being a teacher

A Year in Review – 2020

I usually end the year with an exploration of my chosen word for the upcoming year and yet, this year, this one whose last day I simmer in today, seems to call for a different exploration. One of the year that has passed, a moment to not only contemplate the lessons learned, but also all of the things that were wrapped in good, otherwise, I fear this past year will only be known for all of its tragedies. For the missed opportunities and not those I gained. So inspired by Dr. Kim Parker’s review of her year, I thought I would do the same.

While it was a year marked by less, I only wrote 48 blog posts this year, it was also a year marked by more. More time with my children, more time sitting in the quiet, the most time I have ever spent home in a stretch as all my normal travels ground to a halt. More nature. More purpose. More innovation (maybe too much). More work to be done. And yet, there was writing, not as much as I normally do, but then again, this was not a normal year. This blog turned 10 (!) and so at times it feels like I have said it all before, being distanced from my students and forced into 9 months of virtual teaching also changed the space I made for contemplation and writing. The energy reserves were drained a lot sooner than ever before, the energy had to be preserved for the kids’ whose educational success was entrusted to me no matter what the world threw at us. So I collaborated, created, and shared as much as I could on this blog, through a series of live webinars this summer, and also through our Facebook group but rather than focus as much on pedagogy and philosophy, there was a larger emphasis on the practical. The tools I found or created in order to navigate our new normal.

The top blog posts this year reflect our new reality.

  1. Picture Books Read Aloud Videos for Lesson Use that Don’t Break Copyright
  2. Choose Your Own Learning – 4 Learning Options As We Go Virtual/Online
  3. The Best Books for Middle School According to My Students 2019
  4. Dear Teacher
  5. Great Picture Books to Teach Theme

And the continued work with my own students reflect this year too, one that needed to remain within the same pedagogical framework of safety and community, while also molding itself to the magnified inequities either new or pre-existing. And so my students reminded me again of what mattered; choice, community, time, and grace. That we celebrate the kids that show up and those that cannot. That we continue to find ways to magnify their voices and give them back their spaces to create and reflect. That engagement doesn’t always just mean camera on but takes many forms. That we celebrate every milestone, no matter how small, that we continue with expectations that match where each child is and that nothing in our curriculum will supersede health and wellbeing because we are still in a global pandemic, no matter how much people outside of education want us to forget that.

In book news…

I paused a few writing projects because there was no brain energy for them but am quietly working on a fully re-worked and updated edition of Passionate Learners. While I want to make sure there is enough new thoughts and materials in it to warrant a new edition, I am glad to be revisiting the foundations of my educational philosophy and reshaping what that same vision looks like, 7 years later after its initial publication. The world has changed much since it first came out and yet the urgency of the pedagogy of centering each child’s identity in the work we do remains the same. How can we create spaces for all kids to feel safe, valued, and seen within our curriculum? How can we co-facilitate our classroom spaces with all? How can we give our classrooms back to students after we have drilled into them that the best way to succeed in school is to be silent and compliant? How do we give spaces for their voices to be heard and pack away our own fragile egos?

I also continue to dabble in a potential new book, writing when the pages call my name. It will be centered on the day-to-day work I do with middle schoolers when it comes to reading identity and their literary journey. It is slow-moving, like many other things, and also fills me with imposter syndrome yet I rally around the knowledge that I am simply sharing ideas of what you can do by sharing our own journey.

In professional development news…

While I had a full year of professional development teaching scheduled, with the shutdown much of it shifted online. What an incredible learning opportunity this has been! This shift has given me one of my greatest joys, the ability to work long-term with fellow educators as an embedded virtual coach, something I was not able to do before because it would require too much time out of our classroom and away from the students who are in my care. I am thrilled to continue this opportunity in 2021. If you are interested in having me collaborate, coach, and/or plan with your teachers, please reach out! If you are wondering where I will be speaking in 2021, go here to see what has been scheduled so far.

