Reading as an Investment

While I’m back in the States for the summer, I’m trying to plan for the long-term future.

Eek. That’s always daunting.

It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking. I know that eventually I could head back to Oregon in my retirement years, so my husband and I are looking into buying a house somewhere in the state, knowing it has the potential to be a good financial investment, and could offer peace of mind. The problem is that no investment is guaranteed, but that’s what we all want.

As I am looking into buying a house, I am reminded of the recent last day of classes. It wasn’t the last day with the students I had taught for the whole school year; instead, it was a day when I got to meet with all of the students who will be in my classes next year. We had a special schedule with 30 minute class periods so that returning students could meet their new teachers and learn a little more about what next year’s classes will be like.

As an aside, this was my first experience with this sort of schedule, and I liked it. It was nice to see those new faces, and to be able to let them know what school would look like next year. It was a summer pep-talk, and I hope it worked.

Essentially, I talked to them about investments.

I explained that everyone wants maximum returns on their financial investments, but that there are never really any guarantees.

But, if they invest in themselves, returns are absolutely guaranteed. If they invest their time doing the right things, they will be happy with the results.

I talked to them about planning for summer reading, and that summer reading is an investment in themselves. I showed them a picture of my spring break reading list, and explained that I was planning for my summer reads in the same way. IMG_8719

I showed them the chart from page 136 of Disrupting Thinking, explaining that an extra ten minutes worth of investing in themselves, in reading something they enjoy, will give them the results they all want. disrupting thinking chart p 136

I said to them that someone in the world will be in the 98th percentile. Why not them?

One student asked me, “What if we haven’t really done any investing in ourselves yet?”

Fair question. He hasn’t done the reading over the years that he should or could have, but now he might wish he would have. I told him it’s not too late, but that he needs to actually invest, to actually read, and to start trusting himself that he can do it. I reminded the class that fake can reading feel good in the short term, maybe. But it doesn’t provide the satisfaction of actually reading, thinking, and feeling that we get when we do the actual reading. And it doesn’t give us the long-term returns that we all want.

I compared it to being tired. Sure, we all need a proper night’s sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep, it catches up with us and we might need a mid-day nap. What a person can’t do is say “I’m tired, can you take a nap for me?”

That’s the equivalent of fake reading. The only way to get the return on the investment is to actually invest. No one else can do it for us. You can’t get returns on investments you don’t make.

I think sometimes students don’t understand why it’s important to read. Sure, practicing reading makes us all better readers. But some of my students question the importance of being a better reader, and I think it’s a fair question.

Those reluctant students who haven’t yet discovered their own love for reading understand that they want to be successful in school and in life. They understand that they want to stand out above their peers, whether that’s in their classes, schools, or even on standardized tests that are given world-wide. That’s why the chart from Disrupting Thinking was so important in this particular conversation.

So the take-away on the very last day of the school year, and on the first day of classes with those particular students, was that investing in themselves will give them guaranteed returns. There isn’t much that’s guaranteed in life, and a risk-free investment sounds pretty good to all of us.

I encouraged them to check their next reads lists, ask each other for recommendations, and to keep investing or to start investing in themselves over the summer. I hope it worked!

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When rubrics are unintentional ruBRICKS

When rubrics are unintentional ruBRICKS

My fourteen-year-old son surprises me with some of the things that come out of his mouth. I won’t repeat them all here (you’re welcome), because sometimes I’m astounded in a way that makes me laugh, but doesn’t necessarily make me think.

But the other day, he did make me think.

We were at the kitchen table. I was reading my students’ online readers notebooks while he was working on homework. Responsibly, he checked the rubric that accompanied the assignment he was working on, but by doing so, he seemed to get more frustrated instead of finding clarity.

I looked over at him, eyebrows raised in silent question. His response was, “This rubric is more of a brick than a help!” and he went on to explain that it felt like he was weighed down by the rubric rather than feeling like it provided guidance.

I immediately understood his comparison. Rubrics as bricks, hobbling students, confining them to strict definitions and requirements, weighing them down instead of allowing them to soar. Continue reading “When rubrics are unintentional ruBRICKS”

Unlearning old pedagogy in order to be a better teacher.

I taught secondary English Language Arts in the same wonderful school district in Oregon for fifteen years before I moved to Amman. For most of those years I used a six trait scoring guide for writing put out by the state education department for scoring student essays.

I wish I had an image of those scoring guides. They included traits like Ideas and Content, Organization, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Voice, and Conventions. These are all important elements of a well-written essay, and I didn’t spend much time questioning what the state required. I used the scoring guides without fail and without question, to be honest.

I left the state and left those scoring guides behind. I moved on, borrowed and created new scoring guides and rubrics, and didn’t think about the one from Oregon until last week.

Let me provide some context.

For the last two years I have had the opportunity and privilege to learn from workshop expert Stevi Quate. She will continue to partner with our school next year, and I have learned a ton with her.

I had an aha moment when she led our group to better understanding of the power of conferring as a strategy for teaching students to be great, confident writers.

That’s a goal-post shift right there: in Oregon, it often felt like “passing the writing so the students can graduate” was the main goal instead of supporting the students to be better, confident, and prepared writers. (To be honest, I can’t fault just Oregon for this – it was happening nationwide, and I think it was the trend of the times not too long ago.)

Back to conferring: Stevi reminded our group that it’s okay to not read a student paper in its entirety, or to even simply have a conversation about where a student is feeling stuck, especially proud, and to not read a line at all.

That was a shift from what I had done for the first fifteen years of my career. I had been a copy-editor, dutifully noting where students had singular-plural errors, underlining countless run-on sentences, and reminding students not to refer to themselves or their readers.


Stevi helped us to understand that our job in conferring is to offer a sounding board, to offer feedback, and to remind students that they have original ideas that are worth exploring and writing about.

We didn’t talk about rubrics or mechanical errors. We talked about writer’s craft, and we talked about the writer. The student.

We talked about organizing ideas, using mentor texts every day, and the craft and process of writing words that beg to be read.

We didn’t talk about essays and scoring guides.

That’s when I realized that I was recovering from fifteen years of my own learning that needed to be unlearned.

I had a scoring guide hangover. Continue reading “Unlearning old pedagogy in order to be a better teacher.”