Project LIT Battle: A Day with Tiffany Jackson

Our V.I.P. Party with author Tiffany Jackson was coming to an end.  Empty lemonade cups, red paper plates littered with cookie crumbs, and crumpled polka dot napkins lay forgotten on the bright blue, green, yellow and red table cloths. The room had settled into a quiet hum as Tiffany talked and laughed with small groups of kids, signed copies of Allegedly and Monday's Not Coming, and posed for photos.

One of my freshmen boys sauntered over, flipping back his carefully-combed brown hair.  "I didn't actually know book parties could be fun," he said.

The day had exceeded my expectations.  After some behavior problems in an assembly earlier in the week and a last minute change of students announcers, I held my breath as Tiffany took the stage in our Performing Arts Center.  But two sentences in, Tiffany Jackson had the whole audience under her spell. She introduced herself and went on to describe the research she did for Allegedly, all the interviews, and the eighteen draf…

The Human in Here

Good Morning Everyone!

Today begins week #3 of the school year for us.  The crisp new portfolios are personalized and showing early signs of wear.  Books on the shelves breathe a little easier as kids have claimed their first reads.  And a new group of teens lounges on carpets, in chairs, draped across the floor reading.

This is the first year of teaching for me that one of the humans I live with is now the same age as the humans I teach.  My son has reached 9th grade (although not at the same school) and as I look at the faces in my class this year, I can't help but see him there.  My daughters, in 7th and 8th grade, are not far behind.

This also means I can't help but see the lives at home all my students are leading as well.  I see the sports practice, time with friends, amount of food consumed on what seems like an hourly basis.  I see the hunts for lost cleats, the struggles with homework, the draw of the phone.

And I also see all those parents.  All the hours spent in t…

Where Are Your Students in That Beautiful Lesson You Just Planned?

Good Sunday Morning Everyone!

Today I'm going to invite you to take a look at how you're choosing to work hard this summer.  I mean, come on, I know you're a good teacher who wants to use summertime to improve. But before you jump into a flurry of unit planning for the upcoming year, I encourage you to pause and reflect on what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what impact it might have on your classroom next year.

First, let's jump back to my English education class at the University of Missouri.  I vividly remember reading Nancie Atwell's suggestion in her book In the Middle that I leave the bulletin boards in my classroom empty at the beginning of the year, so that when the students arrived they could decorate them. Now, up until that moment, Nancie Atwell had been a god to me.  I hung on her every word and embraced reading and writing workshop wholeheartedly.  Student choice in books?  Yes!  Student choice in writing?  Yes! Students decorate the ro…

A Word about Kids Labeled "Struggling Readers" Part 2

My garden is stunning right now. This year my lilies are overflowing with blooms, and because our mama groundhog has apparently moved on, we have actual flowers.

Each plant is a mix of blooms and various stages of buds, some ready to burst open any moment, and others that are still green and growing. I’m not worried about any of them; I’m enjoying watching them bloom at just the right time.

These plants remind me of students: some are early bloomers, some are in the middle, and others will mature a bit later. Like the flowers outside my window, I want to nurture and value every single one. Instead of assuming slower blooming flowers are broken, I assume they’re just fine and will open with a little more time.

This series is focusing on that last category: the late bloomers, the ones who have not had success in school. There are so many reasons our students get labeled struggling, so instead of letting the label dominate what happens in our classes, we can choose to be a posit…

A Word about Kids Labeled "Struggling Readers" Part 1

I teach those kids labeled “struggling readers.”

So do you.

My class was set up as an intervention, a remediation, a fix-it for students who have fallen behind, fallen off, or fallen out of favor, I’ve learned. It’s convenient to think we’re fixing problems, catching them up, helping them succeed.

It’s a nice game we play when we set up interventions.

I do not, however, see my classroom the way others might. I do not see a workshop for the broken, a repair shop where I take apart, analyze, diagnose, mend and put back together; a place where I patch and plaster, covering cracks and flaws and shining them up until they’re ready to be sent back to the world, sewn up, fixed, healed and good as new.

Instead I see my classroom as a haven, a safe oasis, a place where being you is the best thing this world could ever have. I see my job as cracking open, leading out, uncovering the lost humans who were buried under the avalanche of other people’s massively broken expectations. I see my r…

May Madness: The Real Brackets That Count

If you're anything like me, May has you a little frazzled.  My bedroom has clothes strewn about; my office has books and papers piled in precarious stacks; my kitchen counters have seen cleaner days; and it's possible that my hair looks like I forgot to brush it.  While March holds the end of basketball season and an intense focus on brackets of all sorts--from teams to poetry to books, it's May Madness that really hits me.

May is the time of the year when the end is coming and teachers worry they haven't read, written, spoken, listened, commented, nudged, encouraged, impacted, inspired, enlightened, you name it, enough. But this May, I propose that instead of being stressed and overwhelmed, we follow the March Madness elimination idea and pare down to only what's essential--the best things to help our students on their journeys to being life-long readers, writers, thinkers and most of all, engaged human beings with strong voices who are helping make our world a be…

Feeding Teenage Dreams: The Power of Travel

The yellow school bus unloaded and the kids climbed up the stone steps of Memorial Union, into a small room with black and yellow folders laid out for them on the rows of tables.  I could almost hear their thoughts, "Great. Back in a classroom. Some field trip this is."

They dutifully filled out  information cards and listened to a bubbly blond admissions rep describing Columbia, the University, admission to MU, grade and test requirements. They were quiet, going through the folder, processing the information. The presentation ended with a college freshman who shared about her experiences and students got to ask questions.

And then, the tour guides arrived.

Faces lifted, eyes widened, and the kids sat up straight in their chairs.  The line of real college students filed up the middle aisle like a small army, and heads turned to follow them to the front of the room.  They introduced themselves, and when it was time to go, kids sprung out of their chairs to follow the guide th…