The Extra Words Are Worth It: It’s Time to Stop the Assumptive Labeling of Children

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.

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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 cnosekliteracy@gmail.com to get started. I’d love to work with you and your teachers! -Christina

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 11/12/18

As I prepare to head off to my favorite weekend of the entire year, the annual NCTE convention, I am revisiting a few books that have played a role in shaping my path as a literacy educator. Today, I am giving much of my attention to two texts that have had a huge impact on the language choices I make in my classroom.

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Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris challenged me to grow as an educator by shifting the bulk of the work to my students in their groundbreaking book, Who’s Doing the Work? Since its release in 2016, it has been read and reread in heavy rotation as a part of my professional reading life. Jan and Kim have truly helped me say less and choose my words carefully to elevate my students’ learning.

 

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My writing partner, Kari Yates, and I have been thinking deeply about talk lately. Specifically, we have been thinking about how our teacher language impacts the relationships with and learning of our students. A pivotal text that has helped guide my thinking here is Peter Johnston’s Choice Words. This book is a gift to the profession.

 

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! 

 

 

 

Book Mingle!

I’ve been thinking lately that my fifth graders need more opportunities to talk about books that they are reading  and learn about books that may be new to them. We often do book talks as a whole class and partner talks, but I wanted to incorporate a more fun and casual way to chat about books. So, last week in class we started a new activity to get us moving and quickly talking about books. We call this activity The Fifth Grade Book Mingle! Book Mingling happens in a few simple steps.

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Step 1: Students come in at the start of the school day and get right to our morning soft start (thank you, Sara Ahmed!). During soft starts, students enter the room, put their things away, and settle into reading a book of their choice for 15-30 minutes. It is a great way to start the day! All of my students read and I get to confer with them as they do. We do this every single day.

Step 2: I ask students to come to a good stopping point in their books and then announce,”Get ready to mingle!”

Step 3: Music starts and students move about the room while holding up their books in view of their fellow minglers.

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 9.58.36 AMStep 4: Music stops, students talk about their books and ask each other questions! To get students going with this, I modeled talking about my current read, Love by Matt de la Peña, with a couple different students. I talked about what I really liked about the book and how it made me think and feel. I also asked questions about the books my temporary book mingle partners were reading.

 

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times!

Book mingling is such a fun way to get kids up and moving, talking about their books, and then learning about new books their friends are reading- which will grow their to-read lists. My goal is to do this with my fifth graders two to three times each week. With book mingling, engagement is high and the talk around books is natural and authentic.

 

Wonder: The First Few Days of Reading Workshop

My first four days of school have come and gone. It’s now the weekend, and I am back in my beloved, currently fog-draped, city of San Francisco for a couple days reflecting on the past week and planning ahead for the days to come.

This morning, I’m thinking about our first few days of reading workshop. Specifically, I’m thinking of the first day.

On the first day, I gathered my class in our meeting area, and told them that my one goal this year is for each and every one of them to consistently find books that they love, find a lot of them, and happily read those books every single day in fifth grade and then beyond. And, that there is only one way to make this happen…

“The most important thing you can do as a growing reader and citizen is read. So, today, you will explore the classroom library, choose a book or two or three, and just read!”

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 9.34.42 AMAs my fifth graders sat listening to my words, I noticed many of them peeking back at the classroom library. It appeared that the anticipation for exploring all that the library had to offer was growing. After a few more brief words about taking time to choose a book they actually want to read, I set them free! I gave my fifth graders free reign of the classroom library, and just simply let them read. As they started reading. I stood back, wondered, and observed. Using my trusty clipboard, I recorded what I noticed.

What did I look for and Take Note of?

  • Who quickly found a book?
  • Who took time to carefully select a book?
  • Who had a difficult time finding a book, or didn’t find one at all?
  • Who settled into engaging reading right away and never looked up?
  • Who eventually settled in after carefully choosing a book?
  • Who had a more difficult time settling in?
  • Who never really settled in?
  • Where did they choose to read? Their tables, on the floor, in bean bags, near others, away from others, etc…
  • Which books were chosen? (I wrote each title down next to each reader’s name on my clipboard)
  • Were any conversations authentically started around finding books or reading?
  • Were any sticky notes used for jotting things down? What was jotted down?

As I stood back with my conferring clipboard, I just wondered about these new, fifth Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 9.42.31 AMgrade readers in front of me. I did not intervene, I did not jump in to teach, I simply stood back, wondered, and took notes about each and every one of them for those 30 minutes of independent reading time on the first day of school.

My wondering did not stop with independent reading time. With about five minutes left, I invited my readers to give an informal book talk about their current read or about any book they read this summer. Two readers took  me up on that invitation! Listening to their book talks and observing the rest of the class during the talks also revealed quite a bit about my readers.

On day two, I did the same. I simply invited my readers to read, stood back, wondered, and took note of what I observed. Four more readers asked if they could give book talks that day.

On day three, I knew quite a bit about each and every one of my new readers! I was ready to give a whole group lesson based on patterns I saw. In addition, I was ready to sit down with my readers to confer- to have one to one, in the moment, individualized conversations.

