Be the change, building community, community, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

A Few More Steps Toward a Successful Reading Experience for All

Voting ends for the Global Read Aloud 2019 in two days. In two days, they will be tallied, I will sit and ponder, feel the gravity of the decision and finally, at some point, make it official. The weight of it is sometimes paralyzing. After all, I am not just selecting a book to read aloud to my own students, but making the largest recommendation to the world as I can. Holding titles, and with them the creators behind the work, and telling the world that these experiences are worth every moment of their time.

It is not much different, in a way, from the way we hold books up in our classrooms day after day. How we share our opinions on social media. How we give our blessings any way we can. The weight it carries is the same; we shape our students’, our children’s, our own reading lives by the choices we make. By the texts we give our time to, by the texts we don’t. We tell the world what we value within every choice, within every recommendation, within every ounce of time we give something. By ever instructional minute we offer up in order to dive in, dig in, tease out.

So when I am asked how to help someone like reading more, I keep coming back to the choices we make. The finite amount of time we have for any kind of influence. How it is impossible for me to change someone’s feelings about reading, but what I can do is provide them with an opportunity to change them themselves. So where does the work begin for us because, as we know from so many of our readers, it is not enough to simply find a book that may change their mind, even if that is where the journey may start.

Think of your environment. What are kids surrounded by as you promote reading? Is it books (I hope)? Is it comfort? Is it calm? Is it safe? Reading carries a lot of emotions and so for a child to immerse themselves in a text they need different things. Some need slight noise, others need absolute quiet. Some need to feel safe because reading does not feel safe for them, in fact, for some being surrounded by books just feels overwhelming rather than good. Some need a friend, some need a corner. Knowing how kids feel within our environment is key to helping them adapt to it in order to create a successful reading experience.

Consider asking: Where do you read best? What do you need to feel comfortable so you can focus on a book?

Think of your requirements. What are kids expected to do once they are reading? What are they expected to do while reading? So often, it is not the act of reading itself that kids want to stay clear from, it is all of the work that they have to do with it. Also, how are readers being limited? What may seem as no big deal to us, such as telling kids they can only select books that are over 100 pages or they can’t read children’s book if they are older, may be the exact obstacle that stands in the way of a reader.

Consider asking: What makes you want to stop reading? What obstacles need to be removed in order for you to have a better reading experience?

Think of your community. Do you speak books? Does your classroom or school community? When we speak book we speak in shared experiences such as read alouds or book clubs, we pass books and other texts from hand to hand, we share recommendations not because we are forced to but because we want to. We find as many people to speak books to, including all of the other adults in the building, and then we try to come up with ways to include those outside of our school community to speak books with us as well.

Consider asking: Who do you speak books with? Who are your book people?

Think of your emotional investment. We have to recognize that for some reading is a reminder of everything they have failed at, that unless we protect the hope of being readers in all kids, then we may be inflicting additional negativity when it comes to the reading experiences we create. Trust and honesty then are pillars of a functioning reading community, and that includes kids who identify as kids who hate reading to still have a space within our community. So how are all readers handled? Are their identities honored and given space to change and grow. Are the small steps toward a mores successful experience being honored or only the big ones?

Consider asking: Who are you as a reader and how do you know?

Think of your reasons for reading. Are kids reading for points? For grades? To pass levels? To avoid punishment? Or are they reading because they find true value in it? Joy even? While extrinsic motivators certainly can cause a sense of urgency within a child to read, they are often short lived, and research shows again and again that the only rewards that truly change reading behaviors long term is to have more books and time to read. Not trinkets, grades, or achievement boards. Why do we then continue to gravitate toward extrinsic motivators? Because for some kids they do work in the short-term (and yes, short-term can be a whole school year), for some kids they seem to spark a change, yet, how often do those kids then stop reading the minute the program/reward/grades are removed? How many of the kids who were motivated to read to get a high score on the test are also motivated when there is no test to be taken? We do this a lot in education; implement short term solutions that do long-term damage. So instead of going for the “quick” fix, invest in the long-term building of a reading community, which yes may mean kids are slower to change their reading identities but it should mean a more meaningful long-term change is happening.

Consider asking: Why do you read? If programs are implemented ask: How do you feel about the program? Do you plan on reading over the summer – why or why not?

Think of your timeline. Just because a child is not liking reading more half-way through the year or even by the end of the year, does not mean it has all failed. It might just mean that it is going to take a lot more time. That is why continuation of shared reading beliefs is so important for kids and for the educational communities they are are in. If there is a foundational right to self-selected, teacher-supported, independent reading in the early years then that right should be carried through until graduation. It doesn’t help if we merely implement best practices for a few years and then forget all about them as children grow older. In fact, it is awfully hard to change reading behaviors and feelings all by yourself, and it often leads to an artificial change, one that is not sustained after they leave you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but it does mean that you should be involving your broader school community in the work as well.

