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

being me, Literacy, Reading

We Make the Time

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.

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.    

being a student, discussion, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student driven

Questions to Ask When the Kids Aren’t Reading

You may have noticed that this blog is slowing down a bit, while life continue to churn, I am slowly starting to work on a new book potentially. This means that there may be less brand-new writing on here and instead a mix of from the archives and new. The wonderful thing with continuing to be a teacher is that our teaching, hopefully, evolves as does our understanding of the work we do. With that I present to you a reworking of an older post from 2015.

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I met my first book abandoner my very first year of teaching.  Yet, he was not your average run of the mill book abandoner.  No, he was the “look you straight in the eye and ask you what you are going to do about it” kind of abandoner.  So I did what I knew best; forced him to read the book and not allow him to abandon it.  And he did what he knew best; fake read for a good amount of time, skimmed a few pages, and failed the book report as well as the presentation.  Repeat with every book.  I don’t think he ever read anything beside “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” that year, and that was to spite me more than anything as I forced him into my choice of book time and time again. because I figured that when he couldn’t pick a book it was up to me to do it. When he couldn’t pick a book it was up to me to create accountability.

Everyone has these types of readers.  The ones that abandon book after book because they hate to read, always have, always will.  The ones that abandon book after book because they cannot find a great book, or perhaps they found one once, or perhaps they never have.  The ones that abandon book after book because they get bored easily and while a book may have started great, now it is just meh.  Some years we have a lot, others not so many.  

Often for every child that abandons a book, there is a conversation missing, one that we need to engage them in in order to break the cycle. One that centers on one of the true goals of reading which is that the children we teach should be able to leave us being able to find a book that they are wanting to try on their own, without relying on artificial supports such as their level, their Lexile, or their teacher because they inherently know themselves better as readers.

This conversation takes time, it takes patience, and it takes diving into all of the many components that centers around the giving up a book. While often it may be seen as a rash decision made from an overall disinterest in reading, one that we dismiss when we hand a child another book to try, it is important that we dive into the nuances surrounding book abandonment in order for a child to know themselves more every time they abandon one. Make the act of abandonment one of internal reflection so that it no longer becomes automatic but instead becomes a choice that they can use to further investigate who they are as a reader.

This, therefore, means that there are questions we should be asking of our programming as well as the children that choose to leave yet another failed read in their wake. These questions shape the future decisions they make as well as their overall journey into their own reading identity.

Do they have choice?  Because if they don’t, then that is the very first place we start.  And not limited choice based on levels, Lexiles, or AR scores, but real honest-to-goodness choice where they get to pick their reading materials out of all the reading materials we have. This includes choosing the format and how to access it. Even as they abandon book after book, that choice needs to be protected at all costs, because while we may think that limiting choice will help them in the short-term, that’s exactly the problem with this approach, it helps in the short-term but does not push them further in their own understanding of book selection that works. So even when it seems like the list of abandoned books is too long to bear, let them continue to choose as there are other perimeters to consider.

Do they have time to actually book shop? Often we ask kids to quickly select a book and then wonder why they seem to not be invested in the choice they make, yet, if we study our own adult reading habits we know that leisurely browsing through selections is a pillar of how we choose books. So what are the time constraint placed on students? Do they have time to look through books, try a few pages, sit with a book for a while before they fully commit? Do they have time to speak to their peers about potential titles? Book shopping should be a social endeavor not one done in solitude if they don’t want to, so what are the conversations that need to happen as they browse?

Do they have time to read? If little time is given to reading then we are expecting them to do something they may not like only outside of school.  That is foolish and also malpractice when it comes to the use of our time. Every child, every day, should be engaged in supported independent reading. So when can they read in class and try on the book? When can they be under the guidance of a trained adult that can help them navigate difficult concepts or words?

