Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reflecting on My Readers

I spent some time on Twitter this morning. While I cannot be in St. Louis for ILA, I can follow along on Twitter. Two of my favorite writers for teachers were presenting – Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle. I think these two ladies write some of the only professional development books that make me cry. They know what it means to connect to kids. That’s important to me. While I read through a few tweets, I could feel myself getting excited about the school year that is beginning to take shape in front of me. 

Some of the tweets that really spoke to me were:

I think I begin each school year with three goals.

Help students find their way to a love of reading.

Help fan the flame of these young writers.

Help my students become the best people they can be.

Those goals are always in the forefront of my mind. Standards come after - assessment pieces, data, everything else is secondary. I begin our year together by getting to know my students, building relationships, and then working on those three goals. If I reach those goals, I know that my students will go far.

At the end of our last school year I shared these three photos of my beautiful students holding up signs regarding how many books they had read in our year together.

My students and I had great discussions around this activity... 

How the number represented something differently for each of them. 
How, really, the number didn't matter. The stories mattered. Their connections to beloved characters mattered. 

How they had connected to other readers in the classroom.

 How they had grown in more ways than I could measure. 

However, once I posted the photos, I had many questions messaged to me.

Did I let them count picture books and graphic novels?

How many books had I required them to read?

Did I test them on every book they read?

Were they allowed to reread?

If you read more than someone else, did you get a higher grade?

And honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. Yes, I do have my students keep track of how many books they read in a year, but as a reflection tool. No, I don’t check their record often. If they choose not to keep track, that is their choice. I find that if we talk about it a lot, they keep track. We look at it for group discussions and then they realize they are behind.

No, I don’t require any certain number of books. I ask my students to make their own goals, I make mine, and we revisit them at Christmas time. We revise goals as needed. There is no higher grade for one child who reads more than someone else. There is no reward for reading any amount of books. There is also no penalty in reading less. The reward is in finding books you love, not in a grade. 

Picture books count if they choose. Graphic novels too. (I count them, why wouldn't I let my students?) And of course they can reread – I do it all the time. 

I think at times we make teaching so much harder than it needs to be. If you are a reader and writer, think of what you do as a reader and writer. Teach that to your students. Don’t ask them to do what you wouldn’t.

I’m so grateful there are smart folks like Penny and Donalyn out there spreading their wisdom on what it means to teach kids to love story – whether in a book or in something they’ve written. We can help these kids fall in love with the written word, but not if we make it all about grades, numbers, and data. Bring it back to what we know to be true.

Know your students.

Know the books in your classroom.

Help them find their way.