Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Passion, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

The Rights of Our Readers

Today was the second day of school.  the second day of trying to get to know these incredible kids that have been gifted to us.  The second day of trying to establish the seeds for the habits that will carry us through the year, hopefully leading us to a year where they leave feeling like this year was worth their time, that this year made a difference.

Today was the day of one of our big fundamental lessons; when reading is trash or magic.  I shared my past reading mistakes in teaching, we shared when reading sucks or when it is lit (student choice of words).  As the post-its crowded the whiteboard, the questions and statements inevitable came.  Will we have to read books you choose for us?  Will we have to write every time we read?  Will we have to do post-it notes?  All things that in the past, I would have answered yes to but now the answers are different.  You always choose your books, even in book clubs, you will have plenty of choices.  You will not always write after you read, sometimes you will, and because of the work of teachers before me, you will be better at it than ever before.  And post-its?  Sometimes, when it makes sense, but not every time and not at home.  Only here because at home I just want you to work on your relationship with reading, the skills teaching that will happen in class.

As we finished our conversation we merged into what their reading rights are this year.  the things that I will not take away.  The rights they have as individuals on a reading journey.  This is not my idea, nor something new, but once again the work of others who have paved the way for my better understanding of what developing student reading identity really looks like.  As we discussed what rights they would have and what they meant, I wrote an anchor chart, a reminder that will hang all year so we don’t forget just what we can do together.  What choices we may have.  As we went down the list, the relief was palpable, the excitement grew.  Even some of the kids who had not so gently told me how much they hated reading right away, looked less scared, less set in stone as we talked about what this year would like.

And so this is where we stand tonight…  Our very first anchor chart to remind us of what it means to be a reader that is honored within our community.  What it means to be a reader that already has a reading identity, that we will continue to develop together, honoring everyone wherever they are on their journey, rather than forcing our well-intended decisions down over the top of kids.  Perhaps, once again, this year kids will develop a better relationship with reading, will grow as readers, will grow as human beings.  What more could we hope for when it comes to teaching?

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, being a teacher, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

What Matters to You? An Exploration into #BeingtheChange

“I brought this because my mother bought it for me before she picked me up…”

“I brought this because my brother sent it to me…”

“I brought this because it represents who I am…”

My student holds up a small stuffed toy, the rest of the class sits in a circle in silence, and then a few ask questions.

The next child shares their object, and the experience replicates itself.  Silent listening, thoughtful questions, and a newfound knowledge of who we are and what we are.

For the past few weeks, we have been working our way through experiences inspired by Sara K. Ahmed’s new book, Being the Change.  A book that I knew the minute I read it would be a game changer for me.  And I was right.  The book inspired me to throw out my entire 4th quarter plans and revamp them with a focus on self-exploration, discovery, and social comprehension.

The book inspired me to add more student discussion, more time for reflection, more quiet, more time, deeper experiences.

We started with an exploration of the identity webs we created at the beginning of the year.  What can we add now?  Have we changed this year?  We discussed what identity means, how it shapes our experiences.

The focus naturally shifted then to our names.  I asked students to discover the story of their name or of someone else’s name.  I let those at home know to share the stories.  I shared my own name story, opened up and shared what it meant to only be named by my mother because my father didn’t really have a stake in my name, nor me as he decided that he couldn’t be at my birth because of a meeting.

The questions followed and I answered as best as I could, modeling my own trust in the community we have created, the vulnerability it sometimes takes to open up to others when you are not quite sure what they will do with the information.

We spent a lot of time talking, asking questions, and writing in our identity journal.  A low-key journal where students are asked to share their thoughts on what they are learning about themselves and others.  Quick lessons turned into several days, savoring the pace with which it unfolded in front of us.  Giving the proper time it deserves.

We moved into picture books, diving into amazing stories of others who decided to make an impact on the world.  Students read, inferred and wondered what led someone to take a risk and try to change the world.  I asked the students if they could connect with the person they wrote about.  And they did, not so much in the large feat the book was focused on, but on the everyday resilience, on the goals, on the motivation, the decision to be courageous.

