The last sentence is just beautiful

It is no surprise to regular readers that I am a huge fan of the work of Bob Probst and Kylene Beers. I work with my students to help them understand and discuss text better with Notice and Note and I try to get them to connect to their text with the Book Head Heart Framework. Earlier this week Kylene tweeted out this gem and I just had to capture it in a Canva poster.

Last night my sister sent me a text concerned over some information she read on my niece’s new school web page. The main point was that the school relied on a computerized screening exam (Star 360) to assess all students k-12 in their division twice a year. My sister is concerned because my niece already has assessment anxiety in grade 1 and the teacher told my sister that my niece was behind by a letter compared to her peers. I can imagine the regular reader of the blog know what happened next but for the first time readers I will just lay it out.

First, because I know Renaissance Learning when I see it, I told my sister what the test would be like and that hopefully they don’t put much weight on the results because well it is terrible. Second, I told her that if AR was even mentioned to demand that my niece not have to do it and that any school based competition include an alternative way for her to participate. Parents don’t always know the damage these programs like AR do (not talking about all program type things, some have a purpose, AR however only has one to kill reading joy), luckily for my sister she can send me a quick message and we can talk through it. My sister shouldn’t know what letter my niece is, my niece isn’t a letter she is a 7 year old girl that has the most infectious laugh in the world and a joy that literally pours from her soul but she is a frustrated reader because she knows she struggles, she knows she is behind her friends and by all means why don’t we add some computer tests to her life. Perhaps the goal really is to extinguish reading joy.

I was fired up last night and then went back to Kylene’s words above. I decided I really needed my students to see them because I need to make sure they know what I believe in deep in my soul and I could not write it better, so I shared it with them and we wrote.

Below are quotes typed because it was a quick write not a neat write haha. I will put in the pictures at the end.

I agree with that quote! You don’t get better at reading by taking tests or being told you have 3 minutes to read a paragraph full of words you don’t understand and can’t read.

Grade 7 Student

I know that Kylene Beers is right. That kids should be able to pick their own books and read what they like, not what they “need” to read…Teachers need to let children know that it’s okay to be behind and they can get help with reading.

Grade 7 Student

Books are important because they help you read and they get you off your phone and tv. They allow you to have a world away from reality, an imagination. They give you more than a movie or your phone.

Grade 7 Student

I think Kylene Beers quote is verry accurate and smart. What would be the point of time testing a kid in kindergarten?

Grade 7 Student

Thinking about what might happen next can make the book more thrilling. (on why students should take their time)

Grade 7 Student

Books are for reading. Not for taking tests on them for prizes. They are for people to have fun with what they are reading.

Grade 7 Student

“Readers need a book not a lexile level” I agree with this quote as well because I never really liked AR. It wasn’t very fun and you kinda lost some motivation to read after you got your certain amount of points in order to go to the pizza party.

Grade 7 Student

I agree with Kylene Beers on what she is saying, I was timed at grade 3-4 cause I had a problem which makes it hard to read every sentence. I would stutter and it made me mad. I would write a letter to that school to if that happens.

Grade 7 Student and reading this response made the eyes itch a bit haha

Sometimes you should let kids read picture book even if it’s to easy.

Grade 7

When Kylene say’s that “they need to dive into books and come up gasping for air so they can dive back in” that really stood out to me because finding books that I enjoy can be really hard but when you find that really good book that is how you feel.

Grade 7 Student

“they need to dive into books and come up gasping for air so they can dive back in” I love that comparison. It really makes you think and physically feel it.

Grade 8 Student

“They need to dive into books and come up gasping for air so they can dive back in” This made me think of when I am reading a book and the character is holding their breath and I’m holding mine. When I am so into a part of the book I stop to breathe and just keep reading until I all of the sudden need air because I forgot to breathe.

Grade 8 Student

I remember (in elementary) that the teacher won’t let me read my books that I want so at lunch I go to the library and sneek a book hide in the corner and the teacher got after me and I got in the “Blue Book”! But now I can read the book. Yay!

Grade 8 student (I tried to type exactly as written)

AR is like a bribe to read, once you got your goal there was no more incentive to read.

