#BlackLivesMatter

Today I was gifted the opportunity to talk at a Black Lives Matter march in the community I have been teaching in for the last 8 years. I was extremely uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. But the organizer, a parent at my school reassured me that I can do this and I should. She even said that as someone I have come across in my journey it’s her job to push me. I needed to write out what I wanted to say to make sure I had my thoughts right. Here are the words I chose to share thanks to Katie.

I know my story isn’t the most important one right now. I know I should be elevating and amplifying voices of color. But, maybe my story will help someone else. So here I am! I’m not perfect and I’m definitely still learning. 

I haven’t always been on this journey. I used to think all lives matter I didn’t understand why people were separating black lives from everyone else. I didn’t understand my white privilege. I thought because I grew up in a working class home we struggled too so how bad can it be. Over the last several years I have leaned into discomfort. I’ve spent time listening, reading and learning about race and racism in America. That’s my white privilege – to learn and not experience. I’ve learned that while my family struggled, we didn’t struggle because of our skin color and our struggles haven’t been because of generations of descrimination. That’s my white privilege. I learned the reason we say black lives matter is because black lives are in danger. An just in case this is new to you, it’s ok to change your mind when you learn new information. You can change your stance on an issue. I did. Black women matter. Black men matter. Black lgbtq+ matter. Black lives matter.

I see myself as an ally in this fight. I’m here today as an ally. But I’m working to be more than an ally. I want to be an accomplice. So I’m here to talk to other allies. You see, an ally knows that racism is a problem in this country. An accomplice speaks out against the injustice. An ally is self reflective and knows their implicit bias. An accomplice helps others discover theirs. An ally carries a sign and posts to social media but an accomplice continues the work when it’s no longer trending. An ally sees race and values it. An accomplice appropriately centers the conversation around speaking their truth and opening themselves to the perspectives of POCs. An ally does the work on themselves. An accomplice educates their children. An ally shows up but an accomplice holds your hand. An ally is not racist. An accomplice is actively anti racist.

Thank you Katie for trusting me and for helping me take one more step toward being an accomplice in this fight.

Blending Learning All the Ways

Blended learning doesn’t have to mean a combination of hands on and technology based learning. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To me blended learning balances all the things! I believe blended learning means educators are spending time providing students with hands on, emotional, self guided, outdoor, projects, technology, physical movement, and creative learning throughout the day. I give my students a lot of choice and agency during the regular school day. At the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to make choices.

True blended learning provides and equitable learning experience for kids because you are taking care of the whole child. Educators should be getting to know their students on a personal level and providing opportunities for students based on their interests. During remote learning, I discovered on a phone call with one of my students that she has been watching “old Disney movies” a lot and one of her favorites to watch over and over is Alice in Wonderland. Because of that, I made sure that my time lesson included a white rabbit with a clock. She recognized the connection right away and even asked me if it was there for her! This tells me that my kids KNOW to look for ways the lessons I plan for them specifically connect to themselves or their friends.

Hands On

It’s no surprise that kids learn best from hands on experiences. We all use manipulatives on a daily basis. It is important for kids to build concrete understanding through manipulating hands on materials like magnetic letters or letter tiles, counters, legos, playdough, etc. These materials are always available to my students in my classroom to use throughout their day.

Emotional

In my classroom we begin each day with a morning meeting. We sit in a circle and greet each other, check in to see how we are feeling, take time to share important artifacts or stories, go over the plan for our day (especially when things vary from the ordinary), and move! I also set aside time for a a weekly community building circle in which we focus on something that came up that week or a specific topic so we can get to know each other better. We use talking pieces to take turns and have a centerpiece in our circle with important community building artifacts to remind us of past conversations or shared experiences. You can see our centerpiece below.

Self Guided

Providing students choice and agency over their learning is important to me (and them). Students already have agency but they need opportunities to practice it in a safe environment. I provide those opportunities though flexible seating, genius hour, and allowing students to choose how they respond to learning (worksheet, technology, creation). Response to learning choices aren’t always possible, but when they are I provide them.

