Posted in Technology

Let’s talk: “Digital Native”

The term, “digital native” has always bothered me. It was coined by a man named Marc Prensky, and its original intent:

Prensky defines digital natives as those born into an innate “new culture” while the digital immigrants are old-world settlers, who have lived in the analogue age and immigrated to the digital world.

Okay — hold up.

First: Native.

Second: Immigrant?

His word choices always bugged the **** out of me. And I am not qualified to respond to his intent, but the impact his work had on two important groups: teachers and students. The amount of ageism and opportunity for misunderstanding and poor instructional practices grew from his work. It became assumed that teachers did not embrace technology unless they were of a ‘certain age’ and that students could run circles around them, that they didn’t need to be shown how to use technology tools. They were born with them in their hands. When I told my husband about this term, his first reaction was to call it garbage, and if anything he and I were both digital “pioneers,” which I also cringe over.

Let’s start by dismantling the ‘manifest destiny’ language. There are no natives, pioneers, or immigrants.

And to find other voices who feel as I do, all I had to do was search for issues with digital native term. Lauren Parren wrote this back in 2015, “The Digital Native Problem.” She says what I have experienced first-hand with students: the term assumes too much. It makes teachers believe that if a student can navigate apps like Snapchat they can switch to more “business” software and somehow instinctively understand how to send an email. There is no discussion about how companies spend millions to create UX and UI so that users do not have to navigate language or syntax to communicate something.

Let’s also talk about the lack of technology and internet for many US children and families

The Loss Of Public Goods To Big Tech

“The world’s largest tech companies have become propagators of deadly information, while they simultaneously profit from it.”

And since there are 70 days for my building before the first day of school, and even states like Arizona and Texas are finally getting the message about COVID19, there is a strong chance we will not be returning to the buildings this next school year.

Read Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus by Harley Litzelman:

If you were horrified by the dystopian, disease-ridden classrooms I described in my previous piece, if you shutter at the thought of the viruses your children will bring home to you, if you cannot study while you fear that your classmates might kill you, I ask: What are you willing to do about it?

This post is mushrooming: started with a small annoyance over language. The author has readdressed the concerns and now calls it ‘digital wisdom.’ Good for him. But there are way bigger issues going on.

But here we are. And I can only share my experience with students. It may not be yours.

My students often don’t have internet at home. They have to struggle and hustle to get the hardware and the internet. Often, English is not their first language. Sometimes their early childhood experiences are with ‘input’ of media, and not time to produce creative works. They are savvy with this input and consumption. The act of using technology as tools to create is unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable, and having created curriculum and taught CTE is sometimes fraught with shame that they don’t know something that someone else does in the classroom. They don’t want to ask. I worked very hard to structure the classroom community to be one of support–I took pictures of the staff displaying tech tools they rocked, and where they needed help– this helped minimize and diffuse the angst associated with students who were told they were “digital natives” and assumed to be “good” at technology. And while I enjoyed students telling me, often, that I was ‘better’ at technology than they were, or how I supported colleagues in their 20s and 30s who were self-reported ‘hated technology’ it wasn’t about my skill or strategy set in knowing how to use the tools.

Because that’s ultimately all they are. Tools. There is no shame that should be associated with learning how to use a tool to create something.

If we have to use platitudes and catch phrases, I don’t have a replacement suggestion. “Digital Wisdom” might be a little too hokey for me. Maybe I’m struggling with my own history with technology: to go from wax and typesetting to word processing tools in a span of a few years, and then how much we have now–should we have a week long class in tech history from 1990 to now?

Here’s what we do know: if we don’t get ourselves together and fortified to ensure everyone has reliable, publicly funded access to internet, hardware and software that works, and foundational instruction in digital citizenship, purpose and basics it’s going to be more difficult to connect, teach and learn. I can’t be the only one who’s afraid of losing students, losing that connection.

Posted in Teaching During the Pandemic, Technology

#edtech for parents

Please don’t be offended. If this isn’t your child, or you, or your child’s teacher, great! There may be some useful tips in here, maybe. I don’t know yet, and I’m in kind of a mood. A mood without filters.

Background: I have been teaching for 15 years. I have been using technology since the late 80s. When I met my husband to be, he had an Apple sticker on his truck. *Swoon* I love technology, and have written about it many times on this blog.