Do they have access?  We know that students need great books in their hands.  We know students need great libraries coupled with a librarian, but they also need books in our classrooms.  And not old, worn out books, but new, enticing, high-interest books that they can check out easily. So when are they surrounded by books to choose from, what are those choices? Can they check the books out and bring them home or do they have to be kept in class? Yes, I lose books every year, but it is worth it to me if it helps a child read.

Are they overwhelmed? One student I taught told me 6 months into the year that our classroom library was simply overwhelming to browse in. That he didn’t know where to start despite my labels and bins. It took that long for him to tell me because he didn’t trust me with the information, afraid that I would think it silly or stupid, and yet, I didn’t think anything like that. What a way to know oneself! Once he had told me, we were able to create a way for him to browse specific sections of the library that he liked and able to pull out books from large stacks that I would pull for him. As he gradually got more comfortable, I was able to pull back my support.

Do they see themselves in the books?  We discuss students needing windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors in their reading lives as crafted by Dr. Rudine Simms Bishop, but do we also evaluate the stories we have? Are we making sure that we are not just crafting a new cannon of sorts that continues to misrepresent marginalized populations or only share one aspect of someone’s journey? What reading choices are the students surrounded by? Is it culturally responsive such as how Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings discusses? Will it further a perhaps damaging narrative that they already have about others, or will it break down misconceptions, stereotypes, and harmful thinking?

Do they have people?  Is it cool to not be a reader in their friend group?  Who do they have to talk books to?  Do they have reading role models that extend beyond the teacher?  Who are the people that have similar tastes as them, that they can speak books with? Many of my students tell me that they don’t have many others to get recommendations from despite being in book-rich environments for years and teachers working specifically on this. So how else can we increase the natural book conversations, students are having in order for them to make connections with the reading tastes of others? I often invite kids to book shop together so that they can find books together, we also use book talks for this as students discover others with similar tastes as them. Also, who are the adults that can speak books to them? It should never be just the classroom teacher, invite your librarian in, create a rich reading community so that students can see many readers int heir day, and many opportunities to speak books.

Do they have reason to read?  And by that, I don’t mean because of a prize or a reward.  Do they see any kind of gain from reading?  Is anything positive connected to the art of reading?  Will it actually make their lives better or is it just one more thing to do? Many of my students who abandon books repeatedly do it because they see no point and until we start to help them see a point of reading that goes beyond “the adults make me do it” then it is going to be hard to break any kind of habits. So how can we stress the importance of reading, what is it they want to accomplish in their lives where reading plays a central role? Is is that they want to understand others? Understand the world? Or is it much smaller than that?

Do they have different ways to read?  Reading is not just done with our eyes but also with our ears, so if a child is constantly abandoning books get them hooked on an incredible audio book.  This has changed the reading path of several of my students in a profound way. Sometimes getting them into text is what makes a difference, especially if they would like to read a book that may be difficult for them to decode independently, why not use audio books as a way to help them become invested in a text? Then we can work on the decoding separately.

Are they hiding gaps?  I have taught several students that could ace their reading assessment, mostly because it had been given to them so many times, and yet had a large gap in their skills.  So is their book abandonment masking a larger problem such as not actually understanding what they are reading or not having developed the stamina to stay with the story? Is reading seen as something emotionally draining because it is incredibly difficult? We cannot dismiss the emotions that are attached with reading for many kids, especially our vulnerable readers, and so we must work on developing their understanding of themselves as readers along with the skills of reading. This requires trust.

Are we making them do things that kill their love of reading?  When students abandon books a lot, it is a sure sign that we need to reflect on our own practices.  And not just skim over that reflection and pretend that everything must be ok.  Are reading logs killing their love of reading?  Are programs liked Accelerated Reader or LLI?  Are we constantly asking them to do things with their reading rather than “just” read? What else is attached to our reading that may make a child abandon rather than finish a book?

