Wishing you had a do-over?

In my last post, I pondered the impact teachers have on students forever and how that might infuse our teaching in the last 6 weeks of school this year.  I floated that idea to teachers in a recent professional learning session. This year, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating some learning around a comprehensive literacy program with newer teachers.

Just like in the classroom where I wrestled with pacing from time to time, being responsive in the moment but being pulled to accomplish a goal, I continue to adapt to the fluid nature of gathering folks together to learn. Last session was no different. My intended lunch slide appeared around 2pm (don’t worry, I DID let them eat lunch prior…).  And just like the classroom, you go home, you reflect, you wonder: what could/would I have done differently? How might I have been more effective in my timing? What aspects needed more attention, more exploration? I appreciate my colleague Niall’s use of the term “breathe” to describe the ebb and flow of a session. Inevitably, I reflect on…the do-over.

Sometimes the do-overs we wish for are professional, sometimes personal.

Ironically, not realizing I’d be wishing for a do-over later that day, I invited teachers at our last session to consider a time recently when they wish they’d had a do-over.  After framing the thinking around the powerful impact each teacher has as the ‘grade placeholder’ forever, they spent a little time writing. Providing time to write in response to some thinking and talking helps exercise the writing muscle and helps us play the empathy card when we ask students to write on the spot. Perhaps more importantly, writing allows us to muck around with the details and emotions as we try to capture and tether a complicated human experience to a flat 2D piece of paper.

While professional learning projects have explicit goals, I readily admit I hold additional objectives that guide my thinking and design. I commit to ensuring that every time I’m with educators, we will read and we will write. I don’t mean reading an article, or writing notes, but that we are introduced to new text to inspire teachers and their students to consume, and new ideas to compel teachers and their students to write. This may seem obvious but you’d be surprised how a whole day focused on, say, assessment can deny us the opportunity to enjoy authentic text for students, and engage in the act of some personal writing. Without intentionally building those pieces in, we avoid developing and expanding our literacy skills. I want teachers in the room to make connections to a text or writing that spurs them to imagine its potential when they land the plane in their classrooms.

BookedTo honour this objective, we explored an excerpt called ‘Do-Over’ from Kwame Alexander’s Booked*. Now this is a novel written in verse, hot off the press, that is taking the young adult world by storm (along with The Crossover).  It’s a coming of age story about a self-proclaimed soccer star whose life is turned upside down when his parents announce a separation and he faces a season-halting injury. And he hates reading! Until a girl and a Grammy award-winning teacher convince him otherwise. Witty, gutsy, raw. You can put this book in any reluctant reader’s hands.  The writer parts the murky waters of daily routine to drill down to moments of self-realization so poignant that at times you feel almost guilty for listening in on the discoveries. You will laugh, you will cry. It’s a terrific example of YA literature that satisfies readers of any age.

For our purposes, I chose the following one-page excerpt:

Certainly we easily connect to the moments before sleep, when we ruminate about the day, imagining a way we might have responded differently to a ‘lousy incident.’ We empathize with the replay of the do-over as it’s a universal experience.  Perhaps we even share the spotlight shining on the bystander, convicting us along with the main character. And so will our students. This book begs to be read aloud and talked about.

After some discussion around our connections to the experience, our comprehension of the text, we wondered how the writing could be used as a mentor text, to notice some writer’s craft techniques that we could borrow. We discussed:

  • Layout: it’s written in verse, so one would anticipate short lines, but where the line breaks impacts how you read, and therefore how you comprehend the text.
  • Punctuation: there are a total of 2 commas and a question mark. Indeed, the lack of punctuation impacts the velocity of your read, picking up speed as you approach the bottom of the page. What might students be writing about that would benefit from no punctuation? Does punctuation manipulate emotion? That page is one long question.
  • Punchline: you don’t actually figure out what the character is replaying in his mind until you get to the last three lines: literally, the ‘punch’ line. You are forced to re-read as you may not have seen that end coming.
  • Simile: chooses the vulture, of course, to conjure up the carrion-eating, swarming gang image that displays his inaction but betrays his similarity to the boys who gave his friend the black eye.

Your analysis of this brief excerpt will uncover additional points that resonate with your students. Booked offers nuggets like these across its pages. Discovering and analysing craft techniques that writers use in what we’re reading, and then practicing those in our own writing galvanizes the connection between reading and writing in our students’ literacy development.

Finding authentic text that opens doors to conversation and writing around experiences that mirror our lives makes reading and writing relevant and meaningful to our students.

When we as teachers give ourselves permission to read and write this way, we are more likely to provide those opportunities for our students. Sarah Chiarappa, a teacher in our session, shared this tweet:


How might you use this excerpt to launch a discussion around do-overs in your class? Do we create space for kids to have those do-over days when they make mistakes?

How do books, like this, not only teach you about others’ lives and stories, but also help you learn something about yourself too?


*After you purchase Booked, visit http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.ca/2016/05/booked.html for fabulous additional ideas to support your reading of this text.



How will your students remember you?

When you see the end of the school year on the horizon, you can’t help but entertain thoughts and reflections on what you’ve learned and taught this year.  Reflection is the focus of conversation as schools plan for next year, educators engage in our last few twitterchats, and we all ruminate before bed. As another chapter comes to a close, I’m reminded that students also look back on the school year and on their teacher…often in years to come.

I’m always amazed at how, as a student, you remember your teachers forever! I bet you can rhyme off almost every teacher you’ve ever had, starting in Kindergarten.The ones you loved, the ones you didn’t. More than likely, you loved your teachers in your early elementary career as they were often your first caregivers after your parents. Like Mrs. Coates…Class pic

(I’m 2nd row, 6th from left. Shy?)

As you scroll through your elementary and secondary grades, perhaps it was a coach who instilled a sense of belonging, or a music teacher who finally celebrated your talent. For example, imagine if Fred Wright hadn’t made such an impact on Bill Gates: Bill Gates TweetThere’s a sense of trust with our teachers that convinces us they have our best interests at heart.  I believe there’s a special kind of place for teachers in our memories.  And being a teacher now makes one realize just how powerful you will be as a memory to your students.  Forever. It’s quite a legacy.  That YOU will hold a special place, you will be THE placeholder for that grade for the rest of their lives. Dawn Fyn: you are the grade 7/8 placeholder; Kristin Methot: you are the grade 3/4 placeholder; Sarah Chiarappa: you are the grade 4 placeholder; Nathan Hall: you are the 7/8 placeholder. Julie Glanville: you are the grade 2 placeholder. Forever.

That’s uplifting. And food for thought as we envision how we’d like to be remembered.

The great thing about teaching is you get another day to make it better. Despite only 6 weeks left to this school year, you still have daily opportunities to invest in how students will remember you. Surely you’ve had those days when you lay in bed and rewind the tape to say to yourself, “If I could do that again,” or, “I could use a do-over.” Maybe it was something you said, the way you said it, or something you didn’t say but should have. Teachers spend an immense amount of time reflecting on their lessons but also their relationships. We are our own worst critics. Luckily, we get a chance to salvage it, to make a difference.

When you consider the time you have left in this school year, in spiteof worrying about the stuff you haven’t covered, focus on the time you still have to make your mark. Guaranteed you’ll be the grade placeholder for the rest of your students’ lives, but what else? What else will they remember about you?