books, new year, Reading, Reading Identity, Student dreams

Kicking Off Our Reading Conferences For the Year

We are two weeks into the year and slowly the routines are starting to shape up. We know each other just a little. Our community is growing. The incredible inquisitive and funny nature of our 7th graders is coming out more and more. And every day we start the same way; twenty minutes at least of independent reading. Twenty minutes to “Settle in, settle down, and get reading.” Twenty minutes where I get to book shop with kids, check in on their day, and also do initial reading conferences with the kids as we start to get to know each other more. After all, how am I supposed to help them grow as readers if I don’t know them as readers, as people?

Our first reading conferences are simple yet effective as we start this journey together. All it takes is a few things: our reader survey, their goal setting as it ties in with their 7th-grade reading challenge, my note taking sheet, my home information sheet and time. Hmm, maybe that sounds complicated, but it is not. What these different things do is allow me to slowly gather information on the students and open up conversation.

The reading survey helps me get insight into their reading habits and emotions tied in with reading. They do this within the first few days of school.

The goal setting sheet helps me understand where their priorities are. It’s part of our 7th grade reading challenge. This is about a week in after we set our reading rights.

The home sheet was used during our ready-set-go conferences prior to school starting but I also use it throughout the year to fill in more information. (The pronoun question/answer is an optional question from a different survey).

And my note-taking sheet, a constant work in progress, gives me a place to keep all of my information, in order to have a place to remember our conversations by.

Every class has its own binder where the information is placed alphabetically, and that’s how I start; alphabetically and call up two or three students every day during their reading time.

A few easy questions start us off: When we meet would you prefer to come to me or me come to you? (Many prefer the relative privacy of coming to me). Which book are you reading, how did you choose that one, how would you rank it on a scale from 1 to 10?

Then we move into their reading goal. Questions I ask are: What is your goal, how come you set that, and tell me more about your reading life last year? I take relevant notes throughout our conversations and I make sure the kids can see what I am writing down, I don’t want them to have to worry about what I may be recording. There are often follow up questions but I also want to be cognizant of wait time and the delicate nature at times of reading and how kids feel about themselves as readers.

Then we discuss their progress, how is it going? How is the book working for them? How is reading outside of English going? We also discuss what is hard about reading, no surprise, even my most adapt readers have challenges. Finally, I ask them if there are things I can do to support them right now better as we get to know each other. Many don’t have ideas right now but I like the openended question in case they do.

As we wind down, I ask them a few more questions. What is their favorite color? What is their favorite treat? And what do they do well? This information is used throughout the year as I celebrate them. It also gives me a peak into where they see themselves right now, many kids tell me they don’t do many things well, and so I always try to help them see great things about themselves.

I thank them for their time at the end. Thank them for investing in our class and allowing me this time with them and that I look forward to helping them grow this year.

The next time I meet with them, there are less questions so the conference goes quicker. Then it starts with, ‘What are you working on as a reader?” as you can see from the note-taking sheet and then evolves from there.

A simple way to start but one that sets us up together to work on reading, to maybe better their experiences in reading, to make it matter beyond the work, the pages, the labor that it is for some. I am so grateful for these kids and the conversations we get to have.

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, new year, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, students teach me

Planting the Seeds for Our Year of Reading Together

Today, we managed to pull off the unimaginable; every child walking out of room 203 with a book in their hands that they are willing to try tomorrow, which will be our first day of independent reading.

How did we do it? Well, a few things had to happen.

We gave it some time. While our students have certainly been surrounded by books these past few days, we have worked our way slowly toward book shopping. Some kids have checked out books because they asked but many looked more warily at the books surrounding them. Taking it slow, for us, has worked because we can offer up an opportunity to establish some trust and community before we dive into book shopping.

We read aloud. Read alouds tie us together as a community which is why I love to use picture books often with our students. It also allows us to dive into conversations about consent (Don’t Touch My Hair), how we feel about reading (I hate Picture Books!) and the expectations we want to function under in our room (We Don’t Eat Our Classmates). Read alouds ease us into the important work we are doing while exposing us to others’ stories.