Have we asked them?  This is the biggest component needed because too often we try to figure out why a child is abandoning books and we never ask them why.  Not beyond the “What didn’t you like about it?”  So instead we must give the students a chance to discuss or reflect and really start to study their own habits.  What patterns do they see?  What types of books might they like to read?  What can they do to change their habits?  Students need to feel empowered in their self-reflection because otherwise, their pattern won’t change.  They also need to set goals and then be able to honestly assess their own progress. This is part of the much larger work that must be centered in who they are as readers and how they want to take control of their reading identity.

Do they trust you? Trust is often something that is taken for granted in our classrooms, as if by simply being together, we build trust, and yet that is not true. Often we have to work hard to earn the trust of students, particularly those whose school experiences have not been safe or those whose lives are different than the ones we lead. Trust takes many things; choosing to be vulnerable, creating a calm and safe space, acknowledging our own limitations as a teacher and adult, recognizing our own limited experience of the world, and also being genuinely invested in the success of every child no matter where they are in their journey. We earn trust, plain and simple, and we do it by showing up, asking questions, actively listening, and passing no judgment. By investing into the lives of each child, by partnering with those at home, and by removing shame as a tool in our learning environments. By expanding our tools as a teacher, and more importantly our knowledge so that we can do better. Often students tell me much later in the year why they really hate reading or why they abandon book after book but it takes time for them to feel that I deserve the truth. Sometimes they are not sure why until much later. Until they do, I engage them in conversation both planned in our reading conferences and casual, I congratulate them on the accomplishments they do have, and I continue to provide them with the tools I can think of to help them be successful. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes trusting your students even if they don’t trust you.

Abandoning books is often seen as an irritating habit that we must break quickly at all costs when it comes to students, but what if it instead is viewed as a starting point for a deep and nuanced exploration into the reading journey that a child is on? Think of the conversations we can have.

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, books, Literacy

On Blind Spots and Doing Better When We Know Better

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my journey with the book When We Was Fierce and in particular the journey with realizing that a book I had marveled at and called a must read was being critically reviewed by others. While at first I was embarrassed by my enthusiasm and not knowing better, in the blog post I wrote about the growth I had when I put away my own embarrassment and instead approached the moment as a learning opportunity, simply put; when I knew better, I could do better. It is a journey I have tried to continue on ever since.

Since that post, I have tried to be more in tune with critical reviews. I have tried to read new or old books that come my way with a broader lens trying to step out of my own lived experience to discover how others may view a book. How others may be potentially harmed by a book. How others may have world view shaped in a an inaccurate manner because of a book. While the voice in my head has gotten better at alerting me to potentially problematic texts, it is far from perfect and it is a journey I continue to be on.

I share this because this week I published my best books of the year so far list, a list I try to carefully put together in order to help others find books that may heighten their reading experiences. It is also a list for myself to look back upon as I celebrate the incredible works put out in the world that have deepened my own children’s’ reading lives as well as my teaching experience. This morning, I woke to a tweet sent to me by a colleague highlighting a potentially problematic book on the list.

My response: Thank you, I will definitely look into it. Which I did.

Dr. Laura M. Jimenez (@BookToss) had written a great post detailing problematic aspects of the book Stonewall: A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution by Rob Sanders and Jamey Christoph. This book was on my best of the year so far list and a book I had really enjoyed, even contemplating how I could use it as part of our upcoming historical research unit where we will write from the perspective of an object. While I had read the book and the voice inside my head had noticed how there didn’t seem to be a broad acknowledgement of the trans community, I had put aside my concern rather than followed up on it, despite having also read the book The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman that had explicitly discussed the broad community anger and how this went past the mostly gay men present in the inn on the first night of the riots. Dr. Jimenez discussed those concerns and then some in her blog post, and also received a reply from the author, Rob Sanders, which I really think you should read.

After reading the blog post, the concerns with the book were crystal clear so I pondered why I had I put aside my concerns? The answer? Because I really liked the book AND also because of my lack of knowledge. While I had a minor concern, I didn’t follow up on it and instead chose to highlight the book because I thought that it would be great for others to read. End of story.