“Back in my day” when report cards were mailed out once a semester I kept track on paper what my grades were, or asked the teacher, and if I failed something quickly worked to make it up or redo it, and scrambled before the report grades got into my parents’ hands. Now parents can check an online grading system and get notifications if an assignment is missing, late, or if grades drop below a threshold.

And with 1:1 environments and now distance learning, many parents are witnessing what students have been experiencing for years now. Between Remind, Canvas, Google Classroom, medium agnosticisms, Microsoft, Peardeck, Nearpod, etc., the amount of platforms, programs, pings, pongs, and persistent pokes of online and digital assignments.

It’s stress inducing, to be sure.

  1. Many teachers and districts to not coordinate communication efforts to parents. From this place, move on. Do not allow their lack of coordination affect your peace.
  2. Your child will lie to you.
    Maybe not intentionally. Maybe so. If they are under the age of 25 their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed and they don’t want to get into trouble. That is their only focus now. They will tell you they did their work, their homework, their assignment, they don’t have any work, they’re caught up, they did the reading, the practice, took the test, whatever. And maybe they did. But the default answer is “I did it.” And it is not true.
  3. Everyone works better writing things down. Every. One. You’re not extraordinary, or special. Even if you set reminders on your phone and don’t hand write things, you’re still “writing it down.” Get your kid a planner and some cool pens. They need to write by hand anyway. Really.
  4. Read up on the adolescent brain.
  5. Set one time a week to check assignments. Trust with verification.
  6. Limit the amount of help, though. Productive struggle is great for brain growth.
  7. This is your child’s job. But they are not little Microsoft executives. They are not “digital natives.” Many of their teachers will smirk, act superior, smug, and generally awful about your child’s ability to turn in or not work assigned to them. Ignore it. Seriously. Ignore it. Just help your child make their list, use the Pomodoro method, and learn how to write an email to their teachers.

Two of the main “LMS” (learning management systems) are Canvas and Google Classrooms. Each have methods for students to upload assignments. I strongly recommend you look at tutorials on how to do this:

Canvas for parents:

Posted in Argumentative Reading and Writing, Teacher Troubles

Grow up.

This was a post from TeenVogue on Facebook this morning.

Now: TeenVogue is amazing. Its editorial and content have been one of the few media sanctuaries for many of us, young and old, in these troubled times. The magazine tackles politics, social justice, and yes, fashion issues. Its holistic approach to youth and news is refreshing.

But dang, kids, really? Ageism? 

My 8th-grade students often comment on how fast I type and text. I learned the QWERTY method when I was a sophomore, in a room full of electric typewriters, staring at an overhead projector screen with our typing tasks for one full semester. Since keyboards and keyboard layouts remain in this configuration, I can still type pretty dang fast. My highest typing speed is around 75/80/WPM. They also marvel at how I can type and not look at the keyboard. I confess I do need to look at the cell phone’s “keyboard” when I text, but I manage just fine.

My mother, in her 70s, has worked for technology companies from the beginning. My father, in hospital equipment sales. My husband is a self-taught programmer, UX designer, and technological pioneer: in fact, he and I both bristle at the term “digital natives” and want to bring in more use of ‘digital pioneers.’

We’ve both noticed the subtle but constant ageism when it comes to technology: ultimately these fixed mindsets and assumptions about “old people” and what they don’t know about technology becomes boring, and take away from creative pursuits. For the commenter who said “I literally had to show my mom where the right click button was” all you showed your mom was contempt, and now if she’d like to try some new things she’ll think twice. Glad she didn’t say that to you when you were learning how to ride a bike or brush your teeth. “I literally had to show her where to put the toothpaste!”


Look, I’m a huge defender of younger generations. I caution myself toward falling prey to Juvenoia,  and try to take risks with new ideas and learning. I don’t want to be afraid to ask students to help me with Snapchat, (which I have, and they’ve created a monster, and now I use it in creative lessons), nor do I want them to be afraid to ask me how to type a five-page short story formatted for publication.

I’m working on the digital curriculum for next year, and it’s kind of a big deal. We all can learn from one another: ultimately, we’re trying to make connections and communicate. Rock, paper, scissors or keyboards, we’re all doing the best we can.




