Best Teaching Practice

Best teaching practice has evolved over time. Things that were once in date are now out of date. This category holds all things best teaching practice. Posts here contain small tips and pieces of advice to phase out old practice and focus on the best practice of today. It can be hard to stay on top of best teaching practice so let’s work and learn together!

Stop & Think! A Cautionary Tale About Sharing Reading Levels

Stop & Think! A Cautionary Tale About Sharing Reading Levels

This post is one of reflection as an elementary team leader and as an elementary teacher. It is also a cautionary tale against leveling students. I suppose you could say it is also a cautionary tale warning the dangers of not providing enough professional development to staff when introducing new methods. 

Even the Experts Disagree

Before we step too far into this hot topic. Let’s just reflect upon the experts and what they say. There are many more experts on this topic. I have just chosen Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell, and Lucy Calkins for simplifying the arguments.

Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell are firmly against children knowing their reading level and reading levels being anything other than a teacher tool. Fountas and Pinnell hosted a webinar quite recently to express their thoughts on reading levels. If you follow Fountas and Pinnell on Twitter, you will frequently see this belief tweeted out. Reading levels are for teachers. Reading levels guide instruction but they are not the be all end all of reading instruction. Kids should not know their reading level. Reading levels should not be shared with parents. Classroom libraries should be organized by series, characters, topic, author, genre, or interest. I admit that I subscribe to the beliefs of F&P- especially after this year.

Lucy Calkins does not agree with Fountas and Pinnell. She believes that children should know their reading levels. It should also be clearly laid out for them what they will need to achieve as readers to move up to the next level. Calkins believes that 70% of the classroom library should be organized by level and the remaining 30% should be series, topic, author or genre. 

I’ve taught in schools where kids and parents were not told levels. In fact, when they did start to release levels to parents, the parents had to attend a class to learn about levels before they could learn their child’s level. I have taught in schools where levels were known by kids and parents and where levels were used as a motivator to push kids along as readers. I’ve worked at schools with no distinct policies and the choice is left up to teachers. While each school may work differently I’ve noticed one method with better success. 

What Our School Used to DO

At my current school teachers were given choice about reading levels. Some shared with kids and parents, some shared with parents, some shared with kids, some didn’t share at all. The reason reading levels were shared was to help quantify a child’s learning. If I tell a parent that this child started the year at a level B and is ending the year at a level H, the parent can see growth. Parents also liked it because they felt they could see how good a teacher was by how many levels a child moved up. I am aware that this is not how things go… but I’m just sharing what we did. 

Teachers were not provided much professional development at all in regards to reading levels. In fact, I was never even trained in the D.R.A. I had given F&P B.A.S. before and my principal said good enough, they were the same thing. The teacher education around reading levels and even best teaching practice from the last 10 years was almost nonexistent. We also switched to the workshop model with a 15 minute presentation from a colleague and me. There was no parent education on our new reading and writing curriculum because not all teachers were following it. As you can see, this was a recipe for disaster.

This inconsistency created a huge problem. There wasn’t flow from grade 0 through grade 5. Parents were confused by different expectations at each grade level. Some teachers shared DRA levels which are numbers and some converted our DRA scores to letter levels. Some classroom libraries were organized by level. Some classroom libraries were organized by topic or genre. There was a large outcry that we needed more consistency. This year we’re working to educate our staff and provide more consistency 0-5.

The Crisis We Created

Sharing reading levels with students can seem harmless. It is one way a teacher can help a teacher find a just right book. If a child knows they are a K then they can find a book that is a K. The problem is that readers began to identify with their level more than they should. Readers were quickly able to tell who were the best readers in the class and who were the worst based on level. It reminds me of the reading groups the existed when I was a child. The groups were clearly labeled by ability. Some kids were the birds and some kids were the worms. A reader’s identity is built up of so many things. Their interests and life experiences play a huge role. Their race and gender orientation and religion and so many of the important things that make that child unique play a role in their reading identity. It appears as though when a level is introduced the level begins to take precedence. 