And this is what I want to write a little bit about, because those two things, dismissing our concerns and not knowing better, are exactly why I think many, especially white, educators keep problematic books in classrooms and home collections year after year. I know the emotional attachment is what makes me sometimes try to mentally finagle a way to be okay with a book in our collection that may do potential harm. Even though I know better. Even though I end up not placing it in our library because I know better. But how often do we, and especially us white educators who live within the dominant lens, simply not know better? Or how often do we dismiss the criticisms because we somehow think that having the book will surely alert students to their own concerns and then be able to navigate potential problems within it?

But here’s the thing, if I, as a 39 -year old educator who has taught for nearly 12 years and reads hundreds of books, as well as reviews of books, and critical discussions of books every year cannot figure out on my own that a book is problematic, then how can I expect my students to do so?

Because they won’t, not unless we teach it, not unless we discuss our own mistakes when it comes to reading and highlighting problematic texts. This is why I use the book The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winters in my classroom. While I had the book at first because I loved it and had already read it aloud to my classroom, after I read Dr. Deb Reese’s post on the problems with it, I re-visited the book with students and we discussed why we had not ourselves caught these problems with the text and instead taken it at face-value. It led to a larger discussion on what else we miss when we don’t know more, or the blind spots we all walk around with and how to shrink them.

This is why we must do better when it comes to vetting our own collections and also being okay with admitting it out loud. I know that there are a lot of emotions attached to books and their creators. I know I don’t want to hurt other people when I distance myself from their work. I know that many educators, me included, like to think that I know enough to carefully select books that will not present problematic, inaccurate, or full on harmful stories to my students, but that is simply not right. Even though I have grown and gotten better, I have so much to learn still. I will, probably despite my best intentions, continue to embrace books that because of my own lens, my limited perspective, I cannot see the problems in until others point it out.

So what can we do when we realize either through our own investigation that a book is problematic or when someone else points out harmful representation or stories?

Say thank you when someone points it out. We cannot grow if we don’t know what we need to do better on. That is why recognizing when someone offers you an opportunity to grow and acknowledging it as an opportunity to grow rather than getting defensive is always the best way.

Get over our own feelings. Is it embarrassing to screw up? Absolutely. Would I rather do well? Sure. Do I learn from these interactions? Every time. However, when our response is one of incredulity or dismissal we are not really growing, we are certainly not focusing our energy on what we should be focusing on, which is the conversation surrounding the text or illustrations rather than our own feelings. (I am listening to White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and this is part of what she discusses).

Read the criticism, seek to understand it, and ask questions. I always read or listen to what is being said and then try to find other voices who are discussing it as well. If I am not sure why something is being discussed the way it is, then I ask questions. That is why I love being connected to others because social media gives me a quick way to reach out.

Take action outwardly. Whether it is publicly acknowledging your screw up if you have recommended it, or spreading the word by amplifying the discussion happening, do your part. It is often isolating to be someone pointing out critical aspects so knowing that there are others who will back up your words and calls to action is powerful.

Transfer the knowledge. Teach this critical skill to students by also connecting them with book reviews blogs so that they can be adults who have access to information, so that they can notice their blind spots, and also try to see whether a book may be harmful or not. Make it a part of your already embedded curriculum units so that it is not a stand-alone lesson but instead one that is addressed in many different ways. After all, isn’t teaching critical analysis one of our main teaching goals?

Take actions personally. Remove the book altogether or use it to discuss blind spots like I have done with a few books, but do something, rather than just push it aside because “no one will know that you still have the book.” While that may be true, this is also an incredibly twisted way of looking at the process. While it feels very strange to throw books in the garbage, almost sacrilegious, yet sometimes, that is where certain books belong. Don’t just say you will do something, actually do it.

Try to do better in the future. While I definitely catch more problematic books before I recommend them than I have in the past; as evidenced by this post I still have a lot to learn. All of us do. But the good news is that through social media we can easily learn from others as long as we are willing.