And then I asked them where they were from.  Not just location, but what shapes them as a person.  What smells remind them of whatever home may be.  Which words, objects, moments frozen in time.  I shared my own life once more, opening up for questions and then stepped out of the way, having the students slowly unpack what the question even meant. They reflected, shared, and opened up.

And then I asked them to bring in an object that represented them somehow.  Something that mattered to them.  A 7th-grade show-and-tell but with meaning.  Some forgot, but those that remembered showed parts of themselves that perhaps others hadn’t seen.  It was meant to be a reminder of how to listen actively, a reminder of how to ask thoughtful questions, and yet it became so much more.

An unveiling of small parts that perhaps others hadn’t seen.

A deep sense of appreciation for taking the chance and sharing.

A stillness in our classroom as some kids chose to share deeply personal items, while their peers took it all in.

As a visitor observed yesterday, I can’t believe what they shared, and I agreed.  These kids with their hearts.  These kids with their stories.  These kids with their sometimes bravado laid it out there for all to see.  I am so grateful.  I am so proud.

As we move forward in this exploration of the issues that surround us in our world, I am so thankful for the inspiration for the book.  For the ideas to push us toward a closer understanding to who we are and how we see the world.  For how our very identity shapes the worldview we carry with us.  Sometimes all we need is a little inspiration.

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, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement

Growing Readers Past our Classroom Walls

I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district.  Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here.  I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders.  Do they see all of the growth?  The work?  The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?

During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year.  And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year.  I have seen many students read more.  I have seen more students embrace books and reading.  I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked.  Knowing that there is a change afoot,  made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing.  And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.

It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time.  I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.

Then it becomes where else do you get books from?  We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present.  Where can they access books beside our room?  Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.

It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t.  Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read.  Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.

Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own.  So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list.  Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account?  Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon?    What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next?  It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone.  And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.

It starts with book talks by me.  Every day, every class.  Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.

Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student.  Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what  they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.

It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop.  Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well.  Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.

Then it becomes them book shopping with friends.  Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.

It starts with me being a reading role model.  And being an obvious one.  While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first.  However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.

Then it becomes students as reading role models.   And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.

It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance.  Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.

Then it becomes making plans.  Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom.  They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters.  We discuss the books they want to read.  We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home.  They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads.  This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down.  After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?

when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader.   None of that happens overnight.  None of that happens with just one book.  Or just one person.  It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.

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

Be the change, being a teacher, student choice, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice, Student-centered

Ideas for Helping Students Raise their Voice

Student voice-PixTeller-204654.jpg

My mother raised me to raise my voice.  She raised me to believe that my voice mattered.  That speaking up when I saw injustice was a part of my civic duty.  To not take my position of power within my white privilege for granted but to recognize it and share it with others.

My teachers taught me I was different.

That I was too loud.  Too opinionated.  Too much.

That I was the bad child to be avoided.

That I needed to learn how to tone it down.

Lower my voice.

Speak less.

Let others speak before I added my voice.

If it wasn’t for my mother’s insistence that my voice mattered, I would have been a silent child.

A silent adult.

As I see students speak up in the aftermath of yet another horrific school shooting, I cannot help but be proud.  This is why I teach the way I do.  This is why I believe that what we do matters.

When we create learning communities that thrive on discussion.  That thrives on student voice.  That tell those we teach to speak up rather than to stay silent, this is when we are truly changing the future of this world.

So what can we as teachers do to encourage student voice?  How can we make sure the very children we teach know that their voice is needed for a better future?

Let them speak.

While it sounds so simple for many of us, it is not.  Afterall, faced with curriculum deadlines, content standards, and all of the things we need to do, there are times that we forget that teaching is not meant to be a performance of one, but a chorus of many.  In fact, research indicates that teachers speak more than 60-75 % of the time.  That leaves very little time for those we teach to find their own voice.  So monitor your own.  Ask a question and step back or better yet, ask the students to ask the questions and guide them along the way.  This doesn’t start as they get older, this starts as they enter school.

