My third year out of the classroom, and the experience has been bittersweet. The joys and highs I feel supporting teachers, advocating for their needs in order to better serve students, and simply listening to their experiences is irreplaceable. The bitterness comes from yearning to talk, laugh, and learn with students each day.
When I pull up to a school site and observe the kids socializing in their clusters, playing tag, yelling at each other…it tugs at my heart. As a result, I have now become the teacher you hate. You know the one. The one that walks through the office and notices the student “in trouble” or the child “benched” at recess, and I whisper to them, “It’s going to be ok.” Or I sneak a genuine smile and wink to let them know that they are loved. See, you’re reading this and rolling your eyes. Because for all I know, that kid could have just stabbed another kid with a pencil—for the 11th time. I know, I get it. But I miss them. I miss hearing their voices, both on paper and dancing through the air of classrooms and hallways.
The 40 Book Challenge created by the amazing Donalyn Miller a.k.a. The Book Whisperer changed my life. (Please refer to this post for more details.) She validated my core beliefs and set me free to travel back down the road of treating students as authentic readers, forever readers. Each week we wrote letters back and forth, not simply about the stories they were reading, but their thoughts and questions about life. Sharing our reading lives through letter writing is my favorite memory of classroom teaching. It was, undoubtedly, the most transformative thing I have ever done.
Many of you are emailing asking for the pages sized for a Reader’s Notebook. (Click on the link at the bottom of this post.)
Please help yourself to tweak as needed and share with photos and stories how you are making it your own. I beg you to share.
This instructional coach now lives vicariously through you.
If there is one thing teachers know, it is that we do not simply teach academic content. It is also our responsibility to instill character and compassion within our students. From day one, we create and implement routines and procedures with the objective of fostering a safe and positive environment for all learners. One can search the internet for hours for fun and creative ways to accomplish this task. So here I go, adding one more to the list.
One year I decided to add another routine to cultivate kind and positive classroom behaviors. In addition to my “Raining Compliments” wall, I created the “Wall of Gratitude and Praise”. This idea is so simple and executes beautifully.
Materials you need:
Letters that spell out “Wall of Gratitude and Praise”
Paper for students to write messages on
I used construction paper and cut them in rectangular shape. You can select any color you want based on your classroom decor. I went with whichever color I had in my storage. 🙂
Wall space that will allow for students to continuing adding to the wall throughout the year
Each Friday, in the last 15 minutes or so, each team (my students’ desks were arranged in groups of 4-6) would get a couple of minutes to nominate one classmate that deserved words of praise or gratitude that week.
The nominee could not be someone from their own group.
The nominee could not have been nominated the past week.
This allows for students to ‘spread the love’ and not have the same students receiving messages each week.
Took only a short time for students to understand that
Words of praise: anything a student did worthy of praise that week, i.g. trying their best, amazing participation in an activity or debate, excelling in a sports tournament, a great drawing, bravery in trying something new, etc.
Words of gratitude: anything a student did that was kind, period.
Each student then crafted one or two sentences about the individual and wrote it in marker on the paper. Specificity was highly encouraged to make the sentiment more meaningful.
One person from each team then read the words aloud to the class so we could celebrate each student selected.
We then tacked up each paper on the wall and continued adding to it for the entire year.
It was a beautiful thing to watch grow, because it wasn’t just the wall that was growing. The students themselves grew in recognizing and freely giving kind words of praise and gratitude. In the midst of classroom work, we started to hear things like, “Oh my, that is something worth complimenting” or “Wow, _______ did an amazing job! Let’s remember that for Friday.”
We’ve heard it all in regards to programs like D.E.A.R., SSR, Independent Reading Time, etc.
“It’s a waste of instructional time.”
“It doesn’t work. Students aren’t really reading, they’re faking.”
“SSR-oh, you mean the time each day that a teacher checks email? Get rid of it.”
The question still remains, is there a place for students to read independently, a book of their choice, every day during class? And the answer is, indubitably, yes. From the works of Pam Allyn of LitWorld, Ernest Morrell, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Richard Allington, not to mention the whisperings of my own soul, the research behind this practice is conclusive. According to the article by Richard Allington referenced in my last post, students must read something they choose every single day. This is fundamental in any quality classroom literacy program. Period.
So, to the teacher reading this, I feel the frustration. With all of the demands and expectations consistently put on the classroom teacher, how can this possibly occur everyday? The assemblies, last minute meetings, being summoned to duty, grades, CASSPP preparation, picture day, fire drills, curriculum guides, pacing, essential targets…the list goes on and on. I have said this before, the struggle is real. And as much as I prescribe to this belief of students reading everyday from a self-selected book, there were many years that I did not make this happen. (Side note: We have to forgive ourselves in those instances and then, aspire to do better tomorrow.)
