She told me that her goal was to find more time to read. That life had been busy and so reading had gotten lost. That while she liked it, sometimes, there just wasn’t enough time in the day. That while she liked that book, sometimes, she didn’t bring it home because there wouldn’t be time. That while she knew she should read outside of class, sometimes she just didn’t have the time, after all, there was so much else to do. And she wondered how I read so many books, how I found the time, despite it all. And I only had one answer to give…
I don’t find the time. I make the time. I make the time to read the books so I can speak books with the people in my care. I make the time to read outside of my known, outside of the known of my students so I can bring the stories in that we maybe didn’t even know we needed. I make the time because I see the value, I live the value so that perhaps through our shared dedication, through our conviction, our students who have not (yet) found the value will.
We make the time to find the stories that will light up a new understanding. That will entrance. That will captivate. That will spark, even if only for a moment. That have just entered the world and now need to enter ours.
We make the time because if we don’t then we can tell students to read until we are blue in the face and they will know that we don’t really mean it. After all, how can we say we value it if we don’t give the gift to ourselves?
We make the time so we can speak books, develop a shared language wrapped up in our shared experiences, colored by the rollercoaster tracks of the stories we surround ourselves with.
And we question the books we love to make sure that our love is warranted. And we question the books we dislike to question whether our dislike is misplaced. And we keep an open mind so that all stories, because our kids are our stories, feel safe and valued and accepted no matter the differences we all bring into our community. No matter the sameness we bring into our community.
Because as we all know, or at least we should, the days we have lived will never come back. The moments we have spent will never trigger more. No person in human history has ever found more time. We all live by the same 24 hours, the same 86,400 seconds. We all live by the busy, the to-do and the get-done’s. By the push and pull of a life we say we control and yet at times feel such little control over.
But the time we make.
The time we take.
That’s what matters when we share this community with our students. When we wind ourselves up in stories. When we hand a child a book we loved too. When we hand a child a book we cannot wait to read. When we hold up a new story that has somehow become a part of who we are. When we admit that last night, even though I wanted to, I just didn’t read, because last night I chose to give my time to something else, but tonight! Tonight I will read because I want to. Because I choose to.
So we make the time and we urge our students to do the same. Our colleagues to do the same. Our own kids to do the same. So that this life, one that is already rich with story, becomes a life where quiet moments of great imagination are not the exception but instead the reality we choose to live on our own.
So we read so we can grow so we can share so we can learn.
And we tell all of our children, even the ones that do not belong to us, that stories are the threads of humanity and so we must take the time to read them. We must take the time to live broader in the ways that only stories can provide us, because that is the reward we can give ourselves day after day. That is the reward we can give others.
Inevitably, every few years, one of our four children brings home some variant of a reading log. Typically it involves logging the minutes that that they have read every night, a signature, perhaps the titles as well and sometimes even the need to write a few lines about the book they read. Often times it is tied in with a reward; pizza, parties, extra recess.
And while it used to anger me that kids (and their adults) were being asked to do this work, I have realized that the request for a reading log is typically not anchored in any kind of malice. Rather, it is sent home with a genuine interest in the reading lives outside of school. With a hope that a child will make the time to read. With the hope that a family will make the time to read because it is now expected as homework. What is the harm in that? So every time we are presented with one, I find myself in a dilemma; do I say anything, ask for my child to be opted out, or do I let the practice ride? After all, there are bigger things to worry about when it comes to the reading experience of children.
And yet, I have seen the damage that the simple requirements of a reading log has done to my own children. When our oldest came home with our first one, she asked for a timer, set it for 20 minutes and when the alarm went off, she resolutely shut her book and told us she was done. No matter that she was in the the middle of a page, no matter that the previous nights she had read for a much longer time. The 20 minutes was all she needed to read. Or our son, who when he did a book logging program that offered up prizes didn’t care so much as to what he was reading or having read aloud, but instead would pick the shortest books in order to log as many titles as possible, so that he could get whatever prize was attached to the amount of books. Or how they make me a liar. I don’t know what my children are reading often, they are surrounded by books and while we talk about them we don’t always. So when I am supposed to sign off on their minutes or write down their titles, I do it gladly, without really knowing if it is true or not. Should I know every minute read and every book read, sure, if I had unlimited time in the day. Instead, we discuss many things in our household, books included, and focus on our time together not just the homework they have to do.
When I ask my students to discuss their negative experiences, reading logs rise to the top. It doesn’t matter if it was only for one year or even for a shorter amount of time, having to account for the minutes read did little to inspire further reading, but instead added yet another to-do to their to-read. So last night I sent out the following tweet, and with that comes this post, because it turns out there were many that also have wondered how to advocate for their own child when faced with a reading log or other potentially harmful measures.
