible
  • Different sizes of things to use
  • Material that doesn’t necessarily look like “one” thing in order for them to be used for many things
  • Low cost and easy to replace

Then I wrote a list, there are so many lists floating on the internet but I posted mine to Instagram and got even more ideas as well as a huge “Duh!” moment. Notice on my original list, I have nuts on it. That is not going to work at all for some of my students due to their allergies. After a helpful educator made me see the light, I updated my original list.

I knew that if I felt like spending a ton of money, I easily could just order all of these things but I don’t want to. So, instead I turned to my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and asked if anyone had any materials they could donate. So what you are looking at in the kits above, almost everything is donated from kind strangers or friends who happened to have materials lying around. Amazing!

So right now in the kits I have:

  • Seashells, all sorts, all sizes.
  • Pine cones – I need to gather more.
  • Small popsicle sticks – they are pointy and I don’t know if I love that.
  • Wine corks that do not have wine labels on them.
  • Small cork buttons.
  • Wood buttons – I bought a giant bag off the internet.
  • Wool yarn in different colors – I have cut lengths of string in a variety of lengths.
  • White rocks.
  • Feathers – I think I may add more of these.

I also purchased felt mats in green, gray, and brown for the kids to use as a background. They can use more than one if we have enough left over, again I went with natural tones as a way to center us in nature even if the story takes place in a different setting.

Things I would still like to add:

  • Glass beads of some sort
  • Beach pebbles for more color
  • More cork
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Wood slices
  • Acorns
  • Large popsicle sticks

Ideas for use

So while the kits themsleves are a lovely work in progress and bring me happiness right now as I plan, what matters more than the stuff in them is making space for them to be used with our students. So as I planned for the first two weeks of instruction (I do this in order to be able to walk away for awhile, not because I want to work all summer), I planned with the kits in mind.

My two week plan can be viewed here, but please know that it is so much a work in progress, that some of the ideas in it are my own and others are based off of the incredible work others have kindly shared, and that I have given credit to those whose work I am borrowing from or copying. Please feel free to also borrow or use my ideas, just give credit. The kits will be utilized, hopefully, on the third day of school in an activity where students continue to think of the stories they carry and start to build scenes from their own lives that they then, in turn, share with their peers at their tables. After their initial appearance, they will continue to be integrated into our work as we start our first longer writing exploration; personal narrative. Students can use events from their own lives or springboard events from their own lives into a fictional story.

I also want us to think of how the kits may help us work within the emotions we have tied up with our writing, how we can use them to go deeper into story and how stories can weave us together even when we don’t see eye to eye. I am hoping that as we explore our own identities and how that makes us view and react to others, these tangible items will ground us and make us feel safer within our burgeoning community. I am hoping that having these tactile explorations will bring more playfulness into our classroom, as well as more joy. We will also create expectations of how to use the kits with each other. My main focus for that is to be respectful of the material and of what is shared within their stories, but I will ask the students to also think of how to use the materials, how to clean up in order to preserve the kits, and how to work together. It really all ties into the community work we do throughout the year.

My own children helped me eagerly build the kits and have since then also used them. It has been amazing to see them build scenes, stories, and whole worlds using just these materials and then walking me through their stories that they now see so clearly. Even my son who has repeatedly that he hates writing has been using the kits and telling me his stories. I hope I will see the same willingness to try in my 7th graders.

So there you have, my entry in oral storytelling kits. I will share more ideas as I use them with students, but for now, the kits are being built, the ideas are coming together, and the work is just beginning. Have you used kits like this before? Do you have any ideas or questions? I would love to hear your thoughts.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

Be the change, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

A Question to Center Reading Joy

What are the reading experiences Design

I have been thinking a lot about reading experiences of kids lately. If you follow my writing, you know that this is something I think about a lot. Perhaps it is because I finally have big classes of kids in front of me rather than small cohorts. Perhaps it is because we have only 7 weeks left of the year and I feel the urgency of the mission we have been on all year to help kids change their relationships to reading. Perhaps it is because I am presenting on this topic around the world and so I keep thinking of what else we should discuss about it, what else we can do to potentially change the narrative that seems to be repeating itself this year despite our best intentions.

