In less than three minutes, I’ll show you why I became OBSESSED with reading on my Kindle.
Spoiler: it’s all about the storage and curation of HIGHLIGHTS from my reading! Here’s how it works.
Warming Your Heart, Sparking Your Thinking, and Igniting Your Professional Practice
In less than three minutes, I’ll show you why I became OBSESSED with reading on my Kindle.
Spoiler: it’s all about the storage and curation of HIGHLIGHTS from my reading! Here’s how it works.
MARISA THOMPSON is a mom, wife, HS English teacher, professional development facilitator, instructor at the University of San Diego, traveler, and a liver of life. When people ask her what she does, she sums up her multiplicity of roles by simply saying “I’m in education,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way, she says.
When asked about a low moment, Marisa recalls her earliest visions of the kind of teacher she wanted to be. “So much of it came from Hollywood,” she says. But a few years in, she realized that she was not the teacher that she thought she wanted to be. By her seventh year, her disillusionment had grown to the point that she decided to leave the classroom entirely.
After a period of reflection and time away from the profession, she came across the idea of flexible seating on Pinterest. She pitched the concept to a principal, and his reaction took her by surprise.
“Great,” he said. “Go do it!” This yes was such an encouragement because it proved that her voice mattered and that her ideas could lead to transformative work. What followed was seven years of further growth and exploration.
On July 10, 2018, Marisa published a blog post titled We’re Killing the Love of Reading, but Here’s an Easy Fix. In the post, she unpacks a method of student engagement with texts called the TQE Method: thoughts, questions and epiphanies.
When you first start trying the TQE Method in your classroom, there will be growing pains for you and the students at first, she warns. But they will go away. The more you use it, the more the practices will start to become comfortable, organic, and powerful. Your students will start to engage in the kind of rich discussions that we all remember having in university or grad school.
It’s about giving students the time, space, language, and culture to safely engage in the sharing of ideas like never before. The TQE Method is now appearing in classrooms at all levels and all subjects, and Marisa couldn’t be happier.
When it comes to feedback for students using the TQE Method, Marisa looks for quantity simply because participation is essential. But her assessment is based primarily on two things: reading comprehension and author’s purpose. Can students analyze a choice that an author made and describe how it helps an author accomplish their objective in a text? Students who can demonstrate these skills with consistency are demonstrating mastery.
Something else that is setting Marisa on fire for education is her students’ recent TED Talks. They focused on communicating effectively with audiences, exploring concepts of happiness and success, and sharing authentically. Marisa watched as her students actually put aside rehearsed notes to speak from the heart, and the results were powerful. It was a first-class example of the link between vulnerability and compelling communication.
One of the things that Marisa is trying to do in her current classroom is to get away from class novels. Literary freedom works, and it’s good for kids, she says. On the other hand, shared conversations and connected experiences with texts are everything, so she’s looking at ways to combine both goals.
In her teacher support role, Marisa is focused on creating a series of 2-minute tutorials to help get teachers started with new initiatives, and at the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education at the University of San Diego she is busy designing new courses based on real-world experiences, like Disney World.
Marisa’s ultimate passion away from education is travel. Although she didn’t grow up in a wealthy home, she’s been traveling for as long as she can remember and has now visited at least 20 countries. She’s taken students to a number of those countries and always finds it a valuable learning experience to see other cultures and other places.
If you’re looking to follow someone new on Twitter, Marisa recommends @JuliaFliss. “The work that she does is soulful,” Marisa says. It’s big picture, everything-is-possible, and it’s filled with positivity and optimism. She is all about working with people and changing the world.
No edtech tool has been more helpful to Marisa this year than Pro Keys, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to build and customize your own feedback shortcuts. Marisa has used this tool to go from 160 hours to 4 hours of writing assessment completed at home this year thanks in large part to this tool.
It’s not easy for an English teacher to pick favorite books, but Marisa points to two classics in particular: East of Eden by John Steinbeck and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library
*This page contains Amazon affiliate links.
The more reflective you are, the more effective you are. — Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral
Last year I read Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney.
Wow. What a powerful and inspiring book.
If you’re passionate about literacy, about promoting the place and pleasure of effective reading and writing in your classroom, I strongly recommend this title.
I said “in your classroom,” but one of the things that comes across so powerfully in Sparks in the Dark is the fact that literacy must be a lifestyle.
To be genuine, to be vibrant, to be contagious — reading and writing must spill out of our personal lives.
And this goes for all teachers — not just those who teach English Language Arts. As educators, as thinkers, as lead learners, we must model a life of constant reading and writing.
If we say that communication, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking are the core competencies at the foundation of today’s education, we must practice what we preach.
In an age of digital amusement and easy-everywhere distraction, we must show our learners what it looks like to mentally breathe. To stop, be still, and practice the acts of mental inhalation (reading) and exhalation (writing).