So I have an email that I send when the reading log comes home, and I do hesitate to share it here because I am sure to some it is not enough, and yet, in my years of teaching, I have found that engaging in dialogue with other teachers about their practices from a lens of genuine interest is going to take me so much further than citing research, telling them about the wrongness of their choices, or in any other way trying to prove that I am right and that they made a mistake. No teacher wants to be shamed, and why should they be for this?
So the email I send in its edited form is simple:
Hi, I saw the reading log sent home today and wanted to ask a few questions, if you don’t mind.
A big focus for our family is that reading is its own reward so we don’t tie anything to her reading; no minutes, no prizes. She needs to understand that reading is something you do for personal enjoyment and not outside gifts. In the past, when (insert child’s name here) has seen the time requirement, she right away told me that was all she had to read for. We don’t want her to think that there should be a maximum time for reading, but instead follow her natural rhythm for reading when she has a great book.
Are you ok with us not filling it out and instead me giving you my word that (insert child’s name here) reads every night for at least 30 minutes? Is there another way we can show our accountability to reading? We read every day so it won’t be a problem.
I hope this doesn’t come off as rude, I don’t really know how to put it in other words. We love you as a teacher and so does our child and want you to feel supported. If you would like to discuss this in any way please let us know. Best,
I could cite the research, I could go on for a long time about the damage of reading logs and offer up other ways to measure reading. Or I can simply ask questions and see what happens. We have never needed to do any of those other steps because often it is not the teacher that mandates the reading log but rather a team, a school, or a district. And that teacher deserves my respect and gratitude for the care they give our children.
Would I though if I had to? Of course. The reading lives of my own children and others is too important to let linger in harmful practices. So here are my other posts on reading logs if you need them, including one that discusses how you can make it an option or other ways to see if kids are reading. For now, I will wait to hear back.
Every year, a few new ideas surface over summer that I just cannot wait to try. A few ideas that make me even more excited for the kids to come, if that was even possible. These ideas are not tried and tested yet, how can they be since summer still beckons, but I thought I would share them anyway in case they are ideas that maybe others want to explore as well? Or perhaps you want to share some of your own ideas as well? Either way, here are a few things happening in my head and in our classroom, room 203.
Ready-Set-Go conferences. These conferences are nothing new, but I have never done them at the middle school level. The concept is simple; offer up a 15 minute time slot ( or longer if you can) to every family that would like to meet with us before the year starts in order to give us a sneak peek into their child’s hopes and dreams. This is not for us to talk, but for us to listen as we meet the families that will be impacted by their child’s school experience with us. I also am pondering offering up “open office” time at a local coffeeshop for those who do not want to go into the school – thank you, Mindy, for that idea. I cannot wait to see how many are able and want to take this opportunity.
First writing unit is all about writing identity. While I do a lot of work with the kids surrounding reading identity, our exploration into who we are as writers has been piecemeal in the past few years. Not this year, our entire first exploration is an inquiry into who they are as writers, being mindful of privacy and how comfortable they are sharing anything, and picking up their journey wherever they are. This will center around personal essays/memoir and also feature a portfolio rather than one finished product. We will go slow, and hopefully, develop trust for writing instruction to truly be centered around not just the needs of each child but also how they hope to grow. And, it will take the time it takes.
Writing Circles. I was thrilled when I learned about the use of writing circles as a way to develop authentic writing partnerships in the book Comprehension & Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey “Smokey” Daniels. Now, I want to implement this great idea into our writing throughout the year. Centered on the same concepts as literature circles, writing circles offers each child a unique opportunity to write with others around the same topic, or in the same format, writing alongside each other offering up critique and feedback throughout the process. This is trust based and so the students will get to select their first writing circles to see how they work for them and then I will help them adjust as we go. I am hoping this will provide students with a more natural collaborative group throughout the year that can help them grow as writers, rather than only having a few opportunities throughout the year to work with others. I will probably write more about this as I go.
Pairing book talks with author videos. Every day for the first month, I do a very short book talk every day in the hope that students will find great books to read. (After the first month, students start to do them as well, but they continue all year). This year, after our quick book talk, I will show a short video of the author speaking about the book, their writing process, or just being interviewed in general. This will serve a few purposes; students will see what the creators look like and hopefully connect with their work on a deeper level, seeing authors speak about their books can generate further excitement, and also, representation matters. When I am searching for author videos, Youtube or TeachingBooks.net are great places to start, I am further reminding myself that we should be highlighting the works of underrepresented authors and creators. With older works, I will search for audio recordings.
