Leveling up- Pre #g2great

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I have the wondrous joy of being a member of the #curiositycrew. A small group of educators that visit about all sorts of things. One that has come up this week as our founder is the inspiration behind the #g2great chat is the topic of reading levels and their use in school. #g2great is looking at this topic in its weekly chat (6:30pm MST Thursday)

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Now the topic of reading levels, for those that are not really in the “literacy world”, tends to boil down to if we should or shouldn’t apply levels to libraries or base students instruction on their reading levels. Personally, I think the topic is just another area where there seems to be a lot of grey area but not a lot of people in the grey.

I feel like there are too many that think the words reading levels are just the worst thing to happen to education and others who feel that if you do not level your students and libraries you are committing malpractice. For me, I think levels have a place but it is not in the conversations my students are having with one another.  It is not for the parents in a conference to ask, “What level are they?” and it is not for the librarian or teacher to limit student options for what to read.

Levels should play a part in informing a teachers instruction, a part of helping students build their skills with a text that they can work with, that will test them, stretch them but not frustrate them…too much. Levels should help me locate the best books for my students as a part of the equation but never the whole equation.

See, the problem I see is that two groups have gone too far in either direction. Levels to inform are not malpractice or some kind of oppressive force unless the teacher is using them that way. Teachers that are purposeful about using a leveled library that targets students areas of growth are not betraying their students’ rights to joyful book experiences, they are guiding their students to texts that they can experience success and grow with. On the other hand, teachers that do not believe in levels and avoid them are not causing harm, AS LONG AS they are still guiding students to successful books or at the very least providing the tools to make good book choices.

I use to have a leveled library complete with AR points listed in the books, those who know me likely just gasped out loud, trust me I had a hard time typing that but it was true. I was lead on a path in literacy that placed its focus on the wrong place. Thankfully I started paying attention to my students. Not their levels, not their labels but them. Their reading choices, their reading habits, their reading life.

Going too far in one direction is only going to put us further apart and make it hard to see the true reason we do what we do, our students. Levels used properly are a tool that can lead to powerful literacy growth. Not utilizing and paying attention to your students reading level can have tragic results.

In the end, it is the teacher and the student and their relationship that is the magic literacy ingredient. Not if you use a level or not, but if you see your student as a learner or a level.

Also just so we are clear AR is the worst but that can be for another day  🙂

To my students

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Today is the last day of classes for this school year. It has been an incredibly fast year. I had learned a lot from all of you. Coming from teaching elementary I really thought the difference would not be that significant. Boy was I wrong but in the best possible way. I read an article from Jason Reynolds a few weeks ago where he gave advice to your generation. Ten things that he wanted you to know. Today as I reflect on the year I have a few things I would like you to know.

  1. You are all unique and that is perfect. In a world where it is frowned upon to stand out, where some will say it makes you a target I am so incredibly proud of the unique people you are. The barrel racers, the basketball players, the parkour athletes, the sings, the actors and the writers. Hold on to your uniqueness, celebrate it, the world would be a boring place if we all did the same thing.
  2. Remember to be kind. It is easy to make others feel bad about themselves. DO not take the easy road. Look to celebrate those you interact with, in school and in life. People will remember who you are down the road, in 20 years at a reunion do you want to be the person remember for kindness or cruelty?
  3. Be Brave. Try new things and explore who you want to be. As you approach High School you will have a lot of big decision to make. Make sure that you take the chances now to find out what you want to do in the future. Remember failure is the first steps to success.
  4. Read and Write Daily. Give it a try, you will learn a lot about who you are if you give it a chance.
  5. I am not going anywhere. Remember I am still in the school and happy to talk books, look at writing and just chat if you need it. I might not be teaching you next year but I will still be in your corner.

Just a few little points as my last class watch big hero 6 and others play video games, some are studying for tests and a few are texting on their phone. A perfect little snapshot of the community we are, unique and awesome.

