The Adventures of TDA: Chapter 3

On Wednesday we began a new story. The story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson intrigued the sixth graders as they read about Laurie, a kindergartner who came home for lunch daily to tell his parents all about Charles, the bad kid who caused all kinds of trouble and chaos in the classroom. The twist ending caused explosive conversations!

Students turned and talked about possible lenses that would work well with this particular story. I love having students determine the possible lenses and am always excited when they come up with one I didn’t even think about! One student who typically struggles asked if repetition would work for this particular story. I asked what he meant and he was able to give several examples of different kinds of repetition. YES! Not only did he come up with a great lens, his idea was used by a lot of partnerships as their focus…what a confidence builder!

I reminded students of the work we needed to do before moving into writing because if they don’t take the time to do the thinking work with the strategy I taught them last week, then they would not be able to successfully and confidently write their text dependent analysis. Partnerships made a plan for the lens work they were going to tackle that day and then they got to work.

While students worked I pulled up to partnerships and coached them into finding examples of the lens they were examining. Some needed specific direct instruction, for example, to determine who was saying what when they were examining dialogue between multiple characters.

After class I looked through their work and noticed a lot of identifying but not a lot of annotating. Without the annotating I knew they would struggle to see the patterns. So I knew they needed more modeling of this work.

I showed them how I notice something, immediately pause, and annotate with my thinking. This definitely helped move many students to combine this work instead of only underlining evidence of their lens thinking they would go back and annotate after. Once students made a plan for the independent work, they went of to do the work in their partnerships. I was able to conference with every partnership and pull two small groups.

The next day the students continued to examine with one lens and move onto a second, and some even a third, but first I wanted to push their thinking about coming to new understandings. Students were feeling super confident in their thinking about character at this point, but I wanted them to use that confidence to push theme work, which was not an area they had strength.

I continued conferring with partnerships and pulled a small group that needed coaching to make the their theme universal.

Friday we moved into our last story, “Into the Rapids” which I snagged from www.commonlit.org. The idea of using three texts in the past week was twofold: to provide students with ample opportunity to practice using the strategy while using a variety of lenses to focus their reading and to provide choice when it’s time to begin writing a TDA. Each student will choose the text from the three they will use to practice using the writing strategies for TDA,

Since we were on our third text, students felt very comfortable digging right in with their partners and were all engaged in the lenses they chose. By the end of today, I was overwhelmed by the level of thinking they were bringing to the text. One particular student who struggles and receives EL support has grown so much in the last week. His partner was absent on Friday and while he was only able to finish one lens during the independent time, his thinking made me so proud.

While moving around to confer with partnerships, I was coaching one group into theme when we realized that we needed to tweak the strategy. This was a great opportunity for a midworkshop interrupt and ended up helping many other partnerships too. Midworkshop interupts are great when coaching students through a strategy and realizing something that others may need to use too!

They will have some time to finish up their thinking work, but many will be ready to move onto choosing and organizing their best thinking to begin writing. We will continue to use the anchor chart created at the start of this mini unit to drive our minilessons. I did add writing in third person to the chart as that is what is expected based on the learning progressions for text dependent analysis! Here are more examples of the thinking that came from Friday’s work.

Moving from Pictures to Text…Oh My!

Why do the images work so well and then when we present a text, we feel like we can’t get past the blank stares? Images are a great way to practice using the strategy for analysis with something relatively easier. Until the strategy feels comfortable, we may need to use a lot of pictures. After modeling and doing a couple with guided practice, continue to use the pictures at transition times while encouraging partners to talk it out. I’ve modeled with a few different images, but this has been a fun go to recently.

After modeling, I guide students through the process one step at a time, but relying on them to do the heavy lifting with their turn and talk partner. This image has been great for differentiating between evidence I notice and inferences I’m making (buckets). For example, as students turn and talk, if I hear in step one, “I notice a protest,” I will ask them to show me how they know. They will inevitably point to the signs, the gathering of people, the megaphone, the hashtags, and the open mouths. I will congratulate them for already noticing a pattern/bucket and they can jot that down, but they need to list everything they can explicitly and not implicitly see. The same goes for, “I notice a city.”

