The Full Story

We stood staring at Plymouth Rock yesterday marveling at the history it represents.  At what it means for this nation that I have adopted as my home.  As we turned around we saw the statue of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe, on the hill, peering out to sea.  His image followed me into the car and I finally asked my husband, “Why on the hill?”  Why not right next to this monument that marks what many consider the beginning of America?  How many people miss this part of the story, marvel at the survival skills of those early Pilgrims, and do not think of the rest of the story; the other part of this complicated history of America?  Surely you must understand both sides to truly see the bigger picture…

It reminds me of my own work; how often do we, as teachers, just see the obvious?  The traits that show up on the very first day, that dominate our conversations and we never find the time to dig deeper?  We never “hike up the hill” to take a closer look at what we think lurks right there but that is hidden from view at first?  We don’t have time, we have so many kids, we have so much to do, and so our story continues single-mindedly for many of our students no matter the glimpses we see?

As many of us prepare to hand off our kids to the next team of teachers, may we find the time to tell the full story.  To sure, share the dominant things we have seen, but also the things that may be so easily seen.  To not tell the full story of a child in just data.  To not tell the full story of a child in just their behaviors.  To not tell the full story of a child in just the obvious, but dig a little deeper.  To make sure that our narrative is nuanced, balanced, and hopeful.  To give those teachers waiting to make a difference a chance at who this kid really is and not just the things that may have been the main talking point all year.

I think of the power we hold as the previous teachers of these kids.  Of how we decide what gets shared.  Of how we decide what is told.  Of how we decide what to focus on and we pass that on to the teachers that do not know them yet.  So tell the full story, and if you don’t have the full story yet find it before it is too late.  I know I still have work to do.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

On the Reality Of Trying to Create More Readers

I wish I could tell you that they are all reading by now.

That they all run in, books in hand, eager to settle in, settle down, and get to reading.

I wish I could tell you that they told me that they cannot wait for summer because that means they can read all of the time.

That they cannot wait for more books in that series, or by that author, or in that genre.

That they cannot wait for 8th grade where they will get to come back and talk more books.

I wish I could tell you that they all ask for one more minute, one more page, and beg for a whole day of reading.

I wish I could tell you that they all love reading by now, but I would be a liar.

You see, when you teach actual 7th graders, it turns out that sometimes you are still not enough.

That it doesn’t matter that you have thousands of books at hand.

That it doesn’t matter that you book talk amazing books.

That it doesn’t matter that you give them time.  That you give them choice.  That you tell them to abandon those books that do not work and only read great books.  That it doesn’t matter that you ask for their truths and then try to do something about it.

You made a difference to some, yes, but not to all.

And yet..I would also tell you that it is okay.

That no one expected us to be miracle workers, that no one expected us to convert them all.  To make them all reading believers.  Instead what we were asked to do was to not make it worse.  To not make them hate it more.  To protect what precious positive emotions they do have about reading and shelter them from distress.  To stay hopeful, to stay positive, and to keep believing that what you did mattered, and so you kept on believing they could.

And so we did, and we tried, and we are still trying because the year is not quite over yet.

Because we still have that book to discuss.

That reading experience to create.

That picture book to make them laugh.

So this realization of perhaps not having reached them all is not one of failure or of giving up, because, again, the year is not over yet, but it is one of reality, one of truth, one of things beyond our control and the forces that work against us.

So we do not despair when they tell you they still do not like reading, but instead, we ask, “Have you changed at all?”  And then you smile when they say, “Well, maybe a little…” because sometimes we will not be there for the biggest change, but only for the humble beginning.

And that beginning was worth every single step we took to help them become or remain kids who love to read.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Be A Teacher Reading Role Model – Without Actually Reading In Front of Your Class

I was taught in college that to be a teacher reading role model, I should read infront of my students; not just read aloud, but actually sit down and read in front of them so they could see how much reading meant to me.  So when I embraced independent reading, I did just that; pulled my own book out and read diligently next to them.  It didn’t matter that I was not reading books they could actually read, but instead that they saw me in the physical act of reading.  Yet, something felt inherently wrong.  I was distracted by my own book at times, not picking up on what kids were actually doing.  I didn’t feel like I was actually teaching them anything during that time, and, most importantly; very few of my students actually saw me as a reading role model, which baffled me for a long time.  It turns out that simply seeing someone read does not make them a reading role model and so I knew I had to change my ways.

