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

This Is Hard

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“This is hard…”

The group looks at me, hoping I have answers to give, some ways to make it easier.  And while we have been working together for the past ten minutes, while I have been coaching the best that I could, it is also time for the truth.

“Yes, it is…this is hard work but guess what?  You’re doing it.”

They get back to work, we continue with our learning.

This simple moment together doesn’t fix the work that lies ahead.  The hard work of understanding, of growing, of learning.  It doesn’t make it less hard, but what it can do is make it easier to carry.  Make it easier to stick with it, to try again even when it seems unclear, uncertain, or even just plain challenging.  When we acknowledge that this work, whatever it may be, is, indeed, hard we are letting kids know that it is not that they simply don’t understand it.  That it is not because they are somehow dumber than other kids, or less capable, but that instead, that all kids go through these phases of learning and that at times, the work is hard to do, to understand, to break down and carry on with.

So many of our kids who feel less than.  Less than a reader.  Less than a writer.  Less than a student are not always acknowledged for the incredible effort it takes to learn.  For the incredible work that their brain is doing to make sense of something that seems incomprehensible at first.

And so we must tell our kids that learning is hard work and mean it.  We show our own struggles when it comes to doing the work by working in front of the kids rather than doing the work before they show up.  We tell them when we are unsure, when we mess up, when we really have to break it down into small steps in order to feel like we are moving forward at all.  We show them what learning looks like as an adult and then we remember to acknowledge the work behind their growth, no matter how small it seems at times, is something to be proud of.  That in this moment, that in this class, they have grown as a learner, and that is something to be proud of.

The work we are doing right now is hard.  Analyzing text is hard, even for adults, and yet at that moment, when we recognize that this is not easy work, we offer students a chance to see themselves not as students who cannot get it right, right away, but instead as students who are learners.  And learning takes time.  Let’s not forget that.

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, 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.

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, 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 dreams

He Was an Angry Child, You Know

He was an angry child, you know.

The clenched fists.  The stare that could take you down.  The raised voice with the yells of unfairness.

“It wasn’t me…” traveled down the hall, always emanating from our classroom.

He was the angry child.

The kicked-back chairs and the tossed desk told his story loudly.

The playground fights, the raised fists told it as well.

So did the suspensions.

The missed assignments.

The checklist and the endless meetings.

He was an angry child, or so they said.

At least, that is all you would see if that was all you noticed.

If you didn’t look further or take the time, you would have missed everything else that he was.

Because did you know, he was a dancer?  That he could play ball with the best of them?

That he could hold a tiny baby and surround it with love, thanking you for the chance to say hello.

That he was funny, his smile would light up the room, his jokes would crack us all up, even when I tried to teach.

That he liked to read when he found the right book.

That while his life was far from easy, he still had love?  He wanted to give love.

It would have been so easy to only see the angry.  After all, how often do we only see a child for their loudest quality?  How often do we so easily dismiss everything else they are as we try to fix their problem, as we try to fix them?  How often does their story reach us before they do and already we have prepared everything we think we need without knowing if they need it.  We get stuck in our thought patterns and only see the flaws, the areas of growth, and not everything else that makes them the person they are.

How easily we compartmentalize children to only be one story, while we speak of growth mindset and embracing differences.  To only have one facet and let that become the only thing we see in every interaction, in every discussion?  Do we ever stop to consider how the narrative we dictate becomes the story that unfolds?  Do we ever wonder if the children we teach can see the labels we have for them?  (I think they do). And while some may fight with everything they have to not be who we think they are, others may simply shrug their shoulders and accept the destiny we have had a part in designing and become the kid that they think we see.

It would have been so easy to only see the angry.  To only discuss the fights.  To only share the bad, the areas needed for growth.  But we didn’t.  We couldn’t.  Because he deserved more than what he had gotten before.

Because sure, he was an angry child, but he grew up to be a college student.  A football player on a scholarship, telling you he is going to be a PE teacher some day.  One who checks in once in a while, showing of his GPA (3.36 baby!) that may have just made you cry.  Who may not be at the end of his journey just yet but has come so far already.

He was an angry child, you know, but he was also a child who needed more love than he had gotten before.  More understanding than I had ever given before.  More patience than I thought possible.  And he grew up and he becomes something more.  Not because of us, but despite us at times.

So what do you see when you see that child?  Who do you think they will become?

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, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, Student dreams

Finding the Time for Independent Reading – Every Day, Every Kid

“I would give them time to read but I don’t have the time…”

The words haunt me several weeks later.  Shocking in their simplicity, yet profound in their meaning.  I didn’t have the courage then to address it but I have the courage now.