Because I see a lot of kids not reading. I see a lot of kids disengaged from reading. I see a lot of kids who don’t see reading as something valuable or even something they have want to spend time doing. And I see a lot of adults not quite sure how this keeps happening despite everything we are trying.

So perhaps, this post is a way to remind myself to take a deep breath, perhaps it is an offer to us all to rethink the dialogue that surrounds kids’ reading lives. Perhaps this is a reminder to those who need to hear it that this disconnect between books and readers is one we have been working through for a long time, one that we will continue to work through for a long time, and it also didn’t just happen because of the pandemic. And that there are things we can do but that sometimes we create obstacles that we can’t even see, we don’t recognize the long term consequences of short-term ideas.

I could blame previous curricular decisions, after all, wouldn’t we all like to assume that it is solely because of the decision some other teacher made that created the readers we have. And yet, when we do that, we don’t see our own part in this either. We don’t see how we often have to interrogate, audit, and change an entire system rather than just one teacher. It is too easy to blame one year or one experience for killing the love of reading. When we get stuck there, it does us no good, it doesn’t allow us to see past those small decisions and instead focus on the entire experience. It doesn’t allow us to see that perhaps the whole system we function in needs to be aligned and adjusted. That what we see as “okay” may not be at all.

So instead, I would offer up that we use our worry about kids and their relationships to reading to urge us forward. That we start to invest in long-term solutions, discussions, and curricular choices that offer up an opportunity for all kids to connect or re-connect with reading year after year. That we shift the focus from what one teacher can do to what an entire system can take on. That we recognize that to center reading joy is not just the work of one, but the work of many, and that kids need more than one great teacher urging them to read.

And that starts in conversation rather than reading logs. That starts in meaningful work rather than computer quizzes. That starts with making space and time for kids to explore the parts of their identity that is tied in with reading and asking them how they ended up where they are. That starts with recognizing what the reading rights are of all kids, not just the ones we get to teach on a daily basis and then wonder how the experiences they are all guaranteed shape their readerly lives or not.

And so we must put our emotions aside for a bit in order to step into these conversations, to recognize that everything we do should be put on the table in order for us to weigh what may work for all kids. What should be instituted on a whole-school or all-district schedule.

It means that we offer space to think and then space to do. That reflecting on the journey we are on becomes a part of the curriculum, even when we feel pressed for time like this year. That we listen to student voices and have them move us into action. That we consider the weight of their words as we plan for future units and experiences and not just assume that we know what they need or even what they want.

The work of creating joyful reading experiences centered in powerful instructions, access to books, free choice of independent reading books, culturally relevant teaching and ongoing conversations should not and cannot fall on the shoulders of just one teacher. We are not enough, the year we may have with students is not enough. It has to be a whole district or at the very least a whole school conversation and plan.

So where do you start? We start with one single question to guide our work; what are the reading experiences EVERY child is guaranteed in our care. We lay it all out on the table in order to constructively look at what the reading experiences are for every child no matter the reading experience and skills they have had before this year. We truthfully recognize what often happens when a child is identified as being behind in whatever scope the data says and how often that impedes the choices they get to make throughout their day and even the joyful reading experiences they get to be a part of. And then we fight to give them access. We fight to give them equality in their reading experiences and we monitor what happens to the kids in our care.

And we cannot do that work without listening to the voices of our students, without asking the home adults what they see happening while we have kids in our care. We cannot do this work without revisiting the question again and again to re-align and readjust. Without truth, courage, and a recognition that sometimes our best ideas are not the ideas that should continue on.

It takes humility, patience, and toughness to do this work. Our students deserve that their experiences are carefully constructed around choice, around freedom, around receiving the care they absolutely deserve. We can do it and it starts with a conversation and it continues with a commitment.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a student, being a teacher, being me, student choice, student voice

Disrupting Our Assumptions About Our Own Failures

Our hurry Design

I have been thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves. The constant negative self-talk we, as educators, can quickly sink into due to the supposed reactions of children we teach. How we can spiral so easily into defeatist thinking. Into thinking we would be better off quitting, or surely, everyone else is doing a much better job at teaching than we are. That has led us to question the path we felt so sure of before a global pandemic hit.

