Be the change, being a teacher, student choice, Student dreams, student voice

The 30 Day Survey – A Quick Way to Give Students More Power

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It’s hard to believe that we have already had 31 days with this incredible new batch of kids.  31 days of laughing, of learning (hopefully), of working to somehow create a community that will matter to all of us.  I think we are finally starting to get into the groove of who we are and what we need to do.

As I prepared for this week, it was therefore natural for me to wonder how the students felt.  Are they also feeling like we are doing worthwhile work?  Are they feeling respected?  How can we change our teaching to make it work for them?

Rather than assume, I did what I have done for many years and what I tell others to do all of the time; I asked.  On a simple 30-day survey, we asked them a few questions about the class, about themselves, and also about how we have been doing.

As the responses came in, I was startled at their kindness.  How many kids said that they wouldn’t change the class, that they like what we are doing, and most importantly they feel respected by us.  In fact, after giving the survey I had kind of a let down – this what it?  All they had to say?  And yet, again I am reminded that it is not always what they say but that they have a chance to speak in the first place.  I tell our students to be honest, that I have thick skin, that we cannot grow if we don’t know what we need to work on from their perspective.  And so whether students tell us hard truths or give us amicable reassurances, it is not always what they say but instead that we asked.  That we listened.  that we did something about the words that they gave us.

So now, we will read more.  I will try to speak less (always something I am working on), and I will try to notice the things they have asked me to notice.  We are so quick to assume what our students may think or feel, instead just ask them.  Whenever you can and whatever you can.  I promise you will learn something.

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 student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

When They Abandon Every Single Book

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“….well, I didn’t finish any books last year…”She turns to me and smiles.

“What do you mean?”  I ask, not sure I have heard her correctly, after all, I know what amazing work they do in 6th grade.

“….I just stopped reading them, I didn’t finish them.  I got bored…”

She puts the book down that she is abandoning and starts to look for a new one.

I love book abandonment.  It is something I preach should be a taught skill to all kids, a right even.  If you don’t like the book, don’t read it, it’s as simple as that when it comes to building a love of reading.  And yet, this year, we have been exposed to a new level of book abandonment.  A whole group of kids who never, according to their own recollection, finished a book of their own choosing last year.  Not one, not two kids, but many.  And they really don’t like reading.

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

So how do you protect or create the joy of reading, when you really need students to experience a whole book from start to finish?

In conferring with many of my students, the obvious place to start is their book selection process.  When I ask them how they find their next read, many of them confess to only doing a few things, mainly look at the cover and then start it.  They haven’t taken the book for a test run, haven’t considered the length of the book, they don’t really know their likes and dislikes and so when the book turns out to be other than what they expected, they abandon it.

So reading identity is once again where we start.  How well do they know themselves as readers?  What do they like to read?  What is their reading rate?  What do they abandon?  Is there a pattern?  Are they aware of their own habits at all?  I start by interviewing them and taking notes, then I also have them reflect on themselves as readers and we track this information.  I also check in with them more, how are they doing with the book?  How are they liking it?

Book selection comes next.  What are their book shopping habits?  We refer to the lesson we did at the beginning of the year and help them book shop.  Who are their book people?  How do they find books to read?  What are their preferences?  What is on their to-be-read list already?  Thinking of all of this can help them with their next selection.

Track their abandonment.  While all students are expected to write down finished or abandoned titles, we are finding that many of our serial abandoners do not, so we will help them do that.  This is so they can start to see their own patterns; when did they abandon a book, why did they abandon it?  How far were they?  What type of book was it?  What strategies did they use before they abandoned it?   They will track this on this form.  This is only something we will do with these serial abandoners, not students who abandon a book once in a while.  What can they discover about themselves as they look at this information?  I also know that some of our serial book abandoners are not on our radar yet, so this survey will help us identify them so we can help.

Teach them stamina strategies.  Many of our students give up on books the minute they slow down or “get boring” as they would say.  They don’t see the need for slower parts to keep the story going.  They also, often, miss the nuances of these “slower” parts and don’t see the importance of them.  So a few stamina strategies we will teach are asking why the story is slowing down and paying attention to what they have just figured out about the characters.  Another is to skim the “boring” parts for now so they can get back to the story.  While this is a not a long-term solution, it does help keep them in the book and hopefully also helps them see that the book does pick up again.  They can also switch the way they interact with the text, perhaps they can read these sections aloud, or listen to an audio version for those parts.

