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.

parents, Reading

Parents: Creating Joyful Reading Routines at Home

We sit together with a book between us carefully piecing the words together. Sometimes they come haltingly. Sometimes they flow. Learning to read is hard work, but loving to read is not, not right now, not for most of our kids. We are a household of readers, all on a separate journey. All growing, exploring and learning, some more quickly than others. I am one of several bookworms in our household with books wherever we go, with a to-be-read pile bigger than we have hours in the day. We are a household of readers, and yet, even for us, in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we haven’t done much reading lately. Not planned anyway, I know we cannot be alone.

So how do we keep reading front and center, even when life gets really busy? How do we try to create joyful reading experiences at home? It turns out, that many of the same things we do in our classrooms to create passionate readers also work at home.

Flood your home with books if possible. To be readers we need things to read. There has been a lot of research on the harmful effects of students living in book deserts and what the unintended consequences are when kids don’t have access to books. This is why book ownership is so important, kids who own books are 15 times more likely to read above the level they are expected to be at according to the National Literacy Trust. And more importantly, it sets the tone; reading is valued at home, reading is something we believe in by spending our money or procuring reading material somehow. However, this is also an equity issue, it is easy for someone to say; buy books for your kids, but if you don’t have disposable income, then that can become a challenge. Yet, finding books and other reading material for kids to have where they live is vital in creating readers. So if you have the money; buy books and other reading materials. If you do not, reach out to your child’s school, visit a little free library if possible, visit a public library if possible, or get connected with a book charity. Here in Madison, we have the Madison Reading Project whose mission is to get books in the hands of kids – what do you have where you live? (A great book to read on book access and how it helps students become readers is the book Game Changer – Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp).

Leave reading materials everywhere. We have books everywhere at our house, which is a privilege in itself. Books are in our kitchen, bathroom, living rooms, cars, and, of course, bedrooms. But not just books, magazines, newspapers and other fun things to read. Lately, we have been loving MAD magazine which I grew up on in Denmark. Our kids gravitate toward the books, picture books and everything else because they are visible. So if you can leave books wherever your kids are: the car, the bathroom, the living room, their rooms.   If you do not have access to a lot of books ask their school for help, scour garage sales, or visit the library if possible.

Sneak in more reading. Because we remind our kids to bring books in the car, to family gatherings, to appointments, grocery shopping, and yes, even sometimes to lunch, we sneak in a lot of reading. Our kids don’t sit on iPads or phones on a regular basis, they sit with books. In fact, this has been one of aha moments, every time we pull out our phone to check Reddit (#ThereWasAnAttempt) or other social media, we could be pulling out a book. I am often asked how I read so much in a year, this is one of the ways. While we love sitting down for long chunks of time to read, there is a lot of value in the minutes that can be snuck in, and those minutes add up.

Create a reading routine.  One of the biggest things I discuss with those at home is to find a routine for reading and not leaving it to chance.  Is it that everybody reads before getting out of bed? Is it the last thing that happens at the end of the day? Find a time, space, and then make it an expectation. We have the kids read after school with us when I get home, on the weekends we have them read before TV. This isn’t because it is a punishment but because it shows importance. Create a drop-everything-and-read time and then abide by your own decisions and join in with your own books, because we know that children who see adults read, read more themselves, thanks Stephen Krashen.

Read yourself. This is an often missed step where we, adults, claim that we do not have time to read. I cannot tell you how many parents have sheepishly admitted that they do not read themselves and then wonder how they can best help their own kids become readers. My advice always; read with your kids. Go on your own quest to find incredible books. Abandon books that don’t work. Set yourself up to have incredible reading experiences just like you would hope your kid(s) would. Be a reading role model because kids need to see what real adult reading looks like. Read in front of them. While Brandon, my husband, has been a slow convert to reading for pleasure, he has been very deliberate in sharing his reading journey with our kids. I think it is incredibly powerful for kids to see their parents or caregivers start to embrace reading for pleasure finally as adults.