We had some powerful conversations. Starting with our beginning of the year reading survey which gave me a sneak peak into how the kids see themselves as readers. While many are okay or even great with books and reading, some are decidedly not and the survey starts to let us see that. We then move to discussing the feelings and experiences tied in with reading as detailed in this post. This year the students decided to share when reading is dope and when it is trash. This then laid the groundwork for revealing the 7th grade reading challenge, as well as setting a meaningful reading goal to begin the year.

They determined their reading rights. After we have discussed their past experiences with reading, both the good and the not so good, we brainstorm which rights we would like to have for our independent reading time together. While there is not an option to not read, the students have great ideas for the type of reading experience they would like to be a part. After all three blocks of kids brainstorm, I created our chart which the students then approved today.

Reading Rights for 2019 -the yellow post-its are my notes from their conversations in order to make sure I stayed true to their hopes.

We have reading loving staff members. And not just this year. I am fortunate to work in a district that emphasizes the joy of reading in many place and I am part of a chain of people who spend a lot of time trying to match kids with books and also protect how their readers feel. While kids come in with many different experiences when it comes to reading, many also speak of the great moments they have had with reading throughout the years. And this only furthers the work we get to do in 7th grade.

We have lots and lots of books. While my district funds books, which seems to be a rarity these days, I have also spent a lot of money on books throughout the years, I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is what it is. However, our district also funds our school library and has staffed it with an amazing librarian and library aide. This provides our kids with the opportunity to not only look for books in our classroom, but also in the library and other places that have book collections. It is a powerful partnership between many of us that only continues to expand.

We took the time today to discuss how to find a book. While book shopping and book selection is not something new, centering our book shopping in what they already know and discussing the habits they have provide us with a place to start. It introduces our classroom library as well as our check out policy. It also helps us remind kids that they have a lot of strategies to try a book on, as well as to remind them that to cease reading a book is always an option at any point. We would much rather have them spend a lot of time selecting a potential great book than just rushing through the process.

So we gave them time. As much as they needed to touch the books, to browse the books, and to discuss the books with each other. I had pulled several stacks of books, one per table, to get their interest but they knew that they could browse the entire classroom. They could check out whichever book(s) they wanted and all of the other potential titles they put on their to-be-read lists. And it worked. Every child was up and moving, every child left with a book or more. To see so much book excitement was frankly a major highlight of this whole week.

What were big interest books today?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Anything by Jason Reynolds

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Until Friday Night by Abby Glines

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Now don’t be fooled, the work is far from over. But this is a start, a seed that will continue the work we do as we try to help some of our students go from kids who see little to no value in reading to kids who do. As we help kids continue the already positive relationship with reading that they have. But it also work that is shrouded in privilege. Our kids have access to books. Our kids have access to teachers who love reading. Our kids have time to read. Every child deserves that as an educational right.

For me the best part is; I am not alone in this. Our school and district is filled with people pursuing the same goal that I am; helping kids find books that matter, helping kids see themselves as readers. Today was a start and I cannot wait to see how it continues to evolve.

Tomorrow we read.

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.

new year, Student dreams

After the First Day

I have been awake since 4 AM. Call it the first week jitters, exhaustion, or just the buzz of the never-ending to do list as the year finally, finally, gets underway. The students showed up yesterday and our second day together beckons. I cannot wait to see how it will go because we all know that the first day of school carries a certain excitement, but that it is the second day of school and all of those after that are the true test. Will this year be worth it in the eyes of students? Will these teachers, the adults that surround them, really care?

As I look back on the blur of the first day, a few things stand out.

