Rethinking “I’m proud of you.”

Andi, a student of mine, was so excited during writing workshop today. After trying a few different things out, she finally wrote an introduction to her persuasive essay that she felt would really grab her readers’ attention. She excitedly requested a conference with me to ask what I thought about her introduction.

I didn’t plan to meet with Andi today, but she was so excited to share her writing that I certainly couldn’t say no. When we settled in for our conference together, I started off how I typically do with my fifth grade writers, “Hi Andi- what would you like to talk about?”

“I think I really wrote a great introduction! I want to know what you think!”

“Ok, can you read it to me?” I responded with a smile.

Andi then read her introduction aloud (which I have to say was very clever, and definitely made me want to read more!). As soon as she finished reading it aloud, she looked at me with a huge smile seeking out my approval by asking, “Do you like it?”

Some of you might be thinking- that’s great, she wants to share her writing! She’s seeking out the teacher to share her great work.

Well, I honestly had a different reaction. The last thing I want as a writing teacher is my students seeking out my approval. I don’t want them to look for the standard response of “I’m proud of you” or “Great job!” Their job as writers (readers, mathematicians, scientists, etc) is not to gain my approval. So, I responded with something else. I tried to respond in a way to get Andi to seek out her own approval and to notice exactly what she did as a writer to make her feel this way.

“Well, what do you think about your introduction? Do you feel you’ve accomplished what you set out to do?”

Andi quickly responded, “Yes! Definitely. I think my reader will want to keep reading. I think the statistic I shared will surprise them and make them want to know more about the topic.”

I looked at her, smiled, and said, “Andi, recognize how you’re feeling right now as a writer. Think about the decision you made to provoke this feeling in your future readers. This is potentially a strategy you can use again in your writing. I bet you can even share it with some classmates to support their efforts. Would you be up for that?”

“Yes! I’ll share why I decided to use the statistic to start! I really like how it sounds.”

“Take note of the pride you feel in yourself right now, Andi. Consider jotting down the decision you made as a writer in your notebook. Revisit it the next time you’re starting a piece of writing or perhaps when you’re conferring with a friend to support their work.”

“Ok. I will. Thanks, Ms. Nosek.” Andi then jotted down the strategy she made the choice to use in her notebook, and walked off feeling proud of herself as a writer. With that, our conference ended.

Now, imagine if I just told Andi that I was proud of her. If I used those words, it would have made her writing about pleasing me instead of empowering her. There is nothing inherently wrong with telling kids we’re proud of them. However, I’m making the effort with my teacher language to help them recognize when they are proud of themselves. The goal is helping my students empower themselves, not making me proud. Simple language choices make a big difference.

I Haven’t Read Aloud in Days

That’s right. You read that title correctly. If you know my work with teachers or my work with students, you’re probably thinking the title just can’t be true.

Well, it’s true. I haven’t done our picture book read aloud in days… My students have taken over! They are now taking the initiative to bring in a picture book from the library or home to read aloud to the class nearly everyday. In fact, I’m now scheduling ahead with readers because so many fifth graders want to do the read aloud!

Why are my students taking the initiative to read aloud to the class? I suspect it’s because read aloud is just a way of life in our classroom. No rewards, points, or extra kudos are given for reading aloud. It’s just what we do. It’s just who we are. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sharing a book you love with others.

Take a look at all of our read alouds so far this year: https://padlet.com/cnosek/BookaDay

New Year Message: Three Connected Promises to My Students and Myself

As I prepare to head back to my fifth graders on Monday refreshed and recharged after a wonderful winter break full of family, friends, and adventures, I’m going to work on keeping a few promises to myself and my students that I quietly (and some not so quietly) made at the beginning of the school year…

Promise 1: I am going to make a greater effort to ensure my teaching is anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-oppressive, and inclusive of all who enter my doors and who live outside those doors. This promise is a continual work in progress. It’s one I quietly made a while back, and I now realize keeping it quiet is not the way to proceed. As a white, cisgender teacher, writer, and speaker in the education field, I see it as a moral imperative. I owe it to my students, my colleagues, my peers across the country, and children everywhere. To engage in this continual work, I’m listening, watching, reading, and trying to recognize my privilege at every step. It can be uncomfortable at times, and it can be downright shocking at others, yet is is something I must continue to engage in. I know I am making mistakes, and I know I will make mistakes in the future. The key is to recognize those mistakes, honestly admit to them, remedy them, and do better next time. One thing I know I need to do as well is to step back and give voice to others- I need to recognize whose voice is missing in my classroom, whose is over represented, and take steps to make representation more inclusive. This could be an entire blog post on its own so I’ll stop here for now. If you’re interested in also making this promise to yourself and your students, here is a list of resources that helped me start this work.

