Thursday, October 25, 2018

When We Make Reading a Competition

Unlike most of my family members, I am not a competitive person.  Competition does not motivate me, nor does it make me attempt anything with more effort. However, I know the same cannot be said by others, even some of my students. It seems like intrinsic motivation is becoming more difficult to find in my classroom.

I ask why? Why do my students expect something in return for their educational progress? Why isn't learning something new worth their time and effort?

With the first grading period recently ending for many of us, I began to see prizes or rewards or incentives being doled out for reading. I saw the results of reading becoming a competition.

I know that competition motivates some students. But when reading becomes a competition, we do not create lifelong readers. We create students who get to go eat lunch with the principal or go on a special field trip or get a pizza.

When reading becomes a competition, our students have their eyes on the prize, not the lifelong rewards of being a reader.

When reading becomes a competition, we create winners and losers.

And when it comes to reading, no one should ever be labeled a loser.

When we hear experts in the field say that volume matters, and then we hear teachers who make reading a competition say, "But look how much they are reading" how do we defend that? Because in some convoluted way, they are correct - students are reading.

Yes, we want students to read voluminously. Yes, we know a relationship exists between reading volume and reading achievement. But when we attach reading volume to a competition, no one wins.

For many well-meaning teachers, this is the way they have learned to motivate readers. I don't blame them for their efforts.

If you are a reader of my blog, or a Twitter follower, then I know we have many of the same values and ideas. Let's try to encourage these teachers to try something different. Let them know that...

When we talk about books, we create intrigue and curiosity.

When we live and share a reading life, we show students how reading can change us.

When we share the joy of reading, students have a better chance of becoming lifelong readers.

And isn't THAT the ultimate prize?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Looking at the Heart

Deadlines. Seems I've had many of those these last few weeks.

But this morning, with visions of fall break swimming in my cereal bowl, I felt like I could breathe a little easier, take things a little slower. Lesson plans are done for our two-day week, grades are finalized for the first grading period. I seem to be caught up...at least for the moment.

My fingers feel the itch to write something besides my Master's work and my research study. I thought maybe a blog post might be on the morning agenda, seeing how it is the National Day on Writing.

As I clicked on my own blog, I found my way to Ruth Ayres' blog. In her blog post, she wrote about her encounter with A.S. King at a literacy conference this past week. It seems they both presented on similar topics, as Ruth also presented about kids in trauma and how stories heal. Once again, her words went straight to my heart.

Then I saw this tweet over in her sidebar. See those words, "what if we looked at the heart instead of the behavior?"  I read those eleven words, and I lost it. The release of the frustration and the helplessness and the feelings of defeat from the past few weeks just took over.

Then came the guilt, exposed by these same words.

I have students who come from hard places:   places without love and loved ones, places without safety, electricity and food, and places without hope.

I know that.

But lately, I have been looking at their behaviors instead of their hearts.

I have been taking the easy way out.

I have been blaming them.

I have been looking outward and not inward.

...and that needs to change.

I wrote a post about how everyone needs a Ruth in their lives. I still believe that, but I think it is time to change that statement to "How can I BE a Ruth?"

Thank you, Ruth, once again for sending your words out into the world and for opening my eyes and my heart in those moments when, yes, I need a Ruth.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What's In Your Backpack?

There are times when I read a book, it makes me think. It makes me cry. It makes me wonder. It makes me want to do something.

Then there are times I read a book while other thoughts in my life are pushing through, and somehow the two things become connected and become life-changing.

I recently read Through the Cracks by Patti Bell. This book tells the story of a young girl in the late 1990's who suffered abuse from her father, a doctor, and her stepmother, a nurse. The abuse was reported by the girl's teacher. But nothing was done.

When the parents began to feel threatened, they would move.  And move again, making it difficult for the state to track them.

Sadly, the abuse continued with their second child and ended in murder.  The abuse, which came from medical professionals who had taken an oath to protect and take care of people, was so horrific, I can't even begin to tell about it.

The book tells the story of the teacher's suspicions; the reports she made, which were ignored by the very system that was supposed to protect children; and the testimony and events of the murder trial.  It tells the story of the sweet little girl who fell through the cracks.

The story began in my own hometown.