Learning names is so important, and so is learning their pronunciation. I spend a lot of time in the weeks leading up to the first day simply looking at student pictures. I label what needs to be labeled in the classroom. We also meet with parents and caregivers that want to before school starts to learn about their child. And then we wait, because we won’t know a kid until we have met a kid and spent a lot of time with them. But their name? That shouldn’t take that long and neither should how to say it right. Today, as they walk in, I will try to address each of them by their name. By tomorrow I should have them down and if not, I start to owe them treats. Relationships are built in being seen, that starts with their name,

Your room will never be ready. I was as ready as I could be but the minute the kids showed up I saw a few problems with our space. The tables were too tight, there is no natural flow to walk through and where they store their notebooks created a traffic jam. After minor adjustments, we shall try again today, however, I also made sure to tell them that they can move the furniture as they see fit in order to not feel so crowded.

I had too much to do. I overplanned, I knew I did but not by how much. The day felt rushed and too full as we tried to do one thing after another. Today, two things are on our agenda – discussing consent and discussing why reading sucks at time. Yes, we got stuff done, but we didn’t slow down enough to just be together. That changes today.

What did I learn today? I am really trying to remember to gather information about my students that goes beyond the large stuff. This may sound dumb, but I fear that at times I learn things about them but then because I don’t write it down, it disappears. Yet knowing things about their lives, about them is what builds a relationship. So this morning, I am going through my student info sheets and just adding what I learned yesterday, even if the knowledge seems really insignificant.

Even a small note makes a difference. In my fog of exhaustion last night, I remembered that our team likes to send a “We had a great day and are excited for the year ahead…” and so we did and we think it matters, because there was a buzz in the building of excitement. Because at the end of the day even though the exhaustion felt tangible, we also left wanting to come back, excited for the year ahead, and that is something worth noting and celebrating. I also made sure to send thank you’s to my own children’s teachers, after all, they also had great days. Those emails or notes, they matter as we start to build a community of trust.

We get another chance. One of the best parts of teaching is that it is not just a day thing. Yesterday was just the beginning of what will be a year of learning, of exploration, of community, and of growth and today we continue that journey together. So even if the day before was not great, even if the day before was exhausting, we get another chance. And not just the adults, but the kids too, and that matters sometimes more than we know.

So here’s to many more days ahead. I cannot wait to see what happens.

Be the change, being me, failure, Student dreams

It Starts Now

White, Black,  Free Image

I have been thinking a lot about failure. About this whole notion of growth mindset and having kids take risks. About how often we ask kids to just keep trying even when it is hard yet seem to fail to do so ourselves. About how often we expect kids to give us their all, their best, their utmost, and then for them to navigate the pieces when it all falls apart, after all isn’t that what having grit teaches you to do?

About the supposed safety nets we have in place for students to fail safely.

About how we tell them that experimentation is great, that trying something new is the way to learn, about stretching themselves into unknown territory so they can discover who they truly are.

About how it doesn’t all add up.

Because the thing is, and I know I have said this before, we say a lot of things as educators without really thinking about what we are asking all kids to do. We say a lot of things without looking at the systems we already have in place, the routines and procedures that wield so much power in our schools that actively fight against this whole notion of embracing failure as another way to learn.

Take grades for example. We tell kids to take risks but then expect them to all succeed even if on shaky ground. If they don’t, then their scores or assessments reflect that. How often do we fail to recognize that it is because we attach subjective scores to something that we boil learning and curiosity into something we never intended. It becomes nothing more than an experiment in playing the grade game rather than the true learning experience it should be.

Take control and compliance. How often do our beginning of the year routines surround getting kids to be quiet, to sit still, to only ask questions when we designate the time for it. To make only the smallest of spaces for themselves in order for all of us to function because you can’t have a functioning classroom if kids are too loud, too energetic, or take up too much space.

Take how we handle behaviors. How often the preferred method is social isolation playing itself out in some form of removal from the classroom. How often we ask kids to leave in order for us to keep teaching and yet we see the behaviors continue as they rejoin us because nothing has changed in the experience, only paused.

How often we tell our loud kids to quiet down.

How often we tell our quiet kids to speak up.

How often we tell our dreamer kids to come back to Earth.

How often we tell our pragmatic kids to dream.