Realize we are in this for the long haul.  Too often our gut reaction is to restrict.  To select books for the students to read no matter what.  To set up rules where they are not allowed to abandon the next book they select, and yet, I worry about the longevity of these solutions.  What are they really teaching?  So instead, we dedicate the time and patience it takes to truly change these habits.  We surround students with incredible books, we book talk recommendations, we give them time to read, and we give them our attention.  We continue to let them choose even if we are questioning their abilities to choose the correct book.  Becoming a reader who reads for pleasure, or who at least can get through a book and not hate it, does not always happen quickly.  We have to remember this as we try to help students fundamentally change their habits with books.  Restricting them in order to help them stick with a book can end up doing more damage than good as students don’t get to experience the incredible satisfaction of having selected a book and then actually finishing it.

I know that this year, I will once again be transformed as a teacher.  That these kids that I am lucky enough to teach will push me in ways I haven’t been pushed before.  My hope, what I really hope happens, is for every child to walk out of room 235d thinking; perhaps reading is not so bad after all.  Perhaps there are books in the world for me.  A small hope, but a necessary one.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

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

The Rights of Our Readers

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

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

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

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

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, Reading, student choice

The 30-Second Book Talk

Student book talks are one of the many ways that students share recommendations for each other.  Recommendations of books are a natural way to grow readers and they help immensely in the classroom when peers can hear from each other rather than just recommendations from me.

In the past, I would often ask kids if anyone had a book to recommend and yet it seemed that it was always the same awesome students who felt brave enough to recommend their books in front of the whole class.  There is just something about 7th grade that makes even the boldest kids shy.

So rather than limit the book talks or force kids, we created the 30-second book talk.  Yes, some kids still get nervous, but now they are prepared rather than feeling like they are coming up with something on the spot.

The idea is super simple.  Every student gets a notecard, on it, they write a brief recommendation of the book they want to share.  They can talk about the book and why it is a great read and who may like it as well.  Their names go on the book and then they hand the cards to me.

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Every day, when we remember, or sometimes just when we have a little bit of extra time, I pull a few cards from the stack as students enter.  I then have the book covers ready to be projected, I give the card back to the student as a way to let them know they will recommend today and then we are off after their independent reading time.  This gives the kids recommending a few minutes to read their book talk and adjust if needed.   Kids read off their cards if they want or they invent on the spot.  Their peers have their to-be-read lists out and add as they hear great titles shared.  The book cover is projected so everyone can see the title and author and the intimidation factor is lessened.

Because we have so many students, these cards usually take us at least two weeks to go through and then we can do another round if we choose to.

There you go, another simple idea to create more passionate readers.

PS:  You want to see some of our favorite books, go here

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement

Growing Readers Past our Classroom Walls

I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district.  Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here.  I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders.  Do they see all of the growth?  The work?  The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?

During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year.  And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year.  I have seen many students read more.  I have seen more students embrace books and reading.  I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked.  Knowing that there is a change afoot,  made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing.  And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.

It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time.  I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.

Then it becomes where else do you get books from?  We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present.  Where can they access books beside our room?  Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.

It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t.  Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read.  Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.

Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own.  So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list.  Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account?  Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon?    What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next?  It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone.  And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.

It starts with book talks by me.  Every day, every class.  Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.

Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student.  Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what  they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.

It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop.  Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well.  Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.

Then it becomes them book shopping with friends.  Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.

It starts with me being a reading role model.  And being an obvious one.  While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first.  However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.

Then it becomes students as reading role models.   And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.

It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance.  Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.

Then it becomes making plans.  Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom.  They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters.  We discuss the books they want to read.  We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home.  They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads.  This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down.  After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?

when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader.   None of that happens overnight.  None of that happens with just one book.  Or just one person.  It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice, Student-centered

Ideas for Helping Students Raise their Voice

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My mother raised me to raise my voice.  She raised me to believe that my voice mattered.  That speaking up when I saw injustice was a part of my civic duty.  To not take my position of power within my white privilege for granted but to recognize it and share it with others.

My teachers taught me I was different.

That I was too loud.  Too opinionated.  Too much.

That I was the bad child to be avoided.

That I needed to learn how to tone it down.

Lower my voice.

Speak less.

Let others speak before I added my voice.

If it wasn’t for my mother’s insistence that my voice mattered, I would have been a silent child.

A silent adult.

As I see students speak up in the aftermath of yet another horrific school shooting, I cannot help but be proud.  This is why I teach the way I do.  This is why I believe that what we do matters.