I will also say that one of my most exciting opportunities was speaking to both Icelandic and Danish educators this year. To be a part of eReolens fall conference from afar and doing my first presentation in my native language of Danish was incredible and allowed me to sink further into the innovative work being done in Scandinavia when it comes to authentic literacy engagement, as well as student well-being overall. While travel plans to Iceland didn’t happen after all, to be able to help Icelandic educators from afar, both in Reykjavik and though Utis Online, was also an amazing experience. It is magnificent to see educators around the world all coming together to serve students better.

While I return in-front of my students on February 8th, and I cannot wait even if I worry about COVID, I will still be doing this work, so reach out if you think I can be of help in the journey you are hoping to create for others.

In Global Read Aloud news…

This summer also brought a hard decision to pause the GRA for now after 11 incredible years, BUT then I wasn’t able to even do it with my own students and so for right now, I am not sure whether it is done or not. I continue to read as I normally would, searching for just the right books to potentially select. So the GRA may be back in October. It may look a bit different. It may take a year off, the decision does not need to be made right now and so for now I will continue to read and contemplate which conversations, understandings, and moves into actions potential read alouds could garner.

In reading news…

The COVID reading slump hit hard at my house as well, while I wanted to read, my thoughts were simply elsewhere most of the time. Yet rather than feel disappointed, I embraced the pop culture I finally got to sink into (I am currently holding off on watching the final Schitt’s Creek episodes because I don’t want the series to end), and the great learning I got to do instead such as the PD put on by Liberate and Chill and Nehemiah here in Madison. I am so grateful to be working in a district that is diving into hard conversation and taking action in order to disrupt racism and inequity, we have so much to learn and do.

But I find myself slowly falling back into reading as evidenced by most more frequent shares on Instagram and this end of year favorite reads post. 2020 once again gave us the gift of incredible books and the time to read them if life allowed us to. I am already eyeing my to-be-read shelves for the new year and cannot wait to share what I read. I also started moving my book lists to as part of my pledge to move away from Amazon as much as much as possible. If there is something I want to help survive the pandemic it is our local bookstores.

In personal news

While I share much of my life through here, there were some really big heavy things that I did not share. While some are ongoing, some have also become hard memories to carry instead of a living reality. But there were huge things to celebrate as well such as the incredible achievement of my husband as he graduated with his teaching degree in Technology Education, a journey he embarked on 25 years ago but then detoured into 20 years in the construction business. We now have another teacher in the house and I cannot wait to see which school community he will get to be a part of as we search for jobs both in Denmark, and in Dane County, Wisconsin.

We also celebrate the time with our kids. While I never imagined that I would get to be a substitute K, 2nd, and 5th grade teacher at the same time as teaching my own students, I have seen my own kids try so hard it hurt at times. We celebrate our outside time. Our quiet time, our bike rides, and our shared meals.

I also turned 40 the day after Wisconsin shut down, my poor husband had spent months planning his first ever surprise gathering for me alongside my sister only to see it fall apart, but we celebrated as best as we could as we tried to make sense of the news coming at us. He commented the other day that my 41st birthday will also probably be a COVID birthday, he is right, of course, but the reminder was stark. So we continue going outside as much as possible, reclaiming skiing as a family event when we can afford to, going for walks, watching movies with the kids, and just being together. And I continue to connect with as many people as I can, treasuring all of the people that I get to call friends, the conversations I get to be a part of and the work that continues.

2020 will be another year to remember, aren’t they all? But as I look back the year, I am also grateful, grateful that we still have our health, that we still have my job, that we can continue to look forward and work for better rather than live in the past. I know there is much work to do, but I am grateful to be in a position to be a part of it.

And the lessons I learned are plenty. I re-learned that I cannot and should not have to be a superhero that should be able to navigate whatever the world of education throws my way. I re-learned the power of hard boundaries, no, and closing my computer. I re-learned that everything is better once I get outside, that I am terrible relaxer, that books can be refuge while also feel overwhelming, that there are many ways to make great soup. That we thought we lived a fairly quiet life until COVID showed us just how much more quiet it could be. And I continue to work on raising my voice, giving back space, and taking action whenever I could, especially when it was my place to do so.