The Fountain of Youth

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I have written about picture books a lot over the course of my blog. I have no shame in admitting I love them. I love to use them in my class, I love to read them to my nieces and nephews and I love to read them after a long day. There is something about both the simplicity and the powerful messages they contain that just pull me in. They give that permission to be a kid again. To sit down for just 10 minutes and take in a great story.

The other day a friend of mine mentioned that she was told that she was “not allowed” to use picture books with her high school students. It was a sad reminder that picture books are not viewed as quality literature by many. I decided today to write about why picture books are not only quality literature but they are powerful. When used correctly they can help us teach concepts, themes, writing structure and so many other Language Arts related skills. But to me most importantly, in a time where kids are over-scheduled, when junior high students are already worried about grades, with anxiety that they might not get into a good college if they don’t spend all their time on school and sports and clubs, when they just need a reminder that it is ok to not be so serious all the time, that we can enjoy a great story and enjoy the artistry that the illustrator provides.

The person that says picture books are not sophisticated enough for a high school student, do not tell a strong enough story, has clearly never read That Squeak by Carolyn Beck. A story of loss, misjudgments and ultimately friendship. I could take the words of that story, type them up and hand them out as a “short story” The purpose of eliminating picture books would be met, however, so much would be lost if we removed the beautiful pictures and we would also lose an opportunity to look at the illustrator’s choices and analyze why they did what they did, how the style matches the text and so on.

I utilize books like, I am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer with haunting illustrations by Gillian Newland, to address sensitive topics in a different way. The impact of seeing some of the scenes in images added to the reverence in the room as we learned more about an experience in residential schools. But picture books cover so many different topics with a grace and care that is unique to the medium. If we are looking at poverty like in Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts or the impact of cruelty and the need for kindness addressed in a favourite of mine, Wilfred by Ryan Higgins. The possibilities are near endless when utilizing picture books in the classroom.

I am a believer in Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. Picture books are spectacular tools to practice those skills. Pernille Ripp blogs about it here among other places. I love using Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki for both NOtice and Note and Book-Head-Heart, another Kylene and Robert framework. My junior high students find the work more enjoyable than they have with shorter stories or novels. We use all three but picture books provide so many unique stories that my students can all enjoy.

In the end, the biggest reason for me is just to take that moment to appreciate the messages in picture books in a way that is accessible to many.  A grade 7 student can venture down to a kindergarten room and work with a text that the Kindergarten student can enjoy but the older student can also benefit from in so many ways. I would like to believe that is equally true as we enter the high school setting.

Picture Books are like the fabled Fountain of Youth. They give us permission to be a kid again. To laugh, to learn and to grow with a text that we can go back to again and again. My students just finished their reading autobiographies and many listed picture books from their childhood because the impact was real. Why would we limit our students’ chances at growth? To experience joyful literacy work just because we think they are “too old” for a picture book. Why is everyone rushing to grow up and why has the light-hearted (at times) nature of picture books taken on a bad name as we move students through their school years.  My students can learn just as much about the world and the power of forgiveness reading Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as they will from any short story. The wisdom that is in the book and the moments that can be observed are countless.

I love picture books and so do many of my students. When we get them out to work they see it as a treat. They laugh at Albie Newton, they adore Perfectly Norman and they go back time and again to the stories of Peter Reynolds because…well Peter Reynolds is a genius.

If you have not taken the dive into the deep sea of great that Picture Books are in all classrooms you should rectify that. Take a chance, I even have a few suggestions.

 

An interesting process

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With the last week of school officially starting today, I am looking at the week and what we will be doing to close out the year. One of the things I am doing with my grade 7 class is Reading Autobiographies. A friend of mine shared a coworkers post about them and I was inspired. I would link here but I lost it.

I started by writing my own little reading memoir to share with my class.

Memoirs of a Reader

We read through it and I shared my reading experiences. Kind of like a big book talk.  Then I extended the exercise to my students. At first, I was greeted with a lot of “I can’t remember the books my mom read to me!” or “there are no books that stick out.” Slowly but surely though moments of excitement erupted. Finding a book that they remembered, Clifford’s Halloween or A Promise is a Promise by Robert Munsch. They talked about their first novels and the books they have read over and over. They talked about the lessons they learned about the importance of being honest from The Berenstain Bears or the importance of taking a bath from Pete the cat.

