Showing posts from 2016

Why I Stopped Punishing My Class For Their Behavior with Subs

We've all been there: you had to be gone for a day and now you walk into your classroom, cautiously approaching your desk where IT sits.  Maybe it won't be there because there was nothing to say, your mind imagines.  But it is.  Full of writing that fills the front, the back and goes sideways up the margin.

It's THE NOTE FROM THE SUB.  (Cue horror music and flashes of lightning.)
Inwardly you hope it's all good.  It just has a lot to say about how fantastic your class was: helpful, well-behaved, on-task and courteous; how the sub is begging to come back anytime; how they called your principal and just had to say how awesome your class was.

But this fantasy ends as you begin to read.

They were awful.  They played around.  One talked back.  Three were off task.  It goes on and on and on.  Your core body temperature rises.  The crease between your eyebrows deepens.  Another gray hair springs forth.  How could they do this?  They know better!  They're high school kids,…

Why I Accept Late Work for Full Credit

As I sat down to work on lesson plans on a cold, dreary Sunday afternoon, I thought a lot about my students and my beliefs about education.  I've been listening to an Eleanor Roosevelt biography, and right now in the book, Europe is in World War II and the U.S. is preparing. While others want to focus solely on stopping dictatorships in Europe, Eleanor wants to focus on defining and defending the principles of democracy. In times of uncertainty and fear, it is easy to see everything we're against.  However, I think the stronger way to proceed is to get clear on what we are for. If you've read many of my posts, you know I deeply believe in choice reading because I believe that all kids deserve to learn and grow.  I believe strongly that literacy is a right for all.

I also believe that teachers need to be vigilant about practices in our own classes that become gatekeepers, allowing success for some, and holding others back. This post is dedicated to exploring one such gate-…

Creating A Peaceful, Productive Classroom...Even with Resistant Teens

Over Thanksgiving Break it was my daughter's birthday. She's now twelve. My son is 13 and my youngest daughter is almost 11. We are officially living in the preteen/young teen years in our house. For those of you unfamiliar with living with children this age, here are a few things we experience daily:
rampant child genius/parental stupidity "That's not fair!" "You are the strictest parent ever! All my friends' parents let them _____." When the kids were little, I discovered two books that became my sanity. The first was
Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting From Birth to Six Years by Jim Fay and Charles Fay, and the second was Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation by Becky Bailey. I was by no means perfect at keeping my calm, but let me tell you, our house reverberated with the Uh-Oh Song, and I recited "What you focus on, you get more of" inside my head like …

Let Them Read!

I laughed out loud on Saturday morning at NCTE when Donalyn Miller said that Gary Paulsen didn't write Hatchet so teachers could do a camping unit.  You mean authors' sole purpose, hours pouring over drafts, revising and editing, and finally publishing their books, is not so that teachers can have units?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying we shouldn't use books in our classrooms.  We absolutely, 100% should use books in our classrooms.  I'm not even saying that we shouldn't create units of study in our classrooms. However, I think we need to consider the crazy notion that sometimes books just need to be books, so that readers can just be readers.

After all, it is readers we teach, not books.

So, what might a classroom that allows books to be books and readers to be readers look like?  Here are four ideas:

1.  Classrooms would be places where students have lots of choice in books.  A student could select a book that's just right at that moment - maybe …

The Tribal Effect: NCTE

Sometimes you just have to know you are part of a tribe, a tribe who cares and supports your vision. This weekend I'm at NCTE in Atlanta.  And I am with my tribe.  I am surrounded by people who love
books, who love writing, who care passionately about kids and authentic learning.  I have run into authors - I met and HUGGED Jason Reynolds...JASON REYNOLDS!!  I have gone to sessions and listened to Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Linda Rief.  I sat in the main hallway charging my iPad and watched Ralph Fletcher and Tanny McGregor walk by.  And that, friends, is just Day #1.  I have two more to go.  (Insert squeal here!)

I so needed this infusion of energy, this swaddling in the comfort of my people.  I needed to be part of a community where I feel taken care of, pumped up and nurtured, like I am in good, safe hands.  I needed to be around people that made me feel like I'm on the right track, like they've got my back. And, like if I get lost in this b…

A Guiltless Sunday Afternoon: 100 Minutes Well Spent

It's Sunday afternoon at 4:55pm.  I have not opened my lesson plan book yet.  I do not have penciled-in versions of my week neatly laid out and ready to go.  This is not how I usually operate, and this is not how I feel when I break all my rules.  Usually, panic, guilt and anxiety would be setting in.  My head would be full of reproachful comments, "What are you doing?  Why have you wasted a whole Sunday afternoon?  You are SO going to regret this!"  Teacher-guilt mode in full-on action.

But this afternoon I sat down on the couch (ask my kids, I never do this) to fold laundry and decided to watch Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th on Netflix.  I thought I'd sit for about 20 minutes, watch a little bit, and then get to lesson planing (ask my kids, I always do this on Sundays).

But for 100 minutes I did not move.  Did. Not. Move.

I sat riveted to the screen for the entire documentary.  I cannot tell you all the things I learned from 13th.  I cannot tell you how rele…

Teachers: You Matter More Than You Know

This week was difficult at my high school.  We lost a teacher to cancer.  A teacher who was young, energetic and cared so much about his students, his football players, his family.  As I sat this morning in the warm September sun on the bleachers of our football stadium, I watched his young wife, their toddler sons, his parents.  I watched the bleachers fill with faculty, students, coaches and friends.  Graduates came back.  Faculty who've moved on came back.  And we mourned, and we celebrated Jon's life.