So I leave you this year not with a word, but with a hope; may the new year bring you as much or more joy than the last, may you stay safe and healthy, may you know that if you are reading this I am so grateful for you being here and being a part of my journey. Thank you for giving me your time, for sending me your questions, for sharing ideas and finding value in the ones I share here. What an honor it is to have this place support the work of others.

Godt nytår,


contest, writing

Contest: Win a Copy of Give This Book a Title!

One of my favorite book releases this year is from the brilliant and generous Jarrett Lerner, “Give this Book a Title” . Since the pandemic shut us down he has been a major giver, inspiring many to kickstart our creativity with drawing and writing prompts, confidence boosting lessons and ideas, and general awesomeness. As I shared on Instagram, I can’t get over the brilliance of this book.

This book begs to be used with kids (and adults) as we search for ways to help kids draw, write, inspire, and feel like they can add value to the world. With more than 100 activities, you are sure to find something that you can use with your students as we continue to engage with writing, drawing, and playing with words.

As the blurb says, “This collection of fun, open-ended writing and drawing prompts will challenge kids to think and create in new ways with every turn of a page. In the Finish This Comic section, young writers are inspired to write and illustrate a six-panel story. Following How to Draw instructions will encourage kids to find their own drawing styles. Every fun activity and silly prompt will keep young readers engaged and entertained!”

So imagine my surprise when a whole stack of these amazing books showed up at my house yesterday! Turns out Jarrett Lerner thought that perhaps the world could use a few more copies and I couldn’t agree more. So, I have five copies to give away of this incredible book four to educators in the US and one to the rest of the world (I am paying for shipping, thus the wonky numbers). All you have to do to enter is leave a comment (make sure you add your email when you enter it so I can contact you) and let me know what you would use this amazing book for. The contest will run from today to lille juleaften which for all you non-Danes is December 23rd at 8 PM CST.

I cannot wait for more amazing creations to happen because of this great new book but if you don’t win, you should order it!

being a teacher

My Favorite Reads of 2020

While 2020 was a year of great loss, of feeling lost at times, and being distanced, within the pages of books I found hope, refuge, solace, anger to push me further in action, and love. Within the pages of books I was able to move into other worlds, some that were quite frightening while others were meant for dreaming. I don’t know how many books I read, there are nearly 200 favorites on this list, so coming up with my favorite reads of 2020 was an undertaking, after all, these books kept me company in a year that at times I would rather forget. I know I missed many amazing books, so please leave me a comment if you have one to recommend. While this only represents my favorite reads, I read many more, I highlight them on Instagram or on Goodreads as I read them.

While many were brand new books, some were just brand new to me. Either way, there are many books here to potentially check out, to gift from your favorite local independent book store, so in no particular order, here are my favorite reads so far in 2020.

I have gathered the list for shopping purposes at – a fantastic website that partners with independent booksellers and pays them a higher percentage for anything they sell than Amazon. Please consider ordering the books from– an independent bookstore that partners with local independent bookstores to sell books or ordering them directly from you local independent book store. You can see the list here and also stay abreast of other lists that I make to showcase our work and reading.