Visit places where books are present.  Build visits into the library, bookstores or even friends’ houses where there are books visible into your reading lives.  Seeing books within reach often entices reading and there is something about the promise of a brand-new crisp book that cannot help but be exciting.  And browse online as well. What are people sharing on the #BookADay thread? Which books are being shared on Instagram under hashtags like the one I use (#pernillerecommends)?

Give books. Despite the abundance of books that our kids already have we still give books at Christmas and birthdays. We make it a big deal; which book do you wish for? What is the one special book you would love right now? We go to the bookstore so they can browse and then we secretly buy them the book only to be wrapped and handed as a gift. We also have book giving traditions in our family, on lille juleaften (Little Christmas Eve) we host our family at our house for aebleskiver and instead of a nameplate, each guest is gifted with a brand-new book handpicked for them. And yes, even I get books. This year I was lucke enough to get Becoming and Art Matters (Signed by Neil Gaiman – argh!) as well as a few others.

Build excitement through book shopping. Go book shopping with your kids at your local bookstore, browse the displays at the library, look up the bestseller lists to see what is hot in literature right now, order from the book catalog that comes home (i get as excited as the kids).  Countdown the days together for that sequel or an amazing new book to be released, order it if you can or go to the bookstore on its release date. Build excitement for the act of reading together much like you would the release of a movie. If you need ideas for release dates, see Mr. Schu’s calendar of book releases.

Have your own to-be-read list.  I get super excited when new books show up or when we go to a bookstore together and my kids know that my to-be-read pile (or bookshelf because let’s be honest here…) is a neverending quest of great reading experiences waiting to happen. They see how big it gets, they see how I have piles in different places, I discuss how I pick a book at times if it comes up and I encourage them to have their own. What will they be reading next?

Embrace audiobooks.  We do a lot of driving as I travel to speak and as we visit others, so audiobooks from the local library are a constant companion. The kids select the text or we do when we know a book may be a great discussion for our family. This is also a great way to start conversations about social justice topics, such as when we listened to George by Alex Gino and we discussed gender identity, yes, even with our youngest.  Overall, audiobooks cut down on our kids arguing, creates conversation, and become a part of our reading memories.

Embrace real choice.  So your child wants to read the same book all the time?  Ok. So your child wants to read super “easy” books all the time?  Ok. So your child wants to read only one type of book all the time?  Ok. Reading at home is for great reading experiences, for having fun with your reading, for keeping the joy of reading alive.  We can recommend, we can purchase, we can entice, but I would never force certain texts on kids. I have seen too many kids stop their reading or fake it because of forced choice, usually through the eagerness of parents to share their favorite classic texts with their kids. While I love the sentiment of that, I am not always sure it is done well and can end up doing more harm than good. Perhaps, our focus instead should be to discover new classics instead such as The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo or The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Be invested and interested.  Ask genuine questions about their reading experiences.  Share your own. Embrace your reading slumps together and do something about them together.  Ask questions about what they plan on reading, whether they like the book or not, or what made them pick that book.  Keep it light but keep it constant.

Keep it joyful.  When kids come home from school, they are often tired and ready to do everything but read. I get it, after being at a conference all day or even teaching, reading is pretty far from my mind as well. We often lose readers at home because we see it as one more thing to do, rather than an experience waiting to happen. So keep it light, keep it fun.  Don’t assign journal prompts or summaries to go with it. Don’t make it homework, but instead revel in the joyful experience that reading a great book can be. Read aloud to your kids, even if they are older, this is one of the things many students report they miss the most with their parents. Celebrate new books, celebrate finishing books, celebrate abandoning books.

Fight for your child’s rights as a reader. While this will inevitably be a whole other post one of these days, I think it is vital, that we as parents/caregivers know what is happening to our children in their reading instruction at school. What are they making kids DO as readers? And what is that work DOING to your child as a reader? I can tell you that there are not many swords I care to fall on as “that” parent but reading logs and computerized programs to teach kids reading are two such swords. I have seen the damage done, and I refuse to sit idly by while decisions implemented at school harm our children’s reading lives, So know what their instruction looks like and what they are expected to do. Become an advocate for change if you need to or become an advocate for those who are using best practices, they often need our support as well. Don’t just trust schools to make the best instructional decisions, this is not always the case.