Posted in Being a better teacher, Big Questions, book recommendations, New News

Stolen time…

As it turns out, I can only do ten things well, not eleven. Guess I don’t go to eleven. Oh well.

Anyway – I haven’t been posting on this blog frequently for two simple reasons: first, haven’t wanted to use any of the time in my contractual day with personal technological communications and missives, and second, by the time I get home I want to goof-off. You know, be a responsible wife, mom, writer, and part-time gamer. Sure there are loads of clean laundry in there, too, but have been suspicious about certain odors.

But the thing is, I started this blog as part of my integrated technology instruction for 2st Century Learners. There’s a mouthful. My intent was to use my technological prowess to provide my students a platform for their voices, too, and for the most part, have succeeded. Took a mini-break last year, more like break-down, but am trying to reconnect to these restless digital natives in new and innovative ways.

And it’s not easy.

And I’m even questioning its necessity.

So, a fabulous librarian offered to come to my school and talk to our students, in our classrooms, about new books, and what is being offered at the library.

You should know this: she shared with me that Neil Gaiman hugged her once. He. Hugged. Her. Among a group of well-heeled Gaiman Groupies, she was fresh from working in her garden, a little grimy, and he hugged HER. I immediately jumped up and hugged her, of course!! Forget you, Kevin Bacon. Two degrees of hugging Neil Gaiman works for me. When I shared this with my students, they ran up and hugged ME! It was hilarious! So, Neil, if you felt a little happier yesterday, there was adolescent worship coming your way in the universe.

You’re welcome.

Her personal blog is:

I think between the two of us, we got a few new converts to reading. I conspired with my students that over the break (which officially begins tomorrow…thank you loving heaven above, because I am wiped out….), if they needed to “escape” for a bit and were sick of playing Call of Duty, they should go to the library. I gave them four creative project choices from How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.

My “everyone can be creative” belief may be greatly challenged by the results of my open-ended experiment. What the heck — it is extra credit, after all. There is no standard for “creativity.” Pity–but perhaps not having it tested on a national assessment is the best thing that ever happened to creativity.

Well, before the New Year, where am I now? Where are my young charges? Four months until the state tests of reading and writing for 7th grade, our school needs to meet AYP or something, and none of us know what, will happen. I have been placed in the care and feeding of 7th grade students because so much is riding on their scores, and I am feeling equally unbalanced in my wavering “YES I CAN DO THIS!” and “OH NO!!!!”

But I hugged Neil Gaiman.

Kind of.

Posted in book recommendations, changing the world, Media and Mischief, New News, Reading, Technology

You really DO like to read, don't you?

Teenager reading a book

From The Guardian,

“Dawn of the Digital Natives”

The NEA makes a convincing case that young people are reading less, but it completely excludes reading done on computers

We’ve been hearing about the decline of reading for so long now that it’s amazing a contemporary teenager can even recognise a book, much less read one. The US (where I am) seems to be cycling through yet another “Johnny can’t read” mini-panic, sparked by the release of a National Endowment for the Arts study, called To Read Or Not To Read, which chronicles in exhaustive statistical detail the waning of literary culture and its dire consequences for society. Newspapers dutifully editorialised about America’s literacy crisis.

It’s the sort of “our kids in peril” story – right up there with threats of MySpace predators – that plays well as a three-minute television newsbite or a three-paragraph op-ed piece. But if you actually read the report, what you find are some startling omissions – omissions that ultimately lead to a heavily distorted view of the Google generation and its prospects.

You need to read it

The NEA makes a convincing case that both kids and adults are reading fewer books. “Non-required” reading – ie, picking up a book for the fun of it – is down 7% since 1992 for all adults, and 12% for 18-24 year olds.

The subtitle of the NEA report – A Question Of National Consequence – would lead you believe this dramatic drop must have had done significant damage to our reading proficiencies as a society. And indeed, NEA chair Dana Gioia states boldly in his introduction: “The story the data tell is simple, consistent and alarming.” But then the data turns out to be complex, inconsistent and not really that alarming at all. As Gioia puts it, in the very next sentence: “Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years.”

What was that again? There’s measurable progress in two of the three age groups reviewed? Actually, it’s more than just measurable: if you look at the charts, the single biggest change – either positive or negative – is the spike upwards in reading abilities among nine-year-olds, which jumped seven points from 1999.

