Set your reading logs adrift 

I need to admit something. I hate reading logs. I hated them as a student. I hated them as a teacher, and I hate them as a parent. However, I spent years as a student completing reading logs because I was a rule follower. Then, regrettably, I spent years assigning reading logs to my students because I thought that was the only way to ensure they were reading at home. Now, as a parent, I have “logged” more time arguing with my child to fill out his log than the amount of time his teachers have required him to read! As my disdain of this practice continues to grow I really think it is time that we set reading logs adrift.

Reading logs are assigned in good conscience with the best of intentions. Reading is a fundamental part of learning and as diligent educators, we want to make sure that our students are reading both in and out of the classroom. Considering that we can’t monitor students while they are at home, we assign reading logs. This way, the students are held accountable for reading outside of school hours. The issue with this, however, is completing reading logs simply does not cultivate a love of reading. In fact, reading logs can actually have the opposite effect as often times they produce unfavorable feelings about reading. Furthermore, reading logs encourage students (or their parents) to “bend the truth” to avoid consequences as reading logs are frequently punitive in nature.

So, let’s rethink reading outside of school hours.  What is the goal? For me, the ultimate goal is for students to become stronger readers. We know that for students to become better readers they need to read more. So, how can we achieve this goal? Perhaps, the following ideas combined with appropriate in-class instruction and assessment just might do the trick.

  1. Encourage a love of reading through conferencing. EVERY student CAN enjoy reading if both the content and difficulty level are appropriate for them. During conference time use targeted questions to engage with your students. Ask questions that show your genuine interest in what they have chosen to read. Additionally, ask questions that help you garner whether or not your students are comprehending, whether or not they are reading enough, and what they need to grow.  The information you gain during the conference time (in conjunction with information from other formative assessments) will give you a far better idea of what the student needs than a reading log ever could.
  2. Allow for authenticity. Don’t require students read a certain number of pages or minutes each night. Initially, encourage students to read ANYTHING in their free time. Yes, this includes magazines, online blogs, and even The Guinness Book of World Records.  Through conferencing (see #1),  you will gain insight into students’interests and preferred mediums. Then, you can use this information to help direct them to other reading sources (literature, non-fiction books, higher level news sources, etc.) that correlate to their interests.
  3. Eliminate consequences for not reading. Instead of docking points or chastising students for not completing their reading, try rewarding accomplishments instead. Alex Corbitt gamified reading in his classroom. I think this is an incredible idea that pairs nicely with suggestions #1 and #2. In the infographic below you can see how Alex structures this proactive approach and start thinking of ways you might be to adapt this idea to work with your students. 

gamification Alex Corbitt

What else? I would love to hear other ways that you promote independent reading in your classroom. Feel free to comment here or on Twitter. Together we can set our reading logs out to sea.

Want more like this? Last I Checked, Compliance Isn’t a Learning Standard 

The Pendulum Is Not Swinging Back

pendulum with quote

When I first started teaching a veteran teacher told me, “If you stick around long enough, you’ll see everything come and go and come back again. The pendulum is always swinging.” Over the course of my educational career, I have heard this sentiment repeatedly.  Be that as it may, I am confident that the pendulum is not swinging back.

The proverbial pendulum gained popularity in the early twentieth century when one of the greatest educational thinkers, John Dewey, proposed that teaching and learning be based on experience, continuity, and interaction. Unfortunately, Dewey was misunderstood by many. His views were seen as radically progressive. Other educational scholars believed that Dewey was calling for “total freedom” in the classroom and used the pendulum as a way to visualize a monumental swing in the opposite direction of their educational philosophy. However, Dewey did not promote “total freedom”.  In fact, the message Dewey strived to spread was that learning should be pertinent and innovative within a structured system. These criterion would promote the deepest levels of learning.

Dewey’s ideology continues to hold true today.  As educators, it is our obligation to ensure that our students experience learning that is relevant, collaborative, accessible, and suitable for them. Although it may be hard to hear, there are certain instructional strategies, methods of content delivery, and assessment types that have been rendered obsolete and will not be returning.  This “radical shift” in teaching can be a big pill for some teachers to swallow, especially in today’s fast-paced world. For me personally there have been many times that I felt overwhelmed as I have grown as an educator.  How can one possibly keep-up with all of the research, technological advances, and mandates?  This is where an instructional coaching can make a marked difference.  

Instructional coaches are non-evaluative thinking partners for teachers. Instructional coaches do not have all of the answers and learn alongside teachers to stay abreast of research-based best practices. Moreover, instructional coaches can help visualize practices in the classroom via modeling, co-teaching, or video recordings. Instructional coaches can help teachers reflect on and discover unrecognized intricacies of their practices.  Instructional coaches can help make theory a tangible entity.

In all other facets of our lives we don’t exist in isolation. We reach out to others for a variety of reasons: childcare, advice, recommendations, etc.  As a professional educator, reaching out to your instructional coach can be equally beneficial. You have an impartial partner in your journey to best meet the needs of your students.  Together you can determine your goals, put them into practice, and say goodbye to the pendulum.

The Candyland™ Effect


Written from my parent/educator perspective for other parents.

As an educator, I am often intrigued by parents’ opinions of their child’s school experience.  Many times I hear parents’ compliment some innovative projects/classrooms, and this makes me exceedingly happy. Contrarily, I also see praises of age-old practices that have little relevance in today’s classroom.  I have done quite a bit of thinking about why parents enjoy these passé learning examples and what I have deducted is that many parents are afflicted by “The Candyland™ Effect”: a phenomena (coined by me) in which parents are so filled with nostalgia they forget to look forward.

Why Candyland™?

