(Almost) Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Partnerships, I Learned in Kindergarten

By Brianna Friedman Parlitsis (guest blogger)

When kids arrive at kindergarten, teachers are often overwhelmed with the amount the kindergarteners can’t do independently. Everything from using the bathroom to writing their names is an overwhelming task in September. However, one thing that comes so easily for students is talking to the person next to them. So we do that… a lot. When you do something a lot, you get better at it. While there are still so many ways we can learn to improve our partner work (would love to hear what works for you), here are five tips from Kindergarten that can work for upper grade (and middle school!) teachers as well.

1. Predictable Plans

Kindergarten teachers are great at planning. Young children can be unpredictable, so we need to be prepared. Each child has a clearly labeled change of clothes ready to go for when accidents happen. Nobody takes a fire drill more seriously than a Kindergarten teacher. If you had to be stranded on a desert island and can only bring one thing, I would grab the closest Kindergarten teacher’s bag.

When it comes time for partner time, a plan is absolutely necessary. There are predictable topics of conversation.

  • Partners may want to ask them some questions to help you understand a part.
  • Partners may need help understanding a tricky word.
  • Partners may want to share a funny part.
  • Partners may want to act out a part.

Giving students these choices is a way to help them have choice and create a clear plan and helps them stay on track. Using these partnership mats is a great way to help students plan to use their time efficiently. Introduce new choices to add to their ‘to do’ list slowly. You can also differentiate by some students having different choices. For example, perhaps your higher level partners may have some work on their mats about comparing books, while students that need more support with fluency have ‘choral reading’ on their ‘to do’ list.

7e4db84417ef7a45-09bf4cdbcf3467637-1To_Do_Done (1)

writing partners

2. Consistency

Routines are the fiber of kindergarten. Primary teachers have a routine for everything! I have created routines for things that I didn’t even know needed routines. In addition to unpacking routines, bathroom routines, snack routines, routines for when there is glitter in the room, and routines for hand sanitizing after feeding the guinea pig, there are partner routines. Primary teachers have clear routines for

  • Where to meet
  • What to bring
  • When to meet

Establishing these routines also lets kids know that partner time is important time. Making time for students to talk about their books, and talk about their writing is important enough to carve in your daily schedule. It sends a message that this time is valuable.

Partner_Private_Readpartner_spots

3. All Day Long

While clear routines and plans are important, it is also important to not isolate partner time to five minutes after independent reading time. Talking with a partner is done all the time. You can talk to your partner on the rug during minilessons for reading or writing, you can talk to your partner during a read aloud, and you can talk to your partner after independent reading or writing.

You know your partnerships are really rockin’ when kids start to steal moments to chat with their partner. There are moments that we sneak all day long. Whenever I am in a long line (DMV, Trader Joes, Staples the week before school starts) I call my favorite reading partner, my mom, and ask her about the latest book she read. Once you know how to talk to your partner about a book, you find sneaky moments all day long. Perhaps on the next school trip you sit next to your reading partner on the bus to talk, or during indoor recess you bring your book to have a conversation.

4. Love Match

Finding a partner you can sit and talk with isn’t always easy, as those of us who have survived many bad first dates can tell you. There are many factors to consider when helping students form partnerships. You will want to think about reading level, verbal skills, personality, and literacy goals. Don’t be afraid to break up partners that aren’t working; sometimes you need to try on a few partners before you find a great one. Chemistry is important.

Triads are a great solution to a variety of problems such as an odd number of students, students low verbal skills, the student that nobody wants to partner with and more. Children learn language from listening to their peers. When you have a student who is learning English or struggles with language you may want to put this student with two students with high verbal skills who can be great models of speaking and listening. Sometimes that really struggling student can do well when paired with partners that work well together; the working partnership can be a great model and mentor for behaviors.

5. It’s Natural

At its core, partner time simply gives kids an outlet to talk about what they are reading and writing. It is the most natural thing one can do. When I am reading a book and something happens to a character, I always look around the room to see if there is someone I can tell and talk about what just happened. When I finish a book, I call the person who recommended it or someone I know who read it. When I sit down to write, I call people who can help give me ideas and feedback. People are social by nature and to be social about our literacy is a natural extension of that. Teaching kids to turn the person next to them and say “Hey, how is that book?” is so easy that even a Kindergartener can do it.

