Be the change, being a teacher, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

Maybe Next Year…

I was a “just fine” teacher for many years.

The kids who came to me who were successful in school did just fine.  The kids who had already figured out the way to do school were just fine.  The kids who seemed to find things to like about school ended up just fine.

And yet, every year there they were.  Their data staring back at me as fiercely as their refusals.  That little group of kids that no one seemed to be able to reach, to help, to figure out how to make them grow like we hoped they would.

And every year, at the end of the year,  I hoped for the very same thing; maybe next year it will finally click.  Maybe next year’s teacher will figure it out.  Maybe next year they will be a better teacher than me.  Maybe next year…

But what I seemed to forget for so many years.  What I still forget at times is one simple truth; for all of our kids, we are the “Next year…”

We are the teachers that are supposed to finally figure it out, to make the difference, to help them grow.

We are the teachers that are supposed to find just one more idea when we seemingly have tried everything and yet nothing has made a difference.

We are the teachers that we hoped all of “those” kids would get.  We are the maybe next year…

So we cannot sit back and wait for next year when that is exactly what we are.

We cannot hope that others will figure it out better than us when we are what these kids got.  We cannot pass the child on as an unsolved mystery without working until the very last day, the very last moment, in the hopes that something, even something minuscule, will finally help them grow.

So we keep trying, and we keep reflecting, and we keep asking questions.  And we slide those book stacks across their desks with our most enticing books, and we keep sliding them even when they dismiss us through their eye rolls or outright refusal.

We purchase the books we hope they will read.

We confer with them even if they have little new to say.

We give them as much of our time as we can so that they can see that rather than giving up we keep coming back.

And we rediscover the hope of becoming a reader that may have been extinguished either by our own actions or of actions outside of our control.

So when I am asked but what do we do when the kids still don’t read?

When they still don’t care?

When they still just don’t?

I remind myself and anyone else.

Not yet.

But they will, however small.

There will be a moment of success, perhaps not transformation yet, and we will know that instead of simply hoping that next year’s teachers would figure it out, with this one little piece we have gotten one step further.  And we cannot dismiss that.  So look for the little, for the often overlooked, pump up your patience, and find your successes.  Don’t give up on a child just because it hasn’t worked yet.  Don’t give up just because nothing seems to matter.  Don’t give up and hope that others will figure it out when you are what that child has.

Teach, work, believe and love, and know that instead of “next year” we can make it become “this year…” and then for this one child, we will make a difference.  But we can’t do that if we already are waiting for next year’s teachers to figure it out.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

 

 

being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice, Student-centered

In It For the Long Game

It’s been four weeks since I have had a chance to discuss his reading one on one.  Four weeks since he decided to abandon the first book he had started after he was only 60 pages in and it had been more than three weeks of reading every day.  Four weeks since I got to have more than a surface level conversation about his reading life and I cannot wait to see what he says.

He tells me his goal is to read more, a goal I hear quite often in 7th grade.  I ask him to tell me more, why this goal, how is it going.  he grins and says, not so well, he really isn’t reading much.

I ask him about his book but that’s not it, he likes it a lot.  Then what is it?  He says, like so many kids before him, “I just don’t like to read…”

We finish our conversation and he pledges to try to find some time outside of class to get further.  After all, he has yet to actually finish a book this year.  I pledge to check in more often, even just a short visit, just to see if his new laid plans are working out.

He returns to his book and I return to the next child waiting to tell me about their reading life.

How often does this moment play out in our schools?  How often have we met those kids that tell us that they just don’t like reading and we feel the end of the year rushing toward us as if we, too, will fail in helping these kids create positive reading identities?

How often do we question the very practices we know kids need to become readers; time, access, choice, and community?

How often do we feel like we must be the teachers that cannot crack the code of this child and that all is already lost?

But before we despair.

Before we punish.

Before we tighten the reins.

Before we add more steps, more logs, more comprehension worksheets.

Before we think of what else we need to keep them accountable.

Take a moment and realize that we are in this for the long game.

That a child not liking reading even after we have been their teacher for almost two months does not mean that we have failed.  It does not mean that they have failed either.

It means that we are working on it.

That we celebrate the honesty when a child dares to tell us that they don’t like reading, and no, they are not reading outside of school.

That we thank them for the information and then ask them what they plan on doing with it.

That we remind them that reading matters and that we hope that they will find a way to make it matter to them.

We are not in this reading game to get them reading just this year.  We are in it to get them reading for life.

So before we change the approach of giving kids choice in books, time to read, access to books, and a community to read with, remember to have some patience.

Patience to remember that creating new habits takes time.

Patience to remember that it often takes many books to see yourself as an established reader.

Patience to remember that it often takes many conversations, many opportunities, many check-ins and walk-aways to really help a child find themselves as a reader.