The entire point of creating levels is to move up levels. Parents understand that decoding is essential to moving up. If you can read harder words then you can read harder books. When you and I were kids comprehension wasn’t stressed much. I had to do simple retells but the deep underlying comprehension was never part of my reading education. The comprehension you get to by inferring or reflecting on author’s craft was never required and many of our parents don’t even consider that when thinking about if a book is just right. Parents wanted their child to move through the levels and become better and better readers. Children wanted to move through the levels and become better and better readers. Teachers wanted the same thing and with little background or training on the levels began pushing kids through. Once a child could decode the story and do a retell, maybe a few other simple comprehension tasks they were moved on. The system seemed to work… until it didn’t. 

This year we switched from D.R.A. to Fountas and Pinnell B.A.S. I trained our teachers this August and we set out to assess our kids. I knew that scores would drop slightly because of the types of comprehension questions that would be asked. I knew that we weren’t teaching for comprehension and rich understanding but I had no idea what was in store. I converted the scores from the DRA to BAS and was shocked. Some 4th graders were listed at an 8th grade level. Most grade 3 students were supposedly reading at a 5th or 6th grade level. While we do have very intelligent children at our school, we do not have whole classes years ahead of where they should be. 

Teachers began to assess and the cracks started to show. As teachers worked to assess and assess the students were moved down and down. Even in my grade 1 class most students are currently reading at a beginning of grade 0 reading level. Where did we go wrong and how did we go so far off the tracks? The answer is simple. We didn’t train teachers in reading levels or our new reading curriculum. Without this knowledge teachers were doing their best to apply prior knowledge to an entirely new system. It clearly wasn’t work. Unfortunately the fix will not be an easy or simple one. 

Where do We go Next?

In the midst of our testing crisis we had a CPT meeting (Curriculum Planning Team). This team includes all elementary teachers and teaching assistants. We meet once a week to discuss a wide variety of things. We started to discuss classroom libraries and how we should organize them. A strong case was made for organizing them by level. It was easiest. Kids got it and their parents got it too. A few teachers were arguing against this. The whole reason we were in this testing mess was partially due to levels. At the end of the meeting tempers were rising and the debate was getting heated. As the leader, I pressed pause and said we would have to return to the topic another time. I suggested we look into educational research to guide us further, the teachers seemed to support this decision and I hoped it would lead us in a positive direction.

That night I went home and searched and searched for research. I was stunned to learn that I couldn’t find much research supporting leveled libraries. I did however read some interesting research explaining that reading levels are a sham. I always love to hear from opinions opposite my own to have my beliefs challenged and put into perspective. The next week I challenged our staff to form an opinion and find research to support their opinion. We would then continue the conversation with advice from the experts. 

The day of the meeting I was so nervous. It was a completely open decision. Our principal said that whatever was decided would be tested out for the year and we would reflect at the end of the year. I expected everyone to bring research that supported unleveled libraries but argue that we should still level ours. That didn’t happen at all. At the end of the meeting we decided that we did not want our libraries leveled. We instead wanted our libraries organized by genre and topic. We wanted kids to be able to quickly find stories they wanted to read based on interest, not level. Our classroom libraries are currently being unleveled. We are working to teach our students about choosing a book based on interest, not level. This has been a HUGE struggle for me. I will have to write another post just about this soon. We are hosting a parent education night to explain our program to our parents and we are slowly moving forward. This will be an uphill journey but we are beginning and that is what matters.

What I Hope You Can Learn From Us

When telling students and parents levels we hadn’t thought of the ramifications. I believe that if parents are to learn levels then there needs to be some sort of parent education tied to learning the levels. Levels are complex. So, so complex. This is the exact reason why Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell are so adamant about reading levels being used for anything other than a teacher’s tool. Kids need to build a reading identity and so often when they are given a level it becomes the only source of their reading identity. I can assure you that a large majority of the reading I do is far too easy for me. I like it though. I can tell you that I am the type of reader who loves nonfiction and young adult literature. I love reading blog posts and articles written in list format. I don’t know my reading level and even if I did I wouldn’t always follow it. Readers are complex and reducing them to a level takes away the complexity. 