 

Teach them to question.

Questioning is one of the single most powerful skills we can pass on to students.  And yes that also means questioning us.  Provide opportunities for them to question what they see, let them know that they should be questioning what they are learning, and show them through example that it is fine to question you, the authority in the room.  I would rather have students who dare to speak than those who remain silent.  We discuss how to question authority with respect, but also that you should fight for what you believe in.

Make room for debate.

I know it is scary at times to be a teacher in a heated political climate, at times, I feel like whatever I say feels like a loaded question, and yet, we must find ways to bring hard topics into our classrooms and then step aside.  I tell my students that I am not here to shape their opinion, I am here to give them an opportunity to shape their own.  They know our discussions are not about what I want them to believe but instead about them coming up with something to believe in and then fact-checking it.  It is not enough to have an opinion, you must realize where it stems from.

Ask, “Now what?”

My wise friend, Dana Stachowiak, taught me to always ask, “Now what?” when I believe in something.  She reminds me that forming an opinion is not the point, but doing something about it and continuing to question is.  So when students write persuasive essays, when students discuss, when students uncover new information, ask them, “Now what?”  What do you plan on doing with the information?  What else do you need to learn? What can you do with this belief that you have?

Show them change.

I survey my students throughout the year about how I can be a better teacher.  It is one of the best things I do.  And yes, there are criticisms every single time I read the surveys, things I could do better.  Things they would like to see me improve.  And so I try when I can and we discuss the changes needed for the experience to be better for all of us, me included.  When students see an adult, who does not have to listen to their voice because let’s face it nothing says we have to, actually listen to them and implement change because of them, they see the power of having a voice in the first place.  This is vital for them to believe that they can be changemakers.

Support don’t punish.

I have been appalled at the districts that are telling students they will be suspended if they protest.  Have we forgotten that this very nation was founded on the notion of protest and speaking up when we saw a wrong?  Why we would tell students, who we teach about inequality, about courage, about sacrifice, that they cannot exercise their right to free speech, blows my mind.  So instead of saying no, find a way to support.  Show them where they can go to protest, show them how to do it safely.  Step up as leaders of this future generation rather than the oppressive older generation, a cliché that has been held on to for too many years.

Create deeper learning opportunities for all.

Last weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to read the final draft of Sara Ahmed’s book Being the Change, a book being released on March 29th by Heinemann.  Sara’s book ignited my already present fire to create further opportunities for students to dissect their own identity, to push their own knowledge boundaries, and find a way to bring the world in as part of our curriculum.  This book is a game changer and provides a blueprint for us to do more with what we already do.  Centering on student identity and not the teacher’s this book gives us the needed tools to create classrooms that are focused on social comprehension without dictating a political path.  I am thankful that this book will be out in the world soon for all of us.

Don’t forget our purpose.

Education is to better our world, not to create better test takers.  Education is to create a new generation of literate adults who question the world around them, who uncover information, who seek to right the wrongs of this world.  To help children become complex thinkers and problem solvers, who strive to make this world a better place not just for themselves but for a society as a whole.  That is not a political sentiment, but a humanitarian one.  We must continue to do better.  We are teachers of the children who will write the history of this world, so what type of history would we like them to create?  One that echoes the dystopian novels that sit in our classrooms, or one that continues to focus on better for all?

For the past weeks, my students have looked to me and the other adults in our building for answers more than ever before.  I have been asked how I will keep them safe, what our plan is in case the unthinkable happens, how I feel about what is going on in the world.  I have done the best I can to share my own thoughts without scaring them, without forcing my opinion on them.  And yet, I keep thinking about all of the things we already do; how our job as educators was never to be the sole voice in the classroom, but instead to help our students raise theirs.  So how do I plan on keeping them safe, by making sure that they know they can change the world.

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, 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.