being a teacher, global read aloud, Literacy, Reading

What Are We Reading Aloud? Survey for K-8 Educators in the United States

I have written before about the read aloud and its power for older students. I have written about how read alouds brings us all together, how they offer us a new language to speak as we build our community. How read alouds allow us to step into a world we might not know or invite others into one that we already live in.

Since founding the Global Read Aloud in 2010, I have been responsible for selecting a read aloud to be shared around the world. The task always feels heavy. The task also brings a lot of joy, but as I have mentioned, the task of selecting the books to be read aloud have also made me curious; what is already being read aloud in the United States? What are the corner texts that, we as communities, keep coming back to year after year? What do our students get to experience from year to year as they travel through our classrooms?

Rather than just be curious, I figured I would ask. So will you help me out by taking this survey and sharing it with others? I tried to make it easy to take but still offer up valuable information. I will share the results once I have enough responses, because once we know more we can learn together.

Be the change, books, global read aloud, Literacy, Passionate Readers, Reading Identity

Auditing Your Read Aloud – A Whole School Conversation

In 2010, I created a project called The Global Read Aloud, for the past 11 years I have been the driving force behind this global literacy initiative. For 11 years, I have asked educators to recommend books for us to read aloud on a global scale. To suggest books they feel would make for an incredible connection around the world. That will inspire students to learn more about others. That will inspire students to learn more about themselves. That will generate connections that maybe were not possible before.

You could say that for the past 11 years, I have seemingly had a front row seat to the most recommended read aloud books in America. And I am here to tell you something; they are almost all by White authors featuring White kids.

Probably not a shock to many, but still something to sit with for all.

I used to not notice. That’s what happens when White privileges blinds you to seemingly obvious things. I would gladly go with the suggestions not thinking about skin color or ethnic heritage as the read alouds were selected. Not thinking past the book and into the life off the author, after all, a read aloud is separate from the person who creates it, right? And these books were great. These books would generate conversations. These books had merit. These books had endured and would guarantee a beautiful read aloud experience for all of us. And they did.

And yet, a few years in, someone kindly asked; when will the “Global” part of the name come true? When will you pick a book that isn’t set in America, that isn’t written by a White author? I felt so dumb when the comment came my way. How could I have not noticed? How could I have forgotten to think deeper about what the project recommended?

Now looking back at the years of recommendations, patterns emerge quickly. Despite asking for #OwnVoices authors and stories set outside of the White dominant culture, these books continue to be the most often recommended. The same authors keep popping up. The same titles even. Even when they have been chosen in previous years, I am told that they would make for a great read aloud again because surely nothing can beat the experience we already had. Even if the books have been deemed problematic, they are still recommended.

This is not a trend limited to the Global Read Aloud. I see it play out on social media all of the time. Someone asks for a recommendation for a read aloud and in that list are the same White books. The same books that we, White educators, have loved for years and years and continue to read aloud because to us they mean something more. The same authors but with new titles. The same situations. The similar story of yet another White child overcoming obstacles. And of course, we need these stories too, however, we do not need them as much as we are using them right now. With a teaching profession in America that is dominated by 80% White people, it shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet, it should be something that we, as a profession, recognize and see the harm in.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, of course, reminded and continues to remind us of the power of seeing yourself in books. We Need Diverse Books started from yet another moment of exclusion in a White dominated conference field. The CCBC continues to remind us how White children’s books are. Lee and Low reminds of how White the publishing industry is. But that doesn’t mean our read alouds need to be. In fact, quite the opposite. This is the once again urgent reminder to all of us, White educators, and those who choose the books that we hold up and venerate enough to make a part of our curriculum, of our experience, that we need to audit our read alouds.

That we need to look past the books we have loved for a long time and see what else is out there.

That we need to start recommending #OwnVoices books. Books written by people who are marginalized within our society.