Grade 8 Student

Last year reading felt like a jail. I felt I couldn’t read what I wanted to and it seemed like they were challenging me. It was also harder because we weren’t reading for fun. But with Grade 7 it is so much fun I actually read at home.

Grade 7 Student

I think [the tweet] is telling us that instead of making kids read books let them pick between millions of books that they love so that they can take the million pound weight off their chest to love books in the future.

Grade 7 Student

Reading through all of these responses from my students I am so proud. I am proud that they felt safe enough to express their thoughts on reading. As teachers part of our job is to protect our students. While they might not be physically harmed by these practices there is no question harm is being done. With phrases like “jail” and “forced” being thrown about without hesitation I can’t understand how some continue to justify these practices.

My students were horrified that my niece was going to have to be taking tests so young, that she was already aware she was behind. What are we doing?

The picture to follow is a students response. I decided to leave it as is. My students know Kylene Beers as the lady who’s words are on our wall, as my teaching idol and today they know her as an inspiration for their writing. I am grateful to know so many wonderful teachers and so many wonderful students in the pursuit of becoming readers coming out of their books for gasps of air.

Love the Notice and Note reference šŸ™‚
The lady who’s words are on our wall šŸ™‚

The Books

Why book clubs?

I started working with a book club approach a few years ago as an experiment in 6th grade. I wanted to move away from whole class novel after whole class novel as had been done in the past. Now please don’t take that to mean I don’t like whole class novels because I do… a lot. I also believe that WCN can be more a training wheels event with the book clubs becoming the two wheeler down the road a little shaky but trying. In all 3 of my LA classes we have finished our WCN, Peak by Roland Smith in 7th grade and Refugee by Alan Gratz in 8th. We have reflected and done a little work post text to explore conflict and characters and now we are going to move to a more independent set up with the book clubs. I love book clubs because it provides choice, opportunity to have meaningful talk and meaningful writing time each period. Students get in groups and by the end of the week are responsible to be members of their book club asking and answering questions and sharing their thinking.

How we do book clubs in Room 157

We are starting tomorrow which means speed book dating. All options are going to be out at different tables for students to work their way around and read small portions (first pages, book jacket, review blurbs) they will then indicate their top 3-5 choice on a list. I will be taking the list to look at pairings and if certain groups are going to need much higher levels of support, access to another supply of texts and so on.

From there we will be looking over our reading journals, it is the only “work” requirement they have during the book clubs. No tests, no worksheets, no programs, no clip art. Last year they had to have a pages for each day to show they were reading daily. Because this was a stupid idea on my part I am shifting things this year a bit. I saw a tweet talking about Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle and their 2 page spread requirement. I love the idea and it gives kids the chance to reflect in a way that works best for them.

Now it is not just a free for all assignment. Weekly there is a guided focus question or task that is assigned on Monday and I check for completion Friday. They also are asked to included signposts they find, thought log stem responses and questions for their peers. We meet on Fridays to discuss all we have noted in our books and then set goals for the next week. At the end of the book club cycle they are responsible for a written response that fits into our curriculum and last year they did a partner project. Time became an issue but I am looking at still having a group assignment but it would be closer to Pernille Ripp’s 12 word summaries .

How we DON’T do book clubs

This will be quick. No booklets, No Teachers Pay Teachers, No purchased “Novel Studies”. Moving on.

Excited for the possibilities

Giving students and chance to read and showing them that we value their thoughts and ideas is empowering. We want students who read and think. I am not interested in marking booklets tied to a novel like I was subjected to in Junior High and High School. I am excited to listen to their conversations, check their meeting notes and sit down to go over their observations with them.

I see book clubs as a way that we can cover multiple outcomes and in a way students enjoy. It is work but it is work worth doing. The same can’t be said for the booklet novel studies.

Choice+Time+Access= Joyful Reading, adding in the group dynamic just increases the possibilities for students to explore their thinking.

In November I signed on to help with our varsity basketball program. I still chuckle about the notion as do many others who know me. This season for the boys has admittedly been bumpy. We are a relatively young team with only two returning varsity players after a large group graduated. Last night was our last game.

