Saturday, February 22, 2014

Building Lifelong Readers: 25 Ways to Motivate and Inspire Kids to Read

How do you take your Common Core?
With or Without SSR*
used through Creative Commons

           In our move to Common Core, let us not forget what brought us to the party.  There has been research through the years on students independently reading self-selected texts during scheduled classroom time. The research results have been varied. Today I would like us to focus on the idea of a lifelong reader and to encourage you not to throw out this practice. Grab a cup of coffee and please hear me out as I share my story.

            It wasn’t so much he had less than 10 pimples throughout his entire adolescence. It wasn’t so much that I was the one who grew into crooked front teeth. It wasn’t the stupid glasses either. What gnawed on my soul was that my brother was smarter.  Someone, somewhere, had shared the secret his IQ was higher.  I wasn’t jealous. Honest. I idolized him. Instead, I felt this hopeless inadequacy and wondered why some did and some didn’t.

             I wonder is this why I became a reader.  Solace in books. Hope. The escape and comfort of our small town library.  Unconciously, I must have thought that maybe if I tried really, really, really, hard I could grow my IQ. 

            Books offered me an opportunity to become a better version of myself and as a result I transformed into a life long reader. The research would suggest that by my being surrounded by role models and having a public library within safe and independent walking distance those were contributing variables. On both counts, true. For the record, my being a life-long reader is not the result of any teacher’s effort and is not the result of being read to as a kid before going to sleep.

            It is through books I decided to grow my IQ—more unconsciously, at first.  Anyone remember Readers’ Digest vocabulary tests?  Learning words in the 60’s was the cure for an ailing IQ. Despite this glimmer of hope, I still believed my intelligence was fixed and that I was cursed.  Some were luckier than others in the exact same way that some escaped acne while others were bombarded. Honestly, I entered the self-help movement before it had a name. There was so much to know and I couldn’t funnel it in fast enough. How to be smarter eventually translated into how to be a better person which eventually morphed into how to be a better teacher and how to be a better wife. Books have always been there to provide me with the information I needed at the the very moment I needed it.

           Now retired, many former students have become teachers.  Some have shared the influence I had on them when they were my first or second graders.  From 1986 to 1995 they were poster children for Whole Language. Of course, they loved books. I wonder has their passion with books remained and did they become lifelong readers as a result of their early love affair with great books and a passionate teacher.

            I left teaching pre-service Teacher Ed classes a couple years back to teach second grade for my two final years in public education. My goal was to write a book during this time. Yeah, right!  Instead of writing gems mined from each day’s anecdotes as I channeled inspiration from Debbie Miller, I struggled with all that being a new teacher brings. It had been over 15 years and in many ways was like starting over. 
My classroom library
            Allow me to share one thing about that first year’s class. During 2010-2011, there were no major initiatives and my school was still finding its way with levelized reading instruction. To support this effort, book rooms had been set up for both lower and upper elementary classrooms—a masterful effort and resource.  Between my personal stash and both book rooms I was once again able to immerse 2nd graders in wonderful books just like I had two decades before. 

            Well, I didn't write a book, but I did create a culture of readers and writers. I provided them with a bushel full of books, allowed them free choice, created long chunks of classroom time for them to read, had them bring reading blankets for their comfort, formed Oprah-like book clubs, and scaffolded their growing abilities through conferencing.  The kids’ reading levels soared. I wonder: Will these kids grow up to be life-long readers?

             The second year, we piloted Common Core and suddenly classroom SSR time shriveled to half its former size and became less of an instructional focus; coincidentally, so did the students’ enthusiasm for reading. Creating a culture for lifelong reading cannot be hurried. It takes time. We read as we had the year before but not in leisurely stretched out moments. It made a huge difference.

            Last November I read Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts. As always, I began with the forward. This one written by the Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller. I stopped dead in my tracks. First, Miller quoted Alan Jacobs from his book The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction (2011). Jacobs claimed:

 The idea that many teachers hold today that one of the purposes of education is to teach students to love reading—or at least appreciate and enjoy whole books—is largely alien to the history of education. And perhaps alien to the history of reading as well.

   Donalyn then responded with the following:

Its vital that students graduate from high school with the reading skills they need for college and career success, but I want more for them. I hope our students find relevance in their lives, forge deep connections with others, create art, appreciate the worlds mysteries, and possess spiritual and emotional stores that sustain them in dark times. Reading shows us how to be better human beings, not just worker bees.
            These paired quotes have haunted me since, and at the time had a much greater effect on me than the information on close reading. This is MY story Donalyn is referring to. Through reading I found what I was looking for even when I had no clue what it was, and, yes, I found spiritual and an emotional strength I was not able to find else where. Reading has served as my anchor and has transformed me into a better me. Isn't  this what teachers want for their students.

