authentic learning, Be the change, being a teacher, Personalized Learning, student choice, student driven, students choice

Choose Your Own Learning – 5 Opportunities for Learning as We Continue Emergency Remote Teaching

Note: Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, please just make a copy because these are my original documents. Please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

We got the the news yesterday; school will be physically shut until the end of the year. The emergency remote teaching will continue. I cried when I heard. I know it seems so silly in the grand scheme of things but I miss our community so much, we didn’t say goodbye, I worry about them, the work I am assigning and everything in between. While the year is not over, it still feels so final. Who would have thought that this was it when I told them to take care of themselves and have a great weekend on March 13th?

And yet, we have also prepared for this type of teaching and learning without even knowing it would be needed. As detailed in my book, Passionate Learners, we pursue independent choice-based learning in almost everything we do all year, not by happenstance but by design. We focus on creating opportunities for students to be independent while figuring out how they learn best as individuals. We focus on choice, personalization, and giving tools for students to speak up for their needs. We do self-paced learning throughout the year and have introduced tools to them as we need. We didn’t plan to finish the year apart, but we are as ready as we could be.

The first round of choose your own learning was fairly successful. Many students appreciated the choices, many students enjoyed the opportunity to pick something that would fit their own learning needs right now and then pursue it with different levels of support from their teachers. Many students clearly showed off their learning and found it worthwhile, fairly stress free, and interesting.

As I would in our classroom, I asked for their feedback before kicking off this second round and tweaked a few things. I also added a new option for them; the daily writing exercises as a way for students to flex their writing muscles without worrying about a long piece. I added better instructions a few places, added in a check-in virtually for others. I am sure there is still much that can be done.

This second round will last a little more than two weeks hopefully. If we need to adjust we will, if we need to change it mid-flight we will. And yes, I share so that perhaps others can use it, please adapt it to your own students as this is made for the ones I know. I will try to give links here to everything that I can.

I welcome the students every time with a slide show posted in Classroom. This is where they will see me welcome them back in a video, see the choices and also make their selection on the survey toward the end. To see the slide show, go here it is short and to the point on purpose.

Three out of the five projects require a weekly meeting with me, students are simply asked to sign up on a form that looks like this.

So what are the choices?

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

Students are given a choice board where they select 4 “boxes” to do with their book. Every box has a video to help them in case they are stuck. These are mostly lessons from me so if you use this, i would encourage you to make your own lessons for your students using language that is familiar to them.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. 

This required more independence from students then I think some realized and so a tweak I have made for the second round is that students need to check in once a week with me to discuss their progress.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

This was a popular choice the first round because a lot of students felt it was easy to manage; listen to one picture book read aloud, write a response a day. I love it because it honors the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, and it allowed me to gather fantastic picture book read alouds that have been shared. I tried to make sure that all choices here are following fair use and copyright guidelines as I do not want to harm any of the creators whose work is being shared. Sample questions can be seen below and the rest is found in the links.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community. The students who chose this in the first round, really liked it and said this was easier than they thought, so don’t be afraid to try this project.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  2. Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  3. Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every week virtually.
  4. Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  3. There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults. The few students that chose this the first round loved it and I hope their enthusiam gives other students a chance to try it as well. It was wonderful to see students immersed in learning that they chose again and also thinking about how to showcase it in a way that they may not have used before.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

Have a story to tell?  Here is your chance to use dedicated time in English to pursue your own writing craft and put some of those sweet writing moves you have been working on into action. Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

The few kids that chose this loved it. They loved the choice in lessons and the feedback that allowed them to write something meaningful to them. To help with lessons, students are given a video bank of lessons that they can choose from every day, as well as the option to find their own lessons and post those. They are asked to create a daily writing lesson plan so that I can see they are working. The once a week check-ins worked well as well because they were just like the writing conferences we would have in class.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  2. Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  3. Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  4. Choices:
    • If a mini-story:  Produce 2 or more pages of a full story.
    • If a longer story (part of a larger piece):  Produce a scene or chapter from beginning to end.
    • If poetry:  5 or more poems or a short story in prose form.
    • If a graphic novel or comic strips:  Discuss with Mrs. Ripp

Schedule a conferring time with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is twice over the two weeks.  These will be via Google Meet.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  3. There should be NEW learning that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.
  4. You will need to fill in a  learning plan and submit it to Mrs. Ripp for approval.  It will be posted in Classroom.

Those who chose it loved it but some chose to do poetry rather than story writing so I added some guidelines for that. I also added videos that were shared by students to our daily lesson video bank.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 5:  Daily Writing Exercises.

Have you wanted to expand your writing techniques and craft?  Here is your chance to be introduced to a new writing exercise a day and then trying it in your own writing.   

