The Hiatus (and if it will continue)

Oh my little blog...

At one point, I devoted so much time and effort into you. And now, you have sat silent for 8 months. Why? What changed?

Well I don't know for sure. But I'm going to "think out loud" in hopes that I come back to you on a regular basis.
Why did I choose to blog to begin with?

At first, it was a record for me to keep track of what I was doing- to look back on what I've done in my career.  It was also a great tool for reflection. I was able to process what I had done, what went well, what I would I do differently. It was very therapeutic actually.

Later, I found a great community of other teacher bloggers- people who understood my passion to create things and I just so happen decided to create mainly for my classroom. Other people, especially in my "real world" would sneer at what I did for my classroom, make negative comments about how much time I devoted to my work, and made me feel bad for the energy I put into my work. These people in "internet world" though got it. They understood. They inspired me. They motivated me. I could share not only for my own record (my blog has come to my rescue when I'm at school and forgot the wording or a chart idea from an activity from the previous year- so it served it's original purpose), but I could share with others and essentially get the positive feedback that was lacking in my real world. Let's face it- it feels good to get positive feedback (or really feedback of any kind that lights a fire under your butt and helps you improve). It feels good to hear from other people who do similar things validate what you've done, suggest things you could add/change, or make you question. I loved that about blogging and sharing what was happening in my small classroom. I loved also when others shared what was happening in their rooms and giving me inspiration or motivation to question and change some of my practices.

So what changed?

One thing I loved about blogging was making things look a certain way. I liked playing around with fonts and colors and design. It was a creative outlet for me. I began to spend a lot of time on this... and I liked spending the time. As I was working on this, I was also still working on creating resources for my own classroom. This interest of design also fell into this type of work too. As I created and shared things for my room based on my needs, people would ask for access to them as well. Which is fine and dandy! Until the requests for things to become editable all the time became common expectations. It takes a lot of extra time to make things editable for others, when you are using fonts and clip art. I'm all for sharing and want things to work well for others too, but the demand and expectations to make things perfect for everyone else started to take its toll on me. One piece of defensive I often used when people scoffed at my excessive work was this: "I do it because I like to do it. When I don't like doing it anymore, I'll stop." I unfortunately reached that point I think and that is one of the reasons I began to share less on the blog.  I used my blog as a way to share and since I was stepping away from creating for others temporarily, I had less content to share (or so I thought).

Which brings me to another possible reason for a lack of blogging: content. When I started to get into blogging, there was already a huge resource of blogs to follow. They had the most amazing content. It didn't always look "pinteresty" but it was great info and ideas, which is what I liked. What I really loved about blogging wasn't always the resources people created, but the ideas and pedagogy. The type of blogging (buy resources, please) started to consume my Bloglovin' feed. As this happened, I found fewer bloggers actually blogging, but rather posting on other social media about resources in their room and then having a blog post about the resource before it sent you to their TpT store. I missed the link-ups that people had, the weekly/monthly series people hosted, and the sharing of ideas. I started to read fewer blogs myself and I distanced myself from blogging since I felt defeated. I missed the "old" blogging. And since people didn't seem as interested in the "old" type of blogging, I didn't feel as inspired to blog myself.

Maybe it is my distance, but it appears that in general, blogs have become a less popular media choice for educators to connect and share with over the last 6 years. Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and professional, actual, websites have replaced the "blog" that I joined at the beginning of my career. That may be what some people are looking for now- heck it must be because that is what people are choosing to devote their time to instead of their blogs- but personally, it's not what I prefer at this point. I miss sitting down and reading about other teachers and their experiences. Again, this could be a warped perception due to my removal and what I chose to look at.  I shut down all things teacher related on social media (with the exception of this blog) as a way to balance the demands of my job and also take care of myself. It was scary at first to delete and say goodbye to all of my posts on Instagram and my FB followers, but I also knew that if I was going to start it back up again, it would be different than what it had become. I don't regret it. Although sometimes I wish I saved some of the photos to reference. Again though, life goes on. I've slowly started to refollow teachers on my personal Instagram, but I'm not sure if I am ready to go back yet. I'm starting here.