When we create learning communities that thrive on discussion.  That thrives on student voice.  That tell those we teach to speak up rather than to stay silent, this is when we are truly changing the future of this world.

So what can we as teachers do to encourage student voice?  How can we make sure the very children we teach know that their voice is needed for a better future?

Let them speak.

While it sounds so simple for many of us, it is not.  Afterall, faced with curriculum deadlines, content standards, and all of the things we need to do, there are times that we forget that teaching is not meant to be a performance of one, but a chorus of many.  In fact, research indicates that teachers speak more than 60-75 % of the time.  That leaves very little time for those we teach to find their own voice.  So monitor your own.  Ask a question and step back or better yet, ask the students to ask the questions and guide them along the way.  This doesn’t start as they get older, this starts as they enter school.

 

Teach them to question.

Questioning is one of the single most powerful skills we can pass on to students.  And yes that also means questioning us.  Provide opportunities for them to question what they see, let them know that they should be questioning what they are learning, and show them through example that it is fine to question you, the authority in the room.  I would rather have students who dare to speak than those who remain silent.  We discuss how to question authority with respect, but also that you should fight for what you believe in.

Make room for debate.

I know it is scary at times to be a teacher in a heated political climate, at times, I feel like whatever I say feels like a loaded question, and yet, we must find ways to bring hard topics into our classrooms and then step aside.  I tell my students that I am not here to shape their opinion, I am here to give them an opportunity to shape their own.  They know our discussions are not about what I want them to believe but instead about them coming up with something to believe in and then fact-checking it.  It is not enough to have an opinion, you must realize where it stems from.

Ask, “Now what?”

My wise friend, Dana Stachowiak, taught me to always ask, “Now what?” when I believe in something.  She reminds me that forming an opinion is not the point, but doing something about it and continuing to question is.  So when students write persuasive essays, when students discuss, when students uncover new information, ask them, “Now what?”  What do you plan on doing with the information?  What else do you need to learn? What can you do with this belief that you have?

Show them change.

I survey my students throughout the year about how I can be a better teacher.  It is one of the best things I do.  And yes, there are criticisms every single time I read the surveys, things I could do better.  Things they would like to see me improve.  And so I try when I can and we discuss the changes needed for the experience to be better for all of us, me included.  When students see an adult, who does not have to listen to their voice because let’s face it nothing says we have to, actually listen to them and implement change because of them, they see the power of having a voice in the first place.  This is vital for them to believe that they can be changemakers.

Support don’t punish.

I have been appalled at the districts that are telling students they will be suspended if they protest.  Have we forgotten that this very nation was founded on the notion of protest and speaking up when we saw a wrong?  Why we would tell students, who we teach about inequality, about courage, about sacrifice, that they cannot exercise their right to free speech, blows my mind.  So instead of saying no, find a way to support.  Show them where they can go to protest, show them how to do it safely.  Step up as leaders of this future generation rather than the oppressive older generation, a cliché that has been held on to for too many years.

Create deeper learning opportunities for all.

Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to read the final draft of Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change, a book being released on March 29th by Heinemann.  Sara’s book ignited my already present fire to create further opportunities for students to dissect their own identity, to push their own knowledge boundaries, and find a way to bring the world in as part of our curriculum.  This book is a game changer and provides a blueprint for us to do more with what we already do.  Centering on student identity and not the teacher’s this book gives us the needed tools to create classrooms that are focused on social comprehension without dictating a political path.  I am thankful that this book will be out in the world soon for all of us.

Don’t forget our purpose.

Education is to better our world, not to create better test takers.  Education is to create a new generation of literate adults who question the world around them, who uncover information, who seek to right the wrongs of this world.  To help children become complex thinkers and problem solvers, who strive to make this world a better place not just for themselves but for a society as a whole.  That is not a political sentiment, but a humanitarian one.  We must continue to do better.  We are teachers of the children who will write the history of this world, so what type of history would we like them to create?  One that echoes the dystopian novels that sit in our classrooms, or one that continues to focus on better for all?

For the past weeks, my students have looked to me and the other adults in our building for answers more than ever before.  I have been asked how I will keep them safe, what our plan is in case the unthinkable happens, how I feel about what is going on in the world.  I have done the best I can to share my own thoughts without scaring them, without forcing my opinion on them.  And yet, I keep thinking about all of the things we already do; how our job as educators was never to be the sole voice in the classroom, but instead to help our students raise theirs.  So how do I plan on keeping them safe, by making sure that they know they can change the world.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.