About the Author

Brianna Friedman-Parlitsis is a primary staff developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She taught first grade at PS 197 in New York City and received her M.Ed. from Teachers College prior to joining TCRWP. Brianna is co-author of Bigger Books Mean Amping Up Reading Power (Heinemann 2015). Brianna has a special interest in data and works with teachers at high needs schools with large populations of struggling students and ELLs. You can follow her on twitter @BriannaFriedman.

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“I Am Not Afraid of Storms, For I Am Learning How to Sail My Ship” – Louisa May Alcott

In Van Buren, Arkansas, one of my favorite places to travel, I was visiting a 7th grade reading classroom with a group of teachers. Unsurprisingly, a girl was reading a Pretty Little Liars book. As this franchise is one of my favorite, can’t-miss TV shows (and a bit of a guilty pleasure, too), I made a joke about it to the teachers. One teacher commented, “You know…I always ask kids, wouldn’t all the characters’ problems be solved if they just told an adult what was going on? Any adult?”

Yes. Yes, they would.

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The Pretty Little Liars follow in the footsteps of almost every teen sleuth, adventurer, would-be vampire, and newly psychic debutante. They are tortured, stalked, and nearly murdered on a regular basis with nary a word to a parent, teacher, or cop. So many times, watching the show, it seems obvious to the point of absurdity that if the girls would just confide in someone, and probably many someones, about what was happening, they wouldn’t have to spend all their free time exploring abandoned warehouses and breaking into poorly-secured insane asylums.

To be fair, they do try, once or twice, asking for help, and it never goes well. I seem to recall a therapist in season 1 or 2 who wanted to help but was soon dispatched by “A”, the girls’ shadowy nemesis, and was never heard from again (or at least for a few seasons).

But the teacher’s comment resonated with me – and not just by reminding me that Pretty Little Liars is not the most realistic television show I spend time with. It also made me think about how this show is an exaggerated manifestation of what is inside a lot of kids’ heads. I remember, as a kid, and especially as a teenager, feeling quite convinced that the struggles I was facing were definitely different from everyone else’s, and so there was just no way a teacher or parent would have experienced the same thing. No. Way. It always seemed more logical to try to solve my own problems, no matter the cost, rather than to ask for help. Now, I wasn’t facing down an endlessly sneaky and inexplicably wealthy murderous foe, but hopefully, neither are our students.

What our students do face, though, can be just as bad – we all know the various “A”s that our kids deal with in their lives, from homelessness to bullying, from dealing with the kid who wants to cheat off their math test to coming out to homophobic parents. I don’t want kids to feel like they have to run to an adult for every little thing – agency is important! – but I also know that having someone in your corner for the tough stuff can make all the difference.

When we think about talk in the classroom, we often are thinking about academic talk. I know I am. But the other kind of talk that matters so much is the life talk that we hope kids will have – asking for help, sharing what’s on their mind, reaching out when the situation demands. I don’t know, but I suspect, that kids who know they can use their partners, their teachers, and their voices to solve the problem of how Kate DiCamillo creates characters may also be able to use those tools to solve the problem of how to stop crying after their parents split up. And if that’s the case, then our teaching has done even more than help kids deploy reading strategies and write with passion – it’s helped show kids a way to live.

“Have you read…?” The Art of Recommending Books

A colleague mentions that he is a huge fan of historical fiction. You immediately scroll through your list of favorites and ask, “Have you read…?”

You attend a workshop where the presenter sprinkles her content with references to texts that have influenced her ideas about the topic. You click on your favorite book-shopping site and begin to fill your cart.

While standing in line, you overhear some strangers talking about a movie and you can’t help yourself, “Did you guys read the book?” you think, or maybe actually ask!

Book recommendations. They are one of the most essential ways that readers talk about reading. So it seems like a no-brainer to teach kids recommend books. However, only recently have I begun to teach recommending books in a clear and explicit way by teaching the categories readers usually touch upon when recommending books. (I am placing an emphasis on teach because there is a difference between providing time for something and teaching how to do something. Or teaching how to do that something in increasingly stronger and smarter ways.)

Some Categories Readers Discuss when Recommending Books

Title and Author—Pretty self-explanatory to mention the title and author in a book recommendation, however, we might also teach kids to add the little details that often push a book from shopping cart to ‘buy now with 1-click’. Little details like other books by the same author or whether the book has been made into a movie.

