When Reading is Trash or Magic

A couple of years ago I asked my students to tell me why reading was amazing.  When Jack whispered to Michael that “Reading sucks…” the rest, they say, is history.  Inspired by Jack’s words of truth, I have asked students for years now to tell me their reading truths and not hold back.  I cannot be the kind of teacher I would like to be if I don’t get to know them.  The real them.  Not the school-primed, sanitized version.  Not the kid that knows how to play the game.  Not the kid that says whatever they think we want to hear so they start off on a good foot.

So on the third day of school this year, I told the story of Jack. Of how I had been doing that lesson where I talk about the magic of reading.  How he had dared to whisper those words.  Some of the students laughed, they remember the lesson I was referring to, as they have also head about how amazing reading is for years.  And then they got quiet as I asked them so when is reading not magical?  And when is it?

I wrote in big bold letters “Reading is magical” and then asked them what to write on the other side.  “Reading is trash!” they said as they chuckled, not quite sure, I am sure, of what to make of all of this.

They grabbed as many post-its as they could and then started to write their reasons.  Please tell me when reading is amazing.  Please tell me when reading is trash.  Tape your post-its to the board so they stay up.  Sign your name if you want.  And then step back, read the post-its.  What do you notice?

IMG_7092.JPG

Over and over their words joined together to form the same patterns I see year after year.  The same things I have done to kids through the years.  The same things many of us educators are told to do every year by well-meaning administrators who are led by an expert curriculum that someone told them to purchase to raise test scores.

No choice!

Boring books!

Too much writing!

Tests!

Forced reflections!

Sitting still!

Their words glared at us.

 

IMG_7087.JPG  IMG_7083.JPGIMG_7078.JPG IMG_7079.JPG IMG_7080.JPG IMG_7088.JPG

But wait?  When is reading magical?  Again a pattern that we all know.

When I find the right book!

When I am given time to read!

When I find a great series or author!

When it is quiet!

When I am allowed to just read!

IMG_7070.JPG  IMG_7071.JPGIMG_7072.JPG  IMG_7073.JPGIMG_7074.JPG

Their words have carried us into our beginning reading conversations, into our analysis, into our very community.  They have guided us as we start to figure out where reading fits into our lives and whether we can protect or promote a strong and personal relationship with reading.  They have guided us as they have mentioned the amazing experiences they have had with their previous teachers, and the ones they wish that had not had.

We fret so much over what curriculum we should use, how we should teach, and how we should grade, yet sometimes the biggest impact we can have with kids is simply when we stop and ask them for their truths.  Do you know what your students would say?

PS:  This lesson and the others that surround it are all discussed in my new book, Passionate Readers.  Passionate Readers.  

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.

 

On Authentic Reading Goals and Conversations

The silence envelops us a few minutes into class.  I look around and see one of my favorite sights in the world; kids reading.  Quietly I walk up to the first kid, grab a chair, sit next to them and ask; what is your goal for the year? And for the next few minutes, I get to know this child a little more, not just as a reader, but also as a human being.

Last week, I wrote about our the changes to our 7th- grade reading challenge and how this year we had decided to move away from just quantity to make it more authentic for students.  I was excited to roll it out but not sure how the students would react.  Were they even up for a challenge or would it just be another thing to get done just so the teacher would stop bugging them?  Only one way to find out; ask them.

This week, as I started my quick reading check-ins, asking about their goal, has been the main topic of conversation.  With a simple question, we are off and I am starting to get a feel for these kids and who they are as readers.

So what have I noticed?

That no goal fits all.  As an elementary teacher, I often provided my students with a specific goal for them to work on and while instructionally this makes sense, after all, I can see what they need to work on, there often was very little buy-in.  When students reflect on their own needs and set a goal, they immediately see the reason for it. Those goals that I also see for them?  We will work on them together in a small group.

That when we ask kids to really think about what they need to work on the answers are very varied.  This also means that the years I have pushed for more of a quality goal or other single-minded goals, that many kids have not bought into it because the goal has not mattered to them.  Some kids immediately had something come to mind, while others needed more support.  Most kids though have created a goal that is specific to not just their reading identities, but also their reading lives.

Those individual goals encourage more honesty.  I always operate under a policy of total honesty when it comes to reading and ask my students to also do so.  By starting our reading conversations early in the year and asking for them to tell me the good and the bad as far as their reading experiences, that judgment-free reading discussion follows us into their goal setting.  When I ask students why they chose that goal, many discuss how or when they read or when they don’t and why they need to change that.  Some kids also discuss how even with this goal they don’t think they will be successful because of various obstacles.  Rather than hiding these thoughts, they are willing to share them which means I can now note it and try to do something about it.