Outdoor

I get my kids outside whenever possible! Obviously, outdoor recess is a daily occurance (weather permitting). In addition to that I take kids outside to read or to practice word work or math using sidewalk chalk. We go outside to observe our shadow, organisms, earth materials, and to collect samples. We are fortunate to have a school garden so every spring, my students take over one of the beds and plant seeds to care for.

Projects

Projects and Project Based Learning (PBL) are a great way to get student buy in to learning. PBL is multidisciplinary and allows kids to connect their learning across subjects. They practice skills and gain knowledge through real world, rigorous tasks. Kids take ownership over their work and and learning is sticky. You can check out some of the projects I’ve done with kids here.

Technology

Typically when people think about blended learning they are referring to the use of technology in the classroom. I’ve shared about my technology integration here.

Physical Movement

I incorporate movement regularly during our day through movement breaks using both guided movements and fun dances on Go Noodle. Some my favorite and quickest movements that I get kids doing are crossing the midline movements. I direct kids through touching their opposite knee and elbow. This is great because there is a lot of brain research behind having kids cross the midline. I also add yoga poses into lesson activities. This is a photo of a “scoot” activity. In a scoot activity, I put problems or tasks around the room and kids start at one and “scoot” around the room until they’ve completed all of them. They carry a recording sheet around with them on a clipboard. This is a math scoot activity where students were solving story problems that are all about fruit trees. I taught them tree pose and had several stops around the room where students needed to hold tree pose while they counted by tens to a certain number.

Creative

Allowing kids time to create is also important to their learning and development. In my classroom, I have a makerspace to allow kids to build and create during projects, centers, and soft starts (the beginning of our day).

School should be a balance of all the ways kids learn best. If there is too much of one thing, the day can be monotonous and you run the risk of not reaching all learners. Changing things up keeps the classroom fun and interesting and helps to reach every child and grow the whole child.

What else do you think is important to blend into the school day?

Book Tasting … YUMMMM!

I’m newly in love with room transformations. I’m a huge supporter of not only flexible seating but having a flexible classroom. If it’s not nailed down, I’ll move it at some point in the year! This experience was my first real dabble in a room transformation. It was fourth quarter and I was ready to try something different. I was getting tired of guided reading and regular reading partners and decided I was going to attempt student led book clubs, modeled after the literature circles I read about in Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. I’ve seen on Pinterest and Instagram photos of teachers and school librarians turning their spaces into restaurants and having a book tasting to get kids interested in reading different types of books. I decided to use a similar process to introduce the 6 books they would get to choose from for their book clubs.

I bought:

  1. Checkered table cloths
  2. fake flowers from the dollar store
  3. chef hat

Around the school I was able to find vases and a plastic tray. I chose books that were at the benchmark reading level and a little above because that best matched the needs of my students. I used our guided reading book sets from the book room so I knew I would have multiples for each child.

I welcomed students back to the classroom dressed as Head Chef DiOrio. I invited them to taste as many books as they could.

I had students shop around the tables to see the different books I was offering for book clubs. They had to look at covers before they could get their menu to fill out.

I provided each student with a menu to fill out the information about their top 3 book choices.

click image for document
Look at that tongue!

They worked so hard to give me feedback. I played some instrumental cafe music as they did they sneak peeks. I love Vitamin String Quartet for things like this because the music is familiar yet calm. I told students that they needed to give me clear reasons why they wanted certain books. “I like it” or “It is interesting” weren’t enough to convince me.

I hid sealed envelopes with kids’ names on them as a special “reveal” for book clubs.

Inside each envelope was a colored card.

The colored card revealed the book they would read for book clubs.

We spent a week in book clubs reading the books multiple times together and independently with different purposes: characters, setting, problem and solution, lesson learned, and authors purpose (RL1.1, RL1.2, RL1.3, RL1.6 RL1.7, RL1.10). Students responded to their reading in their reading notebooks.

We of course had to celebrate the time spent really getting to know these books!

There’s no better way to do tho that than with food (obviously).

Readers read their favorite parts, shared what they learned, asked and answered questions about the books, and compared and contrasted the stories while we ate (RL1.1, RL1.2, RL1.3, RL1.5, RL1.9).

