On Reading Tasks

 

I used to ask students to write in their reader’s notebook for a few minutes every day after they finished reading.  Some days they could write about whatever, other days I had a specific prompt.  Just four minutes because four always seems less daunting than five.  Just four minutes to give me a feel for what you are thinking.  Just four minutes to let me know if you are reading.

The protests started quickly.  Slow steps to get their reader’s notebooks, lengthy pencil sharpening sessions, bathroom breaks and long stretches.  Kids who needed to read just one more page even though it cut into their writing time.  Then louder, more vocal, “Do we have to, Mrs.  Ripp?”  “I don’t know what to write…”  “What’s the prompt again?”  I even had a child tell me that they thought it was stupid.  But I knew best, so we soldiered on.

Their responses were mediocre at best.  Short burst of thinking.  Not a lot of depth.  Surface level understanding, connections, and even writing.  I was baffled at how poorly they did., had they really misunderstood all of my instruction?  Did they really not understand theme?

On the end of the year survey, I asked them, “What is the one thing you wish Mrs. Ripp would never do again?”  Their response was resounding; our reader’s responses.  “Please don’t put other kids through that, Mrs. Ripp!” one child wrote in the margin.  “It made me hate reading!” another child confided.  I knew they disliked it, but the sheer quantity of kids that, without consulting each other, had put this four minute part of our class on the survey was astounding.  I had known all along, but still…surely this little check for understanding was just that; little.  Insignificant, and yet the damage it was doing to a child’s reading life was anything but.

This happens all the time in our reading classrooms; small ideas, insignificant extra tasks, minor routines that end up doing major damage.  We assume that kids will be okay, they are resilient, but we forget that for many their reading identities are not well formed yet.  That it doesn’t take much to knock them off course.  That it is not just because they dislike reading because they never found the right book, but because we have created reading classrooms where there sometimes is very little reading, but very many tasks.  Yes, kids need to process their reading.  Yes, kids should grow from their reading, but that doesn’t mean always writing.  That doesn’t mean always producing something.  That doesn’t mean that we squeeze in a short response thinking it will help them in the long run, no matter the damage it does now.

We forget that just reading is work.  That for some kids it takes incredible mental prowess to figure out the words, to visualize the story, to comprehend what is going on.  They are tired after they read.  We forget that reading can be solitary.  That as adults we often sit in silence after we have read or we think of who we would like to share this book with.  How we would like to proceed.  I know very few adults that write a summary every time they read or even write down their pages.  So why do our reading decisions look so different in our classrooms?

So what tasks do you have attached to reading?  What are you asking kids to do when they are reading?  Do they get stretches of uninterrupted time to just read?  Do they get to choose what to do when they do read or when they are done?  Have you asked students what they would like to do or what you need to change?

Most days, my students “just” read.  Sometimes I ask them to speak to a peer about their book, sometimes I do ask them to answer a question, sometimes I ask them to reflect on their reading, either out loud or on paper, sometimes I ask them to just think.  The key here is “Sometimes…” not always or often.  Not every day, not always in writing.  I tell them that when I ask them to do something, it matters, and because we do it so rarely, to most it does.  They take their time, they do the work because they know that this is a rarity rather than an everyday occurrence.

I wish I would have stopped our four minutes earlier.  I wish I would have listened to the students, rather than thought I knew best.  I wish I would have asked them sooner, what would you like to do when you finish reading and then listened to their answers.  I wonder if they would have answered much like Thea, our eight-year-old, did when I asked her, “When you finish a book, what would you like to do?”

She looked at me confused, “What do you mean?”

“What kind of thing would you like to do when you have finished a book?”

She looked me right in the eye and said, “Start another book…” and she walked away.

So let them read, not for the sake of producing, but for the sake of reading itself.

PS:  Join the conversation in our Passionate Readers Book Club on Facebook.

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.

 

 

 

 

On Hard Conversations and Having Courage

I am so white I am like a caricature of whiteness.  You see me coming; blonde, blue eyes, tall, my Viking heritage directly responsible for the four blonde children that cruise around with me in our mini-van while we bungle the words to Despacito.  I was born white, it is who I am, but I am on a journey to use my innate privilege to be something more.  Not just an ally, but a fighter.  Someone who doesn’t just shut the door when the going gets tough but leaves it wide open.