But at least there must be an “alarming” drop in reading skills among those 17-year-olds to justify this big report. And there it is: the teenagers are down five points from 1988. But wait, this is all on a scale of 0-500. If you scored it on a standard 100-point exam scale, it’s the equivalent of dropping a single point. Not exactly cause for national alarm.

And we’re comparing two different generations. Today’s teenagers are the nine-year-olds who didn’t test all that well back in 1999 – presumably because they didn’t develop a love of reading that would sustain them through the competing attractions of being a teenager in the digital age. But there’s no reason to suspect that the current crop of nine-year-olds won’t be much better at sustaining their interest in reading given their current performance.

Comparable non-events appear when you look at prose literacy levels in the adult population: in 1992, 43% of Americans read at an intermediate level; by 2003 the number was slightly higher at 44%. “Proficient” readers dropped slightly, from 15% to 13%. In other words, the distribution is basically unchanged – despite the vast influx of non-native English speakers into the US population during this period.

All of which raises an interesting question: if people are reading less, why haven’t scores dropped more dramatically? The answer gets to the most significant sleight of hand of the NEA study: its studies are heavily biased towards words on a printed page.

Odds are that you are reading these words on a computer monitor. Are you not exercising the same cognitive muscles because these words are made out of pixels and not little splotches of ink? According to the NEA you’re not, because in almost every study it cites, screen-based reading is excluded from the data. This is a preposterous omission, because of course the single most dramatic change in media habits over the past decade is the huge spike in internet activity.

Yes, we are reading in smaller bites on the screen, often switching back and forth between applications as we do it. A recent study by the British Library of onscreen research activities found that “new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ … ”

And of course we are writing more, and writing in public for strangers: novel readers may have declined by 10%, but the number of bloggers has gone from zero to 25 million. Simply excising screen-based reading from the study altogether is like doing a literacy survey circa 1500 and only counting the amount of time people spent reading scrolls.

All Gioia has to say about the dark matter of electronic reading is this: “Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading.”

Technological literacy

The only reason the intellectual benefits are not measurable is that they haven’t been measured yet. There have been almost no studies that have looked at the potential positive impact of electronic media. Certainly there is every reason to believe that technological literacy correlates strongly with professional success in the information age.

I challenge the NEA to track the economic status of obsessive novel readers and obsessive computer programmers over the next 10 years. Which group will have more professional success in this climate? Which group is more likely to found the next Google or Facebook? Which group is more likely to go from college into a job paying $80,000 (£40,600)?

But the unmeasured skills of the “digital natives” are not just about technological proficiency. One of the few groups that has looked at these issues is the Pew Research Centre, which found in a 2004 study of politics and media use: “Relying on the internet as a source of campaign information is strongly correlated with knowledge about the candidates and the campaign. This is more the case than for other types of media, even accounting for the fact that internet users generally are better educated and more interested politically. And among young people under 30, use of the internet to learn about the campaign has a greater impact on knowledge than does level of education.”

In a piece for the New Yorker, Caleb Crain manages to write several thousand words about the fate of reading in the modern age with only a few passing references to the computer screen. Unlike the NEA, he at least acknowledges the potential benefits in one brief paragraph: “The internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teenagers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online.”

Screen shift

The problem with both arguments is that they’re fundamentally rehashing the technological opposition of the television age, the kind of opposition that McLuhan wrote about so powerfully back in the 1960s: word versus image, text versus screen. But that long-term decline towards a pure society of image has been reversed by the rise of digital media. What separates the Google generation from postwar generations is the shift from largely image-based passive media to largely text-based interactive media.

We don’t know exactly how that will play out in the long run, but thus far, when you look at the demographic patterns of the Google generation, there is not only no cause for alarm: in fact, there’s genuine cause for celebration. The twentysomethings in the US – the ones who spent their childhood years engaged with computers and not zoning out in front of the TV – are the least violent, the most politically engaged and the most entrepreneurial since the dawn of the television era.

But if you listen to the NEA, we are perched on the edge of a general meltdown: “The general decline in reading is not merely a cultural issue, though it has enormous consequences for literature and the other arts. It is a serious national problem.” A serious national problem with no apparent data to support it. Perhaps the scholars at the NEA should put down their novels and take some statistics classes?