Project requirement:  

  1. Watch the video posted for each day (preview in the table below)
  2. Respond either in typing in the box or by submitting an image of your writer’s notebook if you are handwriting. 
  3. You will be given a separate document to record your answer in, this is what you will turn in.

I spent time pulling together ideas for stand alone writing exercises and am incredibly grateful to Amy Ludwig VanDerWater for sharing her daily writing exercises, as well as other resources out there.

I wanted this opportunity to be a way for kids to just have some fun with writing and also have a project that mirrored the manageability of the picture book choice, allowing them do one thing a day and not having to attend to a longer project. I am excited to see how this one will play out.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on the survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools. I am encouraging them to choose something else than what they did the first round but have already discussed with one student who would like to continue working on their story. There will be exceptions made as needed in order to make sure this is meaningful to all kids.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because both of these. rounds will be counted toward the same standards. I have also decided that if a child shows any kind of effort then it is an automatic “3” or higher. This is not the time for me to do deep assessment because all I am assessing then is their access to the learning, it is not fair to students, there are way too many inequities playing out for me to pretend that grades would be fair or objective. As far as if a child does not “show effort” then I will be reaching out and discussing with them.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. Most kids were successful the first round, some were not, so I will adjust support accordingly. I also have support from an incredible special ed teacher, as well as para educators that I can ask for help from.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

being a student, being a teacher, Reading, student choice, student driven

Stepping Into Inquiry – How to Use Google Search Better and Whose Voices are Missing?

Note: This is a continuation of the blog series I am doing detailing the work I am doing with students in an inquiry project into how to research better. The first post detailing the set-up and our first module, How to Write an Inquiry Question, can be found here.

Module 3 was a big one for us, spread over two days, not so much for the tips on how to use Google Search better although they were helpful, but more because we wanted our students to think about the types of sources they were finding, as well as whose voice was missing from their sources, so they could consider the impact of those missing voices.

This question; whose voices are missing, is a question we center our work around all year. Throughout the year, I have been actively trying to expand students’ historical knowledge of the world using an “overlooked history” segment every Friday for discussion and reflection, as well as spending a lot of time selecting the media that our students will be immersed in, in order for them to experience as many voices as we can. So we knew that searching for reliable sources to use would be a brilliant opportunity to put this more into their hands as our students don’t automatically consider whose voices they are using an dhow that will impact the knowledge they gain and the direction they take.

There are so many tips for how to use Google Search better, many can be Googled, so we wanted to introduce just a few that would potentially limit their results and bring them more specific results. We watched a video together that discussed some of the limiters, I didn’t love it and will probably search for a better video for next year. The students continued to practice their note-taking skills along with the video and then I walked them through a search so they could see how my results changed.

The limiters we decided to focus on were:

  • Using quotation marks for an exact phrase
  • Using boolean operators.
  • Eliminating unnecessary words.
  • Excluding words.
  • Including year range.
  • and using specific sites to limit their search – this one we just showed but didn’t expect them to use.

Teaching slides day 1

Then they started their work in their student slides (note, there are duplicate slides in here because I was out with sick kids and so they worked through slides I would have taught otherwise). We wanted them to specifically consider:

  • What they actually were searching for, so to clarify their inquiry question.
  • Which types of sources they would search for, we reminded them that video, infographics, and podcasts can also make for excellent resources.
  • We discussed the difference between primary and secondary sources in order for them to think of whose voices they should be listening to.
  • Then led a specific conversation about whose voices they would search for urging them to think of how someone’s perspective is going to change based on many factors such as their economic situation.

Once they had found the sources they wanted to use, they needed to consider whose voices were being represented so they could think of whose voices were missing. You could see a lot of aha moments here as students considered their sources and how they were incomplete. Then they had to consider whose voices they needed to add as well as the the impact those missing voices would have on their research. Honestly, this is the largest point I wanted students to walk away; getting to think about whose voice holds power and who is not represented. My teaching slides for day two had introduced this concept more fully and many students were spot on in theirintial analysis of whose voices were missing and why they needed to find better sources.

For my 2nd day of teaching, I had specific discussion points about changing perspective and why it is so vital we recognize our limitations of what we know and then try to learn more. This was a great discussion supported by the teaching slides and set them up for further work within their own slides.

Day 2 Teaching Slides

Reflection Back

I am still pondering what I need to change as there were many things I liked and some I didn’t. Like I said, I need to find a better video for them to take notes on. We also had our small groups work together on one inquiry question and find sources together for that question, but I don’t love how that limits their choice when it comes to what they are pursuing. Some of the limiters were not particularly helpful and actually increased their results rather than decreased them. But the conversation about perspective, missing voices, and the impact it will have on our knowledge were powerful and will be continued throughout the year because the few days of work we did around it here is simply not enough. It was a taste and something I am still actively working through as an adult.

