Reading Love Loss

Ever since I was little, I have enjoyed Christmas break. When I was growing up, I lived across the street from my elementary school and break meant hours of playing in the mountains of snow that were piled up from the plows clearing the snow. Often when my friends and I got done, hot chocolate was waiting for us to warm our chilled bones.

Christmas break also brought about hours of independent reading for me. I was very fortunate that I had both a mother and father who read. My mother read more frequently when it came to novels. I can remember many nights hearing her book hit the floor when she fell asleep while reading. It wasn’t easy being a full time mom, working and trying to squeeze in some time to read.

Often times, one of my best friends and I would buy each other books for Christmas. Most of the time it was about ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or other creatures of the night. No matter what I received though, I had it read by the time Christmas break was over.

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Now that I am a father, I do my diligence to demonstrate to my own children that reading is a good thing. Wait, scratch that…it is a GREAT thing! I love reading to my pre-school child and I always drop what I am doing when he comes to me with a book. My daughter doesn’t need any prompting. She is a 2nd grader reading at a 5th grade level and she loves it! When it comes to my 4th grader though, it is a different story.

When my 4th grader was younger, he couldn’t read enough. His mom and I were very proud parents of someone who would read for hours and this continued from pre-school through 1st grade. Second grade seemed to be going well until about four weeks into school when his teacher sent home what resembled a reading log. Every night my child was required to not only read for 20 minutes, but to write a summary every time he was done reading. Needless to say, the love of reading was quickly going down hill.

I quickly got a hold of the teacher about his approach to having students read and within a week, a note was sent home about different ways to help students understand what they were reading. Unfortunately, that quickly went away and we were back write a summary after every time we read. My child despised doing those summaries. He even asked several time if there was something else that he could do.

Fast forward to 4th grade and some of his love for reading has come back. His mom and I try hard to have him read. With efforts from his 3rd grade teacher and this year’s 4th grade teacher, he seems to be liking it again, but not to the extent he was prior to the start of 2nd grade. Just recently we have started to visit our local library and he is the proud owner of his first library card (He feels very responsible!). His love loss is real and he isn’t the only one.

At some point there becomes a disconnect for kids for their love of reading and no it isn’t because of electronics or technology either. My son isn’t the only one that has had a reading log sent home and has been required to write multiple summaries about the reading. Though I am guilty of having my students record their reading times at home, I don’t recall a time I have made them write about what they read. I have just wanted them READ, no matter what it they picked up.

The question isn’t about the fact that reading love loss is happening or that it happens. It happens! The real reason for me writing this is to find out strategies on how we can get our students to fall in love with reading once that love is gone.

Please feel free to comment.

Cheers!

 

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Why Student Feedback Makes Teachers Better

First, I want to say thanks for all of my new followers here on my blog. I am trying hard to write more this school year. It is hard to believe my third week of school is over already.

This year as a staff we decided we wanted to follow a universal format for our students to write summaries. I presented the idea last year to our staff and it was accepted with open arms by everyone. To me, this was another proving point for me that as language arts teachers we need to be willing to reach across the isle and help other colleagues who aren’t so comfortable teaching students reading and writing skills. We decided to follow a format called TDPP, which comes from Get It Done! Writing and Analyzing Informational Texts to Make Things Happen by Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and Jim Fredricksen.

T – Cite the Topic

D – What are the key Details

P – How are the details are Patterned

P – What is the Point made about the topic of those patterned details

 

The social studies teacher and I have been working closely together to help students become better readers and writers over the past year by doing article of the week, working on a Civil War Research paper together and just making sure we are on the same page when it comes to teaching our students reading strategies. Working together has been phenomenal and because of our collaboration, our students are learning more and becoming better readers and writers.

This year as the TDPP process was being reintroduced to our 8th graders, who have already seen it for a year, the Social Studies teacher had a great conversation with the students about how to make the process easier and the students gave some remarkable feedback that was shared with me. As we discussed our students feedback on the process, it occurred to us that we needed to make some changes in the process and our approach to teaching it to help our students be more successful when writing summaries. Below are the changes that we made.

T – Cite the Topic

M – Describe the Main Ideas that support the topic (3 main idea sentences for 8th grade, advance 7th graders as the year progresses)

P –  Explain what Point is being made by the main ideas

P – Wrap-uP sentence

We made the changes because the 8th graders vocalized that they were getting confused with the Details part of the TDPP process as well as the last two P’s because they almost felt they were the same. Now, we didn’t want students copying down specific details from the articles they are reading so we changed the D to an M. When discussing this with students it was helpful to talk about a grocery list and how we write down what we want, which are main ideas, but we don’t write down specific brands, which are details. It helped the students make the difference between the two.

To us, we felt the students were taking charge of their learning and we were moved by the fact they were asking questions, engaged, and willing to take an active role in their education. This reflection and feedback not only allowed our students to perform better on a concept that can at times be difficult for even college students to write, but it gave us insight into how we were teaching the students and it made us better teachers.

Personally, I am really excited how much the 8th graders have grown and retained from last year. I am excited to see where the year takes us!