That they do most of the talking.  While I start the conversation and also offer up follow-up conversations, I need to make sure that it is their response that guides the path.  Too often I have overtaken a conversation out of my own helpfulness, but now I try to listen and then respond to get them to elaborate.

Those relationships are built in small pieces.  One of the best benefits of these reading check-ins simply has to do with relationship building.  Every time I am able to devote a few minutes to just one child that is one child I know better.  While this might be a “Well duh” moment, I often think of how many conversations we don’t make time for especially in middle school and high school.  How often do we feel like we don’t have time for that check-in or small group because we have so much to cover?  The reading check-in is a foundation of my further instruction and I need to remember that when I feel like I am pulled in a different direction.

That quantity goals often mean that the child does not know themselves well as a reader.  While quantity goals used to be our norm, I have found in my conversations that often when a child now sets the minimum quantity goal it is often because they do not know what else to work on.  Our reading check-in then centers around what else they could focus on.  When they are not sure then that tells me a lot about their reading identity.

That reading check-ins offer me a chance to remind.  Those first few days of school are such a blur for all of us and I shudder to think of all of the information that these students have been presented within all of our classes.  So while I offer reminders in the beginning of class, I am also reminding them of reading rights as we speak.  It is important that kids know that they can book shop anytime they want, that they can abandon any book they need to, and that they need to plan for reading throughout their day.  How many times do we say things in those first few days that kids never hear?

That I write very little down.  Too often we get caught up in our conferring notes, rather than in the conversation itself.  I am intentionally limiting my notes just so I can focus on the child, so I can look them in the eye, react to what they are saying and then jot a few things down that can spark the next conversation.  (To see the form I use, go to our Facebook group).

As I think ahead to the coming week, I am excited.  Excited to have more conversations.  Excited to move further in our instruction.  Excited to learn more about these kids that have been entrusted to me every day.  All through one little goal and a few minutes of conversation.

PS:  If you would like to have more reading conversations or you have questions, come join our Passionate Readers Facebook group, 

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.

On Reading Tasks

 

I used to ask students to write in their reader’s notebook for a few minutes every day after they finished reading.  Some days they could write about whatever, other days I had a specific prompt.  Just four minutes because four always seems less daunting than five.  Just four minutes to give me a feel for what you are thinking.  Just four minutes to let me know if you are reading.

The protests started quickly.  Slow steps to get their reader’s notebooks, lengthy pencil sharpening sessions, bathroom breaks and long stretches.  Kids who needed to read just one more page even though it cut into their writing time.  Then louder, more vocal, “Do we have to, Mrs.  Ripp?”  “I don’t know what to write…”  “What’s the prompt again?”  I even had a child tell me that they thought it was stupid.  But I knew best, so we soldiered on.

Their responses were mediocre at best.  Short burst of thinking.  Not a lot of depth.  Surface level understanding, connections, and even writing.  I was baffled at how poorly they did., had they really misunderstood all of my instruction?  Did they really not understand theme?

On the end of the year survey, I asked them, “What is the one thing you wish Mrs. Ripp would never do again?”  Their response was resounding; our reader’s responses.  “Please don’t put other kids through that, Mrs. Ripp!” one child wrote in the margin.  “It made me hate reading!” another child confided.  I knew they disliked it, but the sheer quantity of kids that, without consulting each other, had put this four minute part of our class on the survey was astounding.  I had known all along, but still…surely this little check for understanding was just that; little.  Insignificant, and yet the damage it was doing to a child’s reading life was anything but.

This happens all the time in our reading classrooms; small ideas, insignificant extra tasks, minor routines that end up doing major damage.  We assume that kids will be okay, they are resilient, but we forget that for many their reading identities are not well formed yet.  That it doesn’t take much to knock them off course.  That it is not just because they dislike reading because they never found the right book, but because we have created reading classrooms where there sometimes is very little reading, but very many tasks.  Yes, kids need to process their reading.  Yes, kids should grow from their reading, but that doesn’t mean always writing.  That doesn’t mean always producing something.  That doesn’t mean that we squeeze in a short response thinking it will help them in the long run, no matter the damage it does now.

