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

Creating Foundational Rights for Students Within Personalized Instruction.

A conversation I find myself having often with other educators is just what to do next for curriculum. How do we get everyone on the same page? How do we ensure that what we do is actually happening in different classrooms with different teachers? How do we ensure that the very kids we are entrusted with have somewhat similar experiences within our classrooms all while protecting the art of teaching?

You may think that textbooks with daily lessons are the answer, and for many it appears to be, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As Dr. Allington reminds us, “…no
research existed then, or exists now, to suggest that maintaining fidelity to a core reading program will provide effective reading lessons.” (What Really Matters When Working With STruggling Readers, 2013) . Yet, fidelity has become a major selling point as we see many programs being touted to schools who are unsure what to do next. Fidelity has become a point of judgment; how closely aligned are we? Do we use the same texts? The same worksheets? The same words in order to ensure the same experience for all? I was once told by a well-meaning but ill-advised administrator that “I better be on the very same page of the textbook as my colleague next door” as he passed from classroom to classroom.

And yet if there is one thing I know about teaching, it is that our kids are not the same. From class to class, from year to year, the kids have needed different things. Have needed educators that are adept at adapting, that are unafraid to try something new, that know their research, but also know to seek out others for more ideas. Who know their own areas of growth so that they can provide better and better experiences year after year. Sure, use a program to start you off, but don’t forget about the very art of teaching that asks to be responsive to the very kids we teach, that require us to be disruptors of inequitable practices that have shaped the educational experience of so many.

I teach in a district that puts an incredible amount of trust in their teachers and fellow staff who support our students. Whose very core of teaching is autonomy, responsibility, and professional development. Who believes in developing teacher craft so that students can be vested in classroom experiences that speak to them personally and not just whatever the pacing or curriculum guide has told them to care about. Who believes in disrupting inequitable education experiences and providing the room to do so, supporting each teacher on their journey. But how do you then ensure that students aren’t unknowing members of an educational lottery where their growth is based on the experience and know-how of a single teacher? How can you create room for your teachers to personalize while still ensuring that certain experiences are in place?

The foundational idea is deceptively simple; create student rights together. A living breathing document that shows which experiences every child should have in every room, no matter the teacher. Live by it. Work by it. Discuss and change as needed.

But in practicality, how do you get there?

The first step is to have time to discuss what the experiences of students should be. What do we, as the practitioners, believe every child should have as rights in their English (Or whichever curricular area) educational experience? Reading books they like, having a librarian and time in the library, abandoning books, picking writing topics, a teacher that will confer with them, discussing relevant topics. Brainstorm as many things as you can. Group them to see patterns. And then step back.

What is missing? This isn’t something that is done quickly, after all, this will be a guiding document. Do research on best practices within your curricular area. What do you not know about? What do people like Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Zaretta Hammond, or Dr. Louise Rosenblatt say about the experiences students deserve?

Then group all of the post-its or thoughts together. What are the clusters? What clearly speaks to all of you as a team? Try to come up with words that can tie it all together. Which patterns do you see? The right to read, to speak to one another, to have texts and materials that reflect their experience and the experience of others? The rights to connect with others? To free write? To skillful instruction? Again, pay attention to your own gap areas, which parts of instruction are you not thinking about? Do these potential rights mirror an entire experience or only parts of one?

Then translate the goals into actual experiences, such as if your team believes in student choice in reading, what will that actually look like? When will there be guaranteed time for that? How often do they get to choose? How will you support their choice? Who else will support it?

Then it may look something like this…

If students need…Empowerment – then we will commit to giving them choice throughout their time with us.

How: Choice in their independent reading book, choice in their topic of writing when possible, choice in who they work with, choice in who they share with, choice in how they work through learning. Space to reflect on their experience, speak up about it, and shape the teaching that happens.

If students need to read and write every day, then we will commit to giving them dedicated independent reading time every day and writing time every day.

How: Start with 20 minutes of independent reading focused on developing their relationship to reading and reading identity. An emphasis on free writing when not otherwise steeped in their own writing. Planning reading and writing experiences every day.

It may end up looking something like this then.

Go through each foundational right as a team and then commit to it as a team. Bring it up throughout the year to see whether you are actually living it. What are the opportunities for the students throughout the year? What is missing and needs to be added?

Having a foundational understanding of what the experiences should be for every child provides us with a guide of which direction to go while also being able to see our own gap areas. Where do we need to grow as practitioners? What are we not yet providing for students and how is that impacting them? How do our choices in our learning tie in with these rights?