The conversations were so natural and the students absolutely enjoyed every minute. They were always on topic. It almost felt wrong to use these conversations as an assessment but I learned so much from my readers while they talked. This was the most realistic assessment they may ever have.

This was a memorable experience for both the students and myself and it was tightly tied into the standards I am required to teach in first grade. The photos above are from 2 years ago but I did it again last year and plan to do it again this year! A book tasting is a really light lift when it comes to room transformations. I am really excited to try more and bigger room transformations as I learn more about innovative teaching practices and integrating my curriculum.

Tell me all about your room transformation s and ways you have integrated your curriculum!

Better than Carrots and Sticks

Why I chose this book

I chose this book because I have been wanting to learn as much as I can about restorative practices and how to implement them in my classroom. This book came highly recommended by many people in my PLN.

Major Take Aways

The authors didn’t waste any time redefining classroom management. Which I was pleased by because I don’t particularly like that term. They refer to classroom management as defined by Cassetta and Sawyer,

about building relationships with students and teaching social skills along with academic skills.

page 2

I fully agree with this definition of classroom management and believe that my relationships with my students are paramount to being a successful teacher. I also believe that students will always mistakes and they are essential that I, as their teacher, help them to learn from those mistakes. Behavior needs to be taught just as academics.

I love that this book talks about the importance of goal setting and reflection to students learning social skills, problem solving, and self regulation. Kids need chances to make choices and learn from those choices.

Restorative practices aren’t mutually exclusive from rigorous content and instruction and they are not a replacement for rules. The book explains that rules need to communicate high expectations, be consistent, and fair. When misbehavior happen or rules are broken, it is in the role of the teacher to figure out what has caused the behavior. Finding the cause of a behavior isn’t excuse making, it’s about finding a way to help the child solve the problem they’re dealing with.

One of the biggest things I learned from this book at the restorative practices are more than circles. Circling up and building community and solving problems are a huge part of it. It also includes adults tone of voice and word choice, conferencing with individual and small groups of students, questioning, teaching students to dialogue about problems and solutions, and relationship building.

It’s extremely important that we separate humans from the unacceptable behavior. Teachers must speak to students with respect and from a place of love. “We have to learn to focus on restitution rather than consequences.” (page 111)

Making it Accessible for Littles

Explicit teaching and patience are skills most early childhood educators need to reach students. Restorative practices means teachers are calm in the face of heightened emotion, teach students ways to problem solve, and help students navigate ways to communicate their big emotions. Littles need this in all areas of their life.

As an early childhood educator one way I can ensure I’m using restorative practices is to help littles gain the language they need to communicate. I name the big feelings they might be having (beyond happy, sad, and mad). Then help them work toward communicating about that feeling by talking more about the situation.

The book recommends teaching students sentence frames to help them learn to communicate problems and emotions. One it recommends that I use often is,

I felt ____ when ____ because ____.

page 88

The Book Study PLN

I read this book along with others around the country with a digital book study I co-facilitate. We discussed the book on twitter and flipgrid weekly. The twitter conversations happened in September – October 2018 on #FlipBookStudy. And you can check out our video conversations here: https://flipgrid.com/carrotssticks. It was great to connect with others while reading this book to see ways they were already implementing restorative practices and new things the will try. I was able to ask questions, bounce ideas, share my ideas, and learn for others!

Teaching Thanksgiving: historically accurate and developmentally appropriate

For years I’ve known the story of “The First Thanksgiving” that I (and likely most of us) learned in school is historically inaccurate and white washed. It can be tricky to balance teaching the holiday, cute crafts, classroom/school traditions, and hard history especially in an early childhood setting. In the past, I have focused on thankfulness when teaching Thanksgiving in an effort to avoid teaching inaccurate history but still celebrate the holiday. I have also used the Scholastic News Thanksgiving issues to talk about Thanksgiving long ago and today but have realized they perpetuate problematic stereotypes of the first Thanksgiving story.

This year, I tried something different. I went out on a limb, took a risk, and attempted to discuss the truth behind Thanksgiving with my brave first graders. Our conversation focused around 2 images and the concept of myths.