There is so much we can do to support our children as readers, and while it may seem like a lot of work, it isn’t. It is a chance for us to sit down with our kids, with something to read, and to create memories. But it starts with routines. With decisions that will support and not hinder. And with being readers ourselves.

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.      Also, 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, first week, new year, parents

What Parents Wish We Would Ask Them About Their Child

We tried to have kids for three years before we were successful.  Three years of hoping this was the time.  Three years of doctors shaking their heads, of appointments, of surgery, of medicine to help.  Three years of dreaming.  When she came I cried knowing that the miracle she was would never be fully understood by others who had not traveled our journey.  She cried right along with me.

When she started school I wrote a letter to her telling her of the hopes, the fears, and the dreams we had for her as she embarked on this next phase of her journey.  We held her tight, hugged her, and sent her on her way.

For the past eight years, we have been the parents of her and three more siblings, all with their own winding road into being.  We have watched in awe as their personalities have grown, as their will have formed.  As their knowledge of life, of who they are, of where they fit have expanded and shrank, depending on what happened at any given time.  And we have seen the not-so-great, the tantrums, the curveballs that all kids present you with and we have held our breath at times when we have been in public and this thing that is happening right in front of us that seems to have come out of nowhere is making us both want to just die of embarrassment.

You are our most precious.  You are the things we are the proudest of.  But you are also what we worry about the most.  And so with three kids about to start school, I hope we get a chance to tell your teachers who you are.  Not so we can pretend you are perfect but so we can present you for everything that you are.  Willful and strong, creative and flighty, funny and sometimes mad, but always you, and always a child who is exploring who they are and what life has to offer.

Today, as I prepared our own home survey (Spanish version here) that we send out to all of our incoming parents, I asked my PLN which question do they wish, as parents, they would be asked about their children.  The answers were too good not to share, so thank you, everyone, who responded.  Thank you for sharing your hopes so that we can all become better teachers.  So that we can start the year on the very best foot, hearing who your child is from the people that know them best.

 

What do parents/guardians wish we would ask them about their child?

When you think about your child, what makes you proud?

What are they passionate about?

What do they cry about at home?

How can I help make this a great year for your son/daughter?

How can I make your child feel safe and open to trying new things?

Do you have any suggestions on how to best connect with your child?

What sparks your child’s interest?

What triggers frustration or withdrawal?

What two things I should do and two things that I should avoid?

What are your hopes and dreams for the school year?
What helps to motivate your child to do his/her best?

What else?  What would you add to the list?  How would you like to share the story of who your child is with these new teachers?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

assumptions, Be the change, being a teacher, parents

On Parent Assumptions and Fear of Change

“But how do parents react?”

Just this morning, I was asked again as my latest post about getting rid of homework was circulated.  I get the question a lot, I think we all do.  I think it marks a great educator when we ask, when we value what parents think.  And yet…often our assumptions about what parents will think of a change we implement are just that; assumptions.  Not based on actuality, not further pursued.  Not questioned, but instead assumed as true, because, perhaps, it happened to someone we know.  Or because there was that one time where it happened, so now it must be true for every time.

I think the fear of parent reaction holds us back as much as our own fear of change.  We assume they will protest.  We assume they will be upset.  We assume they will rebel against the changes we make because parents always want school to be like it was for them.  But it is not true, at least not always.  How do I know?  Because for the last seven years I have asked.

When I got rid of homework, most parents cheered.  They told me that they wanted their child to pursue other things outside of school and now could.  They told me how tired their child was after school, how much homework was a struggle between them, how it became one more point of contention in their relationship.  How they did not mind the learning, but the tediousness, the worksheets, the assignments that made little sense did nothing for their child.  Those who disagreed asked for resources and I gladly handed them to them, a list on a website sufficed.

When I got rid of rewards, parents told me that they were happy their child was not coming home with trinkets,  That their child did not need any more stickers, or pizza, or other things that had nothing to do with their accomplishment.  That they wanted them to feel proud of their learning, not to be handed anything.

