Today I spent the morning watching my nephews play each other in their league football championship. It was not a good game, one team was vastly better than the other. The degree of improvement from their last matchup seemed to have thrown off the other team. At the half, my nephews met in the middle of the field and patted each other on the shoulder before they made their way back to their respective teams. As the very one-sided game continued to roll on the spotlight started to shift. The focus moved away from the boys on the field and became the adults. Angry shouts from the stands when things were not being called their way, the complaints about coaching calls they did not agree with and attacks on other peoples children that they (the parents) thought were not doing a good enough job supporting their teammates. Forget about rules, forget about the fact that coaching and even more so officiating is hard and unless you are winning, a thankless job, they were upset and wanted to make sure everyone knew. I became increasingly annoyed by the commentary among the “fans” it was not one-sided, parents from both teams were complaining even the team winning by a large margin if a call did not go their way.

I sat there in that crowd and could not help but think about not just the kids on the field but those supporting their siblings in the stands. What they were hearing, what they were seeing. Adults that were not enjoying a game because it was not going their way and making sure everyone around them knew about it.

I grew up with parents (my Dad was also my coach) that pushed for sportsmanship. My mom walks out of events when the parents are “embarrassing themselves” in her words. I have a dad who will correct the behaviour of his players loud enough that their parents (the even larger offenders) will hear it and take the not remotely subtle hint. To my parents and now to me, sports was and always has been about, family, fun and being the best people we can be. My dad has won many awards as a coach and is very well respected in his field but every year the award he wanted the most was the most sportsmanlike team because that reflected who we are as people not just players. That showed the work we were doing not just on the field but off it.

I don’t write this to put myself on a pedestal, I have not always been the best example of sportsmanship but I see more than ever the need to make sure I am teaching by example.

Do we want the children that see us to value respect for others or to have a win at all costs attitude? Do we want our students to perform and win with humility or lose and blame everyone else for the perceived injustice? Do we want to have two cousins on separate teams congratulating each other on a great first half or parents screaming about a rule they don’t even understand?

We are Teaching by Example.

This afternoon we went to volleyball (teacher life and we love it) and behind us sat another group of parents. We were shocked as words came from their mouths that we were not prepared for. They were cheering on the efforts of the rival team. Whenever a pass or hit was missed, a return or serve did not quite clear the net, they were encouraging, they praised their effort, by name or number they celebrated the efforts of another team. Julie turned to thank them because it was such a refreshing moment in comparison to the morning and the lady responded, “What are we teaching the kids when we act the opposite?” Amen.

I am excited to get back into coaching, I am a football coach that has been asked to help coach Basketball. It will be an adventure because I can’t teach them basketball but I can teach them this, I can help them to be kind, to be supportive, to help another player up and to celebrate our successes and learn from our missteps. We will not look to blame others but we will learn because of them.

As teachers and parents, our jobs are to help the young people in our care be awesome. It is time we all start teaching by example.

Thanks for listening to my Ted Talk.

I just finished listening to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. I am not a huge fan of audiobooks but they sure make it easy to enjoy a great book while also working out. As I listen to the story I had to pause at some of the profound lines and beautiful story. This morning as the story wrapped up I was struck by one line in particular and I wrote it down in another novel as it was the only paper I had available (I could have used my arms like other people I know but opted for the book).

“I hand it over like a present I’ve had gift wrapped” is the line as the central character describes sharing her poetry. The line struck me one because of the beautiful image it creates but also because of the thoughts it brought me to regarding my own students.

This year I have shifted away from so much technology. I want my students writing pencil to paper, the smudge of erasers as we try to craft our best work. I want my students to see their final products as a gift they are presenting to the world. We are utilizing quick writes a lot and exploring different ideas to write on. The effort put in through multiple drafts, the shared experience of conferencing and feedback all culminating in these beautiful gifts of words.

The other day Pernille Ripp posted a response to a question that was grammatically incorrect. I students shared their true thoughts and an adult onlooker decided to inform Pernille through a comment on the post that it was grammatically incorrect. When we look at these gifts that our students hand to us and instead of seeing the beauty we look for the flaws what is the message we are sending?

“Your gift is not enough”

“This is not what I wanted”

Like macaroni art on the fridge, I want to celebrate my students writing. I want to take these gifts and present them to the world because a gift is not given to be dissected a gift is given to be celebrated. Take these moments to do that. There are mini-lessons to address the gaps, don’t make students think their work unworthy of giving.

