Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Reading...Just Reading

    Book club started early in my room this block. Why? Because kids asked for it to start. "Why wait until next block starts?" they asked. "Can we start early?" Um, let me check...I think we can manage that. When my partner in book club madness went around pitching the book, a good thing happened. We ran out of copies. Even after ordering five more books, we're still short. Kids are reading just to read.
     This school year I have really been encouraging independent reading as has the other English teacher at my school. The result? Kids falling in love with reading. Here's what one non-reader, ELL student wrote in his course evaluation:
                "More reading time is what the teacher should improve. The book I read in class has 
encouraged me to read more books in life more than just looking at a computer screen."

When I probed a bit after reading this, I found out The Life We Bury was the first book this
guy had ever read in his life. He has been in the U.S. for eight years. Not once during the 
reading process did I have to encourage him to read. He's hooked. How can I tell? 
Because he asked for suggestions for other books to read. He even thinks I should
have kids read more books.
The thing is, what Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller and many others propose is good advice. 
Let students read books of choice rather than forcing them to read something they aren't 
interested in. Chances are Spark Notes will get a lot of action if we force them to read 
uninteresting books. I'd rather the choice be theirs. Sometimes I assign, but it's rare that 
I make a student suffer through something they really dislike. I remember plowing through
Silas Marner myself in high school. I was a reader and I struggled to finish that tome.
It doesn't take much to offer choice. It can hook teens to read more. Book club is a 
result of choice and exposing kids to things they may not pick up on their own. 
Go ahead, let students decide what they want to read. It could make all the difference.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Noticing the Unnoticed, Again

     Another school shooting. Seventeen killed. As I watched the news unfold, I felt helpless. I heard the words of the mayor, a former educator, when asked how to prevent things like this happening. His words rang true to me when he said we need to make sure kids feel connected. Then I thought about my kids. My class. My school. I wonder periodically about this happening where I teach. Do I do enough to make kids feel connected? That made me think of a blog I wrote at the beginning of the school year--Notice the Unnoticed. Here is an excerpt from that blog:

     We all have new students, apprehensive students, or students reticent and subdued. It's easy to engage with the active students, the ones who laugh at your jokes and respond with one of their own. But the student on the periphery? The one who keeps to himself? That's the one we need to reach and engage however possible.
     What are some strategies we could use as teachers to include everyone? How can we train ourselves to "notice the unnoticed?" And once we notice them, how can we make them feel included and ease their apprehension?
     I've said it many times on this blog--relationships are the key to being a successful teacher. Begin building those relationships Day 1, letting the student know you are interested and care about them. Talk to them. Engage them in conversation away from their class. Notice them in the hallway. Smile, use their name, and say hello. It may be the only smile they get today. Make it count.

     Fringe kids, the ones on the periphery who may not fit in, these are the kids we need to reach. Popular kids who are in the middle of activities and friends, these are the kids we need to reach. Middle-of-the-road kids who are pleasant, studious, and engaged, these are the kids we need to reach. In other words, we need to reach them all.
     Teachers have a daunting task beyond teaching content and curriculum. Maybe even before content and curriculum. To reach kids. The mayor of that Florida city was right--kids need to feel connected.
     I'm not saying the culprit in this shooting would have done things differently or that anyone is to blame. But I do  know I'm going to improve my efforts at making those connections, of noticing the unnoticed. We don't need more school shootings, we need kids to know we care. Every. Single. Day. A huge task? One outside our "job" as a teacher? Maybe. But maybe by noticing the unnoticed and letting them know we care, we can avoid even the thought of another tragedy like in Florida. It's worth my effort.
     So today, make a decision to notice the unnoticed. It could make all the difference.