So often we look at curriculum and think that is where to start with any changes when really what we need to do is step back and look at the foundational beliefs and rights that support and determine the curricular choices we make. Because those beliefs are what shape every single experience kids have with us. Because those beliefs sometimes hurt the very endeavors we are trying to accomplish. While I know our documents and guiding beliefs are not perfect, nothing ever is, it gives us a place to start when we discuss what we are working on, what kids need, and the disruptions that need to continue happening for all of our students. Perhaps these guidelines can help others as well.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.I . f 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.     

new year, student choice, Student Engagement, talking, writing, Writing Identity

Setting Up Writing Circles in Middle School

This summer, I read the amazing book, Comprehension and Collaboration, 2nd Edition by Stephanie Harvey and Smokey Daniels as I knew I wanted to focus more on building true inquiry into our classroom.

One of the ideas mentioned in the book briefly was the idea of using writing circles, think lit circles but for writing, with students in order for them to gain a more long-term writing community, as well as a more developed relationship to their own role as writers. I loved the idea immediately and wanted to make it work for our kids., as having my own writing circle of trusted peers has helped me tremendously whenever I write books.

To start us off for the year, we discussed positive and negative aspects of writing by brainstorming. The question was based off of the work we have done with reading and followed the same format, rather than post-its, though, they did it in their writer’s notebook on a t-chart and then created a group response at their table. We then discussed as a class and created our writing rights together. These now hang in our room as a reminder of the type of writing experiences we would like to have.

Image result for pernille ripp writing rights
This year’s writing rights, the yellow post-its are my notes from their group discussion.

Then I wanted to introduce the concept of writing circles to students using something I knew they were familiar with; lit cirlces. How are writing circles like literature circles? I showed my students this side-by-side comparison to help them get thinking about the potential process and benefits waiting for them.

So first, what are the components of our writing circles?

  • Students choose peers to be in their writing circle – 3 to 4 people through an interview.
  • They write together, physically, as well as at times, actually in the same project.
  • They can write on the same topic but in different formats.
  • They share their work, discuss and encourage each other.
  • They serve as editors for each other providing critical and constructive feedback.
  • They serve as long-term writing partners and will, hopefully, develop further skills from each other, as well as develop a more natural writing relationship.
  • They build accountability toward the group and the group is an immediate circle to turn to for help.

The first step toward establishing their writing circles was to reflect on their own writing identity once more – see the screenshot below. This was a continuation of the discussions we have had where they have reflected on how writing intersect with them as human beings, that started with their writing survey for the year.

After they had reflected, they then interviewed seven other people in order to hear more about their writing identity. This was on the same sheet and looked like this – very similar on purpose. To see the full survey, go here.

Why seven? I wanted them go beyond their friend zone and knew that for some that would take a few people. Once they had interviewed seven people, I then asked them to reflect on the following questions.

  • Looking at other people’s habits, who may strengthen your skills as a writer? Note, these are people who have DIFFERENT strengths than you.
  • Looking at other people’s habits, who may not be a good fit for you because you share the same areas of growth or skills.
  • Looking at other people’s habits, who may you help grow as a writer? Compare your marked areas of strength to theirs.
  • Choose only three peers who you think may be a good fit and who will help you grow as a writer. Go outside of your comfort zone if it will help you grow.
  • If you want, you can add peers who you do not think will be a good fit, this is only for strong reasons, not to list all of the people you don’t want to be with.

Once they had reflected, they handed the surveys in to me and the puzzle began. I told them I would try my best to have at least one “wished for” peer in their group but also knew that some kids may benefit from other peers than the ones they selected.

The following day, their writing circles were revealed. We told them it would be a test run to see how they did with each other and that we would reassess as needed. While almost all groups worked out beautifully right away, a few needed minor tweaks which we handled within a day or two.

After the reveal, we asked them to find a designated spot that would always be their meeting spot. While many chose great spots, a few didn’t, and after a few days we did create new spots for some groups that allowed them to work better together. The main culprit was having space to speak to one another and space to have their materials and with 29 sudents it can get a bit tricky. Then inspired by Tricia Ebarvia’s Jenga games to start off the year, we had them play Jenga with each other in order to get to know each other. Here are her original questions, here are the questions we ended up using, some new, many of them hers. I had bought 5 Jenga games and split them into 9 games with 30 tiles each and it worked out perfectly. not only did it allow us to see how the circles would function as a group, but they also got a chance to get to know each other more. Thank you so much, Tricia for sharing all of your work around this!