I learned a lot this season, a little about basketball and a lot about life.

First I want to say to both our teams, the Zeniths and Pandas, I am proud of you and you bring honour to our school and community. Anyone that says otherwise based on a win-loss record or a few lost moments is not focused on what matters.

As coaches and adults involved in the lives of student athletes our duty is to build up not cut down, criticism must be constructive not destructive. What are we helping by reminding students of the moments things did not go right and placing blame on them? How can we ask students to keep their head up and keep going as we pile the weight of their mistakes on their shoulders and don’t let them forget?

Coaching and teaching have so many parallels. The other day I was going over some writing with a student and there were a lot of errors, a lot of areas that they could improve. Telling them all of them, piling them on would only weigh down the student and make the task seem impossible. So we look at the positives and then constructively add support to the weak areas. As a teacher I want to see my students succeed but not to the detriment of their self worth.

I have had a few examples of great coaches in my life. My father obviously to me is the ideal to try and attain. He taught me that sportsmanship was just as, if not more, important than winning. That players should be taught to help build teammates up, to support and not tear down and coaches should be the same. He also taught me that we can hold players to a high standard and help them get there when they stumble. The other example I now have is Ryan Blackmore who invited me to join him on this adventure this year. I still struggle to adjust to the rougher coaching style of Southern Alberta sports and sports culture. I am not really a fan of the “this is how it has always been” thinking that supports abusive fans, un-sportsman like behaviour and other things I see as issues and when Ryan asked me to join him he said things would be different and they were. He was a great example to the boys of passion and dedication with the occasional language violation that I came to appreciate and laugh about. What was most apparent was his dedication, respect and deep sense of caring for the players on the court, he took the time to build, we improved as a team and as people as the season went on and I am grateful for the time I had to learn from him.

Finally I just want to put in to words my gratitude for the kids. I am not a big speech person, i like to think and ponder and then write. To the student athletes I got to work with and support this year both the boys and girls. Thank you.

Thank you for holding your heads up when things got tough.

Thank you for being an example to the younger kids who come out to cheer you on with their homemade signs and funny costumes.

Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you all in a different role than a teacher in a classroom.

Thank you for laughing with me on the bench as I try and learn a game that is far more complicated than I ever knew.

Thank you for including me in this journey.

Your community is prouder of you then you will ever know and don’t let anyone tell you differently. If you really need proof look at the eight year olds who are following in your footsteps, the kids lining up at the end of a hard fought game just to show you the sign they made. The kids who proudly say they want to be a future Zenith or Panda. Look to the sweet old lady that travels in from out of town to zones just to cheer on “her teams”.

Losses are tough but those moments do not define you and they certainly do not diminish the honour you have brought to our community. You are teenagers and the weight of a town should not be on your shoulders.

Thank you for the season, for the great moments and the tough ones, they are what shape us.

Oh it is that time of year where the March Madness crazy starts to over take the world. I tend to love seeing the different brackets on books, poetry and other worthy endeavours to help tap into some of that excitement. I admire the teachers that present their students with wonderful short stories, picture books, novels and poems. I think it gives such a great opportunity to read and write as we personally evaluate the text in front of us to determine what we liked the most.

Today I was shown a post from instagram. The teacher is smiling and pointing to their March Madness bracket. The description below talks about all the different ways teachers use these brackets and then we get to the truly mad part of this, or at least the part that made me instantly open up the blog and write. The teacher in the picture had set up March Madness for iReady a computer based program similar to my nemesis AR in which students with the most points would move on each week in their bracket. So first public displays of students points on a program for all to see and then instead of celebrating beautiful text we are using some awful computer program to put our students in to reading competition.


What would motivate a teacher to take an idea that is fun and engages students with wonderful literature and turn towards a program? What would possess them to think it is a great idea to publicly display the short falls of students who do not pass enough tests?

I know this post will likely get me accused by some for teacher shaming. I am good with that. Why do we need one more thing ruined by quest to support computer programs over real books. And while I am at it why have we turned instagram into some kind of showroom for terrible practices in a quest for enough likes to become an “influencer”. Clearly that is a topic for another day.