Through the process, my students recognized the impact and role that books really played in their lives. How they have attached them to memories with little effort. That is the power of books. It isn’t in getting kids to answer questions or write reports. The power of books is to become a part of peoples stories.

I think the field of education is so concerned with kids being marked and making sure a book is a “good fit” that we forget that first books should be a part of our lives. They should be those fond memories that we can recall.

The marks and questions will come with time but they will also fade. No child fondly remembers their first AR test or Star reader exam. They remember their first novel, their first picture book, the story their mom read to them at night or the book they read as a family.

 

Perspective and taking a step back

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As the school year is coming to a rather quick close. I still remember the start of the school year and sharing picture books with my kids. I remember clearly moments like reading Mama by Jacqueline Woodson and a student having to excuse themselves overcome with emotion, I remember my first book talk of the year “Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand and how it is now tattered on the shelf from all the readers it has made its way to.  I remember meeting the members of my PLN the Curiosity Crew early in the school year and starting a learning journey with them and so many others. Now it is June and as I look back I take a moment and reflect. The moments are wonderful, they make me happy and my students did learn but could they have learned more? Could I have been better?

I think we all have room to improve and take a step back, take in all that is happening around us and make decisions based on not just what we hear but also what we see and in the end what we experience.

When I first started teaching I came in like a hurricane, I was armed with all these new current teachings and instructional practices and I was not trying to hear any advice from established teachers because they way they taught was out of date. I have written about this and I look back and in the words of my dear friend Mary Howard I was being a Professional Bully. I disregarded anything that did not align with my opinion, I rolled my eyes at suggestions that we all do a Penguin unit for no reason other than they liked Penguins, I threw the suggested workbooks in the garbage and taught about Social Studies curriculum through the events happening in the world. I was killing it and I also did not keep a job. I was difficult, I made my co-workers uncomfortable, I questioned their practice in a way that only made them feel bad it did not help them take that important step back and reflect on themselves.

Lately, I have these thoughts come back to me as I see debates on Twitter with topics like:

  • Voice and Choice vs Teacher Directed
  • Conferencing vs Skills in Isolation
  • Teacher Planning vs Personalized learning plans
  • Test Scores vs Student engagement
  • Play-based learning vs Traditional Early instruction

 

The only common thread I see in any of these points is VS. Conflict is not why I got into the field of education. I became a teacher because I had great ones that primarily taught using practices that I look down on today. I am not defending a practice that has been proven ineffective I am just wondering if we can not make the conversations around our practices more productive.

The Professional Bully that Mary referred to here is a real person. They are comfortable in their ways and take offence at the notion that they are no longer the best ways. I caught myself today after reading Mary’s brilliant post and reflected that some might think I am a professional bully. When the term AR comes up in conversation I respond with nothing but negativity. There is not an argument out there that will convince me it is a good program. You want to end independent reading time I will argue with you and happily enter that arena of conflict but we shouldn’t have to.  If the idea is and should be, that students are our number one focus we need to not be rigid in any practice. My wife tells me stories of kids that love AR in the elementary. They are reading their first books ever, I should celebrate for that child because they have a book and are reading. I shouldn’t make that moment about my opinion and scoff and talk about how terrible AR is, that is not the time for that fight.

My friend Susan and I were talking the other day about balance and the danger of pushing things too much one way. I think we need to look at all the practices out there and work to find what is best. A part of that, I think, is taking that step back and maybe a step into the shoes of others to try and see things from their perspective.

This was a random jumbling of thoughts but I do think we need to be kinder and more welcoming. Bees with honey and all that. Those Professional Bullies (I really love the term) are out there and sometimes I can be one. I want to work to understand the points of those I disagree with and work to find a solution that helps the most students.

Perhaps too lofty a goal.