Tonight, on the eve of my 12th year of teaching, this story continues to haunt me.  As I see commercials and advertisements for school supplies, I can't help but wonder what is really in my students' backpacks.  Yes, they come with supplies, but they also carry in those same backpacks abuse, poverty, homelessness, loss, and responsibilities too heavy for young people.

After reading this book, I wonder if I have ever missed a sign. Would I see the signs? Have I had a student who was living the same life of these poor girls in this book?  We, as teachers, have such an important responsibility. We not only are responsible for their learning, but so much more.

I have thought a lot about Mrs. Bell and the relationship she had with Danielle, the oldest child and the first to be abused. I truly believe it was this relationship that saved her life.  She knew something was wrong. Mrs. Bell saw what was in Danielle's "backpack" and acted on her instincts. Sadly, it was not enough to save Danielle's sister.

As my students arrive this year and as we begin our year of learning together, I know this book and these two girls will continue to linger in my mind.  Their stories will challenge me to look inside my students' backpacks.  And maybe, just maybe, challenge me to lighten their load.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Five Year Slicing Anniversary



Five years ago today, I wrote my first slice of life.

I remember starting my blog and hitting publish for the first time.  It was exciting, yet terrifying. I, typically a very private person, was sending my words out into the blogosphere for other people to read.  What in the world was I thinking!

I wrote my first introductory post in April and didn't find the confidence to write another until June, which was when I tried to participate in Kate Messner's Teachers Write. That lasted one day! I began to doubt myself and again, wondered what in the world was I thinking!

Then in July I branched out and wrote my first slice, and my life as a writer was forever changed. I have met some incredible people through this writing community - in my virtual life and in real life. Because of them, I began to see that my words did matter, even on those days when I was the only reader.

My writing and my blog have provided me with so many opportunities. It is through my blog where I realized that to be called a writer, one only has to write.

And I have.

And to think it all started with a silly slice about milk jugs!

Time has a way of slipping by, and the older I get, the faster it goes.  And NO I did not believe that when my grandparents would say those words when I was a child.

I have this quirky way of watching time go by...especially as it relates to school--reading the date on the milk jug.

We go through about three jugs of milk a week at our house and paying attention to the dates is just something that I do.  Those dates have a way of marching through time.  At the end of the school year, I can't wait until I finally see May, then June with the anticipation of summer break.

Last week I grabbed two jugs of milk and I couldn't believe my eyes...JULY8th!  I gasped, my heart started racing and I broke out into a cold sweat (well maybe I just gasped!)  It couldn't be!  I blinked to make sure I was reading it correctly.  Yes, it did say July.  I knew then that it was all down hill from there.  Summer was flying by and not even a jug of milk could stop it.

This week as I timidly approached the refrigerated section and opened the door, I opened one eye and then the other.  Oh no...July 18th!  I slammed the door shut and said, "No thanks, I think I'll try the OTHER store!"


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lessons from the Student Seat - High-stakes Testing


Almost a year ago, I became a student again. At that time, I had no idea how sitting in the student seat would impact my teaching. It wasn't because I was a learner once again because I continually think and learn in order to improve my teaching. I think all good teachers should do this.

But it was about placing myself in my students' shoes and being where they are. It was about doing the hard part.  And there are many hard parts to being a student. In these next few blog posts, I hope to share with you lessons I have learned about being a teacher while sitting in the student seat.

In all of my courses, the assessments consisted of writing 8-10 page papers, with the exception of my Foundations in Research course. This assessment was a 62 question multiple-choice test. And yes, they even called it a "high-stakes test."

I spent weeks reading the material, taking notes, and studying those notes. Throughout the course I had check-points, which were small quizzes that were not graded, just a way to check my understanding as I moved through material.

I took almost 50 pages of notes throughout the course, and I knew there was no way my old brain could remember that much new information. I was able to take a practice test and receive a report that broke down how I scored in each of the categories.  The report let me know the areas I needed to study more. Although I passed the practice test, I was still worried about taking the final assessment.

The night before I was scheduled, I set up my webcam and had everything ready for the next day.  I went in early, reviewed my notes, cleared my desk, and signed in. After everything was set up, I clicked on the first question.