I will share what finally worked for me in achieving my dream of a meaningful independent reading time that occurred every single day. Here’s the shortlist.
Write it in your planbook.
I mean, legitimately and intentionally select a block of time that will be labeled IRT (independent reading time). For me, it was in the morning. The first 45 minutes at my school site was the intervention/ELD block. The next 15 minutes was IRT. As soon as the students returned from their designated groups, they didn’t wait in a line outside my door, they entered quickly and quietly, picked up their books and started reading. (Waiting in line took up too much time as the students were all returning at different times—and minutes matter!)
Decide what YOU, the teacher, will be doing during this time. Then, DO IT.
As alluring as it may be, this was not the time that I completed the endless list of things that we, teachers, have to do. This was the time that I did the following:
Walked the room with my class sheet, conferencing with students, recording anecdotal data. My routine was based off of “Rick’s Reading Workshop”. Implementing this routine was one of the most powerful things I have ever done as a teacher. I found out more about these students in 15 minutes than I had in entire months. Don’t hesitate–just try it.
When I wasn’t ‘walking’ the room, I was conferencing with students using their Reader’s Notebook as my guide. (Please see post regarding Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge for more information.)
Stick to it. The entire year.
No matter how tempting it might be—do NOT abandon this routine. The beginning of the year is rough, as is implementing any routine with students, but it WILL pay off.
There will always be something that can ‘pop’ up and masquerade itself as more important. So, yes, you will be enticed to throw it out for more math time, perhaps. Don’t. Nothing is more important.
There you have it. Please share the routines and resources you have used to give students more access and choice for reading.
I’m not sure what everyone else is reading, but lately I have been addicted to my “Educational Leadership” magazine. This is ASCD’s flagship publication and I highly recommend it. Currently, I’m reading an archived issue, ‘Reading-The Core Skill’. (You can purchase these for approximately $8-$14.)
As some of you know, I am teaching summer school and working with teacher candidates, a.k.a. student teachers. I have had the pressure-I mean the privilege!- of sharing everything I can in regards to literacy in 5 weeks. Gulp.
As if the stars were in alignment, I just happen to have finished Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel’s phenomenal article, “Every Child, Every Day”. This article highlights the six elements of effective reading instruction that do not require much time or money. Please take the time to read the article linked above, but for this post’s sake, I’ll post the six elements of instruction that every child should experience every day.
Every child reads something he or she chooses.
Every child reads accurately.
Every child reads something he or she understands.
Every child writes about something personally meaningful.
Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.
Let’s take some time to focus on element #1. How can teachers consistently make this happen in their classroom? Is it possible? Is there time? The answer is yes. It can happen and it must happen. But we all know the realities of the classroom, and the struggle is real–assemblies, fire drills, sick days, students taking longer than expected on a unit, and the list goes on. I get it. So what might we do?
In my next post I will share with you the strategy that finally worked for me. In my last years in the classroom, I was able to achieve a meaningful reading time every single day.
If you have been paying attention to the transition to common core, you know that collaborative conversations between students are ESSENTIAL to student learning. Learning is social; always has been, always will be. And quality teachers know that quality lessons should include all 4 components of literacy: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. (Some might argue viewing, as well. Meaning incorporating other forms of media such as video, photographs, etc.) Many teachers, pre-common core, were incorporating and fostering these types of meaningful conversations. The common core expectations have simply validated that practice. It is not new.
In an effort to assist students in participating in and initiating quality dialogue, I decided to create these table toppers for each of my groups. (My classroom desks are set up in groups as promoted by Kagan.) One side of the display is taken from the genius guru of vocabulary, Ms. Kate Kinsella. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of her professional learning sessions, do look her up. Her work on vocabulary, and her own vocabulary might I add, will have you scrambling for a thesaurus. It’s remarkable. Anyway, using her sentence frames , I simply formatted them to fit in an 8 X 11 table topper, purchased at Staples for around $8.
The reverse side of this document is “Kiss These Words Goodbye“. It’s much like a ‘Dead Words’ or an ‘Instead of _____, Say ______’ poster. The problem with these posters, I found, was that-when posted on the wall- they were too far away from students, inaccessible, really. I selected some commonly used Tier 1 words that students cling to..you know the ones, sad-mad-bad-nice, etc.—-then, wrote some synonyms for each. In my opinion, this table topper worked WAY better than any poster I ever hung on my wall. The students would CONSTANTLY refer to it, I mean physically pick it up, and read from it. Amazing!
What do you use to expand your students’ everyday vocabulary? How do you foster collaborative conversations?