Who’s Watching

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This post has been bouncing around for the last few years if I am being honest. The topic started out as just an observation on school sports, mostly the adults of school sports. The coaches, the parents, the spectators, and how they set the example for our children and what is and is not acceptable. This is morphing into another idea about pressure and the unfair amount of it that is being placed on the backs of our young athletes but let me start where I began.

I have attended a lot of sporting events in my life and I was raised by a father who as a coach valued the sportsmanship award as much if not more than the championship. As a teacher, I love going to see my students play in their different sports. Cheering them on and supporting their efforts win or lose.

Here is where we are about to get real…

I have noticed more and more I am not sure all the adults in the space are there to support the kids.

Things I have seen

  • Coaches yelling at kids
  • Coaches yelling at fans
  • Fans heckling kids (Elementry track meet, yup parents heckling 10-year-olds)
  • Kids with vicious, unkind chants and cheers and adults smiling at them laughing at the cruelty

What are we doing? We are adults and we shame kids for losing a game? We are adults and we are hoping that children fail so that others can win. Literally, wishing a child in a track meet fall so another can win? What are we doing as fans that a 13-year-old feels emboldened enough to tell off a ref because he thinks the ref has treated him unfairly? What are we doing? What are we doing that makes a child who misses a basket or starts to lose a game break down in tears, wiping his eyes as he runs to try and fix his “mistake” all will his coach throws up his hands symbolizing he has already given up on them. What are we doing?

More importantly, who is watching?

Kids learn from the examples put before them.

Are we helping them to be better? Not on the court or the field but in life?

I can’t help but think we are not.

No one will remember the track score, or the football highlights 20 years from now. They will remember who made a positive impact in their life. Kids should be motivated by the celebrations of success, not the fear of failure and what comes next.

We should always remember “Who’s Watching”

 

17 days…

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Yup that is how many days I have left with my students this year, and before you get on a high horse or soap box and tell me that I shouldn’t be counting down, I am not. I am looking forward. I am looking forward to time to learn without the rush, to plan without the potential of field trips getting in the way. I am looking forward to the new things I will get to do with my students next year, I am looking forward to the time for reflection that summer brings.

As teachers work through the year that term “burnout” pops up almost as much as the most annoying word in, I think, the education world (after AR of course) morale. This idea that teachers are so tired of their students that they just can’t keep going. I think it is real for a small number of teachers and I think it is a substitute for “tired” for many.

Last year there was a moment where I was on the fence. If things went one way I was ready to be done teaching, I wasn’t burnt out and I wasn’t tired of my students. I was tired of everything else. Things went another way and I have had the greatest year, a year of change, a year of growth and a year of learning.

I am not burnt out but I sure am tired. We are supposed to be tired, we are working hard. If I leave the gym and I am tired I don’t say I am burnt out. I reflect and say “Holy crap I kicked butt today but man I am tired”. Teachers talk about Growth Mindset all the time but still get pulled into this burnt out narrative.

I have 17 days to go and then after a couple months of learning, discovering and yes relaxing I get to try new things, with some new students and some old. I get to explore new ways of learning and that is exciting. Also, it is ok. It is ok to be tired, it is ok to want a break and it is ok to look forward to it.  It doesn’t take away from the joy I have had this year and plan to have for the next 17 days. My kids are ready for the break. So am I.

#curiositycrew “NO BOOKS FOR YOU” pt3

#curiositycrew, Thoughts and Reflections

Welcome back for the final piece in our little team thought experiment. We started with a simple question of what to do when told, “Independent reading is not appropriate for students with special needs who should be using their time for skills instruction” and morphed into advocacy and tips for next practices that can help students with those needs get the best of both worlds.  I feel like balance is key when looking at helping our most struggling readers. Today Kitty and I are going to finish things up.

Kitty Donohoe a thirty-year veteran classroom teacher of primary grades in a public school located in Santa Monica, CA.