Students looking at the images while they eat snack getting ready to discuss what they see.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has some really great resources for teaching culturally responsive instruction here. I used one article in their list for my lesson: The True Story of Thanksgiving from Muse Magazine. I read the article prior to teaching and used the images in the article to show my students. It isn’t an appropriate text for first graders to read on their own.

First I displayed this image on my Smartboard. There were laughs as soon as I put it up.

I used a protocol for students to turn and talk about the image. The protocol is very familiar to my students because we use it regularly. The protocol is called See, Think, Wonder. Students used the sentence starters, “I see…” “I think…” I wonder…” to discuss the image with a partner. Then I asked volunteers to share what they think is happening in the picture. The class agreed that it shows a big meal, probably Thanksgiving dinner. I asked for evidence that leads them to believe it was a gathering for a meal and they pointed out the big table, all the people, some food and drinks. Then I asked what was wrong and I’m sure you can imagine the laundry list. I guided them to discuss things like which season is it and how do you know, which holidays or celebrations are shown, who might the people be and why don’t we expect to see them together, does this look like the past or present and how can we tell. Each thing we discussed I invited students to point out evidence in the image to support what they were saying.

Next I introduced the concept of a myth as a story that some people think is true but isn’t and we noted that the above picture is a myth because it confuses holidays and seasons, the alien, it looks like its both past and present, and the penguin dancing on the tray.

Then I projected this image which is a portion of a famous painting depicting the First Thanksgiving that shows a very similar scene to the picture shown prior.

We followed the same protocol and discussion prompts: What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? What is happening in this image? What is wrong about the image? Students quickly stated this is an old Thanksgiving feast because of the clothes and the turkey on the tray. Things they noticed we wrong were the “judge” on the left side (their word) and what looks like snow on the ground by a red fall bush but the tree has green leaves. One student pointed out the Indigenous man at the table guessing maybe he doesn’t have a home. Which was a great opening to the first important myths about the image: this man does have a home, he is Indigenous meaning he lived on that land before the other people got there (We talked about Indigenous peoples rather than Columbus day in October), he was not the only Indigenous person at this meal there were actually more Indigenous people than there were English people. I briefly talked about how people usually refer to the 2 groups of people as Pilgrims and Indians but that we will call them English and Indigenous because it is more accurate. I then asked who looks like the helpers in this image? They guessed the English were the helpers because that’s what it looks like in the image – another myth. Actually a lot of the adult English people got sick and even died. Most of the English people at the feast would have been children and teenagers. The Indigenous people were the helpers and taught the English settlers how to live on the land. We also discussed the food in the image and the truth is that at this gathering the Indigenous and English wouldn’t have had turkey, they would have eaten fish, duck, venison, corn, and wheat based on the crops at the time. A student shouted out, “I bet the didn’t even call it Thanksgiving!” Yes little friend that is accurate.

We did discuss what happened after this meal, did the Indigenous and English remain friends? My students remembered from our discussion on Indigenous People’s Day that the settlers told them to leave the land and sent them away and were violent toward the Indigenous people. That is as far as we went with this part of the discussion.

I next gave my students the 2019 Thanksgiving issue of Scholastic News and asked them to cross out parts they through were myths. I challenged them to look at the images and read the text but most just looked at the images. Some kids crossed out everything assuming everything is a myth, some looked critically and asked questions of classmates and me. We reviewed the issue by discussing the parts that were historically accurate, things we know are myths, and some things I was unsure about. That’s where we ended the discussion.

Things I’ll do differently next time:

  • Tell my students up front we will be talking about something tricky that makes a lot of people nervous
  • More time for students to reflect on new learning
  • Talk about cultural appropriation and why it is not ok to dress up like Indigenous people
  • If I choose to use the scholastic news again, we will read it together so they analyze the text and not just the images.

I know that it is scary and uncomfortable to have these discussions with adults and I’m not going to lie, my stomach was in knots for the whole 45 minutes this discussion went on in my classroom with 6 year olds. Depending where you are in your journey toward educational equity and culturally responsive teaching you may need to just stop what you used to do and try something low risk.