I know this post is a bit jumbled as I continue try to wrap my head around our current situation and determine next steps moving forward. What are your thoughts on sharing reading levels? How does your school do it? Do you have any advice for our school moving forward from this? I would love to hear what you have to say!

Changing Our Thinking: Student Names

Changing Our Thinking: Student Names

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing making fun of student names. 

 There is no such thing as a weird name. Names are names and they are important. Names are cultural no culture is weird. They should be honored and treated with respect.
If you follow Bored Teachers then you no doubt saw this now deleted post on Instagram.  At the time I saw it I was so sick I couldn’t even respond.  Hmm, I wrote last that sentence because at the time I was physically sick (fever, vomiting- the fun part of my summer) but you could also say I was sick to my stomach. I did manage to hit unfollow. I just saw it on Pinterest today so while it was deleted it is still floating around and people are repinning it.

The caption on the insta post said, “worse and worse every year.” This is not ok. Let’s talk about it. If you’re doing this, stop. This is disrespectful to students and families. 

Why We Mock Kid's Names

Let’s face it, many teachers are white. All of my elementary teachers were white women. The profession seems to cater towards women like me. Names are a very cultural thing. When I went to school I knew a lot of kids named Sarah or Mike. There were a lot of Ashleys. There were also a lot of people named Mary, Matthew, Luke, Noah, Ruth because I went to a Catholic school. Kids named after saints or biblical characters were normal. The names you hear day in and day out seem normal to you. If I ever met a Mike I wouldn’t think what a funny name. It would never cross my mind. I know a lot of people named Mike. 

When we hear names that are new to us they might sound different and sometimes we label that as weird. Different isn’t weird it is just different. It started to become common practice for teachers to look at their class lists and make fun of the names that were on it. Because white women have a large voice in elementary education and because white people are the majority race it meant that names that weren’t the majority were labeled weird. Teachers would gather around and laugh at kids names… I shouldn’t actually write any of this in past tense. Teachers gather around their list of students and laugh about student names. Who’d you get this year? Look at this kids name? Could this parent spell this name in a worse way? How do you even say this? What kind of name is ____? Who would ever name their kid ____? Oh gosh, look at these sibling’s names!

I’ve heard teachers laugh at a child whose name is Julia but the J is pronounced like a J in Spanish. I’ve heard teachers mock students named Princess, Precious, Destiny, Dymond, and I’cy. I’ve heard teachers laugh at the spelling of kids names Aimee, Jayson, Brookelynne, or Apryl. All teachers have heard of kids called L-a, or Lemonjello and Orangejello. Teachers friends love to hear of kids called King, Stormi (has this been normalized now because of Kylie Jenner?), Furious, Younique, or Thunder.

Please know that I am not coming from an almighty place of immunity. I have looked at my class list and done the same. I would argue that a lot of teachers are in the same category as me. It doesn’t feel good to admit on this blog that I have made fun of children’s names but I have to confess before we discuss why I’ve stopped doing this and why you need to do the same.

What's the Problem?

Naming a Child is a Labor of love

The problem is that first of all THESE ARE CHILDREN. Children who are going to walk into your classroom. They deserve love and respect. They deserve to be treated with kindness. They deserve a teacher who didn’t laugh at their name with their family and friends over the weekend.

Now, I don’t have any children so I haven’t been an active participant in the naming business. I do have many friends who have children. I have watched them make lists and discuss the pros and cons of every name. I have watched them consider what nicknames will be for name options. How the name sounds. I have listened to stories of the people children are named after. I am named after a woman near and dear to my mother’s heart. I have heard parents describe meeting their child for the first time, being filled up with love and just knowing that this child should be named ____. Naming a child is a labor of love. New babies fill parents’ hearts with hopes, wishes, dreams, and joy.

