Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reflections on Chapter 5 and Beyond of Reading in the Wild, #cyberPD

Preferences are something 6th graders are familiar with.

They love it.

They hate it.

They love and hate it at the same time. --SIGH--

Sometimes is seems there is no gray area with my precious 11 and 12 year olds. They live in a world of polarization. It can be an endearing quality about middle level students, but also a frustrating one.

As I read this chapter, I reflected on my experiences with students the last few years. Sometimes it seems that by 6th grade, they've tried it all. At least they think they have! Often my eager recommendations in the library are brushed off because, "They don't like those kinds of books." I dig for more, only to find that, in their mind anyway, they've tried it all. The door to reading is closed, because they've tried all the kinds of books possible and it "just hasn't worked." The spark hasn't been lit. The library doesn't hold anything for them. End of game.

Or not...

This chapter gave me some new weapons to fight that mindset that seems to infect middle schools, as well as some other wonderful ideas:

1. Don't be biased towards books that aren't my own preference (pg. 167). I don't have to love it to let them love it.

2. Discuss preferences as a class; foster a community that is okay with diversity of preference among peers.

3. Rereading is more than just okay-- it can be beneficial beyond words (pg. 175)! "Absorbing a treasured story into their skin" sounds like a beautiful idea to me.

4. Graphic Novels and English Language Learners together equals major learning (pg. 173). Of course! What a great solution! I need to brush up on this genre BIG TIME!

5. The ideas for including nonfiction everyday and exposing students more are priceless (pg. 180). Book talks, read-alouds, mentor texts, and previews-- wonderful ideas for making nonfiction come alive.

6. Evernote for conferrring is going to change how I teach. I've already set up my account, and I'm ready to go (pg. 183). After searching for years for a system that works for me, be it digital or paper, I think this is going to work!

7. The forty-book requirement just might make an appearance in my room this year (pg. 192).

Reading in the Wild cyberPD has been a breath of fresh air to me. I haven't been on time with all my blogs and comments (Life. -sigh- ), but I'll be back next year FOR SURE. Preparing for a new school year is one of my favorite parts of this job. CyberPD has been a large part of that prep this year. Reading, commenting, and blogging have pushed me beyond just skimming a text--I've really absorbed this one, and I have the author, hosts, and participants to thank for that experience.

Forgive me if I am commenting on your blogs for weeks to come as I catch up on my PD and prepare for a quickly approaching school year simultaneously. It has been a true pleasure to interact and connect with such amazing and inspiring like-minded educators while reading this fabulous book!

Thank you for welcoming this newbie with such open arms. See you next year, CyberPDers!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Reflections on Chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild: Conferring From the Heart

I'm a little late posting today; it was last day of vacation. A travel day. I finished my reading on the car ride home, making little scribbles in the margins of my copy of Reading in the Wild.  I'm not sure the best teacher-decipher out there could make sense of my notes today, as my normally messy handwriting was made unreadable by the bumps and curves of the Missouri Ozarks.

I'm composing on my bed, shutting out the unpacked suitcases around me and the nest of hangers that serves as a convenient book prop to the right of my laptop. I'm blocking it all out to talk reading, much as I ask my 11 and 12 year olds to do everyday. They come to me as weary travelers, loaded with "unpacked baggage" and I do what so many teachers do: I say, with a bright morning smile, "Let's talk about your reading!"

And they think, I'm sure, "Is that all she cares about??" They would be wrong, of course, but I don't blame them. I come along with my iPad ready to record their reading information, and I'm sure I look and sound like someone who only cares what page they are on today.

I looked in the mirror a lot this week as I read, and I see some room to grow...

These chapters were amazing, full of ideas and gifts of inspiration that are highlighted and underlined in my book. This week, though, my take-away is much more simple. It is captured in the look on Donalyn's face on page 131. Turn there and look, please...

See what I mean?

It's that look that says, "I'm listening and you matter." In fact her whole body says it as she leans in, arms folded quietly to hear the child's words.

I stared at that picture for a long time, noticing every detail of the expression on her face and the face of sweet Ashley G. I don't know that student, but I know what that look means on a sixth grader. It means, "You noticed me! You're listening! I have your attention! What I say means something to you!"

I love that look on the faces of my students. I don't see it often enough to satisfy me.

This week the section "Conferring: What's the Point?" made all the difference to me. First, it gave me permission to slow down a little in the wildness of the school day and focus on the "bottom line." The bottom line (see page 89) of conferring is "building relationships with my students as readers, writers, and people (pg. 130)."

Turns out, I had gotten lost in checking boxes, making my way through lists, and glancing over the shoulders of students during my hurried conferring time, and I totally forgot my bottom line: CONNECT with them.

This line on page 131 struck me to the heart. Donalyn says,

"I decided that this was the primary goal of conferring for me: to make sure that I spoke with every child as often as possible and that no one disappeared."