The one area I want to work on through discussion is why we should be worried about whose voices are given authority and how power is given to certain voices and not others. While I touched on it, it was not enough (I am not sure what “enough” would look like), so I am mulling over how this can be added further.

Note: The unit after this was a lesson on how to use databases led by our librarian so I will not be sharing those slides as they are not mine to share.

After that came another big one: How to check reliability using the CRAAP method.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest 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

Reading, student choice, student driven

Stepping Into Inquiry – What is Plagiarism and How to Cite Using Easybib

Note: This is a continuation of the blog series I am doing detailing the work I am doing with students in an inquiry project into how to research better. The first post detailing the set-up and our first module, How to Write an Inquiry Question, can be found here.

In 7th grade, must of my students know something about plagiarism. They know they shouldn’t copy entire sources, they know they shouldn’t pass work off as their own, that they should be the creators of their own original thought, and yet…every year, without fail, we see kids plagiarise. The most common form is structure plagiarism. They see an article and they use the same structure of it to summarize, changing only a few words here and there. For some reason, they don’t see this as plagiarism but instead as summarizing. So we knew that while plagiarism is a much larger ongoing discussion that would require a lot of discussion and practice, we wanted to establish a baseline of what plagiarism is and also give them a few tips to avoid it in order to lay a foundation for future discussion.

Before we started, I had already checked their inquiry questions from Module 1 and students were, for the most part, ready to move on. A few kids needed some discussion in the crafting of their question, but almost all were ready to move on. Those that weren’t caught up in a small group or were asked to see me. Most inquiry questions were solid, a few were too broad or too narrow, and a few needed to be rethought, but overall, I was thrilled with how brad the interests were. A few sample questions students are pursuing:

  • How does being homeless affect your mental health as a child?
  • Why do people become abusive?
  • Why are dogs viewed as superior pets?
  • How can we reduce our trash production as a class?
  • How does air pollution affect everyday life in India?
  • How do you re-enter the job market after experiencing homelessness?
  • What is life like for a ragpicker?

I knew I wanted students to see some extreme plagiarism examples in order to hook them into the work and so we watched this classic SNL skit to much amusement. That type of plagiarism is easy to spot, but what about the instances that are not? I used headlines from recent music battles where artists have been accused of copying other artists, which helped the students see that plagiarism is a problem that permeates many aspects of life, and not just education. This also led to a discussion of what can happen in our district if they plagiarise and what to do if they iadvertently do it.

Then it was time to practice our note-taking again, this time providing us with an actual definition of plagiarism courtesy of this video from GCFLearnFree.org . Having something short and concise allowed students to have a commun definition, as well as some beginning tools of how to avoid it. We could then release them into their Student Module 2 where most of the work took place. This was a one-day event within our 90 minute ELA block with only a few students needing extra time.

In their Student Module 2, we wanted students to have further exposure to ways to avoid plagiarism, as well get some information about citations, not just why they are important, but also how they are different than say providing a weblink. We then wanted students to walk through creating an actual citation using Easybib, which is the preferred citation tool in 7th grade overall at our school, by citing an article that is relevant to our inquiry. Our geography teachers had already created easy slides to follow for how to use Easybib, so we were able to merely adapt those and have students use them.

Because we knew students came in with different skill levels for this module, we provided an extra activity for those who had time left over. At the end of the module, they would be able to play a plagiarism game created by students at Lyocoming College, an easy game that students thought was amusing and also informative.

Free plagiarism game created by students at Lyocoming College

My teacher slides for the unit can be found here

Reflection back:

This module went well, although, with viruses hitting us all hard, there were some kids that did not have their inquiry question ready. The good news was that they didn’t have to have that ready for this module, so we were able to work on these skills while still working on their inquiry skills.

Time management continued to be a hurdle for a few kids, and so we tightened up around that for the kids who needed it and I also tried to take up very little of their time in order to give them as much work time as possible. Circling around while students worked helped clear up some confusion.

While the Easybib slides were helpful, for some they were confusing and so in the future I may just have kids go to Easybib and try to follow the steps themselves rather than look at slides with steps on them like I have done in the past. I am not sure how I will tweak it, but the few kids that I showed how to use Easybib live found that demonstration easier than following the slides.

And finally, I am not sure this was enough exposure, I constantly feel like I should take the kids deeper and yet then also have to remind myself that it is exposure to level the playing field and to help them all have a more solid understanding as we continue to do inquiry throughout the year. I also have to remember that what may seem easy to me is not always easy for my amazing students and even if a few students finished quickly, it does not mean it was easy.