Students need so many opportunities like this when the stakes are lower to practice using the strategy. Once you take the time to model and do a couple guided practices, you can use these in shorter periods of time for students to talk through because they need to be able to talk through them to reinforce the skill but to build on ideas. Then when you send them off to do their independent reading, encourage them to pay attention to what they notice while reading and what patterns they may be seeing. Maybe they notice a series of character actions. I might think of Dallas Winston in The Outsiders, for example, and notice how each action is rude and vulgar in a particular chapter. I might think, what can this pattern show me? Well, maybe I can make a theory about the kind of person Dallas is. Dallas is the kind of person who pushes people away because he’s afraid he won’t be accepted or deserving of a real friendship or maybe it’s to make himself feel more powerful over others because he doesn’t feel very powerful inside. I might start to think about how this pattern of actions speaks to the theme. Maybe the author is using a series of rude and vulgar character actions to show the reader that people who don’t feel confident may push those around them away before they can be rejected. We can learn that what we see on the outside are the effects of the hurt that is on the inside.

We want to encourage students to use the strategy while they read and think deeper than the summary of what’s happening, and we have to model using this strategy as much as possible too. You can use your real-alouds to model too!

Moving to Texts

When I started revisiting classrooms after they had some time with images, I didn’t bring a long, giant text with me. I brought something super short yet meaty.

from The House on Mango Street

I read paragraph one aloud and asked them to turn and talk about what they thought it was about. I walked around and heard the same thing over and over again. It’s about what kind of hair people in this family have. What a perfect moment to encourage kids to break it down and think deeper because it’s about so much more than hair. I started thinking aloud about paragraph one and breaking it down more and more right in front of them.

I showed them what I noticed and how I was seeing patterns of descriptions and comparisons using figurative language. By looking closely at the figurative language I discovered that maybe it wasn’t the hair that was being described but the personality of each family member in paragraph one. I then ask myself, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about this? to think about theme.

After modeling, I read the second paragraph aloud and gave some turn and talk time to get, “Her hair smells like bread!!!!” out of their system. Then using the strategy kids noticed a lot, saw many different patterns, and came to new understandings.

Like the images, kids need many opportunities with texts to use the strategy and to have time to talk through it with a turn and talk partner. They can use their independent reading book, but another idea is to share excerpts from time to time that they can zoom in, look for patterns, and come to new understandings. This may be another way to share a book from the classroom library shelves. Let’s look close at a key scene in Ghost by Jason Reynolds, for example. Not only a great way to practice but to advertise a book!

Some Important Shout Outs!

I love going into classes and learning from kids as much as they learn from me. That’s why talking it out regularly is so important…we learn and grow from the perspectives of everyone around us!

When analyzing this image, I had a discussion with a group of sixth grade boys at Belmont Hills Elementary who noticed the repetition of orange, black, and white. They were wondering aloud if the colors represented the colors of prison jumpsuits and how that may relate to the message. I found that thinking pretty fascinating. Way to think beyond the literal!

When a partnership in sixth grade at Cornwells Elementary saw the pattern of the same colors, they didn’t know what to make of it. I told them about the discussion the boys at Belmont had. Another partnership overheard and shared they too saw the pattern, but they were thinking the colors represented the school colors of a recent school that faced gun violence and the protesters were using those school colors to show support.

A fourth grade class at Rush Elementary pointed out to me that the first paragraph was all about everyone in the family except mom. They all shared that one paragraph, but Mom had an entire, and even longer, paragraph all to herself showing the reader that Mom is the central and most important person. They noticed the author’s use of the structure to share a message!

