I came across this quote eight years ago when I took my first administrative job. I am pinning it back on my office wall tomorrow so the positivity can radiate down on me during another extraordinary school year of ‘new’. It
will be is hard. We must be honest for our students, staff, and colleagues so that we may grow, resiliently, together. And yet, we must keep dreaming, believing- courageously, cheerfully. In all we do, be authentic.
The dialogic classrooms in Engaging Literate Minds thrive on authenticity. But even if this concept of ‘dialogic classrooms’ is new to you (hand raise), there are so many ways to make this year the year for enhancing the culture and climate of the learning community, deepening the purpose for assessments, and engaging others through authentic instruction. For your students. For you.
To start, we create the conditions in which children believe they, too, can be authentic. If our students are afraid to let their teachers and peers witness the wonderings, the mistakes, the attempts, the inquiry, then they will be too afraid to learn, and we will never have the full picture of what they know and need. When children feel anxious or that they are at the bottom of a status hierarchy, their learning suffers (p.273). This year, call upon the children to create the rules. Perhaps with an approach of behavior development, versus management. Discuss together, and with the supportive resources of your building and community, the authentic emotions that affect our learning- both in-person and online. Help the children to articulate the strategies used when problem-solving for the new (and old) situations they will encounter this year. And know that it is never too late to be authentic- to walk in on a Monday with a revived spirit and share with your students/staff/parents the need for change.
Authentic assessment allows students to maintain trust (of the teacher, the system, the process), while demonstrating skill and thought on a much deeper level. Engaging Literate Minds highlights the use of self-assessments to develop the sense of agency and responsibility for learning (p.63, p.251 for samples of student response logs). The authors also share the belief that assessments must strive to be asset-focused- to showcase the student’s strengths rather than create shortcomings- with benefits including increased motivation, greater independence, and a positive self-assessment of their learning. To do this, take nearly any work sample and look specifically for the indicators of progress, process, and possibility (p.223). Running records and reading conferences may be the most authentic measure of a student’s reading (p. 233; more resources for getting started with running records listed in the endnote 14.11).
Authentic engagement and conversations around literacy are the all-encompassing instructional supports that strengthen the classroom community, give insight to students’ understandings, and allow for rich instruction. I love sharing with others the strategy of using poetry or lyrics to engage learners of any age in meaningful conversations about language, comprehension, writing, life. The authors use music to support positive transitions within a classroom, an idea taken from Debbie Miller, and they share a list of songs with prosocial lyrics on page 205. Did you know that there is research showing that listening to such songs reduces aggressive thoughts?! There are enough on the list to print off, analyze, and listen on repeat one per week for the entire first semester. Enjoy them, together.
Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers