Could We Do That Too? Planting an Idea and Waiting For it to Blossom

Could We Do That Too? Planting an Idea and Waiting For it to Blossom

**Originally posted on my old blog 9-9-2015**

*Alternative title for this blog post: How I am Tricking My Class Into Doing Exactly What I Want*

One of the things I learned my first year teaching is that ideas are always better when they are from the students. Each year my goal is to plant the idea and have students suggest what we are actually going to do. I’ve learned a few lessons about it over the years. This year I have been ridiculously successful (seriously!) with this. I started to think, what am I doing differently this year? I don’t have definite answers right now but I have some theories that I am working on.

Maybe it is the kids. Let’s be real. Sometimes when you are successful as a teacher it isn’t about you at all. I would love to pretend that I plan out every amazing moment in my classroom but the reality is that I don’t. Maybe this year I have highly inquisitive, independent and motivated learners. Maybe they take initiative and are just owning their education… maybe.

But for just a minute let’s pretend that I am the mastermind of this situation. Here’s what I’m doing to plant ideas in my student’s minds.

I present them with research. Let’s talk about how I convinced all my students to read for 15 minutes each night, and some even wanted to read for 20! First, I had my own bookbag out in plain sight. My students would stop and look at the log. Some noticed that I have been reading at home a lot but not at school. I shared my reading life with them- my authentic reading life. It isn’t forced or fake.


First Day of School:  “Maybe some kids might want to read at home. I have plastic bags with everyone’s names on them. (Hmm… I wonder what those would be for?)  If you want to take books home come and grab your bag.”
7 kids take bags home.
Second Day of School: “I noticed so many friends brought home bookbags and read last night. Did you enjoy reading at home? Maybe some more friends might want to take their bookbags home.”
11 kids take bookbags home.
Third Day of School: “I was on the computer and saw this research that I thought I should share with all of you.

Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 7.28.03 AM

Wow! What I’m noticing is that kids who read at home each night do better in school. What do you think about this?”
Student: I feel like maybe we should read at night.
Class: YEAH!!
16 kids take home bookbags. (That is my whole class!!)

I presented them with real reasons that made sense to them. So now my whole class was reading at home each night BUT I needed them to log their reading. I know there is a lot out there about reading logs and I go back and forth on them all the time. Is it worth it? Does it kill a love of reading? That’s another blog post in itself. I have come to the conclusion that if you use the log in meaningful ways then it is worthwhile. At the start of the year we started logging our read alouds on a class reading log (the same reading log students would be taking home… if they decided it was important). I made a dramatic big deal about logging in and out each time we read.
Finally a student asked me, “why the heck are you doing all that work for a piece of paper?” Wonderful, they noticed and were wondering why! I posed the question back, “I don’t know. What could I use this information for?”
Another student got excited, “You can see that one day we didn’t read very many pages because we had problems sitting at the carpet!” True. We had major issues that day. The same student continued, “Also we missed read aloud on Thursday because we had problems during snack.” Also true! Snack is a major issue in my classroom at the moment. Another student asked, “Well if we learn this much from it, should we log our reading?” I was so excited, “Wow! I like that idea. Let’s find out where reading logs are kept in the classroom and how they work.” BAM! All my kids started logging their reading because they saw a purpose to it. Now did those reading logs all come back? No. But sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and work towards what you want.

I made them wait for it. This year after attending a conference where I heard Lester Laminack talk. He spoke of the importance of building anticipation and making students wait for things. Typically I handed out writer’s notebooks the first day of school. We started writing in them right away. This year I decided not to hand them out right away but to just model with mine in an exaggerated fashion. My writer’s notebook is tabbed with many things. The most important is the tiny topics section where we save ideas for stories. Each time I was reminded of a story, seriously whenever I thought of a story, I loudly commented about turning to the orange tab and writing down a quick jot. Today my class was begging for notebooks. “I just want to write down all of my story ideas!” one of my friends screamed out while we were sitting at the carpet. So we finally got our writers notebooks . The whole class was so excited and had so many tiny topics to jot down right away!