It turns out, though, that I was not the only one that was taught this method of teacher-as-reading-role-model; when the kids read, you read right alongside them.  I was reminded of this just the other day when a brand new teacher told me that when her kids were reading so was she.  I immediately thought, “What a waste of time,” but then also realized why this seems like a great idea on the surface.  After all, we  know that kids will read more when they see others reading, we know that adults as reading role models are a powerful tool, and it also legitimizes independent reading time; “See how important this is by me doing it as well…”

And yet; we need that independent reading time to meet with kids.  To confer when we can.  To do reading check-ins with as many kids as possible to further enhance our own instruction.  To build relationships and community.  To truly understand the learners that are in our care.  Not to work on our own reading.  So how do we establish ourselves as reading role models without physically reading in front of the kids?

We give it time.  The first step is to make sure there is time for independent reading.  After all, if we value something then we must give it the thing we have the least of; our time.  So every day we should find the time for self-selected choice independent reading for all of our students, no matter their needs and abilities.

We read aloud.  At all ages and whenever we can.  Kids will understand the importance of shared book experiences by actually participating in them and so we must model what it means to be a fluent read-alouder, what it means to be carried away in a text, to be emotionally connected to a piece of literature.  We do this by reading aloud stories, poems, and other pieces that move us and then invite students into the experience.

We speak reading.  My students know a lot about my reading life because I speak about it often.  I book talk books I just finished or abandoned, I talk about the latest book I cannot wait to read.  I talk about how I sneak books with me everywhere, how I trained myself to read in the car without getting sick so it would give me more reading time.  We speak books and how they matter whenever we can, not just on the days it is our teaching point.

We showcase our reading.  Outside of our classroom, I have a display of all of the books I have read so far.  My students know my reading goal and see the poster fill up as the year progresses.  My students can see that I spend time reading outside of class because they see the covers get added.  The visual representation is also a constant reminder as they enter our classroom that in here the books we read is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of.

We procure more books.  The first thing most people notice when they enter our classroom is the sheer amount of books.  The collection and its placements speaks to the importance of reading in our community.  Having books front and center means that reading is front and center.

We sometimes read with them.  If I cannot wait to finish a book, if the classroom is particularly still, or sometimes just because it is Friday, I will sit down and read with my students.  Not because I have to but because I want to.  It is not every week, we have much too little teaching time for that, but once in a while, they might see me reading, that is if they actually look up from the pages of their own book.

Being a reading role-model is something I take quite seriously, as do many of my colleagues.  Our schools speaks books because we feel the urgency with which we lose our middle schooler’s interest in reading every year.  So every minute matters, every minute counts, and while reading in front of my students would be lovely, that is not my main job in the classroom as they read.  Speaking to them is.  How have you become a reading role model in your classroom?

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

Hopefully We Will Get It Right

To my sweet little girl, who may not be so little anymore but still…

Two days ago I asked you to read with me.  This week has been crazy with long hours at school for me and I have missed so much of our daily routine.  No books, no hugs, just hurried bedtime kisses and promises for a weekend together.  So you searched for a book and I watched you pick up, discard, pick up, discard, pick up, discard until you finally grabbed a book and sat in close.  You opened the first page and then stopped….

Haltingly you forced out the first word, then went through the next and then you stopped once more.  Guessed, moved on until you once again became stuck and the words did not come.  I pointed at the words, waiting patiently but I felt it in every inch of you; the tension.  The difficulty.  The work…The exact opposite experience I wanted to have with you and then you said, “Mom…reading is really hard.  I don’t think I like reading anymore…”  And I had to look away because for a second my world stopped and I had to take a breath and find my smile and look at you.  I said the only words I knew to say which were, “I know, I am sorry, but you are doing it, think of how far you have come…”

And yet…I cannot help but think of what we did wrong when we raised you to be a reader.  Of how we must have screwed up somehow because it is not meant to be this hard.  It is not meant to be such a struggle when you are eight.  It is not meant to be this constant struggle, god I hate that word, and yet struggle is exactly what you do when you try to crack the code of the word on the page in front of you, a word I swear you just knew the night before.  And so I blame myself, how can I not, because I am the one that should have done something, whatever IT was, that I obviously didn’t do and now here you sit telling me that reading is not something you like anymore.  That reading may not be your thing because it is boring, and hard, and obviously not meant to be figured out by a kid like you.  And it tears me apart because what is life without reading and how come mommy can’t fix this?