It’s easy right now to fall into this trap. After all, with pandemic teaching many of us have grieved the loss of normal human proximity to our students. Unsure of how to connect through a screen, a camera that is turned off, a silent chat, a muted microphone, or a face covered by a mask, 6 feet away. Unsure of our safety as we crave normalcy in a world that is anything but. And yet we have risen to the occasion, isn’t that what we always do, tirelessly inventing ways to engage, reinventing the ways that used to work, we have reached out, we have shared ideas, we have searched for pieces we can bring in in order for us to feel a bit more effective. And yet, the weight of defeat has also been crushing at times.

When that learning experience we worked so hard on falls flat. Again.

When more kids turn their camera off. Again.

When the emails we send offering our support remain unanswered. Again.

When rather than engage we are met with shrugs. Again.

When the space for discussion remains silent. Again.

When COVID robs us of one-on-one conferring, small group work, or huddled together learning opportunities.

We carry our defeats in the back of our minds, the assumptions of perhaps how much we have failed, how terrible we are at teaching this year, death by a thousand cuts.

Because what has shifted in Covid teaching is one of the biggest tools we rely on; the small body cues that shift our direction, the facial expressions, and the feel of the room. The small signs that tell us to change, to go a certain way and not another, that allows us to read the energy and transform our teaching on the spot. When met with silence and blank screens or stares it is hard to know which direction to change to.

It doesn’t have to be lost though, it just needs to be transformed. I write this blog post to remind myself of tools I already use, that give me the answers I have been searching. Because my teaching life has been riddled with assumptions, and often negative ones of my own success this year, despite the evidence to the opposite. Perhaps yours has too?

So suppose we remember to ask instead of assume.

Suppose we take a moment and create a survey asking how we can grow and be better. What is working? What is not? What do you need from me?

Suppose we do it after every unit or even once a week. Suppose we believe that survey rather than our negative self-talk.

After all, all of the assumptions we make are more than likely not accurate.

I have been doing so on a regular basis, nothing new in my practices, after all, centering the needs of students based on their individual reactions is what I have been pursuing for years. Centering the identity of each child as they take control of their learning is the work I have been sharing for a long time.

And yet, my practices got lost this year. I forgot to ask as often as I should have. And I didn’t believe the results when they came in, assuming (there it is again) that kids were just being nice because they saw how hard I was trying.

Yet, if I look at the survey responses, the path forward is right there. The answers I haven’t been able to see as easily because I haven’t been in the room with my students for 330 days.

The questions have been simple. What is working? What is not? How can we make this experience better for you? What do you wish I knew? And then ideas to see whether we should change course. Offer up opportunities to do group or solo learning. Keeping a “Anything else you want to tell me option” just in case.

The answers have been straightforward, “I like our unit…No need to change anything…I’m having fun…” Ideas have also been shared, “Can we work together….can we have more work time….can we split into groups?” All statements I would not have thought possible if I believed my own assumptions.

And they have bolstered our path. I have tweaked and changed the way I teach based not on facial cues which easily get lost in virtual teaching or behind a mask but rather in the words they share. I have asked for their feedback when we are together and we have changed course mid-morning. I have put voice to the questions that run through my mind where I would normally find the answers in their behaviors rather than needing an explicit conversation about it.

And so I wanted to share the importance of asking once again. Because perhaps, like me, you had forgotten the power of a simple survey. Of relying on students to guide us when we feel we are teaching blindly. On looking at all of the cues that we can receive from other ways than those we traditionally rely on. There are many questions you can ask, I recommend starting with those that you have made the strongest assumptions about, such as whether kids care about what they are learning, how to change your teaching, why they choose to not share in some way in class.

Then believe their answers. Learn from them. Take the positive as the boost you may need, and the negative or neutral as ideas to move forward. Repeat as needed.

We can think we know all of the ways we are failing as teachers, all of the ways we are not good enough. Or we can ask. Base our answers on actual reality. Engage students in our planning, our tweaking, in the shaping of our learning community much like we always should be doing.

