being a student, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, student driven, student voice

Our Reading Conferring Sheet

One of my most successful ways in establishing trust and urgency with my 7th grade students and their reading choices is through our one-one-one conferring time. This established time happens during our independent reading time, every day for 20 minutes we start class with this self-selected reading time where every child is invited to fall into the pages of a book. It is the cornerstone of much of our continued work together and allows me a peek into who how they see themselves as readers, as well as the work they want to undertake.

Every conference is five to seven or less minutes after the initial one, that means that I usually can meet with three students every day. With class sizes ranging between 25 and 29 kids, this gives me a chance to meet with every student once every three to four weeks depending on what else I might need to help with during their independent reading time. When I taught 45 minute classes, it took longer as we only had 10 minutes of self-selected reading to start the class with.

I always take notes while I meet with them, it is to help me remember what we discussed, help me support their pathway and also keep track of who I am meeting with, I usually meet with them alphabetically because every child deserves a reading conversation and they can always see what I write down. I don’t want any child to wonder what notes I am taking and worry about that for some reason.

The conferring note-taking sheet I use changes as I think about its use further every year, so if you like this current version make sure you make a copy of it because inevitably it will change.

The whole sheet

The top portion of the sheet is dedicated to when we meet for the very first time, while my students fill in an initial reading survey which offers me a glimpse into their thoughts of who they are as readers, it is really not until I sit down with them and get to know them that we start the work. After all a survey is just an invitation but a conversation is where we can start to explore their identity if they feel comfortable to do so.

The top portion

The different components mean…

  • Confer by me or them – where would they like to have these conversations? I want to respect their boundaries and make them feel as comfortable as I can as we work to establish trust.
  • Book reading and rank – What’s the title of their current book and how would they rank the current book they are reading on a scale form 1 to 10.
  • Goal – What is the initial goal they have set for themselves as readers in the 7th grade reading challenge?
  • Why – Why have they set this goal, this is an important conversation to have because many of my students set a goal to just make the teacher happy, not a goal that they actually care about.
  • Last Year – What did their reading lives look like the previous year?
  • Progress – By the time we meet they have been working on their goal for a few days, how has it been going?
  • Hard about reading – what do they find difficult about reading?

The subsequent sections are shorter, I take fewer notes in order to be able to meet with students more frequently. Of course, if a child needs more time then we take it.

Subsequent sections

Some of the components remain the same, but the new ones are…

  • Read next – Do they have ideas of what to read next? I so often find that the vulnerable readers I teach have few ideas for what to read next and then spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to find a new read, this question will allow me a peek into their process and help them start book shopping before they finish or abandon their current book.
  • What are you working on as a reader – what is the goal they have been working on?
  • Progress – How has it been going?
  • Next step OR how is this challenging you – What are next steps they can take, what are next steps I can help them with and/or how does their current reading goal challenge them?
  • What did I learn about this person today? It is vital to me that I leave with a deeper understanding of who they are as a person and not just about reading, this question reminds me of that.

While this conferring sheet is only a small sliver of the work that happens all year as they explore and develop their reading identity further, it serves as a conversational touchpoint that reminds us of the goals we have, the work we need to do, and who we are as human beings in our classroom. While some kids are eager to share their journey as readers, others are much more hesitant or fully unwilling and I respect that as well. After all, they don’t know me yet so they have no reason to trust me. We then take the time needed to develop our relationship and continually invite them into this conversation. It takes patience and dedication but every child is worth it.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a student, being a teacher, being me, student choice, student voice

Disrupting Our Assumptions About Our Own Failures

Our hurry Design

I have been thinking about how hard we can be on ourselves. The constant negative self-talk we, as educators, can quickly sink into due to the supposed reactions of children we teach. How we can spiral so easily into defeatist thinking. Into thinking we would be better off quitting, or surely, everyone else is doing a much better job at teaching than we are. That has led us to question the path we felt so sure of before a global pandemic hit.

It’s easy right now to fall into this trap. After all, with pandemic teaching many of us have grieved the loss of normal human proximity to our students. Unsure of how to connect through a screen, a camera that is turned off, a silent chat, a muted microphone, or a face covered by a mask, 6 feet away. Unsure of our safety as we crave normalcy in a world that is anything but. And yet we have risen to the occasion, isn’t that what we always do, tirelessly inventing ways to engage, reinventing the ways that used to work, we have reached out, we have shared ideas, we have searched for pieces we can bring in in order for us to feel a bit more effective. And yet, the weight of defeat has also been crushing at times.

