Friday Reflection: Be the Change We Need

This week’s reflection asks students to think about school and classroom climate and to consider what they can do to create an accepting, helpful and kind learning atmosphere. When I originally wrote this piece, it was spurred by a study published in the Review of Educational Research showing that positive school climates can narrow achievement gaps, especially for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet, our civil unrest in the week following this election brought new meaning to this weekly reflection.

Not What I Planned, but it Happened

On Monday, I showed the short film and we discussed what the main character does and his effect on others. Kids loved it; they thought parts were funny and inspiring. We began a discussion of theme, and noticed other literary elements that help us construct understanding. Kids were prepared to carry the positive message into the week. Tuesday, my kids were shell-shocked. I listened. I told them they were safe. I explained checks and balances… and as much as I had prepared, I was not prepared.

On Wednesday, we watched Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. We looked for their main messages, the language used to portray that message, and who their intended audiences were. I did this because it matters. I have never been the kind of parent and teacher to protect children from the truth. I am the kind of parent and teacher who will explain the truth in age-appropriate ways.

As the week wore on, we began discussing the protests and and acts of racism they’d been seeing in the news. We read articles about positive things other kids were doing to help their communities. My students were shaken- many have parents who are illegal immigrants. One student worried his family would have to break up. Others wondered what would happen to their health insurance. Others said that they have gay family members and they couldn’t understand why people were so upset by that. These questions told me that my students’ parents had been worrying all week too. This short film and our theme anchored us for the week; I’m thanking my lucky stars because it was by a miracle I’d happened to use it. It is light enough to provide hope in a trying time and serious enough to matter. And the characters are Thai. In subtle and direct ways this short video showed exactly what we needed it to show this week.

By Friday, after days of discussing, reading, writing, and discussing more, my kiddos had figured out which social issues matter most to them and which one issue they want to research and discuss in-depth next week. As I’ve said before, I teach very small classes of kids who were reading anywhere from 2-7 years below grade level when we began our work this year. Our work together this week grew them years in terms of their thinking. The fact that they’re so interested in fixing the social injustices they see- that they’ll read and discuss and act on what they learn? That will grow them years in terms of their reading. And the human rights lessons we will teach each other and others along the way… insurmountable. Uncountable. Undeniably life changing for them and for me.

I hope that your students find comfort and can see themselves in this short film. I hope your discussions fill them with a sense of “I can do this too” and “This is the world we want.”

I hope.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme, media, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for individual students or for us a group. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Media

In this weekly reflection, we use two types of media. First, is a short film on being the change you wish to see in the world. Next is an NPR interview with Natalie Hampton, a high school student who created the ‘Sit with Us’ app so students can find someone to eat lunch with rather than eating alone. Another example of kindness I plan to share with students is this story of  student, Amanda Moore, who used Google translate to ask a new classmate to sit with her at lunch.

One of my students showed me the video for this reflection! How could I pass that up? The short video follows a man on his daily route through the city. Without fail and always with a positive spirit, this man helps others, shares anything he has with those in need, and looks at problems with the mindset to solve them!

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for all levels, but please view it before showing it to them.)

*My students will watch this video once before we reflect on Friday. As we view it, we’ll make note of the Notice and Note Signposts to analyze character motivation, predict plot, and uncover themes. We’ve been using the signposts for several weeks now, so students will be able to recognize the signposts and ask and answer the questions quickly with this film. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompts

  • If you could make one change in our school right now, what would it be? Describe
    why you would change it. What ideas do you have on how to change it?
  • What kind actions can we do for each other in class and others in our school on a daily basis?

Discussion

  • Discuss what you noticed the man doing each day. How did those actions affect the others in the video? How did they begin acting differently following his kindness and generosity?
  • Discuss how things would have been different if the man in our video would have been annoyed with the woman and her child begging for money, or not even noticed the woman who needed help with her cart. What would the effects have been then?
  • Any compliments for anyone? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

Reflecting on our learning, behavior, and feelings and making plans for our next steps accelerates growth in all areas. In our classroom, students reflect often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. Without fail, we take time every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals. What types of reflections do you do with students? Share what’s been most effective or pieces of the reflection process you and your students are struggling with. The more we share, the more we grow.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done with your students to help them feel safe, understand what is happening, and work on social justice issues. Feel free to comment below or send a message. Thank you.

A Friday Reflection in the Spirit of Halloween: On Gut Feelings & Questionable Decisions

Why Take Time to Reflect?