Supplies for all. I have always had extra supplies ready for kids, but in the past they had to ask for them because I didn’t really have space for them anywhere. Not this year, after heading to the Dollar Store, I am ready with several hundreds of pencils, erasers, post-its, markers, glue etc and they will be set out for the students to just grab when they need. No more needing to ask the teacher, just get what you need, bring it back if you remember, and then get to work. Most kids won’t need them, some will need them a lot, and others will need them once in a while and I am okay with that.
Group writing. We offer up a free writing prompt every day at the end of class, so that kids get a chance to either work on writing of their choice or do the prompt displayed, this is a way for them to continue to develop their writing and also dive into topics that they want to write about. This year, I am purposefully adding in opportunities to write as a group on Friday’s, I am hoping this practice will strengthen their writing circles as well as they will create together. (Writing will take many forms – acting out, drawing, and other multi-media expressions will also be included).
Incorporating an often overlooked history focus. I used to do a meme a day on our morning slide, which most of the kids found mildly amusing, but realized that the morning slide that greets kids is yet another opportunity to highlight the important work of historical figures that may have been overlooked in some of their lives until now. So every day, along with my welcome, will be a historical fact that abut an event or a person that they may not already know. On Fridays, we are also incorporating a small segment called Overlooked History where I use videos to start a discussion about historical events and people such as the Doctrine of Discovery, The Navajo Code Talkers, Henrietta Lacks, Japanese Internment Camps and many others.
While there are many more ideas being explored this year, these are just a few that I am slowly developing in order for them to feel naturally embedded into our classroom culture. I am hoping that this year, once again, is a year filled with questions, curiosity, and also work that means something beyond “just” reading and writing. I hope that what we do will matter more than just the grades, but time will truly tell.
The post I wrote before this was really long and rambling, so much so that I got sick of writing it and instead decided to just get to the point. So here’s the point…
If you come to our room, and many people do, you will see this poster hang next to the door, in a prominent place where I hope every person sees it. This poster is my heart on display, but it also so much more.
It is a promise.
A stern warning when needed.
And not to the kids, no, they barely glance at it, but to myself.
A promise to every child that walks in that day no matter their mood, no matter their temper, that in our space they will have space and I will do my best to value them.
A reminder to live the words I choose to share with the world, even when I am tired, frustrated, out of ideas.
And a stern warning to myself when my actions and reactions go against the very words I say I believe in. To stop. To breathe. To find love.
Because let’s face it, the display is easy to make but hard to live up to. Especially after the first few week’s excitement has worn off, especially once we settle into the every day routines, especially after the dust settles and we realize that we have so much to do and somehow we need to get doing it. Especially once we realize that we are, indeed, only humans with dreams and flaws that sometimes get in the way of success.
And so the poster hangs proudly as a reminder to myself to continue to reflect. To look at my own practice, to hold myself accountable even when others may think I am doing just fine. To use my voice to speak up, to try to make change, when so many inequitable practices still exists within the structures of school. To stick my neck out and fight for the kids who we don’t always fight for, even when I am the problem, even when my choices are the problem.
To remember that I cannot say that every child is welcome if the truth is far from it. That I cannot support the education of all children if the inequitable systems are not questioned, changed, broken. That I cannot pretend to be happy that these are the children that showed up if my pedagogical and psychological decisions don’t reflect that.
And so at the beginning of this brand new school year, with a classroom as ready as it can get for now, with all of these ideas in my head, with all of these hopes and dreams, I say this out loud so the universe knows; how will I live up to the words that I promise? How will you?
Warning: This post contains me changing my mind as well as unfinished thoughts. Read on to see what happens when you open your discussion to the expertise of others.
You may have come across them if you read adult books. A list at the beginning of the book telling you what types of sensitive content you are about to be exposed to. A gentle reminder to take care of oneself, to breathe and step away if needed. To pay attention to the reading experience in more ways than understanding the text, but also understanding one’s own reaction to something in order to make an educated choice about the type of risk one is willing to take.
I usually skim over them but appreciate the gesture, but as I came across another one, it made me think; should our classroom and library books have trigger warnings? Should we as educators, librarians, add in potential trigger warnings in order for students to be more informed about the book they are about to pick up or not. It couldn’t hurt surely…
And yet, I wanted to think this out loud. What was I not seeing this discussed more because it seemed like such a simple idea. If it was so helpful, why wasn’t everyone doing it?
So I tweeted my thinking…
…and was not disappointed.
A few different discussion ensued; one about the language “trigger warning,” one about the placement of a potential sticker, and then also one about the problems with this practice.
