I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Independent Reading During Class Time

Is reading in class a novelty?
Or was it because we went outside?
My head is spinning as to why this spontaneous tweet I made on 9/19 has had so many "likes" and retweets...

Lots of the comments or retweets suggested congratulations, such as "Good for you!" and others sounded as if they've never taken their kids outside during the school day or even thought about it - ever.

Some responses asked about our reflection process. We use lots of plus/delta charts at the start of the year. Many are for the end of the week. What did we do well? = plus, and Where can we improve? = delta. I'll bring up our "delta" answers the next Monday, and we'll choose one on which to focus. If we fill in a plus/delta chart after reading independently outside, I'll bring up the "delta" part before we head out again the next time. Here is a good explanation of it. It's not a new idea, yet it may be new to some. When it was introduced to me, I embraced it wholeheartedly.

Other responses asked about the yard - why it's enclosed, why there aren't trees, etc. Personally, I think the video makes it seem like a prison yard - sterile with high walls (although I've never seen a prison yard up close). It's artificial grass. The area here was our school's vegetable garden before we had a renovation / gym addition the last two years. We have another courtyard (in the middle of the school) that has trees, grass, plants, dirt, rocks, painted artwork from students, benches, and picnic tables. We tried to go there once this year. I have a student who is highly allergic to the outdoors, and she sneezed so much that she asked to read in the library. She doesn't sneeze in the new yard, and the kids love laying on the fake grass. I haven't heard them say anything about it looking like a prison yard. They see it as a way to get some sun, a breeze, and fresh air. And sometimes a moth or cicada find their way in to join us.

This response from Matt Parker was one I wanted to "like" a hundred times. THAT is what I wanted the focus of this post to be. It's the fact that we have developed some amount of trust, respect has been given from me and from my students, and we've made the time to practice and reflect on the journey so we can continue to get better at our reading stamina:

We all (?) have students who aren't yet in love with reading. Getting them outside may or may not help them enjoy reading... It most likely depends on the individual (like so much). I struggle many days we head out because someone is distracted by a cicada or a moth... just the fact that we're on artificial turf seems to be so darn interesting... The reflection is what gets us back on track so we can continue to work on building our reading stamina. 

And then, of course, there had to be a negative reply (I've learned that my ideas shared are not really seen until someone rejects them) from a teacher with public tweets who (when I reached out) wanted to remain anonymous:

Instead of getting into what could become a public argument via 280 characters each, I decided I should write about it, much as others before me have done.

I am not "teaching" in this moment. That, I believe, is correct. And I believe that's okay. (So there's no need to feel "sorry.") One thing educators do in class is model. Another thing we do is confer with students about what they are reading. Sometimes this is done during independent reading; most often for me it's in passing. No matter what I'm doing (modeling or conferring), students should be reading. I'm providing them time to read in class, without distractions. Many of my students are still not reading at home, and it's been proven time and again that reading - frequent, voluminous reading - is the only way to become a better reader. (Much respect goes to Dr. Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research. If you don't have time to read the book, simply search for him and you'll find the research.) This is much like keyboarding, learning how to use a computer program, writing, or playing an instrument... Practice is needed. Reflection afterwards helps us move forward with plans for next time to help us improve.

I'm so glad that a parent of a former student emailed this photo (from Facebook) to me:
Yes, yes, yes. It takes a lot of practice and reflection to build this type of community, and I'm sure we'll be revisiting that reflection piece again - and often.

I'm glad the video of this one class went a bit viral last week. If educators think it's valuable to change the scenery a bit, I'm glad they will consider getting their kids outside more than once if (when!) it doesn't work out the first time. Let's (students and teachers) reflect on what we're doing, all so we can continue to improve.

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