When that learning experience we worked so hard on falls flat. Again.

When more kids turn their camera off. Again.

When the emails we send offering our support remain unanswered. Again.

When rather than engage we are met with shrugs. Again.

When the space for discussion remains silent. Again.

When COVID robs us of one-on-one conferring, small group work, or huddled together learning opportunities.

We carry our defeats in the back of our minds, the assumptions of perhaps how much we have failed, how terrible we are at teaching this year, death by a thousand cuts.

Because what has shifted in Covid teaching is one of the biggest tools we rely on; the small body cues that shift our direction, the facial expressions, and the feel of the room. The small signs that tell us to change, to go a certain way and not another, that allows us to read the energy and transform our teaching on the spot. When met with silence and blank screens or stares it is hard to know which direction to change to.

It doesn’t have to be lost though, it just needs to be transformed. I write this blog post to remind myself of tools I already use, that give me the answers I have been searching. Because my teaching life has been riddled with assumptions, and often negative ones of my own success this year, despite the evidence to the opposite. Perhaps yours has too?

So suppose we remember to ask instead of assume.

Suppose we take a moment and create a survey asking how we can grow and be better. What is working? What is not? What do you need from me?

Suppose we do it after every unit or even once a week. Suppose we believe that survey rather than our negative self-talk.

After all, all of the assumptions we make are more than likely not accurate.

I have been doing so on a regular basis, nothing new in my practices, after all, centering the needs of students based on their individual reactions is what I have been pursuing for years. Centering the identity of each child as they take control of their learning is the work I have been sharing for a long time.

And yet, my practices got lost this year. I forgot to ask as often as I should have. And I didn’t believe the results when they came in, assuming (there it is again) that kids were just being nice because they saw how hard I was trying.

Yet, if I look at the survey responses, the path forward is right there. The answers I haven’t been able to see as easily because I haven’t been in the room with my students for 330 days.

The questions have been simple. What is working? What is not? How can we make this experience better for you? What do you wish I knew? And then ideas to see whether we should change course. Offer up opportunities to do group or solo learning. Keeping a “Anything else you want to tell me option” just in case.

The answers have been straightforward, “I like our unit…No need to change anything…I’m having fun…” Ideas have also been shared, “Can we work together….can we have more work time….can we split into groups?” All statements I would not have thought possible if I believed my own assumptions.

And they have bolstered our path. I have tweaked and changed the way I teach based not on facial cues which easily get lost in virtual teaching or behind a mask but rather in the words they share. I have asked for their feedback when we are together and we have changed course mid-morning. I have put voice to the questions that run through my mind where I would normally find the answers in their behaviors rather than needing an explicit conversation about it.

And so I wanted to share the importance of asking once again. Because perhaps, like me, you had forgotten the power of a simple survey. Of relying on students to guide us when we feel we are teaching blindly. On looking at all of the cues that we can receive from other ways than those we traditionally rely on. There are many questions you can ask, I recommend starting with those that you have made the strongest assumptions about, such as whether kids care about what they are learning, how to change your teaching, why they choose to not share in some way in class.

Then believe their answers. Learn from them. Take the positive as the boost you may need, and the negative or neutral as ideas to move forward. Repeat as needed.

We can think we know all of the ways we are failing as teachers, all of the ways we are not good enough. Or we can ask. Base our answers on actual reality. Engage students in our planning, our tweaking, in the shaping of our learning community much like we always should be doing.

After all, kids are experts too, we just need to remember that.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, new year, PD, student choice, Student Engagement, student voice

Final Free PD Masterclass: Getting Ready for Going Back – How Do We Learn Best?

This summer has been one of worry. Of anxiousness. Of too much time spent thinking about possibilities that seemed to shift every day. Of waiting for answers. Of too many times trying to not think about the fall. But the countdown to go back to school has started for many of us, the future, while still uncertain, has at least been hinted at, and I still have so many questions.