The Characters—We might pick up a book because the subject or storyline interests us, but we keep turning pages because we care about the characters and what happens to them. I recently finished binge watching the first season of Transparent. While doing the dishes, I found myself wondering when Ali would she stopping blaming her parents and start taking responsibility for her life. While driving, I pondered whether Maura/Mort would begin hormone therapy. Even flossing was not immune to thoughts of characters; when did Len turn out to be such a good guy? My point here is in narrative texts, it’s all about the characters. Let’s teach kids to transfer all the smart character work they’ve done for years to their book recommendations.

The Events—While characters are compelling, many of our classes are filled with plot junkies; kids who turn pages with only one question driving their reading—What. Happens. Next. Choosing what events to share can be tricky. I knew I would ‘buy now with 1-click’ when I heard the amazing readers at the Bookrageous podcast recommend The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. They shared an event that happens very early in the story—an infant is abandoned in a bookstore. (As an adoptee, I am a sucker for a good abandonment story.) I think there’s a bit of an art to choosing which events to share in a book recommendation. Events that leave readers thinking, I want to know what happens, are great. Events that reveal too much or spoil the joy of discovery can leave a potential reader thinking, No need to read that one! Perhaps the best way to work on this is practice.

The Audience—Simply put, audience can be reduced to “If you liked… then you’ll also enjoy…” (which, by the way, is exactly what’s stated my chart). However, I think one of the most powerful parts of book recommendations is that they can add new roads to our reading maps. A quick glance at my kindle reveals lots of one-book stacks, lots of things I’ve tried one of as a reader. For example, my love of fairy tales written for children led me to try When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James, a fairy tale adaptation written for adults. There are no other fairy tales written for adults on my kindle, but I now have a new road on my reading map and who knows, maybe I’ll decide to blaze that trail in the future. Book recommendations can be an invitation to go off-roading in our reading lives. And, the way readers talk about audience can be that invitation.

Rs recommend

Maurice Sykes says that invitations are more compelling than assignments. I couldn’t agree more. Let’s invite our students, our friends, our families to read more and more and even more by teaching, practicing and becoming more expert in the art of recommending books.

Open Conferring Notes (Or: How A Case of Mild Hypochondria Helped My Teaching)

Some relevant backstory: I am a bit of a hypochondriac. I have been banned (by friends and family, not – yet — by the sites’ owners!) from more self-diagnosis websites than I can count. However, I stubbornly maintain an interest in reading about doctors and medicine and horrifying diseases.

Most of the time, this just makes me more anxious than usual. But every now and then, it pays off in some unexpected way. Like when I discovered this article on NPR, about the success of an experiment in which doctors shared their notes with patients. Apparently, patients who participated reported dramatic improvement in their understanding of their health needs as well as their control of and consistent use of treatments for different health conditions.

Immediately (because I am a teacher and because the article didn’t actually feature any horrible flesh-eating diseases for me to worry about) my thoughts went to teaching and to the copious notes I tend to take when conferring with students.

I started to wonder what kids thought I was writing when I sat down with them. Without really intending to, I had used conferring notes almost exclusively as a teacher tool – something we might use to plan, diagnose, write report card comments, and so on. Something professional and private, in the way that a doctor’s notes are, traditionally, about you but not for you.

As it happened, I went to a new doctor around the same time as I read this article, and she took my history with the computer facing me. Before she finished a section she showed me what she wrote and asked if that was right. I left feeling respected and listened to and a partner in my health care – just the way I want my kids to feel about their education.

Walking out of her office, I felt confident in her care and I felt empowered about my next steps as a healthy person – and I also felt pretty confident that my records were accurate. This is a bigger deal than I realized — apparently, mistakes in medical records can be a huge problem. People are sometimes coded as having ailments they don’t really have, which impacts later insurance costs and also, more frighteningly, the treatments they get.

In classrooms, we’re not risking performing surgery on the wrong organ when we get something wrong in our notes. But we are risking missing what really needs to be taught, and even more importantly, when we get it wrong, we’re risking missing an opportunity to connect with a kid.

We’re also, a lot of times, missing out on conference notes altogether. Let’s be honest – we all know we’re supposed to keep conferring records, but many of us aren’t, or aren’t as consistently as we’d like. A lot of times, I think the reason is that we’re not ever using them. They feel like busywork, or work we use to prove to someone else that we’re doing our jobs, which is never an especially motivating reason to write.

But what if we started to think of conference notes not as teacher tools, but as teacher-and-student tools? What if we changed the purpose and intention and power of conferring and conferring notes? What if, in fact, we thought of them not as a tool at all? What if we thought of conference notes as a structure or a routine, like gathering on the rug or keeping a writing notebook, something that creates time and space for something we value?