We live in a neighborhood that does not mirror us.  It is through circumstance we came to it but by choice that we stayed.   Living among other cultures, races and identities have brought many questions to our dining room table.  Questions that were hard for us to navigate with our young children, questions who pushed our own thinking.  I shudder to think whether these questions would have been posed by my children if we did not live here.  And so I think of the choices we, as white people, make as a privileged society to keep our lives homogenous.  How we live in neighborhoods where people look like us, we send our kids to schools where they float in a sea of whiteness, we not only elect people whose values mirror our own but so do their faces.  I can choose to step away from racism.  I can choose to step away from inequity discussions.  I can choose to step away from anything that may be upsetting, dangerous, or demoralizing.

I am privileged because I get to be afraid of the type of reaction my teaching may cause if I continue to discuss inequity.  If I continue to discuss racism. If I continue to discuss what it means to be privileged in my classroom.  I get to be afraid for my job and I get to choose whether to have these hard conversations or not.  But the truth is, there should be no choice.  We, as teachers, are on the front lines of changing the future narrative of this country.  Ugliness and all.  We are the bastions of truth, so what truth are we bringing into our classrooms?

I saw this tweet from ILA

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and it has kept me up at night.  Where are the white allies?  Where have I been?  Have I done enough?  Where is our courage when it comes to being a part of dismantling a racist and prejudiced system?  It is not enough to have diverse books in our classrooms if we are too afraid to discuss diversity and what the lack of humanity for others does to our democracy.  It is not enough to say “You matter” and then do nothing to change the world that we live in.  Or to celebrate diversity and then not accept a child for who they truly are, differences and all.  It is not enough to say we are an ally if our actions don’t match our words.   I don’t need 100 clones of me, I need to create more opportunities for the students to do the hard work.   To offer them an opportunity to decide.   To create an environment where they can discover their own opinion.  Where they can explore the world, even when it is ugly so that they can decide which side of history they want to fall on.

So this year I am planning for even harder conversations.  I am planning on being an ally, for being a fighter, even when I get scared.  We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers?  I am so white, I am like a caricature of whiteness, but perhaps even this white person can make a difference by not being so afraid.  By listening, by asking questions, and by doing more than just saying that this world is filled with wrongness.

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.

On the Need to Plan for Reading Enjoyment

A question I receive often is what do you teach?  Meaning what reading skills do I get to explore with my 7th graders in our English block?  And how do I cover it all?  I get it, teaching English Language Arts in the forty-five-minute block is daunting.  We feel like we are behind on the second day of school.    (Incidentally, this is what prompted me to write Passionate Readers because I figured I could not be alone in trying to deal with the madness).  And yet, while I gladly share what we do as I try to help my students become better readers, there seems to be a missing part in this curriculum conversation; the need to plan for reading enjoyment.

Why does this matter?   Because our assumptions about what we can do to kids’ reading lives through our well-meaning intentions are wrong.  We have assumed for too long that kids will just like reading, no matter what we do to them in class.  No matter the task we assign them.  No matter how we teach and what we discuss.  And yet, the numbers don’t lie… As kids get older, reading for fun decreases and with it outside reading.  We all know where this goes, by the time kids leave our classrooms and become the adults we have hoped to shape, many of them; 26% to be exact, choose to not read a single book for the next twelve months.  And we know this, we see it in our classrooms every single year; those kids that come in and sigh, that pick up a random book, that look us in the eyes and tell us proudly that they will never like reading no matter what we do.  It seems, in our eagerness to create amazing readers, we have lost sight of the end game; people who actually want to read once they leave our schools.

The decisions we make today, as we plan for the year ahead, or for the next day’s lesson, matters more than we know.  Yes, kids need reading skills, of course, but we also must plan specifically for protecting the hope of reading.  For protecting the positive reading identities that are already present in our school communities, for investigating and hopefully changing the negative reading identities.

But this won’t happen just by happenstance. Joyful reading experiences don’t just happen magically even if we provide choice, time, and plenty of great books.  We must strive to make it fun.  To create meaningful opportunities to interact with others through the books we read.  To abandon the books that do not work for us, even the ones we rank a seven or an eight.  To read picture books aloud not just for teaching the skill but for creating a community, for laughing together.  For speaking books with one another.  For reading aloud.  For finding time to slow down so we can savor what we read, rather than just to get through it.

And don’t take my word for it, here is just some of the research of the benefits of focusing on reading enjoyment from The National Literacy Trust.