Low risk ways to celebrate Thanksgiving :

  • STEM activities such as Balloons Over Broadway or How to catch a Turkey
  • Crafts like disguising a turkey (this can be extended using chatterpix to make a short video of kids telling why the turkey shouldn’t be captured)
  • Focusing on turkeys
  • Focusing on Thankfulness
  • Compare and contrast foods

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m still processing and reflecting on the conversation I had with my students. What feedback for growth do you have for me? How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your classroom?

Diverse Texts

It’s nothing new that including diverse texts in our classroom libraries and read alouds is incredibly beneficial to all students. Yes, all students. Not just students of color. Diverse texts allow students to see characters who look like them so they can see themselves in the world of literature. Diverse texts also allow students to see characters who are different from them so they can make connections across those differences and build their empathy.

When I use the term “diverse” I’m referring to all people of color, differing abilities, religions, sexual orientation, genders, family make up, etc.

I’ve noticed that many curriculums that include read aloud texts, aren’t very diverse so it is up to me as the teacher to intentionally select diverse texts that fit the same standards as the texts. It’s an important, time consuming, and expensive process to find and select texts for this purpose. I have built a decent collection of diverse texts for my classroom that I’m quite proud of. My Amazon Wish List is full of more texts I want to purchase.

One morning in the shower (because that’s where all the best ideas hit me) I realized it would be amazing to have some sort of searchable database of diverse texts linked to both curriculum standards and the Teaching Tolerance social justice standards. This curated list would connect curriculum to intentional text content highlighting diverse characters.

I created this form for people to input their favorite diverse character texts by answering simple questions about the book. I would love for you to add your own favorite texts to the form. This isn’t just for me, we are better together and we can build an amazing resource together too!

The spreadsheet this form populates is searchable using the control + f keyboard shortcut.

You can also follow my twitter and instagram for weekly posts of the books I’m using with my students!

Flipping for Substitutes

Flipping the classroom is a teaching practice in which a teacher videos themselves teaching and send it to students to watch at home. The idea is that teachers can lecture for students to take notes outside of class time. Students then come to class prepared with knowledge and questions. Class is then interactive and hands on because students already had direct instruction.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think teachers should be flipping their classrooms. We can’t expect students to watch videos at home and learn from them. It is inequitable. Not all students have access to devices and internet at home, some students work, some play sports, some help out with other siblings.

A few years ago I taught a multi track first grade. In our year round schools, we run on 4 different tracks or calendars. At any time there are 3 tracks in and 1 track out. Each track is in for 9 weeks and out for 3 weeks. In my multi track class, the students tracked in and out every 3 weeks and I was an 11 month teacher and tracked out less frequently. During my track outs, I had a substitute so instruction could continue. This is the year I started videoing my teaching and leaving those videos for substitutes because I needed to teach at 2 different paces depending on the instructional day for the tracks that were in at the time. This made sub plans………. challenging.

I began doing flipped videos in math for substitutes so I could ensure the strategies my students needed would be taught correctly. The video served twofold – it taught the strategy to my students and the substitute. In my sub plans, I left directions to assist with students as they watched the video and practiced. My videos followed the same structure of my typical lessons with dry erase board practice while I modeled. At the end of my videos, I gave directions for independent practice.

This seemed to work well and I got good feedback from substitutes because the knew exactly how to help students. My students like to see my face or hear my voice even when I wasn’t with them.

Later that year, I realized I could get more bang for my buck with these videos. I started to upload them to google classroom so my students could access them at any time they needed a reminder. After a parent conference in which a parent asked for a how to on math strategies, I stared uploading them to Seesaw as well so families could see me model a strategy. Please note – though I shared the videos with families, I never required students to watch the instruction at home.

I still flip my classroom for substitutes. I’ve even started making videos for literacy instruction. This year I plan to incorporate science or social studies videos into sub plans as well. This method works best when you can plan ahead for a substitute because it can be time consuming to make the videos. I don’t flip my classroom for substitutes when I am out sick because my plans are usually a little more hurried.

