Monday, October 28, 2013

Why My Students are Readers...What They Have to Say

Today I heard some interesting comments during a conversation with a couple of students. These comments were unexpected in the way that I wasn't expecting to hear them at that time, but not unexpected in the sentiment that was shared. You see, I was talking to a couple of my 7th graders about the books they're reading right now and we got to talking about what all they've read this school year. And both of them shared that they've read more already this year (two months in) than any other year in school (one even admitted that perhaps more than she's read ever). I always smile when I hear this because I love when students come to this realization themselves. I told them how great that is. And then they kept talking. 

They shared thoughts that they didn't like reading as much last year because the teacher chose what they read instead of the students choosing themselves. They shared that they liked reading this year because there are so many books in my classroom to choose from...and they're good  books. They shared that they find they're reading more because they have to read during class time, and then the books they're reading are so good that they want to find out what happens next, so they read at home. They shared that they were already figuring out what books they don't like reading and the ones they do. They shared that they're sharing books with each other - making the other one read ones they really like. They shared that they hope they can read even more next year. They shared that they're scared or not looking forward to high school and what they might have to read. They shared that they're readers this year. 

None of this was prompted. This was an unplanned conversation. It was not a formal formative assessment opportunity, but oh so much was learned. I learned that these two students are making determinations about genre and what books fit their interests. I learned that they are able to identify what they do and don't like in books they read. I learned that they know how to navigate the classroom library to find what they want. I learned that they are finding ways to make a reading habit at home. I learned that they are engaging with their books and carrying that over outside of school. I learned that they are paying attention to what we talk about in class and applying it to their books. I learned that they are sharing with each other what they're reading and building their own community for book recommendations. I learned that they see themselves as readers as they never have before. I learned that if we take the time to listen, our kids will tell us what they know, want, and need as readers. 

What was my takeaway? With time, choice, access, and community, students will be readers. 
Something I will always think about at the start of a year (and throughout) Am I giving time to read, allowing choice in what is read, providing access to reading material, and creating a supportive reading community?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why Do I Love Reading?

I've been thinking about this for awhile, ever since reading students' beginning of the year surveys and seeing that one of the questions they had for me is about why I like reading, and I was trying to figure out how best to explain how I feel. I think this poem does it.
Why Do I Love Reading?

Why do I love reading?
Because it takes me
to other places
Because it lets me
escape from this world
when I want a break
Because it entertains me
in so very many ways
Because it lets me
experience things I might not
outside of a book

Why do I love reading?
Because it helps me learn
about myself
and the world around me
and my place
in it
Because it lets me live
so many lives
other than the one
I have been given

Why do I love reading?
Because it helps me know
I am not alone
Because it lets me know
that other people have
experienced what I have
felt like I have
loved like I have
cried like I have
wanted like I have
laughed like I have
struggled like I have
and thought like I have
Because it lets me know
that people have done
all of those things
in ways I could never
and helps me understand
those around me

My students ask
Why do you love reading?
and it's not a simple answer
because it's so much more
than just a book
it's so much more
than just words on a page
it's so much more
than just sentences put together
it's so much more
important to me

Why do I love reading?
Because I know it saves kids
Because it gives them an outlet
Because it helps them see
different ways to live
and it helps them see
ways not to live
and it helps them imagine
what they might do
in a situation
so that they don't
have to experience it
for themselves

Why do I love reading?
Because it helps my students
escape from
the struggles of adolescence
Because it helps them
do something that can be
Because it gives them
a safe outlet
something to
spend time on
that will help them

Why do I love reading?
Because it helps me know
about people
Because it helps me know
about the world
Because it helps me
develop empathy
insight and
knowledge and
experience and
hope and
it lets me become
a better person

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Best Laid Lesson Plans

What's the saying about the best laid plans? That they often go astray, right? Well, that's pretty much how I've been feeling about lesson plans lately.
Today I had a plan in mind for my 7th graders. I mean, hi, I'm a teacher, I have solid lesson plans...but...then, as I was interacting with the students and seeing their reactions and their responses, I realized I needed to adjust on the fly. There is truly no point to wasting any of the limited time we have together, and if something isn't working, or not even really that but more so if something isn't quite what my students really need right then, it would be doing them a disservice to stick to a plan that isn't going to provide the best learning experience for those students at that moment. For this reason, my plans often change in the middle of a class as I monitor understanding or after I read through an assessment piece and see what direction my students need to go to most improve. And, honestly, sometimes it's just that as we're in the moment, I remember something I've seen that might help them understand a concept even better than what I had planned. And why wouldn't I switch to that? Because I have an overall plan, and I have an outline of the structure of the class period, it allows me to change things if I realize they need to be adjusted.

Today it was when students were reading the feedback on their first book responses they turned in. Because it was the first one, I gave quite a bit of detailed written feedback so students could see what I expect, how their first attempt went, and areas of strength and areas to improve on. They were going to find their golden lines (thanks Kelly Gallagher!) so we could celebrate their strong writing and see a model of what it looks like, but then I realized something. There was a comment I had written over and over on their papers, and I remembered I had seen an anchor chart about that exact topic that just might help them to see it more clearly. So the search was on for me to remember where I'd seen it and share it with them. Within a few minutes I was able to figure out that it was a tweet I had seen of a chart on "Prompts to Help Us Push Our Thinking" - and that was just what I needed my students to do. I asked my students to find the commonality in the feedback within their groups, and they realized it was the comment about explaining more or giving evidence or examples to support their thoughts. So the lesson plan was adjusted. The chart went up. The students saw it, and then I had them find a place in their own papers (which were already graded, but that's ok, they can still improve them) where they could push their thinking. I had them put a star in that spot, and then they got to work adding that further thinking.