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We may lament the amount of time we have in our classrooms.  We may worry that we will never get “it” done.  That we are not enough or that what we are doing is not the right thing.  But we must not forget how much we do control in our limited time with students; how many decisions we do get to make.  One of those has to be what we are going to do to protect the love of reading.  How will we make reading fun again and then stand proudly behind our decisions?  So next time you plan a lesson or have a curriculum discussion, ask yourself this; will there be enjoyment in this?  Will the very students we are teaching find this fun?  And if not, why not?  What can you do to change?  Our classrooms were never meant to be the place where reading came to die, they were meant to be places filled with reading explorations.  What will we do to change the very experience we have with our students?

Our classrooms were never meant to be the place where reading came to die, they were meant to be places filled with reading explorations.  What will we do to change the very experience we have with our students?

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.

On Computer Programs and Our Most Vulnerable Readers

She asks me, “Well, what about Accelerated Reader?”

“What about it?”

“Well, it’s just so easy to use…I can see if a child has read a book really quickly.  I can see if they understand it.”

And she is right.  A program like Accelerated Reader 360 is easy.  It is quick.  It is less work for us, the teachers.  A child reads a book, takes a test, the score determines whether they understood it, what they need to practice, and what they should read next.  One computer program and so much work has been done for us.

So we hand the companies our money, sometimes instead of buying books.  We place our children in front of computers who decide which books they should read, which skills they should practice.  All we have to do is sit back and print out the results.  We have all the data we need right there.  It is so much easier to teach a child when we don’t have to take the time to get to know them.

But that is not enough….

We create readers and kids who like to read through interaction.  Through conversation. Through exploration.

We create readers when we feel a deep personal connection to a text.

When we hand over a book to someone else.  When a book stays with us, haunts us, and keeps us awake.  When we cannot wait for the sequel to come out or we cry when a series ends. When we rush to tell someone else about the experience we have just had with a book, or we tell no one because no one will ever fully understand just how we feel.

We create readers when we give them time to read.  When we help them work through text that they have self-selected.  When we give them choice and the room to explore.  When we offer them many ways to succeed.

When a teacher is there to protect, to guide, to help, to adjust and to learn about the reader that is in front of them.

Not just when we comprehend.  Not just when we cite evidence.  Not just when we can successfully pick out the theme that someone else has decided is present.  Not just when we purchase a “reading” program and fail to notice that it doesn’t actually do reading instruction.

And so I shudder when someone asks what computer program they should purchase for their struggling readers.  Which one will guarantee the most growth.  As if growth is the only defining factor of someone who reads?

And then I get angry because my child could be categorized as such, as a reader who struggles with text, as a reader who is not where she should be in her journey, as a reader who is the most vulnerable type of reader.  And I know the damage a computer would do to her hope to be a reader some day.  Because the simple truth is that the reason she believes that she will some day read chapter books is that caring teachers have kept that hope alive.  They have handed her book upon book and they have laughed with her through the pages.  They have taken the time to teach her in small groups or one-on-one.  They have gotten to know her so that when she gets down on herself about how she still cannot read chapter books, they tell her someday, and she believes them,

No computer will ever care about the hope that my child carries.  No computer will ever tell her to not give up when something gets hard or understand why she makes the decoding mistakes she does.  No computer will ever tell her that she IS a reader, even if she doesn’t feel like one. It would be the death of her.  And yet, we see it everywhere.  Computers doing all of the work that a skilled teacher should be doing.

We take our most vulnerable.  The kids who hate reading.  The kids who are not where they should be.  The kids whose gaps continue to grow and instead of putting them with a specialist, instead of putting them in an environment where books, and conversation, and interaction, and being on a journey together rule the day.  We push start and then walk away….

And then we wonder why they tell us they never want to read again.

So I ask you this; if you would not put your strongest reader in front of a computer.  If you would not take specialized instruction away from those kids who are advanced.  If you would never dream of subjecting a child to the whims of a program when they have already proven they are a reader, then why do it to those who need us the most?

Think about it.

Reading is not just about comprehension.

Reading is not just about growth.

About points.

About scores.

Or rewards or even pages read.

Reading is about a journey.  A love.  A dream kept alive that by reading a book we would be something more than we were when we started.

No computer program can ever provide that.

PS:  Before I get tons of comments about how that one kid loves the program, that is awesome!  I love computerized tests too because they are super easy for me.  Have them keep doing it, but don’t do it to those who don’t.   Who need more.  There are always kids that will, but if a program harms the love of a reading for a child, question the program, not the child.  To see some research on what does provide effective literacy instruction, start here

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.

