I recently shared three small instructional shifts to positively reframe at-home reading over at the NCTE Blog. Join me over there to learn more!
Struggling reader, at-risk, disadvantaged, a level M, low reader, below grade level, striving reader, nonreader, these kids, those kids, initiative kids, program kids, label, after harmful label… the list could go on.
Did you have a reaction as you read this list of commonly used labels in school? I definitely had a reaction as I wrote them. In fact, I have a reaction each time I hear one of them used- whether in writing or in conversation. I actually have a reaction every time I hear any label that lumps children together.
Often times when children are lumped together with a label, the assumption is made that they all need the same type of instruction in order to grow. Not all children who need extra support in reading need the same thing. Some children will need more targeted instruction in phonemic awareness while others might need support with monitoring for understanding or active self-regulation. Unless the adults involved take the time to get to know children as individual readers, nothing will change. Assumptions are just as harmful as labels, perhaps even more harmful.
I propose a different way to refer to our students. Rather than sticking an unhelpful label on our students, let’s adopt language that is individualized, actionable, and that puts the onus on the adults at all levels, from the classroom to the district office, to provide our individual students with what they individually need to grow.
So, how do we do this?
The first step is to watch and listen to our students with a sense of wonder. Identify strengths first. Notice and name what kids are already doing well. After naming strengths, move on to identifying next steps for growth. Our language should then mirror this. Our adult language should start with a strength, then name the actionable teaching to provide the needed next step.
Instead of saying an unhelpful statement like, “Tony is a struggling reader”
Reframe it to, “Tony is a skilled decoder of words. He needs direct support in listening comprehension in order to continue to grow his vocabulary. He also will highly benefit from more time to engage in casual conversation with friends in class.”
Rather than using a hurtful phrase like, “Lina is a low reader”
Try, “Lina loves listening to and talking about stories. She is always highly engaged during class read alouds. She will benefit from extra support with decoding multisyllabic words so she can independently access even more stories.”
In place of a deficit-based label like, “Rui is below grade level”
Try, “Rui is a fluent speaker and skilled reader of Portuguese. I need to provide him with more time listening and talking in small groups in class with his friends to support his new language acquisition. Additionally, I need to find more stories in Portuguese to help him also continue to grow in his home language.”
This more specific language not only supports educators who directly work with children by starting with an asset-based lens, but it also names actionable steps that will actually help.
In order to do this continual work of reframing language to view students with an asset-based lens, teachers need to be given room to do so. Sadly, one size fits all heavily marketed solutions seem to be gaining traction across schools, districts, and learning communities. Placing an emphasis on one size fits all solutions detracts from the time and energy needed to individualize our lens and language in education.
I’ll end with this simple thought: In my own teaching practice, I will not use language to describe a student that I wouldn’t use in front of them or their families. I invite you to join me. Join me in using the extra words. The extra words will lead to action. The extra words are worth it.
Looking for literacy PD? I’m available for on-site, in-school, and virtual summer professional development sessions around all topics and needs in K-6 literacy education. Booking is also available for select dates during the 2022-23 school year and beyond. Learn more here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina
This past Friday, teachers, aides, my principal, our secretary, our custodians, a crew of parents, and community members came together to make sure our close to 400 distance learning students in kindergarten through fifth grade have access to physical books to read for the next few weeks. In 5th grade, our students even chose their books! While we did not all physically come together, we were united by one mission- getting books in all of our students’ hands.
Now, I have to say that making this happen took a ton of work and an unwavering determination from many people. There are no hacks, tricks, or gimmicks involved. It took an organized effort from a lot of staff and volunteers and a principal who believes that kids need books. All kids.
You may approach the long list ahead of how we made this happen thinking this is way too much work for one or two people to complete- and you’d be correct. There is no way one or two people could make this happen in a timely manner. This was a school community-wide effort. Everyone chipped in to make it happen.
Our school mascot is the dolphin. I don’t know which staff member came up with this saying, but at the beginning of pandemic teaching in March, one of my colleagues came up with the following: Whatever the weather, dolphins swim together. And, it’s true. We do. We do because we are led by an unwavering and dedicated principal whose motto is we all teach all the children. Indeed, we do. We especially did for this massive effort.