 I love being a teacher now more than ever and one of my main goals as a teacher is to get children to see themselves as readers and to love books. I am thinking a quote that Roald Dahl wrote on reading may fit this conversation well,

Roald Dahl Quote

My point is that without the time to foster this love in class under the guidance of a teacher, this love of reading won’t just magically develop in all homes as not all homes are set up to support this. I know from life experience that reading has saved me, at some of my most painful times in life, like at the hospital bed of a loved one soon to die, I had a book in my hand to help me deal with the pain I was facing.

Brent Junior High Language Arts Teacher and The Mr.G in Things Mr.G Says.

When I first read the message from a fellow teacher that they were told (ordered) to stop making time for students with specialized education plans to independently read I was brought back to a time when I was told by an administrator that Independent Reading was not really literacy because I was not “teaching” anything.

This brought back a flood of memories for me. The importance of independent choice reading first being brought to my attention by my idol Kylene Beers. She directed me to The Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller, who lead me to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher and my further journey to better my practice brought me to the inspiring Pernille Ripp. Then there are so many more teachers who inspire me, they have not written books, but they know the importance of children reading them.  I am troubled by the notion that not all those who call themselves teachers see that value of books in hands. The value of all students having a voice in what they get to read. I say all students because the ones under attack right now from some voices in the world of literacy are the ones that struggle to be a part of the group much of their school lives. The students that need that little extra help, that assistance to achieve with their peers. The ones that are limited in their choices in other areas of education because they might not be quite ready to move on to new topics. Those students, the vulnerable learners. Those are the ones that some say we should marginalize more, seclude more, limit more by taking away their right to read independently.

Now before we get all crazy (like the proponents against IR) like Mary says, no one is arguing for some kind of sit and read without any prior or ongoing instruction or conferencing. I am arguing for giving students tools and giving them the space to use them. All students. Last year I had students show tremendous growth as they discovered a love of reading. How did that happen? Independent reading and conferencing. Pull out had never worked. The student was in grade 6 at a grade 4 level. The last I taught them they had been in grade 3 at a grade 2 level. Behind but not insurmountable. Then they fell into the land of Soulless intervention. Photocopied readers, rooms of isolation and time away from peers. Growth of any degree halted and a resentment of reading began. In grade 6 I started the year with a question I learned in PD, “Describe yourself as a reader” the answer sticks with me. “I am not a reader, I am behind and have to read those little books.” We talked about what he was interested in and what books might be interesting. We started with articles and worked towards novels. He read alone, checked in with me, we made our own running records and analyzed mistakes then read INDEPENDENTLY some more. He grew as a reader and I grew as a learner. We can’t get better at something without practice. A coach does not limit their players potential by making them do a drill in isolation separate from their team and we should not limit our students potential by telling them they can’t read independently in class until they are better readers. They will become better readers by getting that time. They will build their confidence in both reading and themselves. The best part? They become part of a community that they have been missing from. A community of readers that are proud to share their books. Yes books, not photocopied readers about penguin migration.

We can’t allow the voices that oppose independent reading to control the conversation through their bullying and calls to “get out more” we need to display the power in choice, the power in community. The power in reading free and independent with the tools we have been taught to use.

Think for a moment, you are running behind by no fault of your own. Meeting friends for dinner you are stuck in traffic. You arrive late and your friends have already ordered and have these delicious meals in front of them. You go to order but the waiter says, “Sorry the kitchen is closed, but here are some breadsticks” And you just have to be happy with the breadsticks while your friends are eating steak. NO ONE JUST WANTS BREADSTICKS!

Don’t be the teacher that makes kids eats breadsticks while their friends are eating steak. For heaven’s sake open the kitchen. Books are there for reading, not segregation, kids have enough problems getting access to books outside of school if it is just time, parental influence or poverty. Limiting them access in school, where they should be safe to learn, isn’t just bad practice it is cruel. Independent reading is that time students get to discover themselves as readers, find the books they love, the characters they can’t get enough of. It is the time they need to practice the skills they are developing. It is that practice that we can include all our students in for even 10 minutes a day where everyone feels a part of the community. That is what school should be about. No some stupid program that they have to do that isolates them and puts them on display as “less than” all at the same time.