Can you imagine naming a child only to have people mock that name because it is different their whole lives? That is the exact opposite of what any parent wants for their child. I know parents who have kept their expected child’s name a secret because they don’t want people to make fun of the name before the child is even born. I’ve heard people tell stories of people trying to talk them out of a baby name in the hospital immediately after the baby was born. 

This isn’t ok. 

If you aren’t the parent of the child then you really have no say in the name. Unless of course your culture names children in a different way than my culture. I know that in some cultures the parents of the child do not name the child but the name is given in another manner. I guess what I should say is,  if it wasn’t your responsibility to name the child then you don’t get to make any comments on the child’s name. It isn’t your right. You could comment on the name in a positive manner. When people meet me and tell me I have a beautiful name, I like those kinds of people. When I meet people and they wrinkle their nose and ask if I was named after someone, I am very cautious around them. If they can’t even respect your name, can they be trusted? In my experience, usually, no. 

My Name Story

Now, I am a white woman so I have in no way faced the sort of name shaming that minorities have. That is a privilege I have been granted due to being white. People might have been confused by my name but it was still accepted. I never had to justify my name to someone twice. Ever. I would like to make that abundantly clear. Many people have name stories that are much worse than this. 

I have what some might consider a unique name. My name is Natasha Theodora Rice. My parents chose to name me Natasha because they liked the name. They read it in a baby book and connected with it. The name Theodora is a family name. My Great-Aunt was named Theodora. I believe that the name Natasha Theodora has a beautiful ring to it. I am passionately in love with my name. This hasn’t always been the case. 

Growing up I was frequently asked if I was Russian and if I was a ballerina. It didn’t bother me but it always confused me. When I would tell adults my name they would look at me with a confused expression and ask if my family was Russian. I didn’t get it. Now I do. They were trying to find the justification for my name. Why is this little girl from Wisconsin named this Russian name? When I would tell them I wasn’t Russian they would look even more perplexed. At one point my mom must have told me to tell people that my parents liked the name and that is why they chose it. I remember giving this response over and over. I still give this response today. She explained that people could pick any name that felt right to them. My mom constantly pushed me to advocate for myself as a child especially in regards to my name.

My middle name is Theodora. It is a family name. After I would confuse the adults with my first name they usually asked what my middle name was. Maybe they were hoping for a more “normal” middle name. When I told them, I would again see wrinkled foreheads and then, usually, the adult would say Oh, that must be a family name. I would proudly tell them that I was named after my mom’s Aunt Theodora. They didn’t have a lot of questions about that one but I could tell they also didn’t approve. 

My own family didn’t even pronounce my name correctly and still to this day does not. My uncles have always pronounced the Natasha part of my name like ash-uh when it should be pronounced ah-sha… I’m no pro at writing pronunciation guides but the point is that they pronounce it incorrectly. When I was a kid I heard my mom constantly explaining how my name was pronounced and then hearing them sometimes pronounce it correctly with her, only to tell her their pronunciation was good enough. My mom continues this fight to this day, 29 years after I was born. When I was younger, I remember overhearing her tell them that when they pronounce my name incorrectly they are disrespecting who I am as a person. I have taken this lesson to heart. If people are mispronouncing your name it is disrespectful. Everyone deserves to have their name pronounced correctly. 

As a child, I didn’t like my name at all. I learned from the outside world that my name was not on the acceptable name list. Through the constant reactions of the adults I met and my own family members who wouldn’t pronounce my name correctly, I learned that having a different name is not ok. I dreamed of changing my name. For a while, I never wanted to tell people my middle name and sometimes I even joined in as people made fun of it. As I’ve gotten older I have learned to embrace my name. I love it now and I think that it fits me perfectly. 

