Thinking out of the Box on “Old School” Ways

Standard                              (feel free to listen while you read!)

Dream School Series!

Side note: I am blogging outside of the box! The following are my reflections on a few old school ways. I have no solutions, no scientific research, and no set plans. I only have my reflections and possibilities of my dream school, which evolves daily. You will read lots of “woulds, coulds, and ifs” because I am dreaming as a write. Some of you may have my dream school ideas in place, and if so…please share with me! 


fearsanddreamsThat dreaded phrase, “We have always done it this way” can be very dangerous for educators. When facing a challenge, reacting the way you have always reacted will very likely give you the same results again and again. So why do we continue to keep some traditions in education? Routine? Habit? Lack of funds? Staffing? We could name hundreds of reasons why…but are these REAL reasons, or are they excuses that build roadblocks to our ability to think outside the box? Are they keeping us from dreaming? Are they keeping us from our vision of what is best for kids?

As an educator and lead learner, one of my most important roles is to think beyond what is in front of me. This requires getting out of my comfort zone and into a new area where dreams are birthed. I have a “dream school”, and every day I think of more ways to make that school better. It is impossible to dream inside the box! Kids are counting on US to think BIG, to dream BIG, and to make decisions that will increase their chances of success. This is a responsibility beyond measure, and one that I take very seriously. Parents are sending us their very best, and trusting us to give them every opportunity to learn and be successful. We owe it to kids and their families to jump out of our box and stay out! Are you ready?

Learning Space

The one room school house had some great things going! The teacher of the school was a differentiation specialist, teaching students of various ages. She taught with limited resources, and had to consider developmentally appropriate lessons and assignments for all ages represented. Students sat at desks and faced the front of the room where the teacher stood to deliver her lessons. Let’s consider the irony in this picture…differentiation for every student is often challenged by some teachers because of the amount of planning time required, yet in our world today we have an incredible amount of resources to support instruction that is tailored to student needs. We have classrooms for different grade levels, and the majority of them have “school furniture” such as the traditional desks, chairs, and tables. If we surveyed students, we would likely find that most do not feel comfortable working in a chair pushed up to a table or desk. In my dream school I would have classrooms with varied learning spaces so kids could have a choice of where to learn and work. If beanbags, couches, carpet areas, and different sized chairs and tables were available, it would provide a more comfortable environment for learning and working! It sure is fun to dream!

Sensory Break Room

Each year I see an increase in student behavior tied to hyperactivity and sensory processing. We must hold all students accountable for their behavior and keep expectations high while being sensitive to students who exhibit behaviors beyond their immediate control. Students with sensory processing disorders, sensory integration, and hyperactivity are often labeled as “discipline problems” when in fact they are unable to control many of their behaviors. Providing quick sensory breaks in the classroom can support teachers with classroom management, and most consider this a best practice to use throughout the school day. The fact is that some kids just need more! A sensory break room would provide students with sensory processing issues a balance. Sensory seeking kids would have access to mini-trampolines, mats for push ups and somersaults, and a wall with various textures. Students who tend to get into sensory overload would have access to weighted blankets and vests, calming music, dimmed lights, rocking chairs, and stress balls. Options for sensory diets would be available for kids who need a list of activities. Have I mentioned how fun it is to dream?


Homework is a long time tradition in all levels of school. It is something we have always done (there’s that phrase again!) and expected. Thinking out of the box has allowed me to see that most traditional homework assignments do not fit our kids. What if a child doesn’t have an environment conducive to completing homework? Some homes are rather hectic, and some children do not have homes. How can we expect students in these situations to return homework? Ethically we cannot. In my dream school, we would not assign homework. Instead, we would assign GOALwork (Thank you, Jonathan Kegler for sharing this term with me). GOALwork is…

  •  never graded
  • based on individual student goals
  • has no consequences for lack of completion
  • assigned with intentions of providing timely feedback
  • practice of a previously learned skill
  •  reading for enjoyment
  • short and not time consuming
  • NOT assigned daily, only as needed

GOALwork is a part of my dream school because the focus is not on teaching responsibility or getting grades for the grade book. It does not cause added stress for families or keep children from being KIDS! They need time to play and be involved in extra curricular activities. No student should have hours of homework…EVER. Boy, is it fun to dream!

No box thinking is required in order for us to make the best decisions for kids. Doing what we have always done is simply not acceptable. Yes, there are some “old school” ways that will always be considered best practice, but we need to consider thinking more flexibly with others. My dream school is made up of hundreds of small dreams, three of which I have shared with you here. This is merely a glimpse into the school I envision, where all students are on a level playing field in spite of their ability level, home life, or impairment. I plan to make my dreams a reality! What are your dreams? Let’s all jump out of our comfortable boxes and start thinking BIG! I use my Personal Learning Network to foster my dreams…join me and let’s dream together! Get out of your box, get connected and start dreaming!





