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!

I Chose B…Dig Deep!

As I begin this post, I am hesitant how to approach it.  I am transparent and authentic.  I am honest.  I am real.  My life is pretty much an open book, but writing about this really shows my vulnerability; however, I know other people are going through this or will be and I want to share in hopes of comforting someone else who might need it.

I treasure learning new things.  I crave reflection time and value the growth process.  I love feedback to facilitate my growth.  Then…it actually happened.  (I know what you are thinking…everyone loves change until it means they have to change.  This is not that at all.) Time has passed and I can now write about this without crying. 😉

To sum it up, I wanted something and I didn’t get it.  As a reflective learner and one who loves to grow, I asked for feedback.  I asked a person I have the highest respect for as a person and educator.  This person asked me, “I know you asked for feedback because you are a reflective person and want to grow, but do you really want the feedback?  I was surprised for a minute because I had never been asked this question before, but after reading Thank You for the Feedback I see the value in this.

Of course, I wanted the feedback! I expected it to be something I already pinpointed about myself, but it was not.  To be honest with you, today I cannot even recall much of the conversation because all I heard was the one sentence that I took straight to the heart and personally.  As a matter of fact, I probably blocked all the positive from that conversation and replayed the one sentence in my mind.

My reason: it was feedback over something I viewed as something I had NO control over.  It was just me. There was nothing I could do about it.  Or so I thought.

I cannot tell you the amount of tears I shed over this.  At the time, I can remember saying to my friend many times, “I am not sure why I am so upset over this!” – while I sobbed to her over the phone and in person.  A very wise, professional colleague, and one that I look to for advice often asked about this and I told him I did not get it.  He asked why I was upset and I told him I don’t really know. Then he hit me with the bomb, “You just aren’t used to being told no.”  WHAT?!  I may have gasped out loud right there, given him the stink eye, but then said, “You know what, you are right!”  That was just one reason.

Once I had time to go through some of the grieving stages, I revisited the feedback that I felt was personal and I had no control over. Here is where it got real, friends.  I had two choices:

A.) Have a pity party and disregard the feedback from the person.


B.) Dig deep.  Look inside and figure out how to accept, learn from this, and come out stronger.

I chose B….and it was the BEST (and hardest) personal and professional growth that I have ever gone through.

The events that unfolded after this revealed God’s bigger plan for me.  We always say that things work out like they are supposed to. I know to trust God’s plan, but it is sure way harder to actually do!  Here is what would have never happened had I gotten what I thought was best for me at that moment.

  • I would have never gone for my administration certification. 
  • I would have never met my principal mentor, who turned out to be a precious friend that came at just the right moment in my life. 
  • I would have never realized that teaching middle school is where I need and want to be right now.   
  • I would have never gotten the middle school ELA teaching position at the exact middle school I wanted to be in.
  • I would have never learned what the saying, “Be patient and trust God’s timing.” really feels like. 
  • I would have never realized how amazing it feels to choose to work through a very tough time (that other people do not even realize you are going through) and come out wiser, stronger, and happier.  

I sit here writing this now (a year later) and can say with a huge smile that it was a hard thing to go through, but WOW….I am exactly where I want and need to be. I know this and it just feels right.  🙂

Life is more than good, friends!  It is AMAZING! Trust the timing.

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!

Is It Truly About the Learning?

Sometimes I just need to remember that I am the luckiest girl in the world. Why? I have a non-educator husband that will sit and listen so patiently while I go on and on about my passion to make a difference, passion for the whole child, differentiation, advocating for these children, using technology, and the latest…homework and giving grades! I’m really on a roll this week.  All that time at TCEA has my brain super charged. 🙂