I appreciate those who joined us this week and my dear friends in the Curiosity Crew for their additions. I hope we can do it again.

Open the kitchen

 

#curiositycrew “NO BOOKS FOR YOU” pt2

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How do we follow up the brilliance of Dr. Mary Howard? Well, I recruit a couple of my brilliant buddies for a follow-up post. If you happened to miss part one with Mary here is a link.  Today Curiosity Crew members Susan Vincent and Roman Nowak are sharing their views as it comes to reading, working with striving readers and the importance of individual approaches to intervention that view the student first.

A coach does not...

Susan Vincent, teacher education at Miami University Regionals, proud former Reading Recovery teacher leader

 

“A coach does not limit their player’s potential by making them do a drill in isolation…”

When I read this in Brent’s post, it reminded me of research I learned about at a Reading Recovery conference. The research focused on two kinds of practice in learning a new, complex skill. This research has been applied to various contexts, including basketball, tennis, and music.  One type of practice is called blocked practice. This type of practice breaks down a complex skill into sub-skills. The sub-skills are then drilled in isolation until mastered, before moving on to the next subskill. The other type of practice is called random practice. It requires the learner to practice sub-skills within a larger context, such as a basketball game or a piece of music. The sub-skills are needed in a random fashion, rather than just repeatedly performed.

Research shows much greater gains in skills when using random practice. Explanations include the fact that in random practice, the learner must remain more engaged because they are needing to make decisions and choices, rather than just simply repeating an action. Another explanation is that the learner must actively “re-learn” the sub-skill or generate the solution again each time it is needed.

Does this relate to independent reading? I think so. When our classrooms devote inordinate amounts of time to blocked practice, we are robbing our learners of the chance to be more actively engaged in reading books, where they can practice a variety of sub-skills in authentic circumstances.

Do we need to eliminate blocked practice? Of course not. All learners need some concentrated practice of sub-skills. But each teacher (and administrator) needs to take stock of how the majority of their students’ time is being spent. Especially struggling readers. These readers are fed an even larger diet of sub-skill drill, often barely reading books at all in their school day. We have evidence of what works. Large amounts of whole-text reading, with feedback and instruction from a teacher, and some daily learning of sub-skills has been shown to be extremely effective. Let’s just do it!

 

When a flower

Roman Nowak, High School English Teacher, Student Success Leader, Agent of Transformation

“Reading is like dreaming with eyes wide open.” – unknown

Reading is a magical experience. It helps you imagine, it helps you see and feel through eloquent words and stories. Yet much of what is going on in our schools is hindering this same magic from being experienced by so many kids.

There is nothing like when you see the face of child light up after a good story or get excited to share something that he or she just read. When kids can feel the emotions that characters bring out in them, it becomes an extraordinary experience. So when we encounter kids who struggle with reading, who have challenges feeling those emotions and understanding those words, why do we isolate them and ask them to perform small meaningless tasks to simply try and get them to level? Reading and storytelling has always been a communal activity. From ancient civilizations, communities would gather around the hearth and share traditions, lessons and stories. These stories, later written down, were always meant to be shared and talked about. So how can we recreate this magical experience in our classroom? We need to be bold, brave and do what it takes for kids; all kids.

There is no easy answer and there is not definite formula that will work for all kids. As educators, we need to understand that as unique as each child is before us, every reading intervention must also be unique. Therefore, I would like to suggest the following to all educators:

1) Avoid labels. Although labels and categories have been used to help us be efficient (from categorizing species, to organizing stores, etc.), people cannot be treated in the same way. We may think that offering the same solution to all larger group of kids, not at level is the easier answer, but that is not the case. We need to meet each child where he or she is. Whether you have a newcomer to your class from another country, a student who has not been read to as a child, a boy who struggles to find meaning in chosen texts, a student who finds difficult connections with emotions experienced in a story; we need to avoid grouping students by labels and thinking that one solution will work for them. We must remember that we are not vaccinating our population against illiteracy, we are helping them discover the power in voice and the written word.