A few weeks ago we were told we would be fully virtual for the first quarter and with that information I knew that I could stay overwhelmed and anxious or I could move into solution mode. To take it day by day, rather than try to figure out my whole quarter; focus on the first week, and then have an idea for what might come after. It has helped calm me as I think of all of the unknowns. (Not that I am feeling calm by any means).

And so, as I move ideas into action, it is time to invite you into the thoughts and discussion in my final masterclass of the summer: Masterclass – How Do We Learn Best – Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice. While some of the underlying research and ideas will not have changed from May when I offered it last, I have updated it with ideas of how I plan on establishing conditions to build community, to determine how we can feel safe with one another, how I will embed choice and space for students to speak up and change our time together as we start fully online. This class dives into why it is vital that we center the voices and identities of students as we plan on our instruction and interrogate the systems we have in place. It is meant to inspire, spark discussions, and also offer practical ideas. The accompanying office hours will allow you to ask follow up questions, to share your ideas, and also to have a collective of experts help you with your problems of practice.

So join me for this free PD session offered through CUE and sponsored by Microsoft, just hit the “Join this Session” at the time listed and it will allow you access. Spread the word if you think this masterclass will be helpful to others. This will also be the final free PD I offer for a while as the school year looms large and I have to balance the virtual schooling of my own four kids with the needs of my 80+ students while also trying to keep my sanity.

The class sessions will be:

  • August 13th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 20th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 27th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST

The office hour sessions will be:

  • August 15th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 16th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 23rd 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 30th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST

Don’t forget to check out the other incredible free PD sessions as well that are still being offering during the month of August.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

being a teacher, new year, reflection, Student dreams, student voice, survey

The First Time We Ask

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I think of the many hard lessons I have learned through the years.

About respect.

About feeling valued.

About feeling seen.

About what I needed to change not just as the teacher, but also as the adult in charge of the learning experience we create, day in, day out.

So many learned not because I finally realized something, but instead because the kids I have taught had a way to teach me. Had a way to speak up when they needed to. Had a way to feel heard, even when their words meant I needed to change. How it takes such little time to provide kids with the tools they need to speak up, to be heard, to be a full member of the community we are building. It takes a few questions, an open mind and only a few minutes.

In fact, if I ever had to re-name this blog anything, it would be the lessons the children taught me. The many things they have shared throughout their years as we have strived for a better way of learning, of reading, of being a community of people who already are impacting the world beyodn the walls of school.

And so this week, i will once again ask a few simple yet large questions.

Do you feel respected in this room?

Do you respect others in this room?

What can I do more for you?

What should I do less of?

What do you wish I would notice?

And I will remind them all, once again, that this is their chance to influence how I teach and how we learn. That I have thick skin but to also offer up ideas when they can, not just criticism, however, that criticism is also welcomed because I can’t fix anything I don’t know isn’t working. That this stays between us unless I have their permission to share. That I am grateful for their truths so that I can grow. So that we can grow.

And that this is the first reflection of many to come. That this is only the beginning, because for some I haven’t earned their trust, for some they are not ready to tell me how they really feel, and I respect that as well. But I will still ask because even just asking is a step toward a stronger learning experience. A step toward a more solid us.

We are about six weeks into the year, and it is time for me to learn more lessons.

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, building community, new year, student choice, student voice

Getting to Know Our Students Survey

Every year, I do several surveys at the beginning of the year, I don’t think I am the only one.  As we try to get to know these kids that have come into our lives, I think it is so important to gather as much information as they are willing to tell us in order for us to be better teachers for them.  But I also think about how hard it can be to answer questions those first few days of school when you don’t really know what your answers will be used for, when you are not quite sure who this person is who is asking you these questions, when you are perhaps not even sure what the questions mean.

So this year, I am changing my approach a little bit.  The questions have been changed to be more of a progression of trust, not because I am under any impression that from Tuesday to Friday the students will trust me, but because I want to honor the relationships we are building and the fact that they take time.  Students will be asked to answer a few questions every day, but can also choose to speak to me about these things.  They are focused more specifically on what the child needs from me potentially to be successful and not so much on academics.  Students will do a separate survey every day, while not ideal, it will allow me to see their answers as the week progresses and then create one answer froup per student at the end of the week.