This is not a complete list, rather it is simply where I started on my path with this work. These sites, the resources they provide, and ideas they challenged me to ponder have helped me grow immensely as an educator and a human. I’d love to see your resources as well- as I said, I am listening and learning.

Promise 2: Everyday, no matter what, we will engage in independent choice reading and read aloud in the classroom. So far, this promise that I vocally made back in August has been kept. Each and every day my 5th graders come into the classroom at 8:00, put away their materials, take care of tasks such as signing up for lunch, and then engage in independent choice reading for 15-30 minutes. On days when I announce we’ll continue independent reading through 8:45, cheers erupt! More on the why and how of our daily independent reading can be found here and here. In addition to daily independent reading, we’re also engaging in daily read aloud. Everyday we read a picture book together as a community. On most days, we also have a novel read aloud. More on the why and how of daily read aloud can be found here and here. A critical component of this promise has been continually searching for classroom library books and read alouds that represent all of my students, their families, our community members, and those who we discover are missing from our shelves. Frequently consulting The Nerdy Book Club, School Library Journal, and We Need Diverse Books helps with this ongoing process.

Promise 3: I will simplify and say no.  At an NCTE session a couple years back, I heard Penny Kittle respond to the question, How do you fit it all in? by saying, “I don’t.” These two simple, yet powerful words struck a nerve in me. I feel that they released me. They forced me to question what I was doing and ask why I was trying to take on everything at all times. However, I only started applying this idea a few months ago at the beginning of the school year. The first thing I did was remove my school email from my phone. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with not being a complete workaholic. It is possible to both be a completely dedicated educator and to set personal and professional boundaries. When I was working every moment, I was not taking care of myself, and I certainly was not bringing my best self to my students. I also took a look at everything I did in my classroom and really asked which practices made a difference in my students’ learning lives and which were just filler. I made my best effort to eliminate the filler. I will continue to do so. Less truly is more when it comes to good teaching. Identifying what matters and saying no to everything else makes a huge difference. A few other things I’ve done to simplify and say no…

  • I removed myself from a couple committees at work that had no impact on my students or my own professional growth. I gave my all to everyone for a while, and now realize it’s ok to allow others to fill those jobs.
  • I removed Facebook from my phone. This is something I did only a few days ago while on vacation. Facebook can be a huge rabbit hole and waster of time if one allows it to be- self admittedly, I allowed it to be! There are a few things I appreciate about Facebook, and I can still visit those once a day while sitting at my computer. Endlessly scrolling through the Facebook feed does not have to be a continual part of my day. Deleting the app from my phone has been the best move I’ve made in 2019 so far. It’s been rather freeing!
  • In 2019, I will only say yes to things I want to do and believe in. This may be my biggest challenge. One of my fears in life is letting others down. However, I can’t make time for things that matter to me if I continually make time for things that don’t. I’m sure I will think more on this and revisit this idea through writing in the future.

From the outside looking in at this blog post, it may appear that these three promises are not connected. Yet, I see them all living within each other. By simplifying my life and saying no more often, I am making more room for the things that matter to me and my students: sound literacy practices and anti-oppressive actions in the classroom and in my life outside of school. Come to think of it, a sound literacy practice is anti-oppressive. It’s not something that just happens. It’s something that is a work in progress. I’d love your help on this journey. I’m listening and learning. 

Cheers to a happy, healthy, inclusive,
and intentional 2019!
-Christina

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 11/19/18… We Got This

Okay, okay. It’s Tuesday, not Monday. Yesterday was my travel day after an incredible four days of connecting and learning at The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention (NCTE18). After a few nights of restless sleep, a flight delay due to smoke in The Bay Area, and a much needed dinner of decompression with dear friends, I let Monday slip by without mentioning my reading.

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Cornelius’ ideas and insight kept me company as I was squished in the back of my United flight in seat 25D. 

However, I did not let the day slip by without getting some great reading in. My friend and teaching mentor, Cornelius Minor, just published a much needed book in the field, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be.  This much needed book kept me company on my four hour flight from Houston to San Francisco.

