Listening Well To Youth Is A Mindset

I read this quote on the Learning Forward website awhile back and it continues to stick in my mind.

Student Voice is something more and more people are talking about now.

What does it look like?

Do you really just let the students decide?

What if they say something that is not nice?

Just like many teachers, I know that I began doing this years ago, we just never gave it a title.  We thought it was just great teaching because you wanted to do whatever you could to engage your students and let them know you care about them.  I guess this is why the quote sticks with me. Asking my students how I can make a lesson better or seeking input for my own growth has always just been my mindset.  The only difference is it increases and stretches with each year that passes.

This past week after a long, exhausting day full of nonstop activities on my feet, I sat down and thought to myself, “I am so completely exhausted! I just want to cry, lay in bed and sleep until the weekend. I just don’t know how I can finish this work I have and get up early.” (It was one of those hard days where you are too tired to even eat dinner!)  Then it hit me.  These kids are in my same boat, except they have so many new things being fired at them academically, new rules, new social circles, and lots of extra-curricular activities.  I want to know how many of them get up before 6:00am for athletics practice.  I want to know if they eat breakfast.  This will give me a glimpse as to why certain behaviors (positive and negative) are showing up.

I battled with how to ask them because I know that a Google survey is what they see most often and I am trying so hard not to use it, but in this instance, with 150 students and info that I wanted to look at by class, it was the most efficient.

Let me tell y’all, what I got back was more than I could have ever imagined and I was blown away at their honesty and feedback to help me guide instruction and management.  It was interesting how completely different each class period was! I could not make this stuff up, friends.

Not only did I ask when they got home from activities at night, when they normally went to sleep, and things like that which effect their academic learning.  I asked them to tell me how they would like to be rewarded, how they want to move forward with this next unit, and where they want to sit so they can learn best. I wanted them to know I understand sometimes we like to work alone. Sometimes we like groups and sometimes we like partners.  I was going to let them do it whatever way they chose because what is important is the learning, not forcing people to work together. It definitely made a bunch of shy, type A students smile! 🙂

Below is a visual of a few things asked.  Without even knowing I gained insight into their Love Language (if you are familiar with that) by the responses I got! Bonus!

What I love from this is that the next day I showed them the visuals and talked through what the class chose.  I said, “The people have spoken.”  I did not show any info that was sensitive so they will continue to trust me when I ask.  They were in awe of the pie charts and data.  We all loved it! (I might be a little nerdy over data!)

As I read through their responses as to how they know I care, they revealed clearly what is important: “You ask us and listen, like this survey. You want to make us own our learning.  You care and want to give us the best so we can learn by asking us to tell you. You ask us how we are doing, and about our day. You check on us to see if we need help. You smile at us. You let us choose our seats and have a snack.”

So yes, there was great data revealed around their learning needs from this survey that was extremely helpful.  However, the sparkling, bright light shined completely on RELATIONSHIPS!!  ASKING them and DOING it!

That is key when you think about Student Voice.  There is not a certain way it must be done because each class needs different options, but there is one rule.  If you ASK them and they take the time to respond, you MUST act on it, one way or another.  Even if that means saying, “You know, I heard your idea, but here is why we cannot do this. Is there another way?”

When we stop to listen to our students, their words speak so loudly and give us such a deeper look into their little lives and what they crave. It almost always gives me a new perspective about my students.  I seek to understand first before I even try to be understood.  For the teens I teach, I could not spend enough time asking their input because it is soo important to them to feel like they matter!  So this survey provided me with so many incredible things to take and put into action for each class period.  It makes my heart overflow when I see them smile because I honor their individuality or hear them say, “She said she would do it and she did.” You cannot pay enough money to hear that being said, because that means you have their trust.  When trust is there, you can move mountains!

I continue to try to push myself to ask for my students’ input, even if what I am asking may have an answer I do not want to hear or it is out of my comfort zone.  I know this is the time when we will all grow the most!

Literacy Feedback – ALL Learners Means ALL Learners

So often as teachers when we learn new information, create something, or have knowledge about a specific content area we think that everyone already knows this and we keep it to ourselves.  I mean, why would we share something everyone already knows? That would seem silly. Do you ever feel like that?  🙂  Well, DON’T!!  

Share those “Obvious To You” ideas!!  You never know when someone you think knows, actually doesn’t.  Or when something you say may resonate with someone in a different way because they were ready to hear it.  That being said, I am going to share (at random) a few really important thoughts from the recent literacy conference I attended.

Literacy teachers spend so much time getting students to read.  Pushing students to read faster and faster to meet that Holy Grail number of words per minute so they can report they are “On Level” that year.  Am I right?  This must stop.  We must turn our attention and efforts to what really matters in literacy instruction.  Building a love of reading, for one.  Second on the list, Comprehension!  Do you not agree that we read things to learn something and understand?  I understand that reading rate does have an effect on comprehension, but how many times do you see a kid that can read pretty fast and not understand a thing they just read? When I was listening to Dr. Jan Hasbrouck preach about this, I wanted to shout, “Amen!” I have asked over and over, “Does it really matter?  As long as they can comprehend what they are reading, does it really matter if they are 10 words short of meeting that little designated number?”  At this particular session she shared something that stuck out to me:
“When using the Oral Reading Fluency norms, there is little evidence that reading faster is better for a reader’s comprehension.  In fact, there is significant evidence that we need to help readers read fluently AT or NEAR the 50th percentile to support comprehension and motivation.”