I strongly believe that when students come up with ideas on their own, even when the teacher has planted the seed, they feel empowered as learners. We’ll see how the rest of this year turns out and if we can keep our momentum going. How do you foster independence and ownership in your classrooms?

9 Read Aloud Essentials

9 Read Aloud Essentials

“Smart readers ask themselves very effective questions as they read to reduce their uncertainty about what they are reading; they know when they are more or less on-track.” – Marie Clay

Read Aloud is an essential part of the school day. Students get to see and hear how a fluent reader make meanings of texts and they get to try it out in a highly supportive environment. 


Let’s gather for read aloud!

  1. At least 20 minutes of your day- Developing readers need to see a proficient reader interact with text. It needs to be a routine part of the school day and it needs to be a significant amount of time if we expect students to grow as readers. When I taught 2nd grade I would usually read a picture book a day during read aloud and a chapter from the chapter book we were reading during snack. That means that by the end of the year my students had heard AT LEAST 200 stories read aloud to them. Mem Fox says that children need to hear a thousand stories before they can learn to read and it is no different with developing readers. As a third grade teacher I often read a chapter or two in our text during read aloud as well as a picture book during snack time. Children need to continue to hear stories and watch how they should interact within texts. No child is too old for read aloud. In fact, I used read aloud frequently when teaching middle school Spanish. Read aloud can be in any subject at any grade level.
  2. Has to be planned for and prepared- Read aloud is so much more than just sitting down with your students and sharing a text. It needs to be interactiveWinging read aloud shouldn’t be an option. When planning, I like to first sit down and read the book for my own enjoyment- even if I’ve already read it many times. Then I think about what I want my students to learn from this text. It could really be anything. It usually aligns with my current reading unit and is a lesson I will be teaching the students in the next few days. It could be a strategy you notice most students have been taught but aren’t using. Once I know what I want students to learn I plan crucial moments to model interacting with the text and places for students to interact with the text. I write down the exact questions or comments I will say and place them in the book at the exact places I would ask them. I also read it aloud to myself to see how the flow goes. You might find you planned too many stops in a short amount of time or you might find that you need to work on your fluency while reading. (It happens!) After that I can read to my students prepared with a focus in mind.
  3. Are Interactive! Students should be talk, talk, talking during read aloud. When we were in school teachers shushed kids who were talking when we were reading a story, now any child should interrupt the reading to make meaning of the text. We need to teach our students to interrupt a read aloud but once we do we need to let them build meaning themselves and help them build that meaning. The more kids talk during read aloud the more you know they are understanding the text and practicing vital skills you are teaching them. Have meaningful conversations based off of what you had planned. Let students ask questions to help build their meaning. LET THEM TALK!

    Turn and Talk! Before you have students turn and talk they need to be taught who they turn with, what they do as a listener and what they do as a speaker. Once that has been taught turn and talk becomes a simple move to use during read aloud and at other points in the day.

  4. Log Your Read Alouds!  I am always telling my students to log their reading. This is a huge struggle for me as a teacher. I am constantly asking myself if it is worth it because students don’t see value in it. This year I have really been focusing on why my students log their reading and have even started my own personal reading log. If we want students to see value in logging their reading we should log our read alouds too! This year I stared by only logging our read alouds and not having students log their reading at all.  Once the kids saw the reasons we logged our reading they were literally begging to log their own reading.

    This is our class reading log. When we finish a log we hang it up outside our classroom door. Everyone can see what we have read and can talk to the students about different texts.