I’m sharing our process with the hope that other teachers and administrators can read this with a lens of possibility. Our kids, all kids, need books. It should be a right. It should be the norm, not the exception. The vision of a few and a village of dedicated staff and volunteers made this happen. It can be done. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
Here’s how we did it…
1. Start with A Vision
My fifth grade team and I are departmentalizing this year. I’m the reading teacher for our entire group of students. I knew I had to somehow get choice books in our students’ hands in order to teach reading workshop. I also knew that the books would need to be safely rotated in and out of the classroom without students and families actually coming to school. We are not a traditional neighborhood school with all families in close proximity, some are, but not all. Our students are spread over a massive geographic area. So, I knew this would require a lot of driving. If you’re familiar with San Francisco Bay Area geography, in my classroom alone, I have students who reside in East Palo Alto, Los Altos Hills, Stanford, Redwood City, and in the southern end of Palo Alto. It’s a huge area to cover by car! Since I’m teaching all day long, I also knew I couldn’t be the one doing most of driving. I realized this would have to be a massive team effort. So, I took this idea to my principal as I knew she would gather all the necessary staff, PTA members, and community volunteers to make it come to life.
2. Enlist Others in the Vision
I told my team that I was going to start photographing all of our classroom library books in order for our students to have choice in what they read. Book choice is one of the tenets of solid reading instruction, so I knew I had to make this happen- even from a distance. My team was in support of my idea, so we got to work with the help of Liz and Carla, two of our amazing aides at school.
We also made intentional delivery plans with my principal. There are so many rules we have to follow, such as not having parents or volunteers on campus, so we knew that a group of staff members would eventually need to get these books to a group volunteer drivers. My principal was determined to make this work- and so were my colleagues. And, together we chatted with other staff members and started putting this vision into place. Our principal also started working with our school PTA in enlisting volunteer drivers for each grade level.
3. Create a Visual of Classroom Library Books
In 5th grade, it was very important to us to offer choice from the start. Not every grade level at school started this way, but everyone has the goal to eventually teach and offer choice over the coming weeks and months so students can have a say in the books that are delivered.
I safely (masked and always at a distance) worked with Liz to photograph our 5th grade libraries. Since photographing an entire classroom library would be a massive task and we were in a time crunch, we decided to just start with realistic fiction only for the photographs. We then put all the photographs on a Google slide show for students to view. More genres and sections of our libraries will be offered for choice later.
4. Teach and Offer Choice
After our book slideshows were created, during one of our reading workshop Zoom sessions, I book talked a few books and authors, talked about book choice a bit (many more book choice lessons will be coming later), shared the realistic fiction library slideshow with our fifth graders, and invited them to make their selections using a Google form. Their choices were due the next day- book choice takes time and thought. It shouldn’t be rushed. We also encouraged the kids to talk with each other about their choices in Zoom breakout rooms and to search for more information about books that piqued their interest. A day later, we had a spreadsheet full of the choices the kids made.
5. Create Book Stacks Based on Student Choices
This was the most time consuming task in the process, but it was also the most fun! Using the Google Form spreadsheet automatically generated from the Google form survey, we were able to gather our students’ choices and preferences into stacks.
As a side note- we were fully masked and gloved during the book gathering process- during this entire process actually. And it is important to state that our rooms are cleaned each day even though there are only one or two staff present at a time in a room (when two are present, we are always at least physically 6 ft apart and masked). All safety precautions are being strictly followed. Additionally, only the staff who feel safe/comfortable coming in to the building come in. Some staff did this work from home by communicating with other staff at school. I’m grateful our school district allows us the choice as professionals whether to work at home or at school during this time. It should be this way everywhere.
Back to the book choices… Not every student received their first or even second choice as we only have so many copies of each title, but everyone did receive books that matched some of their preferences and 3rd, 4th, and 5th choices.
On the form, I inserted another column titled Books Given Out (shaded blue in the image below) so we could track who was being lent which books.
6. Teachers and Our Principal Emailed, Called, or Texted Families
We got in touch with families to let them know that books would be on the way and to enlist more volunteers at the same time. We already had a big crew of volunteers who were enlisted at the beginning of the process, but we needed more. Also, we needed to make sure we had permission from families to share their addresses with our volunteer drivers. Initially we had permission from most, but not all, so this involved some phone calls from teachers to gain permission to share addresses for book delivery. It is important to state that books were delivered with permission from families.
7. Our School Secretary Created Grade-Level Lists of Geographic-Based Student Addresses for Delivery
Since our students and families are spread over a big geographic area, our amazing secretary, Becky, worked to lump close addresses together for our volunteer drivers. This took a lot of work on Becky’s part! Once she did this, she distributed the lists to each grade level to start bagging and boxing our books for our volunteer drivers.
8. Teachers and Aides Bagged and Packed the Books in their Geographic-Based Boxes
9. Staff Members Drove Boxes to Our Volunteers
Since it is not yet determined to be safe to invite volunteers and families onto our school campus, multiple staff members drove and dropped off boxes for our volunteer Book Fairies (I couldn’t resist with the name!). I drove to four different volunteers’ homes and dropped off boxes in a safe way- masked, contactless, and physically distanced the whole time. Other teachers and aides did the same.
After school on Friday, our principal and our custodian even got in on box delivery duties! Our custodian volunteered to use his truck to drive more boxes to more volunteers. They packed the bed of his truck with boxes and drove to safely drop book boxes off for volunteers to deliver. Again, it’s important to mention that everyone was masked and remained physically distant throughout this entire process. This could not have happened unless everyone involved agreed to follow our strict safety guidelines.
10. Our Volunteer Book Fairies, Parents, and Community Members, Delivered Books to 6-10 Students Each
One of the greatest parts of this process was receiving emails from our volunteers and from my students’ families about how much fun it was to deliver and receive books. Now, our kids have books that they chose for the next few weeks!
Honestly, all of our next steps have not been figured out yet. We do know that our students will once again choose books in a few weeks. We also know that we will go through the process again of packing up books and delivering them. When the new books are delivered by volunteers, students will hand back their current bag of books at the same time (following all safety protocols, of course). Once we receive back the current bag of books that students have, they will remain in book quarantine for a couple weeks before the next delivery.
Since we have a record of who has which books, we should easily be able to get most of the books back. However, I do know that we will likely not see some again. That’s what happens when books are lent out- and that’s ok. We knew that before embarking on this journey. We plan to go through this process as long as our students are distance learning. We know that will be at least through mid-October at my school and maybe longer depending on our county’s status as far as our state reopening requirements go. So, we could be doing this for the next month and a half or for the entire school year. We just don’t know.
The one important thing we do know is that kids need books. We took a vision, enlisted our village, and made it happen. We did this one step at a time. This can happen at any school. It takes the willingness of administration, the determination of staff, and the kindness of volunteers to see it through. It takes hours of work. It can be done. It is is worth every ounce of energy and hour of time that it took.
I hope sharing our process can help more kids get books in their hands.
This is going to be a tough one to write. It’s going to be honest, and it isn’t going to be pretty. My goal as a teacher-writer isn’t to paint myself in a glowing light. Quite the contrary, in fact. My goal is to show myself as I truly am: a flawed but dedicated classroom teacher. I also happen to be someone with a deep passion for literacy education- such a passion that I even cowrote a book about conferring with readers. That’s why this is going to be a hard one to admit to…
Mistakes I Made in the Spring of 2020
I was an ineffective conferring teacher in April and May of 2020. It’s true. I just really didn’t know what to do. Like all of you, my world was completely turned upside down. If you’re a classroom teacher like me, you probably just didn’t know how to balance it all. My biggest concerns did not revolve around how to confer around reading…
Rather, I was mourning the very recent unexpected loss of a former student with my school community. Additionally, I was worried about my student Aiden’s family- his sister has serious health issues and the family moved to my area so she could be treated. I was also concerned about Angela- would she remember her school login and eventually join us in Zoom? I was deeply worried about Nate- the once happy-go-lucky chatty friend to all in our classroom had turned inward and just stopped talking. My nine months pregnant kindergarten buddy teacher and her family were constantly on my mind. Would they be ok through all this? My brother was also consistently in my thoughts. As a nurse in a busy San Francisco emergency department, was he in danger? Not only all this, but I was beside myself concerned about my parents. Will their age and health conditions put them in danger? When it came to the actual work of teaching, I was exhausting myself following my district’s directions of creating original videos every single day for my students. On a related note, I was often trying to mend my broken spirit when my equally exhausted students admitted they didn’t watch the video I sent that day or that they watched it at 2x speed. Plus, I was trying to keep up with 15-20 minute scheduled Zoom meetings with small groups of students that actually turned into emotional support time for all of us rather than instructional periods. Like all of you, I was trying to wrap my understanding around what a global pandemic was and how we even got there. To be completely honest, I was falling apart.