When I got rid of behavior charts, parents told me of their relief, how their child had been anxious, how their child had not cared whether they moved their stick because they already knew they were a “bad” kid and the stick was just more proof of that.  They are still telling me in the comments on posts about Class Dojo and behavior charts.

When I changed the focus from letter grades to personal development, parents were still happy as long as they knew how their child was doing.  As long as it still made sense to them so they could understand their child’s journey, understand how to support.  Understand where they were still developing and where they had succeeded.

So if I have learned anything in these years of trying to be a better teacher,  in trying to create more student-centered classrooms, it is that we should not assume how a parent will react.  That we should not assume they will hate what we do because it is different, or new, or even a seemingly crazy idea.  They care that their child is happy.  They care that their child is challenged.  They care that their child is supported.  That that their child is accepted.  They care that their child likes school and does well.  It seems we perpetuate our own myths and create the barriers ourselves.

So when I asked parents how I could be a better teacher for their child, they told me when they had ideas, and I tried to act on it as best as I could, because it turns out that when we ask parents; they have a lot of great things to say.  They are not as set in their ways as we may think, they do not hate everything we propose.  So jump in, stop assuming, and start asking.  It will change the way you teach.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

 

 

being a teacher, Literacy, parents, Reading, Reading Identity

A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading

Protect your child's love of reading as you would their health; it is vital for a happy life pernille ripp

I have not hidden the fact that my oldest daughter has been a developing reader for the past 2 years.  That something that came so easy for me, has been a fight for her, where the words stammered and stuttered and her frustration grew.  But.  We just received word from her teacher that she is at grade level as she finishes 1st grade.  That all of her (and their)  hard work has paid off.  That it now is up to us to keep her reading to keep building on the momentum she is on.

Thea is lucky.  She has been in a school where they value creating reading experiences above everything else.  Where they work with each child at their level and try to keep reading magical.  Where each child is given time to read self-chosen books, receive one-to-one or small group instruction, and the emphasis is on reading for fun, not reading for requirement or prizes.  As a school, they have said no to so many things we know can harm the love of reading.

Our role as parents has been to uphold the expectations they have created; reading for fun, reading as a natural part of our day, reading as something that becomes part of the conversations we have every day.  We have gladly embraced it.  We have not had to protect our daughter’s burgeoning love of reading from some of the practices such as reading logs, reading for rewards, AR, or forced daily reading reflections we see around schools, but what if we did?  What can we do then?

We can ask questions.  I think of all of the well-meaning things I did my first years as a teacher that I thought would help children read more that I now cringe at; reading logs, rewards, book reports and projects, reading reflections every night and so on.  No parent ever asked questions because they assumed I knew what I was doing, but the truth is, I was still developing and learning.  I did these things because I thought that is what good teachers did.   Whenever parents ask questions, it may at first be off-putting, but in the end it always helps me grow.  It always offers me a chance for genuine reflection, a chance to re-visit the components that I teach.  This is never a bad thing even if it feels that way at first.

We can share the research.  These ideas of protecting a love of reading are not just based on momentary whims.  Research has shown time and time again how for example external factors such as points, scores, or even food negatively impact a child’s desire to read.  (For a great article on reading logs see this).  If a school has misguided practices in place, then perhaps they have not seen what is out there that can help them grow?  There are nice ways to present research that doesn’t involve chastising other people, especially since it is not always the choice of a teacher to do some of these things, but instead that of a well-meaning district.  So share research and don’t be disappointed if it makes no difference, sometimes even the best research only plants a seed that we will not see come to fruition for a long time.

We can lie.  I know that sounds terrible, but as far as Thea’s kindergarten reading log, I decided to sign it every night and not show her.  She didn’t need to know that she was working toward anything, nor did she need to know that I had to keep track.  So I didn’t tell her and I didn’t keep track, instead I rummaged through her backpack every night and simply signed so her teacher could in turn sign off every morning.  Thea was a reader but even readers take a night off her and there.