Picture Books

Crossings | Book by Katy S. Duffield, Mike Orodán | Official Publisher Page  | Simon & Schuster
Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a  Marathon: Singh, Simran Jeet, Kaur, Baljinder: 9780525555094:  Books
Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice |
Lift: Lê, Minh, Santat, Dan: 9781368036924: Books
What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns: Locke, Katherine, Passchier,  Anne: 9780316542067: Books
Pre-order for May 2021
I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner | Little, Brown  Books for Young Readers
Pre-order for April 2021
Daddy & Dada by Ryan Brockington, Isaac Webster, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®
Pre-order for May 2021
Fred Gets Dressed: Brown, Peter: 9780316200646: Books
Pre-order for May 2021
Outside In: Underwood, Deborah, Derby, Cindy: 9781328866820:  Books Space Matters (9781328801470): Lynn, Jacque, Nichols, Lydia:  Books
I Talk Like a River: Scott, Jordan, Smith, Sydney: 9780823445592: Books
RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul - Kindle edition by  Weatherford, Carole Boston, Morrison, Frank. Children Kindle eBooks @
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood: Hillery, Tony,  Hartland, Jessie: 9781534402317: Books
Rescuing Mrs. Birdley by Aaron Reynolds, Emma Reynolds, Hardcover | Barnes  & Noble®
Our Favorite Day of the Year: Ali, A. E., Bell, Rahele Jomepour:  9781481485630: Books
If Dominican Were a Color | Book by Sili Recio, Brianna McCarthy | Official  Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster
Me & Mama: Cabrera, Cozbi A., Cabrera, Cozbi A.: 9781534454217:  Books
Zonia's Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal: 9781536208450 | Books
Pre-order for March, 2021
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780525555551.jpg
My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal, Trinity Neal: 9781984814609 | Books
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780803730892.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780374310684.jpg
Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball - Kindle ...
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781419746772.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781419743672.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781643792019.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781620145647.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781620149553.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780892394234.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781338364484.jpg
Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid: Tentler-Krylov, Victoria,  Tentler-Krylov, Victoria: 9781338282832: Books
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781338574852.jpg
When Father Comes Home: Jung, Sarah, Jung, Sarah: 9781338355703: Books
Red Shoes - Kindle edition by English, Karen, Glenn, Ebony ...
Ron's Big Mission: Blue, Rose, Naden, Corinne, Tate, Don ...
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780525518778.jpg
Packs: Strength in Numbers: Salyer, Hannah: 9781328577887: Books
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781250184252.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780763697471.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781984816269.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781944903848.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781452149608.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781452180199.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781534439580.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781534452695.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9780735264496.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781771088107.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 51cDKMPrsFL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781773062051.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781481472623.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781250311207.jpg
Image result for we are water protectors
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 51QmrpFenTL._SX484_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 51bJAt5gaYL._SX375_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 51cdWNzFEPL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 51xraBSojxL._SX387_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Early Readers

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781524766719.jpg
Our Friend Hedgehog by Lauren Castillo
Ways to Make Sunshine

Middle Grade

Class Act: Craft, Jerry, Craft, Jerry: 9780062885500: Books
Class Act by Jerry Craft
Hockey Super Six: The Puck Drops Here by Kevin Sylvester
Hockey Super Six by Kevin Sylvester (Order through a Canadian bookseller and cross your fingers that Scholastic USA publishes it here!)

Young Adult

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781534444959.jpg
Long Way Down – Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds and art by Danica Novgorodoff

Non-Fiction – All Ages Mixed Together Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the  Fight for Justice (9780525580034): Stevenson, Bryan: Books
Just Mercy- Adapted for Young People by Bryan Stevenson
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781536209457.jpg
All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team

What about you? What were the books that song to your heart? That you have wanted to share with others? That you think deserve all of the praise, the hugs, the shares, the anger? I know I missed many from the year, so let me know, what should I read next? Happy reading in 2021!

I am excited to get to work with other colleagues around the world doing virtual and in-person coaching collaboration, and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

Book Clubs, Literacy, Reading, Virtual Learning

Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School

Tomorrow, our very first virtual book clubs kick off. The project has been an immense puzzle and also quite a time consumer, and yet, I am excited to see these hopefully take off and help the students not only discuss amazing books but also just be together. We have been apart for more than 8 months physically, I hope that this will be a social boost for many and also a meaningful learning opportunity. I am also excited to jump into this inquiry unit as its focus is whether we already live in a dystopian society? I cannot wait to see what the students come up with and how they will expand their questions and answers as the unit progresses.