And then when we question our own practices that we thought would work for every child, we remember that we may be up against years of unestablished reading habits and that just a few short months with us is not enough.  That sometimes we are just the tourniquet that stops the flow of hatred of reading and that it won’t be until later years that a child finds themselves within the pages of a book and cannot imagine coming back out.

So give yourself credit for the successes you see in your reading communities.  Give yourself credit for the books being shared.  For the joy being created.  And give yourself credit for having unlimited patience, especially for the child that tells you once again that they just don’t like reading.  Not yet, anyway.

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, Reading, Student dreams

Cover Reveal: Albie Newton by Josh Funk and Some Very Exciting News

I first properly met Josh Funk when he bought me a cup of tea in a convention center in Boston for ILA.  Properly because we had actually met at NerdCamp but had not had much time together.  So in a crowded hallway, we sat down to talk picture books, writing, and what it means to work with kids and try to make the world better.  Had I known that I would make a friend that day I would have made him buy me a donut (chocolate with sprinkles, please).

That day Josh told me of his latest picture book, he was still writing it and was wondering out loud about how characters would react to a child that perhaps didn’t see the wrong in his ways.  We laughed about the perfect endings we both wished for all of our children and realized that the not so perfect endings are sometimes what makes books so amazing and also life so hard.  I spoke of one student who right away reminded me of Albie Newton and how I wished that he would be a part of a world where his set ways were seen as strengths rather than an oddity.

More than a year later and that picture book we talked about is ready to have its cover revealed.  When Josh asked me if I would do the honor, there was no other answer than yes.  After all, this would perfectly coincide with another announcement I had planned; Josh Funk is a contender for Global Read Aloud 2018!  His books are some of my 7th graders’ favorites, as well as my own childrens’, and will be perfect for sparking conversations around the world.    I have wanted to tell him for some time but thought a little surprise would be better.

So surprise, Josh, thank you for trusting me to reveal Albie Newton to the world.

Who is Albie Newton?

A clever scientist?

A brilliant artist?

A mischief-maker?

On the surface, it might seem like ALBIE NEWTON is a cute little story about a boy’s first day at school and how he attempts to make friends (and fails with hilarity), but everything eventually works out in the end. Hopefully, you’ll revel in the adorable illustrations created by Ester Garay. And I certainly want you to laugh at the silly STEAM-related situations in which Albie finds himself. For example:

Arjun ate his snack and finished Albie’s cleanup duties,

while Albie built a science lab and found a cure for cooties.

But there’s a deeper level; one I really struggled with getting right. And Pernille Ripp helped me realize exactly who Albie was and how to keep his character true.

We talk about the need for windows and mirrors. I believe Albie will be a mirror for some kids who often don’t get to see themselves in everyday, non-”issue” related stories.

Let me back up. One of the very first lessons you learn as a picture book writer is this:

The main character must solve the problem on their own – and learn a lesson in the process.

It’s a basic picture book paradigm – flip through pretty much any picture book and you’ll see what I mean. And this generally makes sense. Stories are far more satisfying if the main characters figure out how to solve their own problems. It’s less satisfying if a parent or teacher solves the problem and didactically explains the lesson.

But as an educator, you’ve likely encountered some students who, in certain social situations, have difficulty solving their own problems. And in some of those cases, kids may not even notice that they’ve caused problems … until it’s too late.

Back to Albie’s story, on his first day of school, he ends up unintentionally and unknowingly alienating his classmates one by one on each and every page of the book. As the tension rises and his classmates’ anger reaches a boiling point, Albie is still unaware he’s caused a conflict.

And then, I had my own conflict: How do I end this book?

Does Albie solve the problem himself? Does he apologize? Does he learn a lesson? That was the textbook answer according to the “Picture Book Paradigm”.

But I knew Albie’s character. He wouldn’t apologize on his own. I didn’t even believe he would change throughout the story. Would this be a satisfying ending for the reader? Would it be believable? After several phone calls and emails with my agent AND editor about this very topic, a decision had to made. Deadlines loomed. The illustrator was already hard at work.

And there I was, having coffee on a bench at the Hynes Convention Center for ILA 2016 in Boston explaining my struggle to Pernille Ripp. If you’ve read Pernille’s writing (and I’m assuming you have because this is her site, after all), you’ll know she’s got passionate opinions. And that day she didn’t disappoint.

Pernille said that she’d had students like Albie. And sometimes social interactions are incredibly challenging, to say the least. She adamantly said I needed to stick to my gut and have Albie NOT apologize or learn a cliché lesson. Because that’s how it would have been for many of the Albies she’s taught. And especially not because that’s just how picture books work.

