I start teaching a new group (and some old) in a few short weeks. To say I am excited would be an understatement. I love teaching, I am not that teacher that mourns the loss of my free time when summer ends, I mourn the chance to tan, I mourn the coconut oil and freedom to just sit in the sun with a book but I do not mourn the return to work because I love what I do. My favourite thing is reading with and talking about books with my students. Working through a novel and hearing the gasps as understandings are reached and Aha Moments causing an eruption of discussion. I love the moments of understanding, a connection that we reach together around a beautiful picture book but most of all I love seeing students pick what they want to read, discovering who they are as a reader and just wanting more.

This post, I hope will help you (parents of young readers), to deal with the inevitable moment when your child comes home and says that only novels count as reading in their classroom, they can’t read Diary of a Wimpy kid anymore because it is not a “real book” or reading an article online does not count for their reading homework. When your child comes home with those words in their head I would kindly ask you to tell them that they can read whatever they want. Advocate for your young readers, there is no science that says kids reading articles will make them incapable of reading a novel, there is no science out there that says reading a comic book will delay a students ability to enjoy a novel when they are ready. As a teacher of readers, I can not think of anything better than a child wanting to read outside my doors and a parent that will support them in that journey. I thank you for what you do, for the support you are to me and all the other teachers out there that are working to change a system that is still stuck in the same texts we endured as children, that still fight against the notion that choice reading and reading for fun should be limited to novels. We need your support and welcome it.

Now for a slight rant. (Parents feel free to stop reading here)

On Facebook this fine morning I was alerted to a tweet that my mentor and friend Mary Howard shared. A Teacher/Parent was discussing the fact that her middle school child came home to announce that they would be required to read for “fun” complete with a helpful list to help guide the fun (SOUNDS SO FUN ALREADY). These super lucky students have 3 option to read “Challenging Book” complete with a beautiful description “Bigger, Higher, More confusing words” or they can read “Just Right Books” those that are “perfect” for their reading level. Finally my favourite category of all “Holiday Books” (insert side eye gif or emoticon) those books, just if you are wondering, maybe want to include this wording in a note home yourselves, these are the “easy, short, rereads” If this nonsense wasn’t bad enough the next line of the note just made me sad. “Comic books, articles, ebooks-on phones, and children’s picture books are NOT PERMITTED” Oh my you come at my comics and picture books we are going to have words. Somewhere during a presentation by an amazing educator or while reading a current book on literacy practice this teacher must have fallen asleep or the threat to their own thinking was too great their brains shut down. Advocating for children to have time free reading should be free! Let them read what they want, reading an article is going to build background knowledge that will help them to connect to texts in ways they previously could not. Comic books of all forms are examples of diversity, they give us micro-opportunities to explore the author’s choices, I can’t even wrap my head around why we shouldn’t let kids use their phones as e-readers but I bet it has to do with trust and control (side eye again) and that brings us to picture books. If you are a teacher that advocates for free reading but limits kids from reading picture books I don’t know how to help you. The power of picture books, the accessibility to text, the depth of conversations that surround the ideas within. I have spent whole class periods digging deeply into the words of Jacqueline Woodson in her beautiful story Each Kindness, we look at themes through the work of Peter Reynolds and his countless stories that are both beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated. We laugh Reading the Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and we cry reading That Squeak by Carolyn Beck. If picture books don’t count as reading what does?

Free reading is a great start, let us not ruin it with some archaic idea that the only reading that matters is a novel.

 

The school year is fast approaching, I am getting really excited to try out the different things I have learned over the summer. I have been reading books by a number of teacher authors and plan to read more and incorporate their ideas into my lessons. To work their teachings in my day. Looking at 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts, Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney, all books full of strategies and ideas to improve my teaching. I am excited to try everything and see what works, what I can use, what I can combine and what I can transform to best fit my teaching style.

I have loved growing as a teacher through my interactions on Twitter but more and more lately I feel like the message I see on Twitter is that teaching and being a great teacher is not enough, that we need to do more. That teaching needs to be fun and entertaining and gamified and dress up and Pintrested and Instagrammed and the more I see that thinking embraced I worry that we are forgetting about the need to have strong pedagogy. I saw a tweet the other day in response to the sea of tweets about how teachers shouldn’t start the year with rules, and expectations but with relationship building and fun. I struggle with the idea that we can’t do both. I have moments where I question if I am just not doing enough, I won’t be dressing up to greet my students, heck I don’t even dress up for Halloween, but my kids love my class (or at least that is what their parents tell me) I won’t be making a game of our full class novels but my students are going to gasp when Johnny dies in Outsiders or when they realize the twists in Refugee. I won’t be transforming my class into an experience beyond one where we read and write and talk as a community.

The other day I asked myself what the message is when teachers are always talking about teaching like… a million different things and then I saw a hashtag by Gravity Goldberg #teachlikeyourself and I decided that is what I need most and that authenticity is what my students need as well.

This year I am going to focus on teaching like me, it has worked pretty well so far.

Building on an idea

Last week I watched the powerful Netflix special Nanette by Hannah Gadsbey. I came across so many recommendations for the film and finally decided to sit down and watch it. I would pass along the recommendation to anyone. The idea that we all have a story but so often only a small piece of the story sees the light of day really resounded with me and I can see where it can impact my teaching and as such I have thoughts. I have let them just scratch at the back of my brain kind of like how Molly the less than Wonderdog tends to scratch at the back door.