The lessons my mom taught me have stuck with me. When friends try to pronounce my name incorrectly as a joke, I explain that I don’t think it is funny. It isn’t that I can’t take a joke- something often said to people who take offense at their names being made fun of. My name has been made into a joke too many times by people who don’t respect me. I don’t need the people who love me also joking about it. Most people understand immediately, apologize and stop. Some people find it funny to keep going. I can honestly say that usually, those people seemed to fade out of my life fairly quickly. This my friends was always a red flag for me. 

Names Are Powerful

At my current school, we teach an American curriculum in English. I am once again in the majority at school- even though I am living in Poland and I am not Polish. People in the majority hold the power. How they use it tells a lot about them. I meet people from all over the world with beautiful names that I have never heard before. I ensure that I say every name correctly. I double check my pronunciation to make that I am saying it correctly and that I am respecting and honoring that person. Unfortunately, not everyone does the same.

In Polish the name Anna is pronounced like THIS.  If you click it will be written Ania which is the nickname for Anna and how most Anna’s ask for their name to be pronounced. A teacher at our school started using the American pronunciation. He was corrected several times but didn’t pronounce it correctly. He can pronounce it correctly and does from time to time- he just chooses not to most of the time. Getting real here, you also can pronounce all names correctly. I was once in a meeting with him and a teacher named Katarzyna. Kasia is sometimes a nickname for Katarzyna but this teacher doesn’t go by the nickname. In the meeting, the teacher called her Kasia, Katarzyna, and Katherine. This person Americanized every name. Piotr was Peter. Ania was Anna. Łukasz was Lucas. He refused to call his students the correct names and Americanized them as well.  

This teacher used his pronunciation of names to exert dominance and control. He knew how to pronounce names correctly but chose not to. He was proud of this behavior. A few other Americans noticed this and slowly more and more teachers began pronouncing names incorrectly- even when they knew the correct pronunciation. Fortunately, he has left our school and I hope to hear fewer teachers doing it this year. I will be correcting teachers who do this and, when necessary, explaining why. Names have been used to oppress people all over the world- it shouldn’t happen in schools. We should know better and we should do better.

What to do Instead

  1. Reflect– This isn’t the easiest place to start but I think this is where you must begin your journey. Think about your participation in this event. I know that I have made fun of student names. Like I said earlier, this doesn’t feel good to admit. But I must admit it in order to move forward with better understanding and more awareness. 
  2. Don’t participate– This school year, don’t do it! Don’t look for different names on your class list. Don’t listen as other teachers do it. Walk away. Do not make fun of student names. 
  3. Advocate for change– Just because I stopped doing the behavior doesn’t mean I’ve done my job. I have to advocate for change and educate others. Just this week I was Facetiming with someone from the US. They asked if I get any weird names over here. I explained that we don’t make fun of children’s names anymore. We know that names are extremely cultural so I have kids with names that come from their own culture. I have names I haven’t heard before but I don’t have any weird names. There are no weird names. The person I was talking to was really receptive. He said he didn’t know and what I said made sense. Not everyone will be receptive but we need to make this change. Kids should attend school and feel respected. This starts with correct name pronunciation.  

A Quick Word on Nicknames

You should not be giving your students nicknames. You need to call them by the name they ask you to use. If her name is Mary Elizabeth and she asks you to use Mary Elizabeth don’t just call her Mary. If his name is Matthew and he wants to be called Matthew don’t call him Matt or Matty. Sometimes people give nicknames to show love or kindness or friendship but unless the child has asked you to use a nickname. You probably shouldn’t. Especially with elementary kids.

If you start using a nickname some students might not feel comfortable to ask you to stop using the nickname due to the teacher/student power dynamic. I would never have asked a teacher to stop calling me by a nickname. Sometimes I didn’t even correct them if they called me Natalie. 