2) Always set high expectations. No matter the students you have before you, believe and share your high expectations with them and their parents. It is a common misconception that when we have struggling readers or learners, we bring down the levels that we expect them to reach; this is the most devastating belief we can share. Let students choose stories and books that interest them. Help them navigate the words, the strategies and the supports needed to understand the meaning in the stories. Do not destroy the dreams of the children before you by telling them they are not capable. Guide them down a path of learning and discovery that will bring them to where they want to go.

3) Know that time is flexible. This may seem impossible in the current structure of grades and levels, but be bold, and challenge the status quo. Remember what George Evans shared: “Every student can learn, just not on the same day or in the same way.” We need to stop expecting that all kids will follow each other and all be at the same levels of reading as they progress through school. This is an impossible expectation. Acknowledge that unicity of each child and help them become more prolific readers, no matter the starting point. Advocate for your students, that no matter the label (English-language learners, special ed, gifted, etc.), you are there to support them: their heart and soul as readers. When you focus on each child, you cannot go wrong.

So I would personally like to thank the leaders and heroes such as Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Mary Howard, Jennifer Lagarde and countless others who not only advocate for access to books but who also challenge educators to teach reading with our heart. It is because of their passion and leadership, that educators such as myself can find our voice and stand in unison to do what is right for kids.   

Some may say that challenging a system is impossible, but I refuse to believe that. When it is for kids, nothing is more important, nothing is impossible. Let us remember, the wise words of Alexander Den Heijer: “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” So I challenge each and every one of you! Help each flower in your classroom bloom and help share their colour with the world.

Thanks again for reading everyone. I want to thank my dear friends Susan who is often on the front lines battling the forces of drill and kill and the Canadian Kindness Ambassador and my future podcast co-host (project yet to be titled) Roman for their contributions this week. If you are looking for some more thoughts on how we can individualize our approach to make sure we maximize the joy for all our students I would suggest you check out this brilliant post, “On Reading Rewards” from Pernille Ripp who Roman mentioned above. I can not count the times I have recommended all teachers of literacy to check out her blog and go buy her book Passionate Readers here. We all learn best when we learn together. We are passionate about this because the stakes are so high.

Tune in tomorrow when my dear friend Kitty and I close out this 3 part series. But I have a sneaking suspicion it will not be the last Curiosity Crew Series. We missed a few of our people this time 🙂

#curiositycrew “No Books for you” pt1

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I look back at that episode of Seinfeld and the Soup Nazi. That, “if you do this perfectly then you get the soup but one mistake, one thing out of place and NO SOUP FOR YOU” Last week a friend of mine shared an experience where their teaching was questioned by a “higher up” The topic of concern? Independent reading time and if it is appropriate for students classified as special needs. My friend thought it not only appropriate but essential, the higher up thought it a waste of time and malpractice if you can believe that. Can we just take a moment and think about that, A student with educational needs that differ from their classmates already are now limited in the tasks they are allowed to participate in. Not limited because they can’t read A text, limited because surely there is no possible way they could get anything from independent reading. Someone has evaluated them and decided, “No books for you”

I was haunted by this notion that a child who struggles is undeserving of the time to read and enjoy a book of their choice and so my concerns were posted with some of the best minds I know. The Curiosity Crew,  starting with our founder and Chief Officer of Ranting Awesome Dr. Mary Howard. Over the next few days, we will release another post on the topic by other members of our PLN as there is just too much awesome for one post. Please take some time and read what Mary has to say about independent reading.

Mary Howard; Literacy Consultant/Author; RTI from All Sides, Good to Great Teaching

As educators, we have all experienced those intense uncomfortable moments when we watch with sadness as our professional world seems to spin out of control around us and we feel ill-equipped to stop the downward spiral. That sense of helplessness seems to have snowballed in an age where knowledgeable professionals once trusted to make thoughtful choices that are responsive to the needs of children have been replaced by dictatorial mandates far removed from the powerful student-centered decision-making process that beckoned us all to teaching.