Reflecting on learning and making plans for success accelerates growth. In our classroom, students reflect on their learning often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. We also do it every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme relating to one of the characteristics we need in order to overcome adversity, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for us as a group or for individual students. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You Haven’t”

-Thomas Edison

Media

Animated short “Francis” directed by Richard Hickey, and written by Dave Eggers. From production company CGI Brothers: The story of ‘Francis’ came about interestingly from the famed radio show ‘This American Life’. Broadcaster Ira Glass asked 6 American writers to create a short story about Adventure. One of these stories, written by novelist & screenwriter Dave Eggers, was read on the show to much acclaim and praise. Richard worked with producer Kevin Batten & a team to turn the words into this short film. The film has been shown at Cannes Film Festival and Raindance.

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for seventh and eighth graders and high school, but please view it before showing it to them; it’s creepy. I will choose another video for my sixth graders when we do this reflection.)

*My students will watch this video once before our reflection on its themes and how they apply to our lives. We always use the  Notice and Note Signposts to analyze character motivation, predict plot, and uncover themes. We are several weeks deep on practicing the signposts, so students will be able to recognize the signposts and ask and answer the signpost questions quickly with this film. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompt

  • Francis is a bit of a rebel and lives according to her own terms. The night of her “accident,” there were several points that she should have had, and even might have had but ignored, the gut feeling that she was doing something wrong and possibly dangerous. Eventually, she made too many wrong decisions, gave up, and… well, you know what happened in the end. Why do you think she didn’t listen to her instincts? What do you think she should she have done differently? 
  • We are not in the middle of a lake with no one around to help us get back to shore, but it is a good metaphor for some of the things we struggle with.Think of a time when you struggled to learn something new or with having to do something that seemed so hard that you wanted to give up. What did you do: Give up? Avoid the difficult things? Find a way to keep trying hard? Did you stop to think about what people who care about you would want you to do? Did your “gut” tell you what to do?
  • How can we use the themes in “Francis” in our lives? 

Discussion

  • We’ve inferred that Francis didn’t like listening to the advice of the adults in her life (She was a rebel. She sneaked out of her tent in the middle of the night. She smoked cigarettes- yuck!) Sometimes kids decide not to listen to their parents’ advice, and rely on their friends. If you were giving advice to people in this class on how to become better readers, what would you say?
  • What compliments do you have for each other? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

What types of reflections do you do with students? The more we share, the more we learn!

Friday Reflection: What Can We Do to Support Each Other So That We All Reach Our REAL Potential?

Why Take Time to Reflect?

Reflecting on learning and making plans for success accelerates growth. In our classroom, students reflect on their learning often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. We also do it every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme relating to one of the characteristics we need in order to overcome adversity, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for us as a group or for individual students. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Weekly Theme

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible.’” -Audrey Hepburn

Media

Animated short Zero directed by Christopher Kezelos. The producer, Zealous Creative, describes the film: In a world that judges people by their number, Zero faces constant prejudice and persecution. He walks a lonely path until a chance encounter changes his life forever: he meets a female zero. Together they prove that through determination, courage, and love, nothing can be truly something.

This film is incredible- it captivated my daughter when she watched it, my students when they watched it, and my colleagues when they watched it! Even if you do not think you’ll use this reflection, I recommend watching Zero!

(I know this is a given, but be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It is appropriate for middle school and high school, but please view it through your students’ lenses before showing it to them; it addresses sensitive social issues. This reflection does not go into depth on these issues, but as students study stereotypes and discrimination the next several weeks, we will use this video as means to recognize the stereotyping and discrimination in our society.)

For younger students, substitute the movie with a book with a similar theme. Oneby Kathryn Otoshi, is a story about accepting each other’s differences.

*My students watched this video twice this week as we discussed the Notice and Note Signposts. We use signposts to uncover the themes the video presents. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment” and “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts“)

Reflection Prompt

Zero is born into his place in society and not allowed to break out of it. Eventually, he does bust out because he and his friend believe they are something, they have courage, and they have love.  Looking back on our first 9 weeks of this school year, what have you achieved that seemed impossible in August? Which people in your life and what behaviors and mindsets helped you achieve it? (Consider all of your family members, friends, and teachers.)