Next module: How to use Google Search Better.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest 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

being a student, being a teacher, questions, Reading, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement

Stepping Into Inquiry – How to Write an Inquiry Question

Last year, after we finished our first read aloud, we released our kids into their first inquiry project. While we had scaffolds in place, there was plenty of choice, and also specific lessons targeting research skills, my special ed teacher, Kelly, and I still stood back and felt like what we were doing was simply not enough. Or perhaps that it was too much. That somehow we were simply pushing kids through research and yet there were so many executive functioning skills and also simple research skills that we were assuming kids already had a handle of. And yet, they didn’t not all of the kids, despite the wonderful teaching that had happened before 7th grade. We saw it fall apart a bit when kids were really worried about the end product but not focused on what they were learning throughout the unit and they weren’t fully grasping the research skill lessons we were teaching because there was this larger pressure to produce a speech answering their inquiry question.

So this year, we knew we had to do something different. Rather than have students do a full inquiry project into a topic tied in with The Bridge Home, our read aloud, we wanted to create an inquiry project into the art of research itself, not worrying about a final product but instead walk students through specific research skills in separate modules. Sounds great, right? Yet what we quickly were reminded of was that the art of research itself is vast, which we knew, so we had decisions to make; which 7 or 8 research skills did we really want to focus on as a baseline for the kids as we introduced 7th grade inquiry skills.

Knowing that this was a great chance to cross-collaborate between other subject areas , we did just that; surveyed other teachers to see what they thought was important to establish a baseline in, as well as brought it up as a problem of practice in our consultancies with colleagues. The results were clear, we would love 7th graders to be able to have an initial understanding of:

  • How to write an inquiry question
  • How to take notes using the Cornell Method of notetaking
  • How to cite their sources using Easybib – MLA
  • How to avoid plagiarism and understanding what plagiarism was
  • How to use Google Search better
  • How to use our databases
  • How to potentially revise their inquiry question
  • How to use the C.R.A.A.P method to check for reliability
  • How to check for bias in their sources
  • How to find the main idea and supporting details
  • How to synthesize their information into original thought – a primer
  • How to evaluate whose voices are missing and how do those missing voices impact the validity of the research

But that’s a lot so how do we do all that without losing kids in the process? Enter in discussion with my new wonderful colleague, Chris, my fabulous literacy coach, Andrea, and also our incredible librarian, Christine. With the help of them I was able to synthesize some of the thoughts we had about what kids would be able to do as, well as look at which standards this would even cover because we would also need to find a way to assess what kids were doing. After looking at all 9 standards for the year, we pulled the following standards out:

  • Standard 2:  Draw and cite evidence from texts to support written analysis.
  • Standard 3: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
  • Standard 5: Evaluate claims in a text; assess and express the soundness and relevance of reasoning.

Knowing this led us to creating 8 different modules for students to work on throughout the month of November. We knew we wanted choice throughout and also for students to feel supported and not feel ashamed if they wanted to work in a small group with the teacher and instead embrace the knowledge that they knew what they needed at that time to be successful.

So the final modules with their standards assessed became:

  • Module 1: How to formulate an inquiry question – Standard 3 
  • Module 2: What is Plagiarism and How to Do Citations – Standard 3 
  • Module 3: How to use Google Search better – Standard 3 and 2
  • Module 4: How to use our databases (taught by our librarian) – Standard 2 and 3
  • Module 5: How to assess the credibility of a source – CRAAP method ALSO Do you need to revise your inquiry question  Reg – Standard 5, Enriched Standard 2
  • Module 6: How to recognize bias – Standard 2 and 5 
  • Module 7: How to pull out a main idea and supporting details that tie in with your inquiry question – Standard 3
  • Module 8: How to synthesize information without plagiarizing – Standard 3

We launched the inquiry unit while still immersed in our read aloud, The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. While we did a lot of reading work, we also kept an I wonder page that we would visit now and again. We wrote down large questions we had about society as it tied in with the story we were listening to and moved away from predictions.

Sample wonderings included:

  • What do parents do when their children run away?
  • How does being homeless affect your mental health?
  • Who started the idea of landfills?
  • How can we reduce our waste as a family?
  • Which types of diseases affects children living on the streets of India?

Then it was time to launch our very first unit and what better way than to use a picture book?

