Category: Education Topics

The Reading Teacher – Is Choice Enough?

Recently I asked Laura to share some reading teacher wisdom on a question I often hear. When students choose books they want to read, is that enough to ensure they become lifetime readers?

Enjoy Laura’s response.

I view that as the first step in their journey. Choice means the book interests the student. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that students have selected a book they can actually read. Choice is a start—albeit an excellent start. But students need more than choice if they are going to want to read during free time at school and at home.  Transforming students who avoid reading, who fake read, has to do with head and heart!


When a book affects a student’s head and heart, a metamorphosis can occur. The book might change the reader’s thinking about a topic. The story might raise awareness of new feelings about a situation, a character, or person. A book has the power to transform the reader by heightening self-awareness.


During independent reading in an eighth-grade class, I heard a student sob.I looked up from the conference I was having.  Then Kira shouted, “You can’t do that! You just hurt Gilly so much.” Kira was reacting to Courtney, Gilly’s mother, returning to San Francisco and not staying with Gilly. That hit Kira in the gut. Her best friend’s mom had recently left. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t continue the conference. Kira needed me. I had to be there for her. Gently, I told Ben we would finish our conference later, and he could find a comfortable place to read. I bent down next to Kira and asked if she wanted to talk. She nodded and followed me out the door. Tears poured down her cheeks. “I felt so bad for Gilly,” she said. “I know why she never lasts at a foster home. She wants her mom.”


Like Kira, we want readers to feel the story, live life as if they are the character or person and leave the text changed.  So, the big question is, What can teachers do to make reading a transforming experience for students?  To help students experience the emotional and/or intellectual changeover that reading can bring about, teachers need to set aside time for students to read at school. Try reserving 20 to 30 minutes of independent reading time two to three times a week. When students read at school, they come to see how much their teacher values reading, and the habit can eventually become a treasured experience. In addition, include the experiences that follow–I can’t say enough how important each one is.


Put Books at the Center. Read aloud every day from books you love, you enjoy. Your passion for the book will spill over to your students. Cry. Laugh. Express your anger. This shows students the deep feelings books can arouse, and you give them the right to have similar feelings when they read. Encourage students to share books by book talking in class or through an online blog. Show students a book you’re currently reading and tell them why it’s compelling.

Provide time for students to sit back and reflect. Think about the time you closed a book and could hardly breathe. You needed time to relive some parts, to reread some pages, and just think about a character and what happened. This reflection is a key part of bonding students to books and reading. The text lingers, and the desire to keep what has happened in our minds stirs the enjoyment and pleasure readers feel. Reflection supports reading far more than answering ten questions or writing a summary.  

Make reading social. Students, like you and me, don’t want to answer ten questions about a book or write chapter summaries. They want to talk, to share parts that touched their hearts, to tell a classmate why he or she “must read the book.” The benefits of putting book talks online is that students can return to and reread posts that reveal what their classmates are reading. They can pose questions, write comments, and recommend other books about a similar topic, genre, or by a favorite author.  Encourage student-led discussions about books with a partner or small group.

Become a coach and a cheerleader. Coach reluctant readers by showing them how to find books they can read and want to read, who have difficulty decoding, or making meaning by connecting a text to their experiences. But, also make sure you’re their cheerleader, pointing out progress in a conversation, or even better, in a handwritten note that they can reread.

Suggest books to them, but always respect their choices.

Closing Reflection

When choice works in concert with the four elements, there’s a solid chance that the book will affect students’ minds and hearts. The hope is that students will want to revisit these thoughts and feelings and choose a new book.  We teachers need to find ways to help students experience reading as a transformational experience.

Enjoy this great book by Laura: Differentiating Reading Instruction: How to Teach Reading to Meet the Needs of Each Student

Leadership- Linus and Letting Go

Years ago I had a staff member who liked to proclaim to me how late he stayed up each night to grade student journals.  I responded by saying it did not sound productive, and I would find a new way to manage journals.  Now my response was not what he expected, but it did make him wonder whether his use of time was productive or beneficial. Reflection resulted in the teacher considering letting go of something he had held onto for a long time.

Sometimes in education, we do things for no real reason other than we have always done it that way.  Sometimes our thinking alone holds us back. Just like Linus in the Peanuts cartoon, we cling to a blanket. Our freedom to let go of any Linus blankets we hold is critical for us to prepare students for their future and find greatness. It can be hard to let go of something you love or to change how you think.  Letting go of something holding us back is almost always a good decision.

As we think about a new year it is important to remember that out plates are only so large, sometimes we need to let go of things, other times we need to change our thinking.

I am sharing ten reflective questions for you to consider.  For each, add the words, “what if” as you read through.

  1. I reflect on several practices in my school or classroom that may no longer serve a purpose?
  2. I look at my room, change the design, and make it a more interesting space for students/
  3. The way I grade was based on best practice and research?
  4. Every day I make a choice to be positive and encouraging?
  5. I try technology that I have not used before in my building or class?
  6. I start using Twitter to connect to a professional learning network?
  7. Each day I model a growth mindset to my colleagues and students?
  8. When an opportunity comes to join in, I say, “Yes”?
  9. When I encounter negative people I tell them to stop?
  10. I commit to being the educator I always thought I could be?