So, it’s true. I wasn’t even thinking about conferring. And, I forgive myself. You should forgive yourself, too. Actually, there is nothing to forgive. We were in crisis mode. Let’s all collectively grant each other some grace and move forward.
What I Plan to do in the Fall of 2020
Once school starts again, I plan to start conferring right away. Why? In retrospect, I honestly think a regular conferring practice would have actually worked wonders this past spring (not dwelling on it, just reflecting on it). It would have potentially given my students, and even me, some comfort, safe conversation, and an outlet of sorts.
In our 2018 book, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, Kari Yates and I share that we believe at its simplest, a conference is a conversation between two readers. When we are fortunate to learn alongside teachers in person, we often share our belief that every child deserves a teacher who confers, and every teacher can develop a conferring practice that really works. All it takes is a little heart, tenacity, and a willingness to learn. This also applies from a distance- just a bit differently.
To be completely honest, conferring just isn’t the same over Zoom. Absolutely nothing can replace pulling up alongside a child in person, sitting shoulder to shoulder at the same level, leaning in asking, “May I join you,” and then engaging in a friendly in-person conversation around wonder, affirmation, and learning. Yet, there are things we can do from a distance to harness much of the power of conferring.
Instead of writing in paragraph form how I plan to confer with students this spring, I thought I’d create a more visually pleasing guide.
The guide below explains three different methods for conferring with students from a distance: After the Lesson Conferring, Scheduled Conferring, and Peer to Peer Conferring.
By providing one on one time to engage with students myself, and encouraging them to do so with each other, I’m hoping students will feel more of a connection with me and with their peers than if I did not intentionally take steps to set up a conferring practice from a distance. Plus, the more I confer with students, the more I’ll really get to know what’s going- both in their school work and in their hearts. In our work together, Kari and I keep two key questions at the forefront of everything we do:
- What’s going on?
- How might I respond?
There really is no more powerful teaching move than kidwatching (Yetta Goodman, 1978, 2002) and responding. We won’t know how to respond until we’ve explored what’s going on. We can’t exactly fully engage in the traditional instructional move of kid watching from a distance, but we can still figure out what’s going on by conferring on a consistent basis. I plan to do this from the start once we’re back at school- even from a distance.
More Conferring Support from the To Know and Nurture a Reader Blog
- Ten Reasons We Confer
- Power Language for Conferring (helpful if you’re not sure what to say or if you want to refine your conferring language)
- How do I confer with a student who’s reading a book I haven’t read?
- Conferring with Students Who’ve Experienced Trauma
- How Can I Use Conferring to Connect with Students Who are New to English?
- Select and Prepare Notetaking Tools for Conferring
Post #10 is coming up on Tuesday! Tuesday’s writing will discuss the big idea that Less is More in distance learning.
All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!
After starting to establish relationships with students, perhaps the next most important action we can start to work toward is establishing predictable and consistent, yet flexible routines and procedures for learning.
When routines are in place and understood by all involved, it’s much easier for a seamless school day to take place. I’ll never forget the day I learned the importance of the routine of clearly writing the schedule on the board in the morning in the same place each day. It went something like this…
I arrived to school a little bit later than usual one day. I didn’t have the chance to write the schedule on the board before I opened the door for my students. I set a few things up and then opened the door to greet students as they arrived to school.
Henry walked in first. “Good morning, Henry!”
“Good morning, Ms. Nosek! Umm… where’s the schedule?”
“Oh, I arrived a little later than usual today. I’ll write it down once everyone is settled in.”
Then, came Ella. “Good morning, Ella!”
“Hi, Ms. Nosek!” She walks a little bit farther in the room. “Wait, Ms. Nosek, you forgot the schedule!”
“I’m on it!” I responded. “Don’t worry.”
Antonio followed Ella. “Good morning, Antonio!”
“Ms. Nosek, the schedule. What are we doing today?”
And so on…
And, with that, I never forgot to write down the schedule again. I didn’t realize how important the routine of walking in and glancing at the written schedule was to my students. I quickly learned that day!
