Thursday, February 25, 2016

Research Inside My Own Classroom

For the past two weeks, I have been reading research on a much debated subject among educators - Accelerated Reader, also known as AR.  I have read page after page of research, blog posts, and articles.  I even stayed up until 1:00 on a school night immersing myself in this topic.

Why?  I am very much against AR for many reasons, but I want to have conversations with the teachers who support it and the decision makers in my school district. Thanks to Pernille Ripp and Donalyn Miller and their session at Nerdcamp in Michigan last summer, I have requested an opportunity to open the discussion about AR.  I want to be prepared with research to back up my beliefs.  I want to have counterpoints to their points.  My mission is to protect the love of reading in my classroom, and I cannot just talk from my heart.

But sometimes I reach a point where I start doubting my beliefs.  I start asking, "Are they right?  Am I wrong?"

This week I had three incidents in my classroom that helped me put those thoughts back into perspective.

Incident One

One of my students finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this week. He came into my class complaining because he could not take an AR test on it and wanted to know why.  I explained to him that he could not take a test on a book he has already read.  He said he had not read the book "this year."

When I explained to him that the books he read in elementary school follow him to the middle school, he replied, "You mean I read that book for nothing?"

I said, "Did you enjoy the book?"

He nodded his head yes, and I replied, "That is what matters the most."

Incident Two

A co-worker's third grade daughter came into school proudly announcing, "I met my AR goal and made the 100 point club today, and now I don't have to read anymore."

My heart sank.  I know she is a reader because I share books from my classroom library with her, and I know she will continue to read.  But this attitude towards reading is prevalent in so many of our students.

Incident Three

Last week I started book clubs with my students, and today was our first Discussion Day.  In one of my classes, we discussed what worked and what didn't work.  One student who has become a reader this year said, "We talked about the book and asked questions about the confusing parts.  It was fun!"

I stopped him right there and told him that he had just made my day.  That is what reading is all about.  No points, no incentives, no tests...just reading for fun.

Maybe I should stop reading the research.  Maybe I should pay more attention to the research right inside my own classroom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Treasured Slices

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for creating this space to share our stories.  Read other slices or write your own and share here. 

It is hard to believe that another March Slice of Life Challenge is almost upon us.  This will be my third one, and I seem to be get more excited about writing each year.  This year I am attempting to also participate with my students in the Classroom Challenge.  Since I have over 100 students and since it is also my first time with the classroom challenge, it will be on a volunteer basis.  I am also letting them form writing groups to disperse the commitment a little.  We will see how it goes.  Now with my slice....

A couple of weeks ago, I read the book, The Hero Two Doors Down.  The book is written by Jackie Robinson's daughter, and it is about the relationship between Jackie and a little boy who lived "two doors down."  

It opens with the death of his father and a box.  In the box, Steven finds a letter written by his father prior to his death and a collection of "things."  The relationship between Steven and his father became strained through the years, and Steven was surprised by what he found.

"When I saw you put aside your boyhood treasures, I collected them in this box, knowing that someday you'd find the joy in their reflected memories."

As I read this, I thought about our slices that we write every week.  Our blogs are like little boxes where we collect our treasures. I recently went back and read my March slices, and those memories came flooding back.  

I know many of you write about your young children and grandchildren, and I envy you.  I have treasures from my children's childhood, but no written stories to accompany their memories.

I wish I would have been writing when my own children were little so that I would have a box of treasured slices to give them someday.  I can't change the past, but I can place these new treasures in my box and hope that someday my children find joy in my reflected memories.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Purpose of Learning

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for creating this space to share our stories.  Read other slices or write your own and share here. 

It is that time of year.  That time when I start to panic and wonder if I have done enough and if it is good enough.

I look at the calendar and realize I still have four weeks.  

Four weeks of instruction.

Four weeks of reading and writing.

Four weeks of learning.

Four weeks until the first round of state testing.

It is also that time of year when teachers fall into that dark hole.  That dark abyss.

The test prep trap.

And yes, I almost fell in.  I almost sent an email with an attachment to my teaching partner and asked, "Do you think we need to do this?"

But I stopped.  I stopped and took a breath and told myself, "Leigh Anne, your students have been reading and writing, analyzing and interpreting, and learning the entire year.  They have become critical readers who can interpret texts and write about them.  They will be ready."

Then I hit the delete button.  Good teaching is good teaching.  And if I have taught my students to become critical readers and writers and to enjoy learning, then I know in my heart they will be fine.

I know that right now many teachers are creating test prep packets to be distributed to their students in these last four weeks.  They are copying page after page of question after question in multiple choice format to give to their students.  I know our students have to understand the test genre and the format in which they will be asked to demonstrate their learning, but I refuse to spend these last four weeks creating test takers.

These next four weeks, I will continue to teach my students to be critical readers and writers; to dig deep and ask thoughtful questions; to find evidence to support those questions and thoughts; to express those thoughts in an essay; and to remember the importance of reading of writing.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with one of my classes.  Many of them mentioned how different it was in my classroom.  When I asked what they meant, they replied that their learning was not all about the test.  It was all about them.

Isn't that what learning is supposed to be about?