WOW! So, Average is the Sweet Spot! You can search “Reading Fast or Reading Well Jan Hasbrouck” and read more about this idea.


We all know in order to understand what we are reading we must actually read the words correctly! Did you know what we are looking for in Reasonably Accurate reading accuracy is based on a study that shows comprehension WILL be impaired if reader does not read at this specific accuracy?

The average reader should not read below 95% accuracy independently on unpracticed text.

Emergent readers must not read below 97-98% accuracy!!  Do you know why? Readers who are learning to read should never become frustrated or walk away feeling defeated in anything they are reading.  They need to have a positive mindset about reading for one, but don’t we also want them to practice reading those words correctly!? Here is my biggest takeaway from her session.

Do you find it ironic that I listed Accuracy as second on my list, when it comes First?! Like I mentioned earlier, these are not in order of importance but in order of how my mind is flowing. 

So you might have gathered that Fluent Reading DOES NOT mean faster. Something to remember about fluency is that it really should sound like talking. It should sound like speech – our everyday conversational talking.  There are many other important components to being a fluent reader, but the biggest one I find a need for in many of my students is PROSODY!  

Prosody is the intonation, the expression used, phrasing, and pitch that mirrors spoken language and conveys meaning.   So, wait a minute….you mean, it is not okay for the reader to sound like a “robot” when reading?  😉 Not so much, and let me share a big   A-HA that supports this statement.  It does effect comprehension, and isn’t that what the whole point of reading is?!

This last idea might be my biggest takeaway and is also my biggest soap box and so I am not sure why I saved it for last, but I want to say this and say it LOUDLY!!!

Feedback on a child’s reading is important for ALL READERS!  If we are going to meet the needs of every learner/reader, then we must listen to every reader read.  More importantly, we must give them feedback on their reading. What does this mean exactly?  How do we accomplish this? I know what you are thinking…We have deadlines & expectations to meet with limited time and an overwhelming number of students in classroom.  Not to mention all of the other important needs crying out to be met. Listening to every child read daily/weekly is “ideal” and really is our best intention, but is quickly pushed aside when we run out of time after working with three groups of struggling readers.  If we are able to listen to every single child read every single week, how many times are we giving authentic feedback?  Let me share what I heard restated by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck this week. This is why we must listen to ALL readers read aloud AND give Feedback.  

It improves Fluency, which is critical for Comprehension. 

Sure, we get the 1st bullet. No problem.  That makes sense. The 2nd bullet hits a little harder. – Silent Reading NOT sufficient.  (Let me add the word ENOUGH.) It does not mean stop having children read silently.  It means that we must not only have our average and above average readers read alone or with peer groups without any feedback. Humor me, and let me say this again a little louder.

Why? Because ALL LEARNERS means ALL LEARNERS.  Everyone deserves an opportunity to be heard.  How else will your average and above average readers acquire new vocabulary and skills? What fluent role model are they hearing read to help them learn expression, phrasing, and such?  ALL READERS need to hear fluent reading, new vocabulary words, and practice oral reading.  Maybe my next post should be on how to manage this in the classroom, what it looks like, and how easy it really is to achieve?! 🙂 One last reminder – Literacy is not just reading, but writing as well.  I LOVED that Dr. Hasbrouck said this and shared this amazing quote that I will end with.  Let’s not forget all of the important research on the role our brain plays in learning!

I Won’t Give Up

It is no secret that I am a HUGE advocate for children who need more than the traditional teaching. In the past 5 years, my passion has grown bigger for advocating for the Whole Child, children with ADD/ADHD, children with characteristics of Dyslexia, Whole Brain Teaching, integrating curriculum and teaching those important soft skills for life.  This quote most definitely sums up my mission!

As each year goes by I see more and more need for the Whole Child, Brain-Based background in teaching.  When we stop and think, it really is just great teaching.  Knowing your students.  Knowing their needs.  Knowing how to meet each one where they are and help them be successful by using strategies that work for them.  Knowing that every child learns differently and taking action to differentiate for their needs.  Seems simple, right?

We just cannot forget that these needs include MOVEMENT. (I wrote all about this in another post here.)  I am not just talking about brain break movement, but movement with learning concepts.

Here is something I often see: Children who have struggled for years to learn how to read or write.  Their self esteem is low.  They do not speak up on how they learn best.  Is it because they are afraid?  Maybe they have never been shown how to do this appropriately?  Is it because they have never been given the opportunity?  I don’t know.

Here is what I do know.  THESE are the children who cannot learn to the best of their ability when forced to sit all day without moving, discussing, singing, making those important connections.  Yet sadly, there are still classrooms where this is happening.  It crushes my heart and has me upset as to why it still goes on.