We forget that just reading is work.  That for some kids it takes incredible mental prowess to figure out the words, to visualize the story, to comprehend what is going on.  They are tired after they read.  We forget that reading can be solitary.  That as adults we often sit in silence after we have read or we think of who we would like to share this book with.  How we would like to proceed.  I know very few adults that write a summary every time they read or even write down their pages.  So why do our reading decisions look so different in our classrooms?

So what tasks do you have attached to reading?  What are you asking kids to do when they are reading?  Do they get stretches of uninterrupted time to just read?  Do they get to choose what to do when they do read or when they are done?  Have you asked students what they would like to do or what you need to change?

Most days, my students “just” read.  Sometimes I ask them to speak to a peer about their book, sometimes I do ask them to answer a question, sometimes I ask them to reflect on their reading, either out loud or on paper, sometimes I ask them to just think.  The key here is “Sometimes…” not always or often.  Not every day, not always in writing.  I tell them that when I ask them to do something, it matters, and because we do it so rarely, to most it does.  They take their time, they do the work because they know that this is a rarity rather than an everyday occurrence.

I wish I would have stopped our four minutes earlier.  I wish I would have listened to the students, rather than thought I knew best.  I wish I would have asked them sooner, what would you like to do when you finish reading and then listened to their answers.  I wonder if they would have answered much like Thea, our eight-year-old, did when I asked her, “When you finish a book, what would you like to do?”

She looked at me confused, “What do you mean?”

“What kind of thing would you like to do when you have finished a book?”

She looked me right in the eye and said, “Start another book…” and she walked away.

So let them read, not for the sake of producing, but for the sake of reading itself.

PS:  Join the conversation in our Passionate Readers Book Club on Facebook.

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.

 

 

 

 

On the Need to Plan for Reading Enjoyment

A question I receive often is what do you teach?  Meaning what reading skills do I get to explore with my 7th graders in our English block?  And how do I cover it all?  I get it, teaching English Language Arts in the forty-five-minute block is daunting.  We feel like we are behind on the second day of school.    (Incidentally, this is what prompted me to write Passionate Readers because I figured I could not be alone in trying to deal with the madness).  And yet, while I gladly share what we do as I try to help my students become better readers, there seems to be a missing part in this curriculum conversation; the need to plan for reading enjoyment.

Why does this matter?   Because our assumptions about what we can do to kids’ reading lives through our well-meaning intentions are wrong.  We have assumed for too long that kids will just like reading, no matter what we do to them in class.  No matter the task we assign them.  No matter how we teach and what we discuss.  And yet, the numbers don’t lie… As kids get older, reading for fun decreases and with it outside reading.  We all know where this goes, by the time kids leave our classrooms and become the adults we have hoped to shape, many of them; 26% to be exact, choose to not read a single book for the next twelve months.  And we know this, we see it in our classrooms every single year; those kids that come in and sigh, that pick up a random book, that look us in the eyes and tell us proudly that they will never like reading no matter what we do.  It seems, in our eagerness to create amazing readers, we have lost sight of the end game; people who actually want to read once they leave our schools.

The decisions we make today, as we plan for the year ahead, or for the next day’s lesson, matters more than we know.  Yes, kids need reading skills, of course, but we also must plan specifically for protecting the hope of reading.  For protecting the positive reading identities that are already present in our school communities, for investigating and hopefully changing the negative reading identities.

But this won’t happen just by happenstance. Joyful reading experiences don’t just happen magically even if we provide choice, time, and plenty of great books.  We must strive to make it fun.  To create meaningful opportunities to interact with others through the books we read.  To abandon the books that do not work for us, even the ones we rank a seven or an eight.  To read picture books aloud not just for teaching the skill but for creating a community, for laughing together.  For speaking books with one another.  For reading aloud.  For finding time to slow down so we can savor what we read, rather than just to get through it.

And don’t take my word for it, here is just some of the research of the benefits of focusing on reading enjoyment from The National Literacy Trust.

clipular (1).png

We may lament the amount of time we have in our classrooms.  We may worry that we will never get “it” done.  That we are not enough or that what we are doing is not the right thing.  But we must not forget how much we do control in our limited time with students; how many decisions we do get to make.  One of those has to be what we are going to do to protect the love of reading.  How will we make reading fun again and then stand proudly behind our decisions?  So next time you plan a lesson or have a curriculum discussion, ask yourself this; will there be enjoyment in this?  Will the very students we are teaching find this fun?  And if not, why not?  What can you do to change?  Our classrooms were never meant to be the place where reading came to die, they were meant to be places filled with reading explorations.  What will we do to change the very experience we have with our students?