Back at Cornwells Elementary, two fifth grade girls were discussing the second paragraph about mom and how maybe mom was not necessarily a person who is the comforting, nurturing, and safe person we need, but a place. A metaphor for the place we feel most safe and secure and how everyone needs that. WOW!

If you have great work, you’d like to share or would like support, you know where to find me. A special thank you to the amazing kids who have been teaching me in the last couple weeks!

A Close Look at Why We Teach Analysis

Ask any student what analysis is and why we do it, and the responses are pretty telling. I know this because I’ve been doing just that lately. Asking kids.

Kids seem to think that analysis is just a school thing that we have to be able to do on the state testing, but outside of school, it’s not important. My conversations with kids have been makeing me wonder. We complain that kids don’t see value in the state testing, but do we take the time to communicate what analysis is, why it’s important, and what can be analyzed?

I think these are questions we need to ask ourselves and get state testing out of the forefront. State testing is a reality, and sadly is used to determine teacher effectiveness, but it should not be the primary reason we approach this work with kids.

I do not believe analysis is something we hurry up and teach kids before a test. In my mind, it’s a spiraling concept that helps us to understand something deeply. It takes us from getting the gist of something to breaking it down and looking at all the pieces to see how all of the moving parts create a new and deeper understanding.

That was pretty heavy! But think about it…anything could be analyzed and it’s all around us.

When people talk on social media or in the faculty room about the current season of say Game of Thrones. They are breaking it down and coming to new and deeper understandings. They talk about how the writers use things like symbolism and foreshadowing that encourages them to go back and re-watch previous seasons for a closer look. That’s analysis.

When all of America was shocked when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, viewers looked back to figure out how the coaching staff’s decisions and the plays that were used brought the underdogs to victory. That’s analysis.

When we look at our students or even our own children and ask ourselves, why is she behaving this way? What is the root cause? What patterns are we seeing that lead to this behavior or outcome? That’s analysis.

When the latest installment of Star Wars was released in theaters, blogs and articles were immediately shared about how this movie was written and if it lived up to the story originally created by George Lucas.

When I watch reality tv and especially my guilty pleasure, The Real Housewives, which my husband refers to as “The Screaming Show” I immediately go on social media after to see how others have analyzed and interpreted the big dramatic moment and how editing is used to twist and confuse perspectives.

A few things stand out to me in all of my thinking recently about analysis.

  1. Analysis is not easy — It’s is not cut and dry. It can’t be taught in a quick activity or in one essay nor can it be a weekly essay assigned, which is what my own daughter experienced last year. It’s something that should be constantly spiraling in what we do.
  2. Analysis is social — In real life we talk out our thinking whether it be after watching a sporting event, movie, or a decision that was made at work, we often talk about our thinking and dive deeper with people.
  3. Analysis is not about what happened so much as it’s about how and why it did — It’s about looking closely and coming to a new conclusion or a deeper understanding. It’s the act of not accepting something at face value.
  4. Analysis needs to be modeled and modeled and modeled some more — The more you model, the more you put in the work, because it is work, the more you will see how you can scaffold the work for kids and determine what they need and next steps. Kids also need to see that it is a struggle for you too. Analysis doesn’t just magically happen. It takes time and a lot of thinking!
  5. There is not one answer when it comes to analysis — What I love so much that continues to prove why it is a social act is how much I learn and notice when hearing other perspectives. On more than one occasion I have been blown away by what others notice that I did not see myself. Just last week Mrs. Barats’s fourth grade class at Rush noticed how a text we were looking closely at was structured. My mind was blown. It was a brilliant way to look at what the text was really about that I did not see myself!

I will be sharing some work I’ve been doing recently with teachers around analysis and look forward to learning from my own work as well as the work of some really awesome students and teachers! But if you have not taken the time to really look at why analysis is important aside from state testing, I encourage you to analyze the way you go about this work with kids and how your work does or does not grow deep thinkers who have solid understandings…because, in my honest opinion, that is what is most important.