With that in mind, this is a beautiful piece written by one of my striving 8th graders,

When i went to the bookstore

When I go to the bookstore I like to take my time to look at all the book on shelves all neatly in a line I like  to see all the radiant colours make the stories come to life. I can feel all the characters emotions around me. To sense all the stories calling me, telling me to read  their stories so I do as if I’m in a race I go faster and faster stroking each page until there are none to stroke as I get closer and closer to the end it gets harder and harder to keep a consistent speed. When I finish the book I am exceedingly annoyed with the end so I start imagining what it would be like with a more exhilarating ending.When I finally leave it is like it was all a dream the most wonderful dream I could imagine.   

The other day I was in a conversation on Facebook around accountability and independent reading. The original post was looking for ways to help reluctant readers both increase their reading and also how to have some form of an accountability check. Now before I keep going I should state that I am pretty easy on my kids when it comes to independent reading accountability. We do this crazy thing called talking about our books. If a student really can’t tell me much about it we have either a comprehension issue or the text is not really being read. Both things that can be addressed in the future. I will talk about it more in detail in a minute but I do think it is only fair to put that out there as a preface to what is to come.

Back to the Facebook conversation, I love social media as a way to connect with other educators. I love the opportunity to talk to other educators and share ideas and approaches. I do not love the ever-growing presence of quick fixes, worksheets and for lack of a better word corruption of great ideas to streamline a process that should be about savouring.

When we look at independent choice reading we should be looking at it with two objectives in mind first and foremost for me it is the development of joyful reading, followed up as a form of practising the skills we learn each day. I understand that I am lucky in not needing to attach a mark to everything I do. Every minute of my instructional day does not need to be assessed and I understand that is not a luxury that is afforded to all so let’s look at some options out there to help with this apparently needed check without making independent reading just another task that students must suffer through.

The inspiration for my title came from a response to the request for assistance in helping reluctant readers, in the post the person suggested downloading a novel unit from Teachers Pay Teachers that students would have to do to show accountability for the novel that they were given. SO a couple problems here lead of course to my big mouth having to weigh in on the suggestion and I questioned how an assigned text with a mandatory Teachers Pay Teachers Unit was going to lead to more engaged, joyful reading for students that already viewed reading as a task. The poster responded with, “It has a five star rating so others must like it as well so it can’t be that bad” I paused for a moment as I read the line, I reminded them of the work of Pernille Ripp, Donalyn Miller and Kelly Gallagher I offered alternatives and was then accused of lecturing them. I wondered after that for a moment about this whole 5-star rating. I am curious if they let kids rate the crap they are pushing out on TPT if there would still be a lot of 5-star ratings. I feel safe in saying it would not be as common. When we have novel units to complete it becomes just a task. So what about an alternative.

First I don’t think anything more than a conversation is required for accountability in IR but if we extend the conversation to book clubs and whole class novels where I am looking at measuring objectives I do have a few things my students do. First, we have our thought logs. They pick their best few entries every couple weeks and I mark for compliance mostly but also it gives me great conferencing points later. We have started taking some time each week for TQE which you can find here and here and then we do a midpoint check-in assignment (WCN, not in Book Clubs) and then a final assignment. Both the assignments are choice-driven, students can create whatever they want to address the questions that they are assessed on. These are not fill in the blank or matching questions with cute clip art. These are questions that depend on a students understanding of character and theme, their ability to analyze a conflict. This is where I measure those objectives so that independent reading can become just about reading.

I think we are 5-Star worksheeting reading to death. I do not think when Donalyn Miller wrote The Book Whisperer or Reading in the Wild that she ever thought I hope someone sells a 5-star worksheet on Teachers Pay Teachers to map the 40 book challenge. (Side note- if you need to download a 5-star worksheet to monitor a 40 book challenge…I don’t even know) I am pretty sure when the very inspiring GRA in all its book celebrating forms was envisioned by Pernille Ripp she did not think “I hope someone will create some worksheets to compliment these fantastic books, it is just what they need”. And yet they are being created and sold (without permission using GRA label) to teachers who either are overwhelmed by the requirements of their job, are too busy doing all the other things we need to do as teachers or they just don’t want to put in the effort to create joyful reading moments for their students. I don’t care about the 5-star ratings on TPT.