So… what does an educator that has been out of the classroom for a year JUMP at the opportunity to do…why, teach SUMMER SCHOOL, of course! Yes, you heard me right. I was given the opportunity to teach a summer enrichment program for upcoming 5th graders and I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. The gig is a dream! I thought, not only can I get back into the classroom to do what I LOVE (teach!), but I also get to mentor 2 student teachers. I thought I can put all of this professional development that I have had the luxury of receiving to the test! I’m 4 weeks in, and do not regret the decision.
So first things first, I had to go back into my ‘bag of tricks’ to determine what intro activities I would plan for these students. Now, mind you, it’s not all day. The program runs from 8-12 and it’s the students’ summer-all very important things to take into consideration when planning. The other factor when planning has been ‘what is essential for me to demonstrate to these teacher candidates’? The entire program is only 5 weeks with the goal that by the end of our time together, they can be deemed ‘intern ready’ and begin applying for teaching jobs. So I was definitely feeling the pressure of creating the perfect balance of fun (for the kids) and meaningful content (for the student teachers).
Because the program was in a completely different district and I no longer have access to what used to be endless supply of materials, I was also limited in that area. This 5 weeks was definitely going to sharpen my own instructional planning skills and force me to stick to activities that get the job done in the most inexpensive way possible. Pretty much every teacher’s goal anyway, right?
One activity that made the cut was one I found on Pinterest a couple of years ago. It’s pinned on my “Beginning of the Year” board, if you need to reference it. It’s pretty self explanatory. I purchased my giant bag of M&Ms from Costco, projected the picture above on the doc cam, gave each group one hard copy for reference (for any students with vision issues or simply those that like it in-hand), and distributed each group a cup of candies.
There you have it! A quick and easy way to get the students talking and, of course, eating –after they shared. We modeled what quality conversations look like and sound like prior to the start of the activity. I find this method a better way to model collaborative, productive, and respectful conversations. Rather than explain to the students how to talk with a long, drawn out syllabus, actually let them speak and then model, praise, and correct things that you see.
Even though I have officially left the classroom and begun a new journey as a literacy instructional coach, I have decided to post the rubrics I was using in my final year as a language arts teacher. Deciding which writing rubric to use seems to be one of the most arduous tasks of elementary school teachers. I’m almost embarrassed to admit the countless hours spent creating, tweaking, and searching for the “best” rubric. And then– don’t even get me started on how many hours were spent trying to agree on ONE rubric as a grade level team…Ick. My toes curl just thinking about it.
*I must mention that I hesitated to post this one because I have been studying the value and effectiveness of rubrics and/or scoring guides (semantics, in my opinion) that I’m not sure if I would have augmented my rubric yet again. However, this was one of the rubrics that I felt did a sufficient job providing specific feedback to the students. So if other teachers can use this to enhance the quality of writing feedback they provide to their students, so be it.
As an instructional coach that is specifically working with writing at the moment, I have been comparing three rubrics: the SBAC rubric (4 pt.), Step Up to Writing 4th Edition’s rubric (4 pt.), and our writing software program’s rubric (MyAccess-4 or 6pt.). See Below
If you notice, all 3 rubrics have a different number of domains/writing traits. For example, the MyAccess rubric is broken up into 5 domains i.e. focus and meaning, content and development, organization, etc. Step Up to Writing is divided into 4 different domains i.e. organization, ideas/content, language/style, etc. And finally, the biggie-SBAC. This is broken up into only 3 areas: purpose/organization, evidence/elaboration, and conventions. So the golden question asked by every teacher at every training given: Which rubric do I use? And the answer is not a direct one, but it’s not that complicated either.
My thoughts are this-as long as a teacher intentionally selects a rubric where all the domains of quality writing are accounted for (meaning not simply a holistic score) and the students find it accessible as a learning tool to develop as a writer, it really doesn’t matter. It becomes a matter of preference for the teacher. Which rubric will be most easily understood by parents and students that you serve and is also efficient for you?
This is why I chose to post the rubrics created by my partner teacher and me. If it’s something you feel will enhance your writing program, I’m a happy person. If not, what tool do use to assess writing? Please share as we’re all in the same boat.
A couple of years ago, I was validated and inspired by Ms. Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. If you have not yet read this book, it is a must. Immediately after turning the last page, I went straight to my computer and tried to format and create an effective and explicit way to begin a book challenge. I cannot express enough how this program has not only liberating me, but also my students. See you later points, benching students with a book in hand, read only at your level regardless of your interest, ugh. I’m over all of it. And Ms. Miller’s book allowed me to feel confident to do what I knew was right all along.
Let’s teach and treatour students as real life readers, so that there just might be a chance for them to unlock and cherish the joy of reading as we all do.