Talk about the "power" of reading, of books, of conferring, of community!! Wow!

My reflection as I've read this week?  I'm going to do all I can to create moments like that in my room this year. I've also noted that my recording techniques need an overhaul to be prepared for keeping records of these moments.

As I pondered all this, one of my big fears moving forward was for the other kids. While I conference with one child, what if I inadvertently leave one kiddo alone too long, miss a need, and fail to step in on time to help?

However, as I read more, especially in Chapter 4 about making reading plans, things started to come together in my head. If I can prepare my students to truly be independent readers in my room the majority of the time (readers with plans and a community of reading helpers), then I don't have to worry about my students; they'll take care of each other.

And, really, isn't that what this book is all about? If I'm creating "wild readers" who will read beyond the classroom and sixth grade, shouldn't I be willing to allow them to work together to solve those reading problems together? After all, I go to my peers and PLN for advice...why wouldn't they?

So, that's where I'm at right now as I move to the next section of this book. My mind is swimming with all the ideas (book swaps and reading challenges and reading doors, oh my!), but my heart is centered on one notion:

Conferring from the heart. 

I've done enough conferring from my teacher brain, full of reading theory and responsibilities. It's time to be the lead reader of my room and confer from a heart that truly loves to read! And not just that, but from a heart that loves my students, each and every one.

I think I'll take a step towards creating wild readers if I can do that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reflections from a #cyberPD First-timer: Part 1 of "Reading in the Wild"

First, let me say what a pleasure it is to join this group of amazing teachers for #cyberPD this summer! I just joined the Twitter/blogging community early this year, and the opportunities to grow and reflect as an educator with like-minded individuals have literally blown me away. I've been challenged, encouraged, and pushed in ways I never imagined possible! This experience is proving to be no different.

As a third-year 6th grade teacher (6 years in 3rd grade prior to that), I am particularly interested in the personal reflections and stories that Donalyn (Can I call her that?!) shares. They remind me of my own students and allow me to very easily insert my own classroom into the narrative without any adjustments.

Before I began the book,  I admit I approached with skepticism, wondering how much would "really" apply to the unique and always-changing 6th grade mindset.

I also admit that I was wrong. Completely.

This book is real.

No sugar-coating here. I appreciate how she doesn't shy away from the issues we face everyday or pretend she doesn't have them herself. The tone of the book doesn't talk down to "the rest of us"; she's in the trenches, too,  and provides real and current solutions to the problems that exist in the reading classroom. I literally sighed with relief when I got to the "fake reader" section. Thank God I'm not the only one! And then the suggestions to help tackle issue-- priceless!

To be honest, it didn't take me long to be challenged in this book. The introduction (pg. xviii) states a truth that I have grappled with for years, but haven't had the courage to address:

"If my students were truly independent readers, why did they still need a teacher to orchestrate their reading lives?" 


I hate that.

But it's so, so true. I can choose to live with the blinders on and pretend that the habits we build in Room 606 will last forever, or I can be real with myself. Truthfully, most of my kiddos that move on to 7th grade do not have "wild reader" hearts that will last beyond the micro-reality that is my reading/language arts room. I know this.

So in response to these two chapters, I've decided to make a Top 10 List of my questions, my to-dos, my think-more-abouts, and my new understandings. I could make it a Top 100 very easily--there's that much-- but I'll spare you. Here goes!

1. A guiding truth: "...children who read the most will always outperform children who don't read much." (introduction, pg. xix) So, so true. I can't fail at this.

2. A question: How can I fit in more time for kids to share, converse, and socialize about books? 6th graders need this. They crave that sense of belonging described on page 9 and a reading community can provide that.

3. I am the "lead reader" in my room. I talk about my reading, but not enough.

4. Reading doesn't always fit in the school box. (i.e. Sarah's reading life on pg. 2)

5. I need to teach not just the skill of reading, but the skill of making time to read. (pg. 7) I deal with this every day in 6th grade--"There's just no time, Miss Collins!" Reading on the edge has to become a reality for all of us. We're going to make a list of places we were bored like her class did on page 14. It's a concrete way to make the point.

6. As a 1:1 Chromebook classroom, I loved the online reading response ideas (pg. 34). My kids are very into this right now.

7. I am working on my Reading Workshop "wish list" as outlined on pg. 38--what can I do to make the most of the time that I have everyday?

8. How can I provide more online reading opportunities? Maybe (pg. 51)

9. I want to start my year with a "favorite read aloud" sharing time (pg. 53). LOVE this idea.

10. I've looked for a way to keep my library organized and to perfect a check-in/check-out procedure. Perhaps is the answer I've been looking for! (pg. 82)

So, new #cyberPD friends, I'm sorry if my post missed the boat. I'm not exactly sure what a "reflection" should look like in the forum, but I did my best. I hope that this provides some insights into what I've been wondering about as I read, and I look forward to interacting with all of you during this coming month!