· Steven Johnson is the author of Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter and The Ghost Map, available from

· This article was amended on Thursday February 14 2008. The chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts is Dana Gioia, not Giola as we had it in the article above. This has been corrected.


Posted in ELL, Reading, Reading Strategies

Read All About It

TL:DR; how to help students read and access content areas.

Today, Saturday, April 24, I am a cartographer of curriculum mapping, trying something new, useful, and just a little bit sad, too. I love books and teaching ELA, and while I will still teach reading and writing, listening and speaking, my new role as the EL teacher in an alternative high school shifted my instructional direction.

Basically, I’m tired of students not earning their credits in other content areas. And since I can’t change content, I can change what I do and provide for students, and the space and intentional instruction.

We can many conversations about behind, learning loss, (!) grade level, Lexiles, etc., and the encompassing educational philosophical debates, but my students, right now, sitting in my classroom, are not earning credits, so I’m going to research this and modify through a diagnostician’s perspective.


The English Learner students must meet a protocol to join our building. Currently, the roster includes native Spanish and Marshallese students. The reasons for this are justified, however, the protocols do not guarantee students will come to the building with grade-level skills and strategies. It is an alternative high school whose primary mission is to help student retrieve credits expeditiously. We are on a quarter system: each quarter works like a full semester at the comprehensive high schools. If one could earn .5 credit per class in a semester, they earn .5 in a quarter. Because the instruction and content is truncated, which can be stressful and nearly impossible for some areas such as math and science, students must come to our building with a Level 3 proficiency in one of the EL domains:

But as most of us know, the ‘reading wars’* have been a post mortem blame battle, and I’m still sitting with students who struggle with content area texts. Taking an asset-based approach, my students love to talk, love their families, and many of them work, have started their families, and want to graduate from high school. I take a no-shame approach: we work on vocabulary, text features, etc. And one obstacle for me this past year is being allowed to sit virtually side by side with them in their other classes, like the para-educators do. I’m not going to waste much more time trying to figure out if it’s a trust issue that I can solve, because I can’t. It’s not my problem: what is my problem is helping students access the material in front of them.

My plan:


MondayTuesday – 4 classes +HomeroomWednesday 4 classes +HomeroomThursday 4 classes +HomeroomFriday 4 classes +Homeroom
Check-in day
30 minute online classes
Online students:
Those who chose to be online come to Google Meet classes
Hybrid students: come to the building for instructionOnline students:
Those who chose to be online come to Google Meet classes
Hybrid students: come to the building for instruction
Those who chose Hybrid work asynchronously Those who chose online work asynchronouslyThose who chose Hybrid work asynchronouslyThose who chose online work asynchronously
Fourth Quarter Schedule


Each class period, online or in person, the students will:

  1. Check Skyward for current grade and missing work
  2. Look at their schedule and focus on one class reading assignment:
    • Science
    • History or Civics
    • World Geography
    • Electives
    • PE
    • Math
  3. They commit to getting one thing down during ELA class and must write this intention in their notebook (composition notebook or digital).
  4. Use class time to do a first read of their assignments. The classes are mostly based on reading or viewing content, and worksheets based on reading packets.

Daily Check-In:

Reading Across Content Areas:

Five Words I Heard Vocabulary:

When they come across words in other content areas, they’ll write them on the wall, or a co-constructed anchor chart/word wall. These are the words they’ll also use in their Friday Five vocabulary presentations.

Building contextual knowledge:

My students will be tested this spring. Though the SBA has been waived again this year, the ELPA21 has not. That test doesn’t concern me, but passing their other classes does. Now that we’re back in the building two days a week, and most of my ELA students are physically present, I can support them in their other content areas. My hope is this becomes a habit, we increase text structure, text features, contextual understanding, reading strategies and skills and then build toward assessment and engage in some enrichment activities. I will offer books and choice to read independently, and I won’t settle for just getting them through it. But for now, this is how it has to be.

Reading Wars Resources:

*When I received my teaching certificate for K-8, our professor included phonics instruction and balanced literacy. I didn’t even know there was a problem or debate until this past year.

Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Connections, Metacognition, Notice & Note, Technology

Room in your head.


fish books
A case for quiet schools…

We can’t see the stars any longer because of light pollution. But as the lady says, “The night is dark and full of terrors,” so we humans master the monsters and use all the power we can to dispel the darkness. But we don’t see things as we once did, or learn from the larger spaces and infinite wonderful universe.

And perhaps — this is just an idea — we have overlooked the other toxic detriment to learning: noise pollution.

Studies come out all the time based on things we know. But the knowledge needs to be re-studied, analyzed, and updated. Olga Khazan recently published a study in The Atlantic “How Noise Pollution Affects Learning.”

“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” Saffran said in a statement.

That’s a helpful tip for parents and teachers, but overall, the study highlights yet another cognitive obstacle facing low-income children. Not only do poor children hear fewer words than rich ones—the gap is estimated to reach 30 million words by age 3—they are more likely to live in loud environments, as McMillan and Saffran write. Their homes are more crowded, their schools are closer to highways, and they spend more time watching TV. (This phenomenon would help explain why children living in urban poverty have lower verbal working-memory scores than those in rural environments.

I would add another noise factor, too, and that is digital noise. Right now I am on overload because of the conventions, the news media, Twitter, Facebook, news outlets, sources, opinions, etc. I am obsessed with politics right now, and cannot seem to break away. Like many educators, I sense I am not alone in this compelling urgency to believe that learning and knowledge can triumph and rescue this historical moment. So I keep reading. I keep analyzing. And the curse of close reading is making my head hurt.

But this — all this — is a luxury, a privilege, of being a reader and thinker. Of growing up in a household, modest to be sure, but where quiet ruled. Where we were allowed to read as long as chores were done, and have mercy on our souls if we woke our mom up from a nap. Being alone and having space in one’s own head was a given growing up. Now I see it not as there wasn’t much else to do, but a gift.

Last year I had two semesters of Computer Skills for my elective. Though technology for publication and communication have always been the standards I’ve employed in my classrooms, this particular elective provided the chance to focus on some newer technologies not attached to content. One project was a podcast. Well, this exercise reminded me of the noise pollution in many homes. (It’s not relegated to homes in poverty, either. Some houses always have a television on, or music playing.) A diligent and creative student came to me in frustration because while she was trying to record her podcast at home she found it near impossible due to everyone else’s level of noise and interruptions. And though we have a room in our building intended for podcasting and filming, it’s been taken over with junk and other things, and proves inhospitable to recording. (I’m going to ask admin if this can be resolved next year, or at least clean out a space of our own for recording.) This is the question: how to make school/classrooms have those quiet/sacred places and times in the day?

This hearkens back to a great discussion on Notice and Note about homework. Not all students have a quiet place to read, practice, etc. I have homeless students. I have students who sleep on mattresses without sheets or blankets. I have students who have disabled siblings that require all the energy and care their parents can provide, leaving them to their own. There is not judgment here, only pragmatism. If I am aware as a teacher that some students face staggering challenges at home, isn’t it my direct purpose to provide reason and solace in the classroom? To explain and make transparent I am not asking for quiet because it makes life better for me, but a gift for them? And trust me — this is one of the most challenging things to do–getting students to be comfortable in their own heads. One student experienced such deep trauma, and was able to share with me that when it was quiet she was not in control of her thoughts just yet. Be aware of this, too, and come up with alternatives.

Middle school students, and probably high school ones, too, fight against all research and reason about multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the conversation and tell them what noise pollution damaged, and how to change habits.

Big talk coming from someone who can’t stop reading.

Okay — I’ll take the dog for a walk. Maybe I won’t even try to catch Pokemon, either.



Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices

Whisper and Shout

TL:DR –what I’m going to use from Miller’s The Book Whisperer.

Free choice. Free choice. Free choice.

I may need to take a little break from the Notice and Note Facebook group. Don’t misunderstand me–it’s a kind, forgiving, supportive, and collegial place. Teachers reaching out to one another for advice, sharing ideas and lessons; it’s wonderful and sweet.


…when they speak of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer some teachers still speak the words “accountable” and “tracking.” I wonder if they read the same book I did. Many of Miller’s ideas I’ve done on my own, and it was validating to know much of her growth and process has mirrored my own. However, I am nowhere near getting students to read 40 books in a school year, but I’ll be darned if I’m not going to try.