  5. Read alouds = mentor texts-  Children need to be shown the connection between reading and writing time and time again. In writing I frequently pull out old read alouds and use the authors we know as our mentor authors. Students will also begin to notice author’s craft in read aloud and point to the different ways the author wrote the words or the way the illustrator drew the pictures. When students are using a beloved book as a mentor text they begin to take on the skills the author uses much faster. When you tell them what writers do that is one thing. When you can show them what their favorite writers do and that they can do the same thing it is so empowering. 
  6. Reread! So often I know teachers will read a book once and be done with it. As a reader myself I frequently revisit old texts and reread; children should have the same opportunity. A class favorite of mine has always been The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco.  Each year I reread that story at least 10 times. Each time we reread we look through a different lens. The first time students read we often have a pretty surface level conversation with a few deep ideas sprinkled in. As we continue to reread a text students can have deeper thoughts. They already know the story now they can begin to ask big questions and really dive deep in their understanding. When I said earlier they should hear at least 200 stories, it might be the same stories over and over again.That’s ok! When we reread we also are modeling that rereading is an important skill. So often students think that if they read it once they are done. In fact, when we continue to reread we learn something new about ourselves and the world around us each time. Rereading is such an essential skill for readers.
  7. Great place to build conversational skills- During read aloud discussions students discover basic understandings about having a conversation with other people. We often talk about not speaking over someone, not raising hands, waiting for a pause or silence and then jumping in to the conversation. While all of this is happening students are beginning to understand how to communicate with others, a skill that will help them forever. Read Aloud can be a fantastic jumping off point for classroom conversations. 
  8. A time for high support modeling- I know I’ve said it a million times already in this post but it deserves its own number. If you are going to be asking your students to take on a new task in their own reading, it has to be modeled in read aloud first. Let me repeat that again! If you are going to be asking your students to take on a new task in their own reading, it has to be modeled in read aloud first. AND it has to be modeled several times. They need the opportunity to see a proficient reader try out a skill. During a read aloud you are the one with the text. You are the reader showing how to navigate a text. They are watching you and now is the time to show off skills that you want your students to be doing. Show them exactly what you want them to do. If you want kids to stop and jot and they aren’t show stop and jots during your read aloud. If you want kids to infer about characters show the exact steps you take as a reader to infer. Show them! Show them so when they get to try it on their own they already have an idea of what happens when you do it as a reader. 
  9. Go where your students lead you- After an entire blog post stressing the planning of read aloud… I have to say that we should go where our students lead us. At times I have had a phenomenal read aloud planned around noticing how characters respond to problems and then students really latch on to the theme of the story. I have a choice. Sometimes I redirect their attention to my goals and trick them into going along with what I have planned. Other times I let them latch on to theme (or whatever they are grasping) and plan to come back to the read aloud another time (maybe the next day) to engage them in the work I had planned. There are times I have to add in more turn and talks throughout a story because the room is bubbling with excitement. There are times when I eliminate a turn and talk and model it myself because I am noticing kids need more modeling this time and less talking. Remember we can plan lessons all we want HOWEVER if our lesson isn’t in the direction the kids are heading it might be best to put our lesson on the back burner and come back to it another time.

BONUS TIP!! It is also important the think back and reflect later on why the kids weren’t being led where we wanted to lead them. Did I not model things well enough? Was my wording confusing? Was I trying to model too many moves all at once? What could I do better next time? Even when I think read aloud goes really well I always can find one thing that I can tweak to make my teaching even stronger. Teaching is all about self-reflection. Make sure that you are reflecting after your read alouds to grow stronger as a teacher!

Action Steps:
Now that you have these essentials what are you going to change or add on to your read aloud? I recommend sitting down by yourself and planning a read aloud from start to finish this week. Think about what your students are working on as readers. Think about where they need to go next. How will read aloud help them get there? What specific teacher moves will you make during read aloud to help your students become stronger, more proficient readers?



Log Your Reading With Your Students

Log Your Reading With Your Students

At the beginning of our new unit I made a choice to log my reading just like my students have to. We were having serious problems remembering to log our reading and I didn’t think my students understood why they were doing it. We hadn’t analyzed our reading logs for a while and the purpose wasn’t obvious to them. We needed a boost and we needed it fast. 

One afternoon while sitting in my classroom thinking about the problem I had my “ah-ha moment.” The words of my old literacy coach came into my head,

“If you’re not modeling it, you’re not teaching it.”

There was my problem! I had never kept a reading log. I had never logged in and out each day like they do. I wasn’t showing them how I log my reading all the time as a reader. This was the missing piece!

As a reader in the “real world” I log my reading all the time. In fact, I have a book where I keep track of books I have read. I write down quotes I love. I rate the books I read and write why I liked or didn’t like them. I abandon books all the time only to come back to them later. I even keep track of how many pages I read. I have also recently gotten onto Goodreads to track myself as a reader.  I log my reading all the time and my students had no idea.