How often we somehow tell kids that to be a successful student all you have to do is play by the rules but then we never hand them a rule book or we change the rules altogether.

And then we wonder why kids say they don’t think school is for them.

So as we race toward the end of the year, or perhaps only the middle depending on your hemisphere, I want to take a moment to think about what my students are telling me they need. About what I am telling them not just with my words, but in my actions, my routines, and my expectations.

About how I need to continue to ask whether I not only would want to be a student in my own classroom, but also could be a successful one. About how we need to not give students a voice because they already have one, but instead need to carve out an authentic space for the things they have to say.

How it starts with asking questions – do you feel respected, does this learning matter, how can we create engaging learning opportunities together? How it continues with reflection – how is my voice and my power being used as a potential tool for inequity, does every child feel safe with me, does every child have a chance of truly belonging? How it rests with us as we realize that there is still so much to be done, and yet so that can be done if we start within the small decisions we make every day. If we take apart the small routines and structures that we put in place to make it work for everyone and ask whether it truly works for everyone, because almost everyone is not close enough. How along with our thoughts surrounding how we want to have better curriculum, we also need to think of how we want students to feel with us and then how we are going to accomplish that.

How when they tell us that they want to change the world, we start with the one they live in every day; our classrooms, our schools, our attitudes.

And it starts now.

And it continues each day.

Because much like our students, we all have so much to learn. I have so much to learn. I have so much more failing to do, only so I can keep growing.

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, student choice, Student dreams, writing

A Few Ideas for Better Peer Editing

I became disillusioned with traditional peer editing a few years back after I had once again spent a long time coming up with a specific checklist for students to work through in order to help them strengthen their writing. I think this was my 10th version of said checklist, a list that was specific in its purpose, supposedly easy to follow, and exactly what we were working on. Almost every single student pairing blasted through the list and turned to me proudly to tell me that it all looked good, that they had now produced their very best draft, and that surely, there was nothing else they needed to fix.

And yet…when I inevitably peered over their shoulder, I saw the same mistakes. The same missed opportunities for discussion about their writing. Depsite the checklist. Despite all of my careful planning.

Move to 7th grade and I mention peer editing and all I am met with is groans. “Please not that, Mrs. Ripp…” and so as always, i would ask students to tell me more about their reaction and what they told me was the final nail in the coffin for my traditional way of doing peer editing.

We don’t trust our editors and writing is personal.

They just tell us it’s all good.

We don’t know how to help.

They don’t want my help.

I knew then that not only was I past the checklist days, but I had to change the whole writing community we had established in order to help them grow together as writers, a dream I am still working on year after year.

So in the past few years, we haven’t had a peer editing process per say, what we have done instead is focus on creating a writing community that is established early. A writing community that celebrates our writing, a writing community that (at times, because let’s be realistic here) doesn’t hate to write.

While this is still major work in progress for us, there are a few things we are proud of. These include:

  • The choice of who you work with in your writing. This way students start to see who can naturally help them with their writing rather than the constant forced pairings of years passed.
  • The choice of whether to continue revising/editing or to be done. Students know that when they see work as done, it often is, they then choose to either start a new piece or continue to work on the current one.
  • The understanding of the need for others’ eyes on your writing at times. The students we teach often ask each other naturally to look at their writing because they know that if they don’t, they will miss opportunities for growth. This is encouraged with built in time and conversation about what it means to be with fellow writers. Students are encouraged to share, read, and comment on each other’s writing when it makes sense to them. This is huge for ownership and lens of what they need.
  • The choice of whether to share or not. While students are expected to share some of their writing with the community, not all writing is for others. This has been a part of our foundation as it is important that students see their writing as theirs to own, not mine.
  • The choice to write poorly. It has been important for our students to understand that not all writing is going to be great. That sometimes what we are writing is not working, is not great, is not something we want to share. What we work on is getting past that feeling whether by abandoning a piece or working through it.

