SOL: Expectations With Choice

Writing about reading has been a difficult sell for some students and adults.

I just want to read, stop bugging me to write, is a complaint I’ve heard from both populations.
But, I know, from my experience, writing about reading, always lifts the level of my thinking.

Do I always do write about reading? No. If I want to read something deeply or I am reading with others, yes. I make purposeful choices. I want my students to do the same. Always dogmatically writing about reading, no. When they are reading deeply and with partners, yes.

Sunday, I read my students’ Reader’s Notebooks. They are theirs. I don’t grade them. I check in on them for specific work. Now that testing is over, I wanted to get a sense of where they were in their thinking.

Monday, after book shopping, I called them to the carpet and said, “I set a lot of time aside this weekend to read your notebooks. I was so excited to see what was going on in your reading lives. Sadly, I finished in no time. There wasn’t much to look at.”

They looked at me.

I could of, maybe should have asked them why. But I didn’t.

Instead, I asked them to tell me all the ways they could write about reading. They said I recorded:

Character webs, sketching, know/wonder thinking (wonderful shorthand for Vicki Vinton/Dorothy Barnhouse’s strategy in What Readers Really Do) emotional timelines, tracking the plot, retelling, boxes and bullets, summary, found poetry.

I looked at them.

They looked at their feet.

If they knew so much, why didn’t they write? I knew they were reading. Maybe they were making purposeful choices, perhaps not.

I could of, maybe should have asked them why. But I didn’t.

Instead, I handed them their Reader’s Notebooks and said. “We have four weeks left. Let’s get serious.”

Expectations were set: In thirty minutes, read and write about reading.

“Can we choose any way to write about reading?” K asked.

“I expect you to,” I said. “Use what works, for you and the book.”

“Can you leave that list up?” M asked.

“Of course.”

“Yesss!” And he took off.

Four students refused to leave the carpet. All looked concerned. Finally, one asked. “Can I get a new notebook?” Then the rest chimed in with me too.

Ok, that was an easy fix.  Off they went, new notebooks in hand, thrilled with the opportunity for a do-over.

I moved from reader to reader checking in, scattering stacks of post-its, reminding them of how they might be useful.

I walked by A’s desk; he looked up at me sheepishly. “I don’t write about reading,” was his response to how’s it going.  Shame made his shoulders hunch over. I could see what he was thinking: Just when I thought I could happily enjoy reading, she caught me.

“I know,” I said. ” I’ll help. You’re a great reader; you just have to show a teeny bit of your thinking on the page.”

He sucked in deeply and looked at me. Suspicious. “Ok, I guess.”

With about five minutes left in the workshop,  I asked those kiddos who were sucked deeply into their books to come up for air; take a moment to write about something that stuck with them.

Afterward, they graded themselves on quantity and quality of their reading. They talked with their partners, shared their writing about reading, made some plans for reading tonight.

Many came up to me to assess their writing. I turned it back to them with what do you think? Most were tougher graders than I would have been. Typical.

Several kiddos pulled reading logs out. (I have generic ones students can choose to use. ) This time, I asked why.

T said, “I like them. I like putting down the time I read and the pages I read. It helps me set goals for myself.”

A said, “They are neat and organized. I like that.”

Whoa. Really?

K walked up to me. Holding out her notebook, “Can I use this over the summer? I have a plan as to how I’m want to use this.”

Uh, yeah sure, great idea.

I was disappointed this weekend.  But, what I saw today was surprising and pleasing.
When there were unstated expectations, during the fog of testing and test prep, most did not write about reading. But today, all jumped to do it.

They knew what to do.
Expectations were clarified.
A menu of options could meet the expectation.

Everyone wants to leave the classroom feeling like they did something. Expectations with choice help students find that path.

That’s how reading went today.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.

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The Game Changers

I started out doing a best of 2013 post, but that didn’t work. The whole year was a best of! This year the game changed..

THE GAME CHANGERS – IN THE CLASSROOM

Student Blogging – Blogging has changed the way students see writing. In fact they don’t think blogging is writing. Which in and of it itself is worth inquiry. Blogging is visible and social. The visible part is great for accountability, but the social part makes the difference. It allows for conversation.  One student, who loves to talk, said it made him feel like he was talking to someone else. I’m thinking that is a wonderful way to view writing.

Global Read Aloud –  The connections  made with other classrooms opened student  eyes beyond the small world of their school yard. Sharing one book was just the beginning. Reaching out to kids in different places led to unexpected understandings: timezones, weather, and the powers of technology that can bring us together. Thank you Erin Varley for being a wonderful partner in this work and Pernille Ripp for bringing it all together.

Genius Hour – Every Thursday, for one hour, students can research, learn, and create something that matters to them. This has provided a time for those who are not traditional learners to thrive in a place of their own making. It has pushed those who wait for the teacher to tell them what to do, to step up and push their own thinking. It is a reason for some to come to school. It is something they don’t need to be reminded of. It provides clues as to what their passions really are. Which leads to what book might interest them, what they might want to research or write about,  Read here for more about why this has been a game changer.

