Growing Readers Past our Classroom Walls

I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district.  Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here.  I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders.  Do they see all of the growth?  The work?  The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?

During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year.  And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year.  I have seen many students read more.  I have seen more students embrace books and reading.  I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked.  Knowing that there is a change afoot,  made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing.  And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.

It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time.  I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.

Then it becomes where else do you get books from?  We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present.  Where can they access books beside our room?  Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.

It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t.  Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read.  Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.

Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own.  So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list.  Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account?  Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon?    What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next?  It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone.  And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.

It starts with book talks by me.  Every day, every class.  Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.

Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student.  Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what  they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.

It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop.  Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well.  Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.

Then it becomes them book shopping with friends.  Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.

It starts with me being a reading role model.  And being an obvious one.  While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first.  However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.

Then it becomes students as reading role models.   And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.

It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance.  Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.

Then it becomes making plans.  Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom.  They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters.  We discuss the books they want to read.  We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home.  They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads.  This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down.  After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?

when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader.   None of that happens overnight.  None of that happens with just one book.  Or just one person.  It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


Win a Copy of Passionate Readers in Honor of My Birthday

Thank you so much to all who entered, through a random number generator the winner was selected and notified yesterday!

I woke up a year older this morning.  Amazing how that happens just like that.  Like a year is no big deal.  Like a year passing is just something to get used to.

In all honesty, it hasn’t hit me yet.  38.  What an age.  I remember my mother being 38 and thinking how young she still was yet knowing that being in your 30’s somehow meant you were very much an adult.  I feel very much like an adult at times, other times not so much.

Every year, I write a letter to myself to be delivered on my birthday through FutureMe, it never ceases to amaze me what I was thinking at the time I wrote the letter.  The questions I have for myself.  Last year’s letter asked me how Passionate Readers turned out, whether it was useful, whether people found inspiration within its pages.  I think it has been, I am not sure, it is hard to judge one’s own work.  And yet, it is being read and shared, and I am just a little bit amazed.

So in honor of my birthday and in honor of my student’s who have had the most significant impact on me as a teacher, I am giving away a copy of Passionate Readers today.  The giveaway will end at midnight tonight.  All you have to do is leave a comment and I will select a winner randomly.  Bonus; if you have read the book and leave a review, I will enter you into the drawing twice as a thank you and then you can give a copy of the book away.

I am not sure what this upcoming year will hold.  More travels for sure, more laughs I hope, more time becoming better, becoming more than what I was.  But I do know that I am planning on making this year count.  The quiet moments and the loud.  On growing deliberately.  On slowing down deliberately.  On being grateful.  So thank you for the love and support you have given me this past year.  Thank you for being on this journey with me.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Happy Book Birthday Mr. Sharp – Let’s Give Away a Copy of The Creativity Project

Thank you so much to all who entered, I am so glad I get to send a copy of this book to the lucky winner who was selected by a random number generator and notified yesterday!

I don’t remember when I first heard of Colby Sharp but I remember thinking to myself that he seemed like a nice guy.  Like someone, I could be friends with, like someone I would have been friends with in school if e had gone to school together.

I do remember the first time I met Colby Sharp.  He and the rest of the Nerdtastic team had asked if I would come to Nerdcamp.  How could I say no?  So one July morning, I got up at 4:30 AM and drove the 5 hours to Parma, Michigan so I could deliver my very first Nerdtalk and the rest, we could say, is history.

I have met a lot of people, but only a few are in Colby’s class; kind, giving, funny, dedicated to his family and to bettering our profession not for his own gains, but for kids everywhere.  He simply has his heart in the right place.  Is it, therefore, any wonder that I am so excited for his very first book project to be released today?  That’s right, the much anticipated, the incredibly worth it, the must read and then use teacher book The Creativity Project comes out today.

The book’s description:

Colby Sharp invited more than forty authors and illustrators to provide story starters for each other; photos, drawings, poems, prose, or anything they could dream up. When they received their prompts, they responded by transforming these seeds into any form of creative work they wanted to share.
The result is a stunning collection of words, art, poetry, and stories by some of our most celebrated children book creators. A section of extra story starters by every contributor provides fresh inspiration for readers to create works of their own. Here is an innovative book that offers something for every kind of reader and creator!
With contributions by Tom Angleberger, Jessixa Bagley, Tracey Baptiste, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Peter Brown, Lauren Castillo, Kate DiCamillo, Margarita Engle, Deborah Freedman, Adam Gidwitz, Chris Grabenstein, Jennifer L. Holm, Victoria Jamieson, Travis Jonker, Jess Keating, Laurie Keller, Jarret J. Krosoczka, Kirby Larson, Minh Lê, Grace Lin, Kate Messner, Daniel Nayeri, Naomi Shihab Nye, Debbie Ohi, R.J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park, Dav Pilkey, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Dan Santat, Gary Schmidt, John Schu, Colby Sharp, Bob Shea, Liesl Shurtliff, Lemony Snicket, Laurel Snyder, Javaka Steptoe, Mariko Tamaki, Linda Urban, Frank Viva, and Kat Yeh.

