Student Independence from Day One

Student Independence from Day One

The Big Goal

Student Independence

Student independence is key. In fact, my whole goal for my students is to be able to do whatever I teach them on their own. Without me. This independence applies to everything. I want them to connect mathematical ideas on their own. Those decoding skills I teach during conferring, I want them to do it once I walk away. I want them to know what to do when the fire alarm goes off. I want them to know what to do if they make a mistake or need to go to the bathroom. My goal for them is independence. I’m not going to be with them every step of the way. They need to be able to function without me

Independence is a life skill. Employers don’t want employees who ask what to do every single step of the way. That’s obnoxious. They want employees who can complete tasks independently and ask for help when they need it. Independence is a crucial life skill, and we can begin teaching it when kids are young like first grade (and lower). I taught first, but I have also taught second and third, and I have successfully created independent learners in all three grade levels. Some years with more success than others. Here’s how I do it. 

Fostering the Student Independent Spirit

Eventually, students leave our classrooms, and we want the skills they attained within the school to stay with them. To do this, we must create a culture of independence in our classroom and instill independence in each student. Developing student independence is not an easy task, and there are many struggles and bumps along the road. If we persevere as educators, we are creating a better future.  Here are some of the ways I help foster the independent spirit in my elementary classroom.

Let them do it

If students can do it by themselves, they do it by themselves. There is no task that I do for my students if I know they can do it on their own. For example, sometimes tying your shoes is hard, but if you can do it, then you do it. 

Create an Internal Dialogue

Asking questions back to students that they should already know the answer to- in a POLITE way. Not sassing a student when they ask to sharpen a pencil. Place a thought in their head and letting them solve the problem. If I hear, “Ms. Rice, can I sharpen my pencil?” I ask them, “What are the rules? Is now a time for pencil sharpening? How could you solve this problem?” I then see the wheels turning. They have been prompted to think of the classroom procedures and then decide for themselves.

Let’s be real, sometimes the wheels aren’t turning (we all have those days) and then I direct them to the place in the classroom where they can find the answer. 

Don’t Answer Their Every Question

Yes, part of our role as teachers is to answer questions, but we don’t have to answer every single question.  A few years ago, a few kids were gathered around our globe, and they were wondering why earthquakes exist. I could have just answered their questions right there, and then they would know. If I did that, they wouldn’t learn anything other than the information I share. Instead, if I ask questions back to them and lead them in the right direction, they might learn a few transferrable scientific or research skills. So I said, “Wow! That’s an excellent question. What do you think we could do to figure that out?” They were so excited! Kids ran off to see if we had books about earthquakes. Another group wanted to go to the library to search; some wanted to send an email to older kids to see if they knew. Next time they had a question, they knew what they could do to find the answer all on their own.

Connect Them

Let them lead each other. Kids learn best from each other anyway, so why not let them. What a better way to develop student independence? When a kid comes to me and asks about using quotations in stories, I can say, “You know what? Have you asked Tyler? He knows all about it.” Recently I did this with Seesaw. Some kids weren’t putting anything in folders, and some had everything in folders, and one recommended new folders to me when assignments didn’t seem to fit the ones given. I connected the folderless ones with the folder ones for about a month. Now everything is in folders, and I don’t have to worry about it at all. Connect them to each other. 

Consider Your Environment 

Think about how your classroom is set up? Is it student-friendly? Can your students access the supplies that they will need? Can the kids move easily around the room? Are the math manipulatives available? Are books accessible? Paper? Pencils? 

Make your supplies available to the kids. In my classroom, all of our books are available in the classroom library. All of our math manipulatives are in an organizer that kids have access to all of the time. Kid supplies are available and are at a kid-friendly height. 

How Do You Include Student Independence?

Independence is an essential life skill. One that if we work at it right away, students will improve daily and continue to grow even outside of the walls of our classrooms. If students can be independent in our hallways, they can be independent at Target, at the movie theater, or even while walking home from school. Transferable skills should be the main focus of our teaching. If it doesn’t transfer outside of our classrooms, what is the point?

How do you work to foster student independence in your classroom? I would love to hear from you in the comments below! 

Weekly Wisdom

All reading counts as reading. Graphic novels, audiobooks, poetry, wordless picture books, eBooks-all reading. No one kind of reading is better than the other.

9 Guiding Ideas for School Libraries

9 Guiding Ideas for School Libraries

The Role of the Library

At a school using a balanced, comprehensive literacy program the library is the heart of everything. I would like to argue that the library should always be the heart of a school regardless of curriculum. 