The next morning I made myself a book bag with a Reading Log and as my students logged in, so did I. A majority of them noticed and came to peer over my shoulder as I wrote. I didn’t say anything to them. I just let them make their own observations. After my minilesson I sent my students off to do the important work of biography readers and I sat down at my table and read for the first 5 minutes. When I finished reading I logged out, put my book and reading log in my book bag, placed it on a shelf and began conferring with readers. At night I brought my book bag home and read for 15 minutes.

Each morning my students would come in and check my reading log. They were making sure I was doing my homework! They also started to notice things about me as a reader. “Ms. Rice do you notice that you are reading too slow. I don’t think you are reading a just right book,” one of them pointed out one day after reading. They were right! I wasn’t reading fast enough. From this comment we were able to sit down and have a conversation about it. I admitted that I wasn’t reading very fast because I constantly had to reread. Biographies are a hard genre for me because I can’t stay focused. Some of them were a little confused that I was admitting a flaw of mine. It’s not every day that teachers willingly admit weaknesses to students. Some of them blurted out, “ME TOO!” They were starting to see that even adults struggle from time to time.

From this point we have been able to have honest conversations about ourselves as readers. When students start to see that even their teacher isn’t the perfect reader all the time, they are more likely to admit their own faults and work to improve upon them. There were even days when I forgot my book bag at school. I learned that it really isn’t as easy as I thought it was bringing a bookbag back and forth. We had more honest conversations where I was told I needed to “work on being more responsible.”

Students need to see their teachers and adults around them immersed in the work of readers. Adults read all the time but children rarely get a glimpse into the world of adult readers. They need to see that adults face the same struggles as children and adults aren’t always perfect readers. I challenge you to log your reading with your students. Allow them to see you struggle and abandon books. Allow them to see you forget to do your reading and even forget your reading log. Children do as you do not as you say. Show them all readers have faults and they will be more willing to expose their own and improve upon them.

Let’s Talk About Answers in Math

Let’s Talk About Answers in Math

A few weeks ago I led elementary  teachers in a PD around answer getting. How many times a day in math class do we hear kids say, “But I got the right answer! Why should I have to explain it?” Think back to when you were in school. All that mattered was the answer. I remember days in high school going through math homework and all we did was go around round robin sharing the answer. If you got the answer correct it was a point, if you got the answer wrong it was no points. It has been drilled into our heads that answers are the only essential piece to math instruction and this is incorrect on many levels.


An anchor chart now hanging in the multipurpose room to remind teachers to focus on the whole process in math.

Phil Daro one of the main authors of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics has a phenomenal video on answer getting. Please take time to listen to the full thing. If you absolutely cannot watch the entire video here is a shortened version.

As you watch reflect on the way that you teach math. I’ll be honest there are still times when I focus on answer getting and I have to consciously stop myself.  Not all the shifts we make as teachers are easy to make but they are necessary. I created two different reflection sheets to use if you would like. Answer Getting PD

Let’s Review: Answers are important in math. I am going to repeat that so you don’t forget. ANSWERS ARE IMPORTANT IN MATH but they are not the whole story. We need to shift students’ focus to the process. There are many ways of doing this. One way that you could start tomorrow is talking about HOW students arrived at an answer.

What are some shifts you are going to make around answer getting in math? What are some math topics you would like to learn more about?

Bon Voyage! I Have An International Teaching Job

Bon Voyage! I Have An International Teaching Job

In 2010 I studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. The experience was so rewarding that I knew it would not be my last time going abroad. When I first started teaching I knew I needed to go back abroad to teach and so I set myself with a timeline. I want to teach abroad by the time I am 25. During my first 3 years teaching the idea of teaching internationally seemed so distant. At times it felt like it was completely unrealistic. After a job change, I realized it was closer than I thought and now that moment is here! While I am 26 now soon to be 27 I still have made my dreams come true! I could not be more excited about it.

Next year I will be teaching internationally in Poland. I am excited and nervous but I feel ready. It feels like the right choice. As a big believer in gut instinct, I think I am making a great choice. Get ready for some interesting and informative blog posts in the coming school year about international teaching!