Finally; say thank you and support those doing the work. Thank you to those who tirelessly advocate for better representation within the book industry. Who repeatedly point out when texts or illustrations are problematic. Who take the heat that comes their way over and over again when others accuse them of being in a “mob” or even sends them death threats. Because of people like Dr. Reese, Dr. Jimenez, Edi Campbell, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Valeria Brown, Chad Everett and the fearless educators, authors, and activists involved in #WeNeedDiverseBooks #OwnVoices, #DisruptTexts, Reading While White, LatinX in Kid Lit, and #DiversityJedi I have grown as a reader of books and that matters because the books I share are used within my own classroom, as well as recommended to others on a global scale.

So what did I end up doing with Stonewall the book that started this whole blog post? I removed it from my best books of the year so far list and with the encouragement of Dr. Jimenez wrote this blog post to make my thinking visible. While I love the missing parts of history that the book represents, I cannot use it as an actual representation of what happened that night, there is too much missing.

And that is where I start my summer vacation. Knowing that I have so much to still learn about others and from others. Not a bad way to start my summer as I try to grow as a person and as an educator. I now know better, so hopefully I can do better. Can’t we all?

books, global read aloud, Literacy, picture books, technology

The Global Read Aloud and Literacy Curriculum

One of the most common questions, I receive in regard to the Global Read Aloud is how, and whether, it integrates into a pre-existing literacy curriculum. Is this project merely a fun add-on or is there actual academic value in it that can be defended in case it needs to be?

While there would be little wrong with the program if it was “just” a fun add-on, the answer is that; yes, the Global Read Aloud has academic value, and not just for the students, but for the teachers themselves as well. So let’s break it down a bit.

Because the program centers around a read aloud, that means you have a mentor text. Many participants use the text as their central text while they work through lessons on story development and analysis. However, that is not all it is. The driving idea behind the project is to connect with others and the way that is accomplished is often through writing or speaking. This then adds another layer of meaning to the project because it allows us to center our teaching on not just text exploration and discussion, but idea creation and sharing with others. For the sake of ease, let’s dive into the Common Core Reading standards for a moment as most are covered through the GRA.

“Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” Because the text is not only read aloud but also discussed with a worldwide audience, students are not only expected to understand the text but also be able to infer and formulate their opinions about the text in a way to effectively communicate with others.


“Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.” The whole notion of the read aloud is to understand the story, to predict what will happen, to discuss and share with others, and be able to hold the whole text in your mind while you continue to listen to the read aloud.


“Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.” Tracking the characters along with the story allows us to work on stamina, to work on long-term predictions, and to get to know the characters and story on a deeper level.


“Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.” In order to convey nuance, the read aloud often lends itself well to studying the craft of writing as seen through word choice and figurative meaning.


“Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” One of the main points of the GRA is to dive into perspective, this does not only include the perspective of the narrators but also how our own perspective and lens impacts our understanding and experience with the text.

“Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” Because there are additional tools layered in with the Global Read Aloud, such as author videos, student presentations, and other content created by students around the world, this is a natural extension of the learning.


“Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.” I love having my students discuss with others what they believe will happen in the story, as well as what the characters should do in order to stay within character. Diving deep into a character and then being able to articulate and argue one’s opinion is a vital skill.


“Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.” I always add in other sources and use the Global Read Aloud as a springboard into inquiry. Because the books chosen are often set in unfamiliar places or center around unfamiliar events, students naturally have a lot of questions. This is why the resource sharing is an incredibly powerful tool of the GRA.

This is just discussing the reading component, but the beauty of the GRA is that it is so much more than “just” reading. Coupling it with the collaborative global aspect offers us the opportunity for students to work on writing, on speaking and listening, on the act of collaboration itself, as well as meaningful technology integration. It allows us to focus on building an understanding of others, of developing empathy and activism. This is at the center of what great 21st century learning looks like; providing authentic and meaningful ways to engage in a world wide dialogue around relevant topics.

