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!

Hook, Line, and Sinker

It’s Tuesday before I track back in. My teacher work days start on Thursday and I’m getting myself in the mindset to begin fresh in my classroom in 2017.

When I began this blog a month ago my plan was to review the NC teacher evaluation standards to try to better understand how I’m evaluated as an educator. Some of my posts have gone on small tangents but I think that’s ok because telling my stories shows how I meet each standard. After this, I’ll be telling more stories


(because stories are what’s important) about my classroom and reflecting on some professional books I’m reading. Today I’m exploring:

Standard 5: Teachers Reflect on their Practice – Teachers analyze student learning, Teachers link professional growth to professional goals, Teachers function effectively in a complex, dynamic environment.

The whole purpose of this blog for me is to reflect on my practice.

I’m sure I don’t need to say it out loud because every teacher does this but for the record – I look at what my students already know and analyze it to figure out what I need to teach them. I do this through formative assessments, observation, and conversations with my students.

I’m going to tell you a secret: at some point in the last 2 years I lost some of my passion and my “why” of teaching. Seriously! I lost it. I couldn’t find it anywhere… I tried looking. I’ll admit to you why – I didn’t have professional goals.  This year I got myself back into my professional learning and trying new things and even reading (professional and personal reading). Guess what… my passion is back! My “why” came back! I’m more amped and ready to get to school this year! My goal this year is to make learning more playful for my students. I started this year reading Purposeful Play by Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler. I’ll admit, I’m a slow reader so I only just finished it last week. But it’s a great book and I highly recommend it (even for upper grades teachers)! All kids like to play. This book isn’t just about choice time and centers. It’s about making all learning all day more playful. I’ll post about this book after I finish the NC teacher standards. The other thing that changed for me is Twitter (give me a follow if you don’t already)! Once I joined twitter and began hanging out there and connecting with educators from all over and hearing their excitement, my “why” came back to me. I’m a teacher for my students. They’re obviously my why and always have been. But this year, I’m into them more. I want to build relationships and get to know their interests more. I’ve enjoyed twitter chats. I’m still slow at it and not consistently participating in any. I’m looking to grow my PLN so please comment some people I should follow, hashtags to check, and your favorite twitter chat (with the day and time)!

Our world is complex and dynamic and therefore our classrooms must be as well. It is our task as teachers to help prepare students for the fast paced world they will be entering. As teachers we need to embrace the complex and dynamic world and make our classrooms that way but first we need to be able to function in it. I’m flexible and I embrace change. It might take me a while to embrace it because I like to understand it but once I do, LOOK OUT! I’m a jump in the deep end kind of person! I will take new initiatives hook, line, and sinker (when I’m ready)! I’ve heard of teacher blogs. I’ve read a few but not consistently. I wanted to start one but never did until last month because I didn’t think mine would be any good and I wouldn’t have any readers. But I’ve grown. My blog is not for you #sorrynotsorry it’s for me. My next goal for blogging is to become an avid reader of other’s blogs. Right now I follow Kim Collins, Bill Ferriter, and George Couros. So, if your reading this… give me some ideas of who else to read and follow them.