Bringing us together with our readers’ notebooks we laughed at the whimsy within the pages and then I asked; what do you wonder about within the pages of our read aloud? As students shared, I encouraged others to write down the questions they also had as potential inquiry questions. I love when students nodded and agreed that they had questions about something similar. This also afforded me an opportunity to reiterate that their inquiry question should somehow be connected to the read aloud but should not be answered by the book, but that they instead needed to do research in order to come up with their own answer. We also stressed the importance of this being of interest to them, and while we had potential inquiry questions ready for those who refused or found it hard, we have found we haven’t needed them. This discussion then planted the seed for how to come up with a proper inquiry question.

Our next component of the day was taking notes on a video using a modified version of the Cornell notetaking method. We wanted to introduce kids to a way of taking notes that they can easily use in other classes and also encourage them to make them their own. Rather than do a stand alone lesson, my colleague, Chris, suggested having students take notes throughout as an integrated part of the units which is what we did. This has worked really well and much better than if I had done a separate unit on just note-taking. I explained how to set up their notebook and we watched the first video, How to Develop an Inquiry Question, uploaded to Youtube by Kansas State Libraries. The video was a good introduction to why developing a strong inquiry question was important before kids went any further with their work. We took some notes throughout as I paused the video and then introduced the final component; the reflection questions.

One of the things we discussed in our planning was that a major reason for this unit was for students to understand the transfer of these skills to other subject areas, and also to life outside of school. However, this doesn’t always happen without the proper time and reflection. Therefore, our students have four questions to answer every time they finish a module. They are collected in a packet that I hold on to for ease:

  • What do you think you will remember learning from this module?
  • How is this skill useful to you in life?
  • How is this skill you useful to you in school?
  • How could you use what you have learned in this module in geography/STEAM/or science when you have to do a research project?

After this, we released students into their student module 1 – note this was over the course of two days with 90 minute blocks of English and each student was given a copy of the slides to fill in. The student module 1 allowed them to watch another video that discussed the levels of inquiry questions, look at examples of inquiry questions, and then write different levels of inquiry questions. At the end, I asked them to please come up with a potential level 3 inquiry question that they would be interested in pursuing the next few weeks and then submit it to me. And then I held my breath, how would it go?

Reflection back:

After my first ELA block, I tweaked the student slides to make them easier for them to use and took out some unnecessary steps. There was general confusion between level 2 and 3, which I had suspected would happen and so we discussed as needed and I stressed that as long as they were out of “level 1” territory then I was happy. Some kids created much too broad or much too narrow questions and so I left them feedback or had conversations as needed, however, this is also something that will be assessed more in module 5.

One major thing we are still working on is overall time management, some kids are using all of their time well and thus working through everything with time to spare while others are not. Starting tomorrow, I will be asking students to join me in the small group to do the slides together in order for them to stay on track and not fall further behind.

I also tweaked my teaching slides, in order to get to their work time faster and not have so much talking from me.

Teaching Slides Day 1

Teaching Slides Day 2

The next module is Module 2 – What is Plagiarism and How to Do Citations – a one day module, hopefully.

I will continue to share as I work through all of this, the sharing helps me reflect on what I am missing and at times others share great resources as well, so feel free to ask questions or share resources.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest 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

being a student, discussion, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student driven

Questions to Ask When the Kids Aren’t Reading

You may have noticed that this blog is slowing down a bit, while life continue to churn, I am slowly starting to work on a new book potentially. This means that there may be less brand-new writing on here and instead a mix of from the archives and new. The wonderful thing with continuing to be a teacher is that our teaching, hopefully, evolves as does our understanding of the work we do. With that I present to you a reworking of an older post from 2015.

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I met my first book abandoner my very first year of teaching.  Yet, he was not your average run of the mill book abandoner.  No, he was the “look you straight in the eye and ask you what you are going to do about it” kind of abandoner.  So I did what I knew best; forced him to read the book and not allow him to abandon it.  And he did what he knew best; fake read for a good amount of time, skimmed a few pages, and failed the book report as well as the presentation.  Repeat with every book.  I don’t think he ever read anything beside “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” that year, and that was to spite me more than anything as I forced him into my choice of book time and time again. because I figured that when he couldn’t pick a book it was up to me to do it. When he couldn’t pick a book it was up to me to create accountability.

Everyone has these types of readers.  The ones that abandon book after book because they hate to read, always have, always will.  The ones that abandon book after book because they cannot find a great book, or perhaps they found one once, or perhaps they never have.  The ones that abandon book after book because they get bored easily and while a book may have started great, now it is just meh.  Some years we have a lot, others not so many.  

Often for every child that abandons a book, there is a conversation missing, one that we need to engage them in in order to break the cycle. One that centers on one of the true goals of reading which is that the children we teach should be able to leave us being able to find a book that they are wanting to try on their own, without relying on artificial supports such as their level, their Lexile, or their teacher because they inherently know themselves better as readers.