I know when I started writing books and realized what editing and writing communities really did for my writing, I know I wanted to emulate that in my classroom and yet for many of my students, they don’t see a purpose in their writing beyond the teacher telling them to get it done. This is why it has been such a long process for me because not only am I trying to get them to write better, but also to see power in their writing. This is also why I don’t write about our writing work very often because it is such a huge work in progress and I doubt my own ideas a lot, despite the growth I see.

So, the other day as we were finishing our This I Believe scripts, I turned to my learning community to see what else is out there for ideas in better writing partnerships, especially with an eye on revision, and I was not disappointed. There were so many great ideas and opportunities for growth shared that are helping me go further in my journey. So wherever you are in yours, perhaps some of these ideas will help you further develop your writing community as well. I know I have a lot of work to do with my current and incoming students as we continue to try to make our writing more meaningful.

This is yet another reason why I love social media so much, thank you so much to everyone who shared. There is a wealth of ideas here, many of them centered around the individual child’s identity as a writer and the vulnerability that is naturally involved when it comes to sharing what we have written with the world. And that for me is always the biggest piece; how will my students feel after they have shared their writing? Will they feel empowered or will they feel taken apart? Will it truly have transformed their writing or will it just be one more reason that they think they cannot write?

I know I have much to learn!

PS: In case, you missed the announcement, I am running a book study of my first book Passionate Learners this summer in the Passionate Readers Facebook group. You should join us!

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 student, Book Clubs, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Join Me for the Summer Book Study of Passionate Learners!

With the bustle of April and all of the excitement that that brings, the end of the year is fast approaching.  But with that end also comes an inevitable beginning; a summer that calls for reflection, relaxation, re-invention, renewed commitment, and also the energy to try new things.  I do so adore summer for all of its passion and courage, and also time to just be a reflective practitioner.

It is therefore that I am pretty excited to share that there will be a summer book study of my first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students , which will kick off on June 1st and run for four weeks until June 28th. Why June? Because while I am still in school in June, I am also itching for some reflection for the new year. And then comes July, where I take time off in order to be a better person and I hope others do as well.

This book is what started it all, it reflects the journey I have been on, inspired by research and people who did the work before me, to create a more human and engaging experience for all of my students, particularly the kids who felt that school was not a place for them. The book is an honest view into what I did then and what I have learned from my students in order to be a better teacher for them while also working within the restrictions of a public school system. It is not meant as a step-by-step guide, but instead as a way for you to reflect on your own decisions and how you can change your teaching to allow room for your students to have more control and power over their learning experience. While the book study will take place in the Passionate Readers Facebook group, it is not a book focused on reading specifically, but rather overall student engagement.

So join the Passionate Readers Facebook group for a casual and fun exploration of the book, find a community of your own that is trying some of the ideas, or have already implemented them into their classrooms.  There will be reflective questions, helpful resources, Facebook Lives, as well as ideas shared in the hopes to make this school year the best one yet.

In the book club we will explore how to:

  • Establish or expand a learning experience based around giving space for student voices.
  • Be attentive to your students’ needs and share ownership of the classroom with them.
  • Break out of the vicious cycle of punishment and reward to control student behavior.
  • Use innovative and creative lesson plans to get your students to become more engaged and intellectually-invested learners, while still meeting your state standards.
  • Limit homework and abandon traditional grading so that your students can make the most of their learning experiences without unnecessary stress.

So if you are looking for a way to re-ignite your passion, to meet new amazing educators, and find great ideas for how to engage and empower your students, join this book club.  There is no commitment once you join, pop in when you can and share when you want.

When:  June 1st -June 28th

Where:  Online via a private, closed Facebook group

Cost:  Free – you do need a copy of the book, though, you can get your print or e-book copy of Passionate Learners here.

Sign up: Please fill out the Google Form in order for me to email you all the details when we kick off. Don’t worry, I don’t use your email for anything else. Also, join the Passionate Readers Facebook Group in order to be a part of the discussion.

Thank you for wanting to be a part of this conversation, I cannot wait for this opportunity to learn together!