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Fostering Motivation and Love for Reading: Looking Beyond Levels


goodmanreadinggroupThat little moment when a child realizes he can read is pure magic. He feels empowered, accomplished, and ready to tackle any book. This realization normally happens when a child is in first grade, or around age 6. Learning to read is a developmental process, and is different for all children. Over the years we have seen the shift in education from exposing all students to a grade level basal type text, to grouping students according to their reading ability level. Small group reading instruction is necessary in order to gently nudge students forward in their reading development, but have we gone too far with the leveling systems? Are we becoming so focused on the number attached to a book that we are missing other factors involved in a child’s reading development? There are implications we must consider when using leveling systems to match books with readers. Keep in mind the thoughts written here are purely my own; the research I have is what I have witnessed through my own experiences as a teacher of third grade students, and as an administrator of kindergarten through fourth grade students. Small group reading instruction must happen daily with our young readers, and we can keep the magic by broadening our lens to view the big picture of reading development. Let us consider more than reading level, and look at the children to guide us in choosing the appropriate text for instruction that will not only support their development, but motivate them to read for enjoyment. After all…isn’t that the ultimate goal? We want our students to become readers, not just in the classroom, but in life. Let’s look at ideas to  support you when matching books to transitional readers. Here we go! Flexible Grouping Small group reading instruction is a nonnegotiable. Kids need this time to be supported by the teacher with the right scaffolds in place. They need discussion time with their peers about their thoughts regarding a text. They need challenges in order for them to practice reading strategies. This can only happen in small groups. We must be cautious when small groups become stagnant, meaning the same students make up each group for long periods of time. Reading groups can become a label for students, which will ultimately destroy motivation and confidence in some children. Groups need to be flexible, changing from time to time depending on the needs of the students and  focus of the teacher. Grouping kids according to ability, genre, interest, targeted skill, fluency, and level of motivation are just a few ways we can form reading groups throughout the school year. Grouping for various reasons will help the teacher foster a love and confidence of reading within all students. We send a message to our transitional readers that they are “stuck” if we keep them in the same groups all semester or all year. Flexible grouping allows kids to see that we have confidence in them to meet our expectations.  It sends an appropriate message to kids about how reading works in life. Bookstores are not organized by numbers. We have the ability to teach kids about proper book selection by allowing them to have voice and choice.  Let’s take a look at three things to consider along with reading levels in order to support our effort in getting kids hooked on reading. Interest One of the most challenging aspects of teaching is that all of our students come from different backgrounds. Each student has schema that varies beyond our understanding–unless we dig deeper and investigate. Kids (and adults) are motivated by what interests them. Conduct interest surveys to discover more about your students. Hold “interest” reading conferences the beginning of the year and take detailed notes!  Not only will this give you insight into their lives outside of the school walls, it will support your ability to connect with them on a personal level. Discovering their interests makes learning personal. Choosing books based on interest level will have a direct impact on students’ motivation to read. Matching the right content to a reader will increase a child’s ability to comprehend at a higher level, and avoid getting stuck in the Bluebirds reading group all year! Genre During individual reading conferences, we need to take into consideration what types of books a reader is choosing for independent reading. Young readers often get stuck in their favorite genre and avoid choosing a variety of literature. These students need support from the teacher on selecting texts from various genres. Holding genre studies in small group reading instruction is a perfect way to expose students to new types of literature, and give them the confidence to choose books more wisely for their independent reading. Selecting the appropriate text becomes more about the genre and not the level. The level of the text must be considered, but the genre is the main reason for choosing the text. It may need to be an easier text in order for students to focus on the format of the genre. Peers Learning is a social act. We learn by observing, discussing, and interacting with content and people. As adults, when we see a great movie or read a fabulous book, what do we do? We tell someone about it! We recommend it to others! Kids need opportunities to to just that. Flexibly grouping kids with peers they feel comfortable around is a great way to break the ice. We need to encourage kids to talk about their own learning, and take ownership of new connections. Let’s give students opportunities to express opinions about who they would like to read and study with during small group reading instruction. When students have voice and choice, they are more motivated. Is it more challenging for the teacher when grouping by peer choice? Absolutely. We are charged with leveling the playing field for students who may struggle. We must be prepared to have more scaffolds in place for particular students, but it is an attainable act. The end result is the payoff: kids don’t see themselves “stuck” with other struggling readers. They have exposure to the thinking of other students. The extra work is worth its weight in gold when we begin to see the fire within struggling and apathetic readers. sharingbookwkidsReading is a lifelong habit that will increase the chances of success within our students. It is our charge to create and maintain  a culture of reading for enjoyment within our classrooms that will expand outside of the school walls and into the homes of our students. Reading levels ARE important! They are not the only determining factor in how we teach students how to be readers. We owe it to every student to teach them how to be readers. Teaching them a book will not grow a habit within; teaching them to be readers will sustain a lifelong habit. Now, I encourage you to go forth, teach, and create lifelong readers in the process. As Debbie Miller says, “Happy Reading!”