TDA: Students Take on the Images

This is a great time of year to work in a lot of analysis work using images so students have lots of opportunities to talk and talk and talk!

I’ve been visiting some great fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classrooms this week and love the excitement kids get when doing this work. They don’t even realize they are working and the engagement has been incredible.

Here’s the gist of what I’ve been doing to model for teachers using their own students. Sometime after break I will revisit these classrooms and begin using lenses for close reading and texts, but in the meantime these teachers will be trying lots of image work with them.

The Modeling

Teaching Point + Strategy

Today I am going to teach you that readers come to new understandings when reading by looking closely for patterns. Watch me while I read this image by looking closely at the details I notice, the patterns I see, and then ask myself, “What so these patterns show?”

Active Engagement

Students work in partnerships not groups. Students are more actively engaged and on task when working closely with a shoulder partner. This time is just as quick paced as the modeling. I use timers, model fast and furious, and expect students to work fast and furious as well. The active engagement was not longer than 6 minutes and could have been condensed.

Invitation to Practice Independently

Students were invited to try this work in their independent reading books. Whether they use post-its or a readers notebook, they are encouraged to stop and jot what they notice while reading and identify patterns. Then they can do some deep thinking work and ask themselves what the patterns show.

The work that students did today included what they noticed about the lenses of repetition, setting, and even tone. When they noticed patterns they were able to discuss different aspects of the image including central idea/theme, the author’s purpose, and the effect it had on the reader.

After the break we will move from pictures to short texts, but in the meantime, students will have lots of opportunities to practice with images with a partner, try the work in their independent reading, and receive specific lenses in small group and conferring to notice.

Everyone can try this work! This image for Juicy Couture was a fun one to try with sixth graders.

Click here and try as many as you can!

Let me know if you would like support too!

TDA: Starting with Images

Last year we had a pretty intensive training on text dependent analysis for ELA teachers in fourth through eighth grade. One of the things we learned in the training were the three steps to get to analysis that helped us focus on the craft of the author. Often we want to start with the big idea and ask something like, “What’s the theme and what in the text makes you say that?” While we have been doing this move for a long time, it does not encourage close examination of craft and intentional moves an author may have taken to push a particular message through.

The anchor chart

Instead of starting at the bottom and determining a new understanding such as character traits, theme, effect on reader, central idea, and author’s purpose, we start at the top and teach readers to pay attention by asking what do you notice? What do you explicitly see?

Once we have noticed a lot, we want to look and see if there are any patterns. When it comes to patterns, we are thinking about buckets. What do we notice that could all go into one bucket, and what would we call that bucket?

After seeing a pattern or even multiple patterns, we want to look at those patterns and determine a new understanding. If we are looking for theme, for example, we may ask, “Based on the bucket(s) and what’s inside, what does the author want us to know, think, feel, or believe? What message(s) is the author pushing through?”

Analysis takes a lot of practice and scaffolding!

Before kids can write, they need lots and lots of opportunities to discuss with partners. Analysis is hard stuff so many times we can use images to get us going. Jackie, a sixth grade teacher at Rush, showed me what she was using and I LOVED the idea. During the training we shared lots of images from a series by the New York Times called, “A Picture a Day”. Jackie decided to also incorporate advertisements including this one below.

I decided to try one out myself. Look at this add for Camel Lights.

You could model using one and then provide some guided practice with another. I might have turn and talk partners try this one next as they are guided through step 1, then 2, then 3.

How one teacher supported students

Jackie noticed her students were struggling with noticing patterns, and so she created a scaffold which she will soon take away just to give them a nudge. She gave them some possible buckets to fill for the Heinz Ketchup advertisement and now that they have had some experience, she will have students determine the patterns they are seeing moving forward.

Jackie’s sixth graders then wrote their thinking while supporting their ideas with specific moves the author/artist made. The student example below proves her thinking by including how the author/artist used color, words, and even formatting.

