Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2016 beginning of the year read alouds

It's hard to believe that we're back to school already. Where did summer go? Some of our colleagues around the country have been back for weeks, others start this week, and still more are yet to come in the next few. It's an exciting and stressful time. I hope you're not like me, suffering from a summer cold, probably brought on by busy days and late nights preparing for the new year.

I have often written a post on read aloud suggestions for back to school, some of my most read posts of all. You can read previous years' posts here, here, and here. This year, for the suggested beginning of the year read alouds, I'm following in the footsteps of this article in the Washington Post and focusing on empathy and kindness. What better way to begin the year, to help build community, than focus on empathy and kindness? Some of my favorites from the Washington Post list include:

A Chair for My Mother, Vera B. Williams (PK-K)
A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip Stead (PK-2)
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña (K-2)
Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett (K-2)
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson (K-3)
The Thing About Luck, by Cynthia Kadohata (grades 4-8)
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio (grades 5-8)
Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper (grades 5-8)

And here are some others:

Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo (grades 4-8)
Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine (grades 5-8)
A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (grades 5-8)
Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary Schmidt (grades 7+)
Every Day, by David Levithan (grades 8+)

These are good to recommend to readers, too, even if you don't select them as read alouds. One of my favorite things in the whole world is recommending books to students. After reading aloud to students.

And now for a little business: The New Teacher Talk blog is no longer being funded, which makes it difficult for me to continue as author. I intend to continue to post occasionally, though there may be fewer posts this year than in previous. Thank you for your continued readership - I'm doing this work for you even though it is no longer being funded. I believe so strongly that even small things can help support new teachers, including this blog.

Monday, June 27, 2016

rejunvenation & reflection

Ahh, summer. We've built relationships, taught lessons, assessed learning. We're "not quite burned out but crispy on the edges." Now is the time to do what you can to rejuvenate and reflect. Teachers are often relieved at the end of the year, but the end of the year is bittersweet too. You and your students have accomplished so much, and it is helpful to take stock in how the year went, and what you'd like to work on next year.

Before you get too far from the end of the school year, spend some time reflecting on the year. Some great advice is included in this article to help teachers reflect on the year. Here are some more reflection questions you could use to prompt thinking. I also love this post by Elena Aguilar about reflection.

While some times it is difficult to carve out time to reflect on the year, especially if it was a difficult one, this reflection time is well-spent. You and your students will thank you next year for making this time for yourself!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

talking about Orlando

My heart is broken over the tragedy that occurred last weekend. I have a hard time talking about this and other tragedies like it that happen all too frequently. But as educators, we are in a unique position to help students understand and process these events. Some of my hardest days of teaching include the day after Columbine. The day after 9/11. The day after Red Lake. But they were some of my most important days too.

Teaching Tolerance has an article written by a high school English teacher about Orlando. Mainly, the need for educators to allow space in the classroom for conversation. The article includes links to resources to help. Included is a "Pulse Orlando Syllabus" which includes books that link to themes related to this tragedy that might be helpful for students to read or for teachers, librarians, and parents to read with children to open conversations.

Many of you are done with school for the year, but consider bookmarking these resources. The syllabus has wider reach than just the tragedy of Orlando and can provide ideas for book recommendations in the future.

Teaching is such hard work. To teach with broken hearts is among our hardest jobs.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Guest blogger: The Power of Remembrance on a Teacher’s Pedagogy

Guest blogger: Jeff Henning-Smith, PhD Student, University of Minnesota Elementary Education

Teachers often want to be remembered.  A bittersweet aspect for many teachers lies in the loss of their class at the end of each school year.  There is no surprise in the loss, and in fact, many teachers, aware of their fleeting time, desire to live on in the memories of their students. What will students remember about their class?  What learning will stay with them? What experiences will they recall year after year, and most importantly perhaps, how will they remember their teacher?  This question represents an important barometer for teachers, but, especially for beginning teachers, it can have a profound impact on their pedagogical development.  How we want to be remembered has the power to alter how we operate in the present and plan for the future. What do teacher statements on how they want to be remembered tell us about how they see teaching as an act of doing and a way of being? Could they be seen as an indicator of their own pedagogical beliefs, or the normed beliefs they feel obligated to espouse?

Teachers are surrounded by discourses regarding what it means to be a teacher at every level of their teacher development.  They are exposed to, explicitly and implicitly taught, and asked to exhibit (and be evaluated on) a wide variety of abilities and dispositions that at times overwhelm, contradict, and possibly re-prioritize the very qualities they are being asked to demonstrate. This pedagogical tension is present in all teachers, but especially in beginning teachers, as they attempt to find and develop their teacher identity. How do we then acknowledge, embrace, and ultimately, better support this pedagogical tension?

When asked how they want to be remembered, teachers often express a desire to be seen as a caring and intelligent person, capable of supporting both their students’ emotional and academic needs.  Based on the responses I got last summer from a group of amazing beginning teachers, it is clear to me that thinking about how they will remembered is a daily act. One teacher told me that she hoped her students would say that “She believed in me and saw my good,” and another said he hoped they would say, “He helped me learn new things and be excited about learning.”  These statements reflected a hope teachers had on how they wanted to be remembered in the future, but they were also statements on what kind of teacher they wanted to be in the present.

I think in the end, teachers want their work to have mattered, to have left a mark. They, like one teacher wrote, “want [their] students to say…that they will miss me.”   

How do you wish to be remembered by your students?