But a few things seemed to be misconstrued by Miller, too: namely, novel units/studies and workshops.

With a workshop structure in place, my students were more engaged in reading and writing and more enthusiastic. Instead of teaching books, I taught comprehension strategies and literary elements that students could apply to a wide range of texts. I implemented the reader’s notebook, taken straight from Fountas and Pinnell’s model, in order to manage my students’ independent reading; set up reading requirements for my students based on genre as a path to choice; and assigned book talks to replace the dreaded book report. I photocopied mountains of reading strategy worksheets, lists of reading response prompts, and workshop management forms. I bought every picture book that my workshop mentors recommended.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 374-378). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Novel units were my bread and butter; now I’m going to take myself to task. Perhaps those novel units I crafted so beautifully, with artisan mastery, were for my own occupational therapy. We teachers do that sometimes, you know– give ourselves a goal in order to gain new understanding. To my credit and my mentor’s guidance. novel units were not based on single-title studies, but multiple books at various reading levels, interests, etc., based on enduring understandings and essential questions.

And as I read this passage about ‘mountains of reading response prompts,’ on Notice and Note someone shared a .pdf of this exact thing.

Where is the disconnect?

How do we go through teaching texts and determine what will be valuable in our practice, and what to disregard?

One thing I plan on doing is changing the entry task:

Take a look at a common classroom warm-up lesson: students are asked to look for grammatical and punctuation errors in a scripted sentence. Correcting the sentence may take five minutes. Discussing their corrections with students and providing feedback might take another ten minutes. Considering how little of this direct grammar instruction actually transfers to students’ writing (Alsup & Bush, 2003; Thomas & Tchudi, 1999; and Weaver, 1996), these fifteen minutes would be better spent reading, an activity that has been shown to improve students’ writing and grammar (Elley, 1991, cited in Krashen, 2004). With instructional time at a premium in every classroom, we cannot afford to waste any of it. Research has confirmed that independent reading is the better use of our time. Students in my class enter my classroom each day, get out their books, and start reading. Not only are students quiet and working (the implicit goal of all warm-up activities), but they are engaged in a productive endeavor that improves their reading performance. The amount of time I save by not having to plan and grade ineffective warm-up drills is icing on the cake. My intention is not to disparage the activities that you may use as class openers; some of them may have instructional value, but I challenge you to find anything that has more impact on reading achievement than independent reading. We teachers have more than enough anecdotal evidence that the students who read the most are the best spellers, writers, and thinkers. No exercise gives more instructional bang for the buck than reading. The added bonus for us teachers? I have found that independent reading is also among the easiest instructional practices to plan, model, and implement.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 816-829). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The other thing is share reader’s notebook. I buy each of them a composition notebook, and will continue to model its use:

• Create your own reader’s notebook: At the start of each year, when my students are trimming and gluing their own reader’s notebooks, I make a new one for myself. I record all of the books I have read or abandoned for an entire year in one notebook, just like I ask my students to do. Each notebook serves as a record of what I have read over the years, and I use my reading lists to order books for the class library or make recommendations to my students and friends. Reflect on what you are reading: I am not suggesting that you write summaries of every book you read or your personal responses to them, but you can, if you would like to. Think about what you are reading, and observe what you like about the book or what you don’t like about it. What makes it challenging or fun to read? What sticks with you about the book when you are done?

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 1716-1722). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Rethinking the whole-class novel. I am making no apologies for trying to jigsaw The Hobbit. But we currently have many single-title books, and now I have to consider how to use the titles in a meanginful way, or if at all.