Independent reading has been a recent popular victim in that out-of-control professional spiral. In spite of decades of research to support the dramatic role that reading volume plays both in and out of school, voices are imploring educators to summarily ignore the research and refute the time, resources and opportunities that would bring volume to life. Unfortunately, asking us to turn a blind eye to volume and independent reading is often grounded in the belief that a far better expenditure of time would be an expensive investment in one-size-fits-all boxes crippling with mind-numbing compliance pushing educators ever closer toward professional submission.

To make this situation even worse, certain student populations have been deemed unworthy of our research-based commitment to volume as independent reading is slowly being slashed to nonexistent in some classrooms. The tragic side-effect of this questionable proposition has long been true for many children who have been identified for instructional support within the higher tiers of RTI (Response to Intervention) or any framework designed to offer additional support within or beyond a general education setting.

While we are concerned about the potential negative impact this can have on all children, we are specifically calling to task our failed responsibility to those students identified for special education services. Although an exclusionary perspective is not a new problem, a strained atmosphere in education has exacerbated a disturbing trend in recent years. Many teachers are being told that increasing the volume of reading through meaningful authentic engagement in choice reading is a waste of time for special education students. In fact, some educators have even been warned that their jobs are at risk if they have the audacity to allow those students to engage in independent reading of any kind. Yes, you read that right.

Each of us have read the research on the significant impact of increasing reading volume and we are collectively committed to independent reading. We have savored the words of brilliant minds who are passionate about joyful daily reading for all children like Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Teri Lesesne, Debbie Miller, Regie Routman, Stephanie Harvey, Ellin Keene, Lester Laminack and researchers who are dedicated to this topic such as Dick Allington, Stephen Krashen, John Guthrie, Linda Gambrell, and Peter Johnston. These great thinkers fuel our unwavering allegiance to independent reading and inspire us to turn our back on critics who wish that we would abandon practices that they consider frivolous at best.

We would like to emphasize that we are not talking about simply doling out books to relegate students to a corner of the room so that we can seek respite behind the teacher’s desk for a quiet moment of solitude. Rather we are talking about intentional modeling, guided support and repeated opportunities to apply learning over time, gradually fading that support as we observe, confer, support and gently nudge students to collaborative conversations revolving around books. We are referring to knowledgeable professionals making thoughtful instructional choices responsive to the needs of our children; teachers who use these experiences to inform their professional choice to immerse students in books they can read and want to read – and yes to intentionally teach.  

Imagine this for just a moment. You are well aware of the research on reading volume and believe deeply in the independent reading practices we are describing here. You have made room in every learning day for these practices and students eagerly await the dedicated blocks of time you have lovingly placed into each day and have gathered a wide array of the best text options. You know that these opportunities to read and discuss their way to new meaning launches students on a journey leading closer to the readerly lives they deserve, both in and beyond the school day. Can you envision students joining together in a community of readers?

Okay, now imagine that you have just been told that membership to this community of readers is by invitation only and is restricted to less proficient readers. Oddly enough, the very children who should receive a golden ticket into the reading community door are prohibited from these experiences. Instead, they are removed from those opportunities to travel to another room, too often a place where voluminous reading is replaced by isolated skill and drill that is anything but authentic and joyful. Or worse, some are prohibited from participating in these experiences altogether based solely on the ill-conceived advice of uninformed others.

Sadly, this scenario does not reside in our imaginations. It is a reality for a growing number of teachers and their unfortunate would-be readers. Such absurd mandates as this are happening in schools everywhere with increasing prevalence. Those mandates are coming from people with a financial or professional agenda or from those who have no knowledge of the research that drives our determination to increase voluminous reading. The impact of these questionable choices is clear and lingering: we are losing some of our readers before we can even initiate that joyful journey in the first place. We believe that this is misguided and utterly counterintuitive to the research findings.

And we are cheating the children at the center of these mandates in every sense of the word.

Thanks for reading. Tomorrow We will get the wonderful thoughts of Susan Vincent and Roman Nowak. If you want to follow along in the conversation the posts will also be shared via Twitter and maybe even a little Twitter chat will be in our future.