So, if it hadn't been for my willingness to adjust a lesson plan on the fly, and respond to the need of my students and my own lightbulb moment, I might not have had that experience of students seeing something concrete that really helped them see a way to improve their writing.

And this is why I'm okay with plans going astray. Because sometimes, in a classroom, they need to in order to do what's best for students.

When I think about some of the highly detailed curriculum maps I've seen, and try to put that in place for my classroom and teaching my students, I can't even fully wrap my mind around it. Why? Because I don't know exactly who these particular students will be in seven months, after the new year, even next week. And that matters. Because I need to teach these students what they need at this moment. Why? Because my students are constantly evolving and learning and growing. And if I'm going to be the best teacher for them, I need to be evolving and learning and growing right along with them...even if it means the best laid lesson plans go astray.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Excited Readers (or How I Know My Students Are Reading)

There were quite a few joy-inducing moments today when students came up to me on their own to share their excitement about the books they're reading.

As the students started coming up the stairs to their lockers today, I was greeting students and monitoring the lockers, when the following interactions happened...

"Mrs. Heise, I finished my book last night!"

"Mrs. Heise, I really like this book!" [which I booktalked to her yesterday at the bookshelves during an impromptu, individual reader's advisory]

Student: "Mrs. Heise, I finished Just One Year - that ending!"
Me: "I know, right?! Now do you see why I had to check back in Just One Day while you were reading it to see if what I thought happened really did?"
Student: "Yes! That scene on the beach..."

"Mrs. Heise, I started that book last night...and I already cried."

"Mrs. Heise, I need a new book."

"Mrs. Heise, I read for two hours last night! This book is really good."

"Mrs. Heise, where's the next book in this series? I know I'm going to need it this weekend."

"Mrs. Heise, I loved that book. Best. Book. Ever!" (to which I inquired why and got an explanation)

The awesome poster my reading specialist has in our book room (that she got from the publisher of this picture book at ALA) pretty much sums up my mood today.

And later in the day, these conversations happened:

Student 1: "I'm probably going to finish this book tonight."
Student 2: "I want to finish my book tonight."

In library working on computers, listening to librarian read aloud to K5 class, "Mrs. Heise, Click, Clack, Boo!" [with huge smile on her face because she remembers how much fun it was when I read aloud Click, Clack, Moo to them in language arts class last year]

Student (with a big smile): "Mrs. Heise, I finished!"
Me: "What did you think?"
Student: "That ending..." *pantomimes head exploding with sound effects* "He really grew on me. I'm not embarrased to say I cried a little bit."

This. This is the reason I love what I get to do everyday. The moments like these. Seeing readers growing before my eyes. Hearing the excitement build as they read books that they are interested in. You want to know how I know my students are reading when I don't make them all read one specific book? This is how. These interactions. These moments when they share their responses to what they're read. These reactions can't be faked. They can't be made up. They are how I know my students are reading.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Because I Read What My Students Read

Today I was still feeling the joy from what I got to share with my students yesterday. I shared in the anger at an ending, sadness at a character dying, shock at a surprise twist, and swooning over a guy - all in the books that my students are reading. I realized this morning, when they cheered at breakfast when they heard we'd be reading for a large amount of time in class today, that I have built the community I have because I read the same books my students read. That thought sat in my head all day...and resulted in this poem tonight.

Because I Read What My Students Read

Because I read what my students read
I can do my job better
I can recommend books
to specific students
meeting their interests
growing readers

Because I read what my students read
there are days
when students can't get into my room fast enough
to tell me about what they read the night before
and share in the emotion
from that part of that story

Because I read what my students read
I can hook readers
with hints at what lies
inside the pages of that book
they've taken off the shelf
but unsure
if it's the book for them

Because I read what my students read
I can match students
to books just right for them
based on what they need
in their lives at that time
or what kind of mood
they're in
or what topic
they want to read about
or how ready they are
for a certain topic

Because I read what my students read
I can share excitement
over a favorite story
I can share the frustration
over a cliffhanger

I can share in the reactions
to the moments contained
within those pages
expanding their minds
I can share in the swooning
over certain characters
I can share in the desire
to have that character be real
and a friend
I can share in the tears
when something happens
in their lives
and in their books

Because I read what my students read
I know how they're feeling
with just a look
just a word
just a glance at a page
just a peek at a title
knowing what they're experiencing
because I have

Because I read what my students read
I don't have to have read the exact book
to relate to being a reader
of middle grades or young adult
I can empathize
and understand
what that reading
must be like

But because I read what my students read
when I have read that specific book
and lived within that story
it creates an even more powerful
of being a reader
and making recommendations
earning trust
to know what they might need

And because I read what my students read
when something happens in their lives
whether big or small
whether happy or sad
whether right or wrong
I turn to books
to let them know I care
to help them see how to cope
to let them know I am there
for them
to help them see another path
and I turn to the stories
on those pages
to help my students get through
their struggles
and celebrate
their successes

Because I read what my students read
I am a reader
teaching and growing
more readers