Consider asking: What are the reading rights of children every year?

So often when we really want kids to love reading, we forget to dig deeper into all of the components that go into creating meaningful reading experiences. In fact, this goes for so much in education. We implement and support short-term solutions that do not really change the foundational experience as much as they should and then wonder why it doesn’t work for all kids. But the change can start within the very questions we ask and we reflect on. So much of what I have learned through the years have come from our students. Have come from our team conversations. Have come from our community. So while all students deserve choice, access, time, and meaningful reading opportunities, they also deserve a safe community with an ongoing dialogue about how else their reading experiences can be shaped. And that starts with us.

books, Literacy, picture books, Reading

A Few Picture Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

Last week, before the calendar switched to March, I changed our book displays in our classroom. Not because we stop celebrating Black history and excellence but because we wanted to add the component of females in history.

I was asked if I would share my list here, and while I don’t mind sharing it, I will say that it has holes. While I wanted to showcase an inclusive mix of picture books, I am still adding picture books that go beyond the well-known stories. I feel like there are many unknown women whose picture books are not on our shelves at the moment, so I am working on finding these for the future. I also want to continue to work on including more indigenous or First Nation stories, as well as stories of women who defy the narrow definition of their gender.

So what is gracing our shelves right now?

Image result for miss mary reporting
Image result for turning pages
Image result for viva frida
Image result for game changers picture book
Image result for ruby bridges book
Image result for counting on katherine
Image result for how the cookie crumbles
Image result for midnight teacher
Image result for i dissent
Image result for so tall within
Image result for drum dream girl
Image result for one plastic bag
Image result for girl running picture book
Image result for danza picture book
Image result for margaret and the moon
Image result for a computer called katherine
Yup – two books about the incredible Katherine Johnson
Image result for anything but ordinary addie
Image result for gloria's voice
Image result for the quickest kid in clarksville
Technically not nonfiction but it introduces/reminds students to Wilma Rudolph
Image result for brave girl
Image result for the world is not a rectangle
Image result for dolores huerta picture book
Image result for in mary's garden
Image result for are you an echo


Image result for wilma's way home
Image result for mama africa picture book
Image result for her right foot
Technically not a person
Related image
Image result for shaking things up
Image result for shark lady picture book
Image result for hillary rodham clinton picture book
Image result for rescue and jessica
Image result for heather has two mommies
Technically not nonfiction but representation matters as far as stories
Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression
Image result for i am jazz picture book
Image result for grace hopper picture book
Image result for malala picture book
Image result for dangerous jane
Image result for ada lovelace poet of science
Image result for side by side lado a lado
Image result for martina and chrissie

By no means is this an exhaustive list. We also have some of the picture books left out from last month that feature courageous women. If I had more space, I would have any more. Which are your favorite picture books for March?

books, Literacy

Passing on A Few (Book) Recommendations

One of the most common questions I am asked is for a book recommendation. Whether through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other place I happen to be, the question typically follows a pattern; the questioner is asking for a book recommendation for a very specific situation to help a specific student. While I am flattered to be asked and sometimes a book does pop to mind for that situation, often times I am not sure because either I am tired or I am simply not sure.

And yet, I do recommend a lot of books. In fact, this is my only purpose for having an Instagram account and I also keep track on this blog. I love books and I also love sharing them with others, which is why I am writing this post. You see, I rely heavily on the recommendations of others as well, so I thought it might be nice to highlight a few of the places I get recommendations from.

  1. My students. Right now, there are a few books flying around my classroom that are fully recommended and started by students, one being the book This is Not the End, which several kids have gushed about to me and I have just purchased to read myself. Who are the students who are dying to recommend books to you?
  2. My colleagues. I love that I am surrounded by colleagues who read, and I especially love that they also love to share. From our principal to the English department, to the special ed staff and the office staff, to our incredible librarian staff and all of the other adults at OMS, we are a school of readers. It is not uncommon to see books passed throughout the day or left on people’s desk, just in case they need a great read. Who are your colleagues that can become a part of your book squad?
  3. My online friends. While back in the day the term “online friends” would have brought up frightening associations, now I cannot help but be so eternally grateful for all of the friends I have that I know through social media. They share freely on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and I love that our book conversations continue even when we are not close in distance. It does get expensive to hang with some of my friends, but it is the best kind of expensive; book expensive.
  4. Our library. Both our school one and my local one. I love to browse the displays and see what is being recommended. This has led me to the book Sadie and Openly Straight, which are both staring longingly from my to-be-read shelf. Librarians are amazing resources; make friends with them!
  5. My own kids. My own kids go to an amazing elementary school here in Madison and not only do they have an awesome librarian but they are also surrounded by staff members who love to read and share their love of books. I love when they come home with new discoveries and tell me that I have to read this book as well, especially since they read books I normally wouldn’t read like early readers. So get connected to your children’s school if you can and see what they are reading.
  6. Online, but of course. There are so many amazing people sharing book recommendations using whatever tool they love. Read on for a list of a few of my favorite people and places.