So what better way to celebrate it, then to offer up a copy for a giveaway!  I hope you don’t mind, Colby, this book needs to be in the world and in the hands of teachers everywhere.  All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment below and then you should buy the book as well.   I will close the contest on Saturday, March 17th.

On Certain Books for Certain Kids

We spend a lot of time in bookstores and libraries.  So much so that my own children at the moment are playing library downstairs.  We go for the inspiration, for the support of booksellers, to find new must-have purchases.  We go as a family to recommit to reading, to get excited about what it means to be a reader.

But once in a while, something strikes me as out of place even in a bookstore.  Today it was this sign at our Barnes and Noble.


I fixed it for them on my Instagram account.


And yet, all jest aside.  These small signs.  These sections of libraries.  These displays that cater to only one identity, only one culture, only one representation.  They may seem trivial at first and yet they add to the continued perpetuation that some books are for some kids.  That some books will only be liked by the people it is directly marketed to.  This is problematic because it once again speaks to certain books being for certain kids.  It speaks to certain stories being the ones worth publishing.  It speaks to how we only want diverse books if those books are diverse in the way we see fit.  (Just like what the NY Times wrote about here.)  It speaks to how we only display books celebrating African American history when February reminds us too.

We wonder why some of our students have stigmas when it comes to the books we read, and then don’t think to look at our own learning spaces to see where those stigmas are created.

But we have to do better than this.  We have to do more, and it once again starts with the small details that we do have control over.

We have to first question how we use the word “Diverse” as Chad Everett cautions us to do in his blog post, where he reminds us all that the minute we call something diverse we are once again establishing whiteness as the norm.

We have to question the divisions we create in our classroom and school libraries.  When we hand boys “Boy books” and don’t book talk a book to the whole class because it really is just meant for the “girls.”  When we describe certain books as girly or fluffy and then hand it to a female.

When a child needs our help with book shopping and in our eagerness to help that child “see” themselves in books we only hand them books that feature characters that look like them.  We have gotten better at handing white, hetero, cisgender kids window books, but don’t other identities deserve that too?

When we invite female authors to our schools and then only invite the girls to see them because boys might not understand or be engaged with the message.

When we create displays that honor African Americans and only pull out books that feature them marching or Civil Rights or in chains as enslaved people.

When a child tells us they loved a certain book and we assume we know why and don’t ask them what they loved it so we can help them find a better book, not based on our assumptions but actually on their desires.

When we only purchase books from the large publishers and don’t seek out the independent ones like Lee and Low who have been focused on creating a better world through books for many years.

When we herald big publishers creating special imprints to honor the voices of those who have been traditionally left out from their publishing houses, but we don’t question why they were left out in the first place.  Why not publish them within their traditional branch?

When we are quick to “otherize” books and then hand them to kids as something that they can only identify with because of a shared trait, we are quickly teaching kids that they should only care about those that they share those same traits with.  That unless they can find a surface commonality with someone then their time is not worth investing.

And so we must continue to do better.  We must evaluate our learning spaces, our books, our displays, our book talks, and even who we hand which books to so that we can do better.  We must continue to push for better representation and for an end to the notion that certain books are for certain kids, rather than just waiting to be discovered by everyone.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



The Choice We Make

We can spend our days thinking of our past glories.

Of how it turned out we were right all along.


We can spend our days reliving the past.

We can spend our days thinking we are right, no matter what others say.

We can spend our days never looking back except to the moments where we knew it all.

We can focus in on the things we figured out, how we saved the day and everyone in it.

We can congratulate ourselves on a job well done, how we were the loudest voice, how we had all of the answers if only the world would listen to us.

We can spend our days tearing others down when they disagree.

We can spend our time holding so tight to our beliefs that we forget what we are holding on to, only knowing that we must cling to them or be lost.

Or we can pause…

Hear the voice of others…

Hear people out…

Reset our understanding to not exclude, but include.

To really listen to understand, not to respond.

To ask more questions rather than jump to the defensive.

To discuss rather than dismiss.

To build others up instead of tearing them down.

Perhaps agree to disagree but do so with respect.

At the end of the day, it is a choice we make.  A choice we commit to.  And a choice we can change.  Let’s not forget that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


On ISTE and Its Cost

Sunday night, I went to register for the annual ISTE conference in Chicago, excited that the conference was so close to my own home that I could drive there.  Excited that I get to present on digital literacy with a powerhouse team that included Kristin Ziemke, Teri Lesene, Donalyn Miller, Sara Kajder, and Franki Siberson.

I booked my hotel a long time ago, talk about sticker shock, even with the ISTE negotiated rate, it came to $862 dollars for four nights.  I knew parking would be on top of that.  I knew meals would be on top of that.  I knew I was looking at more than a $1,000 conference experience.  A cost that I pay for myself like so many other educators.   A cost that in my head I try to justify and yet it takes my breath away.

So as I went to register, the cost according to ISTE would be $565 for me.  $565. …I was in shock to say the least, so I tweeted out the following IMG_3292.jpg

And then watched all of the comments come in; people who like me couldn’t believe the cost.  People who were saddened they couldn’t go.  People who told me what the cost should be.