This conversation takes time, it takes patience, and it takes diving into all of the many components that centers around the giving up a book. While often it may be seen as a rash decision made from an overall disinterest in reading, one that we dismiss when we hand a child another book to try, it is important that we dive into the nuances surrounding book abandonment in order for a child to know themselves more every time they abandon one. Make the act of abandonment one of internal reflection so that it no longer becomes automatic but instead becomes a choice that they can use to further investigate who they are as a reader.

This, therefore, means that there are questions we should be asking of our programming as well as the children that choose to leave yet another failed read in their wake. These questions shape the future decisions they make as well as their overall journey into their own reading identity.

Do they have choice?  Because if they don’t, then that is the very first place we start.  And not limited choice based on levels, Lexiles, or AR scores, but real honest-to-goodness choice where they get to pick their reading materials out of all the reading materials we have. This includes choosing the format and how to access it. Even as they abandon book after book, that choice needs to be protected at all costs, because while we may think that limiting choice will help them in the short-term, that’s exactly the problem with this approach, it helps in the short-term but does not push them further in their own understanding of book selection that works. So even when it seems like the list of abandoned books is too long to bear, let them continue to choose as there are other perimeters to consider.

Do they have time to actually book shop? Often we ask kids to quickly select a book and then wonder why they seem to not be invested in the choice they make, yet, if we study our own adult reading habits we know that leisurely browsing through selections is a pillar of how we choose books. So what are the time constraint placed on students? Do they have time to look through books, try a few pages, sit with a book for a while before they fully commit? Do they have time to speak to their peers about potential titles? Book shopping should be a social endeavor not one done in solitude if they don’t want to, so what are the conversations that need to happen as they browse?

Do they have time to read? If little time is given to reading then we are expecting them to do something they may not like only outside of school.  That is foolish and also malpractice when it comes to the use of our time. Every child, every day, should be engaged in supported independent reading. So when can they read in class and try on the book? When can they be under the guidance of a trained adult that can help them navigate difficult concepts or words?

Do they have access?  We know that students need great books in their hands.  We know students need great libraries coupled with a librarian, but they also need books in our classrooms.  And not old, worn out books, but new, enticing, high-interest books that they can check out easily. So when are they surrounded by books to choose from, what are those choices? Can they check the books out and bring them home or do they have to be kept in class? Yes, I lose books every year, but it is worth it to me if it helps a child read.

Are they overwhelmed? One student I taught told me 6 months into the year that our classroom library was simply overwhelming to browse in. That he didn’t know where to start despite my labels and bins. It took that long for him to tell me because he didn’t trust me with the information, afraid that I would think it silly or stupid, and yet, I didn’t think anything like that. What a way to know oneself! Once he had told me, we were able to create a way for him to browse specific sections of the library that he liked and able to pull out books from large stacks that I would pull for him. As he gradually got more comfortable, I was able to pull back my support.

Do they see themselves in the books?  We discuss students needing windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors in their reading lives as crafted by Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, but do we also evaluate the stories we have? Are we making sure that we are not just crafting a new cannon of sorts that continues to misrepresent marginalized populations or only share one aspect of someone’s journey? What reading choices are the students surrounded by? Is it culturally responsive such as how Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings discusses? Will it further a perhaps damaging narrative that they already have about others, or will it break down misconceptions, stereotypes, and harmful thinking?

Do they have people?  Is it cool to not be a reader in their friend group?  Who do they have to talk books to?  Do they have reading role models that extend beyond the teacher?  Who are the people that have similar tastes as them, that they can speak books with? Many of my students tell me that they don’t have many others to get recommendations from despite being in book-rich environments for years and teachers working specifically on this. So how else can we increase the natural book conversations, students are having in order for them to make connections with the reading tastes of others? I often invite kids to book shop together so that they can find books together, we also use book talks for this as students discover others with similar tastes as them. Also, who are the adults that can speak books to them? It should never be just the classroom teacher, invite your librarian in, create a rich reading community so that students can see many readers int heir day, and many opportunities to speak books.

Do they have reason to read?  And by that, I don’t mean because of a prize or a reward.  Do they see any kind of gain from reading?  Is anything positive connected to the art of reading?  Will it actually make their lives better or is it just one more thing to do? Many of my students who abandon books repeatedly do it because they see no point and until we start to help them see a point of reading that goes beyond “the adults make me do it” then it is going to be hard to break any kind of habits. So how can we stress the importance of reading, what is it they want to accomplish in their lives where reading plays a central role? Is is that they want to understand others? Understand the world? Or is it much smaller than that?