Reading While White. This blog with its emphasis on “White librarians organizing to confront racism in the field of children’s and young adult literature” has been an incredible resource not just to find new books, but also to think critically about some of the books I already have in our classroom. This is a blog that is worth subscribing to.

The Brown Bookshelf. With its emphasis on pushing “…awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers,” this is a must read. Countless books have made it into our classroom because of the recommendations and discussions on this blog.

American Indian in Children’s Literature. This blog run by the fierce Debbie Reese is one of the blogs that lands in my inbox whenever she publishes a new post. With her emphasis on “…critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.,” this blog is an invaluable resource for all of us. Not only does Professor Reese recommend books, but she also helps me realize when a book is problematic or worse. She has really influenced not just our classroom, but much of the work I do for the past many years.

Nerdy Book Club. This is where I first got connected and I am so grateful I did. With its emphasis on reviews, ideas, and cover reveals, Nerdy is really a community where you are sure to see not just incredible new books, but also add many new titles to your library.

Edi Campbell’s blog CrazyQuiltEdi is a fantastic resource for anyone who is looking for books written by or featuring POC. Not only does Edi Campbell release a monthly new release list, but she also reviews, and discusses the history of important issues such as when “people of African descent are equivocated with monkeys, apes or gorillas.” This has been really eye-opening for me and I am so grateful for the work she does.

I’m Here, I’m Queer, What the H*** Do I Read? The title probably speaks for itself, it is a great resource for me as I continue to add more books with great LGBTQ+ representation to our classroom.

Disability in Kidlit. While the last blog post was published more than a year ago, the archive is still worth digging into. This blog with its promise to have people who have disabilities review books that feature their same disability has been eye-opening on more than one occasion. I loved the blog when it was “live” but the blog is still worth your time.

CCBC. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, means I am in the home city of the CCBC or the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and it is fantastic. I get to go to the events hosted there, as well as their twice-yearly book sale. However, you don’t have to be in Madison to benefit from their wealth of knowledge. Their blog is a great place to start to stay up to date with great books, as well as their research on the state of children’s publishing and many other important issues.

Latinxs in Kid Lit. Another specialty blog that does so much great work. With its emphasis on sharing reviews, news, and discussions about Latinx in children’s book, I often fill our shelves with recommendations from here. Their interviews of authors have also helped me dial into a few new authors I was unaware of.

Lee and Low. While Lee and Low is a book publisher, they also have an incredible blog that not only features recommendations but also invitations to their free webinars on pressing matters within teaching and children’s literature. Specializing in Own Voices authors, this is a must follow.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. There are so many great people and groups out there sharing their recommendations, but I thought it would be nice to recommend a few of the ones that I rely heavily upon. By sharing, I figured it is a way to say publicly thank you to all of those who recommend books to me as well as allow others to get plugged into the incredible knowledge that is shared here. One word of caution though; it does get expensive because the book sounds so amazing. What are your favorite places to get recommendations from?

conferences, connections, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

An Update on Our Student Reading Action Plans

This is the form I use to keep track of my notes as I meet with students, to see the form and more details, go to the original post

A few weeks ago, I blogged about an idea I was trying in our classroom as a way to help the kids who seem to just not be “there” just yet. Who seem to just not have found a great book just yet. Who seem to just not be really reading more than a few pages a week. Who seem to be going through the motions rather than fully investing. Who seem to go from book to book without ever really sinking in. The idea was simple; do a daily check in for two weeks with just a few kids, ask them about the book itself but focus more so on their habits. It couldn’t hurt, right?

So for the past few weeks, this is what I have been doing. Taking a minute or two and checking in with just a few students, not ignoring anyone else, but starting with these few kids first to make sure we had a conversation about the book they were reading, as well as how they felt as readers.

What have we uncovered in these small conversations? Lots actually. Some things I already knew, such as how they felt about reading, but also some things I didn’t. How many of them don’t know when they should book shop, how many of them have a to-be-read list but don’t use it for anything, how many of them pick books that for whatever reason are the wrong kind of challenge for them at that time. And within these moments of revelation lies the entire heart of what I hope all of these incredible students will experience this year; a reading experience that is meaningful to them. And so these moments, based around a simple premise, it was exactly what I had hoped would happen; establishing a deeper relationship with these students as we unravel their reading identity further.