My mind went blank. All the material began to run together, and my thinking became one big blur. I needed to get a grip. I took a deep breath and remembered, even if I failed this test, I got another chance to take it...unlike my students.

When students take their state assessments, they get one shot to show what they have learned.

One shot.

I, on the other hand, was so worked up over this test, yet I knew I was able to retake it. Going through  this experience made me realize the stress many of our students endure during testing times.

I know I cannot change the testing culture that surrounds our students. But at least now I can empathize with them.  I can let them know that yes, I do know how they feel because for one day I sat in the student seat with a high stakes test staring back at me.

I know that feeling of panic that I had forgotten everything I was supposed to know.

I know the pressure that I put upon myself because I wanted to do well.

I know that I am thankful I only had one of these tests...unlike my students.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lessons from the Student Seat ~ Length Requirements


Almost a year ago, I became a student again. At that time, I had no idea how sitting in the student seat would impact my teaching. It wasn't because I was a learner once again because I continually think and learn in order to improve my teaching. I think all good teachers should do this.

But it was about placing myself in my students' shoes and being where they are. It was about doing the hard part.  And there are many hard parts to being a student. In these next few blog posts, I hope to share with you lessons I have learned about being a teacher while sitting in the student seat.


As I began my first assignment, I quickly questioned whether I had made the wrong decision.  Was I crazy? Could I really do this?  Learning again in this capacity was something new.  It was uncomfortable. It was down right hard.

I decided the only way to tackle this challenge was to just jump in. I began the first assignment, began to read the material in order to show my competency, and began to write the paper.

It wasn't long before this question camp up, "I wonder how long this needs to be?" I almost laughed out loud because how many times have we heard this question from our own students? It could be the number of words in a sentence, the number of sentences in a paragraph, or the number of paragraphs in a piece...but they always ask!

I began to think about my quick, though not effective, response to this question.  Many times I would answer with exasperation, "It needs to be as long as it takes to tell your story" or "However long it takes for you to get your ideas across."

Those responses that I have given my students over and over again were not comforting me now as a student. Not only do my students ask the length question, but I asked it too.  But why do we ask it?

The fear of the unknown.  For each of my classes, I had a template in which to write my paper. I knew the structure, but I was still unsure of what I was doing. I was writing about an unfamiliar topic - curriculum theories, and that was scary. When our students begin a piece of writing, many times they have no idea of  where it is going. Some may feel the need to just write while others need to follow a certain set of guidelines for a particular genre or an assignment. Even when we read mentor texts, have a template, or see the structure or the length of a piece of writing, the fear of the unknown still exists.

The fear of being wrong. In my graduate class, I was writing for a grade or to show my competency in this area. Of course I wanted to pass! The fear of the unknown is coupled with the fear of being wrong. We want to get it right or to get a good grade or to pass the class. For my middle school students and the emphasis on grades, getting it right is a legitimate fear.

Because I have been sitting in the student seat again, I have reflected on why we ask this question. Yes, we have kids who want to know the length so they can write the bare minimum and not put in any extra work. I am not completely naive!  But for some, it could be the fear of the unknown and the fear of being wrong.

For me, the length of the writing gave me a known value and a goal to reach - the first assignment was to be 12-15 pages. There was comfort in  knowing that it needed to be a certain length. It made me feel like if I hit a certain length, I was on track. This length also gave me the security that it was right because I knew at least one of the expectations.

This doesn't mean that I will begin giving my students a required length, but I will think differently about how I answer the question. As we begin to write next year, I want my students to know that writing takes us in many different directions, and there is no set path on how to get there.

Using more guiding questions such as "Where do you want this piece to go?"  "Is there more you want to say?"  "Will your reader understand your message?" will hopefully eliminate the need for "How long does this have to be?"

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Teacher Restoration

This week I attended The Lead Learners Summit Institute, formerly known as All Write. This conference, set in the middle of cornfields, always jumpstarts my thinking for the coming school year...even if it is the month of June.

Todd Nesloney was the keynote speaker, and his quote, "You cannot teach the mind if you have not reached the heart" is one that will stick with me for a long time.

I was also able to hear Stephanie Harvey talk about comprehension and Gravity Goldberg talk about teacher decision-making and reading notebooks. Katherine Sokowloski talked about the importance of expanding our audiences for students. Colby Sharp shared his top 2018 books so far, and Christy Rush-Levine opened my eyes about social justice book clubs.

