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The Big Fresh August 18, 2018 Lily Pads

Brenda Power

You only see the top of a lily pad, but if you pull the lily pad out of the water, it has roots and tangled weeds and all the stuff that comes with it.

                                                                                                     Trevor Hall

I was a gullible child. One time, while my family was fishing off an anchored pontoon boat on a lake in northern Wisconsin, I became fascinated with a collection of floating lily pads. My dad, who was always playful, urged me to pluck one off the top of the water to take home.

Excited at the thought of my very own lily pad, I carefully reached over the edge of the boat and grabbed hold of one, only to discover its refusal to budge. Puzzled by the resistance, I let go. I turned to my dad indignantly to report that the lily pad was stuck. At this point, my mom, who was an excellent storyteller, jumped in. She explained there was probably a frog underneath the water clinging on for dear life in hopes I would leave his home alone. After all, she continued to embellish, that frog certainly needed that lily pad more than I did.

Humbled by my mom’s words, I sat back in the boat feeling guilty for putting the poor little frog through such a struggle. It wasn’t until my sister, who was the practical naturalist of the family, explained that lily pads do not float freely at all that I began to feel better. Rather, she continued, they are plants that grow up from the bottom of the lake, and the resistance I had felt was really just the stem of the plant.

The other day, I was sitting in a meeting where we had to review data and make plans for the new school year. When I suggested that adding another monthly assessment to our language arts classes was not the most effective way to create growth, I was met with resistance. We need consistent data if we are going to help kids grow, they said. How will we know what they need unless we have this common assessment? they questioned. If we do not have this assessment, how can we accurately communicate student progress to parents? they challenged.

The resistance created a tension that made me uncomfortable. I started to doubt myself. I told myself the resistance meant I was not a good teacher. I believed I must have been lying to parents about student progress.

Only after leaving the meeting did I recognize what a gullible teacher I can be. I allowed the tension to create stories. Stories I believed.

The truth about this meeting is much like the truth about the lily pad. Although there is indeed tension when we resist ideas that challenge our core beliefs, the resistance should not create shame. There is no shame in my belief that simply increasing the frequency of assessment on a single standard is not the most effective pathway to student growth. There is no shame in the tension created by voicing that belief.

Resistance is natural. It is necessary. You must remain firmly rooted in your core beliefs. Do not believe the stories they tell you. Even when you feel resistance.

Especially when you feel resistance.

This week we look at how you can resist a push to emphasize levels and limits in your classroom. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Christy Rush-Levine
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Free for All

[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ChoiceLiteracy or Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/choiceliteracy/]

Stephanie Affinito tells everyone at a staff meeting to write their weights and ages on sticky notes so that she can post the numbers for the group to view. When teachers balk at the request, she has the perfect opening to discuss why focusing on levels in classrooms is a bad idea:


My Son Clark Kent was first published at our site over a decade ago, and it's still a timeless reminder from Lisa Koch of how an emphasis on levels can destroy a young child's confidence and love of reading:


This article from School LIbrary Journal is a wonderful one to share with colleagues and principals who are insisting on leveled libraries. Kiera Parrott shares why researchers and top practitioners are urging everyone to move away from this organizational strategy:


Our new online course program launches in two days!

Check out three new courses that begin this month: Getting Organized for Coaching hosted by Ruth Ayres, Gradual Release of the Classroom Library (K-3) hosted by Bitsy Parks, and It's a Cycle, Not a Hamster Wheel: Getting the Most Out of Coaching Cycles hosted by Dana Murphy.

Each self-paced course includes screencasts with the instructors, classroom videos, articles, templates and guides to download, as well as three-month trial memberships to Lead Literacy and Choice Literacy. Detailed descriptions are available at this link:



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"How do you know what level they have selected?" a visitor asks Bitsy Parks as she observes during a first-grade independent reading period. "I don't," Bitsy responds, and explains why it is a beautiful thing:


Shari Frost helps a teacher who has guided reading groups that have run amok, and discovers the real culprit is a lack of time for reading and writing in the literacy block:


In this week's video, Katrina Edwards confers with a first grader, looking beyond the level of the book early in the year to ensure the child is engaging with the story. She helps the child notice changes in the simple text and illustrations: 


Matt Renwick encourages you to ask a few critical questions before you adopt the 40-Book Challenge or any other activity with a number for a goal you're going to be tied to all year long in your classroom:


That's all for this week!

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Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.