Here’s what I have been finding. When I share my notes with a kid as I confer with him or her, there’s a different tone to the conference. It feels more like working with the student, and less like interrogating or assessing them. Inviting a student to see what we’re writing makes it clear that we’re not writing our private judgment of their work, but instead that we’re taking them seriously enough to write down the words they say. It makes schooling feel not like something we do to kids, but something that kids actively participate in.

I conferred recently with a 7th grader named Christopher who was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. The teacher and I were initially a little concerned because it was a bit higher than his level, and we weren’t sure if he had the background knowledge needed to handle the book. We went to confer with him and see how he was doing with the first few pages. Here are my notes, which I shared with him as I wrote and afterwards:

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What we found was that Christopher had a much better grasp on the historical context than we realized, and that he had a passionate desire to read this book. We found a few different things that we could teach him, too, and invited him to choose which one he thought might help him the most.

The conference went well. But what really stood out to me was not the academic content of the conference – it was how interested Christopher was to look at my notes, to comment on what I wrote down, and to decide where his work as a reader should go next, and how we could help. Instead of sitting anxiously by a student, wondering when and if inspiration will strike – what is he doing in his reading? What is he good at? What am I supposed to teach this kid? – Christopher’s teacher and I were able to spend our conferring time really listening to what he had to say, engaging with him as a reader, and brainstorming some next moves he might need to make. The stress of figuring out the One Best Teaching Point, or of trying to look like a teacher who knows what she’s doing? Gone.

We all want to be the kind of listener, the kind of teacher, who inspires kids to not just do what we tell them, but to own their learning and push beyond what we have thought to teach. This is a tough job – certainly much harder than just assigning tasks or goals, no matter how well-planned! Open notes conferring could be a path to greater independence, more engagement, and stronger connections between us and our thoughtful, fascinating readers.

Sex, Death, and… Summer Reading

I am a self-proclaimed podcast junkie. My love of podcasts began about 2 years ago. I had just moved to Israel with my then-partner and I was struggling. The best way to explain it is like this: if English is my SuperPower then Hebrew was my Kryptonite. It completely disabled me. I struggled with the most basic of levels of communication. My friend Susy, who grew up in a home where both English and Hebrew were spoken, had a long, delightful, belly-gripping laugh when I told her about walking Floyd in the neighborhood and being asked by a fellow dog owner, “kelev or kalbah?” I stood there dumbstruck. What was this person asking me? I knew ‘kelev’ was dog. Every Jew who attends Hebrew school learns that one. But what the heck was kalbah? For the uninitiated, kelev is the masculine form of dog and, you got it, kalbah is the feminine. In other words, I was speechless at being asked whether my dog was a girl or a boy. Kryptonite.

So podcasts became my friends. Literally. Ira Glass, Guy Raz and Mignon Fogarty talked to me in English twice a week as I rode from the North of Tel Aviv to the heart of the city where I attended ulpan (Hebrew language courses). Now that I’ve returned to the states, podcasts remain my friends. I find listening to podcasts to be one of the best ways to pass time when I am commuting, working out or doing chores.

I love sharing what I’ve learned from my podcast listening with others. But, listen to enough podcasts and they all seem to run together. Which is what makes the May 15, 2015 episode of This American Life so remarkable. I cannot stop thinking about it. Here’s the description from their website:

 557: Birds & Bees

MAY 15, 2015

Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex…

Don’t worry. I am not planning to tackle talking to kids about sex, racism or death in this post. However, I strongly recommend that you listen to the folks at This American Life as they discuss those topics. But I would like to talk about another big and complicated topic: summer reading.

Yeah. Summer reading.

Most of us are well-versed in the research regarding summer reading. Middle-income kids make progress in the summer. Low-income kids slide. About two months. Every summer. Year after year after year. Doesn’t this mean that summer reading isn’t really about summer reading? Doesn’t this mean that summer reading loss is really about access to books? In other words, doesn’t this mean that summer reading loss is really about poverty? And, does that mean that we need to talk to kids about poverty? Because that topic feels big and complicated and I want to be able to talk to kids about poverty in the thoughtful, well-researched ways that Ira and company do. In preparation, I’ve added girls, social class and literacy by Stephanie Jones to my summer reading stack on Katy’s recommendation. (Thanks, partner!)