 

I am so excited to share his book with my colleagues- in fact, the friends I met for dinner last night were my two teaching partners. As they previewed the book, while we were waiting for our food, they kept saying, “This is what we need. This is a needed book!” Obviously, I concur. Rather than summarizing or pulling out key points, I’ll end with a quote from the book’s introduction…

“I am not OK with a world where only some people – the ones who were born on the right side of town or the ones who happen to make the right friends- get a shot at success…

As teachers, we cannot guarantee outcomes- that all kids will start businesses, lead their families, and contribute in their communities- but we can guarantee access. We can ensure that everyone gets a shot.”  -Cornelius Minor, pg. xvi

Access. Access is everything. Thank you for this work, Cornelius. I am so excited to join you and many others in this important and vital work for our society.

Friends, if you’re also reading We Got This, I’d love to chat!

 

 

You can find more of my current professional reads, 5th grade classroom read alouds, and my relax reads here. Happy reading, friends!

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My first book for teachers, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, cowritten with Kari Yates, is now out and available from Stenhouse Publishers. Our goal with this book was to help teachers make the important practice of conferring with readers manageable, effective, and joyful! 

 

 

 

Scaffolds & Crutches

On Monday evening, I started experiencing an odd pain on the backside of my knee. On Tuesday  morning, I woke up not being able to walk or even straighten my leg. I was experiencing a terrible amount of pain.

After a trip to the doctor’s office, I learned I sprained my knee. The timing is not ideal- but, when is it ever ideal to sprain a knee?  In six days, I’m heading out to Austin for the 2018 ILA conference. Then, in 13 days, I’m boarding a transatlantic flight to head to Spain for a long awaited two week vacation. So, needless to say, a sprained knee is not exactly welcome at the moment. However, I now have crutches and a thoughtful and wise physical therapist to support me while I am temporarily not able to walk on my own.

Crutches are a scaffold. I need them to support my efforts with walking right now. However, I will remove them gradually as I gain mobility.  I get to make that decision under the guidance of my physical therapist. If I keep using them after I gain mobility, I will actually cause more harm to myself and potentially impede my future mobility.

Using crutches to assist my walking efforts over the past few days has sparked some thinking about scaffolds in the classroom. Scaffolds, like crutches, are meant to be a temporary support that are gradually used less and less until independence or near-independence is reached.

Also, just because I need crutches right now doesn’t mean everyone with knee pain also needs crutches.  In addition, the length of time I am using crutches may be different than someone with a similar knee issue. All bodies are different with different needs. In the same way, all learners are different with different needs.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 10.57.15 AMGraphic organizers in writing come to mind when I think of a scaffold similar to crutches- as a writer myself, I have never used a graphic organizer, but I have talked out ideas with other writers. Some writers prefer to make lists prior to writing, and some just need to be set free to write. The process is different for all. This also applies to young writers- their processes are just as varied as adult processes and should be honored. Like crutches, graphic organizers can cause more harm than good when inappropriately used- why give a writer a contrived organizing tool when they actually don’t need it? It would be like giving someone without an injury crutches and asking them to walk using them. It just doesn’t make sense. That being said, sometimes, some writers may choose to use a graphic organizer of sorts to help themselves. The key is to help our writers learn what they need so they can advocate and make decisions for themselves- not to just give them a crutch.

The same thinking applies to insisting early readers use their fingers to point to words while reading when they are tracking successfully with their eyes.

Or, in group discussions, requiring students to select a sentence starter from a list when they want to think of what to say on their own.

I could go on and on.

Scaffolds can impede thinking and actually harm the learning process when they are not removed or if they are unnecessarily used.  Rather than discuss every single scaffold that may be used in the classroom, I just ask that all of us consider the need before the scaffold, and ask if a scaffold is even necessary.

Every morning when I wake up, I am reevaluating my need to use crutches. I’m even reevaluating as I move through the day. When the need is no longer there, the scaffold (or crutch) will be removed. Using a scaffold after it has outlived its necessity creates a new kind of pain, one that is difficult to overcome.

I hope when I see many of you at ILA next week, I will have outgrown my need for the crutches. But, it will be ok if I’m just not quite there yet. The decision will be mine. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could empower our students to make the decision about scaffolds theirs, too?

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My first book for teachers, cowritten with Kari Yates, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy is available to order from Stenhouse Publishers!