 

 


Killing Passion for Reading in March

March is over and another year has passed where elementary teachers have celebrated reading with “March is Reading” month.

I like a party as much as the next person. I love socializing, dressing up if there is a theme, and who can forget about the food. Okay, so I love eating! I don’t consider myself a party pooper by any stretch, but can you imagine trying to have a Hawaiian Luau for an entire month?  That is a lot of pineapple and roast pig!

The point I am trying to make is that I feel we are doing our students a disservice when it comes to “March is Reading” month. Every day, on the calendar sent home with my oldest,  is a different way for my child and his classmates to celebrate reading.  Whether it is wearing flip-flops or reading with an e-Reader, the idea is to motivate students to want to read and for them to be excited about it.  For 31 days students are asked to do something different in association with reading to make it feel fun.  Again, I go back to what I said at the beginning of this post, imagine going to a pig roast 31 days in a row.  After awhile, you are going to crave something different.

I want my students to be excited about reading, but if they have been repeatedly bombarded in elementary school every March for an average of 6 years, they may have a bad taste in their mouth by the time they reach middle school.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors too.  Such as giving students questions at the end of every single chapter.  Something Kelly Gallagher calls Readacide

I don’t want to take just a month to focus on the importance of reading or to celebrate it. I want to celebrate it all year and motivate my students throughout the whole year and throughout their lives hopefully.

I have always been diligently trying to find when and how middle school students lose their passion for reading. I have been pestering my 8th grade students all year about why they don’t like reading and I get responses such as:

  1. They don’t have time
  2. Availability of resources in limited
  3. Being forced to read something that is not interesting
  4. March is reading month killed their love.

The last reason made me raise my eyebrow and let out a hearty, “really?”  However, it did make me think long and hard about “March is Reading” month that takes places in schools. I will admit, I don’t do a lot in the month of March as far as recognizing the month and the reading focus the month brings.  My students are reading and I still like to read to them because I feel it is important.

I am always open to new ways to get my students motivated to read, but I am not going to do overkill with my students. This is not an attack on elementary teachers or any other teachers.  I simply am asking that we should reflect on our practices and decide if what we are doing is best for students.


Ready or Not, Here We Read

WOW! It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post. Now that the book is written and the school year is under way, it is time for me to get back into writing my blog and sharing what is going on in my classroom with my students.

So this past summer I “assigned” reading to my students and I feel that I may have failed my students as their teacher. Yes, I said it, I FAILED my students.  My intent was not turn them off to reading, it was to help with the Summer slump that can occur with our students when they don’t engage their brains at some point. I have a hard enough time motivating my middle school students to read now. Though I see more positive in the last two years, than I ever have.

I asked my students to pick one chapter book to read and to find one non-fiction article to read.  In addition, I gave them a short writing assignment to help me see that they actually did do the reading.

I am really trying hard to become a better reading teacher and I thought this would be something that could help them.  I even celebrated our reading we did over the summer with a treat trying to make it a big deal that we read. In addition, I held drawings for our students to get free books that I bought out of my pocket.

I wasn’t feeling the excitement from my students and there is only so much dancing and singing I can do about books before my middle school students look at me really funny.  Regardless, I still give them that excitement every day! At this point, I want to know where do middle school students lose their interest in reading.  What experiences are they having to turn them off to reading?  I had them take a small survey and here is what I found.

1. Most students couldn’t recall a time where they were “turned off” to reading.

2. My students are more resistant to reading when they are “forced” to read something.

3. Students want choice (I knew this already, but it was still nice to see).

4. Students feel they don’t have time to read when they are in middle school.

So, I am left thinking that I killed my students with “making” them read over the summer.  In addition, how do I get middle school students to realize they do have time to read? I need to do something different, or do more.  Any feedback would be great! Whatever it may be, I am not going to give up on my students.

Cheers!

 


Digital Literacy Summer Institute Day #2

I can’t write a short enough post to discuss every nugget of information I gained from the second day of the Digital Literacy SI. So, I will explain one idea that hit home with me as we proceeded through the morning/day.

Thinking about the lessons that are created within a given classroom, I want to pose the same question that was given to us. What drives our planning process?  Is it our own agenda?  Perhaps the content or curriculum (no, couldn’t be)? The amount of time we have to teach the lesson? Okay, I could go on and on here and to be quite honest, I have planned lessons around all of the above mentioned. This is where you shake your finger at me, right?

So, what about planning with the learner in mind? Yes, keeping the learner might seem to be a no-brainer.  Duh!! Well, it wasn’t to me.  I will be honest, I am not completely lost here, I have done it from time to time.  However, consistently keeping them in mind, I have failed myself and my students.

As our facilitators discussed how to frame our inquiry project, they included the idea of the TPACK model.

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A great reading resource for the TPACK with reading and language arts is by Spires, Hervey, and Watson.