One of the most important reasons that we write is to know ourselves. As Don Murray says, “You write to discover what you want to say.”
It sometimes feels like the act and art of self-reflection is a vanishing habit. But we must show our learners that these practices are essential aspects of living a healthy and productive life.
Speaking especially to educators, Crowder and Nesloney write “We prioritize what we value, and when we do not value reading or learning, it shows. Our instruction is a mixture of what we have read, and when our reading lives are shallow, so is our teaching. It isn’t an insult; it’s the truth.”
We cannot be effective educators if we are not regularly reading and reflectively writing.
To those who feel defeated by identity before they even start (“I’m not a writer”), James Clear describes his own evolution as a writer in his recent book, Atomic Habits.
“For most of my early life, I didn’t consider myself a writer. If you were to ask any of my high school teachers or college professors, they would tell you I was an average writer at best: certainly not a standout. When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.”
You may not be a reader or writer today. But you can and will become one — one paragraph, one page, one article at a time.
So pick up a book. Grab a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Score some small wins, and begin the gradual process of redefining yourself.
Because the more reflective you are, the more effective you are.
DEANNA LOUGH is an eighth grade English teacher at Sussex Academy of the Arts and Sciences in Georgetown, located in the southern part of Delaware. She’s an aspiring leader, kid Mom, puppy Mom, Mrs., music fan, and a lover of all things inspiring and positive.
A few years ago Deanna reached a point where she felt like she was killing herself with work. Her lack of energy and margin was preventing her from connecting with her students the way she wanted to, which led her to start asking how she could make her classroom a better space for her students.
That question has since evolved into a focus on equity, a pursuit that has really driven growth and evolution in her practice. Thanks to the changes she’s made in her thinking and work, she enjoys teaching a whole lot more today and has rekindled the passion that led her to enter the profession in the first place.
At the time that Deanna really started rethinking her practice and her learning space, she asked her students to describe their ideal classroom.
Their responses steered her first toward flexible seating and then to her own embedded biases and the obstacles faced by students from cultural and sexual minorities. She also started asking tough questions about her instruction and assessment.
As she asked these questions, she realized that a lot of the traditional and adversarial grading policies that she had complied with for so long were causing her the most stress and stealing her joy. Although her school still requires her to submit grades, she’s begun the slow work of changing her assessment practices and allowing her students to demonstrate their learning in new ways.
In addition to her changes in assessment, Deanna is keen on supporting her LGBTQ students and students of color in more effective ways. She’s become aware of so many situations that don’t do a good enough job of supporting these learners, and she’s also started to think about how some of the same systemic barriers affect minority educators, too.
The work of educators such as Dr. Sheldon Eakins (@SheldonEakins) and Dr. Mechele Newell (@mechelenewell) has also been deeply influential in her journey. One of her biggest realizations is that she does have a voice in these issues and that she needs to use it — to advocate not just for her minority students but for all of her learners and for the state of humanity.
Deanna is thrilled to teach in a professional environment that allows educators to set their own professional goals. Her focus for this year relates to thoughtful uses of technology in her classroom. Her school is 1:1, meaning all of her learners have Chromebooks, so she wants to not only improve learning experiences for students but also increase her own expertise in the Google environment. She makes the point that as we grow, learn, and gain competence as educators, we bring more joy to the job, and students notice that. Lately, she’s also enjoyed watching her students support the digital expertise of others.
Deanna is a huge music enthusiast, and even though she’s never been trained to play an instrument she’s taken up the challenge of writing about it. This commitment has pushed her to listen to music podcasts to learn more, and shows like Sound Opinions and Rolling Stones Music Now have helped and inspired her to keep going. Right now, her goal is to write one formal music review per month, and she’s shared this journey with her students as well.
One set of strategies that Deanna has found valuable is Angela Watson’s 40-hour Teacher Week Club, and one her biggest takeaways has been the prioritized task list. Whenever she has a lot going on, she takes a few minutes to sit down and arrange to-do items by priority.
Another helpful takeaway has been Google Keep, a simple but effective list keeper that syncs across all devices. “Nothing will kill your joy faster than when you try to be overly ambitious and get more things done in a day than are humanly possible,” she points out.
Over on Twitter, Deanna recommends following Dr. Sheldon Eakins @sheldoneakins. As mentioned earlier in our conversation, he’s doing great work in the area of equity and Deanna has learned a lot from his online course. Make sure to visit his site and tune into his podcast as well.
Deanna’s edtech tool pick is Screencastify, a leading screencast application that works well in the Chromebook environment with a handy Google Chrome extension. She’s also been extremely impressed by their customer support.
A must-read book title in the equity space is We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor. Deanna can’t say enough about how open Cornelius is about his own journey even as he helps other educators rethink the accessibility in their learning spaces.