And for the teachers involved, it allows for new tools to be introduced, new connections to be forged that will bolster their teaching, as well as a meaningful way to dive into literacy that will model what literacy experiences should look like.

But don’t just take my word on it. I asked educators who have done the GRA to share how they integrated the project into their curriculum and here is what they said.

My district encourages the SAMR model for technology integration. Using technology to share ideas and collaborate with students from other parts of the country/world is a task that falls under the highest level of the SAMR model.

I use FlipGrid as a way to respond to the text while assessing speaking and listening standards, come to discussions prepared and adding to the discussion. I also assess postcards for adding media to support text. In addition to literacy, GRA really fits into our S.S. theme of world regions and cultures.

GRA works across all levels, promotes excellent collaboration, learning styles, communication, technology integration and global connections. The teacher has the flexibility to incorporate using standards/skills that he/she sees fit. I’ve shared about it only positively.

Refugee was a huge addition to my 7/8 curriculum last fall, and I’d wager that it was an experience that would be at the top of the list for what kids will remember from my class. We use a workshop model, largely, and so the chapters would be built in as model texts for minilessons in reading and writing workshop. We’d do quickwrites about character development, inferences, vocabulary in context, to name a few . . . Most important to me, however, was just the chance to share a terrific story and know it was also happening in classrooms around the world – so powerful!

We were asked this year to use a read aloud to model fluency and what a reader is thinking while they read. Our 6th graders seem to think letting the words pass through the eyeballs without going to the brain is sufficient, and we are trying to change that perception. Two of us could attest to its effectiveness due to GRA. We did Refugee this year and it opened up all sorts of thinking and discussion.

At the end of Refugee, I had them create one pagers, and I met individually to discuss questions related to the book and standards. For instance, what was the theme, how do you know, how did it develop through the story. What was your favorite scene and why was it important to the whole story. Really just took a look at State standards and created questions. Then, we followed up with self-selected research topics related to the story. Also, brought in non-fiction pairings to add to depth of topics.

It’s the epitome of 21st century skills – the kids have to communicate and collaborate with others around the world; they think critically about meaningful issues that impact their peers; they come up with creative projects and responses. They’re also highly engaged with a great text.all great things!! 

It lends itself SO well to standards and curriculum!! I teach 1-2 on a loop and did A Boy Called Bat and before that the BFG! Asks and answers questions for sure, technology (connecting with other classes), social studies and map skills (finding new friends on the map)….not to mention that they LOVE reading and get interested in authors and their other books!!!

I teach in South Africa and participated in GRA for the first time last year. It was the highlight of the year. Our school year starts in Jan and my present class have a countdown going for when they can start GRA. I integrated Refugee into all subjects I teach. The book became real and even more so with the global connections and sharing we made. 21st Century teaching is all about communication, collaboration and creative thinking. This is exactly what GRA does.

It is so important that students learn of different cultures in our ever changing world. We use the Lucy Calkin’s UOS for our literacy block. We read the book aloud as the read aloud time for the day and it reinforced the skills being taught in the workshop that dealt with social issues. We also hit so many listening and speaking goals by connecting through Flip Grid and Google Hangouts with a global audience for both. We learned about author’s trade through our weekly videos we watched made by the author. We wrote authentically with sharing our thoughts on Padlet and posting on social media under the guidance of our teachers and me the librarian. We gained knowledge and empathy for what people in other cultures across the world might experience through hyperdocs created by educators to be used to help us learn vocabulary and history about the culture of the people in the books we shared.

I’ve been able to integrate the picture books into the standards we’re teaching during that time. Since it’s so close to the beginning of the year, it’s your basic story elements.

And so, much like I have said before; why take the time to do the GRA? Global collaboration is necessary to show students that they are part of something bigger than them. That the world needs to be protected and that we need to care for all people. You can show them pictures of kids in other countries but why not have them speak to each other? Then the caring can begin.