How many times do we focus our planning more on the content or the curriculum instead of the student?  In my opinion, I feel we are driven by our curriculum and our given content most days, if not every day. In addition, I know I feel pressed for time and have structured my lessons in such a way that I knew I could get my students to their next class on time. Pointless, if you think about the fact there is not any deeper learning taking place.

So, I wonder what others think about this. For me, I know that I will go back into the lesson plans I have already written and restructure them to best meet the needs of my students and create future lessons with the student as my main focus. Thoughts?

Cheers!

 


CCSS Does Not Mean an S.O.S.

It feels good to take on a different format of writing with me writing this blog, I am not going to lie.  It has been over a month since my last post.  I have been extremely busy writing the book and submitting other pieces for publication.  The good news is that I feel as if the home stretch is here or at least near.  Recently, I have been doing more reading on the Common Core State Standards and simply listening to people have discussions on the curriculum as a whole.  After listening to some teachers rant and rave, completing some reading that left me shaking my head, I can’t help but ask anyone who is willing to listen, what is all of the complaining about, really?

I want to begin by mentioning how my state (Michigan) and some other states are trying to now “back out” of implementing the CCSS. Why you may ask?  Quite simply the fear of losing local control or state control of schools or so it appears that way.  This is one place I shake my head from side to side.  Let’s be rational here, the federal government is not trying to take over our schools. Let’s think about what one of the reasons the CCSS was developed.  One of the reasons was to have consistency within schools on what is being taught. Does it have higher demands for students? Yes sir! Is it going to be more work on our part as teachers? Yes ma’am.  Not once have I ever thought the Common Core was designed for a hostile government take over of any school.

Next, I want to address the parent (of a different school from where I teach) who threatened to take their 3 children out of the school their children attend if the teacher or district tried to use the Common Core as the curriculum.  I will be honest with you, I didn’t react to the parent in a hostile manner when I was listening. I just listened.  After their ranting and demoralizing of the CCSS, I asked one question.  What do you not like about the Common Core?  Their answer: It is too hard for my children and too demanding.  On the inside, I was screaming, but on the outside, I politely said thank you for sharing your concern.  To me, their response summed up why I see the work ethic I do today of some students, including the ones that I teach.  Some students (and parents) don’t understand they have to work hard in school!  It isn’t just about socializing or sports.  Furthermore, those students who may struggle a little, are probably going to have to work even harder. Wow and yes that does suck! Should I be teaching work ethic in my class too? Oh wait, I think I do!

Now, I am not saying the CCSS does not have flaws, because it does.  However, I really like what the Common Core is trying to do for our students.  Here are just a few things I notice:

  • Engages our students with more informational text.
  • Causes our students to have higher level thinking skills.
  • Consistency across states with curriculum.
  • The ability for flexibility on how we teach the skills that need to be met.
  • Students get engaged in all 3 genres (narrative, informational, argumentative.

While I notice the positives of the CCSS, the one gripe I will make public here is the little it says about students reflecting on their own work. Reflection is key for student improvement in whatever they do. As a matter of fact, it is a life skill that is essential for growing as an individual. I have to constantly reflect all the time on how to do a better job with my students.

With that being said, I can strongly say the CCSS is not going away anytime soon.  Though we don’t have to embrace it like a big fluffy teddy bear, it is no reason to toss out the emergency S.O.S. life belt.

Cheers!

 


Steady is the Pace

Recently I received an evaluation.  I want to say how thankful I am for an administrator who offers constructive feedback.  I often wonder how many teachers would take that constructive criticism personally or take it to heart and actually reflect on how they can better themselves.  Not to float my own boat, but I do A LOT of reflecting on what I need to do to make my students more successful. Often times, I am up well past midnight thinking about different strategies and lessons I can implement.

With the Common Core being fully implemented into my classroom and having less than  2 years under my belt of teaching 7th graders, I can’t help but feel I am not doing an effective job getting through to them.  Am I going too fast with my 7th graders?  Right now I feel as if I am not following my own advice where I said I would teach a mile deep and not a mile wide. I don’t want to push through curriculum for the the sake of saying I got through all of the curriculum, yet I know I have a responsibility to get through the standards.

Could the CCSS have anything to do with the way I am feeling?  Even with having minutes added to each of our core hours for more instructional time I find myself running over class time trying to squeeze in last minute details and key points with lessons.  Could there ever be enough time added to get through everything?

As I look back through what I have done this year, I am pleased with what I delivered in the way of curriculum to my students, despite the fact we have had snow days (I think I am one of few teachers who always wants school). However, did the content I deliver to my students really sink in?  Perhaps I did a better job of just skimming over content rather than making it rich and meaningful. Quizzes, unit test, and other forms of assessments show positive growth, but how much are they truly retaining and would they retain more if I slowed down?

Pacing for 7th graders has to be different than my 8th graders.  I have found plenty of support from other district’s pacing guides that help me draw that conclusion.  I am going to continue to reflect on what I can do differently in way of pacing and I am hoping I can continue to help my students to grow academically.

I am always going  to be a life long learner and will continue to strive to be my best. If there are any middle school teachers out there that would like to provide some suggestions, I am all ears.

Cheers!