Pernille’s encouragement gave me the confidence to keep Albie’s character the way I’d always intended – a mirror for those who need him to be one. And hopefully, Albie is a window for the rest of your students, who often have trouble interacting with and understanding the Albies of the world.

You might even say that Albie Newton isn’t really the main character of ALBIE NEWTON; the main character is everyone else in the class. And they’re the ones who learn that valuable lesson and come out of the story changed.

Without further ramblings, explanations, and ado, here is the cover of ALBIE NEWTON.

 

_Albie Newton.jpg

 

Thank you, Pernille, for hosting this cover reveal. And thank you for giving me the advice and confidence to make this book the way it needed to be.

ALBE NEWTON by Josh Funk, illustrated by Ester Garay, published by Sterling Children’s Books will be available everywhere on May 1, 2018.

Bio: Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books – such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission: Defrostable), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle (in conjunction with Girls Who Code), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!

 

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys __(naps)_____ during ___(rain storms)_____ and has always loved ___(doing his taxes)_______. He has played __(old and wise)_____ since age _(2)_ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __(goldfish)________.

For more information about Josh, visit www.joshfunkbooks.com or @joshfunkbooks on Twitter.

being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams

When We Punish Our Readers

Tomorrow my students will dig into their reading decisions over the past 6 weeks.  What have they read?  How much have they read?  What are they working on as readers?  Who have they shared books with? Are they growing or just being?

We do this in an effort for our kids to understand who they are as readers.  What they are doing well on and where they need to adjust.  They will figure out their comfortable reading rate.  They will see how much they should be reading on average in a week.  They will discuss the books they have read and those they have abandoned.  They will think, reflect, and set new goals.  I will mill around them, look at their reflection answers and support them any way I can.

Then they will share their reflections with those at home.

While many things will happen in tomorrow’s much too short lesson, there is a major thing that won’t.

Punishment.

For those kids who may not have read much, they will not lose privileges.

They will not be held back from recess.

They will not be punished into reading more in an effort to meet a goal set by me.

They will not be shamed.

They will not be separated from those where reading comes easy.

There will be no public dismissal of the kids whose reading lives are nor as established as others.

Why would there be?  How could we possible see positive change in those who are not reading, if we were to punish them?

Except in some schools, there are.

In some schools I see AR points, pages read, or books read used as a way to separate those who can and do read from those who can’t or won’t.  I see scores set by others determine how a child’s experience will be with reading in the future.

I see arbitrary measures shared with home as if the points from AR or another computerized test will truly tell the story of that child’s reading identity.

And I see punishment.  Privileges removed from the child who fails to meet their goal.  Reading rules implemented that instead of eliciting more positive reading experiences, completely undermine the entire experience.  And the kids stand idly by while we destroy their love of reading.

How has that ever been ok?  How have we ever agreed to this?  Have we lost our common sense when it comes to something as important as helping children become readers and remaining such?

So if you see this happening in your school, in your curriculum, to your child; I hope this post gives you courage.  I hope this post gives you pause.

We cannot punish children into reading.  We cannot make reading a punishment in itself.  We cannot let outside goals, set by us, determine what rights a child will have.

What we can do instead is support.  Is help.  Is create access to books and speak books with our students.  Give them time to read and have them do meaningful work.  Have them set goals that are meaningful to them and then help them accomplish them.  Help them reflect when they don’t.

We worry about helping children become readers but then fail to see our own hand in their unraveling.  Our kids deserve more than the punishment they get, why did we forget that?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a student, being a teacher, Literacy, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice, writing

Recapturing the Magic of Stories – Practical Ideas for Better Creative Writing

“Do we have to write?”  He looks at me and awaits my answer.  I know he wants me to say no, but instead, I nod.  Every day.  Just try.  It’ll get better.  “But I hate writing…” and the kids around him nod.  So many kids not considering themselves writers.  So many kids who write simply because school tells them to.  And I see it every time I assign a story project.  I see it when they write summaries of stories rather than an actual story.  I see it when they fiddle with their papers, break their pencils or write one line.  We hate writing, and there is nothing you can do about it.

And yet….writing is stories.  Writing is our past and our future.  Writing has the power to break us apart or put us together.  So when our students tell us that they hate writing, it is usually not the writing itself they hate, it is everything attached to it.  All of the tasks we add in with writing to make sure they know how to write.  To make sure they can write.  And I wonder, once again, in our eagerness to create students who can write are we, instead, producing students who won’t?

So what can we do within our writing instruction to reignite or protect the writer that lingers within each child?  What are ways we can help them see that writing is something we need as human beings, and not just because the teacher told us to?

We hear their truths.