Here’s one example of a video I made for a substitute:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XWHz6KIVl9XCyqo3e5NhqNwtBtLgfFXjab7LBNlKDKA/edit?usp=sharing

Do you flip your classroom? Does it work for you? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too Book Study Reflection

Why I chose this book

I read this book because it had been recommended so many times by so many people that I trust. As a white woman, I was looking for a book I could read to help me understand the perspective of my black and brown students. I wanted some introductory information on restorative practices (which are similar to the cyphers discussed in the book) in school. I knew this book was more about high school students but I knew I could find ways to apply it to my work in the elementary classroom. Since it was highly recommended, I just knew I would learn a lot.

Major take aways

I loved that Chris Edmin shared mistakes he made after first getting into the classroom. I learn a lot from mistakes, my mistakes and the mistakes of others. He refers to students in urban schools as neoindigenous. Too often the educators who work in urban schools come from outside the community and don’t spend enough time in the community and the students are the ones who are native and know the culture of their neighborhood. Educators have a lot to learn from their students. He invested the time learning about, from, and with his students. I spend a lot of time and effort building relationships to learn about my students. I would love to incorporate more ways to learn from and with my students.

As a white woman, it is important for me to unpack my privilege and fully understand that my own history impacts the way I show up at school and interact with my students. I struggled with this at first. I didn’t want to see that I brought privilege into my work with my students. But I know that I do. Confronting my privilege made me realize that I can be myself but also learn to see and value my students’ experiences. This book talked a lot about seeing life experiences from different perspectives. The work is in asking questions to understand other’s perspective.

Understanding my privilege is one thing, but I need to ensure that I’m making real connections with my students. I can do that through telling stories about my life and listening to their stories. I loved the chapters “Coteaching” and “Cosmopolitanism” which were about creating a classroom culture of collaboration and shared celebration.

As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but make so many connections to the work that NCAE is doing right now. Edmin talked a lot about how urban areas get a lot of charter schools coming in and trying to fix the kids and the neighborhood but that isn’t what they need. This work can and should be done by public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, interested in or are currently doing this work, and you aren’t a member of NCAE yet, I highly recommend you do your research and join!

Making it accessible for Littles

While this book was a lot more self work that direct application to my classroom, I believe that the work I’m doing will impact my students.

I particularly liked the chapter “Chuuuurch” because I made so many connections to my own classroom. Edmin explains how we should make our classrooms more like black churches. Kids should sit where they want and should be able to respond as desired. In my classroom, I use flexible seating because I believe it is best for kids. I’m also flexible on the whole raise your hand to speak thing. One of my class rules is one voice because I believe it is important for people to not speak over each other and to focus on the person who is talking. But, I try to keep my classroom conversational.

In the book Edmin talks about call and response and movement being essential to neoindigeneous youth. I have been trying to incorporate more of this in my classroom lately and I noticed that littles really love it when I do!

The book study PLN

Reading this book and having conversations about it with others who were also reading it helped me understand what I was reading and better apply it as I work to improve myself. It was nice to have face to face conversations with people who are nearby and looking to incorporate restorative practices with their students. I also participated in video chat conversations with people from across my state. I believe the most important part of social justice work is finding others who are doing the work too. We must build strength together in order to continue to grow.

Does this even solve the problem?

Today we had a lockdown drill at my school. I quickly hurried my children to a corner, locked my door and turned off the light. I placed some furniture in front of our hiding place. Shushed my children and pulled them closer to me. They asked what we were doing and I whispered that we were practicing in case there was danger in or near our school.

I could tell from the look on their faces they were afraid and confused. One cried. One covered their face. Many were antsy and couldn’t sit still. One had a nervous cough they couldn’t stop. One asked about one of our friends who was out with another teacher.

It lasted 15-20 minutes. It felt like an hour. I had to give many reminders to try to be still and quiet. I texted my husband because, to be honest, I was scared myself.

When it was over we circled up to talk about it. I explained the purpose of a lockdown and the difference between a drill and real life. I explained how a lockdown is different from a fire or a severe weather drill. They offered ideas about bad guys, weapons, and guns. They told me they were scared, worried, angry, and bored. They wanted to know how to distract themselves and be quiet. How they’re supposed to think about happy stuff when they’re afraid.