It was two days of learning, thinking, and spending time with great educators.

Tonight as I sit out on my porch and look at an old trailer my husband is restoring, I can't help but reflect.

This past school year was a difficult one for me. By the end of May, I felt more than exhausted; I felt defeated.

In a way, I felt much like this trailer. My drive and motivation to teach had been stripped down to the bare minimum, and all that was left was the frame -- rust and all.

Leaving Summer Institute with my overloaded brain and a four and half hour drive ahead of me, I began to process the learning which had taken place over the past two days. I began to think about the changes I wanted to make, the books I wanted to purchase, and the new ideas I wanted to try. The excitement of teaching began to restore itself.

As I take a second look at that trailer, I see it's potential with a little restoration. The frame is sturdy, and it stands solid on two new wheels.  With new side boards and a new hitch, this trailer can be (somewhat) functional once again.

This past year may have left me with nothing but a rusted frame, but this old frame still has potential.

Summer learning inflates my flat tires with air. Surrounding myself with educators who share their ideas becomes my new side boards. Spending time in professional books hitches me to new ways of thinking and improving my teaching.

Tonight, I begin to feel like I can be functional once again, just like this old trailer.

This is teacher restoration.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Reversed: A Memoir


"Schools struggle with snails."

These words from Lois Letchford's book, Reversed: A Memoir have lingered in my heart and have haunted my thoughts.

Reversed is a book about hope, love, and perseverance.  Yet, it is also a book about what is wrong with reading practices in many classrooms.

The book tells the story about Lois' son and his journey of becoming a reader, despite being told he was the worst child his teacher had seen in twenty years.  Or when a guidance counselor says "we cannot expect schools to teach every child."

Throughout Nicholas' journey to become a reader, Lois thinks outside the box in order to help him. She refuses to believe that her son cannot learn to read.  But she knows he doesn't learn in a traditional way, and she challenges his teacher to "change how we teach."

After trying program after program, Lois learns that programs don't work.  She learns that workbooks with phonics-based lists of words and meaningless sentences do not work.  When learning to read, listening to isolated words and hearing sounds with no context do not work, and books with no pictures to aid in comprehension do not work.

Instead, she takes the advice of her mother and decides to make learning fun.  She creates silly poems with rhymes and writes plays and draws pictures to create context.  She engages him with topics that interest him, and takes him to the library to read real books.  She begins to teach her son to read with "meaningful learning experiences" and she, herself, learns that the "key to success in reading is active engagement in books."

Reversed made me cheer when Nicholas passed his first spelling test and read books outside his Accelerated Reading levels.  It made me shake my head in disappointment when he missed the "best part" of the read-aloud because he had to go with his reading teacher for interventions and when his teacher wrote "This book is too easy for you" on his AR data sheet.  It made me smile when his mom said, "It doesn't matter -- you are reading!"

Most importantly, this book made me reflect on my teaching practices.  Am I dong enough?  Am I teaching every child?  Am I making learning fun?  Am I creating meaningful learning experiences?

This is a book that I believe anyone who teaches reading needs to read.  If not for ourselves, but for all the "Nicholases" that walk through the doors of our schools and sit in our classrooms.

We can make a difference.

We must make a difference.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

ALL This #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Walk This Way #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts; arranges and rearranges them in a new, creative way; and creates a unique meaning.



Friday, April 6, 2018

Ever Forward #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.



There are moments when I have been afraid of the unknown, of being outside of my comfort zone, and of going upstream, against the current when the rest of the world is paddling in another direction.  Last night as I was looking through my magazine clips, I began working with these words,

...and this is what I found.




Thursday, April 5, 2018

Show Up #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Change #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Think Young #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.

We have started a health challenge at school which has me realizing just how out of shape I am and how I have neglected my health.  Today's found poem is advice I need to keep telling myself as I find this new me.



Real life -
wrinkles in time,
all in a woman's day.

Your secret weapon:

think young.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Bloom Town #NationalPoetryMonth

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.

It has been a very wet prelude to spring in my part of the world.  Spring has never been my favorite season because of the unpredictability in the weather; however, I love what becomes - due to its presence.


