Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, students choice, students teach me

How Do You Reach Your Vulnerable Readers?

This morning I was asked what we do for our most vulnerable readers to help them be successful.  As I took a moment to ponder this questions, I realized a big thing;  what we do for the most vulnerable is also what we do for all of our readers.

We have fidelity to our students, not to our programs.

I work in a district that believes in fidelity to the students and not to the program.  Think about that for a second.  Oregon School District believes in staying true to what the children need and not what an outside purchased program, no matter how research-based it is, tells us what to do.  We use components from incredible programs, but they do not dictate our decisions; our students do.

We place them with amazing teachers.

We give them the best teachers we have to work on interventions.  These teachers know their research and use best practices.  They are given longer books, they have choice, they do meaningful work.  We make sure they work on stamina in books, not chopped up passages to just check their skills.

And we do not put them in front of computer programs.  We need our students to read, to think, to work through a text and then come out on the other side with a deeper understanding.  We need face-to-face interactions to gauge what they really know, not what a computer may think.  There is no replacement for a qualified teacher and so every child deserves one, especially those who are not where we would hope they would be.

We have them surrounded by books. 

We have a beautiful school library, staffed by a fully certified librarian, and we also promote classroom libraries.  As Neumann researched, having a classroom library can increase reading up to 60% and so we believe in the power of great books within their reach at all times.  As one student told me Friday, “Mrs. Ripp, I love that we have great books right here, I never have to go far to find my next read.”

We are also mindful of the books we surround them with.  Inspired by the word of Dr. Simms Bishop, Chad Everett, Nerdy Book Club, and so many other passionate advocates for better library experiences, we think of how our library shapes our students’ identities.  Can they see themselves?  Can they see others?  Who is represented, how are they represented, and who is not?  All of this pushes us forward as we purchase more and better books.

We are careful with our language. 

I flinch a little whenever I hear the term “struggling readers.”  As Donalyn Miller has taught me, there is little hope in that term.  How about vulnerable?  How about careful?  How about developing?  How about just readers?  Our language promotes a growth mindset so we have to be aware of what our language does to shape their self-image.  How do we speak about our readers when they are around or not around?

 

We cultivate patience.

It is really hard to not lose hope when you have implemented best practices (choice, time, books, and a reading community) and then see little results.  And yet, sometimes we are working against years of a negative reading identity.  We are working on catching up years of stalled reading experiences.  We are working against unseen forces that derail us any chance they get.  So we must be patient.  Patient with the child who is trying.  Patient as the teacher hoping for results.  I have said it before and will say it again; sometimes we are just the tourniquet that stops the growth of the hatred of reading or the negative reading experiences, not the teacher that will see the actual seeds of change grow and bloom.

We balance our purchasing decisions.

While we may be going one to one with Chromebooks, my principal will also tell you that she always has money to purchase books.  Our literacy coach asks us if we want more books because if we do then she will get us some.  This speaks volumes because if a district is spending money on technology without spending money on books there is a serious imbalance in priorities.   And if that is the case, a conversation needs to be started about what is more important?

So when I think of what we do for our vulnerable readers, I once again see the thread that runs through our entire school community; every child a reader, every single day.  Every child deserves the best chance.  Every child deserves the best teachers.  The best experiences.  The best, period.

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, students choice, students teach me

On Student Talk and What to Look For

I am struck by the noise that surrounds us.  As I walk through my school, Oregon Middle, the voices of kids float through the open doors.  Sure, the teachers can be heard as well, but over and over, again and again, there the kids are.  Asking questions, discussing, getting passionate.  We are carried forward by the voices of the very kids we serve.  It makes me even prouder to be a teacher here.

And yet.  I think back to the days where I thought silence meant learning.

Where I thought deep engagement was almost always quiet.  Punctuated by brief answers facilitated by me to check for understanding.

Where I thought that if only I could get them to listen, then they would learn.

If only they would stop talking then they would really understand.

If only one child answered then surely that was engagement.

If only they turned and talked when I asked them that meant we were doing student talk right.

And while we still savor the quiet hush that surrounds us when we reach the zone with our books or with our thinking or with our writing, we also relish the noise that comes from student engagement.