Quickly a pattern in the conversation occurred; are conferences outpricing themselves for regular educators to attend?  Is there even space for educators to come to these conferences any more or are they so outside of our ranger that our presence is no longer needed?

The following day I was contacted by ISTE who explained that part of the reason why my registration cost was so high was because of an email mistake on my end.  Upon further inspection, the price for me now to attend would only be $440.  But $440 for a conference registration is still a lot of money.  Is still really high.  And so my questioning continued.

Today I received the following email from ISTE, who once again did an awesome job of trying to be a part of the dialogue.

Hi Pernille,

 I hope you know how much we value educators like you here at ISTE. I have worked for ISTE for the last 13 years and wanted to personally reach out to you in response the concern you shared on Twitter.  

 Each year, we strive to present the highest quality professional learning experience for educators at the best value. At the scope and scale of ISTE with both educator-driven content and a robust expo, we definitely have constraints and price realities that are not a factor in more intimate venues. Still, we understand the value in having more accessibly priced options and will be introducing a series of focused regional events later in the year, that will come in at a much more modest price point.

 This year, we are thrilled to be in Chicago for our annual conference, within reach of educators across the midwest — a region where we have not been in quite a while. As you might expect, hosting an event in Chicago comes with some added expenses over and above even a typical conference year. We tried to pair our pricing model up with new discounts such as a presenter discount and member loyalty discount to make attending as within reach as possible for as many as possible.

 ISTE is working diligently with the host city and venues near the conference center to create the best experience at the best price possible for our educators. Air travel is less expensive in and out of Chicago (than other ISTE conference destinations), so we are hopeful that this will help offset the registration price increase for many attendees and their bottom line costs will not increase.  

 We also provided additional value for members and presenters, responding to requests to include as much content as possible within a single registration price, eliminating additional individual costs for workshops. We’ve added a flat fee premium registration option for pre-conference workshop content, and folded the workshop content during the main session days (M-W) into the regular program at no additional fees. We’ve also and added a full day of crowdsourced content on Sunday, and we hope this helps attendees make the very most of their time at ISTE.

 I hope that by explaining a bit about the cost increases we’re up against and how we’ve tried to mitigate them, you’ll have a better understanding of the registration fees for ISTE 2018 . I understand from our registration team that the pricing you received was due to some email login confusion and that you weren’t receiving the much lower presenter pricing that you should have been.  If you’re still having any issues with pricing, please let me know so I can help you get it straightened out.

 Regarding education funding, at the core of our mission is advocating for ed funding at the national and state level, and in fact our CEO and chief learning officer have spent two days on the Hill in the last few weeks meeting with congressional staff to discuss the need to safeguard ed funding in the next budget, particularly for professional development. Next week we are co-hosting an Edtech Advocacy & Policy Summit brining educators together to do more of this important work.

 I know you’ve been a frequent ISTE conference attendee and speaker, and that you’re also very generous in sharing your expertise for the ISTE Blog and member magazine. All of us at ISTE are extremely grateful for your dedication.

I appreciate the outreach, but I also wanted to open up this discussion to those it affects.  What do you think?  I sent the following response back and am still torn; can I justify a conference expense of more than $1,400 to my husband, to my kids, to myself?  Why the disconnect between educators and conference pricing?  Who are they really trying to get to come?  Because it certainly doesn’t feel like educators like me.

My response:

I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me and explaining your philosophy and what is happening behind the scenes.  I hear you, I do, but the reality is this, even with the corrected price, my hotel for 4 days is $862 – that is the ISTE negotiated rate.  I can drive there, which means parking is an additional cost, as well as meals for those four days.  If I eat for $40 a day, which would be a miracle in Chicago terms, I am still looking at more than $1,400 for a four-day conference experience.  That is with my member and presenter discount.  That is an incredible amount of money for one educator to pay to attend ISTE and that is only based on me getting discounts because of presenting and being a member.  That is simply an amount that is so beyond the scope of most people’s budget, even school districts.
I get the ramifications of holding it in Chicago because it allows Midwest attendees to finally make it, but it also feels like ISTE is not as in tune with what educators need.  Knowing how expensive Chicago is, the registration fee should have been lower to make up for the increase in cost of hotel and food.  Creating regional events are great but will not have the same level of presenters because they will not be going at the same rate since the benefit for them is not as great as going to the national conference.  I love that you are advocating on a national level, but how about implementing more steps in your own pricing as well?  Could there be a discount for being an in-classroom teacher or coach?  Could there be a discount for having attended multiple years?  Could there be an actual presenter discount rather than just locking in early bird pricing?
I fear ISTE is losing touch with the everyday educators who are the ones creating the change.  Who are the ones bringing in the tools.  Who are the ones that would benefit so much from being able to attend.  
This is a discussion that has taken place on both Twitter and Facebook, I am grateful for your response but also saddened at how many stellar educators even within the Chicagoland area are telling me they cannot go because of the cost.
As for me, I am still deciding.  I want to go, I love ISTE which is why I put in proposals and am a member, but at the end of the day it is hard to justify that big of a cost.