Hello, Spring!
Endless battle to
the perfect 
Bloom Town.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Way of the Cross #NPM2018

A found poem from Mornings Like This:  Found Poems
by Annie Dillard

April is National Poetry Month, a month to read, write, and celebrate poetry. My plan is to write found poems every day most days in April.  Found poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet takes words, phrases, and beautiful language from existing texts and arranges and rearranges them in a new way, creating a unique meaning.

I begin this month with a blackout poem. In a blackout poem, the writer uses an existing text and isolates words or phrases by blacking out the remaining text. For more examples of blackout poems, check these out from Austin Kleon.

This blackout poem comes from a newspaper article about a city-wide Stations of the Cross, a traditional Catholic meditation on the life of Jesus.






Way of the Cross

The true meaning of Easter
journeyed together,
celebrating and believing in one thing,
sharing in their faith of

Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Since March 1st #sol18

Join Two Writing Teachers and other teacher-writers as we share a slice of life every single day in the month of March.

We did it!  It is hard to believe the month of March is over.  I took a form I saw at the beginning of the month and put a different spin on it and summarized my month.

It was certainly a full month of being a writer, a student, and a teacher.

Since March 1st, I...
  • co-hosted #TeachWrite Twitter chat
  • planned the April chat
  • started a grad class
  • finished a grad class
  • created and delivered a presentation at our faculty meeting
  • survived my son's college spring break trip to Myrtle Beach
  • started our middle school yearbook
  • finished our middle school yearbook
  • completed the first round of our standardized testing
  • started a notebook (trying to have something to say for our May #TeachWrite chat)
  • read Kate Roberts' new book A Novel Approach
  • read Reimagining Writing Assessment by Maja Wilson
  • joined a Voxer group to discuss it (brilliant minds in that group!)
  • said hello and goodbye to spring break
    • rejuvenated
  • watched the movie Wonder for the first time
    • cried
  • had lunch with high school friends
    • laughed
  • wrote 31 slices
    • celebrated
May we all continue to find the stories that make up our lives.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Reading On a Day Off #sol18

Join Two Writing Teachers and other teacher-writers as we share a slice of life every single day in the month of March.

I just returned from Walmart where I was shopping in preparation for family Easter dinners.  As I was weaving between carts and customers and employees stocking shelves, and screaming kids, I saw the mother of one of my students.

I stopped to say hello, and in our conversation, she asked me, "So did you threatened them?"

I looked at her cautiously, thinking what did her son go home and tell her.  I was relieved when she told me he was up before her today (we are out of school for Good Friday) and he was reading - something he typically doesn't do.  Did I mention we are out of school today?

Inside I was doing a happy dance!  I started book clubs yesterday, and he was home reading his book club selection...on a day off!  This is why book clubs are an important part of my classroom. Student's don't need threats or prizes or points or pizza or competitions or consequences to motivate them to read.

They just need a great book, time to read, and someone to share it with.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Impression #sol18

Join Two Writing Teachers and other teacher-writers as we share a slice of life every single day in the month of March.

Two more days until we cross the finish line.

The daily habit of writing, or better yet, finding a topic to write about each day is a challenge. But because of this challenge, I place myself into the heart of teaching of writing.  The excitement, the frustration, the doubt, and the celebration.

For me, this is one of the best experiences to understand...to really understand...my student writers and their experience of finding themselves as true writers. 

Today, I leave another snippet poem that I think captures the experience of writing, sharing and living within the slicing community. 

And hopefully words to inspire my students.




Make a memory box
make it yours
don't just live
give something wonderful
a lasting impression.

©Leigh Anne Eck, 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Book Spine Poetry #sol18

Join Two Writing Teachers and other teacher-writers as we share a slice of life every single day in the month of March

We are getting to the end, and today I was worried. I had no idea what I was going to write about.  Nothing was becoming an inspiration, a muse, an idea, a slice.  

Then I remembered I had not used one of my I-really-don't-have-anything-to-write-about-so-I-will-write-a-spine-poem slice.

I quickly searched through my box of books beside my bed, arranged, and rearranged until this "masterpiece" was created...and my slice was written!


The book thief
jumped in
between the lines...
Gone!