One Little Word: 2016 Edition

I’ve noticed in my writing about 2015 that acceptance has a twin, something that is perhaps as important if not more important. That’s what I’ll be working on this year.

My word for 2016:


I’m excited to work on my patience this year. Some specific targets for myself:

  • I desire to become more patient with my students as they challenge me as a teacher
  • I desire to become more patient with my son as he grows as an infant
  • I desire to become more patient with my wife as we grow in our second year of marriage
  • I desire to become more patient with myself as I take longer than I’d like to improve in various areas
  • I desire to become more patient with the world as it is not always going to be what I’d like it to be.

What’s your word?

One Little Word: 2015 Reflection

Last year, I blogged about doing “One Little Word” for the first time. I chose, for 2015, the word “accept” as my word.

I told myself I needed to do a few things centered around that word:

  • I needed to accept the teacher I am while I strive to become a better teacher
  • I needed to accept the blogger I am while I strive to. . .do whatever I hope to do through blogging
  • I needed to accept my own faults and weaknesses before I can begin to become better in those areas
  • I needed to accept the students my students are while they strive to become better readers, writers, speakers, and mathematicians
  • I needed to accept the things I cannot change

What I really needed to do was also accept that the word “need” is a little strong for these sorts of things. Perhaps “desire” would be more practical.

But, in regards to these “needs” I identified, how did I do?

I needed to accept the teacher I am while I strive to become a better teacher.
I have worked on improving my teaching while allowing myself to acknowledge that I’m a pretty good teacher already.

I needed to accept the blogger I am while I strive to. . .do whatever I hope to do through blogging.
I have not really been as adamant towards my blogging as I would have liked to have been, and I still struggle with accepting that maybe this just isn’t going to be what I would someday like it to be.

I needed to accept my own faults and weaknesses before I can begin to become better in those areas.
I have identified some areas of weakness — writing workshop being one — and worked to improve it. I have not done as well with this in my personal life.

I need to accept the students my students are while they strive to become better readers, writers, speakers, and mathematicians.
I think I have done a really good job this year of meeting my students where they are and helping them work from their currently level. Using more workshop methods has helped this. What I need to work on accepting is not ability levels, but work ethic levels. Some students aren’t going to do the work I ask of them. I need desire to accept that as a truth while working to help them become better workers.

I need to accept the things I cannot change.
This is always going to be the hardest one. I’m not sure how I am with this.


So, that’s 2015. What about 2016? I’ll post about that once the new year is here.


Slice of Life: Six Stars

Slice of Life

Yesterday, I had a student finish the book she had been working on for a few weeks. I asked her how many stars out of 5 she would give the book. Her response, without even stopping to think: “SIX!” I’ll have a talk with her math teacher about quantities, but her excitement was palpable.

Immediately, I thought of Colby Sharp and an idea he had shared with me a couple years ago: his secret six-star book list. This is a list of 10 books that Colby keeps (just for himself). These 10 books would be the 10 best books he’s read (or best reading experiences, or. . .well, whatever he wants; it’s his list). The point is there’s only 10 books on this list. If another book makes the list, then one has to get bumped. I think it’s a pretty cool idea.

I explained the idea to this student, and I asked her, just to be sure: “Would this book be on your list of your top ten books you’ve ever read?” She quickly agreed, adding that she thinks it’s the best book she’s ever read. She went on to swoon about it for about 2 minutes.

The book, in case you’re wondering: Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles. So congratulations, Jo! Something you made has impacted someone’s life forever for the better. That’s gotta be pretty cool.

Currently, the student is on a project to determine the best basket for the book (we have small collections with titles such as “Awesome Heroines,” “Sad Fantasy,” “Revisionist History,” and “Get You Right In the Feels”). She doesn’t think it fits in any of those, so she’s coming up with a collection name that will be suitable to the book.

Maybe we should make a 6-star basket.

A Common Thread

My freshmen read four texts as a whole class (more or less one each quarter). This year, the selections we have read so far (including what we are currently reading) are:

  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

Some things just seem to keep coming up.

In The Odyssey, Penelope is required to stay 100% faithful to Odysseus or give up and remarry, even though he may be dead. Even though he spent 10 years in Calypso’s bed.

In Of Mice and Men, Curley’s nameless wife isn’t allowed to as much as talk to the men. Even while Curley is at a prostitution house.

We’re only in Act I of Romeo & Juliet. Already, we see Rosaline, the nurse and Juliet’s* virginity being addressed and conflated with child-bearing and marriage. Even as Romeo is encouraged to get over his love sickness by sleeping with someone. Anyone will do, really.

I’m proud of my students for having intelligent conversations about this. I’m happy they can find parallels from these books to the double standards they see all around them in their own lives. Them being able to see this and talk about it makes me happy for the future they will help create.

