Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, book recommendations, Books, Reading Strategies

Summer Series of Saves: free-range reading

Buy this book, please.

What do the middle years of teaching look like, because I am in the thick of it now? Do they come with a mix, much like the middle of a marriage or middle of life, where we know just enough to feel competent, still open to new ideas, and enough doubt to gnaw at our knowledge?

Last week my new district offered two full days of new hire training. The training sessions offered overviews of their pillars, including a brief introduction to the IT department, ELL, ELA, and their prescriptive reading program, IRLA, or Independent Reading Level Assessment developed by the American Reading Company.  I am looking forward to helping students become stronger readers with this program, and will sort out some confusion as I move through it with students. Kelly Gallagher’s Readacide was recommended during this session, and immediately I thought of how Gallagher might push back on the notion his work would be used in a prescribed context.

I know one of my new colleagues levels her classroom library, too, and it was suggested by a leader that I might want to do the same, and I thought about it, and this is where that muddy middle-years teacher speaks up: no, I don’t think so. But what would be the harm?

Fountas and Pinnell were my gurus when I began teaching, as Nancie Atwood (especially The Reading Zone) and Kylene Beers and Bob Probst have shaped my reading instruction tremendously.

But one thing I don’t want to do is create a culture where students only choose books “at their level.” What does that even really mean?!

In an article by Kiera Parrot, Thinking Outside the Bin: Why labeling books by reading level disempowers young readers, she quotes the amazing Pernille Ripp:

Research says that students should spend most of their time in ‘just right’ or ‘at their level’ books, but that research does not say to limit students and what they would like to read,” says Pernille Ripp, creator of the Global Read Aloud and author of Passionate Learners: How to Engage and Empower Your Students (Routledge, 2015).

And my other reading hero, Donalyn Miller:

Donalyn Miller, author of Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits (Jossey-Bass, 2013), has called leveling “educational malpractice.” Schools have gone too far, she believes. “There is a lack of fundamental understanding by many educators about the limitations of leveling systems and their role in children’s reading development,” she says. “Matching children with books solely by reading level removes the teacher’s responsibility for knowing much about children’s literature or teaching children meaningful strategies for self-selecting books beyond level.”

When I’m in my book club, no one ever, not once, asks me what my reading level is.

In a 2012 article for Reading.org, “Guided Reading: the Romance and the Reality”, Fountas and Pinnell cautioned that they “never recommended that the school library or classroom libraries be leveled or that levels be reported to parents.” Using leveled texts in classrooms following the “A to Z” matrix, Lexile, or other systems, however, seems to contradict this advice, as educators report that more schools are leveling, with some districts mandating it. Teachers often discuss individual reading levels with their students, and some let students know one another levels.

I am coming to the point, promise.

Last night, in a short time, I read Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. It is far below my “reading level” and I suspect many of my middle school students’, too. The book is illustrated, and on a text complexity chart would not rank as very complex.

But that is incredibly deceptive.

Wishtree is what I wish The Giving Tree was–a beautiful story about friendship, family, longevity, and bravery. And if someone told me it was “too low” for me to read I would be indeed, disempowered. I don’t want to put a number on my personal classroom library books: I want the texts to draw students in and have them count on their own intuition, thin-slicing, and desire to read a book. If it’s too challenging (Black Diamond slope, as Lucy Calkins would say) then there is no shame in putting it down for the time being and moving on. The reading instructional time is devoted to creating readers with a rich reading life: explicit skills and strategies, with the desire to find things and curiosity that speaks to their lives.

So: I will keep asking — please contribute to my classroom library of mirrors and windows for students. A reading life isn’t built on levels alone, but the view when we can see all around us.

https://www.donorschoose.org/project/mrs-loves-projectlit-challenge/3400753/?utm_source=dc&utm_medium=directlink&utm_campaign=teacherhub&utm_term=teacher_281757&rf=directlink-dc-2018-08-teacherhub-teacher_281757&challengeid=98502

 

Posted in Being a better teacher

You know nothing, Mrs. Love.

Does anyone want to become a judge because they know how to write a claim, evidence and reasoning paragraph?

Has anyone played scales on a clarinet and decided music was their life’s calling?

Did you ever fall in love with someone because of their SAT scores?

No?

Me neither.

In fact, I’m sensing legions of dissatisfied English/Language Arts professionals who bought into the dream of teaching the worth and beauty of communication rising up– an undercurrent of questioning and pushback to forces that represent the opposite of love of language. I’m pretty sure no one became an English/Humanities teacher because they wrote cursive well. They became a teller of stories.

In our data-driven world, we are forced to look at tiny points, a sieve of information that never shows the whole sky.

This doesn’t mean all data needs to be destroyed, any more than I am suggesting we sit around the just “feel the stories” — ew, no.

Look at Pernille Ripp’s work: she balances the formula with the big ideas so beautifully. Her project, Planting A Seed: Our Refugee Project should be our model. Look even closer: students are doing the highest level of Project Based Learning with self-assessment (annotating the way that makes sense to them?! REVOLUTIONARY. Sorry – sarcasm crept in. I’ve been showing students authentic annotations for years, and when true scholars use them, and for what purposes.)

Read John Spencer’s ideas about design thinking. Okay. I’ll wait.

