This morning I was asked what we do for our most vulnerable readers to help them be successful. As I took a moment to ponder this question, I realized a big thing; what we do for the most vulnerable is also what we do for all of our readers.
We have fidelity to our students, not to our programs.
I work in a district that believes in fidelity to the students and not to the program. Think about that for a second. Oregon School District believes in staying true to what the children need and not what an outside purchased program, no matter how research-based it is, tells us what to do. We use components from incredible programs, but they do not dictate our decisions; our students do.
We place them with amazing teachers.
We give them the best teachers we have to work on interventions. These teachers know their research and use best practices. They are given longer books, they have choice, they do meaningful work. We make sure they work on stamina in books, not chopped up passages to just check their skills.
And we do not put them in front of computer programs. We need our students to read, to think, to work through a text and then come out on the other side with a deeper understanding. We need face-to-face interactions to gauge what they really know, not what a computer may think. There is no replacement for a qualified teacher and so every child deserves one, especially those who are not where we would hope they would be.
We have them surrounded by books.
We have a beautiful school library, staffed by a fully certified librarian, and we also promote classroom libraries. As Neumann researched, having a classroom library can increase reading up to 60% and so we believe in the power of great books within their reach at all times. As one student told me Friday, “Mrs. Ripp, I love that we have great books right here, I never have to go far to find my next read.”
We are also mindful of the books we surround them with. Inspired by the work of Dr. Simms Bishop, Chad Everett, Nerdy Book Club, and so many other passionate advocates for better library experiences, we think of how our library shapes our students’ identities. Can they see themselves? Can they see others? Who is represented, how are they represented, and who is not? All of this pushes us forward as we purchase more and better books.
We are careful with our language.
I flinch a little whenever I hear the term “struggling readers.” As Donalyn Miller has taught me, there is little hope in that term. How about vulnerable? How about careful? How about developing? How about just readers? Our language promotes a growth mindset so we have to be aware of what our language does to shape their self-image. How do we speak about our readers when they are around or not around?
We cultivate patience.
It is really hard to not lose hope when you have implemented best practices (choice, time, books, and a reading community) and then see little results. And yet, sometimes we are working against years of a negative reading identity. We are working on catching up years of stalled reading experiences. We are working against unseen forces that derail us any chance they get. So we must be patient. Patient with the child who is trying. Patient as the teacher hoping for results. I have said it before and will say it again; sometimes we are just the tourniquet that stops the growth of the hatred of reading or the negative reading experiences, not the teacher that will see the actual seeds of change grow and bloom.
We balance our purchasing decisions.
While we may be going one to one with Chromebooks, my principal will also tell you that she always has money to purchase books. Our literacy coach asks us if we want more books because if we do then she will get us some. This speaks volumes because if a district is spending money on technology without spending money on books there is a serious imbalance in priorities. And if that is the case, a conversation needs to be started about what is more important?
So when I think of what we do for our vulnerable readers, I once again see the thread that runs through our entire school community; every child a reader, every single day. Every child deserves the best chance. Every child deserves the best teachers. The best experiences. The best, period.
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.