I sat in bed last night, reading a book and periodically glancing up at the rerun of Top Chef. I paused for a moment while the judges weighed in on each of the final dishes. I’m often amazed at how the most random of ingredients can be whipped together to create a delectable treat for the most sophisticated of palates, and I often wonder, does it really taste any good? How is it you can become such a talented cook that you can be thrown any amount of unimaginable items and create something of pleasure?
And then I got to thinking-this is sort of like where we are in our journey of shifting to reading workshop. For the past three years we have spent countless hours working to hone our skills and understand the ingredients required for a well functioning workshop model. We built out our classroom libraries, heavily focusing on text level and fitting students to “just right books”. We emphasized reading “at your level” and teaching skills according to features within certain bands of texts. Just as the most renowned chefs started as culinary students, we as teachers needed to learn the guidelines of best literacy instruction, and now that our “chefs” have been properly trained in the basics, it’s time to take a step back and really taste the final product.
We are lucky enough to work with literacy consultants and authors, Jen Serravallo and Barb Golub, and with their guidance our school has decided to dedicate the rest of this year to fostering the love of reading in our students. Barb and Jen helped us see now that we are trained in evaluating a text for complexity we can lean less heavily on “assigning a letter” and regain the time talking to the students about their reading lives. What genres do they like? What excites them when they read a book?
We also wanted to demonstrate that we all live reading lives so each teacher has posted outside their classroom door their current reading selections. We also created a bulletin board displaying peer book recommendations.
I’ve also been going class to class and having a book talk with our students about what they want to see more of in their classroom libraries. And this is where the magic of my days has been found over the past few weeks. In every classroom, regardless of age, hands flew up with authors, genres, titles, and topics they wanted more of. Not one child responded with more of a certain level. Truth be told, a few students did say they wanted “harder” books but I pushed them to think more deeply about what that meant to them. Do you want multiple plot lines? harder vocabulary? characters that change? Students who don’t consider themselves readers already shared some of their hobbies and topics of interest so that we could help support them in the journey of becoming a reader. It was a time and place where everyone in that conversation felt included, valued and heard, and that is where you can begin to see the recipe for a reading life taking shape.
As I walked into my local town library Saturday afternoon and breathed in the brisk, winter air a thought crossed my mind: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, grab a book, and soak it all in.
An unexpected smile and chuckle overcame me as I held the list of the most recent award winning books for 2018. It was at that moment that I realized I had a coping mechanism I hadn’t even realized I possessed until now. As an instructional coach, teacher, mother and personal hobby-reader I’ve always enjoyed going to the library and reading as often as possible. What I hadn’t realized is that in the darkest of times I took this pleasure to the extreme and used literature as my life-vest.
I had found myself in a similar place nearly three years ago exactly. I had taken a leap in my professional career that ultimately was not panning out, and my personal life decided to hand me some curveballs. It was at that time that I stumbled across the Slice of Life Writing Challenge and decided to try something new. I’d go to the local library as a way to find some writing solitude and in the process began checking out a bag of books from the ‘new releases’ bins in the children’s literature, young adult and adult sections of the library. It’s not that I wasn’t already reading children’s literature for work-of course I was, but I started reading at an accelerated pace. I started with The War That Saved my Life, and I still credit this book for strengthening my soul at a time of despair (I tried convincing my husband Ada was a perfect name for our second child, but to no avail). From there, I listened to the audiobook version of Lit Up which reaffirmed my passion for education. Along the way there were several other incredible books such as Crenshaw, Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, A Mango Shaped Space, and the more I read the more I craved to read more. Whether the books were fiction or nonfiction they filled me up in ways nothing else could’ve at that time. They taught me lessons I didn’t know I was seeking, brought me to realizations I was too overwhelmed to accept on my own, and they gave me peace when that seemed like a fantasy.
So here I am, three years later, sitting on the floor, filling a bag with the latest additions to the ‘new releases’. I just finished the audiobook of How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and the old reminders came flooding back: You will grow from this. You will end up where you belong. You will be a better version of yourself for having endured the journey. I pick up Alma and How She Got Her Name, take a deep breathe, and open the cover.