This post will be a number of pictures to better visualize how this might work in your class, tips and lessons learned over the years.
Tips for the 40 Book Challenge:
Composition Books were assembled and explained in class during the first week of school. (St. HW was to bring in photos, mag pics of things they loved or were interested in, already cut out in a plastic bag. We modge podged the covers in class.)
Read Alouds are a must! Let the students experience the joy the picture book. (Patricia Polacco, Chris Van Allsburg, Dr. Seuss are some of my favs.)
I made sure to have 15 minutes of silent reading time everyday! It was sacred-never missed. (I still feel 15 wasn’t long enough. Would have liked 20, but we had SSR during intervention block as well.)
Get rid or your “extra” stuff. You know, the “What can I do when I’m finished?” type work. Just let them READ if they finish tasks early.
Start reading children’s books now! You need to be able to recommend and guide students to fit their interests and needs, and you can’t do that unless you have read a great number of your grade level’s books. This was my favorite part of this endeavor. I now choose to read young adult or children’s novels because they are sooooo amazingly crafted. It’s been enlightening and kept me “in-touch” with my students.
Make your first order with Scholastic Books the MAX, meaning over $250. You’ll get the most points at the BOY and that’s how you build your classroom library. (I’ll post more on that later.)
Allow students to abandon a book. It’s up to the teacher, but my “rule” was that students could only abandon 2 books a trimester. They had to write a letter explaining why they wanted to abandon this book, only after they had given it a solid try (i.e. read 50 pgs. or a couple of chapters).
Any book you read aloud to the class whether it’s a picture book or novel counts towards their challenge.
Share what you are currently reading energetically and often. Let them recommend books to you and actually read them!
Start a book club. Mine was once a week before school. (I’ll post details later or see earlier posts.)
Make a book recommendation wall or system. Because you are requiring reads of certain genres, this will help students select ‘good’ stories. Seeing what their friends have read is great motivation.
It’s time for another school year. (For those that work at a year-round school, you might have long since settled into your classrooms. Hope it’s going well.) As I mentioned before, I have taken on a new role this year as an instructional coach. I’m currently on Day 6 and have attended a total of 5 trainings. I’d say it’s going rather well! (I’ll speak on the trainings at a later date because I got some really juicy tidbits to share.) Anyway, even though I don’t have my own classroom, I will still be posting things I have done in the past. You know, those things that I always said I would blog about…and didn’t.
The most important thing a teacher can do during the first days of school is to build a positive and supportive classroom culture. The students need to feel safe in order to take academic risks throughout the year. If the students are not comfortable, collaborative conversations cannot occur and learning will not reaching its optimum potential. We all know that learning is social. So if the social environment is not there, students will not achieve their full greatness.
One of my brilliant professors taught me a motto which I have since stolen and slapped on a poster. He would say, “Everyone participates, everyone learns. You either do it with us or in front of us.” He would make us repeat that each day. So when students felt like not participating in an activity (I like to incorporate dance moves, songs, cheers, etc.), that would be their choice. But I would remind them that their only other option was to do it ‘in front of us’. I have yet to have a student come to the front.
Below are some pictures that I will briefly explain. The “FAIL” poster was always a hit. Students glanced at it with scary eyes until I explained that failure was welcomed and encouraged in this class. When we fail, we learn and try again. Each day I had a different activity for the students to try to practice this concept (i.e. house of cards, math challenges, domino buildings, any fun thing found on my pinterest board).
Above was my revised book recommendation wall. Originally, I had the books only sorted by fictional and informational text. But because my “40 Book Challenge” required readings of different genres, I needed to categorize the recommendations for the students.
I always took pictures of my kids on the first day of school and made about 6 copies per student. You’ll notice in my classroom that I have their faces on everything. I like that personal touch, more so than name tags. Personal preference. The Raining Compliments was a way to teach the students how to give and receive meaningful compliments. One of my classroom jobs was a compliment coordinator. This person would let me know when each student had at least one compliment in their bag. Only then would students be able to collect their compliments during dismissal.
I know, I know. Multiplication Jail might be considered too negative. It depends on the relationship you have with your students. This is always when I used to give timed math tests (operational drills). I stopped that practice a couple years ago. Strain your Brain was simply a fun, critical thinking challenge (usually math) that students tried to solve each week.
Love this science challenge of the week. Again, it was a student’s job. The less I have to remember, the better for all. The visual for monitoring the writing process really helped me keep track of where everyone was and who needed help.
Pictures on the writing wall too! I wrote out the steps of the writing process depending on text type so the students could reference it as needed.
P.S. Love the “Please excuse our bare board. Our writing is under construction.” sign. I always felt guilty with a bare board, but this sign liberated me.