I am a teacher. I love my students fiercely. I do everything in my power to ensure that they are successful, not just on state assessments, but in life.
I am also human. And I get discouraged. And tired. And many days I question how long I can continue in such a mentally demanding and draining profession. This STAAR overloaded time of year is always hard for me. I get hung up on the feeling that no matter how much I help my students, it’s never good enough. There’s never enough I can do. I let myself get overwhelmingly upset about students who I know are growing and learning and doing their best but still can’t pass.
During these times, it’s easy to get lost in the negativity and it can be hard to find the positive. I know that it is so important to focus on and celebrate the positives. My advisory class this morning watched Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk about the happy secret to better work. We discussed what he said about happiness coming before success, not the other way around. If you have a free 15 minutes, I suggest watching it. I watch it at least once a year to remind myself to calm down and look at the good.
I have had a lot of successes recently in my classroom that I need to celebrate (and maybe brag a little), starting with the Outside Reading Project.
Outside Reading Project (ORP)
One huge thing that I hear from just about every educator I know (and not only just the English teachers!) is that students need to read more! My biggest push this year has been getting students to read. In fact, I’ve already written about this back in September. I said then that “I’ll make readers out of these kids if it kills me.” My classroom library, the many opportunities to read, and Book Talks (even if I’ve slacked off on being consistent with them) have all helped to encourage my students to read. But I still had a lot of stragglers that weren’t jumping on my bandwagon. I needed something more.
When I was a student teacher back in Ohio, I concocted a project designed to get students reading outside of class. I had a lot failures in my student teaching experiences, but the Outside Reading Project was one absolute success. I decided to resurrect that idea and breathe new life into it.
Now that my district is using a new universal reading screener that tells us the zone of proximal development Lexile level for each of our students, I’m excited that I can help steer students towards book in their optimal reading level. We all know that the more students read what they can read, the better they get. Having that knowledge has helped me work with our librarian to get the right books into our students hands.
The first step of the ORP was for students, after the second administration of the screener, to choose a novel with a Lexile level in their range. The books in our school library are color-coded by Lexile to make it easy for students to find the right books. Students were also able to choose books from my personal classroom library, the public library, or anywhere they could find books. I showed them how to look up the Lexile level if they didn’t know it.
Now that all of the students have committed to a book – their Outside Reading Book or ORB, the second part of the project is to read it. To me, this is the most important part. I’ve been giving them as much time as I can fit in class for them read. And of course, for some accountability and to make sure they’re paying attention to what they read, they have a reading log to turn in every Monday.
This is where I’ve seen the biggest impact and where I am so excited. Last semester I made small gains with getting students to find books that actually interest them and to actually read. But now that I know every student has a book in their Lexile that they chose, I have seen a huge difference. When I give them time to read, they read.
This is how reading time was for some students last semester:
Instructions: Read silently for ten minutes.
Student: *grabs random book off shelf, opens to middle, stares at ceiling*
Me: “Ahem. Hey, Joe (fake name), I’m going to share with you a pro-tip I learned in all my years of education. I worked for this knowledge, but I’m giving it to you for free, so listen carefully. If you start a book on the first page, it makes a lot more sense!”
Me: “Here, I’ll even give you another one free. I know reading can be hard sometimes, but it’s a lot easier if you look at the words instead of the ceiling.”
Yeah, I can be a little sarcastic sometimes. The kiddos usually would laugh, flip to the first page, and maybe read or maybe just stare at the page.
Now, it’s different.
Now, I give them ten minutes to read and when I look around my room after the obligatory 2 minutes of shuffling and finding their book or their log or borrowing a book because they forgot theirs at home or in gym, I see them reading. I’ve spent a couple of these days just low-key watching them. I see their facial expressions react to what they’re reading. I see pages turning (students who faked reading never seemed think to fake turning the page). And the most beautiful part is when I say that the ten minutes is up and we need to get into the lesson, students complain. “Noooo, miss, it was just getting good!”
Here’s a real thing that happened just last week. A student who has always all year been a good student but a bad fake reader came up to me after class and said:
“Miss. I don’t know what you did to me. I used to never understand what I was reading and I would have to read it over and over again. But with this book, I see what’s happening when I read it! It’s like a movie in my head! Miss, I think you turned me into a reader.”
I was so happy that the kids were going to lunch so I could pull myself together after nearly breaking into tears of joy when she said that to me. I have never felt like a more successful teacher than when that student told me I made her a reader.
I had another student who was beyond delighted to find out that her FOUR books she read last week beat my measly three. This is a girl who all year would only reread “The Fault in Our Stars” and has now read and enjoyed her ORB so much that she’s moved on to three other books in only one week. She was so proud of herself for reading more than her English teacher who sneaks reading in the hallway between classes and reads while walking up and down the aisles of students working (Hey, I gotta model reading, right?).
I like to think I’m also helping them learn a little bit of responsibility before I ship them off to high school next year. The same kiddos who would stash their library books in my classroom so they wouldn’t lose them at home are bringing their ORBs with them everywhere. I’ve had a few panicked students who lost their book, but so far they’ve all been easily relocated in a day or two.
And perhaps the biggest success is that their reading logs each week are showing me that they are actually, finally reading at home.
The final part of the project is coming up soon. One big idea I’ve seen repeated in edtech discussions on Twitter or at conferences is one of students as creators. I wanted this project to be a chance for them to use technology (or not) to create something they can be proud of and want to show off.
I’m a big fan of options, so their project has many. They can choose to create:
- a book trailer
- a letter essay
- an analytical essay (this one is for my preAP kiddos who want to get a head start on the kind of writing they’ll do in their high school AP classses)
- a comic book
- a book review, with a video
- or a movie poster and casting
I also allowed students to propose other ideas to me. One is going to create a website based on her book. Another is going to create a short film (15-20 minutes) adaptation of her book.
I set the due date to after spring break, so they would have the whole week off to work on the projects. The countdown is down to 23 days until it’s due (which means 14 days until spring break starts!). These kiddos have impressed me so much over the past few weeks. I absolutely cannot wait to see their projects.
If you’re interested in teacher-stealing this project, I’m going to put up my handouts over on my Resources page! Happy teaching!