It was a great start to the school year! If you have not yet started school (or even if you have), before you jump in to teach your readers, I invite you to take a step back and truly wonder about each and every one of them. Try to get to know them as the unique people and readers that they are. Look for what is going right first, and then what might need a little guiding. Really try to learn what they need before you teach. Let your readers guide you. Your teaching and your readers will be so much stronger because of it!

Happy Back to School! 

 

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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 fun! 

 

What Kids Remember…

Small Writing/Big Idea

Think back to your days in school. What is it that you remember most as a student? Field trips, assemblies, friendships, great teachers, reading, writing?

You might be wondering why I tacked on reading and writing to the end of this list. Recently, in casual conversation at school, a couple people were mentioning that kids don’t remember the academics of school, but rather the “fun” stuff like field trips or field days or festivals. While I don’t disagree with this idea (who doesn’t love field trips?), I have to say that it is only part of the truth.

If academics are presented to kids in ways that both engage and empower them, that is

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Making writing engaging and memorable with Heart Mapping inspired by Georgia Heard

exactly what they’ll remember. The most powerful teachers are those who effectively inspire students to learn, wonder, create, and take chances. Kids remember being engaged in learning.

Nothing warms my heart more than when a former student writes a letter or comes back to visit and tells me that he loved reading in my classroom or that she never knew the power of writing could be so strong. Better yet, nothing is better than when they tell me that they still love reading or writing.

What do students remember? They remember what we value as teachers. They remember the passion, excitement, and community around what we choose to deem important. I know what I deem important. What is it for you? What will your students remember?

 

Related

Falling in Love With Books 

Reading: It’s Just What We Do! 

 

Planning for Summer Reading: Read Aloud!

With only 9 days of school left, we’re in the midst of making plans for summer reading!

Today, I invited my fifth graders to recommend a book to others in class for potential summer reading. They were so excited as they raced through the classroom library to find loved books that they had read previously at some point during their fifth grade year.

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Book stacks of recommended reads!

While I sat at the front of the room in our meeting area, my students started to stack their recommended books next to the read aloud that we just finished as a class (if you haven’t yet read The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary yet, you must do it soon!).

With nine days remaining, read aloud will be a little different- either I or one of my students will give a book introduction and read the first few pages aloud to the class. Today, we enjoyed the first few pages of The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, Book one in Keeper of the Lost Cities, and Book one in The Series of Unfortunate Events.

As the pages were read aloud, I heard whispers of, “Oh, I have to read this one!” and “I’m adding this to my list!

I’m looking forward to continuing our summer reading planning over our final days of fifth grade! This coming Wednesday, I’m going to share my parent summer reading letter and more details about our summer reading planning.

 

Happy reading, friends!
Christina 

 

Personal Bookshelves

I’d venture to guess that no reader ever was excited to jump out of bed after reading to fill in their assigned reading log. I’d also venture to guess that many readers have unhappily left the comfort of their beds to do so. I, for one, would not leap out of the warmth of my bed after finishing a chapter or two to fill out a piece of paper just to prove to someone else that I had, in fact, read the night before!

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Anna’s bookshelf after two weeks of school

Rather than requiring students to fill out an at-home reading log to only prove they have read, my fifth graders reflect on their choices as readers by maintaining a personal bookshelf. I first saw this idea when visiting one of my colleague’s classrooms (thank you, Jenna Segall!). The personal bookshelf is a visual representation of books read, books to read, books currently reading, and even books abandoned. Readers may choose to include any book read at home, independently at school, in book clubs, and even class read alouds. They are welcome to add picture books, novels, fiction, nonfiction, magazines- you name it! Once or twice a week, I remind my readers to take a few moments to update their shelves. Some need the reminder while others don’t. It is up to each reader to organize and maintain their shelves in the way they they see fit. Just as the name states, these shelves are personal. The purpose is for each student to reflect on their own reading preferences- to truly learn more about themselves as readers. I do not check their book shelves for completion, rather I confer with each of my readers around their choices and goals.

Steps to Creating and Maintaining a Visual Personal Bookshelf 

  • Invite students to draw shelves (lines) on a blank piece of paper- this can be done with the back of a reading folder, on a heavy piece of card stock, or even on the inside cover of their reading notebooks (our preferred spot in 5th grade).
  • When students find or learn about a book they want to read, they draw a book on the shelf.
  • When they start reading, they color in the fraction of the book they read. So, if a reader has read one out of ten chapters, 1/10 of the book is colored in.
  • If a book is abandoned, it is left partially colored. Readers may or may not choose to come back to the book later.
  • Once a book is finished, it is fully colored in.

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Anna’s bookshelf with 11 days left in the school year

Now that our school year is coming to a close, each of my fifth graders have a record of what they have read and want to read. Today and tomorrow in class, we’ll be using our personal bookshelves to reflect on our school year as readers and to make summer reading plans.

I am so excited to see how each of my readers choose to continue their journey with books!

Happy Reading Friends,

Christina

 

Related

Why I Ditched the At-Home Reading Log

 

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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 fun!