After all, kids are experts too, we just need to remember that.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher, books, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Centering Reading Joy in the Virtual Classroom

Our class lists were released yesterday and with it came the excitement for the upcoming year. While it may not look anything like I have ever taught before, the year will still start, the 80 or so students will still arrive, and the work with kids will continue much like it has in other years.

This year rather than having a luxurious 5×90 minutes a week with every child, we are fully virtual for the first quarter at least, a decision I am inherently grateful for. That means that I will see my students 2×70 or 4×35 minutes depending on when I have them during the day. They will have 60-90 minutes of asynchronous work to do as well throughout the week. A huge reduction of time and thus also a huge need to really focus in on what we will do together, the learning journey we will be on. As I sat in a meeting with my fantastic colleagues last week, one thing immediately became clear, we all wanted to preserve independent reading during our live time, but not just that, we wanted to center it in reading joy.

But how do we do that when the students are not right there? When we don’t have the tool of proximity, body language, and being able to physically hand them a book? When the time is much shorter? When we can’t read the room or pull them in for a quick conference? When everything has to be pre-planned, pre-scheduled, and done from afar? Well, there is a way to do so.

We will center it in identity. I have written a lot about how (re)discovering and continuing the development of their reading identity is at the center of the work we do. With tools like our reading identity digital notebook which centers in discovery, goal setting, ad honest reflection, this is the work we do all year. That means that within the first week, our students will do their initial reading survey (slide 13 on) in order to establish a baseline for how they are starting and where they need to go. This also offers me a chance to get to know them and their journey up until now. I ask for their honesty but also know that some students rightfully so don’t trust me yet. After the survey, the very first reading conference we have discusses their answers and helps them evaluate the goal they have set. The survey offers me a place to start and a place for the students to reflect back upon as they grow.

We will center it in our reading rights. As a class, we will create our reading rights much like we have in the past, but instead of being able to post our reasons for why reading sucks or why it is magical, we will do it on Padlet. Students will then work in small breakout groups to notice patterns and decide what type of rights they would like to have as readers in our community. I know there are a few rights that they will have no matter what they come up with; they have the right to choose books that matter to them, they have the right to abandon any book, they have the right to do meaningful work, they have the right to read with others. Every year, the students create fantastic rights that create the foundation for our learning together, to read more about the process see this post.

We will center it in personal goal setting. For several years, I set all goals for students and then grew frustrated when there was no buy-in or little progress on the goal. Now, students set their own goals, determine steps for how they will reach them, and reflect at set times on their progress, fine-tuning what they need to work on and (hopefully) noticing their own progress and developments. (Slide 7 on). Diving into the 7th grade reading challenge and discussing what a goal may be beyond quantity has been instrumental to the work we do as it allows kids to see beyond the page number for worthwhile reading habits. Reading growth comes in many sizes and it is important that we acknowledge, protect, develop and praise that. To see more about our reading goal setting, read this post linked here.

We will center it in choice. Getting books in the hands of kids is at the forefront of our ELA departments mind and in collaboration with our incredible library staff, it will happen. We will book talk books during our live time; I do a quick read of the blurb and give my opinion encouraging kids to write down potential titles on their to-be-read lists. We also have static book recommendations as found in our class hub which is housed on our class website. Our librarian will also be booktalking and highlighting books. Students will be able to request books both from the library and from our classroom collection through a simple Google form (here is what mine looks like) and they will have the opportunity to be “surprised” – adding in additional books they may like with every pick up order. They will then have twice weekly pick-up times where books can be grabbed following safety guidelines. If a child cannot pick up the books, we will find a way to get them to them. Book access is paramount for all kids, no matter their access to transportation. For those looking to book browse and shop safely while in class, please see this post for ideas.