To sign up for this year’s incredible project, go here. It kicks off September 30th!

being a teacher, books, Literacy, parents

Not Too Easy – Embracing Graphic Novels at Home

One of the biggest changes within children’s publishing since I became a teacher and a parent has been the explosion of graphic novels onto the market. While comics have long been mainstream in the home, and many of us grew up devouring comics, the power of the graphic novel to excite readers and keep them reading is tangible. So much so that if you looked at my own classroom collection, you wouldn’t just see a bin or two but instead 16 of them and growing. It is a format that is growing significantly not just in my classroom, but also my home, with my kids crowding around every book delivery asking whether there is a graphic novel in there and fighting over it if there is. In fact, graphic novels are the biggest reason our oldest daughter believes she can actually read and be a reader.

Graphic novels are nothing new, the first one was published in 1842, but the way they have captured the imagination of readers everywhere is nothing less than amazing. And why not? Combining powerful illustrations with, at times, the sparse text is sure to keep many readers reading. And yet, one of the biggest push backs in reading also happens to surround graphic novels with many parents and educators lamenting their “easiness.” Within these missives lies a movement to then steer kids away from these “dessert” books and into “harder” reading, or outright banning the reading of graphic novels, telling kids that these books are just for fun, don’t count toward whatever set goal or points, or even confiscating them from kids seen reading them.

No wonder, our kids are confused when we tell them to read more but then tell them not that!

As parents, it is important that we do not become part of the groups of adults who dismiss the value of graphic novels, who effectively stop our own children from these meaningful reading experiences, all in the name of “harder” reading. We must also become advocates for these incredible books that are giving many children a way back into reading that wasn’t there before. And while fantastic organizations like the CBLDF – Comic Book Legal Defense Fund – have been heading the charge for many years, we know that knowledge is power and so I think it helps to also break down some of the ideas surrounding graphic novels and the stigma that is often attached to them.

So what do we know about graphic novels and their readability? Their enticing nature? And their place in not just our schools but also in our homes?

It is easy to see why many people, adults especially, would like to dismiss all graphic novels as being too easy to read, thus not challenging a reader enough. Many adults seem to be very stuck on what a challenging reading experience looks like; it must have this many pages, it must have dense wording, it must center around a deep topic, and the institutionally ingrained notion that it would be best if it were a “classic” book, so that the reader will not only have an exciting reading experience but an enriching one as well. And while there is the need for a balance within what we read, this idea of what is easy to a reader is something worth discussing.

While there are many nuances to what makes a book easy for someone, common traits are that the reader can easily access all of the information on the page, read and understand all of the words, visualize all of the story in order to fill in the gaps between story and reader, as well as follow the story and complete it within whatever timely manner would be sensible for that reader. An easy book, therefore, seems to be used interchangeably with what we expect a good fit book to be for all of our readers. So why is it that graphic novels as a whole are seen as easier than most chapter books?

The pictures or illustrations, of course, seem to be the most common answer.

Yet, in my own experience with my children and students, it is the pictures that actually add to the sophistication and difficulty of graphic novels because of the skills required to read the images. Think of it this way, when a reader is translating symbols into meaning such as what we do when we read, they are being asked to not only read the symbols but also decode it and create meaning behind the words, or translating those words into images. As a reader, they are then tasked with inferring and visualizing what is happening in the story in their own mind leading to a full understanding. In a graphic novel, readers are still expected to decode and understand all of the words, but at the same time as this complex process is happening, they are also asked to decode and interpret the images that go along with the words. And then they have to combine that through synthesis in their brain otherwise the book will make no sense. That is not an easy process. The visual complexity of many graphic novels convey a story that would take ages to convey, yet are being presented within one panel or page. It takes time to dive into a graphic novel, much as it does with a text-only book. To read more about what process the brain must go through when reading a graphic novel, read this blog post by Leslie Morrison

In fact, I have noticed throughout my years as a teacher that it is most often my readers who read very quickly who find graphic novels hard to read. They simply do not slow down enough to fully decode the images, mostly focusing on the words, and thus missing outright the subtleties that the images themselves provide, thus losing out on a deeper meaning. So while the illustrations may be what is enticing to the reader in the first place, the illustrations also add a layer of complexity onto the text that the words themselves would not have provided.