As we first started to plan for these virtual book clubs back in October, we quickly realized that unlike previous years, there were a lot more moving pieces to consider and that the orchestration would be a lot more immense. After all, we are fully virtual, kids do not come to school, so how would we pull this off?

So I am sharing everything I have here in this blog post in case you find yourself wanting to do virtual book clubs as well but it feels a little unwieldy. Perhaps the behind the scenes work we have done can help you start with them or perhaps you have some amazing ideas of your own to share. Either way, here you, you can make a copy of everything if you want to edit, just give credit. To see what I have done in previous years when we are in regular learning mode, go here.

To select their books – 4 weeks prior.

We knew that selecting and then distributing their books would be the first major hurdle but once again our incredible librarian team were prepared. They already have a safe weekly pick up for books, what we needed to make sure is that they had enough time to pull the books and prepare them for the pick up.

A slide from their book club choices

I introduced very briefly the unit in early November and then assigned students this slideshow to go through and select their top 5 books. They were asked to please select a book they hadn’t read before and also pick one that would feel manageable to them. Once students had looked through the slideshow, then then filled in this form so that I could start puzzling them together. And puzzle them I did. It took a while to get all of the students into manageable groups (less than five kids) and also to make sure that we had enough books. Our librarian had given us total number of books available for each title and a colleague had taken the time to breakdown how many books each of us would get. We revealed them in class the following week and kids then could email me if for some reason they had ended up with a book they actually didn’t want or if there was another group they would rather be a part of. Only one student did.

New this year is the short story option, we have a few students who are really trying but life is just a lot right now. We wanted to make sure they could also find success and not feel even more overwhelmed with the proposect of reading a long book. We pulled three short stories (The Pedestrian, Harrison Bergeron, and The Perfect Match), one for each week, and then distributed those to students. We will meet on Wednesday’s (our fully asynchronous day) and discuss the stories. I am excited to see if this will work and how the participation will work out.

The following week, students then picked up their books during our three pick up times. If a students was not able to pick up their book, they would get it delivered right to their mailbox. This was a massive undertaking but it worked, I am so grateful to all of the people who made physical book copies possible for the students to have.

Setting Up their Reading Schedules – One week before

Now that students had their books they needed to create reading plans and also set up discussion norms. In class, we had them work through three tasks: 1. Set up their reading plan, 2. Sign up for their discussion time with me, 3. Discuss and add to their norms. This took about 30-40 minutes, a lot longer than it would in class, but that seems to be the normal pace for virtual learning.

Their reading plan document is housed in the Hyperdoc we have created for the students with resources. This is their one stop shop for everything related to their book clubs such as teaching points, rubric, discussion help, meeting times, and reading plan. While it is available to the students, I honestly don’t know how much they will use it and yet having a shared collection of everything they need can only help.

To figure out their reading plan, they all went to this shared document and broke down their book. We reiterated that they shouldn’t finish their book more than two days ahead of the last day and if they wanted a bigger challenge they could read more than one book. This was hard for some students and easy for others so I jumped around from breakout group to breakout group to assist where needed. One group I am still assisting and will pick up the pieces with them tomorrow.

For their meeting times, I am hoping to have 2 groups discuss in front of me live during our 70 minute block. That means that only one or two groups a class have to discuss outside of their class time. I am also grateful to the support staff I have embedded within our class that are also observing and assessing discussions with us. They know the kids and the curriculum as well as I do. Kids signed up on a first come-first serve basis as it then served as a motivator to get their reading plan completed. They can see the meeting times document at any time, but I have also sent Google Calendar invitations to all of them with the link to our Google Meet for when we discuss.

For the discussion of their norms, we used Jamboard. I have had mixed results with it, but this time I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. You can see what it looked like here. Kids had decent discussions about accountability and also how they wanted this experience to run.

While all of the students have done book clubs multiple times before, 7th grade tends to be the first time they have to decide what they will be discussing and prepare accordingly, rather than the teacher telling them what to track. So we have a “cheat sheet” which really is just scaffolds in order to help them be successful. Some of these discussion points are learning targets from the Teachers College Dystopian Unit which we use as a foundational guidance and others are once we have discovered with book clubs throughout the years. Choice reigns supreme and it is important for us that students can steer their discussions ina natural way, they do not have to stick to these but this is a starting point.