On the language of using “trigger warning”
On the placement of the label on the front of the book
And most importantly on the whole concept
So, as you can see, my thinking changed as others added their thoughts. It went like this…
Great idea, Pernille, get labels and make them colorful and bright so all kids can see them on the front of the books that discuss sexual abuse and violence, have racist language like the “N” word, feature violence against children and maybe other topics as well.
Don’t call them trigger warnings – call them care and concern notes instead. Keep them on the front.
Hmm, don’t put them on the front, put them on the inside instead.
Wait, perhaps, it should just say “Come speak to me…”
Hang on, what do I know about what will trigger a child?
Will I end up needing to put a label on every single YA book in my room?
Whoa, I may be encouraging censorship through this process.
Whoa, I may be encouraging wider censorship of books through my original tweet sharing my idea.
Where will the boundary be for what is considered a trigger? How will this look mixed in with hate/animosity towards marginalized populations?
Someone may take my original idea and think to do this and end up demonizing marginalized people further.
I need to write about this
And so, where does this take me?
Well, I still have a lot of thinking to do, but I know I won’t do trigger warnings. What I will do instead is many folded because the identities of our readers are complicated and nuanced.
I started by reading this article shared by my friend Sara Ralph and others
I will send home our classroom library letter at the beginning of the year in order for those at home to have an idea of what types of books their learners may encounter in our classroom.
When students are introduced to our classroom collection, I will specifically discuss how Young Adult books differ from middle grade and explain how I use the PG-13 rating on books.
I will book talk many of our tougher topic books so that students can hear me discuss some of the potential emotional parts in them so they can make the decisions that will work for them.
I will encourage, as always, that each child knows themselves well enough to know when to abandon a book.
I will confer as much as possible with my students about their book choices and whether they feel the book is great for them or not.
Books that have to do with suicide or sexual assault, I will place a label on the inside with help-line numbers.
And then I will continue to mull over the fine balance between helping kids find great books and hurting their choices instead.
The bottom line is; censorship lives and breathes in our collections of books. We already know that most of the challenged books as reported by ALA in the past few years have had to do with sexual and gender identity. We know that there are many active book challenges happening at this time. We know that sometimes through our well-meaning intentsion (like my original tweet) we may be furthering censorship. But the good news is that we don’t have to.
As a child growing up in Denmark, there was no censorship on the books I was encouraged to read. If I wanted to read about mature topics, I could, my mother trusted me to navigate these books when I was ready and then also let me know that at any point, we could discuss them. It fundamentally shaped my worldview today; that children know more than we assume, that we cannot shield them from tough things in the hopes of keeping them innocent, and that they are eager to learn about others.
By bringing this discussion online and now here, I encourage others to look at labeling systems that are already present in their schools, such as “mature” sections which only some kids can access, or books that need to be checked out with parent permission. Are these really helping kids or are we stopping them from reading books that will speak to them? That may be about them? That may give them hope? Do our “helpful” systems to shield children actually end up hurting them instead?
The kids show up in a month and one day, the books will be waiting. I cannot wait to see the stories they will gravitate toward, I will be there to help them.
Follow up: After posting this post, this incredibly thoughtful comment was left on it in a Facebook group it and brought to my attention. This once again shows me how much I still have to learn, despite being acutely aware of PTSD and how it can affect you.
Pernille Ripp you’ll be in our area at the end of this month, so I shared this post with our librarians, and one of them had this response. “I appreciated Pernille’s showcasing of dialogue and evolution of ideas on the topic. However, the origin of the trigger warning I feel is completely lost in the article. Trigger warnings are for people who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As someone who has PTSD and actually has to seek out signs for potential triggers when I engage in materials, trigger warnings are literally supposed to help prevent me, who has experienced trauma, from going into panic and/or fight or flight mode. Trigger warnings are not supposed to filter distressing topics. Those of us with PTSD are not distressed. We have a diagnosable condition where our brains are like broken records that when triggered can easily be stuck on repeat, reliving trauma over and over. When triggered we can forget where we are and who we are with, we can have a complete nervous break down, suffer insomnia, physical pain, lose consciousness, need medical intervention. This article did not seem at all to be dealing with actual triggers. Many of us experience trauma in a myriad of ways – and that can include reading material that covers topics discussed in the blog you shared because, let’s be honest here, reading is an empathetic experience. However, not all of us who experience trauma develop PTSD. My point here is: If a person needs trigger warnings, they need professional help.