A few education podcasts that Deanna appreciates include Dear Teacher, Don’t Give Up by Jeffery Frieden, EduMatch Tweet & Talk by Dr. Sarah Thomas, and The Dr. Will Show by Dr. Will Deyamport III. All three hosts are former guests of the Teachers on Fire podcast!
When she’s looking for education inspiration on YouTube, Deanna turns to Edusations by Phil Strunk. On Netflix, the show at the top of her list that just restores her faith in humanity is Queer Eye.
We sign off on this great conversation, and Deanna gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!
ALICIA RAY is the Lead Digital Learning & Media Innovation Facilitator at a STEAM school in Mount Airy, NC. With years of experience teaching middle school classes, a major part of her current role includes building innovative learning activities that link literacy and various forms of media.
Alicia doesn’t enjoy revisiting this experience, but she feels a certain obligation to give this lesson its due attention and share the things she learned with others. In her story of adversity, she recalls teaching a self-contained 5th grade class, which included high stakes testing in Math, Science, and reading. As one might expect, this teaching assignment brought with it a lot of responsibility.
When the 5th grade team added a former teacher of the year, Alicia found herself fighting feelings of insecurity and competition. To counter these feelings, she helped her team form an incredible PLC that capitalized on the strengths of each member. The team found sweet synergy partly from their extra-curricular activities: meeting outside of school, doing things together, and finding common interests.
As the team grew and evolved, their trust in each other increased, and they discovered how to best share the teaching load: who would create which learning activities, who the go-to authority in each area would be, and how each one could innovate and adapt learning materials to fit the needs of their individual classrooms. The best part of this trusting team relationship? Students won.
Alicia is a phenomenal reader and reviewer of books from Dave Burgess Consulting, but she’s quick to point out the source of her motivation: her students. “It’s so important to know what you believe in and why you believe it, because that does nothing but help your kids,” she says.
Alicia learns something and takes away lessons from every single book she reads, and she’s hungry for more. She wants to do better than just say she’s a lifelong learner – she wants to live it and model it in front of her students and children as well. She recently completed a research unit at her school that was inspired by several DBC books, including Launch, The Limitless School, Educated by Design, and The Revolution. She’s proud of what her students researched, learned, and created, and she looks forward to improving this unit even further in years to come.
Alicia loves the connections she enjoys with educators across the planet on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and other platforms. She is thrilled to share ideas, learn from others, and connect her students in those same authentic ways.
One of the memories that she treasures from this past year was the opportunity to connect with Karen Caswell‘s class in Australia. It was a fantastic experience for her students and it brought home the point that we live in a global community.
Alicia is constantly reading and implementing, because as Dave Burgess likes to say, “Inspiration without implementation is a waste.” Her current project is a compilation of takeaways and inspirations from her learning and practice in a book titled Educational Eye Exam. What began as a blog post kept growing and growing, and as this book nears publication later this summer she is thrilled at the prospect of sharing with the world.
Last August, Alicia’s five-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Since then, her family has made health and wellness a top priority. This looks like managing the family diet carefully, counting carbs, and practicing strategies to maintain mental, physical, and spiritual health.
These practices have also spilled into her professional work, where Alicia is doing more than ever to try to meet the non-academic needs of learners. It starts with awareness and sensitivity, requiring her to step back and think about making sure the conditions for learning are met before launching into the next activity.
Alicia calls herself a goal-setter, and her goals are the key to her productivity. When she orders books, her goal is usually to have it completely read within 48-72 hours after receiving it. From there, she’s found that if she’s going to write a review of the book for her blog, it needs to happen right away.
When it comes to running, she sets a goal of getting to a particular mailbox (remember, she lives in rural North Carolina). As long as the goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely … it’s SMART and it works for her.
Alicia tracks her goals and daily habits in Google Sheets (using hacks she learned from Alice Keeler), and has also become obsessed with bullet journaling since reading Lisa Johnson’s Creatively Productive.
Alicia’s ideal reading environment usually materializes around 9:30 p.m., after the kids have been put to bed – centered on a large sectional in her pajamas, with comfy blankets and a nest of pillows. It’s a recipe that would put most people to sleep in a hurry, but it works well for her!
On Twitter, Alicia recommends following @Hayes_Melisa. Melisa has an awesome personal story to share, and she never fails to bring the awesomeness!
Her pick for edtech tools is Google Forms. Forms are powerful, versatile, and can probably do more than you think they can!
When asked to choose just one book, Alicia goes back to the one that started it all: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. She’s written and highlighted her way through a few physical copies of the book and listened to it several more times on audiobook. The passion never gets old!
Over on YouTube, Alicia suggests subscribing to DBC Inc. This channel is relatively new, so get on it and make some noise!
When she needs some laughs and lighter fare on Netflix, Alicia is heading to The Office. This classic sitcom will never be beaten … unless of course they made a school version!
We sign off on this fun conversation, and Alicia gives us the best ways to connect with her online. See below for details!
Song Track Credits