These are some truths I believe about school libraries. I would like to say that I am not a trained librarian but a classroom teacher. If you are a school librarian, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. Learning from one another is extremely important.

Readers Should Have Free Choice

The only time in my classroom that students don’t have choice is when I choose guided reading books and a few rare other times when I select texts for students. I often recommend texts to readers but they can always turn down my choices. Not all classrooms offer students choice and power over the books they read. Libraries need to be the safe haven that always allows choice. 

Students should be allowed to explore their own interests. They should be allowed to check out books that are far too difficult and far too easy for them. They need a space where they are allowed to be a reader. No one prevents me from checking out certain books at the library. Students should have the same privilege. 

Just Say No to Levels

I don’t believe that levels are for students and I do not believe levels have a place in libraries. If kids are allowed free choice, their reading abilities shouldn’t limit them. 

When I was in elementary school there was a picture book and chapter book section of our library. We had to check out from the picture book section in grades K, 1, 2 and then were no longer allowed to check books out from there in grades 3, 4, 5. In second grade the top three readers were allowed to check out books from the chapter book section. I was so excited to hear the names announced Allison, Grace, and Daniel. It wasn’t me. My teacher later told me that I was reader number four. I was so upset and I spent the entire year checking out books (because we had to) and returning them without reading them. That year I also spent a lot of time at the public library checking out Boxcar Children and Amber Brown. Don’t limit kids because of their reading level. Let them love books!

Checkout Limits Need To Go

If the goal of school libraries is to create book lovers and readers then why do we limit how many stories a child can take out? Don’t we want more books in the hands of readers? Checkout limits are counterintuitive. Of course, some students will need guidance but I’ve found that even without checkout limits kids figure out how many books is right for them. Teaching kids how to self-regulate is an important skill and book check outs are the perfect place for it. 

EveryDay Is Library Day

My class visits the library once a week for class. During that class our library media specialist reads a story and reinforces a concept we’re teaching in reading or writing. Then students are allowed to browse the library and check out books. But everyday is library day. So if students go home and read all of their books they can always check out books during the first and last half-hour of the day. I have students who visit the library daily and check out what I’m sure is a ridiculously large number of books a year. Every child has the opportunity to visit the library every day. That is what matters when creating readers.

The library also shouldn’t shut down for large periods of time where it is inaccessible to students. Libraries that close the last month of school aren’t helping create more readers. I know that inventory is an important process but kids having access to books is even more important. Think about the policies of your school library. Do they support growing readers or do the polices stand in their way? 

Students Should Be Allowed A Clean Slate

My favorite librarian Barb always had a clean slate club. Each and every school year she welcomed students back into the library and declared that they each had a clean slate. That meant that all of their past library activity was wiped clean. If you had late fees- gone! If you lost a book and never returned it- don’t worry! Every child was guaranteed a clean slate. Clean slate announcements happened throughout the school year as well.

When books were lost and fines weren’t paid Barb didn’t shame children and she didn’t restrict their access to books. She said they were simply building their home libraries. Books are consumable resources. We know that they become well loved and pages fall out or they become lost at home and get added to a home library collection. Not returning books and not being able to pay late fines shouldn’t hinder children. If we don’t allow those kids to check out books we are often limiting our most vulnerable readers. That is against our goal of creating more readers! 

The Library Should Be Filled With Book Lovers

You can tell a successful library and a successful literacy program by the whispers and sometimes shouts you hear at the library. Kids should be talking about their interests. They should share recommendations with other students. They should jump up and down when they see the new texts being added to the library. The feeling in the library should be one of loving books. Do these kids love books? Are they given opportunities to share their reading life with other readers?

Books Should Mirror the Diversity of the World

Kids need windows and mirrors. This isn’t a new concept but it still doesn’t happen in all classrooms. Students need mirrors to see themselves and their own cultures reflected back at them. They also need windows to look out and learn about lives that are different than their own. We grow stronger by reading books that are both mirrors and windows. 

When I taught grade 3 my class wanted to do a classroom library audit. We dumped all of our books out onto the floor and started sorting by type of characters- animals, white people, Black people, First Americans, etc. One of my First American students was so upset to only find one book that represented First Americans in our library and even more upset when she realized it didn’t represent the Ojibwe tribe. Representation matters. She couldn’t read stories about her own culture in our classroom library and no other students could read about her culture. That isn’t ok. Kids need to see representation across the genres as well. I should see myself represented in historical fiction, poetry, realistic fiction, narrative nonfiction, biographies, fantasies, thrillers, mysteries. You name it and I should be able to find a mirror book and several window books. As a white woman I don’t have too hard of a time finding mirrors but finding windows can be tricky. 