It turns out that almost all of them are having an incredibly hard time selecting a powerful book for themselves. That while they have had some positive experiences with books in the past, they don’t exactly know what made that book amazing. How many of them stick with the books, dreading every moment, rather than searching for something better. That they will “settle” on an okay book rather than pursue something better because they don’t think that better exists. That despite all of our conversations about book choice, book abandonment, paired with ample book access and book recommendations from their peers, from me, from our librarian, it is still not enough.

But these conversations; these few minutes we are having together every single day is helping them realize that there is more to reading than just going through the motions. That they deserve a great book. That they should demand for themselves to read incredible books and that that starts with knowing themselves better as a reader and also taking the time it sometimes takes to find their next read. So as the two weeks wind down for a few of the kids, some I am going to start seeing them every few days. Some I will continue to speak to every day, while some are ready for a trial period without me. New kids will be added, new goals will be set, new conversations await. And with that will come the continued reminder that all kids deserve our undivided attention, that all kids can have better relationships with reading, that all kids deserve to have outstanding reading experiences, even if they don’t know it yet. Some just need a little more attention to get (back) on the right path.

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 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, picture books

Read Aloud a Picture Book a Day in Honor of Black History Month

As February approaches, I am scouring our classroom library to find the picture books that I will read aloud every day in honor of Black History month. I try to stay away from the most known stories, after all, if we are to truly celebrate Black excellence then it is important that my students can name more people than just Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks or Harriet Tubman. And yet, they also need to know these stories. And so for the 21 teaching days of February, I pulled 21 picture books, each featuring, perhaps, a story of someone that my students may not have heard of it. Each featuring something they should know more about. Something that may inspire them to ask more questions, to understand more about the world they live in.

I have pulled many more than this and every surface in here is filled with stories of those who have made our country what it is. I hope that our students will take a moment to reach out, read something, and learn something. It is only a small component of the ways Black History will be explored in our school.

In no special order, here are the picture books I plan on sharing with students. I have a few more purchases coming in, so these may change, but they are a start.  Which picture books do you plan on sharing?

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Other great resources that help me plan and think of what I can explore with students.

Poetry for Black History Month

Resources from Teaching Tolerance

PBS resources – including videos – to celebrate

Black History is Happening Now Spotify curation by Pharrell Williams

Finally, Black History month shouldn’t be the first time that students see collections of text that feature African American. I know it seems silly to say, but representation matters and it matters all of the time. As I pulled books for this read aloud collection, I had to skip great books because we had already shared those stories. This is how it should be every year in my classroom. So while I continue on my journey to do more and learn more, reading these stories aloud is one further step in my journey.

conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

Who Wants to Read it Next?

White,                Black,                Aqua,                 Free Image

As they sit and read, every day for ten or fifteen minutes as we get ready for the day, I sit next to a student and ask them a seemingly simple question; What are you working on as a reader? As we discuss their reading life, their habits, and their goals, I always end with another question. One that seems to give many of our students’ pause, “How can we support you?” This question shouldn’t be a hard one, after all, these kids are surrounded by adults who are here to help them grow and yet for many, it takes them a moment to realize what they need, or even what they can ask for.

But one answer comes up again and again. Recommend me books. Book recommendations! Keep doing those book talks. The little talks that we do as a community almost every single day are making one of the largest differences.

I can recommend books to our students because most of the books I read are meant to be read by children. While I sometimes do stare longingly at some of my Danish crime stories that I haven’t yet read, I know that one of the biggest gifts I can give our students is a passport into the library, both the one in our classroom and the one that sits in the middle of our school. And that happens through a book talk, demystifying all of the books staring at them and making them look like journeys waiting to happen rather than insurmountable mountains.

By recommending books I have read, by other adults in the building recommending books, by students recommending books in our 30-second book talks, we are laying the foundation for a community that discusses their reading life openly. We are strengthening the notion that reading is something we all need. Something we all believe in as a way to build community. We are chipping away at the notion that some middle schoolers carry that reading is not cool or a waste of time. Instead through every recommendation, through every book held high over our heads, through every title suggested, we are laying the foundation for a readerly life. One that will hopefully expand beyond our years together, beyond this building.

And it is making a difference. Kids model the way we talk about books. Kids write down titles and then speak books to one another. Their to-be-read lists grow sometimes to delightfully impossible lengths.

So when a child reminds me once again that what they need from me is more book recommendations, it is a task I will gladly carry out. And one that I will gladly share with others. After all, they need as many books in their life as possible. They need as many book people as in their life as possible. They need as many happy reading moments as possible. And all of this can start with a simple book recommendation, a short book talk, and then another question; who wants to read it next?

To see what I am reading and recommending, follow me on Instagram

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 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.