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.

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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.

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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.

They Taught Me

I have taught children from the ages of nine to fourteen for the last nine and a half years.  I think I have taught them a few things, I hope I have, and if the comments I get from kids after they leave our classroom is any indication, then some of the things we dreamt up together did make a difference to them.

Yet, teaching was never about me.  This journey we are on every day, every year, was never about the adult in the room, but rather those kids that come every day.  Not always because they want to but because for some reason the universe has decided that we will be on this journey together.

So as another year winds down.  So as the calendar tells me only eight more days.  So as I finish my third year as a 7th-grade teacher, I cannot help but think of all the things my students have taught me this year.  Those things I don’t ever want to forget.

They taught me that being human would always trump being a teacher.

That a single story never has to define who we are, even if others refuse to believe otherwise.

That hugs can go a long way, even when said hug is to a child that towers over you.

That sometimes truths are not easy to share, nor easy to hear, and yet they can change everything.

That having faith in every child, not just the easy ones, will always take you further, even if it so hard.

They have taught me that I never know the full story and can only be grateful for the pieces that I get to know.

That choice in some way, even if tiny, will always lead to more engagement.

That I need to love first, teach second, thank you, Jed, for reminding me.

That sometimes kids don’t know how big of an effect they have on us even if we swear they set out to push ever single button they could find.

That the best part of my day will always be them, getting to teach them, getting to learn from them.

That sometimes teaching simply is preserving hope, more than anything else.

They have taught me that even when you want to shut your door, you should leave it open as you don’t know what you might miss.

That if we want real connections then we have to be real to begin with.

That even if something has worked in the past, there is no guarantee in the future.

That sometimes we don’t make much of a difference, even if we tried with every piece of us, and all we can hope is that we did not do further damage and that they knew we tried.

They have taught me that we are not perfect, that we can plan, and dream, and scaffold, and support, and yet still come up short.  That we are humans in the truest sense of the word and we are therefore inherently flawed, and yet, that should never stop us from trying to become better.

But the biggest thing, I was taught this year?

That I choose the narrative of how the year will be for me.  That I choose the way the story is told in our classroom.  That I choose whether this was a good year or a bad.

And that lesson was the lesson I needed the most.  I will miss this group of kids.

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.

8 Ideas to Make the End of the Year Race Better

Have your students told you yet how many days that are left?  While it has been awhile for me, I can still feel it creeping up, sneaking up, whether we are ready or not; for many of us in the Northern hemisphere, the end of the year is near.  And if your students are anything like ours, then there may be excitement in the air mixed with a special kind of exhaustion that is threatening to derail even the best-laid plans.  So what can you, along with your awesome students, do to make these last few days or weeks better?  Here are a few ideas.

Make it matter.  And by this I mean; make it meaningful, make it count.  Now is the time to dig deep, to go personal, to make it something they will remember for a long time.  we end with out This I believe project, a student and teacher favorite every year and we work all the way up until the very last day.  I love how we end with something that ties us even closer together as a community, rather than just have us fade out in small to-do’s.

Teach with urgency.  This is not the time to slow down, instead, make every minute worth your time.  We start with reading, as always, and then we teach until the bell.  I want the days to go by fast, not drag on for everyone involved.

Increase student movement and talk time.  I love seeing the various projects our students are engaged in throughout our building, with many of them involving more movement and also more student agency.  Now is a perfect time to have students take the lead on projects if you haven’t before and also to incorporate as much choice as possible.  I was lucky enough to watch a PE class where students had to sit and write about their summer fitness goals, the kicker?  Every time they did a section they had to run and do other physical activities.  I loved seeing how even in writing, movement was incorporated.

Make memories.  Even if the students are ready to leave make sure you take the time to reminisce a little.  How has this year been?  What will they remember?  I try to have students write letters to the incoming 7th grade to offer them tips and ideas, these letters not only give me a way to welcome the new students but also to see what made a difference to my current ones.

Take them outside.  I used to shun the outside for teaching, after all, it was just so distracting.  Now we look for the days where we can get outside.  So far it has only been with my homeroom class for a quick walk, but the outside is calling all of my classes and I am thinking of a way to teach out there.

Survey them.  This is ripe reflection time for us as we start to look forward to next year so make sure you ask all of the questions you have.  While I have not finalized my end of year survey yet, last year’s told me a lot about which projects they loved, the ones they hated, and also how I could become a better teacher.  These kids know us so make sure you ask for their advice, after all, we have the best professional development sitting right in our classrooms.

Make plans for the summer.  I don’t think we should pretend that summer is not right around the corner, instead, we need to have some frank conversations about what their plans are and more specifically, what their reading plans are.  Many of my students told me today that they did not plan on reading at all, this is the reality many of us face, and yet I still have four weeks to showcase the most incredible books I can find.  Book talk with urgency and help them create long can’t-wait-to-read lists.  Partner with the next year’s teachers, partner with your school librarian, partner with those at home and help them remember to read.

Reflect on their growth.  I don’t think all of my students know how much they have grown, how much they can do, how much more they are now than when they began.  I think the is common for most kids, after all, growing smarter is a gradual affair.  So build in time for them to actual realize their growth, their successes, and also to goal set for next year.

Stay in the present.  Ah so that makes nine, but this one is so important.  It is so easy to get caught up in thinking about next year and even planning for next year, and yet; these are the kids we still have.  We are still in the current school year, so if we don’t stay in the present, neither will our students.  Love them, keep getting to know them, praise them, laugh with them, believe in them, and keep pushing them to strive for more.  After all, next year, you will miss them, we always do.  And just perhaps, if we are lucky enough, they will pop their heads in on that first day of school, just to say hi.

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.