Our school consciously purchased more books about Black Americans for our biography unit but then we realized they bought stories about slavery or stories about civil rights. Want to know which biography was the most popular? Gabby Douglas. Kids wanted more biographies of Black Americans of today. By only showing times of struggle the window and mirror view of the Black experience was warped. 

Support Reading in All Forms

Magazines, eBooks, audiobooks, printed books, whatever kind. All books are created equal. Earlier this year I was told I shouldn’t put the book I was reading on my door for literacy week because I was “only listening to it.” Sometimes the only way I get to read is by listening to stories as I walk around the city. Each morning on my way to the taxi I listen to an audiobook. I also read book on my iPad and I have paper books as well. Libraries should celebrate all readers and all types of readers! 

There Should Be No Censorship

We shouldn’t exclude books from our collections just because it might be controversial. In fact we need to include controversial books. We can’t exclude texts about LGBTQ people. Their lives aren’t inappropriate. We can’t exclude texts on police violence. We need an inclusive library without censorship.

When I was in middle school I went through a phase where I only read really depression books about drug addicts, violence, and teen pregnancy. I read Smack and Go Ask Alice, Speak and Cut. These books were deemed inappropriate for me and I didn’t care. I loved reading those book so much. They were the windows I must have needed at that time in my life. My sister had a teacher call home to tell my mom the Gossip Girl books she was reading weren’t appropriate. Thankfully, my mom does not mess around when it comes to reading. She didn’t care what we were reading as long as we were reading. After going through my dark books phase I started reading the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series. Readers go through phases- its ok. Let kids explore and figure out their identity and place in the world through books. 

Changing Our Thinking: Allowing Productive Struggle

Changing Our Thinking: Allowing Productive Struggle

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 allowing productive struggle.  

What is Productive Struggle?

I’m going to tell the simplified story of how I learned to ride a bike. First I had a tricycle when I was young. I learned how to pedal and move it with the handles. I started to grow out of that tricycle and my younger brother could have used it so my parents got me a two-wheel bike with training wheels. Once I got the hang of riding it around with training wheels they made the training wheels uneven so I would tip a little back and forth as I rode. This helped me start to learn balance. One summer both of my cousins who were my age were not using training wheels and I decided that I no longer needed them. My dad took them off and I put on my helmet, determined to master riding a two-wheeler. My dad gave me directions and started running while holding on to the seat of the bike. I begged him not to let go but he did anyway. I moved forward a little and then fell to the ground. My dad came over and calmed me down and told me I needed to do something. I needed to steer or pedal it wouldn’t work if I didn’t do anything. So we tried again. My dad ran and let go of the bike and a steered a little and then fell to the ground. My dad again came over and helped me up. This time he wanted me to pedal. I wasn’t so sure about pedaling. That meant I would keep going and I might even go faster than I wanted to go. We tried again. This time I pedaled and steered and managed to go farther than before when I hit a rut in the ground and fell over. Again and again, my dad patiently helped me up and we tried again. Soon he wasn’t running over to me every time I fell. He was having me bring my bike back to him. Slowly I started to gain more and more independence. Finally, I could steer and pedal and not fall over for long periods of time. I was riding a two-wheeler. My dad allowed me to struggle forward. At no point did he take my bike away from me and do it for me. That wouldn’t have worked out and seems silly to actually think about.

Productive struggle is allowing students time to fail forward just like I had on my bike. Productive struggle is so important and too often as teachers we swoop and save instead of letting students fail forward. 

Why Is Swooping A Problem?

Imagine a classroom where kids are learning about place value. A student builds the number 23 with five tens instead of two tens and five ones. The teacher looks at the child and says, “no remember twenty-three two tens and three ones.” The child then fixes their number and now they understand place value… uh… no. Now they got this one problem right but because they were basically told the answer. 

A child is reading a book and they get stuck on the word like. The teacher says remember this is a silent e so the i says its name. L-i-k, like. The child mumbles along with the teacher and the teacher says, “good you got it!”

A writer is writing a story with no punctuation and the teacher comes over and adds punctuation with a pen to the child’s’ writing. 

The examples can go on and on. So often when children make mistakes teachers fix the mistakes. The problem with doing that is that we are robbing children of learning moments. When I swoop in to solve all the problems a student could encounter how do they become stronger? What did they learn this time that will help them solve the next problem? 