Then, it was time to actually write something. And so we have been. We have been doing small prompts that they have shared with each other, they have read personal essays and memoirs and discussed them, they have written 6 word memoir, and most importantly they have shared their beginning writing with each other. As the students just submitted their first draft of a memoir or a personal essay, upcoming usage of their writing circle will be:

  • Navigate the feedback we have left – what does it really mean? Where do they need to start?
  • Be peer editors – we will be working on specific revision skills in order to help them edit each other’s work better as this is not a skill they are ready to just take on. As I model my own revisions, they will be doing the revision work on each other’s.
  • Search for “simple” mistakes such as conventions of writing that their own eyes may miss because it is too familiar with the writing.
  • Challenge them in their writing, hold them accountable to create better writing than what they started with.
  • Assess each other’s writing using the rubric and comparing it to their own self-assessment.

On Monday, as we start a wonky week where the only academic day we have together is Monday, they will write a group story as we have been discussing components of great stories. They will then act it out. So far, having this built in writing community has benefitted us in a few way:

  • They already know who to be with when they are writing and since they are mostly peers they have chosen there is a more natural collaboration happening.
  • They have each other to ask when they are stuck, when they are fleshing out ideas, as well as when they think they are done but need someone else to look at it.
  • They don’t have to wait for the teachers to look at their writing, they can go to each other first and then when their time is for a conference with me, they can come right up rather than waste time.
  • The students really seem to like it, no groans or moans when we ask them to get with their writing circles.
  • There is a lot more talk surrounding their writing, which was the main goal. We wanted to work on the social aspect of writing and to offer the kids a way to know that they are not alone when they feel burdened by writing.

I will continue to share the work of these writing circles as they will be a year-long endeavor, but wanted to share this for now. If you have any questions, please ask, I am just learning myself.

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

being a student, being a teacher, new year, Student Engagement

Space

I have been thinking a lot about space lately.

Not the kind that surrounds us on a dark night, but the kind that surrounds us as individuals.

Perhaps it is because I have been flying more and as a woman, I constantly find my space taken by white men sitting next to me, refusing to even share an armrest.  I am so used to it, I have found I slip into patterns to make myself smaller in order to not encroach on their space.

Perhaps it is because in my thinking work this summer I keep coming back to how white my professional space is within my district, reflective of the lack of diversity of so many districts here in Wisconsin.  How can we change this to be reflective of the kids we teach?

Perhaps it is because I see the critical conversations surrounding education online and how often it is silenced because people say we need to speak nicely to each other, to not make the space unwelcoming or unkind.  We use these platitudes so often to silence the voices of those who have been silenced for so long that we fail to recognize the same destructive patterns.

Perhaps it is because I see my own daughters apologize for the space they take up at times as we remind them to be nice, to be kind, to speak appropriately, whatever that may mean.  Even as I cringe when the words slip out inadvertently, taught to me by many years of public socialization where we are taught which type of women should be heard in this American society.  And I can tell you from experience that the minute you raise your voice, you are deemed angry as if anger is a bad thing.

Perhaps it is because I feel like as a white woman I am often afforded more space because of my skin color than I really deserve.

Space, and how much space we are given, seems to be crowded with well-meaning intentions and misguided constraints.  Space and what we do with it also seems to be dictated by those who feel their space encroached upon and who must make a decision of whether enough there is enough space for us all.  (I think there is, but that is for a different time.)

I think of space when it comes to our students, how for years I have discussed student voice on this blog and how I have attempted to create an environment where students can speak up no matter what they are saying.  How for a long time, through my personal reflection, I have implored others to give students’ voice without recognizing the inherent problem in that statement; students already have a voice, they come to us loudly, yet, it is within our pursuit of calm and compliant that we silence them for the benefit of “learning for all.”  And so I come to the natural conclusion that my work is not about giving students a voice but instead about space and more specifically, giving them back the space we took from them in the first place.

And that starts with the very first day, the inequity of our voices as we go through our day with kids we don’t even know.  How many of us talk about those first days as exhausting because our voices are constantly heard?  How many of our students feel drained not because of all that they had to do but instead all they had to listen to?  How many of us plan out to the minute what we will be doing in order to “Set the year up right” without a care for how welcome or even safe students may feel in our rooms? Perhaps what we need is a little bit of silence, more them than us, more we than I.