The Need to Read...on the radar this week

            Edutopia came out with a piece on lifelong readers this week providing a zillion links to gather information on this subject. Larry Ferlazzo, one of my favorites, began the week with a 3-part series on lifelong readers and I have synthesized the info from the first two interviews. His format was based around well-known literacy people answering the following question: 

What strategies can I use to make sure they will fully understand the books we read? How can I ensure that I will create life-long readers?

·         Accessability to lots of books covering a wide range of genre and topics that interests the students
·         Lots of time to examine, read, write and talk about books with the teacher and other students
·         Choice
·         Really get to know your students and their interests
·         Teacher helps match students to books based on interest and ability
·         Being able to navigate and visit the school library
·         Listen to a fluent reader read aloud every single day
·         Students not forced into finishing a book if it doesn’t appeal to them
·          Provide in class time to read
·         For early readers teachers need to have a clear understanding of how the reading levels progress and what behaviors need to be taught at each stage.
·         Teacher modeling a love of reading—Talk the talk, and walk the walk.
·         Create energy and excitement around reading books
·         Students are allowed to take books home
·         WIIFM(What’s in it for me): Share the bigger goal of reading as a means to bigger and better things
·         If you can’t find a book to match a child’s interest, make one using clip art/Google images
·         Create class-wide book clubs, conversations with parents about books, and opportunities for parents and children to share a love of book
·         Teacher needs to choose books with kid appeal
·         Intentionally model and provide opportunities to practice strategies for comprehension
            In additon to this list, Miller suggested in a great article (written in 2010) some additional ways to create a classroom of readers.

Lifelong readers possess certain habits that we can explicitly model and teach our students. By redesigning our classrooms to support young readers as they practice and internalize the behaviors of avid readers we can increase our students engagement in reading and reap the benefits that prolific reading engenders.
·         Set the expectation for students to read a minimum of 40 books during the year
·         Set 30 min aside for SSR each day
·         Always have kids carry books with them when they are going to have to wait: picture day, field trip, assemblies
·         Students need to read when they have finished their assignment (No worries about what to do with fast finishers.)
·         Instead of bell ringers in the morning have students read when they enter the classroom

            Lastly, I am linking to an audio interview Ferlazzo did with Donalyn Miller earlier this month. Click on the link to listen to the nine minute interview on Ferlazzo’s BAM! Radio program.

            I really enjoyed this interview because Miller affirms my thinking about our students. As teachers, we desperately want to think we have stepped in, performed our magic and created lifelong readers. In reality there are too many intervening variables in young people's lives as they make their way through the grades, through other teachers' classrooms, and through life. We want to think we have changed our students forever, and pray no one comes along to destroy all that we’ve built.  Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves, how sturdy is the foundation we created for our readers and in what ways have we allowed for a gradual release of their independence once they have left our nest.

            My deepest gratitude to Carol Dweck for giving me relief and hope regarding my IQ:) Her research surrounding Mindset has to be some of the most important findings this century. 
Thanks to all of you for stopping by on a Saturday or at some convenient point during the week. I will be taking a couple weeks off from the blog.  Have a  wonderful week and especially enjoy your Saturdays.

*SSR- Silent Sustained Reading is a time during which the entire class reads quietly. There have been several names for it over the years: DEAR (Drop everything and read), DIRT (daily independent reading time), SQUIRT (Sustained quiet uninterrupted reading time), and many more.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Going for Gold: An Homage to Effort

One School's Focus on
Grit and Resilience

photo courtesy of Hubspot

Before you begin reading, predict the numbers that complete this equation.
                                     Intelligence =_____% effort vs.  _____% ability*

Consider this quote from Michael Jordan: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot. . .and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Michael Jordan (1997 Nike commercial)

The growth mindset confirms that intelligence can be developed, and expertise can be built by means of deliberate practice.

                 What are mindsets and how do they affect our classrooms? What are ways we can build a growth mindset within our classroom? What are some ways to help students adopt a growth mindset? As I continue to research and read, these questions appear to urgently be in need of answers and more importantly transformed into daily classroom practice in every classroom beginning in preschool.  As I write this week’s blog, the world watches an entire global celebration of grit and growth mindset in Sochi. Bring it on.

          Back in August  I wrote about teachers allowing their students to struggle to help them understand that learning often times involves struggle and failure; however, with continued effort and perseverance the likelihood of success increases. Around that time one of my former college students, Rebecca Finnegan, mentioned that her school, Forman K-5 Elementary School in Plano, Texas, had set grit as their school-wide focus for the school year. The idea of a school-wide campaign on grit appealed to my logic. If one teacher focuses on grit, the students will be influenced while in that particular teacher's classroom. For a genuine shift to occur, the students need consistency over time and within different contexts. Today we gain insight from first-year teacher, Rebecca, as to what a first year focus on grit looks like at Forman Elementary. I sent her a few interview questions, and Rebecca shared the following:

How was the staff in-serviced on the year-long focus of grit?