I reassured them that they were safe. To look for helpers and follow directions quickly when a lockdown happens.

I tell this story because people need to know what educators are thinking when we have lockdown drills. Do I tell them my real plan if we were in real danger? Do I tell them it would never happen to us? (That could very well be a lie.)

Do you know that when setting up my classroom I made sure we had a hiding spot? Did you know that I made sure I had furniture I could use to barricade our door nearby and easy to move quickly? Did you know that I am terrified when I forget my key at home?

Did you know every day educators think about where to run? Where to hide? We consider if we would fight or not?

How Letting Them Choose Teaches More Than Reading

How I Helped One Child Build Perseverance Through Reading

My school is Positivity Project school. We teach each of the 24 character strengths for a week at a time. Staff takes the character strength quiz to identify their top strengths. Perseverance has shown up in my top 3 strengths for 3 years in a row!

1: Love of Learning, 2: Creativity, 3: Perseverance, 4: Perspective, 5: Fairness, 6: Kindness, 7: Honesty

Part of my why is helping kids to build a sense of perseverance in their lives. Being that this is one of my top 3 character strengths, I’m not surprised that it is a huge part of my why!

I’d like to tell a story about a little girl from my class last year that was able to build and exhibit perseverance. She struggled with reading. She purposely selected leveled readers only from the A-C bins because she felt confident about those books. Even though I allow all students to choose books from any bin, she stuck to these bins. She stuck to those bins until I read Personal Space Camp by Julia Cooke as a read aloud. She did not struggle with respecting others’ personal space but she did LOVE this book.

At the time, I was teaching identifying lessons learned and central message of a story (NC.1.RL.2). I had created a bin of books that I had used to read aloud and model identifying the lesson learned and placed it in our classroom library. I wanted my students to have access to these high quality, diverse texts while book shopping because I know that access to complex texts helps to build students’ text comprehension. I also know that multiple readings of a text helps students become more fluent readers and helps them feel more confident in their reading abilities.

I’m sure it comes to no surprise to you that she took that book and put it in her book bin to continue reading. I allow students to always choose their books in their book bins and give them the autonomy to decide to keep books they love rather than swapping them all out each week. I believe that students self selecting a variety of texts is important to their growth and success as readers. She kept this book in her book bin almost the entire school year!

At the start of the school year after she initially placed it in her book box after I had used it as a read aloud only once, she could read about 10% of the words on the first page, most of which were sight words. I conferenced with her regularly and each time she wanted to read this book even though she struggled with it every time. One day, I asked her why she kept reading this book even though the words were difficult. She answered (paraphrasing since it was a while ago), I love the story and I want to read the story.

For her, this book symbolized her reading goal for first grade. This book is measured at about 600 lexile and the typical first grade range is 190-530. For her, reading this book meat that she was a good reader. For her, reading this book independently meant that she learned everything she needed to be a successful first grader.

This was the first time she selected a text other than from the level A-C bins so I decided to encourage her and coach her. Each time we conferenced, we read a different section of the book. We discussed how she felt as a reader each time. And we talked about what was happening in the story. The progress was slow. Very slow. But she read this book every day.

By spring, she was able to read the entire book cover to cover. She could retell that story like she lived it herself. She used it as an anchor text when comparing (NC.1.RL.9) the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. She even asked to read the book aloud to the class by her self during snack one day and of course I said YES!

Pictured above is a different student reading a different text with a similar story. I managed to not get a photo of the child this story is about reading her favorite story.

I made some really important choices that impacted this student’s growth in both reading and perseverance. I choose to allow all my students to use my read aloud texts for independent reading. I choose to let her read a book we both knew was very challenging for her. I choose to focus on her connection with that text over her current reading abilities. I chose to encourage her and coach her as a reader. I chose to build her confidence. Because of these choices, she grew as a reader from reading level B books at the start of first grade to reading level J books at the end of the year. Because of these choices, she learned that if she sets her mind to something and doesn’t give up, she can do amazing things!