If this is all new to you or you haven’t gotten your feet wet with this process, click here to use some of the pictures we’ve compiled and try it out yourself!

And if you would like some modeling with your students or simply would like to plan with your current unit, you know where to find me!

One rule of caution! There is not one “right” answer and there can be different patterns noticed. We want to celebrate and push for individual thinking.

Coming Soon!

Once you get your feet wet with the images, I will share out the use of the lenses to look through while reading.

The Power of Modeling: From Sticky Notes to Reader’s Notebooks

One of my pushes this year is pushing thinking using the reader’s notebook. While re-reading Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them and her newer book 180 Days which she co-wrote with Kelly Gallagher, I found myself re-energized by the act of doing the work in front of kids in a real and organic way.

Our great reading teachers have been modeling active reading with stop and jots and think alouds within mentor texts pretty much on a daily basis, but when it comes to the reader’s notebook there is a disconnect. Kids want to be told what to write about and how it should be formatted. As workshop teachers, we know that everyone writing the same way about the same thing is not conducive to growing readers. They do not benefit by doing what the teacher wants; they need to have the choice and ownership to push themselves.

Revisiting Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s work made me wonder. What would it look like if we modeled moving from the stop and jot to the notebook? What would kids see if more than one teacher modeled using the same text? This was an experiment that I felt was important to take on, so I asked some of my people who I have worked with in the past to do this experiment with me. I thought I’d get a couple volunteers, but little did I know that all of my people would volunteer!

My first stop was with my former coaching colleague turned fifth grade teacher. I shared my idea during his prep one day, and he not only said yes, he suggested we start that day! We grabbed two of the same book from his classroom library, and when his fifth graders came back from special, we shared our plan.

To do this plan, we had to flip the workshop around and begin with independent reading followed by the minilesson. While the students read, we did not conference or pull small groups. We joined them in reading and jotting. After about 30 minutes of independent reading, they joined us on the carpet and we took 5 minutes to look over our jots and write a notebook entry.

The kids paid close attention while we grappled with our thinking and writing about our thinking.

Then we each explained how we went from our stop and jots to the notebook entries that were before them. They turned and talked about what they noticed about how we went about it and how we formatted our writing.

I continued my tour with Sarah Wolbransky, also a former literacy coach who went back to the classroom this year to teach fifth grade. We did the same experiment. Using a different book that we had not read from her classroom library.

From fifth grade, I hit the middle school and Bridget Sperduto’s seventh grade. The best part about middle school is we can do this for five periods, which is the equivalent of five class periods of reading and noting. The students were not only able to see what we each did using the same book, All American Boys, but also what we each did over the course of five class periods!

I continued in the middle school, but this time my seventh and eighth grade teachers, Theresa Simon and Danielle Armstrong, pulled their classes together, and the three of us got to work using Everything, Everything.

Seventh and eighth grade teacher, Justin Hopf decided to join one of Danielle’s classes and since we were already pretty far into Everything, Everything, we decided to pull another book from the classroom library.

From there I went back to the elementary school to experiment with Chris Jordan and his sixth graders. We used a book from his classroom library that neither of us had read.

Later that day, I joined Gina Miller, Kelly Kovach, and Natalie Hartman, a sixth grade team in another building. They pulled the entire sixth grade together to do the experiment with Out of My Mind which showed how four different teachers went about this work.

I ended my tour in eighth grade with my Wonder Twin, Diane Murray. Using Ghost, we modeled our thinking and writing about reading across the day.

What did I learn from this experiment?