That we need to expand our loyalties. Our lists should contain numerous names of BIPOC authors who are writing incredible stories.

That we need to start reading more widely ourselves in order to discover the new authors who are creating stories that we so desperately need in the hands of our children.

That we need to stay current.

That we need to audit across grade-levels so that we can see what the read alouds are from one year to the next and disrupt the pattern of White dominance that inevitably occurs within most schools because an audit is not done.

That we look around and ask ourselves; what is the story told of kids of color? What is the story told of White kids? And how often is the story told? How does my read aloud cement or disrupt the dominant culture and how we view others?

Whose story is highlighted? Whose story becomes a part of the community we weave together? Whose stories hold power for all of us?

We need to think of the patterns we continue to perpetuate when we fail to see how much power a read aloud holds. Especially if we teach in White majority schools or in schools with White majority teaching staff. Our kids deserve stories about kids whose lives may not mirror their own, but who are still living incredible lives.

Because that’s what a great read aloud does; it creates connections, it leads to revelations, it it binds us together in deeper sense because we have lived through the story of another.

So we need to keep asking; whose stories are we living through? And how does that impact the students we teach? Because it is, and it does, and it is up to us to do something about it.

PS: I would be remiss to not thank those who have pushed my thinking on this. I am so grateful for the work done by the #DiversityJedi #DisruptTexts Chad Everett, Sara Ahmed, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and countless others

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

books, Literacy, Reading

A Few Favorite Books from Our Classroom for Teens Who Say They Can’t Find a Great Book

One of the many benefits there is from being an educator who reads a lot is that I get to create many different reading lists in my head. From the child that asks me to find another book just like the one they just read, to the colleague who needs some books to take their mind off of bigger things, to the child who tells me that they have never liked a single book, there are lists in my head with ideas. These lists grow as I read, study what our kids are reading, and also get to know our readers better.

One of my most used list from my head is for the last group of kids, the kids that come to us saying that all books are boring. That all books they have tried are only okay or not worth their time. Who read a book only because they have to or fake read hoping we won’t notice. Those books are in high demand.

There are a few trends with many of the books that help kids find value in reading again. Many are free-verse or novels in verse, many have mature topics discussed throughout, many are shorter. In fact, I would say that the world needs even more of these books – books with mature, complex storylines that are around 200-250 pages, especially those written by #OwnVoices authors.

So which books make the list at the moment for our readers? Here are a few suggestions…

I have loved book talking Torrey Maldonado’s Tight to my students because you can see them get interested quickly once I share the book. After all, how many of my students can relate to the idea of trying to navigate demands from friendships without losing yourself.

I rejoiced loudly at the news that Nic Stone wrote a middle grade novel. Students love both Dear Martin and Jackpot but for some of my students they need a little more accessible language, which Nic so seamlessly delivers in this Clean Getaway, her new middle-grade novel without sacrificing the complexity of the story.

Another book that has been replaced multiple times is The Rose that Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur. I love when students discover this book because they so often check with me to see if this is “The Tupac” or some other guy.

I book talked Standing Strong by Gary Robinson last week and it had an immediate wait list. I can’t wait to see what the students think once they have read it.

Free-verse continues to reign supreme for many of our students and this new addition Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai has been gaining attention since I book-talked it a month ago.

I cannot wait to book talk Manning Up by Bee Walsh this week. It has a few common patterns that seems to do well in our classroom; it’s free verse, it is action packed, it is more mature, and it is about sports.

We have continued our discussions about influences, bias, and what causes us to do what we do throughout the year and so I book talked The Wave by Todd Strasser and the book has furiously made the rounds. It’s short, accessible, and a riveting read as we see just how frightfully easy it is to manipulate others.

I have lost of how many kids have read Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee.

Yummy – The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

I have replaced Yummy more times than I can count because it is one of those books where once I book talk, I tend to not see it again. One kid book talked it repeatedly as he tried to convince other us its rightful place in their reading lives.