Discussion

  • Think about the time we’ve spent together since August, and consider how you’ve grown more comfortable each week. Think about Zero and the challenges he was able to overcome once he met his friend who accepted him. Use your experiences in this class and Zero’s experiences in overcoming his challenges to answer this question: What do people need in order to feel safe enough to learn? *I will ask students if they think it would be valuable to list these things on an anchor chart so that we can see them and think about them daily. Most will think it’s a good idea, and then we’ll have a good part of our learning about how to learn from 1st Quarter right there for us to use during 2nd Quarter.
  • What compliments do you have for each other? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

What types of reflections do you do with students at the end of the quarter or semester? The more we share, the more we learn!

Friday Reflection: How can we turn our difficult experiences into seeds for success?

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a quote, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it and provides huge dividends when done consistently.

Theme

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” 

-C.S. Lewis

Media

Animated short: Tamara by Jason Marino

*My students watched this video several times this week as we discussed the Notice and Note Signposts. We used the signposts to uncover the themes the video presents. (To read this lesson, see “Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts.”

If you do not have access to YouTube, you can also use the book Dear Mr. Falker for this reflection.

Reflection Prompts

  • What is your earliest memory of having difficulty learning something? (I always share my memory from the end of my kindergarten year. My mom found me in my bedroom in tears because my teacher had told us that some kids wouldn’t be going on to first grade because they didn’t know how to read yet. I remember holding the book and trying so hard to figure out what it said, but I just couldn’t.)
  • What has been difficult for you this year that isn’t so difficult anymore? What did you do to make it easier?
  • What is still difficult for you? What steps can you take next week to start making it feel easier?

Discussion

  • As a group, we’ve changed a lot since the beginning of the year. (This is a following to last week’s reflection “Friday Reflection: What Have You Done Differently This Week?” What things should we try to improve in order to help each other continue to learn?
  • Any compliments for anyone? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

Teachers, what types of reflections do you do with your students? The more we share, the more we learn!

Evolving Understandings: Dig Deep with Signposts

Signposts never cease to amaze me even though I should be used to their impact by now. Every time the signposts help us get really deep in conversation and understanding of a text, I’m floored.

This week, the signposts helped us notice details in the animated short Tamara by Jason Marino. These details, subtle but so important, were crucial in truly understanding the characterization and theme of this almost silent film.

When I chose Tamara, I thought it would illustrate Again and Again and Words of the Wise. I was considering whether Tough Questions might be there too. When I watched it with students, I asked them to note any of the signposts they noticed. I didn’t give them a heads-up on what I’d seen because I’d already modeled finding signposts, so we were ready to look for them together.

We watched the movie several times because we are learning the value in multiple “readings”. I’ve embedded the video here, and below it I describe our evolution of thought- five 8th grade boys and me! Five boys who in August, most certainly, would have scoffed at the idea of giving this sweet movie, and its four-year-old, tutu-wearing main character any serious thought!

Viewing #1

The first time we watched, we noticed and noted these signposts:

Again and Again: Dance, dance, dance! Tamara’s bedroom walls have dance posters and hand-drawn pictures of herself dancing, she’s wearing a tutu, she’s reading a book with people dancing in it, and she has a music box with a ballerina.

Why do these things keeping showing up? Tamara LOVES to dance! She probably wants to be a ballerina when she grows up.

 

Aha Moment: Tamara’s mom realizes that her daughter’s music box has stopped playing music and that her daughter is still dancing.

How might this change things? We honestly didn’t know. We all thought that it seemed like an Aha Moment because Tamara’s mom’s facial expression changes when she sees that the music box has stopped playing. We agreed that we should keep the Aha Moment written down, give it some thought, and watch it again.

 

Words of the Wise: Tamara’s mom speaks to her is sign language, saying, “Dance until the stars don’t shine!”

What’s the life lesson and how might it affect the character? Students thought that the life lesson might be that you can do anything you set your mind to, even if it seems impossible. (Like Tamara being a dancer, even though she’s deaf.)

Viewing #2

During viewing #2, we realized that we kept asking why the heck Tamara’s mom seemed surprised that her daughter was still dancing after the music stopped. Students felt like since she knew her daughter was deaf, it probably wouldn’t surprise her that she danced without music. We talked, we looked at our signpost anchor charts, we talked. It was then that we started realizing that her mother’s reaction was also a Contrast & Contradiction because Tamara’s mom had acted in a way that we didn’t expect her to act!

Contrast and Contradiction: Tamara’s mom seems upset that her daughter is still dancing even after the music box stops playing.

Why is the character doing that? We didn’t know! It was driving us crazy! We wanted to know what was up with Tamara’s mom!