Do they have different ways to read?  Reading is not just done with our eyes but also with our ears, so if a child is constantly abandoning books get them hooked on an incredible audio book.  This has changed the reading path of several of my students in a profound way. Sometimes getting them into text is what makes a difference, especially if they would like to read a book that may be difficult for them to decode independently, why not use audio books as a way to help them become invested in a text? Then we can work on the decoding separately.

Are they hiding gaps?  I have taught several students that could ace their reading assessment, mostly because it had been given to them so many times, and yet had a large gap in their skills.  So is their book abandonment masking a larger problem such as not actually understanding what they are reading or not having developed the stamina to stay with the story? Is reading seen as something emotionally draining because it is incredibly difficult? We cannot dismiss the emotions that are attached with reading for many kids, especially our vulnerable readers, and so we must work on developing their understanding of themselves as readers along with the skills of reading. This requires trust.

Are we making them do things that kill their love of reading?  When students abandon books a lot, it is a sure sign that we need to reflect on our own practices.  And not just skim over that reflection and pretend that everything must be ok.  Are reading logs killing their love of reading?  Are programs liked Accelerated Reader or LLI?  Are we constantly asking them to do things with their reading rather than “just” read? What else is attached to our reading that may make a child abandon rather than finish a book?

Have we asked them?  This is the biggest component needed because too often we try to figure out why a child is abandoning books and we never ask them why.  Not beyond the “What didn’t you like about it?”  So instead we must give the students a chance to discuss or reflect and really start to study their own habits.  What patterns do they see?  What types of books might they like to read?  What can they do to change their habits?  Students need to feel empowered in their self-reflection because otherwise, their pattern won’t change.  They also need to set goals and then be able to honestly assess their own progress. This is part of the much larger work that must be centered in who they are as readers and how they want to take control of their reading identity.

Do they trust you? Trust is often something that is taken for granted in our classrooms, as if by simply being together, we build trust, and yet that is not true. Often we have to work hard to earn the trust of students, particularly those whose school experiences have not been safe or those whose lives are different than the ones we lead. Trust takes many things; choosing to be vulnerable, creating a calm and safe space, acknowledging our own limitations as a teacher and adult, recognizing our own limited experience of the world, and also being genuinely invested in the success of every child no matter where they are in their journey. We earn trust, plain and simple, and we do it by showing up, asking questions, actively listening, and passing no judgment. By investing into the lives of each child, by partnering with those at home, and by removing shame as a tool in our learning environments. By expanding our tools as a teacher, and more importantly our knowledge so that we can do better. Often students tell me much later in the year why they really hate reading or why they abandon book after book but it takes time for them to feel that I deserve the truth. Sometimes they are not sure why until much later. Until they do, I engage them in conversation both planned in our reading conferences and casual, I congratulate them on the accomplishments they do have, and I continue to provide them with the tools I can think of to help them be successful. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes trusting your students even if they don’t trust you.

Abandoning books is often seen as an irritating habit that we must break quickly at all costs when it comes to students, but what if it instead is viewed as a starting point for a deep and nuanced exploration into the reading journey that a child is on? Think of the conversations we can have.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest 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.     

books, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement

So You’re in a Reading Slump, Now What?

Perhaps this has happened to you..

You know those books staring at you from your to-be-read list or reading shelf sounded good at some point, but right now, they just seem like work. Yet, you know that you should be reading, especially if you are someone who teaches reading and so you grab one, read a few pages and pretty quickly lose interest. You grab another one, only to lose interest again. The story repeats until your phone pleasantly dings and you find yourself surfing mindlessly, doing everything but reading longer texts, feeling the guilt build up.

Or perhaps you finished the most incredible book and now every other book pales in comparison.

Or perhaps you started an amazing series where the first book was thrilling but now on the second, or third, or fourth, it just seems to be dragging on.

Or perhaps you see that book that is okay staring at you, but you just can’t seem to find the time to actually read it and as the days drag on so does your memory of what actually happened.

Whatever the case, if you have found yourself in one of these situations (or many of them as I have), you have found yourself in a reading slump.

Perhaps life has gotten in the way.

Perhaps your energy level is just not there.

Perhaps it just doesn’t seem like there are any great books out there.

Whatever the case may be, this slump is one that you can get out of, it just may take a few tries.

First things first; identify what is causing the slump. Is it work getting in the way? Is it lack of energy? Is it that you cannot seem to find another great book? Finding the cause can help you navigate out because it involves identifying your own habits. What is causing you to dread or want to skip out on reading? What is making it seem like a chore rather than something you enjoy? If you are not sure what caused it, fear not, you can still try any of these ideas.