Jon was pretty quiet in my eyes.  We taught at different ends of the building and our paths only crossed occasionally.  My first year, I got lost in his wing of the building, trying to deliver my keys so he and his class could change my car's oil for his automotive car care class.  Not only did he change the oil, but he told me he was concerned about my tires being low and he didn't think I'd rotated them lately, so he and the kids took care of that.

Another day …

Yeah, But Are They Learning?

This week marked our one month anniversary.  We've been back in school since August 16th.  The whirlwind of learning names, settling students into a routine, and figuring out my various classes' personalities is slowing.  Instead of slowing down, this week, my busy is shifting - it's a conscious choice -  purposeful and necessary.

In the very beginning of the school year, our busy is wide.  We have to get to know the students in our classes.  For me, this means knowing who they are, what they like, and looking deeply at temperament.  I have to read them carefully to see what interests they have, what home and family might be like, what they are passionate about, and, maybe most importantly, what calms and reassures each student and what sets them off.  This kid excavation is necessary and all-consuming at the beginning of every year.  I can't help kids read and write their best if I don't know them.

The other part of the all-consuming busy at the beginning of the …

White Educators: We Must Do Better

Last night sleep eluded me for far too long.  The events of the past few days - two police shootings and then police officers being shot in Dallas - have rattled me yet again.  You see, I am the mother of an almost-thirteen- year-old black son.  My son arrived eleven years ago, on July 16, 2005.  He was almost two years old, in foster care.  He has taught me more about patience, love, and the resilience of the human spirit than any other human being on this planet.  He has a huge heart, which is evident watching his endless patience with younger children.  It is evident in his stories from school as he looks out for anyone who is misunderstood or teased.  My son is also extremely anxious - this comes out in fingernails bitten to the quick, endless chatter, and quick darting movements - an ever-vigilant awareness of everything around him and laser-like focus that jumps from one thing to the next and the next.

Over the years, I have witnessed first hand a variety of educators and admini…

Endurance Part 2: How Do We Build Endurance from Day 1?

In my last post, I advocated for building endurance in our readers and writers by planning what foundational skills our students will need and by getting to know the students as individuals.  Today we'll take a look at starting to build endurance from the first day of school by doing three things.

Here are THREE small important steps to start building endurance:
1.  Get a timer.   Put one on your Smart Board, wear one on your wrist, get one on your phone, or buy an old-fashioned kitchen timer.  Time is a tangible representation of growth.  I use the timer for everything at the beginning of the year - reading, writing, talking (my directions and kids sharing in partnerships and groups).  I can't be deeply thinking about our lesson or how students are doing if I'm watching the clock.  A timer takes away this burden.  It also give kids a concrete stopping point - they are more likely to feel they can try something if it won't last forever.

2.  Build Anticipation:  I rememb…

Living the Writerly Life - "Seven"

Running, for me, is writing inspiration.  Poems spring into my head as my feet keep rhythm on the pavement. July is my month off from school, the perfect time to live as a reader and a writer, filling myself up before another year leaps into sight.

Thanks to my sister Errin and to all the tweets from the Boothbay Literacy Retreat for inspiring my running and my writing on this dreary Saturday morning!

"If you want to be an authentic writer you have to live an authentic life." @kwamealexander#bblit16(from Allison Jackson, @azajacks)

Radar shows green, yellow, orange. My seven miles can wait. PJs on. Pinterest browsing. Planning painting projects for a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Text from sister.  “Ran 8!  Rain wasn’t bad.” New plan:  I’ll do 3. On the treadmill. In my dry garage.
Shoes stare from across the room. Jacket sighs heavily from the back of a chair. Hat rolls its eyes.
Miles 1 and 2 glide by in soft dribbles of rain. Cool breeze. Whispering leaves. Drip…

Endurance Part 1: Why We Must Build Endurance in Our Readers & Writers

I love coming to summer school on these June mornings and seeing so many of our athletes hard at work. On the football field, sweat-drenched players sprint the length of the field in the coolest part of a Missouri summer day.  Cross country runners, just back from a 7-mile run, stretch out and cool down on the cement sidewalk.

Good coaches know that at the beginning of the season, they have to build endurance in their athletes, push them to challenge themselves, to get stronger, more agile, faster, and better at each practice.  Cross country didn't start with a 7-mile run; they built to a 7-mile run.  Varsity football looks different than freshmen football.

The athletes I watch today are in those difficult practices by choice. They want to score the winning touchdown, to go to State this year.  They want to break personal bests and to win races in cross country meets.  And still, even though they have chosen their sport, not all of these athletes will last the season.  Some wil…

Using Twitter to Learn This Summer

Instead of being in Boothbay, Maine right now at the Boothbay Literacy Retreat, learning alongside Penny Kittle, Kylene Beers, Teri Lesesne and Linda Rief, I'm here in Columbia, Missouri helping some kids recover an English credit that didn't quite happen this school year.

Don't get me wrong, it is rewarding work seeing these kids finish a book, finish a paper, give a presentation, which they did not do during the year.

But still.  Boothbay, Maine.  Yoga on the water.  Choosing a beautiful new journal.  Early morning writing with Linda Rief.  Sigh.

Luckily, we have Twitter!  I missed yesterday's conference, but today I'm sneaking in some catch-up time.  I opened up TweetDeck, logged in and found the hashtag, #bblit16, and I'm in - finding nuggets in the tweets, like these gems:

Twitter is great - people tweet out most important ideas, and I'm gobbling them up.  What a great way to stay current on best practice ideas.  Any conference that is happening has …