Actual Book Clubs – Three Weeks

So how will all of these moving pieces work? Well, I am hoping (because I am writing this before I have kicked it off tomorrow) that our next three weeks will offer students a chance to work independently, as well as not feel overwhelmed. So in order to make that happen, I wanted to offer them up some self-paced learning opportunities using Peardeck, as well as short mini-lessons using our mentor text Ponies by Kij Johnson, and then give them time to read and discuss as much as possible in class much like we would if this were regular book clubs.

In class time will be spent on a mini-lesson – learning targets again are pulled from the Dystopian Unit created by Teachers College. I will be reading aloud our mentor text so we can refer back to it throughout the next three weeks, as well as any of the mentor short films they will be watching asynchronously. I will also have them go into breakout groups for 5 minutes in order to decide what they want to focus on discussing in their groups this week, before my listening on their discussion I ask them what they focused on and I listen for anything attached to that. They can use the “cheat sheet” linked previously in order to help them. Since tomorrow is the first day, I am thinking it may take a little bit longer to get them started but I need to wrap it up within 35 minutes in order to leave them 35 minutes to read, discuss, and work.

So during their in-class learning time and outside learning time, they will have a few things to work through. 1. They need to read their chapters and be ready to discuss. 2. They need to write down any ideas for discussion as well as find evidence. 3. They need to discuss in front of me. 4. They need to work through two learning opportunities in order to expand their knowledge. They will have all week to do this.

So for their discussion, students will be assessed live. I have yet to create a good electronic version of my rubric so I may just do what I normally do, which is print a ton of these rubrics as I like to write directly on them while they speak, as well as tally how much they say and any page numbers they use. I will then either scan and email it to them after their discussion, or transfer it to a markable rubric that will be posted in Google Classroom under their assignments so that each child has one ( I have it posted right now as an assignment for me to fill in).

For their Peardeck self-paced work, they will focus on two learning targets. The first one is simply diving into a book club discussion and understanding better what it is we are looking for. We normally do this during class time but due to virtual time constraints, it is moved into independent work. The Peardeck looks like this, it is short and sweet and to the point because this is not meant to feel like just one more thing to do but rather an exposure, example, and then a quick check for understanding. For the second learning opportunity of the week, they will learn more about utopia, dystopian characteristics and then compare and contrast their book to these definitions. They will also watch a dystopian short film and then write about the rules and how it links to our current society. This Peardeck looks like this. The students will be assessed on the analysis and evidence they use to draw their conclusions. Normally they would also be doing this in class but these are not normal times.

The next two weeks will follow the same format, I have not created the self-paced learning opportunities yet but you can certainly reach out to me if you would like to see what they look like. We will be focusing on our inquiry question; do we already live in a dystopian society and so the learning opportunities will center around that.

So there you have it, so many moving parts but I am excited and I think the students are too. I hope this was helpful to you, let me know if you have any ideas or questions.


Here are the self-paced lessons students worked through. They went pretty well, it was a great way to fill in more world knowledge and get kids thinking about the world we live in.

Week 3 – Are We Living in a Dystopia Already?

Week 4 – Who Has Equal Rights?

being a teacher

To the Some…

Many of my students have yet to finish a book this year.

It’s 2nd quarter. We are fully virtual and have been since the beginning. We read almost every class together, dedicating at least 10-15 minutes of our much too short time together to the act of reading itself. I tell them to find a great book. To sink into the pages. To allow themselves the freedom to just read without a care of what comes next, without having to do work surrounding their book.

And yet, week after week, pages are barely being traveled, some books are not even being opened.