One of our newer additions to must-read books has been Warcross by Marie Lu. This book is featured in our dystopian book club work and is a book that kids love for its fast pace and mystery.

If there is a book that defines our time together it is this masterpiece by Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down continues to be one of our most worn-out, passed around, talked about books more than a year after its release. I have lost count of how many readers have asked for books just like this after they finish its pages.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is the second most read book series in our classroom, and for the kids who are not quite ready to decode its many pages, the audio version beckons. With its complicated plot lines, incredible world building, and suspense, I am in awe of the talent that is Neal Shusterman and how he never underestimates our readers.

Eleven by Tom Rogers about 9/11 is a book that I book talk on the anniversary of the attacks and I see it passed from child to child. The kids I teach now were born after the attacks and long for books that can help them understand what happens. With its dual narrators, the book is fast paced yet accessible for many.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines is one of the more mature books in our classroom, but without fail it is one of the most read series we have. With its focus on football, small town, tragedy, and relationships, it pulls readers in from many walks of life.

Also more mature, the poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace is one that especially many of my 7th graders who have not found value in reading gravitate toward. I book talk it individually as well as to the class.

I have seen The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey dismissed more times than I can count by adults who deem it too easy for our readers, and yet, this series has single handedly transformed at least three readers’ lives in our classroom over the years. Why someone would dismiss a great series that a child wants to read continues to baffle me.

The Crossover – Graphic Novel Adaptation by Kwame Alexander and Dawud Anyabwile Even if a child has read The Crossover (which is also on this list), they still get so excited to see the graphic novel adaptation.

Handed Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren to one of my hockey players and she could not put it down.  Her word of mouth recommendation means that it is flying through the classroom, and kids who told me they hate reading are devouring it.

Image result for hey kiddo

Kids cannot believe that this is a graphic novel.  With its unflinching look at how addiction shaped his life and his talents, Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka is flying through the room.

“Mrs. Ripp, I only want to read books like this one…” so said one of my most resistant readers this year, and it happens every year.  Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies is one of those books I can count on to be a great reading experience for almost every child I hand it to.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is one of those books that takes you by the heart and then twists it painfully.  Unyielding in its honesty, this book stays with you long after the last page.

What happens when the alpha bully at a middle school hits his head and forgets everything about himself?  I think so many of my students can connect with Gordon Korman’s Restart for many different reasons.  It is fast-paced and Chases’ dilemma makes you want to read on; will he go back to how he was?

Also by Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales – Spiderman is the first full-length novel that features the comic book character Miles Morales as Spiderman.  Need I say more?

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt has hands-down been the biggest game changer for a lot of my readers.  I have 7 copies circulating and none of them sit on the shelf for more than a day.  We have it on Audible as well for students who prefer to listen to their books.

 Rhyme Schemer also by K.A. Holt is about a bully who becomes the victim.  I love how students relate to this story and often see this passed from kid to kid.

Who would think that our most resistant readers start to fall in love with reading through free verse?  What Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover has done for our reading life cannot be underestimated.  I have already had to replace my copies of this book this year and students are eagerly awaiting Booked on it’s arrival date of April 5th.

Reality Boy by A.S.King may have a very angry protagonist but I think the anger and “realness” of the books is what draws readers to it.  This is another book that is often recommended from student to student.

Another free verse book, this one is House Arrest by K.A. Holt has been making the rounds as well.  The discussions in class that this book leads to are powerful for many students.

When a resistant reader recommended this book to me I knew it had staying power in our classroom.  Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy is not your typical sports book and I think that is why it has been so popular with many resistant readers.  It is a little bit raw and a little bit unresolved, a perfect choice for many of my more picky readers.

Another Jason Reynolds book, Ghost is book one in the Track series and left my students wanting to read the next book, Patina, right away.  Easily accessible langueg with a relatable character who does not have the easiest life, this was a book many kids declared as a favorite.  