  • I learned that notebook entries should not take more than a few minutes. We’ve seen that when given prompts and structures, students will take hours and sometimes days to push themselves to do the thinking work that should only be taking about 5% of the workshop time. The time spent was because students were often so focused on being right and formatting it correctly that they were losing time from the real work.
  • I learned that students need to see a lot more of modeling. I encourage teachers to keep their own reader’s notebooks and share images of their own work but also take the time to do the work right in front of them. Students will benefit from seeing you grapple with your own thinking and how to get it in the notebook.
  • I learned that students may start with imitating exactly what you do. Having the confidence to do it your own way takes a lot of time and practice. Keep modeling your process!
  • I learned that when kids don’t have enough experience and don’t know what to do, they default to writing a summary or nothing at all.
  • I learned that these notebook entries are the seeds that can be used for long writes that are not as frequently written.
  • I learned that reader’s notebooks show thinking over time and that thinking can change along the way.
  • I learned that together as a team we can do so much more to model with kids.
  • I learned that other people think differently than I do even when we may be reading the same book.

What did students learn?

A LOT! They watched us in the moment write about our thinking based on what we noticed, taking no more than 5 minutes to write our entry. They listened as we explained our process of stopping to jot, determining what to explore deeper in the notebook, and how we decided to organize it. They learned that it’s okay to take charge of their own thinking about reading, but most importantly, there is no one right answer or one right way to go about it.

I look back at my notebook compared to Lee’s. We both ended up looking closely at how the characters were acting, but we came to different conclusions. Kids need to see this!

Lee wonders if the poor behaviors are a result of living in poverty while I wonder if the leaders feel helpless and try to control the situation by punishing everyone instead of those who are really responsible.

I also look back at Diane and I who came to similar conclusions by noticing different patterns.

What’s next?

I encourage you to do this modeling in front of kids. I’m not going to lie. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but that’s what kids need to see. They need to see us struggle with making sense of what we notice while reading, so they are less overwhelmed when they are expected to do the same. They need to know it’s really hard work but so important. They need to see that we too have to really push ourselves. If you’re able to do this work with a colleague to show the different ways you both go about it after reading the same text, it’s pretty powerful. And if you would like to invite me in to do this work with you, you know how to find me!

What’s the Deal with All These Sticky Notes?

While visiting classrooms and chatting with teachers and students, I’ve noticed some common themes.

  1. Kids want to be told what specifically to stop and jot about.
  2. Teachers are frustrated with minimal stop and jots and surface thinking on notebook pages.
  3. There are all these sticky notes, but now what to we do with them?

If you need a quick background on the purpose and benefits of the sticky note, read “The Life Cycle of a Post It: Management, Functionality, and Benefits of Capturing our Ideas on Post Its” from the Heinemann Blog.

As I listened to teachers and students, I decided to do some experimenting myself. I am a firm believer that students learn best when they have access to real modeling, so I pulled out a new notebook, chose a book from the classroom library, and got to work doing what I would expect from kids.

Much like reading to discover strategies that I use to keep myself focused, engaged, and thinking about my reading, taking the time to actively read with stickies in hand helped me see different strategies that I could use to model with students.

How do you know what to write on the sticky?

Short answer…whatever stands out to you! Stop and jots are not meant for everyone in the room to notice the same thing. Students do not need to be told, “Everyone should stop and jot about___,” nor do they need a worksheet, but a scaffold might include the close reading menu of possible lenses for reading and your current anchor charts for the unit of study. Remember, the close reading menu is just an extension of the anchor charts from the reading units. Students in the younger grades or students who struggle can even start with using SIR and note what is surprising, important, or repeated.

So what goes in the notebook then?

The notebook is not a place to rewrite what was noticed on the stickies. It is, however, a place to think deeply about something you may have noticed. After reading for about 20-25 minutes I stopped and jotted on a sticky 13 times in those 29 pages. So now what? I found myself looking back and noticed a pattern. I noticed that in those pages I wrote “unimpressed” multiple times. When I thought back, I realized that the main character and his mother both had multiple instances of acting unimpressed. As a reader, I know that when I see something come up again and again, it’s something to stop and think deeply about. Why would the author do that? What do I think it means? Why do I think it’s important?