Try a different genre. I often fall into reading slumps when I have been reading the same thing for too long and it all seems really formulaic. This is a great time to make sure you don’t pick up another book like the last few you have tried and try something else. So what have you not been reading?

Try a new genre. Now is also a great time to try a genre that you don’t often read. Perhaps it has been a while since you last read historical fiction, or sports books, or a book about mermaids (yup, totally me) so now would be a great time to try exactly that. Do some research for the “best” book within a certain genre of the past year so that you can see what you have been missing out on and give it an honest go.

Try a new format. Perhaps now would be a great time to pull out audio books for your commute. Go to the library, download Overdrive or Audible and stack up on new reads. I recommend stacking up on a bunch of new audio cd’s and just trying them out as you are driving. Also, graphic novels and novels in verse are a great tool to get out of a slump, when life seems a bit overwhelming, I love to pull out a stack of them because I feel accomplished in my reading when I can get through one or two. Sometimes we need to boost our own self esteem as readers too.

Try a professional development book. At times, I need something that engages my brain in a different way which is why I always have a stack of professional development books ready to read or simply books that will teach me something. The change in pace and what I am getting from it is helpful as I try to restart my reading and the bonus is that it leaves me inspired.

Read outside of your field. I just read the book Keep Going by Austin Kleon which is meant for artists and yet as an educator, I loved the book’s simple message of self care and preservation of creative strengths. Even though the book was not necessarily geared toward me in my life, it was still a meaningful read. Don’t let your own interests and limits narrow your choices.

Give it 20 minutes. When I don’t feel particularly inspired to read, I set a timer. If I read for 20 minutes then I can decide whether I want to read the book some more or let it go. While this doesn’t always pull me out of my slump, it does help me stay in the habit of reading and at least my to-be-read shelf gets smaller as I pick up new books to try.

Commit to something. Joining a book club, whether virtually or live, is a great way to get excited about books again, and once again, it doesn’t have to be for serious reasons. There is something super fun in coming together with other adults who are purposefully seeking out enjoyable reads.

Ask your students what you should read. I share my book slumps proudly with students and ask them for their best recommendations to get me out of the slump. I love how some of them get invested in trying to convince me that the book they are recommending is the best book to read, they also add a layer of accountability to keep me reading, even when I would rather watch The Office reruns.

I asked educators what other tips they had for this and boy was I not disappointed. Here are some of the many tips that I received, some that I will for sure be trying out myself. Thank you to everyone who responded.

Amanda Potts wrote, “Sometimes I return to an old fave, something where I can take a dip or a deep dive; or I switch genres, read along w/a student or my kids, allow myself to start book after book until I (inevitably) get hooked. Library holds => pressure to finish before they are due, that helps.”

Alice Faye Duncan wrote, “I visit museums. During the exploration, I will encounter intriguing and unknown (to me) artists that send me off on a trail of discovery. This is how I unearthed books about Romare Bearden, Alma Thomas, and Kerry James Marshall. Museums are my gateway drug to intoxicating books.”

Scott Fillner wrote, “What has worked for me before, is to go to a library and hang out in the picture books. Finding new treasures, reading old favorites, and thinking about people who could use these stories. #SlumpBuster”

L. Suzanne Shanks wrote, “Simply fun “Junk Food” books, especially audiobooks, to get the relaxation, escape & joy back. Also, reading when I am tired is pure frustration so the rare gift of reading when refreshed works for me.”

Ariel Jankord wrote, “Carrying a book with me everywhere I go is huge! Instead of whipping out my phone to pass the time, I pull out a book!”

Trish Richardson wrote, “I set a goal of reading the short list of the Canada Reads recommendations. Also, every time I wanted to reach for my phone to check Twitter, Instagram or Facebook I would make myself read for 15 minutes before. The books took over.”

Beth Shaum wrote, “Read a book WITH someone so you have someone to talk to about it. I enacted bookclubs with my 6th graders this year because they were NOT having silent reading, so I worked with their natural curiosity and chattiness.”

Dr. Shari Daniels wrote, “I use @donalynbooks strategies – set reachable small goals, carry a book with me everywhere I go, read in the edges of time to keep my head in the story. Often, for me, it’s getting my “reading brain” back.”

Jay Nickerson wrote, “For me, it’s often a matter of a comfort book, like a Jack Reacher, or licensed property. Other times, I grab what someone else is reading. Poetry collections, comics, short stories, magazines are all nice bridges between books.”

Jaymie Dieterle, “I usually pick up an old favorite and re-read – or I let the slump be. I do other things for a couple days – Tv, movies, etc – and then try again. I try to take the pressure off the slump and be okay with not reading for a couple days.”

And the amazing Donalyn Miller wrote this great post with even more ideas.

What did we miss?

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.