But not just any type of noise, the productive kind.  The one that goes deeper.  The one that isn’t just because the kids are being compliant but because they actually care.  That is when student engagement is done right.  So what can we look for when we evaluate the types of noise our kids are making?

Who is making the noise? 

Is it you or is it them?  While there is much to be said for teacher-led discussion, at some point we have to turn it over so the kids can do the probing, the analyzing, and the digging deeper.  What if we didn’t give them all of the questions, but instead gave them the time to discuss?  What if we modeled it but then truly let them take the reigns, not just once in a while but almost always?  What if students came up with the discussion questions as well as moderated the flow?

How much noise is it?  

Is the noise contained to brief periods of time in your class or is it throughout?  Are students engaged outside of the questions we ask?  Are the teaching points inspiring them to care more?  To ask more?  To push their thinking?  Or is just having them discuss one thing and then lapsing into silence as they wait for the next direction?

Who controls the noise?

While I see many teachers embrace the “turn and talk,” I wonder how often that’s it for student talk.  I am guilty of this thinking;  as long as they turn and talk then surely there is student engagement.  Yet I have found that in my eagerness to get to the next thing, I have often cut off the kids from going deeper into their conversations.  That my desire to ask the next question has stopped their further inquiry.  That my casual discomfort with student silence means they are not getting time to just think.  I am working on seeing where it goes and following along when we can.

What emotions lie behind the noise?

I loved the discussion unfolding in our classroom today as students discussed “Who should get the baby?” after listening to an NPR podcast.  They were so upset, not with each other, but with the facts of the case, how it wasn’t black and white, and also how others were not agreeing with them.  To see this passion for a podcast as we discuss uncovering facts to change our perspective is exactly what I hope for; that they care about it.  That they speak up because they cannot imagine staying quiet.  That it matters enough for them to actually bother with adding their voice.

And for me that’s it; when I think of true student engagement through student talk, I look for the emotions.  How students speak.  Why they speak.  What they say, but also how they say it.  Within this exchange, we can gauge their interest.  We can see whether they are simply going through the motions or whether our class, our learning exploration, actually matters to them.  And so this is where we start, where I start every time I evaluate our student talk; with the emotional investment or lack thereof.  It turns out that the truth can really be found in how they speak their words.

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, books, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, students, students choice

Find Them a Book

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It was just before school ended that I realized that he hadn’t really read any books.  That my feeble attempts at finding just the right book had been just that and that he had successfully managed to mostly fake read throughout the entire year.  I remember the feeling of how I had failed, wondering how I could have been so blind.  Chalk it up to 120 students.  Chalk it up to my first year as a 7th grade teacher.  Chalk it up to 45 minutes or to the demands of all the new, but still how could I have let a student slip through my fingers that way?  How could a kid fake read in our classroom when my mission is exactly the opposite?

So I wrote a post-it note to myself and taped it to the wall by my computer.  Nothing fancy but a stark reminder of what I needed to do the following year.  “Find them a book…”

A year later it still hangs there.  New tape applied when needed.  No fancy script or colors.  Yellow, slightly faded, yet so important still.  Find them a book, indeed, and then find them another, and another, and another, until one day they no longer need me and they find their own.

I think of this as one student, a self-identified child who dislikes reading, has just finished sharing with me how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is the best book he has ever read.  How nothing will ever compare to that book, but that he will continue searching for one that might, but he might need my help.  That he loved that book so much but now is not sure what to read.

 

So we book shop together and I dig deep for all of the books that he may like.  I stack them high and walk away hoping that in that pile he will find a book that will move him forward on this new fragile path.  That in that stack he will see glimpses of what it means to be a reader.

Because we may tell our students that they just need to find the right book to fall in love with reading.  We may spend hours helping them dig into who they are as a reader.  We may put book after book in front of them in the hopes that they will find The One. But it is not just about The One.  It is about the one after and the one after that.  It is about the many.  Because it is in the repetition of falling in love with a book that we fall in love with reading.

So when a child finds their book, we must pay attention, because this is when reading is at its most precarious.  This is the moment where they start to see that one great book was not just a fluke, but instead a taste of what is to come.  What is waiting for them on our shelves.