I think the goal behind the conversation is valid and worthy of our time. However, the focus is misplaced. In order to properly label materials with warnings or care and concerns or whatever you want to call them, we would have to be well-equipped to understand what constitutes a trigger and then engage all our collection’s materials on a deep enough level to be able to properly label each and every one. That’s not a realistic goal. So instead of zeroing in on the materials themselves let’s focus efforts instead on making sure every library has a consistently updated and very visible and accessible: poster of hotlines and local resources, book collection, and series of programs designed to equip patrons with the tools they need to handle their pain/medical conditions. Let’s train every library staff member to recognize suicidal ideation in our patrons (a lot of times that stuff just leaks right out without them even knowing), how to talk to someone in crisis, and how to stay up to date on who to contact in an emergency. “
PS: THANK YOU so much to all who discussed this with me. To see the original tweet and thread go here
She tells us that she is not smart. That school is not a place she wants to go to because that’s where all the smart kids go. The ones who can read. The ones who can do things so much easier than her.
She shows us that she is trying. That every word that sits in front of her is a mountain to be climbed, seemingly no matter how many times she has seen it before, the climb is still there. The doubt is still there. The wanting to give up, because “This so hard, Mommy..” and we tell her to sound it out, to try again, to see the letters, even as they move and squiggle and run away from her eyes as she tries once again. Everything taking twice as long as her twin brother. Everything coming at a price of time that seemingly no other child has to give up because to them it just comes easy.
So we search for answers, for teachers who see the girl before they see the problem, for others who like us, sit with a child where reading does not come easy. Where reading is not a magical adventure but instead dreaded work that doesn’t bring happiness but only affirmation of her supposed lack of can. And we get the doctors involved and they tell us their diagnosis and I cry in the meeting because wouldn’t it have been nice if it wasn’t a specific learning disorder but instead just something that hadn’t clicked? Wouldn’t it have been nice if we had it all wrong and she had us all fooled? Wouldn’t it have been nice?
So we sit down with our little girl, who really isn’t so little anymore, and tell her that we did get answers and as we thought it turns out her brain just learns differently. That reading is, indeed, hard to figure out but not impossible. That now that we know more, we can do more, we can get help, we can get support, and we can go in the right direction rather than searching in the dark hoping for something to help us. We can tell she doesn’t believe us, not yet, anyway.
And as summer unfolds, we hope that having this time can give us the time we need to build her back up, not because anyone tore her down, but because this mountain of reading has been telling her for too long that she is not as good as she thought she was. And once those whispers started they were awfully hard to drown out when the proof is right there in front of her on the page.
And I think of how the systems of school play into this self-evaluation. How the grades and the labels so often harm. How we, as educators, sometimes confuse good grades with dedication, as if a child who is failing a class isn’t dedicated? As if all a child needs is to just work harder, or hard enough because then the learning will surely come, and how for some of our kids, that is simply not true. That I can see my child work hard. That I can see my child stay at the table longer. That I can see my child give her best every single day. That I can see my child get extra teaching, tutoring outside of school, and yet the results don’t come because it turns out that hard work doesn’t always equal results.
And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones working the hardest if we really had to compare.
And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones pulled out of recess and fun activities in order to go work more.
And these kids, our kids, who are behind are often the ones given fewer opportunity for choice because it turns out that when you need extra support we have to cut something out of your schedule.
And these kids, our kids, sit with the same kids year after year, traveling as a group because the only thing we have identified them by is their lack of ability.
And these kids, our kids notice.
And these kids, our kids, know it.
And these kids, our kids, feel it.
And these kids, our kids, slowly start to take on the new identities we have created for them in our data meetings, in our hallway conversations, in our quick meetups when we make our lists, where we make our groups, where we share the stories that we think define these kids.
And these kids, our kids, are honored for their efforts by being given new names; struggling readers, lower level learners, behind, and you wonder how they lose themselves in the process.
And you wonder why one day, despite our best intentions, they tell us that they don’t think they are smart and that they don’t want to go to school.
So as my family once again adjusts itself in our pursuit of learning for all. As we celebrate the answers we have been given this week while nurturing the child who is at the center of it all, I ask you to please consider this. My child, our daughter, is not a struggling reader, she is a reader. Period. To tell her otherwise would break her heart.
And so these kids, our kids, deserve to be fully spoken about, to be fully known. For us to start a conversation asking how they see themselves and if it is through a negative lens we actively fight against that. And we tell them we see their effort, we tell them we see their progress. We tell them we see their smart, and we stop with the labels, and the assumptions, and we see the kid for who they are rather than what the data tells us.
Because this kid, my kid, doesn’t think that reading will ever be something she can do, and I need, she needs, everyone that works with her to believe otherwise and loudly, because my voice is not enough.