So, we decided to watch the video a third time. This time, I asked them to look for any clues that could help us figure out why Tamara’s mom acted that way. We focused on looking for more Again & Again signposts because the repetition seemed likely to give us clues, but we found more than we thought we would!

Viewing #3

Again & Again: Music, music, music! Someone noticed she had a keyboard under her bed. Someone else noticed she had a “radio” (tape player) on her shelf.

Why do these things keep coming up again and again? Someone wondered whether Tamara liked to pretend to play the keyboard. But then we thought about the tape player. When did she use that?

 

Contrast & Contradiction: Tamara seems unsure of herself, like she’s trying to boost her confidence, when she uses sign language to speak to her mom.

Why is the character doing that? LIGHT BULB moment! Because she’s new at signing! She wasn’t born deaf. She used to be able to hear!

We were so excited! The signposts made understanding this video accessible to my intervention students. Because of the signposts, their understanding is probably deeper than many people who view it.

We decided our initial idea about the theme needed to be changed a bit. We revised “You can do anything you set your mind to, even if it seems impossible” into “You can fulfill any dream you have, even when life throws obstacles your way.”

Love. Love. Love.

Last year, I wrote the post “Three Things I Learned by Doing my Own Signpost Assignment.” In it, I explain how using the signposts helped my finish the book 11/22/63 by Stephen King. The signposts are spots to stop and think. They draw our attention to details we might overlook. They help us go deeper.

For this post, I wrote the entire evolution of our thought rather than only posting our best thinking because I want all readers to experience what happens during multiple readings. Deep, thoughtful understandings take a lot of thought and struggle and conversation and close reading. To get students there, we must show them our own changing and growing ideas. I realize it is not traditional to put ourselves out there. We may even feel vulnerable at first. But I do believe it is the best model of deep understanding we can give to our learners.

 

This lesson is also used in our Friday Reflection: How Can We Turn Our Difficult Experiences into Seeds for Success?

 

 

Friday Reflection: What Have You Done Differently This Week?

Reflecting on learning and making plans for success is an integral part of growth. As Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of Mindset, has explained, it isn’t enough that teachers and parents praise children for effort if our children never actually show growth.

In our classroom, students reflect on their learning often. We do this at preset points in the process, and we do it naturally (now that we’re in week 6) when one of us realizes it’s time to take a minute to look at what we’ve been struggling with or accomplished. We also do it every Friday because it provides closure for the week and sets the stage for Mondays when we set weekly goals.

Friday Reflection

Each Friday includes a theme relating to one of the characteristics needed to face adversity, media of some kind, reflection prompts, and a brief class discussion with compliments for us as a group or for individual students. The entire process takes 20 minutes or less once students get the hang of it, and provides huge dividends when done consistently. Here’s what I have planned for tomorrow:

Theme

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” Jessie Potter, featured speaker the seventh annual Woman to Woman conference, 1981

Media

Destiny by Fabien Weibel (Be sure to view the video before playing it for students. It can be a bit of a shock! It is appropriate for middle school and high school- They’ll get a kick out of it. For younger students, substitute the movie with a book with a similar theme. WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A PROBLEM? by Kobi Yamada is about a boy who keeps avoiding his problem, but eventually realizes that he should face it head on and find a way to fix it.)

*My students watched this video several times this week as we discussed the Notice and Note Signposts Again and Again, Aha Moment and Tough Questions. We used these signposts to uncover the themes the video presents. (For more information about teaching the Signposts, see “Three Things I Learned by Doing My Own Signpost Assignment.”)

 

Reflection Prompts

  • What is one thing you did differently, as a reader, this week than last week? Did it help you become a better reader and thinker? If yes, explain how. If not, what will you change next week?
  • Describe something you tried to do this week that you’re still struggling with. Which thinking strategies might help you with it? What help do you need from me?

Discussion

  • What do you notice about us as a class now compared to us at the beginning of the year? What helped us make those changes?
  • Any compliments for anyone? (This question is intentionally left open-ended because kids will surprise you once they’re comfortable enough to share. I ask the question regardless of the stage my class is in and share my own compliments if students aren’t ready to be open with each other yet.)

 

What types of reflecting do you do with students? The more we share, the more we learn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice the Tiny Triumphs

We need to celebrate the little things. These little bits of triumph are setting the course for the individual goals, benchmarks,  leaps, and bounds students need to make in order to be real thinkers and readers and doers and changers.