What to do Instead

For a long time, the role of the teacher was to help students fix mistakes. I’m not saying this isn’t the role anymore but the role is more of a facilitator of learning. If all of my students don’t understand a certain skill or strategy it isn’t my job to correct them so they no longer have mistakes. It is my job to help them recognize their mistakes and continue to fail forward unit they understand. 

Let’s go back to the base-10 example. This happens quite frequently in the grade 1 classroom. This child doesn’t yet see 10s and ones. If they start counting by ones then they continue to count by ones. If they start counting by tens they continue to start counting by tens. They don’t yet see the longs and cubes as worth different values. What if, instead of correcting him I asked him a question that would push his thinking forward. What if I asked, “how much is this worth” holding up a long. He could count the individual squares and determine that it is 10. Then I could ask, “so how many do you have here?” He could count by ones or tens and determine that he had 50. After that I could ask, “now what can you do so that you have only 23?” I could then let him go back and try again. Maybe this time he grabs 5 cubes. Maybe he goes back and gets three tens and two ones. Even if he just groups his tens into a group of three and a group of three he has begun to fail forward or productively struggle. If he continues to productively struggle I allow it. Productive struggle is good and it is so important. 

When a struggle becomes frustrating I would come in with some intentional teaching and modeling for the student. Then we could work together to solve a few problems then the student could try on their own. As long as a struggle is productive and the child is getting bit by bit more correct each time they’re wrong I should allow it. I’m allowing students to build understandings and develop a conceptual understanding on their own. 

What I've Learned

It is really easy to swoop and save or to remove all obstacles from a child’s path but it just isn’t helpful to them. I work hard to allow productive struggle in all of my students. I still haven’t mastered it yet but I too continue to productively struggle forward as a teacher. 

Let me know your thoughts and questions regarding productive struggle in the comments below! I would love to hear from you! 

Teacher Talk: Epic!

Teacher Talk: Epic!

Time To Share Another Resource!

I’m all about sharing the resources that I use in my classroom. Today I am talking about one of my favorite apps and a serious life saver… Epic! You might have heard of this one as several teachers I know use it. Epic! is totally free to classroom teachers and is a great resource for all readers. 

Epic! is a website & app that has so many books for every kind of reader. It has audiobooks and read to me books. It has fiction and nonfiction. It has popular series like Fluffy! and it has new series to love! Epic! engages my students in reading. I know that there are studies about the benefits of reading paper books and this by no means replaces my classroom library but compliments it so well.

Before we really dive in this post is in no way affiliated with Epic! I just love this resource and want to share! 

Listen

The number 1 way I use Epic! in my classroom is as the listening center. Each week my students take time to listen to stories. Listening helps them hear a fluent model and lets them enjoy stories that are still a bit too challenging to read on their own. The kids LOVE listening center. They can’t wait to go to listening center. Partially because it is pretty fun to wear headphones but I also suspect it has something to do with the selection of Read to Me texts on Epic! There is a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction books. All the books are of a high quality and the reading on the audiobook is fluent! What more could you ask for?

We also listen to a story during snack each day. Partially because snack is sandwiched into our day when we can’t add any more time to it and partially to grow our love for books. When the story is on the kids are happily eating and not chit chatting. Chit chat during snack would be fun but we only have 10 minutes before we have to be somewhere else so we have a listening snack. I much prefer that to a silent snack. 

Read

The kids can listen to books but they can also select books to read on their own. Again the selection of texts is quite high and very interesting to the students. I’ve used Epic! for several years now and can honestly say that I have never had a student who couldn’t find anything to read on the app. They always find something they love. When kids first log into their account they click on a few things they like and that helps Epic! recommend interesting books to each and every child. 

Watch

There are also lots of videos on Epic! There are videos of different learning concept and then, then there are lego videos! Lego videos are a sure hit in grade 1. Sometimes during snack we watch a Lego video. In case you’ve never watched one of these they break down how to build different Lego stuff… I am not really a Lego expert. It is a great model for a how-to and they are super engaging. 

No Levels... No Quizzes... Just Reading

One thing I absolutely love about Epic! is that it is simply just books. There are no levels and a child is never told, no they can’t read that book. There are quizzes after some of the books but my kids just think they are fun perks. They don’t automatically assume that we read to take quizzes. When there is a quiz they don’t have to take it but often do- a fun little surprise. This app helps to grow the love for books within my classroom. Often I hear students sharing recommendations with one another and our little community of readers keeps growing and growing.