I care about the engagement of my students, the gasps as an AHA moment is had, the discussions around the girl in the blue dress that Chase remembers, the small moments where a connection is made that was not there before. You can’t put a star rating on practices that grow readers because they are so much better than a booklet full of questions to make sure they read paragraph 3 on page 267 and notice the “juicy” words on the page.

Teachers of reading lets stop worrying about star ratings and busy booklets and let’s remember that our end goal should be joyful reading.

Last night as I walked back to the school to try and fix a vinyl cutter with some trusty youtube tutorials I heard the sound of sirens. Ambulance, Fire, Police. I can never tell the difference and living beside a highway you tend to just notice it and move on. I noticed it and moved on. Julie called me a few minutes later audibly upset to inform me there had been an accident, students from my school, my community. Students that I visited with in the halls, work out with at the gym and cheered on at their football, basketball and volleyball games had been in a car accident and it was very serious. The details slowly came in and then I remembered. This community, the one I live in and have grown to love, has dealt with tragedy before. Seven years ago our community lost 4 students in a car accident and a week later my dad and his football team and their community lost 4 students in another tragic event.

I did not work in my community at the time of the first tragedy. I did not witness how teachers and community members came together to strengthen each other. I saw the struggles through my dad and his community but hearing the news last night that some of our student body where being airlifted to hospitals other transported through ambulance I ask myself the questions, “How do we teach tomorrow?” “How can I be there for my students to support them?” “How can we focus on anything but this terrible accident and the lives being affected?” “How can I help?”

Community it seems is the answer to all the questions I was asking. A leadership team at the school and a Principal, that unfortunately has been through this before, that were there to support their staff, a staff that was there to support each other and students and families that displayed resilience. The school was full today, at first of students comforting each other and then of students laughing as they focused more today on relationships and joyful learning than the tests and other activities that might have been originally planned. At one point I had to check the commotion in the hall and discovered kids balancing sticks on their hands in some apparent contest with bubbles. I don’t know what the learning objective might have been but I do know what they were learning.

Community is how we get through tough times. It is the rival sports teams showing up wearing your colours to stand together or taking a moment of silence to respect those who could not be there. It is the muffins in the staffroom and high fives that continue in the hallways because it is what is always done.

I am not an overly emotional person in public. I remain guarded. My students supported me today as much as I supported them. We had moments that were tough and we continue to pray and hope for those students from our wonderful community as they heal. That is what a community does. We support each other, we hold each other up when we need to and we sit together in those quiet moments too. I am incredibly grateful for the community I live in. I am incredibly grateful for the students I serve and I pray for the recovery of my students that are in need of those prayers tonight. If you feel as though you could add to those prayers it would be much appreciated.

After all, we are all part of this community.

We Are Magrath

 

This weekend my friend Mary sent me a link to the very brilliant Kate Roberts and Tricia Ebarvia discussing finding balance in our literacy blocks. I have not watched the full learning session yet but fully intend to. One part did cause me to pause reflect and write down however. Kate mentions the need to be ruthless in our choices of how we spend our time.

There are so many amazing ideas out there, from Notice and Note to the Teaching of 180 Days, we have quick writes and literary essay writing, research projects and opinion pieces. Book Clubs, Literature Circles, Whole class Novels, independent reading, deep discussions and joyful celebrations of writing. We have so much to cover in a literacy period so where can our Ruthless decision making come in and best serve our students?

So Ruthless decisions here we go.

This year I started pushing more authenticity and flexibility in writing. We are starting classes with quick writes, using mentor texts to guide us and then writing about ourselves and our interests. The goal, of course, is to become writers before taking on tasks that require us to dig deeper into the skills of writing. Today I watched a few students in a different class struggle with a piece of writing and shut down, the idea was great but the authenticity for them was not there. I am sure I will encounter this at some point this year in my class and since it hasn’t happened yet I am sure it will come sooner than later but for now, my ruthless writing decision has been to cut the manufactured “connect the dots” writing assignments of the past. The typical assignments and move towards the interests and choice of my students that celebrate their voice as they writers they are becoming.