So as I plan for those first of many days, I am thinking about the space of my voice.  The space of me within the room and how it needs to be balanced with the space of others.  How I need to think of my voice, the adult voice, as something that also takes up space and therefore needs to be weighed in order to give back space to others.  And not just in the classroom, but in life.  After all, we get one chance to start off right with these new kids, why not get our priorities straight from the get-go?

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.

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.

books, Literacy, motivation, Reading, Reading Identity, student driven, Student Engagement

On Being Demanding Readers

“Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.” (Kamil, 2003 via ASCD).

These words have traveled the world with me for the past few years and yet every time I come to this slide in my presentation on helping students become and remain passionate readers, it still stops me. No matter how many times I see it, it still strikes me as vital, as something that we often skim over when the content piles up, when the year gets rolling, when our plates get full. And yet, if there is something that teaching middle schoolers has taught me, it is that if I ignore their innate sense of purposeful reading (or purposeful learning overall), then I will never be successful in convincing many of them that reading is worthwhile.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I know that students also need to be taught the specific skills of reading in order to be successful readers, yet I have continued to remind myself and others that skills will never be enough. That if we do not carve out time to work on the motivation of reading, to work on what it means to find a book that speaks to you in a new way, on what it means to select a book that entices us with possibility, then all the skills teaching in the world will never be enough.

And so, we teach our students to be demanding readers. For those who seem to never find success within their book selection, to first take the time it takes to throughly bookshop, not because they cannot wait to dismiss all of the books, but because so often they pick up a random book with no investment, no recognition of themselves as a reader within its pages. When students don’t know how to select a book for themselves we often hand them stacks, I do this often, yet if we don’t also engage them in a conversation about who they are as a reader, then we rob them of the chance of discovering the answer to that question. We keep them in a cycle of reliance on others. This means that students must take the time it sometimes takes to properly browse through books coupled with a continued reflection on themselves, yet often, my students who don’t like reading much would rather rush.

We also teach our students that demanding excellence from their choice of books is not something to be ashamed of. That they deserve to find a book that speaks to them. That yes, they should take a chance on a book that they perhaps never considered, but they should also be okay with letting a book go, in order to continue shopping. This delicate balance is one we work through. Some kids end up stuck in the book shopping loop and so we change the conversation surrounding them ,whereas others continue to just grab and go and then wonder why that book didn’t work.

So we tell our students, our children, that they should want to read the book they select, but in order to get there, they first need to know themselves. They should see this reading year as a reading journey meant to uncover their likes and dislikes, their quirks and their strengths. That they should see this reading year as a continuation of the journey they have already been on, one where they should want to become something more than they were before. That they need to figure out the tools they can use for when they leave us.

I do this through continued reflection on who they are as a reader. We do this as we continue to share book recommendations. They do this as they continue to rank books in order to reflect on what made a book “amazing” versus a book that was just “ok.” We keep the conversation going in order for them to see when they are motivated to read and when they are not.

It takes time.

It takes patience.

It takes thought.

It takes reflection.

And it takes persistence that they demand excellence out of their books. That they should be able to recognize when a book does not get them more motivated to read. That they should be okay with saying this book is not for me, in order to find something that will be for them. That they should not settle into the dangerous habit of finding only ok books in order to keep themselves reading and the adults off their backs.

It works, perhaps not for all (after all, what does?) but for many, who for whatever reason had yet to have this very conversation, this very experience.

So if I want our readers to continue to be motivated to read beyond our days together, then that has to come from them. It has to be intrinsic. Not because I told them they had to read, after all, what power does my voice really have, but because they have seen the value of reading and want to invest in it. That they leave our year together or the years in their lives spent in school, knowing that there are incredible books waiting to be discovered by them if only they keep searching. I want our students to be hungry for more when they leave. I want them to demand excellence.

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.

Lesson Planning, student driven, Student Engagement

A Few Things to Do Before the End of the Year

There is something about after spring break that feels like the end of the year is creeping up. As if the beginning of the last quarter is really the beginning of the end. As if, the days which were already rushing by are now flying so fast that it is hard to keep your wits about you. As the sun comes back – even as they call for more snow, as the days get longer, as the paperwork starts for the next year’s classes, we realize that the end of the year is coming whether we like it or not. Whether we are ready or not.

So as the year starts to slowly unwind and I realize just how deeply I will miss this group of kids again, I am thinking of what I would still like to do. After all, there is so much still to be tried, still to be explored, still be built together. There is still so much to try and now is a great time to do a few things that will often leave a lasting impression.