Our classrooms were never meant to be the place where reading came to die, they were meant to be places filled with reading explorations.  What will we do to change the very experience we have with our students?

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.

On “Easy” Books and Better Readers

It has been a summer of easy reading so far.  A few YA books, a graphic novel when the book I was reading hit a boring spot, picture books every day.  My professional development books beckon, but my brain is not ready.  I need to read to read.  To relax – summer has been crazy so far – to laugh, to discover new books that I can pass on to others.  To not think too much, I need easy books.; books that remind me why I love reading so much.

I was asked on Friday; what about the kids who read books that are much too easy, how will we challenge them?  The problem was implied; easy books don’t offer up real growth opportunities.  Easy books don’t develop their skills.  Easy books don’t push them forward in the ever-present journey toward becoming a better reader.

But it seems as if, in our well-meaning intentions, that we have forgotten what a better reader really is.  A better reader is not just someone who can just tackle complex texts, who can comprehend at a deep level, who can answer the questions on the test to back up what we already knew.  While those are aspects, they are not the only thing that makes a child a better reader.

A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable.  Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t.  Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others.  Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in.  And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read easy books, how much of that individual reading identity journey do we dismiss?

Easy books, whether they be graphic novels, books below their actual comprehension skills, free verse, audio books, or even picture books, can get such a bad reputation in our schools.  As if those books are only allowed in the brief moment of time when they fit your exact level, whatever level means.  As if those books are only meant to be discovered when you have nothing else to read, when you actually are allowed to read for fun, rather than for skill.  Yet these are the books that keep us loving reading.  That keeps us coming back.  Those books that we devour in one sitting because we must find out what happens next, aren’t those “easy” books for all of us?

Do we tell our students to embrace easy reading whenever they want to keep them loving reading?  Or do we push them so hard to develop their skills that their connection to reading breaks and then we wonder why reading becomes something just to do for school and tasks?

And yes, I teach that child that reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid every day, who is not sure of what else he can read that will make him love reading as much.  My job is not to tell him, “No, you cannot read that,” but instead to show him other options.  Not to take away, but to recommend, while also protecting the fierce commitment that exists between a child and a favorite book.  To explore why that child loves this book so much and then help discover others like it.  To acknowledge the reading relationship that already exists and to build on that rather than breaking it apart at all costs because I know better.

I am not dismissing the need to challenge kids to read more, to read longer, to read more complex text, but we must be careful with what we then say when it comes to what else they should read.  We must make reading for enjoyment, whatever that means for a child, a central part of our teaching so that children can understand that reading for enjoyment is just as, if not more, important than reading for a skill.  And the research agrees.  Kamil (2003) points out, “Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.”  So are we making room to embrace those books that happen to make our children, and adults, love reading?  Or do we only focus on those texts that will continue to challenge them, to move their skills, unfocused on the other damage it may do?

While our job, as educators, is to develop children who can read, our job is also to develop children who want to read.  The two are not always taught together, so it is up to us, to make sure that when we plan for our reading experiences that “easy” books and anything else that may keep a child’s love of reading intact is not only welcomed but encouraged in our classrooms.  We must ensure that when we plan for reading instruction, that we plan for the protection of the love of 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.

 

 

 

My End of Year Student Survey 2017

I owe my greatest growth as a teacher to the truths that my students have shared with me.  The courage that they have had to speak up for the type of education they would like to be a part of.  It is therefore only natural for me to ask all of my students for their honest feedback as we finish the year.  Every year, their surveys have shaped the coming year, whether it meant getting rid of a project or completely revamping something I knew was almost working.  My students’ answers have shaped much of my writing as well, both books and blog posts come from the answers they give me.

And what do I ask?  What I need to know; was this a good class for them, did I give enough help, what did they like or dislike?  Was I fair, did I get to know them enough?  How do they feel about reading, what do I need to change?  Anything I can think of that will help me grow, and not just the easy questions either, if a child did not like this class or felt disrespected then I need to know so I can change.

Mrs. Ripp's English End of Year Survey 2016-2017 - Google Forms.clipular.png

So I hope you take the time to ask your students as well as the year ends and then use those truths to change the way you teach.  Once again, we have the best professional development sitting right in our own classrooms, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn about what worked, what was ok, and what definitely needs to change.  I have given it both as a paper survey and an electronic one, this year I decided for a Google form.  To see what I asked, go here.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.