“We learn from the part of the story we focus on”

I thought this was such a powerful line in the film and really made me think about what we focus on. I know I have talked about the importance of stories of our students and co-workers before, what I feel is new in my frame of thought is the idea of focus. When we look at student behaviour we often focus on the “problem” and search for a solution but we rarely put our focus on the cause. I think looking at the whole story, letting students have the chance to tell it, not just some of the parts but building a relationship that is strong enough to support their whole story, that they feel safe and protected is key in building those relationships. What are we learning about our students? Do we get the whole story? What about our colleagues are we giving them the chance to share their stories?

“Stories hold our cure”

Simple statement that holds a lot of power. If the answer to much of our struggles is in the stories how do we not take the time to listen? Life is busy, school is busy. THere is a lot to do but I do not think there is anything more important than letting our students know that we want to know their stories. Looking at the “how” I think the answer is in the personalization of education. Are we talking to our students about how they best learn? Are we conferring with them around their work? Are we taking those moments to learn our students’ stories? These last few days I have been in a discussion around the reliance we have on in the teaching profession at times on the “quick fixes” I think when it comes to learning our students’ stories it is all about time, there is no quick fix. Finding ways to open up our schedule for more student one on one, more conversations and more authentic work will be a great first step. When we are doing things like putting students in front of worksheets and in authentic activities we are telling them that their time is not worth ours. No stories will be told when students don’t feel valued.

Our focus needs to be on the connection

As a school, the culture is the most important piece. Do staff feel connected with staff? With students? Do students feel connected with each other? How can we build those connections? How do we help students feel safe to tell their stories? These are the questions that are so important to answer. This is the work that we are trusted to do. The Reading, Writing and Arithmetic will come once the connections are built, once students have a chance to tell their stories and we choose to focus on the whole thing, not just the part that sticks out the most. When we focus on the why and listen to the answer we will be better prepared to help our students succeed but not just succeed. To feel seen, wanted, respected and valued. That is the goal we should be pursuing in our classrooms.

Closing Thoughts

I am grateful for the opportunity to watch Nanette, to be able to take the parts that stuck out to me and apply it to my thinking regarding my students and coworkers. In the end, it is all about connection, we never know someones full story until they feel free enough to tell it. Let’s not assume we understand the actions of others without getting that chance to learn with them.

Woke up this morning early and hit the gym, had a great workout and then decided to work a bit on some school work, reading and tanning. I had a great day of thinking followed by a bit of frustration. I am going to talk about both in the post that follows.

Reading 180 days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle I am reworking a lot of what I did last year to set myself and my students up for more of a workshop model. I am really loving the ideas that Kittle and Gallagher have brought together in this book and highly recommend it.

I have been using Gallagher’s “Write Like This” for the last few years, I have loved the process of building better writers through focusing on different writing purposes. After attending a few Gallagher workshops I have adopted the idea of modelling my writing with the students, writing with them warts and all.

I plan to take the ideas from “Write Like This” and work it into this workshop model alongside the skills and strategies that I have used regarding reading. I want to start the year by introducing Notice and Note and BHH, products of the brilliant team of Robert Probst and Kylene Beers, Gallagher’s Thought Logs prompts, Cris Tovani’s “Fix Up’s” from “I Read it, But still don’t get it” and a few other strategies I have learned along the way.

The reading plan is not to flood with strategies and see what fits, I want to give them a toolbox and then through conferencing find out more specific needs. Students that need help do not need an endless ocean of options, they need a specific drop of water. We can only find that out by reading with them, talking with them and guiding them appropriately through conferencing.

Daily Reading, Writing and Sharing. Oh, and I am doing it all with minimal technology. Not because I don’t have access but because I don’t know if reading and writing and THINKING are best served plugged in 24/7. I love the idea of rough copies, “not there yet” work and just crossing out a line and writing notes beside it. Building our literacy skills is going to be done the “old-fashioned way” and I am pumped about the potential.

Here is what I am not pumped about, regular readers will know I am not a fan of a few things, AR, of course, being the top among them. This, however, is my runner-up. Teachers Pay Teachers is having their annual sale. A few months back I posted that I had shut down my TPT store (I won’t pretend it was building a retirement fund) because I could not support a site that was contributing to the one size fits all teaching that comes from these “cute” products. I can understand teachers looking for help, looking for ways to engage their students but I don’t see how Penguin themed counting sheets, reading sheets, writing sheets do that. What they do is make it easy to print out and serve to the kids, bonus it even takes up more class time to have the kids cut them out as part of the lesson (Art outcome? Not likely). If I could ask a favour of all the teachers lining up to buy a ton of things they think are cute and fun to decorate their room or run centre time with a theme it would be to just pause before they hit that submit order button. Consider what outcomes the penguin clipart covers and if you would be better serving your students through buying books, asking them what will engage them in class.

Bringing me back full circle to the start of this a line in 180 days stuck out as they discussed the constantly changing needs of our time throughout the year. That planning needs to be less concrete and more fluid. How likely are you to adopt this fluid thinking when you have spent a few hundred dollars on “cute” things for your room before you have even met those you are trusted to teach? Save the money on TPT and go buy a book or two. I wager the impact will be greater.

Just a thought.