You go to bed and turn on the light.  As I tuck you in you tell me one more book, mom, and you do your version of reading, and I know deep down that it wasn’t us, that it wasn’t something we did, but I still feel so darn responsible, like I somehow screwed up by not reading more books or pointing out more words.  Like somehow I missed a step when they told me how to raise a reader, and I feel so lost in how to help you, and I am sorry.

But you, my little girl, are teaching me that sometimes things are outside of our control and even though we try so hard as parents it doesn’t always work.  That even though we stuffed our house as full of books as we could.  That even though we read to you every night.  That even though we pointed at the words and tried to make reading fun, it still may be the hardest thing you have ever had to overcome.  And that although I wish I could just flip a switch, or carry the burden for you, that all I can do is keep smiling and keep the focus on what really matters; the love of books.

So tomorrow we are home and I will ask you once again.  “Come sit by me and find a book, let’s read it together…” and you will.  And you will pick up, discard, pick up, discard, pick up, discard and together we will slowly piece the words together and hopefully, we will laugh.  And hopefully, you will be proud, because I will be.  Every day.  Every book. Every word, even if we don’t get it right the first time.

 

What I Have to Tell Them

I watch them come in, hands clenched, eyes downcast, not quite sure what to think.  I tell them to take a deep breath, tell your story, there is nothing to be worried about.

Our students lead their conferences and while it is not perfect, it is incredible to watch their story unfold.  To see them decide what deserves their attention, to see what they find valuable.  To see those that come from home ask them questions and see them truly realize what we have known for quite a while; they have grown, they have changed, and yes, they are almost ready to leave us.

And so I smile and share the good.  Tell them how proud I am of them.  How I have seen them come in not quite sure what to think or how to speak up.  Not quite sure what this 7th-grade thing really is to this…these kids that have conquered almost all that we have challenged them with.  And I remind myself to tell them that I will miss them.  Because I will; these kids with their stories, these kids with their dreams, their kids with their hopes that this year would be different and for many of them it has been.  They marched right into my heart, threw down the door, and settled right in.

So before I forget I remind myself to tell them that they matter.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that I was the lucky one.

That they made me smile.

That they made me laugh.

That they made me cry too, sometimes out of frustration, but mostly out of pride.

That they pushed me harder than I thought I could take but that I am still standing.

Before I forget I remind myself to tell them that their stories deserve to be heard, that their work matters and that they, too, have changed the world.

That they can be more than they see themselves.

That they make people better.

That there is a place in the world for them, no matter the thorns they sometimes unfurl.

I came into this year not knowing if 7th grade was for me.  Haunted by the perpetual doubt of whether I was enough.  Whether I could handle the challenge of another year of second-guessing, of feeling lonely, of not quite fitting in.  Whether I was meant to teach this age, to teach just English, to be at this school.  It turns out I could because this year I was never quite alone.  The kids were right there, believing in me, believing in us.  Perhaps not every moment, but those that mattered.  And so in the end, after watching these kids with their hearts, their hopes, their dreams, and even their fears tell their stories and own what they are, I feel it is time for me to tell mine; I am a 7-th grade teacher, for better, for worse.  It turns out I just forgot to remind myself of that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

On Assigned Summer Reading

Summer is coming closer here in the Northern hemisphere.  My own children add to our list of things to do every day;  we will play outside, we will swim, we will go to the library. Can we bake cookies?  Can we sleep in?  Can we watch movies?  Will our plants grow?  How will it be to fly on an airplane?  How many friends can I play with?  We will build a fort in our living room and read books together, we will listen to audio books as we take family trips in the car.  We will lead rich reading lives because we choose to, a privilege indeed.

Yet, as summer draws closer, now is also the time that schools start to think of their summer reading plans, or more specifically the required summer reading of the students.  The lists are being made, the books are being dusted off, and in our well-meaning intention we are thinking of all the reading this will inspire.  But will it really?