The questioning that has wrapped itself around my literacy decisions is at times suffocating. Other times it spurs me onward. It pushes me to constantly stay in creative mode, to try to think of new and perhaps inventive ways to invite them into reading. To entice them with books. To give them space to come back, to return to habits they left behind on March 13th when school first shut down. But the guilt and feeling of inadequacy is also there, a constant companion as it probably is for many educators teaching during COVID. What normally works, isn’t, because what I am doing is a shell of what it can be. By now, in November we would be soaring in our independent reading, almost all kids would have finished several books and the students who would have loudly declared to hate reading would be working on their relationship with reading and making some small progress. We would be getting excited for our upcoming book club unit, eager to venture into more books with people by our side, ready to discuss, to dissect, to grow in our understanding of society.

But that is not where we are right now. Not many anyway. Not this year.

And so in the search for yet another idea to try, I am reminded of my husband’s words tonight, he is student teaching (can you imagine?) during this time. He reminded me that all of the kids are trying to connect to reading. That they all want to make it better but that they may not be in a space to do that just yet.

That there is no sense in comparing this year to any other year because we have never lived in a time such as this. That when we compare we fail to see the beauty of what is happening, the resilience that continues to be shown and grown in all of our students, in all of us, every day. That perhaps the students have not finished a book just yet, but they are trying. And more importantly, they trust me enough to tell me the truth. They trust me enough so that I can be a part of their journey rather than apart.

They trust me enough so that I can Design

Because our students could lie so easily about the books they have or have not read. They could check the boxes. They could walk away and sometimes we would not know.

But instead, they show up. Despite the internet failing. Despite their computer freezing. Despite being quarantined because another member of their family tested positive. Despite everything being cancelled. Jobs being lost. Friends being far removed. Despite the world and its endless hatred toward so many. Its endless inequities and disparities. Despite having never met me in person, never stepping foot as a 7th grader into our middle school. Owing me nothing. They still show up, they still tune in, and they still try.

So I continue to try as well. Not driving myself to exhaustion because this has to work for all of us but falling back upon the ideas we know work even if they don’t in the same way right now.

I book talk books that may never be read. But every class, there is a new one being introduced.

I offer to bring books to their mailboxes that they may never read.

I give them time to read even if it is not used.

I ask them to search for value within reading even if they see none.

I ask them to tell me about their reading lives even if they have nothing positive to tell.

And we discuss. And we build trust. And we build community.

One conversation at a time. One decision at a time. One page at a time.

And I read aloud right now, even if I don’t know if they are tuning in. Because some are. Because some are ready to be reactivated into reading. Some are ready to fall into the pages of a book because their lives allow them to. Some never left.

And so we make space for them all, we center our practices and decisions not in further work for them to somehow increase accountability but instead in what we know works. Even now, even if it takes longer.

We center it in choice.

In access.

In time to read.

In community.

In conversation.

In finding stories that they can see themselves in and in stories of lives they will never live.

We center it in them. Their chocies. Their lives. Their words. Their journeys.

And we make space for them all. Not for the kids we hoped would be here but the kids who show up. Who show up despite the world trying so hard to stop them.

And we show up too. And we see the small moments of success for all the kids who are trying and remember to give ourselves some grace too. Because we are right there trying as well. Because we are also far from what we had hoped we would be at times and yet we show up too, and we try, and we create, and we breathe and step away so we can come back the next day.

Perhaps what I need right now is not another new idea, but instead a moment of celebration. Of appreciation for all of us and what we are creating.

The reading will happen. It may just take longer. But look at how far we have already come.

I am excited to get to work with other colleagues around the world doing virtual and in-person coaching collaboration, and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

How About a Digital One Pager?

I continue to teach virtually 140 minutes a week English with my 7th graders as COVID-19 explodes around us. As we settle into the 2nd quarter we wanted to increase our focus on independent reading, as well as center our community in a read aloud. Looking ahead to December, we will be doing virtual dystopian book clubs and we wanted to provide students with some scaffolds leading into the discussions we hope to have them have do while recognizing that students are in many different parts of their reading journey. The COVID reading slump is significant, some kids are still not reading, and some still struggle with sustaining their attention to a text even when they are reading.