One of many amazing aspects of education is each year we all have a new start.  This year make a priority to foster growth in students, and expect the same for yourself!

Enjoy our podcast on independent reading!

Dennis Schug: Learning, Leadership, and Lists

Enjoy this great post by our guest author, middle school principal, Dennis Schug!  Dennis shares some wisdom to make us all more effective at what we do!

Ask any educator to share a memory of working with a student, a family, or a colleague, and you’ll likely be inspired. These become learning and leadership milestones, cornerstones to how we define ourselves as educators, and marks of our legacy and the reputation of our profession.

But when was the last time you made time to notice when you evolved as a professional learner?

For me, becoming a Connected Educator has been a personal-professional tipping point. But it wasn’t Twitter, Edcamps, or experimenting with instructional technology that has had the greatest impact. It’s been my renewed approach why I lead, how I learn best, and what I can do to maximize my impact as a school leader.

One such practical meeting place, quite simply, lies in my use of lists.

Who among us, hasn’t (or doesn’t) use lists? To-do lists. Grocery lists. “Honeydew” lists.

Lists have withstood the test of time, in getting us on-track, and keeping us on-track with personal and professional productivity. And lists are precisely where we can keep learning forward.

Here’s how.

“To-Learn” lists

We should all be keeping a list of “professional to-do’s”. You likely have developed this on your own, with your school or district team, and as part of any external professional organizations to which you belong. When you attend a traditional professional development workshop, an Edcamp, or a national conference, you will encounter new ideas, new concepts, and others, willing to share their success, so it becomes your success. Here’s one way to avoid what’s commonly known as “drinking from the fire hose”:

TOMORROW: What is one new practice, tool, or protocol that I will try in my classroom/school/district?
THIS WEEK: What is one learning conversation I will initiate with a professional colleague?
THIS MONTH: What is one resource I will share with someone in a different professional position than the one I hold?
THIS YEAR: What is one project or initiative I will explore, for gradual future implementation with my colleagues?

Use your tool of choice and organize and maintain this list in the way that works best for your learning style. Revisit it and monitor it often. Keep it updated. And invite others to help you stay accountable to what you’ve set out to do.

Twitter lists

As someone who has been using Twitter as a professional learning tool for the last four years, it just isn’t humanly possible to keep up with all the learning, the people, and the resources that are available 24/7/365. To remain productive, purposeful, and focused, consider establishing and using Twitter lists that will support your goals. For example, I keep Twitter lists to curate resources for my weekly Monday Memo for Faculty. I refer often to a list of personal-professional mentors who I can count on for modeling, support, and feedback. And I use lists to keep up with what my friends with whom I collaborate on all things educational leadership. And for fun and in an attempt to be part of something else larger than myself, I maintain a Twitter list of over 2,000 NY Connected Educators. While each of these can be used for professional enrichment, using lists in this way accomplishes something else vitally important in our field and in our schools, they make the world a smaller place. They help us to realize, we’re all more alike than different. And they encourage learning in and across communities.

To-Be-Read lists

This idea of lists is not a new one. In fact, this very idea was re-framed for me at my first Edcamp by one of my leading personal-professional mentors who has since become a dear friend. The session I had attended was about…a book, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. To this day, I continue to recommend this title, since it offers such low-input, high-output strategy work for being more efficient and effective, in work and in life.

As an avid reader of content both in and out of the education field, I keep a running list of books, authors, and series that I refer to often and update regularly. A To-Be-Read list can keep us in touch with what our students are excited to be reading, it can fuel us professionally, and it can allow us to cross-pollinate our ideas, our dialogue, and our perspective. But maybe most importantly, to-be-read lists remind us that in order to be high-impact leaders, we must first commit to being readers and learners.

Ready to evolve? What’s on your professional learning list?

Follow Dennis on Twitter @schug_dennis

We encourage our readers to check out Dennis’s blog!

Laura’s August Letter to Teachers

Dear Teachers,

The weeks leading up to the opening of school are my favorite.  I’d spend hours in my classroom adding new books and magazines to the library. I’d stack readers’ notebooks on shelves and place students’ writing folders in plastic crates. I’d meet new teachers and chat with friends.

Each year, before students arrived, I’d reflect on the past year and challenge myself to make changes that supported students.  During the first two weeks of school, when I spent time getting to know students and establishing workshop routines, I would share my reflections with them. I wanted them to weigh in on these changes, suggest ways to improve them and offer new ideas.

One year I told eighth-grade students that I wanted to set up a quiet place where students could read and work undisturbed; a corner space for collaboration; a table for student-to-student conferences. When I shared my ideas, they liked them, but they suggested something I hadn’t thought of—an idea that showed me the importance of collecting feedback from students. They encouraged me to keep the quiet place, but to be open to changing the setup of the room based on what they were doing.  With their help, I shifted from a static classroom to one that changed based on what students were doing.

As you start the school year, I invite you to consider whether your classroom reflects how students learn. You might think about shifts in room arrangement, the kinds of feedback you offer students, and they, in turn, offer you. In addition, consider inviting students to create guidelines for independent and group work. Shifts are challenging, but with the support of your principal and students, you can initiate changes that positively impact students’ learning.  I encourage you to embrace change and develop a student-centered approach to learning.

Wishing you an exciting and productive school year!