My Top 5 Tiny Triumphs of this School Year:

  1. A student who has hardly spoken until this week, who shook with fear during his first assessment, and who fake-read for a good three weeks (despite all I knew to do to make him comfortable), came to me and said that he thought his book was too easy for him. He wanted to try something harder. HE WANTED TO TRY SOMETHING HARDER.
  2. A kiddo who has made it his school-life’s goal to goof off and avoid all work has repeatedly run into my classroom because he cannot wait to find out what will happen next in our read aloud. I wait to hear that door open every single day. I cannot wait. His enthusiasm is matched by the others
    in his class. I love hearing their loud footsteps down the hallway.
  3. That same kiddo also told a knock-down, drag-out, perfect retelling of our read-aloud to another student who’d been absent… ARE YOU SERIOUS? That was better than I could do! He was my language arts student last year. This year, he’s in a class of 5 reading-intervention students. He is a completely different learner. Frankly, I’m very much the same teacher. What made the difference? *Too much to tackle in one writing.
  4. A student who has a really difficult time forming coherent thoughts, asked this question as we ended our study of schema, “So, is it like if you learn something new, then a new web is made in your brain? Then when you learn another thing new that connects to it, it can stick to make another web?” YES! YES! YES! And now when this kiddo is confronted with new material, he might not turn away. He’ll have an opening to it.
  5. One of my eighth grade classes, filled with kids who weeks ago wouldn’t speak directly to anyone but me and spoke in mumbled whispers for at least the first week of class… who’d also thought liking books and actually reading books was not for them, asked if they could Facetime their absent classmate to show her the two books they’d decided on for our read aloud and ask her which book she wanted to choose. Unfortunately, its against school policy to use Facetime, so I had to say no. WHAT? Not. A. Chance. They Facetimed. Truth be told, I would have looked up her number and handed them my cellphone if one of them hadn’t had her number.

Not Without Worry

I could go on with triumphs, but I won’t. Our triumphs are not without worries and failures. One night this week, I stood in our school book room talking with my friend about the issues I noticed with my eighth graders. Another night, a friend and I talked about our seventh graders. She said that she knows when kids are struggling that she needs to hold up a mirror and figure out what she’s doing wrong. And I joked that sometimes I want to pound the mirror against my forehead a few hundred times. In another meeting, I laughed and laughed with someone who only came to our school this year, but who thinks about kids and struggles with ideas, and asks for thought like all of the rest of us. We all struggle, every single one of us reading this, and we all have moments we can celebrate. In fact, I was just stopped in the hallway by a friend who told me that a kiddo we share (Kiddo from #1 T.T.) went from 2/20 on a vocabulary quiz last week to 11/20 this week. Is there still work to do? Yes. Approaches to figure out? Yes. Should we even celebrate growth that still amounts to an F? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Focus on Growth

I also want every teacher to know that the fact that I could have gone on with positives is most certainly the result of a decision I made long ago. At that point in my life, I needed to look for positives. It had nothing to do with teaching, and everything to do with the very most important part of life: family. When I was much, much younger than I am now, and my family would talk about positive mindset and focusing on the good, I thought that that mindset was “living in fairy tale” and unrealistic. But years later, I needed that mindset, and it worked. In about a thousand positive ways, it worked.

The five little bits of happiness listed above are not the end-all. I have not grown lifelong readers yet. But we have planted seeds. And if I focus my energy on the growth, then they’ll focus their energy there too.

 

 

 

 

Monitoring Comprehension- Introduction for Readers

When we introduce a new thinking strategy to students, it’s important do it in a non-reading way. Using concrete visuals, movies, songs, or experiences to show students how to use the strategy allows them the chance to build schema for it before applying it to reading and other content areas.

First Things First: Thinkers Make a Habit of Activating Schema

When I introduced monitoring comprehension this week, we began by discussing what the word monitor means. We talked about other places we’ve heard it, and several kids recalled playground monitors who “watch out for good and bad behavior.” A few students with monitoring-comp-is-the-protector-photoyounger siblings talked about baby monitors and said that their parents use them to make sure the baby is safe and isn’t upset.

Then we applied what we knew about the word “monitor” to the phrase monitor comprehension. Kids quickly formed the idea that monitoring comprehension means making sure you understand what you’re reading.

I explained, “We can think of monitoring our comprehension as the protector of our understanding. If we don’t protect our understanding, the other strategies can’t even do their jobs.”

“So, it’s kind of like if you don’t even know what’s happening in the story, then you can’t really visualize it or think about who the characters really are,” one student called out.