Why, when we know what the research says about this? Why do we continue putting our children through this? Little AND big children!

I write this not to criticize anyone, but because I want SHARE some really great research and resources on these topics.  My hope is that this reaches one person that may have never considered how this all plays into learning and they try one of these strategies!  Our children deserve it!

Have we ever considered that our students are not intentionally tuning us out? They are not intentionally losing focus.  They want to remember what we are teaching them.  They want to do well.  There are just so many other factors that play a part in this Whole Child’s learning experience. What we need to ask ourselves is this:

What are WE doing to help them?

Here is a fantastic Edutopia article on brain research written by a neurologist suggesting educators have a neuroscience class that updates them on current educational research on the brain.  That would be amazing! (In my opinion!)

Here is article from the Integrated Learning Strategies website on Brain-Based Learning Crossing Midline activities that help all children.  It puts the brain research into action!

Here is a great Whole Brain Teaching article on how it is used from Kinder-College with great results.

Here are some of my Pinterest Boards where I house information I find.

Follow Bridget’s board ADD/ADHD on Pinterest.

Follow Bridget’s board Brain Research on Pinterest.

Follow Bridget’s board Dyslexia on Pinterest.

I am teaching Summer Enrichment classes that revolve around brain-based learning and movement, wellness and stress management for kids (think yoga) and dancing!  I will be posting resources I am using when the time is closer.

Advocating for the WHOLE CHILD is my passion! Like the quote above says, there was that moment I realized, I won’t give up!  Our Kids Deserve It!!!!

Differentiated Instruction and The Whole Child

If you know me, you know I am the biggest advocate for Differentiated Instruction.  I am also a huge advocate for The Whole Child.  Recently, The Whole Child Blog posted on DI. It was like educational Christmas for me! 🙂  If you have a chance, it is worth your time to explore this site.

They mention how and why it is important to differentiate, and how it can be done through content, process, product, and learning environment.  I think the ones we are most familiar seeing in classrooms are content and product.  

For example: We are comfortable pre-assessing to determine where a child is and meeting them where they are to challenge them. (Content)  We are comfortable giving choice and allowing students to show their learning in multiple ways. (Product) 

That got me really evaluating, are we this comfortable in the Process in which we are presenting the information?  Are we this comfortable in the area of Learning Environment? I think this is where it gets a little muddy.  When we think about the definition of Process, ASCD defines it:

Process. Process is how the learner comes to make sense of, understand, and “own” the key facts, concepts, generalizations, and skills of the subject.  A teacher can differentiate an activity or process by, for example, providing varied options at differing levels of difficulty or based on differing student interests.

Differing student interests – this one stuck with me.  Unless you are completely new to the world of education or have been in hiding, you have heard about Genius Hour and Passion Projects! You have probably done these in your classroom to some degree.  So many times we think this concept is taught in isolation from our core subjects.  We allow one hour to let our kids create in school.  Imagine if this is the only “hour” they feel in charge of their learning and passionate about what they are learning.   

What if we looked at integrating this concept of Genius Hour/Passion Project into our everyday teaching?   Are you crazy…you might be thinking, but think about it.   If WE are interested in what we are learning, we will do anything!  Right?  Our students will rise to meet the expectations we have for them.  I truly believe that we can collaborate with other creative teachers and find ways to teach the content we are required to cover in a way our students will feel in charge of their learning and passionate about it!  We want them leaving us each day inspired to do more and craving to come back for more!  This will happen when we differentiate around the needs of the whole child.



Differentiating the Learning Environment is one that I never really listed with differentiation, but was always something I considered. So much of this goes hand in hand with knowing your students. Knowing their interests, their goals, and knowing who they are as individuals. When we stop and really consider the whole child, we will see it is very clear what learning environment they need in order to thrive.  And sometimes… just asking the student will give you insight you might never have imagined!  🙂

When I think about my own classroom, sure…I had the varied seating, lighting, and choices to work at the solo desk or group tables.  The students were always allowed to choose where they sat depending on their need for that day.  I didn’t always do this.  I first started it when I asked myself, “What would I want if I was my student?” I would want to have choice.  



Yes, it is hard to give up the control.  We have a list of excuses as why it wouldn’t work for us and it can work for someone else.  I’m not even saying it was the best thing for each class I had each year.  This is where we come full circle to asking ourselves, “What is Best for THIS learner at THIS time?”  

I am writing this to share my huge passion for The Whole Child and Differentiated Instruction, not to say this one way is the best way. I hope that I will always think about The Whole Child and Differentiate the Learning Environment just as much as I do Content, Process, and Product.  

I will leave adding this great list from ASCD of how to differentiate in response to the learner profile.  Do you….

  • Allow students to choose to work alone or with a friend?
  • Balance perspectives and acknowledge the ones less popular?
  • Build a strong class community?
  • Provide opportunities for authentic learning around talents and interests?
  • Focus on teaching Character Education?
  • Present information through kinesthetic, auditory & visual modes?