Boost by Kathy Mackel was book talked last week and has not been in my classroom since, quickly passing hands from student to student.

For the first time ever, I used We Were Liars by e.lockhart (Emily Jenkins’ pen name for her YA books) and I was not disappointed.  It was clear that my group of readers quickly became absorbed as they begged for just one more minute of reading time.

It can come as no surprise that Monster by Walter Dean Meyers is a book many readers gravitate to.  I have loved the reflections and thoughtful dialogue that this book creates but even more so how many students have recommended to each other.

What are your must adds/must-reads that you pull out for the kids who say they can’t find a great book?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

being a teacher, being me, conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

What’s Important in Your World – A Small Question to Boost Conferring

I have been having small conversations with students. Isn’t that what teaching is in so many ways? Much like we live life in the moments in between the big, we teach in the moments in between the big as well, the big assignment, the best draft, the presentation. We go throughout our day using our voice to connect, our bodies to show our listening, our eyes to show we care. We seek out those moments in between hello’s and goodbye’s to make sure that with us, these kids, our kids, feel seen, challenged, and cared for.

So in thinking about how I could structure more conversation to build trust, I have been starting each reading conference with a simple yet meaningful question. Inspired by Sara Ahmed’s work in Being the Change, after I have asked them how their night was, how their day is going, I then ask, “What is important to you in your world right now?” It took some finessing with the question, in some conversations it flows seamlessly and the students latch onto it and take it in the direction they need it to go. Others ask for clarification which I typically bumble through, but what it shows me each time, is that continued need to connect that drives everything we do in room 203.

That there is still much to be done.

That all of the community we think we have built is still not enough. That each child is still carrying so much within them that ties in with their day, their mood, their thoughts, their actions, their dreams. From the worries about homework as the end of the quarter nears, to friendship issues they are navigating. From coming to terms with sports ending and figuring out what else to use their time on, to not quite knowing what to do with something they know, these kids take that question and allow us one more glimpse into their lives. One more way to build a way for them to trust us with the emotions that are tied into the work we are doing.

Because I can start a conversation asking just about their book.

Because I can start a conversation getting right to the skill.

Because I can start the conversation by asking what they are working on as a reader.

Because I can start the conversations moving into the work as quickly as possible.

But what that will never do is build the kind of trust we need to have with each other when kids tell me how they really want to grow. Why they worry about reading. Why they worry about writing. Why they worry about being in a community where some seemingly don’t understand them. Why they worry about grades, about the future, about the news.

So for now our conferences are taking a little bit longer. So for now, I am not quite sure how the conversation will go. I am not sure when we will get to the work they are doing as readers. But we will and we do.

But before then. Before that.

I get a tiny glimpse into their world and isn’t that what teaching is also about in so many ways? A tiny glimpse so we can help them capture the world the way they want to.

It is for me.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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

Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

What Does Student Independent Reading Look Like? A Whole District Audit

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For a long time, I felt like an oddity within my reading beliefs: provide students with independent reading time every single day, provide a fully-stocked culturally relevant collection of books, remove all of the reading projects that stood in the way of reading joy, focus on reading identity at all turns. But then I discovered others who shared those same beliefs, who had held those beliefs long before I had reached them, who had pioneered the work spreading the word around the globe. The relief and power that finding others provided is one that cannot be underestimated. The strength that comes with working for a district that shares these beliefs is a blessing.

And yet, I know there are many others that have felt and do feel like the oddities in their school. Who constantly have to defend why self-selected independent reading is a cornerstone of their work. Who have to explain why they continue to spend their own money, ask for money, write grants and do anything they can to purchase more books. Who spend so much time trying to keep up with new books, who weed and discard books that do not have a place in their collection. Who feel alone but might not be.