                 Tramy Tran, our principal, told us prior to school opening that our focus for the 2013-14 school year was going to be persistence and grit. We are an 80% ED school. The majority of our students are on free or reduced lunches. We have a huge ELL population. Plano is a fairly affluent city. We have 40+ elementary schools and of those less than 10 are similar to Forman (our school). 

               Our students have gaps to fill and have to work twice as hard to meet standards other schools in the district do not usually have trouble meeting, simply due to our student population. With this in mind, I think Ms. Tran felt grit (persistence and grit) was the perfect focus for our students to help them learn skills to be successful.

              In August we were shown this TED talk video from Angela Duckworth about grit and her findings of how it was such a key factor in student success. As a staff we discussed what grit meant to us and how we could apply that in our classroom to help make our students more successful.  

When the students began the year they learned about growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset

 Videos were used for instruction and motivation in each classroom.

I know the answer,but what if I'm wrong
From failure you learn


Michal Jordan explains why failure has allowed him to succeed

Don't compare your inside to someone else's outside.

What does focusing on grit looks like at Forman

               Bulletin Boards in the hallways at the continuing  to display themes of grit. 

Staff T-Shirts are themed as “The Key to Success is Persistence and Grit.” 

Teachers' personal narratives about grit are displayed in the hallway. 

                Each Friday there are school wide morning assemblies, or during mid-morning assemblies on early release days, teachers share their personal stories of persistence and grit with the student population. 

               During morning announcements over the PA, we use the term “persistence and grit” in regards to just about everything. When talking about the science fair, focusing on our daily reading goals, showing growth with our intervention software (iStation and Think Through Math), our writers of the month, etc.

How have individual teacher’s classroom environment changed

I think teachers are using the term “grit” in their classrooms in a way that it never was before. It is now part of the vernacular of our students. Rewards are given for those students who exhibit hard work and growth due to using “grit”. Many teachers are bringing in real world examples of grit that have helped people succeed in life (sports figures, children with disabilities, other famous figures, etc.) and having classroom discussions focused around this idea.

How have you addressed grit in your classroom this year?
              In my classroom I have the words persistence and grit displayed, and refer to them almost daily. My students define grit as "never giving up," that is in their own words. They often make connections to grit and see it in stories and other situations. 

               My focus for grit in the classroom is on building their stamina and confidence in their own abilities, as well as building cognition. We focus on applying that to our reading and reading comprehension especially. Honestly, most of my students read below grade level, but will be expected to take and pass a grade level standardized test that has questions they will have a very hard time understanding. My job is to give them tools and skill sets to do the very best they can and to not feel overwhelmed/ready to quit before they even begin. 
               I model grit as often as possible for my students, and have found myself on many, many occasions using it myself. Often times, not only as a first year teacher in a public school but in a school like Forman especially, I find myself overwhelmed with all of the things I have to do that have nothing to do with planning quality lessons  that take up most my time. This leads to 10-12 hour days and often interferes with time with my family.  I also am overwhelmed with the task of trying to get 21 sweet babies who struggle daily to pass not only the STAAR test, but third grade! How do I meet all of their individual needs when they are so great? 

               I feel like giving up every day due to the fear that I will fail the monumental task entrusted to me, but know that I need to push on and push through (use grit) because the job I have is so very important, and these kids have been given up on by too many in their lives already.
               Rebecca. Thank you so much for sharing what your school is doing to foster grit and growth mindset at your school. We can all empathize with the weight you carry on your shoulders as a first year teacher.  Believe me no teacher wishes they could relive that year again. 

              Teaching reeks stress and havoc as a result of juggling so many priorities, and yes, they ALL are priorities that ALL need our time and attention. Right now. And faster is better. The sad reality is that our accelerated pace truly does not serve anyone--teachers and/or students.  For a new teacher, the pace and the expectations can be toxic in the same way it is for our struggling students. It is not how fast students master learning but rather their persistence, grit, and effort they put forth along with the right menu of teaching strategies. The growth mindset of a teacher contributes greatly to his or her responsiveness to the needs of students.

Let us all step back, take a deep breath, be reminded that teaching is the most noble of all professions. We are truly the fortunate who can call themselves teachers. Thanks for stopping by and strengthening some neurons. Best wishes for a Happy Saturday.

* Depending on your mindset:  
Fixed mindset = 35% effort vs. 65% ability
Growth  mindset = 65% effort vs. 35% ability