I’ve spent going on eleven years trying to keep ahead of the curve, be innovative, and growth-minded. It is a bit galling to have old-fashioned thinking creep in like it’s something new. It’s not. We’ve solved many notions, and yet many ideas still keep being trotted out. We need to bury some ideas once and for all:

We need to bury some ideas once and for all:

Please:

Don’t display data with students’ names on it.

Don’t assume kids of poverty are somehow helpless or disengaged. by nature. And never, ever assume their parents don’t love them.

Don’t start the year out without providing some foundational love of reading and writing lessons. The skills will come. Skills without purpose are meaningless and thin.

Now, DO:

Go back to the top of this post and look at the work of StoryCorp.

Tell your story.

I want to hear it.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Notice & Note, The Book Whisperer

8 Days a Week

"Time Hopping"
“Time Hopping”

Let’s pretend we live in a world where no students are ever tardy, there are no altered schedules (no joke: last year there were no fewer* than eight to ten different schedules depending on whether or not it was a morning assembly, afternoon, late start, etc.) The class period is 50 minutes long, after a four-minute passing period, where all students have hydrated, taken care of bathroom necessities, and enter the classroom, crossing the threshold to a new adventure. That’s the dream. The reality is students, and teachers, are…humans. The school day feels less like a nurtured, creative maze and more like a gauntlet. The big question on the Notice & Note site is a pragmatic and all-too-real scenario: just how do we teachers use our time with students to maximize learning, growth, and engagement? Perhaps this is the only pedagogical question worth asking.

Last year I had the pleasure of having block classes: I taught Humanities, and at that my 75 minutes was squeezed. Whereas a science or a math teacher has the science and math standards, which are abundant and demanding, ELA/SS has a complex web of standards, so ‘two content areas in one.’  I loved it, though, and knew when I let go of that teaching assignment to return to 8th grade, that was a teaching luxury that proves to be difficult to relinquish. But I did it for years, and can figure out how to refine it and make it work again.

If a student’s day is their personal journey of the hero, then the first step is to get them to cross that threshold. I try to create and embed routines, as well as design and decorate my classroom so it feels ‘other worldly.’ And like the flight attendant speech we’ve all learned to ignore after years of travel, I don’t hesitate to remind and refresh students about those routines.

When planning the scope/sequence of the year, I go big picture/thematic to monthly, to weekly, to daily. For years, I tried this:

Metacognition Monday: focus on reading through a lens, discuss fix-up strategies, usually a passage intended for Talk Tuesdays.

Talk Tuesdays: just like it says — small group discussions, possibly Socratic Seminars, etc.

Write It Right Wednesdays: focus on a writing skill, genre, concepts –mini lessons. I try to write every single class period.

Thematic Thursdays: this one is less constrained — perhaps a concept discussion, literary elements, big question/burning question concepts, read aloud, connect with film for Film Friday, other texts that connect, media pairings, etc.

Film Fridays (Friday Fives are also due on Friday –five vocabulary words) Film Fridays are not guaranteed, but usually a short film from Vimeo, StoryCorp, TedTalk, etc. I have a list of tens of short films and am shark-like in my never sleeping hunt for great little shorts. For these films, often I’ll use a Levels of Questions graphic organizer or What It Says graphic organizer; sometimes, *shrug* I just let us enjoy the film.

One big change for this year is instead of a standard entry task, which isn’t time-cost beneficial, I’m switching to ten minutes of reading. How we as a class will manage and use that ten minutes for The Book Whisperer’s challenge is to be determined.

A caution: one year, someone from the district needed me to change my and my students’ routine based on her scheduling needs, and I realize I must have seemed inflexible. The thing is, though, especially for a high-impact, high-poverty school, is that many students have too much chaos in their lives, and the routines of school are safe and necessary. Never apologize if your classroom timeframe is what’s best for students. Ever. I just saw a student who’s just graduated from college, and I asked him what he remembers, and he was clear: how I made them feel supported. I was honest and supported them emotionally.

I guess the point is — and the only wobbly advice — it’s your job/life — how do you want to construct your day? How do you want to feel after every class? And before the next one? I’ve adjusted my time talking, and when I do need to impart information, make it very clear on how long I’ll talk, and keep my word. (No pun intended.) Like backwards design, consider what are the essential elements you want your students to keep and sustain their learning? The answers on how to schedule your, and their time, will become clearer. I have to pack a lot into those 50 minutes: I don’t assign homework but try to do flipped lessons that don’t depend on internet service, as many of my students don’t have access. I’m going to have to get real creative and resourceful this next year, and I’ll share this challenge with my students. The more they see that I’m thinking about them, respecting their time, and honoring their commitment to learning, the more it fosters engagement.

Like ‘backward design,’ consider what are the essential elements you want your students to keep and sustain their learning? The answers on how to schedule your, and their time, will become clearer. I have to pack a lot into those 50 minutes: I don’t assign homework but try to do flipped lessons that don’t depend on internet service, as many of my students don’t have access. I’m going to have to get real creative and resourceful this next year, and I’ll share this challenge with my students. The more they see that I’m thinking about them, respecting their time, and honoring their commitment to learning, the more it fosters engagement.

Look to Pernille Ripp for more ideas on how to manage the hardest thing of all: time.

Someone also posted Kelly Gallagher’s suggestion on how to use time: (click to enlarge)

kelly time schedule
This may not work for you or your students.

 

 

*Always trying to brush up on my grammar. And I have a nerd crush on Grammar Girl.

Some resources:

http://readingandwritingproject.org

http://www.kellygallagher.org/instructional-videos/