Monday, May 16, 2016

just say no to round robin reading

A literacy practice that I would love to see vanish from classrooms is round robin reading (RRR). Or popcorn reading. Or snake reading. Or popsicle stick reading. Same idea, different names. One does not need to look far to find criticism of this practice and yet I see it perpetuated in classrooms all over the place.

And I get why teachers use it. They think it helps with fluency. They think children enjoy it. They think it helps with classroom management.

BUT, and this is important, there is NO research to support this practice in schools. Research on the impact of round robin reading overwhelmingly shows its negative impact on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension, as well as engagement and motivation. Students terrified of reading struggle through being put on the spot. Reading only a few sentences or paragraphs at a time does not benefit fluency. And because students are only responsible for reading a small portion, their comprehension is limited to that portion, and often they are so worried about reading, they cannot be metacognitive about their reading enough during the reading to even comprehend that part.

To be clear, oral reading practice is essential for building fluency, it is just that RRR is not an effective structure to provide that practice (it undermines fluency instead). Need more resources? See some articles here and here to discuss the issues around RRR.

Ok, so your next question is what to do instead, right? Luckily, there are a number of alternatives to RRR. In fact, there is an entire book written by fluency experts Michael Opitz and Timothy Rasinski, Good-bye Round Robin: 25 Effective Oral Reading Strategies. Opitz and Rasinski provide a chapter on the importance of oral reading and reasons to move away from RRR. The majority of the book, though, is descriptions of practices that support oral reading and language development. Practices described in the book, like choral reading, readers theater, and paired reading, have substantial research to support these practices to develop fluency.

Looking for more ideas? Here are two web resources from Edutopia and Cult of Pedagogy to provide more ideas.

What do you do instead of round robin reading?

Monday, April 25, 2016

emotional resilience

A growing area of interest in teaching and teacher professional development that impacts the work of all teachers, but new teachers in particular, is emotional resilience. Not only cultivating emotional resilience in students, which is influencing schools a lot lately, but also cultivating emotional resilience in teachers.

This spring, I was fortunate enough to attend the New Teacher Center annual conference and attend a session with Elena Aguilar, a teacher, coach, and writer who works with teachers about cultivating compassion and building strong communities of teachers. I went to her talk on emotional resilience. In addition to helping students develop emotional resilience in the face of adversity, we need to be talking (and doing something) about this to support teachers, particularly new teachers. You can read more from Elena Aguilar about emotional resilience here and here.

In this article (read the whole thing – lots of great tips!), Aguilar discusses ways to cultivate emotional resilience. She names three specific ways to develop emotional resilience: building community, knowing yourself, and creating a plan for self-care.

Building community helps teachers feel connected. When teachers know their colleagues, students, parents, and the community, sharing stories and learning about one another, it reduces the isolation teachers can feel. Another way to build community is through professional networks. I’ve written about that here.

Another important act for helping build emotional resilience that Elena Aguilar writes about is knowing yourself. What are your teaching motivations? What makes you happiest as a teacher? How can you build on knowing this about yourself? She recommends reading Daniel Goleman and resources from the Positive Psychology Center.

And finally, find time to care for yourself. I’ve written a number of posts about this. You are a better teacher when you are taking care of yourself.

Monday, March 28, 2016

text-dependent questions: craft and structure

I've been working with a lot of teachers lately that are really gifted at asking text-dependent questions that focus on Key Ideas and Details in the Common Core Standards for ELA in reading. But when it comes to thinking about the Craft and Structure set of standards, they feel less confident about developing those questions. The Craft and Structure standards are as follows:

    • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    • Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
For standard 4, the focus should be on the meanings of words and/or phrases and how those words/phrases impact the meaning and/or tone of the text. So, some of what teachers need to consider, then, is to determine the most powerful academic words / phrases in the text and explore the role of those words and phrases in the key ideas of the text. Examples might include:
  • What is the meaning of the word [ ____ ] in this text?
  • Which word means [ __________ ]?
  • Why did the author use the word [______ ] to describe [ _______ ]?
  • Which sentence helps you understand [ _________ ]?
  • How does the language in this section help set a tone for the text?
  • What types of figurative language is being used?
Standard 5 focuses on the structure of larger portions of text (sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, etc). So, for this standard, questions revolve around analyzing how those structures relate to the entire text. Examples of questions might include:
  • What type of text is this [story, poem, drama, etc.]?
  • What is the purpose of the first paragraph in this text?
  • Which best describes the structure of the fourth paragraph of this text?
  • How do the text features help me understand this text?
  • Which [paragraph/stanza/section/sentence] contributes the most to the development of ideas in this text?
  • How does the organizational structure help readers explain ideas presented in the text?

Standard 6 is designed to help students determine point of view and its impact on the text. Questions that help encourage this thinking include:
  • How do I know when a character is talking?
  • Who is telling the [story, poem, play] and why?
  • How does the point of view impact the [story/poem/play]?
  • Who is the subject of this text?
  • What is the author's point of view?
  • What techniques does the author use to develop/distinguish between the different characters'/ narrators' points of view?
These are just a sample to get you started. If you're looking for help unpacking the standards to get to the heart of what they mean for you and your students, among my favorite resources are the texts written or co-written by Jim Burke, for Grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8


Blauman, L., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 3-5. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades 6-8. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Taberski, S., & Burke, J. (2013). The common core companion: The standards decoded grades K-2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.