One can argue that the illustrations mean that the reader no longer has to visualize the story on their own, yet when asking my readers of graphic novels to describe scenes it is clear that many of them go beyond the page in their understanding of what a scene looks like and once again are “filling in the gaps” between the page and themselves, inferring beyond the story and adding the nuances we would expect any reader to add.

And sure, some of my kids rush through graphic novels so quickly that I know as their mom that they did not engage in close reading of the pages and illustrations, similar to what happens when a reader skims through the pages of a non-illustrated book just to find out what happens next. However, here there is one distinction in the habit of many readers of graphic novels; while they may read the graphic novel quickly on the first try, what often happens then is the re-reads of the same graphic novel as they pore over the pages more closely once they have navigated the story once. This process is one that only adds value as their understanding deepens with each re-read.

Yet the words “It’s too easy” continue to haunt our graphic novel committed readers. And as a parent, I do understand the hesitation and perhaps even fear that because your child is not doing the hard work of visualizing a story independently, and not practicing these skills without images attached to them, that they are somehow developing less than a child that doesn’t get to read graphic novels or stays clear of them. But here is the thing; those skills are being practiced, it just might not be within their independent reading choice. If you look at a broad swath of a child’s reading day in school, most of the text they are given is image-free. They are asked to navigate complex texts within literacy classes, science classes, and social studies. They are asked to pull out the meaning from texts that are often above their comprehension and background level and working on the skills to sustain attention. What schools have started to add more of is actual visual literacy as dictated by the Common Core and other education reform initiatives. The same skills being honed within visual literacy, or the reading of everything that surrounds the words (color, layout, texture et al) can and should be transferred to reading regular text. With the onslaught of images within our day, being able to critically analyze them is a vital component of comprehension of our world.

Another aspect of the “too easy” notion is that kids will only want to read “easy” books if that is all they are allowed to read. For this argument, I encourage us, adults, to look back at our own reading journeys and visualize the books that have shaped us. If we do this we should notice not a smooth diagonal line where each book increased in complexity but rather stages and stops on a reading journey that has probably been bumpy yet still helped us grow. How many of us still read the same books we read as children because that is all we care to read – well, if you are an educator this may be you, but still, the books I gravitated toward as a child don’t hold the same value or intrigue as they did when I was younger. When I was ready, I moved on to something else, and this is exactly what research also shows us: That graphic novel reading will not lead to less challenging reading, but instead to more challenging as kids mature and naturally gravitate toward harder texts whether illustrated or not. As Krashen, Lee, and Lao say in their book Comprehensible and Compelling: The Causes and Effects of Free Voluntary Reading, “Children in a print-rich environment in which they are free to select their own reading do not stay with easy books. They not only read more as they mature, but they also select, on their own, books that are harder to read and have more complicated plots.”

So what is it we mean by easy? I think that the word we are looking for instead is enticing. That graphic novels offer readers of many skills different points to enter into a text through. That the abundance of images offers readers a way to anchor their thinking and sink deeper into a text that they might not have been able to access in a regular text-only form. That readers with or without reading difficulties can find success within graphic novels, not just in a comprehension aspect, but also in a reading identity aspect. They can be readers that love reading. They can be readers who feel at home within the pages of a book, for some this may be for the first time ever.

A shared read aloud makes the wait go faster

This is why we need to review our own adult reactions when it comes to a child who embraces graphic novels. Rather than worry that somehow the reading experience they are engaged in is somehow less-than, we should be jumping in with both feet, finding more graphic novels for them to explore and also reading some ourselves. After all, as parents and caregivers, we often have an immense sense of power when it comes to what our children deem proper reading. Why not show our children just how much these books matter? Why not change the conversation?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest 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.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.