Kids nod and a collective aha comes over their faces, so I ask, “Be mon-comp-anchor-chhonest. How many of you are aware when you don’t understand something, but you just keep going with it anyway because you don’t feel like stopping or maybe you figure it doesn’t really matter?”

Lots of nods and expressions of recognition.

“I get that. I even did it when I was in school, but I was so wrong. It really did matter. I could have liked reading a lot sooner if I’d made myself stop and think. I would have liked my classes a lot better too because I’d have understood what the heck was going on. The thing is, you’re already monitoring your comprehension and using fix-up strategies when you watch movies and play video games, and you don’t even realize it.”

I wanted to show students what they were already able to do, so I asked them to watch a 60-second commercial and notice the exact moment their brains thought, “Wait. What’s going on here?” Then they needed to pay close attention to what they did to make sense of what was happening.

Are you game? Try it yourself: Watch this US Bank commercial on YouTube, noting exactly when your brain is confused and what you do to fix it.:

After the kids watched, they immediately shared the moment their understanding broke down:

“The woman sat, but there wasn’t anything there!”

“It was an invisible chair!”

“Then she lit a candle.”

“And jumped over a counter.”

I brought us back together, “So, you guys understood what was happening, even though you were confused at first. What did you do to help yourselves understand?”

“She was sitting just like people sit in chairs,” someone gets up to show us.

“And you could totally tell it was a candle!” another student adds.

I ask, “And you’ve seen that a lot, right? Those things are part of your schema.”

Kids smile and agree, so I go on, “You fixed your confusion so quickly by using schema that if I hadn’t pointed it out, you might not even have noticed! And once you fixed your first confusion, you were able to fix all of the confusing parts by keeping your schema activated!” It is then that I realize I’m practically jumping out of my skin with excitement because THEY GOT IT. I almost tone it down a notch, but there’s no need to because they seem really happy. We’re a roomful of people who are  gleeful about monitoring comprehension. It’s my dream come true. Just ask my husband. I’ve tried this with our children.

A child breaks the silence and asks if it’s really that easy to monitor your comprehension in a book.

I answer honestly, “Not all of the time. But the thing is, you guys know how to do it, so now we just have to start practicing with our books. For now, take a minute to think about some of the ways you already know to fix your confusion. What do you do? Or what do you remember your parents or teachers teaching you to do when you were confused about what you were reading? Kids right on their exit slips and leave class feeling satisfied… full of the idea that they can do this… which makes me so very happy for what they can accomplish.

Tomorrow, we’ll look into how we know when we’re confused and some fix-up strategies we can use to repair comprehension. Right now, their wheels are turning. Mine are too.

Up Next:

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On Becoming a Reader- It’s Not Easy

Truth: Last Friday, I sat on the floor of my classroom library with a student who’d moved to our district just a few weeks earlier.

Truth: He is in the eighth grade, but he reads at the first-grade level.

Truth: When he left, I locked my door, and I cried.

The Leap?  If you’ve ever uttered the words “learn how to play school” to a student or about a student, stop now.

Another Truth: I’ve said those words myself.  WHY? As a struggling reader, I learned that part of succeeding in school was “playing the game”.  I’ve always regretted that I didn’t play the game better. I thought that I was giving good advice to my students. And I am guilty of waiting too long to recognize a student’s learning needs because she played school well.

Our world cannot continue to educate with the notion of walking the walk at the expense of original thought. Or talking the talk without the ability to read words. Frankly, Common Core standards ended that game by requiring students to read at higher levels and learn to think through concepts. CCSS ended it by requiring teachers to change their game and begin growing thinkers, collaborators, and inventors of ideas, technologies, words and thoughts – an intensely different task than we previously faced.

The student I mentioned above was passed from first grade to second grade to third grade to eighth grade without the teaching he needed.  He does not have the decoding skills most students learn in first grade.  He doesn’t understand morphemes or the blending of sounds- skills most of our students possess, but don’t even notice because they’re a natural part of learning language.  Yet, a loud and frequent complaint about children in his situation is that they don’t know how to “play school.”

Last Friday, I had an entire 44 minutes of one-on-one time with this kiddo. We talked about his family, his recent move, his reading level, his difficulties, and his intention to leave wherever he is, whenever things get embarrassing and tough. He read aloud half of a page of one book; it was too high.  He read aloud one more; we found his level.  I promised him that I’d get him to grade level.  I told him, point blank, to follow my lead.