Somehow, somewhere, we seem to have forgotten that summer vacation, actually means just that; vacation.  Away from teachers, away from our rules, and yes, even away from the homework we sometimes feel like we have the right to assign.    That school is out for most.  That the children have worked all year, following our guidelines, investing in our work, and have therefore now earned the time off.  Even if we know that that time means they may not read, which, yes, I know how damaging that is.

Because the truth is; we have no right to tell children what to do on their time off.  We stretch it when we assign countless hours of homework during the school year but completely step out-of-bounds when it is over the summer.  I know it comes down to us meaning well; we want kids to read over the summer, we want them to come in knowing a shared text.  We want to prevent the summer slide.  We want to get to know them as readers, as writers, as thinkers and so we figure; what is one little book and this assignment really in the grand scheme of summer when the benefits far outweigh the potential negative consequences?  And yet, we forget that not all children have time to read over the summer?  That not all children will be able to read the book assigned?  That not all children have access to a safe place where they can work on homework during their time away from us.

So it is time to re-think this practice.  To really think of the potential damage the assigned summer reading list can do.  Sure, you will have those kids that love it, that read their books diligently and come to class prepared, eager to share and discuss further.  Those are not the kids we worry about when it comes to hating reading.  But the kids that wait until the very last-minute, the kids who fake it, who show up not having read.  Dictated summer reading means that they have just started a brand new year, one that was supposed to be a clean slate, already behind.  They have just started with yet another negative experience that only further cements how pointless reading is, how it is just something you do because the teacher tells you so.  And that matters, because those are the kids we need to somehow show that reading does matter, that being a reader matters. Those are the kids we need to get to trust us so that when we build can’t-wait-to-read lists together, there is actually a fighting chance that they may read a book.

 

So what can we do instead?  How can we potentially inspire summer reading, especially for the kids that already are so behind their reading development?

Just don’t assign it.  I know that seems blunt, and it is.  Really question the practice itself and see if the positives outweigh the negatives.  Find a different way to start the year, such as by doing a short read aloud together.  Give all kids a chance at starting in the same spot, rather than automatically setting some kids up for failure.  Ask the students themselves; would they like to?  If not, what would they like instead?  It may seem simple, but this minor thing is so often overlooked when we plan things for students to do.  For the kids it works for; assign it, for those it doesn’t, don’t.  Why waste our time assigning something we know won’t get done no matter the threats attached to it?

Start the year before.  In room 235D we have already started discussing our summer reading plans.  Not the ones I could make for the kids, but the ones that kids are making.  What will they read?  Where will they read?  How will they find books?  While some kids look at me like I am crazy, the constant repetition makes some of them see the importance of the need to read.  And for those who truly cannot wait to not read over the summer, well, we try other things.

Summer book check out.  The last few years, I have done a lot of book talks before the end of the year.  Rather than shut down our classroom library, I have left it open, encouraging kids to borrow books over the summer.  Our library is familiar, our library is a known entity, and so the books that are being introduced often seem less intimidating than the prospect of going to another library over the summer.  I merely keep a list of books borrowed and then check in with students once school starts again.  The same things goes for the school library; have it open a few days in the summer so that kids can come and book shop.

Summer book clubs.  If you are set on having students read over the summer, how about offering it up as a book club option?  Make your meetings special, read the book together and discuss.  Reach out to those you think will not read, ask the previous year’s teachers for a recommendation and then go out of your own way to show that this matters, because otherwise, why should it matter to students?

Have different accessibility.  Again, if you must assign a book, make sure you have different ways of reading it.  Can kids listen to it?  Can they partner read?  Can they meet and have it read aloud?  Yes, this means work, but it is only fair that if we ask students to work over the summer, then we should too.

Create choice lists.  Why one book?  Why the need for certain classics?  Why not create themed sets such as pairing classics with contemporary books?  Some kids may read the classic, others may read the newer book – think of the discussion that can ensue from NOT having read the very same book.

In the end, our assigned summer reading is really more for the teacher’s sake than the students.  It offers us a place to start, we are already ahead, well into the curriculum on that first day of school, and yet, it offers little in return to the student.  Why not focus our energy on creating amazing reading experiences while we have the students?  Why not tell them that in our classroom they are expected to work hard, to use their time well, to be invested, so that when they leave they can use their time whichever they want.  Why not create reading experiences that actually entices further reading, rather than further dictation of what kids are expected to read?  Perhaps now would be a good time to examine our summer reading practices before the damage is potentially done.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.