Lastly, one other reason that maybe led towards stepping away, was my personal teaching journey. I've had a lot of things in my career that have stayed the same: same school, same classroom, many of the same colleagues, same curriculum. I've had a few changes: new grade level, new administration, new teammates, new students. I had been giving my whole life to teaching because it made me happy. This year, I've found myself just in more pits and valleys than peaks, both in my teaching career and personal life. I feel like the cards are stacked against teachers often. The large class size I have this year (31) is making me realize how amazing it was to have 21, 24, or even 26 students in a class. Looking back at a video I made for one of my classes two years ago, I realized all the fun things we did then as a class that I haven't done this year with this group. I asked myself why.

Class size often came into play. There's so many of them. Transitions take longer. The sheer number of bodies takes up too much room for other things. When I would buy things, it costs quite a bit more. Trying to manage that many kids in activities that are more hands-on has proven to be a challenge. Expectations to teach so many of them and meet them at their individual level and help them have adequate growth is constantly on my shoulders. Our school has beaten the odds and has won awards from the community for our amazing test scores, and that pressure to continue to climb and not stumble has put an immense amount of pressure on me. I know I put a lot of the pressure on myself. But when you see success and know it is possible, it is hard to accept anything less, even though we don't take into account the things that have changed that made that success tangible in the first place. As one of my colleagues said,  "Our students are coming to us with less and we are having to provide them more. They can't change. They often don't have the option to. But we as adults can change."

However, in education, we are often not given what we need to do that. It makes me sad that I've become so cynical about my profession.  I know though, that I am not alone in this feeling. I wonder if things will break while I'm still teaching and true change will come, or if I will let the broken system break me first. All I know is I want to love my job again. And there's been times this year where I haven't. And it's not because of my students or my team. It's because this work is hard and not getting easier.

There have been times when I wanted to return and share something, but I wouldn't. I'd like to share again, if for nothing else, myself. We are in the process of selling our home and moving closer to my husband's schools. Next year my team should all be back (One of my teammates was on maternity leave the whole year and I really miss having her around. Luckily we got along with the long term sub well and my other teammate and I got closer so I can only look forward to next year being back together). I'm in the same grade and this year, we piloted a new math version of our curriculum so I won't need to spend as much time learning the ropes like I did this year. I will have a class size in the 30s again, but now I will know a bit of what to expect after doing it this year. And if the stresses of this year subside, perhaps my husband and I will get to start the family we've been hoping and praying for, for over two years. I'm trying to get my anxiety under control, find a balance with work and life, build better, healthy habits, and find more joy in my work again. So short answer- I don't know where this blog will go next. If it brings me joy, I will do it. If it brings me stress, I won't.


The Evolution of My Reading Workshop Practices: Classroom Library and Seating

This is the third and final post in a series on the evolution of my reading practices. The last two posts focused on the mini-lesson and reading logs. Today's post will focus on the classroom library and book access for students. If you missed the other two, head on over and check them out by clicking the links.

This series is all about taking a trip down memory lane and at times grimacing at some of the choices I made. However, I am a firm believer that when you know better, you do better. So I know that I will probably look back in another 5-6 years and be a better educator than I am today as I write this. Through this reflection, I hope to show other options that you may have to help push yourself into different practices that might change your students' experiences in your classroom, as I've witnessed in my room. 

But first. Take a look at how my classroom library physically has changed over the last 6 years.
I was so proud of this first one.

The book selection grew a decent amount.

Not a whole lot changed this year...

My love for books began to get a bit out of control.

This is the year when a huge shift in WHAT goes into my library occurred

More books than I have room for and more diverse selection than ever
Because it's hard to see what' on the shelves from then to now, here's a more detailed description:

I'm embarrassed to say when I first started, it was very hard for me to let students take books home. In my mind, I spent a lot of money on them and I didn't want them to get ruined or lost. I thought that if I preserved them, more students would get to use them. Now, I know that losing a book is a much better outcome than losing a reader (not sure who said that originally but it really spoke to me). So now, students have a gallon sized zip loc back and can take books home. I used to put a limit, but I don't care as much anymore. And because I've purchased high interest books, students have kept tabs on who is reading the book they want and the pressure to return it for the next reader is on. They love trading off and saying, "You're going to love this book." That wouldn't happen if I didn't let students take books home. 