I took three of my 13 stickies and started to explore through writing my thinking around that.

By doing the work myself, I notice that what stands out to me and what I need to think deeper about cannot be directed by a teacher or a worksheet.

I notice that over time (I’m now on page 110) I stop and jot most when:

  1. I see repetition (the way a character acts, responds to something, or even a word that’s repeated.)
  2. I see a character give advice.
  3. I notice a character acting differently than I would expect in a situation.
  4. I notice an issue the character is facing.

But Diane, who is reading the same book and noting, stops and jots most when:

  1. She sees a pattern in the moments of choice of a character.
  2. She notices the way a character struggles internally compared to externally.
  3. She sees how the setting might be driving a character’s choices.
Diane’s Notes

Is this one more thing to add to the massive plate?

No! It all goes together. Think back to the TDA training.

First, students stop and jot what they notice while independently reading. This may produce a lot of thinking, and that’s okay.

Next, students look back for BIG IDEAS they might notice through a pattern. When looking back on my stickies throughout pages 65-76, I noticed that there were a few that made me think about the issue of belonging.

Finally, students take that pattern or one BIG IDEA and explore this thinking deeper in the notebook. This is meant to push thinking about reading and practice skills like inference and analysis. But most importantly, it is mean to be student-driven.

Students need to be in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They choose their independent reading book, they choose their reading spot, they choose what to notice and what to explore deeper.

The more students are in the driver’s seat, the less they rely on what the teacher wants and what is the “right answer” or “right way”.

This process continues on a regular basis throughout the reading workshop. Each day students return to their reading, noticing, identifying patterns, and thinking deeper about BIG IDEAS. It’s also known as the life cycle of the sticky note.

One thing to consider. Writing about reading is only a small percentage of reading time. Some students will try to spend days on end in the same entry. This type of writing is about showing thinking more than formal writing.

Students need to know it’s about being FAST AND FURIOUS. All of my entries are no more than 5 minutes! This may need to be modeled!

How do I grade notebooks?

Notebooks are a playground for thinking and not meant to be grades each day; however, it is possible to have students choose one entry a week to self evaluate and turn in for a grade, but ideally a conference around their notebook would work better because students could leave with a strategy to try if they are struggling with any aspect of the life cycle of the sticky note.

Moving Forward!

Sometimes we get so focused on making sure everyone is doing the work that we get a little tunnel vision, requiring specific notebook pages that look a certain way. We focus on format and lose sight of the deep thinking. In my next post, I plan to show you the work of multiple teachers modeling the life cycle of a sticky note using the same book to highlight how even when reading the same book, we can notice, think, and explore a BIG IDEA differently, and it’s okay!

I leave you with my thinking across six independent reading sessions

The Mirror Challenge…Who’s In?

Let me start with a quick flashback and confession. When I came back to teaching after having my kids, I was slightly out of touch. I had kids that ranged from two to seven and I was busy. My reading was limited to what I had to read for continuing education classes, self-help books like how to help my child with ADHD, and children’s bedtime stories. So when my students were asking if I liked Hunger Games or Twilight, two big series at the time, I was at a loss. I noticed that everything kids asked me about, I had the same response, “I haven’t read that yet.” And I’m going to be honest with you, I was not going to read it because I was too busy. And that’s what I hear so often from so many teachers, “I just don’t have time to read.” And I get it.

What I noticed was my students were reading less and less as I was less and less in touch. And let’s be real…why would kids read when even their reading teacher isn’t reading? The older kids get, and especially in grades sixth through eighth, the more they despise the do–as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do-approach. So if the adults around them are not reading, why should they? It’s clearly not important, right?

Fast forward a few years and my oldest, a very strong reader, was starting fourth grade. He was also starting to read books that were on my middle school classroom library shelves. I wanted to be able to talk about books with him, so we started reading one series after the other at the same time. It started with Among the Hidden, then The Hunger Games (our favorite) before moving on to Divergent and then The Fifth Wave. But while my son and I read each series and talked about them, I noticed that I was having more and more conversations with kids at school about these same books and we were all excited about it. I was having trouble keeping those books on the shelves and started adding more and more because my students were reading more and more, and before I knew it, I was reading their recommendations too.