I promised that I’d get him to grade level, but I won’t do it alone, and he won’t take part if he’s being harassed about not having a pencil or forgetting notebooks in his locker. He’s been avoiding the tough stuff since the moment he realized that he was behind his classmates. I understand the frustration teachers feel when students don’t bring suppliestjppb1473823196 or do homework or when they try to leave class hourly, but the frustration needs to be tabled.  It cannot get in the way of teaching and learning.

Another few truths?  I borrow a pencil at more staff meetings than I bring one.  I have an online calendar and a very pretty leather and paper one I bought at T.J. Maxx this summer (my attempt to be on time, remember one-zillion things, and appear to have it together). But I still forget appointments, meetings, and bills.  My desks at home and at school are covered in papers and piles, but if I put the papers and piles away, I’ll forget about my tasks at hand. I am the last teacher to turn in emergency phone numbers, emergency sub plans, and my CONTRACT every year… I sound like a nightmare, but I can can navigate the reading difficulties kids face, I read and read and read, and write and write and write, and I learn from the mistakes that matter. I base all that I do on research, standards, and my observations of students.  When I say I will get you or your child to grade level, I mean it. I will champion, guide, educate, learn from and be part of the team who does it.

Another leap? Let’s table the “playing school” issue until we know whether there are real learning issues with a student. If we see that problem, our first step needs to be: zero-in and gather data. Playing school matters as part of a whole picture of learning, but it is not the picture, and it cannot cloud our ability to see the learning difficulties our students face. Let’s sit down and listen to our students read, talk, and make sense of the world. Instead of canvasing the room for off-task behavior (which can be taught, revisited, and non-issue for most periods of the school year), let’s observe conversations, talk one-on-one, and take notes in order to reflect and make the next steps each student needs.

I promised this reader that I’d get him to grade level, and I will. It will not be by myself. It will be with people who see his whole picture. Those who table the little things to focus on educating for the larger issues that created them. Those who learn from the mistakes that matter and who notice the truths and leaps we can make once we notice them.

It’s not easy, but it makes the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

This I Know: On Becoming a Reader

Next year, I’ll begin a new role in our school as a Literacy Specialist.  Initially, this position entailed teaching one class of partially-proficient readers at each grade level (the readers we know as “bubble kids” because they are right at the edge of being proficient).  When I use this term, I always picture being able to fill that sweet “bubble kid” up- with enough enthusiasm, skill, and inertia- to let them pop to the other side of the chasm which is cut between partially-proficient and proficient readers. My principal, assistant principal and I had planned on having the rest of my time spent in classrooms working with small groups and with teachers.  Sounds perfect, right? It’s my dream job. It always has been.

But it didn’t feel right.

If the bubble kids float over the chasm with my help, what do the other kids do? Sit and watch. Stare. Ignore us? Cope? Yep. They do all of those things as they realize they’re being left behind. We hadn’t planned on leaving them behind.  We have interventions in place and we have skilled teachers who individualize and differentiate as students need, but it still didn’t feel right. The need is too high.

Luckily, my assistant principal and I both felt this “not right” feeling at just about the exact right moment, so there was no time wasted trying to convince the other person of what we needed to do: We’d fill my time with our kiddos who are hanging out on the wrong side of the chasm.

That felt right.  But then I panicked!

I do not just want to try to help these kids.  I will not just help them. I will make them readers. Period. End of story, as my dad always said.

That’s really not that hard of a task with most of our non-readers, right? A good classroom library, book talks, targeted instruction, conferring, goals, progress monitoring, teacher enthusiasm… In 13 years, I can’t think of a kid who didn’t have that aha moment we all had when we realized that we love reading.  I still remember my own aha when I was in seventh grade and read The Outsiders with my teacher’s guidance. Then I went on to read And Then There Were None and Lord of the Flies the same year. My reading enthusiasm fluctuated for years until I was in college, when reading became a staple. I know that all my non-readers leave me with a newly uncovered appreciation for books, and many realize they actually love books. I know that that love either dies or flies as their lives change. I’m good with that. But until next year, the majority of my kids have come to me reading at the 25th percentile and higher. Next year, the game is changing.

I’ll need to instill a love of reading with these kiddos who can’t even see the chasm from were they stand.  If the chasm is halfway between here and there, these kids have only seen others attempt the crossing and assumed that they aren’t up to the challenge.  These kiddos have spent all of elementary school not being able to read. Many of them have come to hate reading because they can’t read- it’s not fun, it’s too hard, it’s embarrassing. It breaks my heart, and I won’t have it. So, we’re going to try something different.