We will center it in time. Even though I will have less live time with students than normal, we will still spend time reading together. For the class that only has me for 35 minutes a day, it will be 10 minutes of uninterrupted reading time (mics off), for those with 70 min in a day, it will be 15-20 minutes. I will be working behind the scenes with kids who may not have books, don’t want to read etc during this time. I will say again; if we say we value reading as one of the biggest components of student growth then we have to spend time on it and not just assign it assuming it will happen. Of course, I will hope that the students will also read outside of class but recognize that for some that will simply not happen. The very least I then can do is make sure they have time to read with us when we are together.

We will center it in talk. Reading conferences usually happen when students are doing their independent reading and while that would still be super convenient to continue, I have a feeling that during that time there will be plenty of “in the moment” things to take care of. So instead, I will ask students to confer with me every two weeks where we will have a private ten minute conversation in regard to who they are as a reader and how their goal is progressing. Not only will it give me a glimpse into their reading life, but it will hopefully also serve as a way to get to know them better. Students will have a choice to do it virtually or via the phone, I wrote more about the set up and process here.

We will center it in read aloud. Using read alouds, picture books in particular, has long been a mainstay in our community. This year is no different as I kick off the year with a picture book read aloud, We Don’t Eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins, as a way to dive into what we need to feel safe. I will read it live holding it up to the computer, but as the year progresses, I will scan the pages in so the students can see them in a slideshow while they listen to my voice read it live. Reading aloud bring joy, invites reflection, invites conversations, and offers us a springboard into topics that matter to us; identity, consent, fighting oppression, curiosity and many other aspects of the world. Sharing texts, whether short stories, long form, or picture books, allows us a shared language so we can speak books to one another.

We will center it in time. Building a community centered on reading joy takes time. For some kids they are already invested and ready, others will work on it all year. I know that this year presents additional obstacles that make the road seem even longer, the climb even steeper, yet I can honor every child’s journey by giving them all year to grow. By getting them books. By helping them discover personal value in reading beyond what the teacher asked them to do. I can center our practice in what we know is good for children; choice, time, meaningful work, skill development, community, and access.

We will center it in acceptance and celebration. Our students come to us with so many different emotions tied to reading. I will not help them if all they feel is judged within our virtual walls. I will not help them if I determine their path or tell them how to be a reader. Instead, I can create a space where kids feel that wherever they are on their journey is okay, that however they feel is okay. We will do meaningful work together, we will share read alouds, we will speak about what it personally means to be a reader and develop the skills we need to be stronger readers. We will use reading as a tool of transportation, as a tool of growth, not just in the skills we develop but also in how we view the world. There is room for every child’s reading journey on this mission, there is no one size fits all approach needed.

I know it can be tempting to create a lot of accountability measures in this virtual/hybrid Covid-19 teaching time. I know that it may seem like no big deal if we have kids log every minute, every page. If we ask for adult signatures to prove that they are, indeed, reading like they say they are. If we tell them all to read the same book over and over in order to create classroom conversation. If we ask them to write a short summary, do a small recording, take a quiz every time they finish a book. But what may seem insignificant quickly becomes a potentially damaging requirement. Writing one small summary about a book does not do a lot of harm but having to repeat the process every time one finishes a book can quickly lead to disdain for the reading process itself. Asking kids to log often leads to kids only doing the bare minimum rather than paying attention to when they have the capacity to read longer or the desire to. Asking kids to only read the same books does little to develop their independent reading identity and often makes them liars. The short-term gains from many of these accountability measures are not worth the long-term damage. So rather than focus on the quick accountability tools, take the time to really build the community. To invite the students into the governing decisions. To take stock and change course when it doesn’t work. To continually keep the dialogue open. And to give yourself grace as well. This year for many is not what we had hoped it would be. For many of us we are in entirely new territory. But we got this. We will do our best and then we will return the next day and try again. We don’t need to have all the answers just an idea of where to start.

Building reading joy is possible in virtual teaching, it may just look a little bit different than it has in the past and if there is one thing I know we educators are good at, it is embracing change and making it work. So one step at a time, we got this.

If your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually or live throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, new year, PD, student choice, Student Engagement, student voice

Final Free PD Masterclass: Getting Ready for Going Back – How Do We Learn Best?