We can say no.  No one wants to be THAT parent but sometimes we have to be.  Saying no to a school-wide practice such as reading logs or the use of AR can be a daunting task, but we have to remember the bigger picture; protecting a child’s love of reading.  In Thea’s first kindergarten class,  she was presented with a reading log on the 2nd day of school, all in order to be included in a pizza party.  When I asked questions about it, I was told that in later years the reading log would be a part of her grade for reading and that if she didn’t do it, her reading grade would suffer.  Her grade!  While, at first, this startled me  I soon realized that I was fine with that.  So be it if her grade was lower because she didn’t participate.  Her grade didn’t matter as long as she found reading enjoyable and not something you did to earn something.  Sometimes change will not come until parents speak up, so be the voice of reason and if you see something changing your child’s reading habits for the worse, then do something about it.  Don’t just expect it to be ok in the end. Protect your child’s love of reading as you would their health;  it is vital for a happy life.

We can create our own enjoyable reading experiences.  Sometimes we have to be the counterpoint to the environment our children are in.  If we know that self-selected books are a major component to creating pleasurable reading experiences then that is what we should strive for.  While the parent in me often felt panicked that Thea was not making the necessary gains as a reader, the teacher in me knew that it simply would take time.  That forcing her to read more books every night, or even write more about her reading, would only make the experience miserable for her.  So keeping reading fun, making it a family event (see this blog post for lots of summer reading experience ideas) and making it a natural part of your day are all choices we can make, whether or not our child’s school believes in it.

We have been so lucky as we look back on Thea’s short reading life.  As she switches school this coming school year, I can only hope that it will continue.  We may sometimes wonder about the policies that directly influence our children, but we should never feel powerless.  As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must ever forget that.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

Awards, being a teacher, being me, parents, rewards

If You Really Want to Reward a Child

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A few days ago, I sorted my own children’s toys.  Cleaned out all the misfits, the broken pieces, and marveled at the bag of plastic dippity does I was able to throw away.  A bag worth of trinkets, of things that meant something to them the first 5 minutes they got them, only to lie forgotten in their toy chest since.  The sheer abundance startled me, after all, I consider myself a miser when it comes to toy purchases.   But the proof was in the toy-chest; plastic trinkets galore.  As I snuck the bag out to the trash, I couldn’t help but feel like a mean mother for getting rid of their broken “treasures.”

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry as Thea, our 7 year old, came home with a plastic yo-yo today from school.  She proudly showed it to me before it broke (cheap plastic things tend to do that quickly) and told me she had earned it for reading. For reading…Because she had read every night.  And I sighed, and inwardly I rolled my eyes, and then I realized that I had to get something of my chest, (imagine that)…

We need to stop cheapen the act of learning with plastic trinkets.

We need to stop teaching kids that when they learn, they earn something.  That when they learn they must be rewarded with a tangible thing to play with, rather than just the satisfaction of the knowledge they have gained.

Because in our well-meaning intention of trying to help students feel accomplished,  we are helping kill the love of learning itself.  We are teaching kids through our treasure chests, our prize boxes (guilty as charged), that learning is not enough.  That they have not gained anything until they hold a new toy in their hands.  That the knowledge they have gained is not enough.  That simply becoming more knowledgeable does not matter unless they have physical proof, and I shudder as I think of the long term effects that can have.

So if you really want to reward a child, hand them a pencil to write another story or solve another problem with.

If you really want to reward a child, hand them another book when they finish the first one.

If you really want to reward a child, give them more of your time as a class, give them a high five, a hug, or some sort of positive attention.

If you really want to reward a child, discuss their strengths with them, their effort, their growth, anythingt hat will make them see their own success if they do not already.

If you really want to reward a child, reach out to those at home; let them know what you see so that we can act accordingly.  Let us know what you see so that we can see it too.

But as a parent I plead, from one teacher to another; please stop handing out the trinkets, the stickers, the dippity doodads, the things we find at the dollar store.  Stop the paper awards and the made up rewards. Save us from the tangible, the things that break, the things that mean so little in the long run.   Celebrate, yes.  Acknowledge, please.  But save the toys for home.  The kids don’t need them, and neither do we.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.