In years past my reading instruction has been very formulaic. I have strategies I like and know work, I push Notice and Note and Reading Journals. We look at strategies that help us dig deeper into books. When I think about my ruthless decision making regarding reading instruction it is in the reflections of actions I have already taken. The other day I had a few run ins with people who like to utilize TPT novel units filled with pages of comprehension questions and vocabulary lists and “activities”. In my own teaching, I had to make the decision after talking to my students that I needed to remove those types of items from my reading instruction. I needed to learn to support my students as real readers. Not as readers for information only, to fill the blanks and find the answers but as readers who read for joy, who learn through discussion with peers and observations of what a text does to them, how a story can help them discover their own. I was ruthless and cut out the easy, the quick fixes and the photocopied “expert teacher created resources” (A term TPT fanatics like to apply to themselves) and replaced them with conversations across a table, Book Commercials and Reading. Reading as many books as we can and talking about them.

Teaching is hard, time is precious. We have a responsibility to be great for our students. To provide them with an experience worth getting up for because they don’t have choice, they have to be there.

This week, this topic became too personal. Our students deserve more than, “If it is easy I will use it” They deserve more than a search for handouts in a file folder. They deserve ruthless, they deserve a teacher who values them more than easy. We are all tired.

Imagine how the kids feel when faced with another booklet printed off instead a book. This isn’t about shaming, it is about looking at what we are doing and trying to be better.

 

We are entering our fourth week of school on Monday and we have spent the last few working on different strategies as we prepare to introduce the bulk of Notice and Note. Having a great time discussing things and at times the reminder to write it down to save a record of our awesome gets forgotten in the discussion but that is kind of the point isn’t it? We want to get students thinking and talking and that has to start somewhere.

So with yesterday being orange shirt day, a day to recognize the students who had to suffer through Residential school, we looked at the story I Am Not a Number and I introduced quadrants of thought as a strategy to help with our reflection of the text.

The story chronicles a girls time from being ripped from her family and then coming home to them after a year at the residential school. For a picture book, it does touch on some of the more disturbing events that occurred in the time of residential schools.

We have been practising BHH as a tool for reflection and so this was not new. I added Quadrants of Thought as we look at how the author promotes visualization, uses powerful language, combines the 5 senses and draws on emotion. Students listened and reflected as I read and then took time afterwards to quietly write. Then we discussed as a class and it was really excellent to see and hear their thinking. I feel very strongly giving students multiple access points to try and understand this difficult topic as well and to really understand their own reaction to it really helps to increase the critical thinking and the empathy that is required when looking at this time in history. Here are a few examples.

I am a firm believer in Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I am also a firm believer in letting students read with no strings attached. Some might claim that these two positions are at times in conflict.

As my students read I ask them to note their thinking if it is in the margins of a printed article or in their notebooks in a style of their choosing. We pay attention to the Big 3 Questions that I have rephrased as What Surprised Me, What Confused Me and What Challenged, Changed or Confirmed my thinking. We look at the text and our thinking and our feelings within the BHH framework and we look for those breadcrumbs that authors leave for us in the signposts. We pay attention to our reading with paper and pencil to unlock the skill that we continue as conversation and internal noticings.

Students need to be guided as we explore digging deeper into the text. A balance needs to be found in how we teach these skills, like all skills, it is a fine line between helping students learn and being complicit in Readicide. The idea that everything needs to be direct instruction, that every minute of our day much be devoted to teaching with no time to freely explore a book is crazy to me. The balance that can be achieved where students have enough time to just enjoy the art of reading but also the instruction that supports them through the tough parts, to clear up the fog that sometimes gets in the way of seeing where we are in the text that is also important and really when I think about it I feel the instruction is the most important and at times does have to encroach on uninterrupted reading time.

Looking at the balance I see conferencing as a happy medium. I spend far more time working on strategies in my class and addressing areas of weakness than I do with independent reading. My students learn and practices skills together and then show their understanding through their notebooks and independent reading time. I check on their work through conferencing and address the gaps that I see. Despite the idea that is floating around the internet I don’t think there are a lot of teachers that spend their time with their feet up and nose in a good book during that independent reading time. They are beside their students, guiding them, providing some one on one work so that they can better utilize the tools provided.

We start with making our thinking visible so that we can see the connections we make, just like learning the layout of a house so we can walk in the dark we need to learn our way around the different elements of reading with it right in front of us before we can do it from memory.

I don’t see it as work and my students are starting to see the benefits to their understanding of text by putting it on paper in front of them.

We discuss what surprises us and why. We clear up the confusions and we challenge the thoughts we have or that others present and weigh them against our understanding. I love the process that we have started this year and am inspired by the steps my students take.