If you are looking for general ways to sell summer reading to your whole class, I recommend you read @clareandtammy’s recent Nerdy Book Club post.

But, what if you are seeking something more targeted and more specific? What if you want to reach individual students who you suspect will read if they have access to books and choice[1]? Then, I suggest conferring with those readers about their summer reading plans.

Here’s one way a conference about summer reading could go:

Set-up the conference: You could say, “I want to talk to you about summer. As we talk, I am going to take some notes in my notebook. I am setting up my notes into a t-chart. On one side, I’ll jot what I am learning and noticing about you as a reader. On the other side, I’ll jot any ideas or tips that I think might be important to share with you.” (More on open notes in an upcoming post by Katy.)

Research: You might begin your research by saying, “Tell me about your summer. What plans have you made? What else? Anything else?” If a student says that she doesn’t know what her plans are, you can ask about last summer and use that as a predictor of how this summer might go. For example, 6th grader Josh wasn’t sure about his summer plans and said ‘My mom said we might take a trip.’ When I asked about last summer, he shared that he spent part of every day in his room watching TV or playing Xbox and part of his day outside playing sports.

Follow-up: If the student mentions reading then follow up by getting detailed and specific. If the student does not mention reading, ask, “What about reading?” I did this by saying, “You know I’m a teacher, right? So I have to ask about reading. Have you thought about your plans for reading this summer?”

Teach: Then you could explain, “I’ll tell you why I am so interested in summer reading. Let’s take a look at this graph together.” Full disclosure: I used this graph as a visual representation of summer reading loss. I removed the title and did not talk about income. Rather, I talked about progress during the school year and what happens when some kids don’t read in the summer. After studying the graph with a 4th grader named Aidan he said, “It’s like a pattern. Every summer the line goes down a bit. Then every school year it goes back up.”

You’ll want to continue teaching by adding, “Here’s the good news: reading just 4-5 books during the summer is enough to prevent what some people call ‘summer reading loss’. And here’s even better news: It does not matter what you read. In fact, it’s actually better if you choose the books you want to read, rather than the books someone else wants you to read.”

Plan: Next you might ask permission to work together on a summer reading plan by saying, “So let’s get detailed and specific about how you’ll get those 4-5 books read. Ready?” Introduce the planning sheet and support the student as they think through specific titles that want to read. To do this, you might think back to the things the student mentioned during the research phase of the conference. For example, Aidan mentioned that he would be attending baseball camp in the summer and the he liked the “Who Was…?” biography series so we added Who Was Babe Ruth?” to his ‘Books I Plan to Read’ list. Or, you might study the reading log together and recommend read-alike books. “Oh, I see you read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I bet you’d love My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian. (Another shout out to Nerdy Book Club for this post on ten books for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.) Also, it is super helpful to have access to the internet during this conference. I’ve used my kindle, my goodreads account, and the overdrive app while conferring into summer reading plans.

After Aidan and I created his list, I asked, “So how will you get these books?” Without skipping a beat, he said, “At the library.” I asked, also without skipping a beat, “Do you have a library card?” Aidan did not have a library card, but after a bit more conversation he remembered that his grandfather and his friends, E. and S. go to the library so he planned to ask them to take him.

Finally you can map out the when and where parts of the plan on a calendar. Josh set the goal of reading 2 books per month so on the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month he wrote “Due” and the title of the book.

___________________’s Detailed and Specific Summer 2015 Reading Plan

 

  1. WHAT 4-5 books are you planning to read?
Books I Plan to Read
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
  1. HOW will you get these books?
  1. WHEN and WHERE will you read?
July 2015
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31
August 2015
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31 September 1 September 2 September 3 September 4 September 5

So that’s what I’ve been doing lately. Conferring with lots of kids about summer reading and helping them get detailed and specific about how they will read those 4-5 (or more!) books.

All this work reminds me of that starfish story. You might be thinking, “I can’t possibly make detailed and specific summer reading plans for each and every one of my students. I can’t put 4-5 books in each and every reader’s hand. I can’t even organize a field trip to the library!” Here’s what I say. Channel the old man on the beach and make a difference when and where you can.

[1] For the research-curious, I reread No More Summer Reading Loss (Heinemann, 2013) where I came across this goodie: “Guthrie and Humenick evaluated twenty-two studies designed to improve reading outcomes and found just four factors that explained almost all the variance in motivation and reading achievement. The two largest contributions to reading achievement were access to interesting books and student choice of the books that would read.”