Without even realizing it at first, I had so many readers who were devouring books, and it was because I was reading. No incentive nor connection to grade motivated students to read more than having a teacher who was a reader, and I think there are several reasons why.

  • By just reading I had a common ground to talk to kids. If I was reading something like The Cellar I would talk about how much this book hooked me because it was similar to an episode I might see on the television show Criminal Minds, which is a series I love. It was a dark, twisted, fast-paced psychological thriller. Kids were then starting to talk to me about the type of television show or movie that was similar to their books, so when I came across kids who didn’t read because let’s face it, they just had not found the right book yet, I could ask, “So what types of movies and television shows do you watch?” and go from there.
  • By just reading I was experiencing the same struggles as kids. You think grown ups are busy? Kids are busy too! They have school, after school activities, family obligations, distractions, and disruptions in the home too. I started paying attention to those struggles and simply talking to kids about it. I would tell them for example, “Last night I was so sucked into scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, and I just didn’t feel like reading my book. I tried anyway, but I’d read a page and then turn on my phone to scroll again, and I was just not getting my reading in. I noticed this is happening to me a lot…I’m just procrastinating. So I set my timer for 20 minutes and told myself I am not allowed to touch my phone until the timer goes off and I read. It worked. I think when I notice I’m procrastinating and wasting time on social media, I need to remind myself to set a timer and keep increasing the time to get back to my reading goals.” You know what I found out? Kids respect that. They respect the honesty about real struggles because it’s not always easy to read, but I would share my struggles and become a model for coming up with strategies for those struggles. Kids think reading just comes easy to some. It doesn’t. We all face struggles and have to use strategies to overcome them. Pay attention to the struggles and talk about them!
  • By just reading I became a mirror for what I expect. We can’t tell kids how important it is to read and then not read ourselves. Yes, there are a ton of benefits that our kids need academically including the development of vocabulary, background knowledge, inferring and analysis skills, but they also need the development of empathy that we we get from reading about characters who live different lives with different struggles that we may not experience ourselves but others in our community may. And guess what? Grown ups need that too! But so long as kids see that reading is a chore they have to do and the grown ups can say they are too busy or they don’t like it, then we will never be able to get more than a small population to be readers.

Forgive me while I stand on my soapbox a bit longer.

So where am I going with this? Well, I am proposing, as educators, we become the mirror. Not just reading teachers…all of us. We put our excuses away and we read. We know that consistent, independent reading is a HUGE factor in academic success. But to make real change, we need to start with ourselves and let it grow from there.

I’ve been thinking of some starting ideas. What if every teacher advertised what they are reading. Let the kids call you out when you are spending too long with that same book! Actually sometimes when I just don’t feel like it, I remember that I share my reading with kids. They know what I am reading, and I can’t stay stuck in a book too long. That alone gets my butt moving. So what does that look like?

What if we all posted our current reads. I’m currently reading two books. One I listen to in the car on Audible while I drive my kids here, there, and everywhere. And the other I read most nights (I’m not perfect) before I go to bed.

What if we shared great reads with kids in person or even through Twitter?

Imagine being able to just type in a hashtag like #Snyderowlsread or #Shafersharksread and getting book recommendations. This is something kids can do too!

I challenge all of us to take the challenge and become the mirror. I know from experience that the more we read, advertise, and share, the more we hook students. So imagine if this was bigger than just a few teachers. Imagine what could happen if as a staff we all took the challenge.

It all starts with us. We are teachers. We teach, we inspire, we motivate, we encourage, and we are so much more effective when we are the models for what we expect.

So, I will step down off my soapbox, but I have one question…

Who’s with me?