This is what I know about becoming a reader:

  1. We learn to love reading on the laps of those we love.  Picture yourself reading as a child. What is the lighting like?  Where are you sitting?  Who is with you, and how do you feel with them?  Is there soft music in the background?  Is someone cooking
    Dad and Brady reading
    My dad and Brady (at 11 months) reading

    dinner? Humans associate. We can’t help it.  It is our nature. I know that I need to recreate this safe, comfortable, exploratory environment for my very lowest readers. What will I do? I’ll take my alternative seating further.  My classroom will look like a family room. I talked with my principal today about ordering rocking chairs. You have to love this: His only question was, “We can do that. I mean, it’s not like you want thirty, right?  Just a few?”  I also talked with him about having a large, round table (much like the kitchen table we all grew up around) for our book groups to meet. I’ve never had a typical classroom setting, but next year, I’m giving it my all. I will do everything I can to help these kiddos correlate learning to read with comfort, kindness, safety, and companionship.

  2. We learn to love reading because someone let us pick books ourselves. Picture yourself reading as a child. Where were books displayed?  Who was in charge of
    Ryder Reading
    Ryder (at 1) choosing books

    taking care of the books? Who was in charge of buying books? When I was growing up, we had books everywhere. There were books on shelves, in piles, under our beds, on my parents’ bedroom shelves. We got to choose what was read to us each night, and as we began reading ourselves, we got to choose which books we read. As a teacher, this has always been nonnegotiable for me. Kids will choose their own books. I read a ton of YA LIT so that, if needed, I can match books to readers in terms of interest, level, or etc. But they’ll choose their own books. Period. End of story.

  3. We learn to love reading because someone showed us reading is loved.  I vividly remember trips to our library with our dad: My dad is shuffling through each of our library cards, with the librarian grimacing, because we have too many books OUT and
    Brady books sleeping
    Brady (at age 3)

    LATE on this card or that card! My dad, my siblings and I parade out the sliding doors with armloads of books. I also remember my Grandma Phyllis reading to us the nights we spent at her house. Grandma Phyllis cherished books. Ah! The way she read, her interest in spending time on each page of a picture book, letting us each share one detail we noticed… Period. End of story.

These moments! Picking our own books, keeping books far past their due dates, books piling and spilling and left under our beds! These showed me that books are important.  I really don’t remember my dad ever telling me books were important.  I remember him reading.  I remember my mom, my dad, and my grandma reading to us.  I remember my older sister reading, reading, and then continuing to read more.  I remember worrying that I was “not a reader” until seventh grade when I found chapter books I loved. I remember wondering “am I really a reader” until I went to college, when I had the ability to reflect, slow down, and remember all of my reading moments.

I’m not panicking anymore- at least not at the same level.  Now, when I meet my kiddos who can’t see the edge of that chasm, I know what I need to do to help them build their bubble. And I know what I won’t do: I won’t start with formative assessments so that I can determine where they are and what they are lacking.  I won’t show them all of our books and ask them to find one they like. I won’t put them through the awkward “get to know you” games. I won’t even tell them how incredible books really are. Nope.

I will welcome them to our space. I will ask them to come sit so I can read to them.  And I’ll smile a lot. Read and smile. And when they come back the next day, I’ll read and smile. And read and smile and talk. And guess what? About three or four days in, someone will look over at our bookshelves. Someone will ask about our books. Someone will wonder if they can look at them. And then we’ll have our reader beginning.  Just like I did. Just like you did. They’ll discover books.

P.S. Once they’ve done that, I’ll formative assess their little hearts out.  I’ll show them books.  I’ll ask them to find ones they like!  I’ll tell them how incredible books are!  But only after they’ve had a new reader beginning. Period. End of story.

Are you interested in reflecting on your own reading evolution in the effort to help students understand theirs? These reflection questions will help you begin:

  1. What are your earliest memories of reading? Do you remember reading before you could read words? Who read with you? How often?
  2. Did anyone in your family or close circle read often? What did they read? What did you learn from watching them?
  3. Think back to when you began school. What was reading instruction like? How did you feel about it?
  4. What reading experiences stand out as important to you? Positive or negative, these will give you insight into what students might need.
  5. What did you need from a teacher when you were a K-12 reader? If you were ahead of the class, what did you wish your teacher would do for you? If you were behind, what did you need? If you right in the middle, what were you wanting?

I’d love to hear from you as your think through these questions. Let’s keep this conversation going.