Candyland™ holds fond memories for children of the 80’s. These children are now the parents of today’s students, including me. As parents we want our children to enjoy many of the same experiences we had as children. Now, we play Candyland™ with our children because it is a tradition. This is similar to how we may return to the same vacation spots, celebrate birthdays at the same restaurant, and eat the same items at holiday gatherings.

The Candyland™ effect can also be seen in our educational system. We all went to school. We were all students.  We all have memories of school. For most people (whether they liked school or not) walking into the building where they were educated is nostalgic. It’s like Candyland™. Considering that many of the schools that our children attend appear physically similar to the schools we attended, the Candyland™ Effect comes into play when parents enter their child’s school. Parents feel comforted, and this is a good thing.  Parents should feel content about where their children spend their days.  But, in order to grow we need to step out of our comfort zones.  What I am asking of parents is simple.  Take a step back and recognize the nostalgic feelings you have about school and then ask these questions: In addition to Candyland™ what other games (skills, content, curriculum) should my child play? How should my child play these games? (alone, in a group, on paper, digitally, virtually)?

As parents we want more for our children we had for ourselves.  Having more starts with education.  It starts in our classrooms.  If we want our children to have more we need to prepare them to do more. We need to embrace the advances in technology, communication, and networking.  When we leverage the power of these opportunities our children will excel.  We need to bask in the nostalgia of our own classroom experiences and recognize that our children will have the same nostalgic feelings when they are adults with different content and experiences.  We need to recognize that this is OK. We need to encourage and support innovative and progressive teachers/administrators. We need to allow and encourage these educators to create new experiences for our children.

It is our duty as parents to educate ourselves about what the current research tells us is in the best interest of our students.  Ask questions. Share positive experiences. Remember to keep looking forward while reminiscing about the past.


Differentiation: It Just Makes Sense


It’s no secret that there are two things I love: education and analogies.  Oh, and people and shopping.  Ok… that’s four.  Luckily, for the purpose of this blog these items fit together quite nicely.

This week marks the completion of my first year as a differentiation instructional coach. As I look back, I am amazed by how much I have learned in one year alone.  I often need to take a deep breathe when I start thinking about the fact that I don’t even know how much I don’t know.  However, I do know that I am excited to keep learning and growing as a coach.  I have found blogs of fellow educators to be a source of inspiration and knowledge. I would like to give back to my virtual PLN by sharing some of what I have learned about instructional coaching and differentiation this year.

Prior to being a coach, I taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS.   As a classroom teacher, I always viewed teaching as a form of sales.  My students were my clients and their learning was the product I was selling.  As a teacher, I continually asked myself the question: what do I need to do to make sure that all of my students value the product (learning) and become repeat customers (continue to learn)?

This analogous relationship presented an answer to my question.  Just as a savvy salesperson adapts their approach for different clients, I needed to do the same for my students.  I needed to differentiate. Truth be told, when I started teaching I had never heard the term “differentiate”.  I just knew that to satisfy all of my students I would have to determine the best approach for each of them.  

During my thirteen years in the classroom, I spent many hours reflecting on my practice.  I looked for patterns in learning and patterns in personalities.  I wound up developing a strong understanding of how to create and implement an effective differentiated practice. I was able to see the powerful impact differentiation had on students’ learning, engagement, and disposition.  

As a coach my customer base has shifted from students to educators.  The product I have to offer is providing and supporting meaningful professional learning.  Now I ask myself the question, how do I ensure that my coachees value the product (professional learning) and become repeat customers (reflect, refine, and reach their goals)?

After a very short period of time in my role as a coach, I realized that my approach to collaborating with teachers would not be the same for everyone.  I have colleagues that are veteran teachers, new teachers, part-time teachers, teachers on multiple teams, teachers who teach multiple content areas.  I have colleagues that prefer to communicate in different ways, have different life experiences, and different dreams.  My colleagues have varying proclivities for the topic and delivery model of professional development in which they want to engage.   My goal is that teachers find value in coaching cycles and are satisfied customers.  To accomplish my goal I must, once again, differentiate.

I try to differentiate my approach in a variety of ways.  I look at the impetus for the cycle, input from teachers, and the teacher’s goal.  Furthermore, I try to select the tools (video recording, modeling, co-teaching, checklists, etc.) that will be a good fit with what the teacher is trying to achieve.  I try to be cognizant of teachers’ time, mindset, and approach to teaching and learning.  I work to ensure that the tools are helpful and informative not intimidating or complicated.  I look at the customer, what they want when they need it, and what I have in my “store” that matches items on their shopping list.  

The type of coaching (individual, team, small group) informs the way I differentiate. When planning and facilitating small group PD, I like to use Katie Martin’s The 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning.  I use the features Katie outlines to question my planning. Will the teacher feel safe? How can I model this? Is the learning action-oriented? How am I encouraging inquiry? Will participants find this content purposeful?  Then, I mindfully try to plan sessions that affirmatively answer these questions.  This usually means that the sessions will include a variety of formats and plenty of structured choice.

10 characteristics of professional learning that shifts practice

When I am planning for a coaching cycle with an individual teacher, I again consider many pieces of information.  I have found that the single most significant factor that allows me to differentiate for my coaching partners is the same factor I considered most important when I differentiated for my students:  relationships.  By building strong relationships, I am better able to use questioning to help enrollees goal set and reflect.  I am better able to determine the appropriate tools, methods, and support to help my partners achieve their goals.  

Throughout this post, I chose to use the words “I try”  rather than “I do” because I know that while I always attempt to meet the needs of my colleagues, there is always room for improvement. When success eludes me, I will reflect and try again.  Feedback from administrators, teachers, my family, and my PLN have been instrumental contributors to my growth as a coach.   I welcome your feedback about this post and would also like to hear about your coaching experiences.  You can find me on twitter @lisa_westman or subscribe to my blog, Put Me in, Coach.