Much like we must uncover what protects or demolishes their love of reading, we must ask the hard questions about writing too.  Why do you think you are not a writer?  When is writing hard?  When is writing amazing?  How can I be a better teacher of writing for you?  And then we take those truths with us, we unpack them and then we reflect on our teaching practices; what have we done that have done damage?  How can we navigate all of our requirements without doing irreparable harm?

We make it a priority.

I know we do a lot of writing but how much of that is process writing; summarizing, essays, analysis, informational writing.  Where is the creative writing?  I know when I taught 5th grade it was the final unit of the year.  If we got to it, that is.  Why not start with them finding their writer’s voice.  Tell them to write a story, either real or fictional.  and reconnect them with their storytelling skills.  Begin the year with free writing and maintain it throughout the year.  Don’t save it until the end of the year when we can have done so much damage already.

We give them time.

We cannot create writing opportunities in our classrooms without dedicated time.  And I don’t mean the writing instruction slot where they are working on their assigned project, but free writing time, where they are encouraged to write whatever they want.  Free writing time every day so that they get in the habit.  Free writing time so they can work through what it means to be a writer and start to see the small success that will carry them forward.  Whether it is ten solid minutes like it is in my Informational Studies class or even just four minutes like it was last year for me.  Time should be dedicated to free writing every single day, even if you only have 45-minute classes.

We give them freedom.

Every day we tell our kids to write something in their writer’s notebook.  We offer up a prompt but we also tell them they don’t have to use it.  And then we step back, encourage them to write, but nothing else.  This is about them, not us.

We tell stories.

Great writing starts with stories, so we tell our own stories and model what it means to capture an audience.  We have them share their own stories as they practice how to hold an audience captive.  We do speeches so they can see what grabs people’s attention and what doesn’t.  Through the stories we tell we encourage them to write someday, to find ideas for writing.

We withhold judgment.

Every few weeks I look through their writer’s notebooks just to get to know them.  I don’t assess, I don’t correct.  Instead, I write comments, genuine reactions to what they have written so they know I am reading.  But I do not tell them how to be a writer, not here, not now.  That writer’s journal is exactly that; a journal, not an assignment.  And so some write comics, others journal, some writ lengthy stories.  Poetry, scribbling, moments of their lives burst at me from their pages and I hope that within all of their ideas they start to see what writing really is; an extension of self, of who we are and an exploration of how we fit in.

We bring authors in.

Many of my students are under the impression that “real” writers knew they were writers from a young age.  That story ideas just come to them.  that they sit down and a whole book just flows from their fingers.  But that’s often not the case at all.  how do I know?  Because “real” writers have been speaking to my students via Skype for the last few years.  And they dispel their writing myths one at a time.  It turns out there is no one right writing process.  There is not a right way to write.  Inspiration comes from many places.  And it also turns out that writing is hard work.  That getting the idea is often the smallest part but the actual revising and cutting out and making better is where the work comes in.  They don’t believe me when I say these things always but when authors do, they start to.

We are real writers.

How many of us teach writing but don’t write ourselves?  How many of us create our modeled texts at home because we know it will be hard to do it on the spot in front of the kids?  How many of us would never consider ourselves writers but then expect our students to be?  Be a writer yourself, it doesn’t have to be published, but go through the process and do it authentically.  Share how hard writing is for you, share your bad habits of writing, give them a real role model of what writers are so they don’t think that it is something that just happens.

We ask them who they are as writers.

And we come back to the question throughout the year.  We ask them to explore what writing means to them.  We ask them what their writing process is and we share our own.  We ask them to find some sort of value in writing, not because they have to love it but because they should be at peace with it.

We have them lead the conversations.

Less checklists.  Less pre-determined goals only set by the teacher.  Less specific feedback that teaches them that this is the only thing they need to work on because that is all the teacher told them to work on.  More student reflection, more student questions, more student ownership over how they need to grow.  When we confer they should do most of the talking.  When we confer they should start to find out what they need our help with, not vice versa.  In the beginning, it is hard but it will never get easier if we don’t start the conversations and hand over the reigns.

We don’t give up.

Every day we write.  Every day we share stories.  Every day we create something.  Every day we become more than what we were.  And we don’t give up.  We hear their truths as we gently encourage them forward.  We showcase many kinds of writing.  We give them freedom, trust, and a safe space to share.  We tell them to share when they can and not when they don’t want to.  We tell them to use our space as writers would; get comfortable, listen to music, discover your writing process.  Find your writing peers so you have people you trust that will give you honest feedback.

For too long creative writing has taken a backseat to task writing and while I know we need to be able to write things that fulfill purposes, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture here.  We have to give our students opportunities to have a relationship with writing that goes beyond what the teacher told them to do.  And that starts with the very decisions we make every day in our classrooms.  That starts right now.

 

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 choice, Student dreams, student driven, student voice

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.

 

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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!

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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.