I’ve been reading Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s book, Math Exchanges, as a tool to help our teachers who are working on a math workshop approach. Wedekind is blowing my mind as she details how to engage students in deep, meaningful conversations with their peers about the math process, but also, how to assess this talk in terms of math. She emphasizes the importance of having our students discuss why they made the mathematical decisions they did, and also the role of the other students in the group to be active listeners.
As I reflect I wonder if our students realize that we are giving them multiple strategies so that they can independently decide which to use in a given situation. The students’ voices echo in my ears, “Am I right?…What’s the right answer?” Clearly they are engrained to believe there is only one right way and that the answer is the important part-not the process. So how do we change this mindset?
This week I dabbled in some of this work in a fifth grade class that I already know is engaged in a lot of mindfulness and accountable talk throughout their day. I immediately felt the rush of excitement as a group compared unlike fractions and each of the students approached solving the problem differently. Here it was! Now what would happen when they were asked to explain why they chose that strategy? Would the other students be able to engage in a conversation about what their peers had done?
Let me start by saying that these students and teacher had clearly built a culture of respect and student-centered learning from day one. The students presenting their strategy spoke clearly, confidently and comfortably to their peers. They all were able to explain the process and the steps of what they did. However, we did notice as they were prompted to explain why they multiplied the denominators this is when the students needed more support. Could it be they hadn’t internalized the foundational concepts of fractions? Or were they just not equipped with the vocabulary and/or practice to explain the steps with more detail?
With accountable talk as my focus for this session, I was able to fully understand why Wedekind emphasizes the importance of the students doing the talking and the teachers taking a backseat. Had we made teaching the next strategy the focus we would never have realized where each student’s current understandings and misconceptions were. From here, this teacher and I hope to further implement this deeper thinking into her math routine. Please stay tuned for more on math exchanges in upcoming posts!
She lingered in the hallway before she entered. She held in her breathe and tightened every ligament from her head to her toes to allow her ears to focus on the important things. The things they were saying when they thought she wasn’t listening.
“Everything’s paid for except the electric and car.”
“Better than last month.”
“I suppose you’re right…forever the optimist.”
“You have to stand on something when you’ve got nothing.”
“Anyway you can bottle that attitude and sell it?”
She wasn’t sure how long it had been going on, but now that she was older she got the sense her parents had become accustomed to this juggling act. She began to feel a burning in her chest as she realized she had never felt like she went without. But maybe they did so she wouldn’t. Suddenly she hated every material thing she ever had.
Perspective (noun). A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.
This one word shapes every story that was ever told. It’s the recount of one single event told with several variations because every witness to the experience comes with their own baggage tags; bullied…bully…orphan…mother…child. The list is endless and no two versions are the same. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
If you had to sum up in one or two words how your experiences have molded your perspective of the world what would your baggage tag read?
It’s funny how a memory can be totally lost in the transit of life until a scent, sound, or sensation suddenly wakes it from its slumber, and you can no longer imagine not having always remembered that moment.
My beautiful niece was born yesterday in the same hospital where in the blink of three years ago I gave birth to my daughter. Since my own special day the hospital has undergone some renovations but I was sure there was no possible way a moment of that day could have gone unremembered. Now the excitement boiled over as I made this new memory to put in the bag of firsts as I became an aunt.
I enjoyed as the hours went by and the memories of my own baby girl coming into the world rolled over in my mind. But it wasn’t until that moment of holding this pinky, fleshy, adorable wonder that the purpley, long pointed finger nails creeped out of the blanket and made me cackle out loud. I immediately was brought back to seeing Avery’s small wrinkly hands for the first time and instantly remembered how I couldn’t stop thinking how terrified I was at the prospect of trying to cut these impressively large talons but the alternative was baby Edward Scissor Hands to the face. Just another wonder of becoming a mother that was least expected, quickly forgotten, but totally embraced when brought back to the surface.
Just when you think you’ve got life all figured out it hits ya like a ton of bricks-takes the inner most feelings that have seeped into your skin and just become part of who you are and exposes your fragility. Life seems to pop up at the most inopportune times too, like right before that big presentation or just as the last crystal of sugar from the birthday cake dissolves on your tongue.
But I suppose this is what reminds you that you’re alive and there’s more than blood that flows through this body of yours. Perfection, routine and control aren’t going to be the moments that define you and you look back on with pride. It’s the unexpected and how you handle it that will make you stand taller and breathe a little deeper on just a normal day.