Friday, July 21, 2017

Roots and Wings #PoetryFriday

It's Poetry Friday, and Katie has the round-up at The Logonauts.

Dinner time has always been a sacred time for us the last 25 years. As our children have grown up, we have talked about our days, our struggles, and our stories. My children have also learned to sit and observe the climate of the room before asking for something they want, telling us something we don't want to hear, or making an announcement.

This week was no different. My son told us that he was starting his college time away from home this coming weekend, a month earlier than expected. 

I looked at my husband and found no reaction. Later that night as he was working on his jeep, I told him, "We raised them to have roots and wings. He's ready to fly."

He stopped and said, "I know."  He continued to work the white cloth in one continuous, circular motion as if he was trying to keep the circle of life going.

Today as my son and I were driving in his car, he looked over at me and said, "You are taking it better than I thought you would." 

I smiled.

And so, a new life for us begins and gives me reason to reflect on this poem.  Many different poems have been written about roots and wings, but I prefer this one:

Roots and Wings

Roots and wings are what we give our children, if we try. 
Roots that reach down deep and wings so they can touch the sky. 
To know that they are part of something greater than themselves. 
A harbor in the storms of life to save them from the swells. 

Much more than blood or family, roots provide integrity 
Which rounds out and develops character until they see 
The sky above and try their wings.  Roots help our children fly, 
Yet keep them grounded in the truth so they don't pass it by! 

You can find the entire poem here at All Poetry.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

#TeachWrite Twitter Chat

Back in January I chose a one little word - Rise. After choosing a word, I never know where it is going to take me, and I cherish those moments when it takes me by complete surprise.

I have been a writing teacher for ten years, but I have been a teacher-writer for about four. Writing has changed me as a person, as well as a teacher.

I am blessed to have connected with so many other teachers who write and share my passion about writing. Although these connections come from all over the world, when we share this passion, the distance becomes insignificant, and the passion unites us in ways I would have never dreamed.

I have joined Jennifer Laffin, Margaret Simon, and Michelle Haseltine in creating a new Twitter chat - #TeachWrite.  Our goal is to create a place to share our writing experiences with teacher-writers and with those teachers who want to begin the writing journey.

We rise when we lift others. It is my hope that this new chat becomes a place for us to lift other teachers, and a place for our writing to rise as well.

Do you….
Believe that teaching writing is easier when teachers are writers themselves?
Believe that our own writing lives deserve to be nurtured?
Believe that all writers grow through dedicated writing time?
Believe that all writers need support and encouragement?
Believe that writing is a messy process and the best way to learn this is through our own practice?
Believe that when teachers write, they make writing a priority in their classrooms?

Our chat will support teachers not only in their quest to become better teachers of writers but to become better writers ourselves.

In addition, each chat will end with an invitation to write!

Please join us!

Our first chat is Monday, August 7th at 7:30 PM EST with the topic of  “Writing for the JOY of It!”

You can sign up to receive a monthly reminder of our #TeachWrite chat by signing up for a Remind: 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Journey with a Leveled Library

Discussions on leveling books and libraries seems to be elevated lately. This topic was the discussion in several conferences this week so tweets were flying.  The National Council of Teachers of English  posted "What's Your Lexile Score?" today.

This trend has me thinking about my own journey with a leveled library.

I teach in an Accelerated Reading district, and most of the classroom libraries are leveled. When I first began teaching, my library was leveled too. That's just how it was done, and I didn't know any better.

After reading professional books, especially The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I began to see the light and the damage I was doing to my students. I began to slowly add baskets of popular series and authors, as well as baskets of genres and nonfiction topics. Because I taught 4th grade, many of my students did not know how to choose a book other than from the leveled baskets. 

We had a learning curve which I continue to fight today. One the of the first discussions I have with my middle schoolers is what they notice about our classroom library. Many immediately notice that the books are not leveled, and I tell them they never will be. I teach them to choose books based on their preferences and how to determine if a book is appropriate for them. This is part of teaching the reader.