Now is a great time for another round of book clubs. We do two rounds in one year, more than that is overkill, less than that is a missed opportunity. These center around the theme of overcoming obstacles and allow us to channel the extra energy students bring in the lighter months into discussion. It also gives students a chance to sit with self-selected book people as they choose their next read together. I get to listen in on their conversations to see how they have grown and they get to show off their newfound knowledge as well as confidence when it comes to discussing texts. The last round finished in December so there has been a nice break between then and now. The choices in text they were given can be found here and if you would like to read more about book clubs, see this here.

Now is a great time for more picture books. With state testing and other more high pressure learning opportunities we have been taking the last ten minutes of class to relish picture books, particularly funny ones. As we dive into our “Overcoming Obstacles” book club, which tend to deal with heavy topics, the humor from our picture books provide a nice balance and offer a great way to end our 90 minute block together.

Now is a great time for surveys. I love tapping into the minds of students, after all that is pretty much the premise of all of the work I do, and right now they have some fantastic things to share if you only ask. And by fantastic I mean things that can help you grow. Now is a great time to ask whether they feel valued and respected, what their summer reading plans are, how you can better support them, and also what they would still like to learn. I recently did a beginning of the quarter survey and have been using their answers to guide my planning. In a few weeks, I will ask for their help in assessing the year; what should we have done more of, what should I never do again and such. The trust that we have hopefully built up really allows me to reflect on the past year and to have them help me think of the new one. These students are, after all, the best professional development I can receive.

Now is a great time to plan for summer reading. While I would never require my students to read over the summer, after all, that falls far outside of my rights as their former teacher, I do want to encourage it with all of my might. This is why we have been talking about summer reading all year but now it really becomes a starting point. I try to ramp up conferences with students in order to help them sort through their habits as well as ask them point blank how they will keep reading throughout the summer when there is no teacher there to nag them. With more than 1/3 of my students reporting that they didn’t read a single book last summer, I am really hoping to help a few kids onto a better path. This means book talks, book shopping, and continuing to work on our to-be-read list until it gets emailed home that last week of school.

Now is a great time to plan for a book giveaway on the last day of school. Last year, we planned a new event for the last day where we gave every single student on our team a brand new book. With the help of school funds and Books4school.com we were able to spend a few hundred dollars and provide 150+ kids with incredible choices for their summer reading. This was one more way we hoped to entice them to actually read over the summer and also meant as a parting gift for all of our students as a way to thank them for the year we had had together. However, pulling that many books together takes time and so now is a great time to start planning for that. Can you secure donations for books? Is there a way to get a brand new book into the hands of every child?

Now is a great time for another read aloud. As we wind down together, there is something special about settling in with one last shared book. The last three weeks of school, we will crack open the pages of a final read aloud together to see how far we have come in our comprehension of text, but also just to continue to build community. Contenders in our classroom right now include The Bridge Home and Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie but I will also be asking students for suggestions to see what mood they are in.

Now is a great plan to start thinking of summer check outs. I allow students to check out books from our classroom library every summer and so does our school library. For me it means checking out books and keeping track of them in the last week of school and then asking students to bring them back when school starts again. For our library it means having extended hours a few days for kids to check out, a few days open throughout summer, and then again asking them to bring back all books when the new year begins. While I inevitably lose a few books every summer, I also have a lot of students read more books because they finally get to check a great book out that they have been waiting for or can have an enticing pile to take home to hopefully tempt them . There is no reason for all of my books to just sit on my shelf all summer when they could be in the hands of readers.

Now is a great time for more free writing. Many of our students have been asking for more creative writing and so we have been making time for this as well. Using prompts from The Creativity Project, John Spencer, or student generated, students take 10 minutes most days to either write about the prompt or continue their own story. They then share with those they would like to share with. It has been a really wonderful way to reclaim the joy of writing as students continue to work on who they are as writers.

Now is a great time for more discussion. I don’t know about your students, but ours are chatty! And while I love a fun class, it can also be exhausting to constantly try to get them to settle into more quiet activities, instead we plan for more discussion-based explorations such as book clubs, as well as our heated topic debates. Rather than continue to fight their voices, we plan on channeling their voices for productive means, much like we have throughout the year.

Now is a great time to have some fun. Because the days are winding down, because the sun is coming back, because these kids won’t be ours much longer, now is a great time to just relax and have some fun. We teach the age group we teach because we love them (hopefully) and I don’t want to forget that. While 7th graders can be a challenge, they are an incredible challenge to have, and one that I wouldn’t trade for much in the world. why not embrace it? enjoy it? And have some fun these final days together.

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.