So find them a book.  Then find them another and another.  Fill your classroom and schools with titles that beg to be read.  Teach them what to look for and know when to walk away.  We may start our journey with reading when we find the first book to fall in love with, but we choose to continue that journey when we find the next one.

This post is a part of the Age of Literacy that ILA encourages all of us to participate in on APril April 14th.  How are you a literacy leader?  If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a student, being a teacher, Literacy, questions, Reading, Student Engagement, students choice

How Do We Best Do Literacy Interventions?

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Literacy intervention has been weighing heavily on my mind this year as I vow to do a better job for all of my students.  I think most of us would agree that we are willing to move heaven and earth to help students become successful, yet there are times where it seems like every great idea we have is simply not enough.

And I keep wondering; what do we first focus on; engagement or strategies?  I know I always tend to lean toward student engagement first and finding a way to combine it with strategies, but I still wonder is it okay to use a program that may teach students incredible strategies to bolster their reading skills, thus making reading more accessible, even though we hear students dislike the program?  Do we focus first on re-connecting students with a like or love of reading and writing and then worry about the strategies?  I know that ideally the programs that we use would be a combination of both, but is that even possible?  Are there intervention programs out there that students actually like?  Or is it on a case by case basis?

As you can see, I have more questions than answers.  I have thoughts, sure, and I know where I tend to fall; student engagement above all, but what if this isn’t enough?  What if a child will never be fully engaged until they have mastered better reading strategies that can only be taught through repetitive means?

Therefore I wonder; what would the ideal literacy intervention program look like?  I have seen many variations, some amazing, some not so much.  I have seen an incredible combination of ideas that have worked incredibly for some students, and not so much for others.  And while I doubt that there is one right answer, there has to be an overall approach that gives us a better result for many students.  I am hoping with this post that you will share your ideas.  Lend your thoughts.

Where do we start?  Do we worry about students loving reading or writing or do we worry more about giving them the tools to master the skills needed?  Is there a right way to bolster students?

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.  

being a teacher, education reform, MIEExpert15, no homework, student voice, students choice

Before You Assign That Homework – What Students Wish You Knew

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“Should teachers assign homework?” was the question I asked my students today.  I thought I knew the answer, a resounding no I was sure, and yet, once again my 7th graders surprised me.

While some pleaded for no more homework, many said they understood the purpose of it, that it was a necessary component of school and then wrote a paragraph asking for change.  Asking for their thoughts to be considered.  Asking for teachers to think before they assign.  So what my students wish teachers knew before homework is assigned is now written here for the world to see.

They wish teachers knew just how busy they are.  That we ask them to live balanced lives that involve sports, family, friends, and sleeping, yet assign hours of work that pushes their bedtime later and later.  They cannot fit everything in, even though they try.

They wish teachers knew just how stressed they are.  That they feel like our expectations are through the roof at all times, but sometimes they are bound to mess up, and can we make that okay as well?  Can it be okay to forget once in a while or to not get it all right?

They wish teachers knew that they don’t always need the practice.  That homework should be for those kids that don’t quite get it, not assume a need for everyone, and that those that really don’t get it won’t get it after they do the homework.  That they need help in school instead.

They wish teachers knew how much we all assign.  That we spoke to one another more so that we see that our class may not assign a lot but when you add each class together, it is now hours of work, not just a little bit of time.

They wish teachers knew that they have worked really hard in school and wish they could have a break.  That homework on some days is okay but it doesn’t need to be every day. Nor does it need to be over the holidays.  That tehy get we have a lot to cover but can they promise us to work hard in school in exchange for time off from school?

Finally, they wish teachers actually did their own homework.  That they tried the assignments so they could see how difficult or confusing they may be.  That they worked through it with kids, not in a pretend way, but really, and then shared their own learning with students.  That teachers truly felt what it means to live the life of a student, along with the pressure of homework,  to understand why homework continues to be a problem for some.

Once again, my students thoughts push my own thinking.  I quit assigning homework years ago but still run into my old ways once in a while; there always seems to be so much to cover, so much to do.  Now, I only assign reading every night, but even that adds up with everything else.  So I wonder; if we all asked our students, what would they say about homework?  And what would we do about it?  How would their answers change education?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.