What I realized tonight was that I never give him credit for inspiring me to act on some of these passions.  So, here is your credit Christiaan. (Although, he is not on social media and does not even read my blog, so he will not even see this!) He does this in the way that he does everything, very soft spoken, and matter-of-fact. 
As we were finishing dinner our daughter excused herself and I was telling my husband about the recent intense discussion she and I had about homework. Then, I read a timely tweet about grading that got an out loud AMEN!  Here it is. Thank you John Wink for your honest thoughts. 🙂
This resonated with me because of the conversation my daughter and I had earlier, the same conversation that I seem to have every year with other educators, and the same conversation that I hear other parents talking about.
It’s about the LEARNING, not the grade!  
This gets tricky because where we know this is exactly true, teachers are still required to give grades. What they give these grades on is up to their discretion. I struggle with the thought that we can give 5-10 questions and think this truly is the whole picture.  At the same time, we do not need 5 stories and 58 questions to get the picture either.
I think what has me torn as a parent/educator is the learning part.  If we just mark an answer wrong, slap a number grade on it and send it back, does the child really learn anything?   Not usually. What is the big picture?  What is the point of any classwork?  To LEARN and the go use it!  So if it is to learn, does it make a difference if the child asks the teacher, “I know I can do better.  I know this.  Can I study some more and show you again I can master this?”  Absolutely, in my opinion. If they can, LET THEM! We want them to grow up taking risks, speaking up for themselves, failing, and knowing how to get up to change the situation.  We want them to learn.  That’s our responsibility as educators.
I was so proud of my husband because as I went on about this passion he calmly said, “The learning is the important part, not the grade. It’s just like those referees in Sofie’s basketball games. The good ones teach the kids and explain why they blew the whistle and the ball went to the other team. They are not just calling a foul and not explaining why it was a foul to the child staring up at them unsure as to why the game stopped.” I sat there shocked and said, “YES! That’s it.  It’s about teaching and helping them grow.”  He chuckled and said, “There’s your blog.”  So here I am……
I am just wondering – why is it that as teachers we are required to give number grades and give homework (that many times is not even given a second glance) yet we stress that it is the learning that matters?  If that is truly the case, which we all feel it is, let’s place importance on that and let the kids show they know the content as well as give feedback that helps them understand it if they don’t. Our end goal is not to have kids make 100s and get Commended on a STAAR test (although we would celebrate these achievements!).  Our end goal is to raise learners that are inspired to continue learning beyond our classroom! 

The Importance of Immediate Feedback

Teacher feedback.  Parent feedback.  Student feedback. Feedback– a word we hear so often in education. 

Isn’t that the truth?  Today in my hot yoga class I realized what it feels like to be a student learning new things, and how important immediate, constant feedback truly is.  Ironically, this yoga class happened to be a Barre class because my studio, Sunstone Yoga, asked members if their needs were being met.  They listened to the feedback and took the advice to add more classes along with the regular yoga ones!  Imagine how much more business they are getting. You might say they were innovative in making a great thing they already have even better. 🙂
In this class we were working muscles to exhaustion.  Let me first say that it is very easy to focus so much on one muscle that you forget to squeeze another and it completely changes where you are working.  So, the focus that is required the entire time is hardcore. The instructor guides us through class telling us where we should be feeling it to make sure we are using proper form to get the best results.  They correct our form without hesitation and push us to challenge ourselves all while respecting where we are that day. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?!)
During one of the moves my instructor helped guide me through getting positioned just right. All of a sudden, it struck me that had she not given me feedback AT THAT MOMENT I would never have known twisting my hip in one more degree would make a huge difference in where I felt the burn!  I would have been doing this same move feeling something, but not what was intended. 
I really connected this with our students because in that moment, I felt so grateful for my teacher showing me how to do something with grace and kind words of encouragement.  I love when my yoga instructors give me feedback while the class is in session.  It allows me to make those changes immediately and see progress.  If they never said anything until after class or maybe the next week, there is little chance that I would have been able to make a change to deepen my learning.  I saw this on Pinterest from Edutopia and it reminded me of today.
So true! We must give learners constant, endless feedback.  This is not the same as constant teaching.  Yes, it will secure that memory of the material, but it will also encourage them to think critically and innovate as a result of this.   
Whether you are listening to feedback for professional growth or personal growth, it is important to listen with a heart of a learner knowing that we all can improve.
If you are one that is giving feedback, it is important to remember immediate feedback is necessary.  
The thing is, we need people.  We need people (admin, teachers, parents, and students) we value, respect, and trust to give us feedback. What an amazing gift it can be when we use this to help us grow and become better. 🙂  

My New Journey

I am beginning a new journey in my career.  I am now the Literacy Intervention Teacher at O.C. Taylor Elementary.  After 7 years at Dove, this is a change for me.  I am super excited about this opportunity and what it has done for me.  I have met some of the sweetest people already, and it’s only June 19th.

At our VALOR Summer Visioning Institute I was able to bond with even more people in our district.  The chance to have that time to build relationships is HUGE in the field of teaching.  We need to value each other, trust each other, and work together in order to change the world and what better way that developing relationships!  Building trust and having “your person” (Grey’s Anatomy) to go to and find better ways to engage your students, or a new way to get a concept secured in a child’s brain, or just support when you need to cry is invaluable!

I will soon create a new blog page that focuses on literacy, but until then I only switched my title so I can keep my summer virtual voyage through this blog.  I still have my precious firsties and their work on here because I am taking baby steps.  🙂

I look forward to sharing some of my learning this summer, and I hope you comment about what you are learning.  I am asking you…please feel free to comment on something you read that you have a better, more efficient way of doing or an easier way to go about it.  I welcome feedback!!

Happy Summer Y’all!