Kids thrive on a predictable routine, and as a teacher, so do I. There should always be room for flexibility, as you never know what might need to be adjusted as the day goes on, but having consistent and predictable routines in place can only set everyone involved up for success.
So, what does this look like with distance learning?
When thinking about what this will look like for distance learning, I realize much of it can actually look the same. For example, that ever important schedule written on the white board can be shared at the beginning of each day and referred back to again throughout the remainder of the day with a shared Google doc or on the school learning management system (LMS).
So, my goal is to create a predictable system of routines and procedures with students from the get go. I’m just going to do it from a distance. I know I can definitely make this happen for my students.
One Thing I’m Planning From the Start
While there are countless routines and procedures in place throughout a school year to support teaching and learning, only a few should be introduced and practiced at a time in order for them to stick. Once a few are introduced and practiced over a few day period, then a few more can be introduced and practiced. Here is one routine I’m thinking about for the first week of school…
Personal greetings each morning and independent choice reading were how I started every single day in the in-person classroom. I would stand at the door and greet every student as they entered the room. Students would then settle in and start reading a book or other piece of reading material of their choice. This was a relaxing and productive way to start each and every school day. I learned about starting school this way, as a soft start, from Sara Ahmed and Smokey Daniel’s book Upstanders. I now realize I can do the same exact thing from a distance!
One of the safety measures every teacher at my school uses is the Zoom waiting room. Not only does this allow us to monitor who comes in the room, but also, because we have the ability to let students into the room one at a time, it allows us to individually greet and briefly chat with every person who enters. While entering the Zoom meeting room this way takes a longer time, it also allows us to acknowledge and truly see each of our students at the start of each day. It allows us to have a quick personal connection with everyone before the meeting starts. At the end of our time together on the first day I school, I imagine I will share and thoroughly explain something like this with students…
By chatting about this procedure at the end of the first day and then practicing it starting on the second day of school, students will start each school day in a predictable and hopefully comforting manner. Eventually, after a few days, not only will the routine be in place, but also the start of a reading community will be born! It should be noted that this independent reading time is only the first of the day. There will be an instructional reading workshop time later in the day as well.
Starting with just one or two consistent and predictable procedures and routines will support our students (and ourselves as teachers) in starting the school year off on a positive and hopefully comfortable note. Not much about our lives has been predictable over the past few months. Something like this is just a small start to a positive change, but can possibly be a powerful one.
Post #8 is coming up on Thursday! Thursday’s writing will discuss the power of play before academics when it comes to tech use.
All posts in this blog series will be housed here: 15 lessons learned for the 2020-21 School Year, July 20-August 7th Click on the follow this blog link to have the posts delivered to your inbox each day, or check back tomorrow!
Some picture books make us laugh. Others tug at our heart strings and make us cry. Many support our work in studying the craft of writing. Then, there are some that just truly stop us in our tracks.
Today’s picture book read aloud, The People Shall Continue written by Simon J. Ortiz and illustrated by Sharol Graves, changed my classroom. It changed the way we are approaching our year-long study of American history. It changed our collective thinking.
Next week, we’re going to compare this text and another we read a couple weeks ago, Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes written by Wab Kinew and illustrated by Joe Morse, with the chapter on Indigenous Nations in the text book purchased by my school district. After today’s read aloud and discussion, my students are eager to dive in, read with a critical eye, and ask the tough questions that many adults just choose not to ask.
In part 2 of this blog series, I’ll report back with student thinking and my own teaching notes after we dive further into this work. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out both The People Shall Continue and Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes. If you teach upper elementary, middle school, or high school history or social studies, both of these books are a must.
I learned about both of these books and many more that I plan to share during the year by reading the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature from Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza. I’m also learning a great deal from their recent book with Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, An Indigenous People’s History of the US for Young People.
This school year, I took a risk (which is so unlike me) by taking a slightly reduced teaching contract so I could open up more days to bring my deep love of literacy education to teachers in other schools and districts across the Bay Area and other parts of the West. I love teaching kids, but I equally love teaching teachers- I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to do both. My schedule is already completely full for the year. Day one of working with teachers is this Monday! I am so excited for the opportunity to work with the teachers at Laurel School in Menlo Park… I’m looking forward to sharing these great books and discussing different ways to kick off and make the most of reading workshop for all students. I’m so grateful for this opportunity. And, I’m now booking for the summer of 2020 and the 2020-21 school year!