• Laboring over a novel reduces comprehension. Breaking books into chapter-sized bites makes it harder for students to fall into a story. Few readers outside of school engage in such a piecemeal manner of reading. • Not enough time is spent reading. Many novel units are stuffed with what Lucy Calkins calls “literature-based arts and crafts,” extensions and fun activities that are meant to engage students but suck up time in which students could be reading or writing. • Whole-class novels ignore students’ interest in what they like to read. Reading becomes an exercise in what the teacher expects you to get out of the book they chose for you, a surefire way to kill internal motivation to read. • Whole-class novels devalue prior reading experience. What about the students who have already read the book? Admittedly, this may be a small number of readers, but I have sixth graders who have already read To Kill a Mockingbird and The Outsiders— two books that I know are taught in upper grades. Are they going to be expected to read them again? Advanced readers deserve the opportunity to continue their growth as readers, too. Yes, students benefit from the deep analysis of literature that a thorough look at one book provides, but there needs to be a balance between picking a book apart to examine its insides and experiencing the totality of what a book offers. There are other paths to teaching critical analysis and reading skills than belaboring one book for weeks. Let’s not lose sight of our greater goal: inspiring students to read over the long haul. Alternative: Rethinking the Whole-Class Novel My first suggestion on the topic of whole-class novels would be to evaluate whether you are truly required to read certain texts with your students or whether this is just a tradition. When your department has invested budget money and time in a closetful of whole-class novel sets, it is hard to break away from the entrenched attitude that reading the same book across the grade level is the best instruction for students.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 1804-1822). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Speaking to that, I’ll continue my use of short stories, etc. to teach.

Use short stories, excerpts, or poems to teach literary elements or reading skills, and ask students to apply their understanding to their independent books. Using an instructional sequence of modeling, shared practice, and independent practice, what I model and practice with students always ends with application of a skill or evaluation of a concept, using their self-selected books.

Miller, Donalyn (2010-01-12). The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Kindle Locations 1876-1879). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Now — if you still need a way to have students show and share their books, Miller offers plenty of alternatives to book reports or talks. I’ve done these myself, and heartened by her claims will refine my Reading Road Trip student blog for next year. The students are still too interested in “how many points is this worth?” That’s a conversation for another time.

One last thing: I am in a grown-up book club. No one read my book recommendation, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed by Jon Ronson. One woman did end up reading my other recommendation, The Psychopath Test, but this crowd is just not into the same things I am. It’s getting kind of rough. They love romances and sagas, like The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I jokingly said our book club could be renamed to the Not Read Book Club. They tend to like bestsellers, self-helpy kind of books. But I do like the company, and we always have good talks. Finding out why people don’t read a book is sometimes more revealing than why they do.

P.S. If you’re looking for thematic books for units of study, resources abound. For example, if you want students to read about Scientists’ Struggles, click here for titles.


Posted in Being a better teacher

Broken slipper.

Dang, home in my slippers and warm fire.
Dang, home in my slippers and warm fire.

Tonight is the Technology Expo for my district. Normally it’s in April, which is why I find myself somewhat nonplussed that I am home, not at a booth with shining, imaginative and articulate students representing the best of the digital world and its powers to educational leaders from all over the world. Not even close.

Because I missed the e-mail asking for participants.

Yup. That one blew right past me. Was told it was sent in October, or around then.

Right now what I am finding ironic is that this is the first year I’m teaching in the Technology Academy portion, and I understood historically the KTA is expected to present at the Expo. Of course, in years past when I’ve brought students, I was in the “regular” part of the school. Somehow we managed to show off incredible heights of thought and critical thinking. I’m still so proud of my students who created blogs and discussed hard, burning questions like children in armies, or other worrisome issues. Last year the grace and independence of normally shy students discussing the merits of Minecraft, and sexism in games, would have amazed anyone. They were the epitome of professionalism.

Well, I missed the boat on that one. There is a little thorn in my heart though, because I wish the person organizing it would have noticed I hadn’t responded, and singled me out and asked me personally. But she didn’t. That’s not her job. That’s just me feeling like a dork, and that what my students did didn’t really matter. Consider that ‘special snowflake on hot griddle’ moment.

Some of my students asked me if we were going to be there this year, and I apologized that I missed the deadline for signing up. Maybe someone looks at me like a flake, a loser, or dingbat. Well, perhaps. (But I don’t like to talk badly about people I like, and overall I do like myself.) This speaks more to the fact I’m not on a team this year that meets regularly or talks about these events, and I miss that, very much. There are all kinds of great ways to team, to talk, to plan and share ideas. I know that’s the one area in my life that makes my professional life lack luster and sparkle.

Ultimately, I let my students down this year, but as one young lady said, shrugging kindly, ‘there’s always next year.’

There sure is, my dear.

There sure is.