Another big shift is how I organized my books. Reading levels. Yes. I did that. It was expected and encouraged by not only our school, but by the curriculum we used (and still use- see earlier posts to know what we use). 

It was so restrictive. I think it was in year 3 or 4 where I no longer organized by levels. Books that were in my library had a reading level on them. I didn't take them off mainly because it would take forever. But new books I add to my library don't get a reading level. I'm considering it my student's job to know if a book is within their reach and my job to secretly know and help guide them. 
Each chapter book gets at least 1 label. The label has the genre and who it belongs to (I removed my school name and my name from the labels, but if the book belongs to me I highlight my name. If it belongs to my school, I highlight the school name. That way, if I should ever leave the school, I know which books I'm taking with and which ones I need to leave behind. Some chapter books get another label. These are color coded labels that have a letter on them. These are not reading levels, but rather author last name labels. 

They are from the amazing Molly at Lessons with Laughter.

Now I organized books in a variety of ways. I have bins of picture books. Some chapter books are in genre bins. Especially if it's a series. I put the first book of a series in a genre bin so if a student reads the first book and wants more, they can then look for the author and maybe even find other series or books by that author. I have some super popular series in bins. I have nonfiction separated in categories that reflect the Dewey Decimal system. 

Speaking of nonfiction, that is the area that needs the most work. It should represent 50% of my classroom library and it's more like 25-30%. I changed how I stored and organized them this year so I could see what topics I can expand on.

I put my books into categories based off of the Dewey Decimal system. Some I don't have any, so I don't have bins or spines yet for those categories (space is already limited and I need to find a way to continue to expand, but for now, I needed to organize what I had). I used bins from The Container Store because they are deep and long so many of those big books will actually fit in them. The problem was that I bought the small ones and they don't hold a ton of books. For future purchases, I'll get at least the medium size so that I can fit more books in a specific category. To help them stay organized, each bin has a number on it. I used Molly's labels to put a matching number on the corresponding color (you can see it on the floating shelves how two of the books have a number 9 to suggest they go in the #9 bin if they aren't on the shelf being displayed). This way, my student librarians know which bin to place the books if they are unsure on the category.

These are some other practices I've changed over the years as well.
 *I'm considering a change in book shopping and thinking about allowing students to get books throughout the day. I've included "social transition times" into our day that allow about 5 minutes for us to wrap up one of our content areas and move to the next. They get to talk, hang out, and relax before we jump into the next. I'm also thinking of doing a soft start and letting students decide their morning work that will best get them ready to learn for the day. For some, that may include browsing books in the morning. Although it's always been an option, when I've had morning work, many students didn't get to book shop. I didn't really follow book shopping days either. If a kid came up to me during reading and needed a book, I would let them. So I think it's time to abandon that and try something else. 

Lastly, I started to let students recommend books and displaying them on the floating shelves. I hope to continue that this year and find more space for them to showcase their good reads. 

This got to be really long. So sorry! You realize when you start to put a post together like this all the things you could and want to share. Thanks for checking in to how my reading practices have evolved over the last 5-6 years. Feel free to share your evolution as well and not be ashamed of it. As I said earlier, when we know better, we do better. I still have a lot to learn and will continue on the journey. You are more than welcome to join in with me and share.  


My Growing Readers Binder

With each new year comes new hope for better organization.  Next year, one of my big charges is growing passionate, life long readers. I'm taking some things that has worked the past year and combining it with hopefully a better, more flexible system to keep track of the growth of my students this year. So although I love the beautiful spiral binding that I used last year, it's back to the binder for me.

I got a 1 1/2 inch binder, as I figured that as I gather more info throughout the year, I'll need space.

My binder will have 6 sections this year. I had then in one order, but then changed it after I already taped the tabs down so it looks a little out of whack but it'll do. To make the tabs and dividers, I just used the beautiful artwork of Kate Hadfield. I designed the dividers, printed them (8.5 x 11 borderless), laminated and trimmed off the extra and then 3-hole punched it. Lastly, I made matching tabs, laminated them too, and used double sided tape to attach the tab to the back of the divider. And boom- custom lil' dividers are made! My 6 sections to test drive include: standards, rubrics and progressions, resource index, past plans, exit slips, and student conferences. I'll show a few things that are included in each section, although some are empty because... well... I don't have my new crew yet!