I love this  student’s perspective on blogging, Global Read Aloud and Genius Hour. It was my favorite present this year and shows how his game has changed.

No Reading Logs – This was my first and in the end simplest change to reading work. I always hated logs. I knew it worked only for a few, and those students were the ones who would read anyway. The majority either faked it or lost it. Now we record when books are finished. We keep track of our reading by logging finished books and making goals. So far this year my students have read on average 17 books. Some have more books read, some less, but all are reaching for their own personal goals. All are reading more, and without logs. Thank you Katherine Sokolowski for your post on Josh. That gave me permission and the courage to let go of daily logs and let reading not logging create readers.

Making Read Aloud Visible – This was a simple move that has changed the way read aloud goes. I simply purchased my read aloud as a kindle e-book and projected it on the Smart Board. Now students see the words as I read them. Now students see grammar, spelling, punctuation, even font changes and spacing that indicate meaning. Now they hear the text and see it. I love this. Thank you Paul Solarz for this tip and for making so much of your thinking and student work visible.

Making Writing Goals VisibleTCRWP writing checklists and Units of Study have been a big game changer. Students can can pinpoint areas to work on. Through self evaluation students know what they need to work on. The checklists have made this possible.

A Teacher Who Listens More Than Talks – I started the year wanting to let my students guide their learning. This required me to listen more and lean in with questions that spurred not shaped thinking. Keeping my mouth shut and my thinking undisclosed was goal solidified in the #WRRD(What Readers Really Do) chat.   These posts  Student Generated Questions, Read Aloud Inquiry , and  Celebrating the Process of Learning all point to listening more and learning alongside my students.

THE GAME CHANGERS — FOR THE TEACHER

Twitter – It has been said so many times already, but twitter has been the source of so many tangible and intangible things. To list everything would be impossible. I’m just thankful for it.

Blogs and Blogging- Blogs show me ways of thinking, teaching and being. Blogs have connected me to people, like minded souls who revive my teaching heart and purpose, who introduce me to new ways of doing things, who support me when I feel lost, who accept and welcome me as part of a community of thinkers and writers. I feel honored and blessed.

Here’s to more growth in 2014 and thank you to all who have helped change the game for my students and me in 2013.

Treadmills are Like Reading Logs

I realized some things as I ran today. Running is solitary. I’m all alone, in my head.  As I run I’m composing, revising, rethinking. Sometimes by the end of a run, I’ve got a great idea. Sometimes I follow through on that idea. But mostly I don’t.

Writing pushes me think an idea through and to next steps. During my run I was thinking of the recent post on Teaching to the Core : “One of the biggest bang-for-your-buck Common Core standards is W.CCR.10, which basically says, ‘Write frequently for many reasons.’ “ So true for me personally. Writing has provided the biggest bang for my learning as a teacher.  I’ve revised, edited and most importantly published them, for someone to read. This process makes it so much bigger than just those musings I had in my head. Through the process of writing, my ideas are better and the process of making them public pushes me to live up to those words.   

Running today I thought about goal setting. I injured my ankle in May and couldn’t run for a month. I slowly and carefully started running again. It was a struggle because of the injury. I carefully managed and measured my running by time and distance on a treadmill. That way I  gradually got stronger as I set goals for myself. I started running again in June at 5 minutes/10 minute pace. Today I ran 4.6 miles in 39 minutes. I was a fragile, injured runner, but by setting goals and gradually increasing, I’m much stronger.

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This leads me to my struggle with reading logs. I know on many levels logs do not speak the truth about a reader, they drive parents crazy, and many students have a very difficult time keeping track of them. I want to abandon the paper lunacy of logging in logging out, tracking, and incentivizing. So I’ve been leaning strongly toward no logs. Requiring one book a week, 40 books during the school year, and public responses to reading as measures of student accountability. But, there is one thing missing from this scenario:  goal setting.

I asked my students about the possibility of giving up logs for a different way of measuring our reading. They  were uncomfortable with letting logs go. Many saw it as a way of showing the teacher they are reading. Most said they have been unsuccessful keeping up with them in the past, but promised that this year would be better!  I had them write about it and one-third felt that reading logs helped them by keeping them on track “so I could see if I read or not.” Another said it was “like a teacher that pushed me.” These responses came from fragile readers. The strong were willing to give it up. Makes me think of myself as a fragile runner. I needed that treadmill because it helped me set goals and tracked my progress. When I was strong, I hated the treadmill because it constrained me.

My students spoke.  I need to create a system that accommodates these readers: those who need to measure their reading, visually. Something that builds them up to become stronger readers. Perhaps another thing for those who are constrained by logs. I’m thinking of a lined post it, that moves through the book as a book mark and allows students to measure or track their reading. When finished with the book the post it becomes a part of their reading portfolio.   I’ll run this idea by them tomorrow. We’ll test it out.

Any ideas about measuring reading? Please post a thought.