With all of this in mind, we decided to focus on a read aloud in November; Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson. A few key factors led to this incredible book; it is a beautiful story of family, community, and friendship and how you navigate hardship. It is free verse, it is accessible for all kids, and it is short. We knew we would only have 7 x 70 minutes for the read aloud and for the mini-lessons, that’s not a lot. Alongside the read aloud, we wanted students to focus on their independent reading books but also give them a little more urgency in their reading. While we do not have students write about their reading all through their year, we wanted to use this month to get them set up for discussions and deeper explorations into their texts. In the past, we have used one-pagers for this work or character autopsies. I have loved the art component of these assignments, as well as the brief glimpses of text analysis it would provide us with but had to wrap my head around doing this digitally as I cannot assume access to art supplies. We could use these projects as a way to review and introduce new concepts without students having to write a literary essay.

As I searched online for digital options for this project, I found many for sale but none of them seemed to fit what I wanted to introduce to our students or even review. So I decided to create one that fit our needs and hopefully would also be manageable for the students and not create an unnecessary burden in their reading lives, as did my amazing colleague, Liz.

So here is a copy of what we are mostly using with students. This one is a bit longer than the one I am using but I like all of the options provided here. I envision this being cut down to fit the unique needs of your students, I would not assign all 13 slides. This is not anything new or hugely innovative but it does help us see where students are at in their reading comprehension, as well as help guide them.

The first slide is a review of story elements. One of the concepts we see a need to develop is simply recognizing narrator, as well as the setting’s effect on the story.

The next slide speaks to plot diagram, while we discuss that not all stories are told in this way, we do want students to be able to recognize different parts of their stories as a way to think about their own writing as well. Many of my students are still working on figuring out the climax of a story so this provides them with a review of some of these components.

We will be discussing conflict in our story more than once, this is a slide I did not assign this time though due to time constraints.

Analysis is a huge focus in 7th grade and we want students to find meaningful quotes and then be able to discuss why they are meaningful to them. This also leads into work about connections to our books and to the world, as well as how literature can be powerful and lead us to action.

Characterization is also a major focus as my students are developing people watching skills. We discuss a lot how analysis in literature is really just practice for how to read life situations and that when we can read people and situations well, we can often navigate them more smoothly. Tracking one character and how they change throughout the story is proving to be interesting for many students as they can often see the changes happening but don’t necessarily understand why the character changed.

In 7th grade we expand upon theme, moving from theme idea to theme statement. Many students are great at recognizing theme ideas but have a harder time putting into word what specifically is being said about this theme. For this slide I want them to have an introduction but not dive too deep into it yet. In our dystopian unit, we dive much deeper into power structures, societal messages, as well as what calls to action a text provides us with, this therefore serves as stepping stone into that work.

Finding images or drawing images that have a connection to the text is another way to deepen our understanding and analysis of a story. When we can see beyond the story and conceptualize further connections, we are digging deeper into our analytical skills and complex thinking. One way to practice this is to ask students to move beyond the obvious and think of abstract representation and connections to the curriculum.

The slides attached also have 3 choice options; a deeper dive into the setting, finding a song that connects to the story, as well as timeline slide – all comprehension strategies that will further the understanding of the book.

We have made a few adaptions as well for some students: A few students are refusing to read outright or this work is simply too overwhelming, so they are working through these using a short story instead. We have also discussed having students record answers rather than write them out if needed. Students could also choose to do this by hand and do more of a true one-pager with a bigger emphasis on the artistic components which are downplayed here, rather than this digital version. In my student version I also link to the one I am working through with students, as well as have videos explaining how to fill it in.

As always, feel free to use, or let me know how you would improve it, this is definitely a work in progress and always hindsight is 20-20. After releasing this to students to start working on Sunday, there are already many things that I would do differently, this is therefore the new and improved edition.

I am excited to announce that I am doing virtual speaking and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.