In the Fishbowl

Okay, raise your hand if you have witnessed partners conferring on writing drafts like this:

Student A: I liked it. It was cool.

Student B: Thanks. I liked yours too.

Teacher: Don’t forget to be specific!

Long pause

Student A: I liked when you said that thing about your dog.

Anyone? Anyone?

You’re not alone.

One way to tackle this is a fishbowl. In a fishbowl, you’ll generally have a kid, or a partnership, or a group in the center of the class, having a conference or book club discussion or some other component of your workshop, while the rest of the class watches, with some sort of purpose in mind.  There are a million and one ways to use this discussion strategy, but if you want to use a fishbowl specifically to highlight what works in discussion, you’ll want to focus the class to listen to the speakers not for their content, but for their process. (Some teachers do this same work with a video of kids discussing, if they feel like their class isn’t quite ready to demo it themselves, or hasn’t practiced that particular skill yet).

Recently I sat in on a fishbowl activity in an 8th grade classroom in the Bronx. Lynn Harrison, the teacher, wanted to set kids up to have more productive partner conferences, and so she asked two girls to model this for the class while their peers watched and listened for phrases and actions that made the conference work.

Meanwhile, I was watching for what made the activity work. Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Prep the kids in advance! It’s okay if it’s a little bit staged – that’s better than it being a complete disaster.
  2. Set up the rest of the class to watch for exactly what you want them to see. For instance, you could ask some, or all, of the kids to watch for what the partners say (jotting down specific phrases that seemed helpful), what the partners do (like eye contact, active listening, and the like), what the partners seem to have done in advance (like thinking of questions or troublesome parts they want help with).
  3. Remember that you’re doing this so that the rest of your class can be independently doing the same level of work later – so don’t participate, or jump in to “save” the discussion. If the kids demonstrate imperfectly, it’s fine! But if you have to heavily intervene in order to make it work, then the rest of the class will expect that level of intervention when it’s their turn to try.
  4. Make sure your fishbowlers speak loudly enough for everyone to hear! You might even teach kids a non-verbal cue to use as observers when they can’t hear the speakers (like Shana describes here)
  5. Debrief afterwards – lightly. Try to collect some of the key phrases or actions that the students notice on a chart, and resist the urge to personally point out every last thing that was done well.

Have you done this in your classroom? How did you make it productive?

Fabio

The other day, an 8th grade boy named Fabio came up to me at the end of class. I had taught a demo lesson in his classroom, about structuring informational writing. And I had prefaced this lesson, as I often do, by telling the kids that we were here to learn from them and I hoped they would let us know what they were thinking when we asked. The class proceeded, and I ended up gathering Fabio and two peers into a group to help them get more writing done.

At the end of class, Fabio came up and said “So…what did you learn from us today?”

LOVE!

So often, my opening spiel about learning from them is more about me reminding teachers of what our purpose is, and reassuring kids that we’re not all here to judge them. I’ve never before had a kid take it seriously enough to find out whether we actually did learn from them.

Fabio, though, remembered what I had said, and cared enough to ask – that was great – but even better, he got me thinking about that crucial question. What am I learning from the kids and teachers I work with every day? Am I listening as much as I’m talking? Am I walking into schools with a learning stance?

What I realized is that sometimes I’m not – sometimes, I’m coming into schools with a plan (good) and I’m too focused or tired or harried to stop and think about the plan (less good). On this particular day, with several lessons and meetings scheduled, it was easy to focus on charging ahead through the day instead of pausing to enjoy the kids and enjoy the process. Fabio got me to stop and wonder. And, of course, this bustle and super-productivity is our everyday life – we’re busy! We’re teachers! But when kids ask us these kinds of contemplative questions, we have to take them seriously. If they bother to ask, we should bother to consider.

Here are three ways I’m thinking I can work on this stance – and I’d love to hear more in the comments!

  • Go into the day with a goal – to learn 2, or 3, or 4 new things in a day.
  • Make time and space for reflection – set aside a space in my notes, and a time before I get caught up in the bustle of commuting home, or cooking dinner, or prepping for tomorrow, to think about what I learned and how I’m growing from the places I go.
  • Ask kids about things I’m curious about – like “What do you wish adults knew about people your age?” or “What do you think the purpose of this class is?” or “When do you need to write in your life?” (or even just “What DOES “on fleek” mean, and is it a real word?”)