I worked with a teacher who had a different philosophy of teaching reading then I did, especially when it came to AR. We often disagreed, and he often quoted, "Programs don't teach readers, teachers do." 

He is absolutely correct, and I agree 100%. 

But what is a leveled library doing? Many libraries are organized by matching colored baskets, clearly labeled with AR levels.  This "program" is teaching our students how to choose books.  Not teachers. 

I will continue to fight against "programs teaching readers" and limiting their ability to choose books for themselves. I will continue to advocate for choice.

My journey with a leveled library has ended.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Short Inventory of a Summer Day ~ Celebrate 2017 (eighteen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

On my computer sits a coral sticky note. Its purpose is not what you would expect - a place to write reminders. Instead it is a quick check to see which one of the three Mac computers is actually mine. I have been known on multiple occasions to take the wrong one to school.

Today the sticky note sits in the bottom, left hand corner with these words scribbled in messy handwriting:  "short inventory of current life."

I wrote this quote down weeks ago because I loved the celebration that it captured. I thought I knew its owner, but when I went back to link the post with the quote, I couldn't find it. Please let me know if those words were yours so I can give proper credit.  Here is how I captured my inventory and my celebration today.

Short Inventory of a Summer Day

fresh sweet corn
fresh peaches
low-humidity pool time
kids home
lingering back porch moments
freshly brewed iced tea
a return of green grass
black-eyed Susans

a perfect summer celebration

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life After Accelerated Reader

Those of you who know me or have read my blog for awhile, know that I have a strong disdain for Accelerated Reader. I teach in an AR district, but thankfully, I am not forced to use it. Sadly, it is not like that for everyone in my district. I know we have teachers who do not like using AR in their classroom, yet we also have teachers who would struggle without it.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher who knows my opinions and knows that I have been successful without using AR.  She asked me what would be the first things I would do. My first response was that I would buy every teacher a copy of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.

I fear that many of our teachers would struggle if we discontinue AR because we have used it for so long, and they do not know anything different.  I am sure many teachers, not only those in my district, have this same fear.  I am proof that there is life after Accelerated Reader.

If you know teachers who use AR and are afraid they can't teach without it, then send them a link to this post.  Let this post be their life preserver; give them something to hang on to and let it buoy up their strength to make the decision that is best for readers.

Is there life out there?

You have to believe that a reading community can and will exist without AR. You not only have to believe it, but you have to live it.  Is it easy? No. One of the positives (if there truly is one) of AR is the ease in its implementation and the little work it places on teachers.
Easy is not always best for our students. 
(click to tweet)

To believe in this new path, you need support.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller or other books, articles or websites that support reading communities.  This is where you will read real stories about real teachers who have been in your shoes and have broken the chains of AR.  
  • Know the research.  Donalyn Miller has a great blog post with links to research. When someone questions your practices, you must be knowledgeable and you must be confident. You must know that research supports that giving students time to read and access to books is connected to reading achievement. Reading achievement is not connected to answering multiple choice questions after reading a book. 
  • Find your tribe.  I always thought I was the only one in my district who did not like AR. I learned that I was not alone, but many were afraid to take that stance for fear of backlash from other teachers or administrators. Becoming a connected educator through blogging and Twitter and attending literacy conferences made me realize that I am not alone.  Other people who believe in the same things as I do really do exist.
Where do I start?

The biggest obstacle for any teacher wanting to build a reading community without AR is knowing where to start.  If you ask teachers this question, you may get different answers, but many would include these five steps:

  1. Live a literate life.  Would you send your child to swim lessons with an instructor who never gets in the water?  Of course not.  So, why should our students have teachers who do not read? Being knowledgeable and excited about the books in your library is one of the best ways to motive kids to read.  Create a display of the books you have read. Have conversations about books with your students. Hand them a book and say, "I thought about you when I read this."  Building this connection with your students shows them that you are a reader.
  2. Plan regular book talks.  Make it a point to talk about a book(s) each and every day. After I do a book talk, my students can't wait to read it.  Many times, I have to have a drawing to see who gets it first. When I intentionally write book talks in my plans, I tend to do them more. It becomes part of my day.
  3. Build your classroom library.  Having access to books has a positive impact on student engagement.  If we want kids to read, they must have a quick and easy way to get books in their hands. Having access to books makes it easier for us as teachers to match kids with books.  And this is one of the most important jobs of being a reading teacher. 
  4. Make reading its own reward. Tangible rewards do not work.  Having students earn points and using them as motivation may be a quick fix for a grading period, but it does not create lifelong readers. And that should be our ultimate goal. I know teachers who punish students for bad behavior or for not making their AR goal by keeping them in for recess and making them read.  This is wrong. This is teaching malpractice. As Donalyn Miller says,

    "When we communicate to children that the only reason to read is to earn a reward or grade, we fail to impart reading's true value. 
    Reading is its own reward, and it bestows immeasurable gifts on readers."

  5. Find value in all reading.  This will be one of the hardest actions for an AR teacher to do because many are used to handing kids their ZPD and monitoring these levels. But let them read. If they want to read a graphic novel, let them read.  If they want to read a magazine, let them read. If they want to read a book that is too hard or too easy, let them read. With your professional knowledge as a teacher, you will guide them to find books that interest them and that they are capable of reading. To paraphrase Donalyn Miller, find value in all reading and let them know that all readers in your classroom are valuable.
Eliminating Accelerated Reader from your classroom and building a true reading community takes time and takes a lot of work. You must trust that your readers will read, and they must trust you to create an environment that nurtures a reading life.

When you have a true reading community, trust is the glue that holds it together.
(click to tweet)

Yes, there is life after AR. Be brave enough to seek it and find comfort in knowing you are not alone.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Contracts ~ Celebrate 2017 (seventeen)

Each week Ruth Ayres extends an invitation to share the celebrations from our week.  Why don't you join the celebration?

This week I have been reading tweets from the Booth Bay Literacy Retreat and copying many of them down in my notebook.  Many have made me think.  Many have made me nod my head.  And many have made me remember the important work we do as teachers.  This quote made me do all three:

"I feel like we have a contract:  I will tell the best story I can tell.  
And you put it in the hands of kids." ~ Chris Crutcher

Toward the end of the school year I finished Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson.  It was an autographed copy that I won in a Twitter drawing.  This book introduces us to Annie, a young girl who struggles with panic attacks and who has an overprotective mother.  Annie's parents agree to give her a "summer of freedom," and the three of them head off to the country.

Here, Annie meets California, a young girl staying with her grandfather, and the two girls form a perfect summer friendship.  When California tells Annie that her grandfather is dying of cancer, the two go on a mission to reunite the grandfather with California's estranged mother. This mission is full of adventure and secrets and a summer Annie (and the reader) will never forget.

I closed the book, wiped the tears, and knew exactly to whom I was going to hand this book.  As I handed it to Isabella, I told her to come see me as soon as she finished because I knew I would want to talk to her about it. 

The end of the school year was upon us, and Isabella had not finished the book. I told her what any passionate reading teacher would say, "You can take the book home with you."  She smiled and carefully (she knew it was a signed copy!) placed it in her backpack for the summer.

This week she returned the book along with this note.


I knew she would love this book because I know Isabella as a reader.  I spent the year handing her book after book after book.  She would come into my room and ask, "Ok I finished that one. What's next?"  She is the reader every teacher wants in their classroom.

Authors can write amazing books, but if we don't find a way to get them in the hands of our students, we are reneging on our end of the contract.  Today, I celebrate that contract, the trust that authors place in us as teachers, and the joy of placing the right books in the hands of the right readers.

Yes, we have important work to do.

Notes:  After I read Swing Sideways, I immediately ordered multiple copies to use in my student book clubs.  This is the reference Isabella makes in her note about ordering more copies.

Nanci is also the author of Georgia Rules, another amazing heart fiction book which was published in May, and Lizzie Flying Solo about a recently homeless girl who loves a pony she can't have - coming in September 2018.  Nanci is a must-read author for those middle grade students who love books that tug at the heartstrings.