You see, that statement represents so much of what goes wrong in our reading instruction.  We want kids to read but expect them to do it outside of our classrooms.  We want them to grow as readers but expect them to fall into the pages of a book on their own.  We want them to be readers but then tell them that with us we don’t have to practice because surely they know how to do that already.  And yet the numbers don’t lie.  The increase in summer slide, in kids who say they don’t read for fun and the scary statistic that says that 26% of adults haven’t read a book in the last year.

And we wonder why we seem to be turning from a nation of readers into a nation of watchers.

It starts with us.  It starts with the way we choose to spend our time.  It starts with our lesson planning.  We nurture the seeds of reading and make the decisions that will help them grow or wither.  With us, the reading should start so that it has a chance to continue once they leave us.  It is as simple as that.

So how do we find the time to have kids read when we don’t have the time?  The answer lies in the small things, the small tweaks that we make every single day with one goal in mind; more time to read.

We start with independent reading.  Every day.

My students start every single class with 10 minutes of uninterrupted free choice reading time.  I do reading check-ins during this time, but their job is to read. To fall into the pages of a book.  Nothing else.  Every child is expected to read, and for those who fight it every single day, I keep trying every single day.  I wish I could give more but 10 isthe least I can give, if I had a longer class period, I would give more time.

Ask yourself; what if we started with independent reading, what is the worst that could happen?

We figure out our learning target.

While I don’t love everything about learning targets, they do force me to think about the ONE thing that I want students to grow in.  Too often we pile many different lessons into one, which increases our talk time.  Instead, really narrow down what is the most important for today and then focus your lesson in on just that.  I know that I teach many different skills in one day, but this helps clear up some of the clutter.

Ask yourself; what is the one skill we really need to focus on today?

We stop talking so much.

Teachers are estimated to speak 60-75 % of the time.  So if you teach in 45 minute periods like I do, we are dominating almost 30 minutes of that time.  No wonder we say we don’t have the time.  Yet how much of that time talking is spent on repeating instructions, on giving extra directions, or simply trying to answer every single thing question asked in front of the whole class.  So set a timer, record yourself, have someone observe you, or ask a child to stop you after a certain amount of time.  Couple this with a specific goal and then stick to it when someone says you are out of time.  If it is a lengthy lesson, which mine sometimes are, explain why to the kids and then help them get up and move.    But again, if you start with reading then you will already have preserved their reading time.

Ask yourself; how can I find out how much time I actually spend talking?

We get to the point.

I know we are supposed to activate background knowledge, share personal stories, and really suck kids into our instruction but how often do we get so wrapped up in sucking them in that we lose them by the time we finally get to the point.  Keep the introduction short, it is, after all, the introduction, and get to the meat of the lesson more quickly.

Ask yourself; How can I keep my introduction to only a few sentences?

We do most of our teaching in small groups rather than whole class.

How often do our lessons increase because we are trying to teach all the skills to all the students and yet what is really needed is one major teaching point and then tons of small groups for personalized instruction?  So focus your one thing in on what all the kids need and then save everything else for small group instruction.  That way kids are getting what they need rather than tuning out in a large class.

Ask yourself; is this needed for all of the kids or just some of them?

We re-evaluate our routines.

Independent reading is my bell-ringer, it is my task to do while I do attendance.  It is the thing to do while kids get settled in.  It is the thing to do while I check in on a kid.  It the thing to do while we wait for the last kid to show up.  If you are waiting for something you read.  If you think you are done and need to check in with me you read until we can speak.

Ask yourself:  What small things take up time in your everyday routine that could be converted into reading time because, truly, every minute counts? 

We cut out the extra stuff.

Just like we speak too much during class, we also have kids go through unnecessary hoops to teach and practice their skills.   Do they really need to “do” something every day with their reading other than talk?  Can they simply read some days and not write about it? Not post-it note it?  Not do mini jots or other tasks?  I fear we often feel that we need proof that their reading meant something or that they got something out of it, and that leads us creating more tasks to do.  We focus a lot on longer projects so that we minimize the time spent doing stuff around their reading.

Ask yourself; is the task I planned for them to do essential or filler?

We grow our patience.

We often stop with independent reading because not ALL kids are reading, not ALL kids are making great choices, not ALL kids are using it well.  But some are.  The thing is, it takes time, sometimes months, sometimes years to help kids embrace independent reading.  For some, it seems an impossible task and yet, we can nurture them as readers every single day.  We can show that our belief in them being well-developed readers is strong and that we will keep believing in them every single day, even if they reject us completely.

Ask yourself; Am I making whole class decisions based on a few kids?

 

If we want kids to be readers we give them time to read, I cannot state this enough.  I cannot bold it enough.  I cannot repeat it enough.  We cannot wonder why our students are not reading if we don’t give them time to do so with us.  Then that’s on us.  And if you don’t believe me, read the research courtesy of Donalyn Miller.

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.