Standards and Rubrics & Progressions

I was going to put these two together, but it got a little big so I split them into two. First, I've got the standards. I just printed them off so I could see the progression from 3rd to 4th to 5th grade and tucked them into this first section. At times, my teammates and I will have discussions about what truly should be expected of our students so having them in a spot that I can pick up and bring to planning is helpful, as I'm still learning how to navigate 4th grade standards.

But what do these standards actually look like? How do I actually team them? Well, that's where the rubrics and progressions come in. We use Teachers College Reading Workshop and they have these great (but very wordy) progressions for narrative and informational text. I printed them out as again, they are great, but I can't really show them to students as they are loaded. So I took the standards and broke them down into mini rubric progressions. I started this work last year and found great success with them. I planned them out ahead of time, but then created them with students either during mini-lesson or in small groups to reference. Here's a peek at what my planning page looks like:

The first row is an "I can" statement. If you've been around the blog for a bit, you'll know I love rubrics and love to use the whole "seed" to "tree" scale. I used the standards to determine what was a seed, (3rd grade expectations what was as seedling (part of 4th grade expectations), what was a tree (4th grade expectations), and what was an apple tree (5th grade expectations). So if I have a particular standard that is causing trouble for my kiddos, I can reference this and plan out a progression chart with them. The 2nd row is more for me. It gives me suggestions on prompts, sentence frames, or graphic organizers to try with students to communicate that level of proficiency. 

Resource Index

In the next section, I have a resource index. It's blank right now, as next steps include going through all my task cards and supports and put them in this index by standard. I do a lot of strategy groups and sometimes, our common text (aka read aloud) isn't the best for the skill we are working on. So I've found task cards to be great mini common texts to practice with before students try in their own books. I'll fill in these tables with all my resources I've acquired so that when I know I need something for a particular focus, I can easily look at my options and find them quickly.

Past Plans

This next section is blank right now. Last year, I finally found a small group planning page that really worked for me. The problem: I couldn't put it in my spiral bound book because I discovered it after the fact. So I kept my current and past planning sheets in a clipboard. This year, I'll be able to add them to this section so that I can go back and see what strategies I've covered with which students. Ideally, I will copy individual student notes on post-its and place them on their conferring tab (you'll see them later), but I'm fully aware that might not happen, so as long as I have a spot to collect my plans to reference later, that'll be an improvement from last year. I'll still keep my current, daily plans in my clipboard, which gives me a good excuse to go buy a cute clipboard. :)

Exit Slips

I need to do better about gathering information on my students over time. So this year, I'm adding a space in my binder just for reading exit slips. I have one page per trimester and can record the skill at the top and use my icons from my progression rubrics to track progress on a skill throughout the trimesters. The lovely Kristin from Ladybug Teacher Files has this amazing resource full of checklists. I just printed off blank ones and will fill them in as the year goes. I've found I'm a bit old school when it comes to keeping track of grades and I like to do it by hand.

Student Conferences

One area I vowed myself I would improve in is having reading conferences with my students. I still remember year one, when my then principal encouraged small groups only as they gave you "more bang for your buck." To be honest, it was hard to argue with her when we were expected to meet with students at least every other day. But this last year, I started doing more conferring and man- do you get a lot of information about your students as readers and it is so much DEEPER than what you could get out of a small group. Don't get me wrong, I'm still doing small group work too next year, but I need to weave in time to do conferences too.
I use student numbers to save time and resources year to year so each of my students has a classroom number. As of now, I have 29 4th graders coming for me next year. But that number will likely rise so I'm prepared. I used these awesome paper clip tab things from Staples and card stock that never gets used due to its colors and made more dividers where I can put student conference sheets behind. I can also add post-it notes about the student from small group on their divider page. I'm envisioning printing off some post-its with some basic information from initial reading conferences and assessments too.
I used a conferring sheet last year that was inspired from Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild) and will use it again this year.

So, there it is. I'm hopeful that this will be a tool I'm constantly utilizing to not only keep track of my students and their progress but also to give me inspiration and guidance to help them grow as readers. How do you keep track of student progress? I'd love to hear it!


After a few requests, I have made this available for you too! Click on the image below to check out what is included!

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