But I’m ready to read a classic novel with my freshmen that doesn’t have a sexist double standard as a recurring part of the book.

Up next: To Kill a Mockingbird. That doesn’t have anything in it that’s a double standard between the genders or races, right?


*This is the only time I don’t use the Oxford comma. It doesn’t happen often, and I’m kind of saddened by the need to omit it here. I do love me some Oxford comma.

Required Reading

Notice that the title of this post is not “On Required Reading,” which would probably talk about the practice of requiring certain books to be read by students taking a particular course. I have thoughts on that, and perhaps I’ll share them here at a later date when I’ve had more time at the high school level to share what I’ve been doing with that.

No, today, I’m here to assign you some required reading. It’s not required for everyone. But if you’re in education, it is. And if you’re not in education but you set educational policy, then you have to read everything I mention here today twice. Thrice. Four times. Until it sinks in, however long that takes.

They’re short reads, but worth me using whatever meager audience I pull here to redirect you to them.

The first is today’s Nerdy Book Club post by Jim Bailey, “Curing the Reading GERM.” This post is from a teacher-turned-principal and what he has done to embrace conferring with students about their reading instead of assigning AR tests to determine if the kids were actually reading. If you are in a school that is over its head with Accelerated Reader, and you know you want to get out but don’t know how, this post is a great starting point. You can find it here.

The second is a post from Donalyn Miller that also went live today. It is called “I’ve Got Research, Yes I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?” I can’t help but read that with the cheerleader-style chant Donalyn intended, and I just picture cheerleaders pumping up crowds to discuss research about best practices to develop literacy. We could use more of that. Her post is the first stop for you if you’re looking to compile some of the research that’s out there in defense of independent reading with conferring. You can find it here.

Some highlights from each of them today:

From Jim’s post:
“We were a team that shared a passion for creating lifelong readers.  We supported each other in building classrooms that valued independent reading and strived to create a community of readers.  We saw that this approach was benefitting our students and wanted to share our learning with other teachers.”
“Anyone can fake it on a book report but it’s hard to fake a reading conference.  If you didn’t read the book, it was obvious during the conference.”
“Read aloud time was sacred in the room.  20 minutes every day, no matter what.  It was a reading utopia, and it was working!  Several students jumped 2 or 3 grade levels on the annual reading assessment.  Students told me they read more this year than all the other years of their life combined.  My 32 students read over 1000 books that year.  It was my best year as a classroom teacher.”

From Donalyn’s post:
“Multiple studies since 1977 have identified what helps children learn to read well and become lifelong readers, but the general public and many educators remain ignorant of this research.”
“Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do.”
“Why must English teachers constantly defend the need for students to practice reading and writing in a class dedicated to reading and writing?”
“You might be saying to yourself, ‘Oh, you can get research to say anything.’ No, you can’t. You cannot find credible research proving that the Sun rotates around the Earth or that bad air causes diseases. You cannot find research proving that test prep improves children’s reading achievement or test performance.”

::drops mic, walks away::

A Short but Good Week

As we wrap up a short week of school (snow days Monday and Tuesday and then a scheduled half day today), I can’t help but think about how glad I am to have been able to have at least this half week with my students.

In these few short days, we have, either as a class or as a school:

  • Began reading Romeo & Juliet and been notably aghast at how early in in Shakespeare makes references to rape and jokes about male genitalia;
  • Read a lot of early American Romanticism poetry and noted how they all seem to be about death, in one way or another (this is really nice for them to see, as we’re gearing up for Poe);
  • Started a book club, and while we don’t know exactly what we’re doing yet, we know it’ll be full of awesomeness. . .and snacks;
  • Worked on a dance that our seniors will be performing for our freshmen and sophomores for an upcoming retreat (and a few teachers may sneak their way in there);
  • Spent a lot of time in the hallways, building relationships outside of the classroom (often as the students and I comment on each other’s tie and sweater choices for Mass day);
  • Discussed, without conclusion, the merit of book awards designated for minority populations (great discussion, and one I am glad to moderate);
  • Opened up our student lounge, a place for our students to relax after school while they wait for practice or rides; and
  • Worked with our students in ways we don’t often get to, as we had a half day designated to specific test-prep situations (which means I got to work with our juniors and freshmen on their math skills, which is not something I normally get the chance to do — it’s nice for us to see each other in this different light).

It’s been quite the week, even with it all jammed into 2 1/2 days. The thing I’ve taken out of each of these things: relationships. I’m constantly building up the relationships I have with the students. We’re bonding over books, over math, over sweater vests — whatever it might be. But it’s helping my classroom and the school (especially with the student lounge) be a place where our students can be comfortable, relaxed, and themselves. I am excited to see what we are able to accomplish second semester, as we move forward with these relationships in place and ever-growing.

Also, our art teacher drew this on my whiteboard today, so we’re definitely ready for our Poe unit now:
Whiteboard Poe