This summer has been one of worry. Of anxiousness. Of too much time spent thinking about possibilities that seemed to shift every day. Of waiting for answers. Of too many times trying to not think about the fall. But the countdown to go back to school has started for many of us, the future, while still uncertain, has at least been hinted at, and I still have so many questions.

A few weeks ago we were told we would be fully virtual for the first quarter and with that information I knew that I could stay overwhelmed and anxious or I could move into solution mode. To take it day by day, rather than try to figure out my whole quarter; focus on the first week, and then have an idea for what might come after. It has helped calm me as I think of all of the unknowns. (Not that I am feeling calm by any means).

And so, as I move ideas into action, it is time to invite you into the thoughts and discussion in my final masterclass of the summer: Masterclass – How Do We Learn Best – Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice. While some of the underlying research and ideas will not have changed from May when I offered it last, I have updated it with ideas of how I plan on establishing conditions to build community, to determine how we can feel safe with one another, how I will embed choice and space for students to speak up and change our time together as we start fully online. This class dives into why it is vital that we center the voices and identities of students as we plan on our instruction and interrogate the systems we have in place. It is meant to inspire, spark discussions, and also offer practical ideas. The accompanying office hours will allow you to ask follow up questions, to share your ideas, and also to have a collective of experts help you with your problems of practice.

So join me for this free PD session offered through CUE and sponsored by Microsoft, just hit the “Join this Session” at the time listed and it will allow you access. Spread the word if you think this masterclass will be helpful to others. This will also be the final free PD I offer for a while as the school year looms large and I have to balance the virtual schooling of my own four kids with the needs of my 80+ students while also trying to keep my sanity.

The class sessions will be:

  • August 13th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 20th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 27th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST

The office hour sessions will be:

  • August 15th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 16th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 23rd 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 30th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST

Don’t forget to check out the other incredible free PD sessions as well that are still being offering during the month of August.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

being a student, Literacy, new year, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student-Led, tools

A Work in Progress: Digital Notebooks for Reading Identity Development

Just the front cover, to see the whole notebook, press this link

While my district gathers information as we try to determine what the fall can look like my wheels have been spinning. While I may not know whether I will be in a hybrid setting or completely virtual, I know that it will not be school as usual and so a huge question I am wrestling with is how do I translate what we do as a community face-to-face into this new mode of teaching? How do I continue to center our classroom on reading and writing identity when we won’t have the same opportunity for daily discussion and community exploration? When I won’t be right there to kid-watch and adjust my instruction and care of them accordingly?

Every year our readers’ notebooks become a trusted place for many of our students to reflect on who they are as readers, how reading impacts them, and how reading fits into their lives. It is all-year work that ties in with the overall focus on identity, how they see the world, how the world sees them, and how our lens of the world impacts our action. It is at the heart of what we do and yet, this year, I don’t know when I will be with them to do this work. How do we still do meaningful work in our notebooks without kids having to upload every image into our learning hub, how do we center our work in our identity and see how we grow throughout the year?

Enter digital notebooks which really are just fancy templates to make slide shows look like notebooks as my husband pointed out. And yet within the fancy template also comes a familiarity. These templates look like the notebooks we would use with kids, they can be organized in ways that will hopefully make it easier for kids to navigate the work and will ground our work for the year whether we are face-to-face or online.

And so last night, I created a digital notebook for our reading identity work based on a template created by Laura Cahill and while it is a work in progress I wanted to share it here as I know a lot of people are trying to wrap their heads around this work as well. As I write this, my former students are assessing it to give me feedback, I have also asked for feedback from other educators. I know it could be better, I know that collaboration will always improve my teaching.

In this work, I also know that I need to be careful with my students’ reading lives. That year after year they tell me how much they hate to write about their reading, how when we attach to-do’s to their reading it becomes a chore rather than a journey. That when we are constantly asking kids to prove that they are reading they start to not read. This is not anything new, I have written and shared the words of my students for years and it grounds me in every decision I make as the teacher who starts our journey and guides it throughout our year.

With this in mind, I had components in my instruction that I wanted to address as I created this tool.