An incredible honor for me is when I am asked to work with a district or school who is on a journey of trying to reach their readers in a more significant way. Who knows they have work to do and who are ready to take the next step. Who are not afraid to reflect and change even when change is hard. When I am asked to do this work, I always have many questions; what does reading look like now? Which experiences are each reader guaranteed as they go through their journey? What are the rights of your readers when it comes to book choice, independent reading, and reading identity? These questions lead to many discussions, many aha moments, and provide a road map for change. Much like we need to give students the space to create their rights a readers within our community, we need to also create our expectations and rights as a district. What are the experiences that each reader is guaranteed at each level of their schooling beyond the curriculum we use? How can we then make curricular and business (because let’s face it part of schools’ direction is determined by the business aspect) decisions that protect and further these rights? How can we offer training and funding to support these rights? Hw can we invite the community into this conversation? How can we embrace antiracist principles and establish an emphasis on the individual’s rights and needs?

In the spirit of this pursuit, I offer up several questions that should be asked at a district level or at the very least, school level, in order for student reading rights to be protected. After all, if our goal is for students to leave our care not only being able to read well but also find an inherent human value within reading then we need to create experiences that safeguard that.

So please start asking…

How much time is each child guaranteed for self-selected independent reading time each day?

Too often we see independent reading get cut due to fewer instructional minutes, particularly as students get older and we bring in more whole class novels or book clubs. We also see it limited for students who are in intervention or have other needs. Yet, if students are not offered up time to independently ready every single day, how can we then support them in their reading?

What are students “allowed” to read?

While the answer should be “anything they want” this is often not the case as choice is often limited due to well-meaning intentions. Students who read below grade level are often given the least amount of choices, in order to help them have more successful reading experiences, yet within the helpful intent of that we can end up doing real damage. Can you imagine always being told what to read and never being able to work through a book of your choosing? What we should be focusing our energy on is how to help students navigate the choices they make as well as develop better book selection habits.

Where and how can students access books?

A well-developed school library with a librarian should be a right for every child, as should a well-stocked culturally relevant classroom collection curated by a teacher who reads. We need books to entice every reader at all turns, so asking this question can open up discussions of inequitable access, culturally insensitive books, gaps in collections, as well as the need for teachers who teach reading to be readers themselves. How is funding appropriated for books? How are collections developed? How are books placed in the hands of kids?

What are students expected to do once they finish a book?

So often, and in my own experiences, we have a lot of work lined up for kids once they finish a book all in the name of accountability. Whether it be forced book talks, book reports, summaries or readers’ responses, reading logs or other tools that involve counting minutes and needing signatures, or having to take a quiz on a computer, we are so busy policing the experience of reading that we forget to look at what we, as adults, want to do when we read a book. These accountability practices can do a lot of damage, particularly if students are exposed and expected to do them year after year. By asking this question, we can start to look at long-term experiences and how that may be impacting reading identity throughout our years together.

What does reading “homework” look like?

While currently in my own classroom, students are expected to try to read at least 2 hours outside of English class every week, this is not how it used to be. I had packets and worksheets lined up for their reading, as well as small summaries, and book talks with friendly adults who had not read the book. This question goes hand in hand with the previous one as it looks at the components we attach to reading, as well as potential inequities within our practices. What are we tying in with the homework being completed or not? Not all kids are in a position to read outside of school, not all kids have access to what they need or are in a place in their journey where they see enough value to dedicate outside class time to reading.

Who are kids expected to read?

While this is a question that speaks to a much larger issue surrounding the canon and who we, as educators, constantly expose students to as literary masterminds, it is also important that we locally audit across grade levels to see who is being shared and more importantly who isn’t. Often we base our read alouds, book clubs, and text selections on our own favorites with little thought to what has come before and what will come after for our students, but since publishing skews heavily white, cisgendered, and heteronormative, this tends to become the reading experience for many students as well, particularly those within white majority districts or taught by mostly white educators. Diving into this questions can and should fundamentally change the canon we present to students year after year.