Along with these questions, I will also give my reading and writing surveys during that first week.  Those will be on paper as I place them in my conferring binder alongside the notes I take during our conversations.

Before the children have shown up, we will also have asked those at home about them.  We want to reach out to parents and caregivers as experts on their children and honor the knowledge they have through a home survey.  It is sent electronically before school starts and I respond to each person that takes it with follow up questions, those who do not have access to email or choose not to take it online are handed a paper version once school starts.

While the first-week surveys are not done, I am sharing here in order to receive feedback.  What have I missed?  What have I misworded?  What would you add or remove?  You are more than welcome to make a copy and make it fit your students, just please give credit.  To see the surveys, please see here:

Tuesday – Go here

Wednesday – Go here

Thursday – Go here

Friday – Go here

Thank you to those who have already helped me make it better, here are all of the questions 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.

Be the change, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice

On Student Voice and How All Means All

If I asked most of my students, they would consider me a great teacher for them. They would tell you how safe they feel in our classroom, how they feel respected, how they feel like what we do is worth their time. It is easy feeling like a great teacher if those are the only voices you pay attention to. But if you were to speak to a few, perhaps the ones who would need some extra goading, perhaps those who choose to remain mostly silent throughout our time together, a different story would emerge. They still hate English, they still hate reading and writing, they find little value in what we do, and some, probably, also see little value in me.

I don’t think I am alone in that. Our schools are filled with both kids who flourish and those who don’t. Those who see the value added to their lives in what we do and those who don’t. Those whose days consist of success and those who have limited success. But whose voices are being heard in our conversations? Whose voices are shared in assemblies? Whose voices are shared when we invite incoming families in to discuss what a school experience consists of with us?

And what happens when we don’t monitor whose voices get the most space within our school? When we once again select the few kids that we know will speak up, speak eloquently, and will stick to the message that we know reflects us best? It means that we create a false sense of accomplishment, as if student voice is something we can checkoff, as if everything we do is exactly right and all we need to do is just stay the course.

I worry about the echo-chamber we sometimes create, whether inadvertently or purposefully. How many of us purport to support student voice but then only give the biggest space to those we know will shine a positive light. How we assume that a child must view their schooling as favorable as long as their scores, grades, percentages show them as successful. How we squelch the voices of those who may have less than stellar experiences to share. How we dismiss their voices as simply kids carrying a grudge, or not understanding, or simply just being in a tough spot. How easily we dismiss their experiences rather than recognizing them for the incredible learning opportunity they are. A chance to dive into what we still need to work on, a chance to create a partnership with those whose experiences are not successful despite our carefully laid plans and best intentions.

When I ask others to make space for students to reclaim their voices, I don’t just mean those whose voices echo our own sentiments. I don’t just mean those who will present us in the best of lights. All means all and that includes those who will tell us the unguarded truth even when the truth hurts. This is why in all of my presentations there is truth that hurts, statements that made me grow, that felt like failures when I first was given them. It is important to model to others what real feedback looks like, to acknowledge that at times we will fail our students. That at times we will not be the teacher, or the school, or the district that they needed us to be and we now have to figure out how we can do better, with them. Because that is what the truth does; it gives us a chance to grow. To become something more than we were before, but we cannot do that if we only make space for those voices who will tell us all of the good we are doing without mentioning the bad. If we only select a few to represent the many without giving everyone a proper chance to speak up, to be heard, to shape their experience.

So survey all of the kids. Give space to all of the kids. When students are invited to speak at your training events, at your staff meetings, at your school board meetings, invite a broad range of perspective. Sure, invite those kids in where the system is clearly working, but also invite those who tell us through their behavior that it’s not. Who perhaps may be doing well but who really do not love it. Monitor who you give space to so that all experiences can be represented because if you don’t then it is really just a sham representation. And then ask meaningful questions, not just those where students will provide you with sound-bytes that will do little to move the conversation along.

Ask them if they feel respected.

Ask them if they feel valued.

Ask them if they feel represented.

Ask them if what we do matters.

Ask them how by working together we can make it better.

And then listen to their voices, all of them, and instead of dismissing their words take them for what they are; the biggest gift to do better, to be better. An invitation to create an education that matters to all, not just some, and who can say no to that?

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 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.