Please leave a note in the comments. Share your name story, questions you have, advice, comments… whatever it is that you want to share with me. I would love to hear from you! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom

Friday Five: Back to School Things You Really Don’t Need

Friday Five: Back to School Things You Really Don’t Need

This summer I’ve been on my teacher Instagram and I found myself starting to feel not cool as a teacher. I saw teachers going to Target and buying out the dollar spot. I saw teachers buying so much stuff for their classroom on Amazon Prime Day. I saw teachers literally spending the entire month of July in their classroom getting it really cute. I was one jealous teacher. Then I started to think about my classroom and my teaching philosophy. I am very minimalist in my classroom. I don’t like too many trinkets type things to clutter up the space. I like to use cool and calming colors as research suggests this is best for children. I like my kids to decorate the space with my through our shared writing so I don’t like an overly decorated room. I also live in Poland so many of these shopping endeavors are simply not available to me. I know that I am a good teacher and I don’t need a bunch of stuff to make me a better teacher. Would it be nice to have twinkle lights in the classroom? Yes. Can I have twinkle lights in the classroom? No. I need to keep doing me. 

If you’re a new teacher or even a returning teacher, please listen up! You need to do what feels right for you in your classroom. You also need to spend responsibly. I always ask the school to purchase the materials I need for teaching. They almost always pull through. Make sure that you’re taking advantage of the resources available to you before you are going broke from spending your own money. It isn’t worth it. 

Here is a list of five things that I do not need or back to school. 


New Coordinating Storage Bins

I saw so many teachers buying new bins for their classrooms. I don’t need new bins. Well…. actually I do, but the school is going to buy them for me. I will get what I get and I will use them to the fullest of their potential. I don’t need to go out and have color coordinating everything. The broken bins are being replaced and I can live with that. Of course I would love it if all of my bins matched and all of the bins I had were the right size for what I need but that isn’t going to happen and that is ok. 

Don’t buy things that the school will buy for you.


Teacher T-Shirts

There are so many adorable t-shirts for teachers with so many adorable sayings. I want them so badly. I have been eyeing one up that says, “Ok students now let’s get information” for over two years. The thing is, we’re not allowed to wear t-shirts at my school. It’s too casual. We do have casual Fridays where we can wear jeans but t-shirts are a no. This past year I wore a NASA t-shirt I got at H&M because my kids were obsessed with NASA. The kids loved it but all day I was waiting to be called out on it. Not worth it. Maybe someday but not today. 

Think about your school when purchasing things. Are these sorts of things ok at your school?


New Books

As an international teacher, I won’t be staying at one school forever. I know that some teachers do but I wanted to teach internationally to explore the world and learn a lot about many other cultures. I don’t want to stay put. In my two years here I’ve already purchased too many books to take with me to my new destination… wherever that may be. I can’t buy any more books. None. 

Talk to your school librarian about getting some new titles you saw over the summer. That way you can use them in your classroom but so many more people can take advantage of the great books you’ve discovered.


Things to Make my Classroom Homier

I had the coziest classroom ever when I taught in the States. I had so many lamps and comfortable seats. It felt like a home. Now my classroom feels like a classroom. I don’t have any lamps, although I do have excellent natural lighting. I don’t have any cozy things that I have purchased myself. It’s ok for a classroom to be like a classroom. Even if everyone else’s classroom is like a home. 

Don’t spend excessive amounts of money buying cute and comfortable furniture and other things.


Makerspace/ STEAM Materials

I see so many teachers doing such cool stuff in makerspaces and with STEAM in the classroom. I will also be incorporating these ideas into my classroom more in the fall but I will be using supplies that the school already owns or supplies that I ordered last spring. We don’t need all the newest and greatest things for good teaching. Is it nice? Yes. Is it necessary? No.

Have you talked yourself out of purchasing anything this summer? Have you purchased something that everyone else bought only to discover that you don’t need it or use it?  Let me know in the comments section below! 

Weekly Wisdom

Weekly Wisdom