How will I support kids through this tool? Each component is a separate lesson that we place the foundation for in the beginning of our year together and then return to throughout the year. I have written about all of them on this blog throughout the years as well as gathered all of my thoughts in my book Passionate Readers. So when I ask students to use their to-be-read list or reflect on who they are as a reader, they are not going into this unsupported, instead we weave lessons throughout these conversations such as about our reading journey, which emotions tied in with reading we carry, and many other things. It is also so much bigger than this notebook, this is work embedded in the conversations we have, the media we surround ourselves with, the quiet reflections, the surveys, the connections, the trust, the community, and everything else that we do with the realizations and questions we have. Please do not think that this notebook is all we do or encapsulates all of the work that happens throughout our year, it can’t be and it won’t be.

How will I know whether they are actually reading? I won’t. That comes down to trust, where they are on their journey, as well as which role reading plays in their life. There is no single tool that is worth me implementing for all kids that may not cause more long-term damage to their reading identity. When we are face-to-face, I usually have kids sign in for attendance with their page number that day, this allows me to get a quick glance at their reading that then is deepened in our reading conferences, that is not a fully viable option this year. So instead, the “Accountability” tab offers them an option to choose a way to show me when they have finished a book, and the “Reading data” tab gives them a way to keep track of what they are reading. I will be stressing to kids that their reading data is not meant to capture every minute or page read like a traditional reading log would, but instead to let them give a broad statement about their reading life the previous week. It is the two sections in particular I am still not loving, that will probably change as the year gets going and that I will be keeping a deep eye on as far as potential harm to reading habits. I also know that some kids will not want to use this reading notebook at all, that they would rather refuse than engage, so then that will simply be where we start our conversation. I will be utilizing reading check-in conferences as well, I am just not sure what they will look like yet since I don’t know my school year will look like. I will share my ideas for that when I have them.

How can we get ideas for what to read? Book shopping and surrounding kids with books is a cornerstone of what we do and kids need more than audio and digital books to really continue their reading journey. I have already written about ideas of how to help kids get books in their hands if in a hybrid or virtual learning environment and I will be sharing more ideas as I plan with our incredible librarian and other colleagues for when we know more. I know I will be doing live book talks whenever possible, but also dedicating time in our instruction for kids to book browse virtually, as well as continue to suggest books whenever I can to individual kids. Another idea that I am loving is that when students pick up or drop off books, we add extra books to the bag that they may also like, so that instead of just one or two books, kids get a bag of five or so.

How can students set reading goals that matter to them? For too long, I set the reading goals for my students. Luckily, I saw the light several years ago and I haven’t looked back since. Having students set meaningful reading goals, though, takes time. Many kids, even kids who have fantastic relationships to reading, want to hurry through the goal part and set it just so their teacher will check it off on their to-do-list. This is why setting a 6-week goal at a time and following it up with conversation will be so important in our year together. This is why our goal is not just focused on quantity but habits. Yes, they should read more than they have in the past if they can, but “more” encompasses many different things not just quantity. Kids can use the same goal for more than one round of 6-weeks as needed, some of my students work on the same goal all year. I just want to ensure that we have built in reflection time for the goals and will add dates when I know what my school year calendar looks like.

How will they develop their thinking about who they are as a reader? “Who are you as a reader?” is a question we have used for a few years now in our work with students. At first, many of my students have no idea what to answer, they don’t know necessarily what the question means or are not sure what I am looking for in their answer. That is why this is a year-long reflection question and one that we unpack together, especially because reading identity really just equals identity and so when I ask who are you as a reader what I am really asking is who are you? Since trust is something we build, I see a significant change in students’ responses throughout our year together.

While this is not a finished tool, it won’t be finished until we start using it because my new students will surely impact the work we do and how we do it. For now, this is my best draft and so I share it with the world in the sense of collaboration. That also means that you can certainly make a copy of it and use it, but please do not sell it or forget attribution. This is the work that I along with others have developed over several years. I am grateful that Laura Cahill shared the template for free, so this work is shared, as always, in the same spirit. Feel free to leave questions or comments for me.

To see the full reading identity notebook, click this link.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in a virtual and hybrid model throughout the summer and would love to help others as well.