Today I am going to set up a few different brackets. Short Stories, Picture Books and Poems and we are going to work on skills and celebrate beautiful books and there sure as heck will not be a test in iReady or AR after.

If you read this and feel the need to defend those programs please move on because I am not interested šŸ™‚

I missed my post yesterday. The least busy day of my week and I spent it researching and watching a movie and reading and relaxing and completely forgot to write. Funny how that happens.

I wonder often if the expectations I have for myself are at times too great. I want to have these great lessons in this beautiful literacy-rich classroom and some days things don’t go according to play.

It is ok. Today is short and sweet. It is ok to not always be adding to the highlight reel some days we are just working on the practice film šŸ™‚

March 2, 2019, Post 2 #SOL19

Gym Thinking

I start every morning but Sunday in the gym, by morning I mean I am there between 5:00-5:30 6 days a week for about an hour. Saturdays are my favourite because I can work out a bit longer. Today was a leg and shoulder day. As I moved into my squats I had this little pain in my knee. I ignored it and continued to work out, switching to another type of movement and the pain increased a bit. I rested a bit and returned to my activity but the pain soon returned.

I got to thinking about how we ignore little pains, little annoyances until they get bigger and then perhaps at that point we are too late. I look at the classroom and how we might have an issue with behaviours or academics that we ignore because they start small, how if we just paid more attention to them in their starting phases we wouldn’t have catastrophic damage to repair later.

I look at the simple interventions we might put into the classroom as so easy that we sometimes take them for granted. Rest and relaxation give the body time to heal just like small changes in other areas when trouble starts to develop can reset the course and make things right.

It is March 2nd and the coldest day we have had so far this winter. The promise of warmer weather is on the horizon. So much connection in all the thinking today I have been doing but the down feeling I had today could really be due to this obnoxious Arctic air mass. Gratitude for a warm home and Gym.

Until tomorrow. #sol19

Ok, so this is my second kick at the Slice of Life Challenge. The idea is to write every day in the month of March. It doesn’t have to be long just a chance to write. I love writing on the blog and getting my thoughts out there but some days I struggle to find a message I think is worthy to be out there. Some days this month it might be just a quick thought or reflection and others, like today, might be a bit of a deeper dive.

Basketball is nearing the end

This year I was asked to help out with basketball, I don’t really know how big of a help I have been if I am being completely honest. I don’t know much about basketball but I am learning. I guess that is kind of what this season has been for our team, a learning process. Last year our team won the Zone title, the year before that our team won the zone title. This year we are young as a team and currently, have a record of 2-9 I think maybe 2-10 in regular season play. I have learned a lot of things over the last few months.

  1. Basketball season is long, not hockey long but long and everyone starts to drift off as we approach the end. The kids are less focused, other sports they also play are getting closer to starting up drawing away some attention and for myself, the school work that sits in piles on my desk is really calling my name. Holding to that dedication can be hard but the fun in practice or the close games we are not expected to win but sure get close remind us that we have a commitment. Success can’t be the only indicator of progress and focusing on other things has sure helped us as a team.
  2. Even the most confident of players need reassurance. We have a lot of really talented boys on our team. Many are just learning what playing at the High School level is all about. As we start to fall behind in the score and struggle to keep our heads up I am reminded that everyone needs that positive affirmation.
  3. We can do hard things. This week we played one of the top-ranked teams and controlled most of the game almost winning in what the community at large would have viewed as an upset. As I mentioned we don’t have the winningest of records. But we started strong, the boys came together as a team and we worked off each other’s strengths. It was incredible watching them realize their potential. We sure had some hiccups, about 3 minutes of them in the third quarter but it felt like a turning point for our team.

It is funny as I look at the list how much of it can be applied to teaching. How the year is long but we need to focus on the great stuff, how even the most seasoned teachers need the reassurance that what they are doing is right and that we can all do hard things. I love teaching, I have loved coaching and am really enjoying the journey this year.

Now if spring would come that would really be the cherry on top haha.