While there are many other questions to ask, the few shared here will offer up a path way to further investigation into the reading practices embedded within a district. It is definitely a conversation that is needed and should be pursued on an ongoing basis. After all, if we don’t ask the questions and reflect on the journey we place students on, how will we ever change?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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

Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Book Recommendations and Whose Voices We Give Power to

I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, it is part of the life of someone who reads voraciously and publicly. I share a lot of book recommendations in real life every day with my students as I do a 1-minute booktalk, with colleagues as we swap books, on this blog where I compile the books I use for various units, on Instagram where I share the ones I have loved, in my Facebook group for my book, Passionate Readers. I don’t mind handing over recommendations, after all, I am so grateful for those who recommend books to me and have throughout the years.

And yet, I am also reminded of why I can recommend so many books. I read a lot. Sometimes more than at other times. I try to read widely. Broadly. I try to keep up with new books and those that I missed the first time. I try to follow the recommendations of others who discover books that I have not yet come across. Whose passion in reading is a gap of mine. I try to fill my gaps and find more knowledge when it comes to the books that I can potentially place in the hands of the readers I am entrusted with because being asked for recommendations by the very students I teach fuels me to read more. Fuels me to think of the kid that is in front of me and potential books that may help them re-connect or stay connected with reading. I have seen what being able to recommend the right book can do. I have seen certain books help them out of slumps. But I also know that recommending books can be a slippery slope. That if I continue to be the only one recommending then the voices of my students are not heard and the identities of them as readers, and, indeed, as human beings, will never be fully independent. Yes, I can recommend, but it is so much more powerful when a child is able to recommend to their peers or when they can successfully find books to their liking by themselves. And so it is a fine line between recommendation and discovery. Between asking students to study their own patterns and discovering their own gaps in order to help them read more broadly and see other people’s experiences that perhaps do not mirror their own.

I see this play out too when we, educators, turn to each other for specific book recommendations for that child we cannot seem to find a great book for. That often we educators, who teach future readers, are not keeping up ourselves with reading. Are not aware of what is out there now in these years when it comes to the incredible books that beckon our readers, and that is a problem. Because too often I see the same authors recommended, a new canon of books exclusively by white authors touted as the must reads. I see the same books recommended time and time again, I see the same titles used as read alouds, as novel studies, as book clubs. I see books that certainly have been worth our time never be replaced because we, the adults, deciding the books, haven’t kept up with our own reading. And I am not sure what to do about it other than discuss this pattern and recommend more books.

This is not to say that we cannot turn to each other for recommendations, but it is to say that we, as a profession, need to read more broadly and more overall in order to serve the kids we teach. In order to change our own understanding of what quality literature is and also what the gaps are in our curriculum. In order to see that the canon, whether traditionally established or not, needs to be questioned, disrupted, and that we also produce our own canon year after year. That when we are asked for book recommendations we audit ourselves and think of whose work we highlight. Whose books we hold up as the best. Whose voices we give more power to when we pass the recommendation on.

I try to see the children who come to me for recommendations as the invitations into reading that they are; see it as an invitation to read more. To pick up another book in the hopes that I can pass it on. To study my own gaps; what am I not reading and why not? Why is it hard for me to think of a title for this kid? For this particular reader? I treat my book gaps and lack of recommendations as a research project; which are the books that should be read? Which are the books I can use in class? Pass on? Recommend? I dedicate my limited time to reading as many books as I can in order to better my practice and become more than I was.

And so while I will continue to recommend books, I will also remind myself that I have much more work to do. That recommending a book isn’t the only step in the journey. That I should track what I recommend so I can see what I don’t. That I should continue to listen to the voices of those who spend so much time helping me see my own book gaps. That I have so many more ways to grow. That before I ask others, I will look at my own reading habits and make a plan so I can continue to grow myself. After all, my students are not the only ones who are still figuring out who they are.

To see who I turn to for recommendations, please go here

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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