On “Easy” Books and Better Readers

It has been a summer of easy reading so far.  A few YA books, a graphic novel when the book I was reading hit a boring spot, picture books every day.  My professional development books beckon, but my brain is not ready.  I need to read to read.  To relax – summer has been crazy so far – to laugh, to discover new books that I can pass on to others.  To not think too much, I need easy books.; books that remind me why I love reading so much.

I was asked on Friday; what about the kids who read books that are much too easy, how will we challenge them?  The problem was implied; easy books don’t offer up real growth opportunities.  Easy books don’t develop their skills.  Easy books don’t push them forward in the ever-present journey toward becoming a better reader.

But it seems as if, in our well-meaning intentions, that we have forgotten what a better reader really is.  A better reader is not just someone who can just tackle complex texts, who can comprehend at a deep level, who can answer the questions on the test to back up what we already knew.  While those are aspects, they are not the only thing that makes a child a better reader.

A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable.  Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t.  Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others.  Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in.  And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read easy books, how much of that individual reading identity journey do we dismiss?

Easy books, whether they be graphic novels, books below their actual comprehension skills, free verse, audio books, or even picture books, can get such a bad reputation in our schools.  As if those books are only allowed in the brief moment of time when they fit your exact level, whatever level means.  As if those books are only meant to be discovered when you have nothing else to read, when you actually are allowed to read for fun, rather than for skill.  Yet these are the books that keep us loving reading.  That keeps us coming back.  Those books that we devour in one sitting because we must find out what happens next, aren’t those “easy” books for all of us?

Do we tell our students to embrace easy reading whenever they want to keep them loving reading?  Or do we push them so hard to develop their skills that their connection to reading breaks and then we wonder why reading becomes something just to do for school and tasks?

And yes, I teach that child that reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid every day, who is not sure of what else he can read that will make him love reading as much.  My job is not to tell him, “No, you cannot read that,” but instead to show him other options.  Not to take away, but to recommend, while also protecting the fierce commitment that exists between a child and a favorite book.  To explore why that child loves this book so much and then help discover others like it.  To acknowledge the reading relationship that already exists and to build on that rather than breaking it apart at all costs because I know better.

I am not dismissing the need to challenge kids to read more, to read longer, to read more complex text, but we must be careful with what we then say when it comes to what else they should read.  We must make reading for enjoyment, whatever that means for a child, a central part of our teaching so that children can understand that reading for enjoyment is just as, if not more, important than reading for a skill.  And the research agrees.  Kamil (2003) points out, “Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.”  So are we making room to embrace those books that happen to make our children, and adults, love reading?  Or do we only focus on those texts that will continue to challenge them, to move their skills, unfocused on the other damage it may do?

While our job, as educators, is to develop children who can read, our job is also to develop children who want to read.  The two are not always taught together, so it is up to us, to make sure that when we plan for our reading experiences that “easy” books and anything else that may keep a child’s love of reading intact is not only welcomed but encouraged in our classrooms.  We must ensure that when we plan for reading instruction, that we plan for the protection of the love of reading.

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.

 

 

 

Does Reading for Pleasure in Schools Really Make a Difference?

Sometimes we are up against insurmountable odds without even knowing it.  Odds that seem to already be against us.  Facing conditions that are no fault of our own, and yet, we are the ones that are supposed to change it.

Often this can be how teaching feels.  Like we are not just teachers of content, but instead, also the frontline for changing how students feel about school, feel about teachers, feel about anything that may happen within our days together.  There are many things that my middle schoolers have taught me, but one of the biggest lessons is that it is not just you they are reacting to; it is everything you stand for, everything they feel you represent.

English class tends to not be a popular thing.  They tell me our class wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have to read or write.  At times, I feel like I have lost before I have even begun. I know many students hate my class before we even start, it is part of the job I suppose.  And yet, we teachers, know that there is always a chance.  That we can be the change for some of our students.  And so we pin our hopes on promises of change and ask our students to give a chance.

I asked my students to give reading a chance this year.  I promised them that if they liked reading, I would do my very best to protect that love.  That if they disliked it, or even hated it, I would try to create an experience that would perhaps change their perception even a little bit.

I polled them at the beginning of the year and was frankly horrified at what I found.  Out of 130 students, 53.6% of students reported that on a scale from 1 to 10, reading was a 4 or less.  That’s 70 students.

70 students that despite their previous teachers best intentions have already decided that reading is really not for them.  Out of those 70 students, 35 students reported that they hated it.  Hated it.  Not just dislike.    But hate.

So what do you when you are faced with such insurmountable odds?  What program do you lean on?  What curriculum do you implement?

For us; none. It turns out it is much simpler than following a curriculum.

What made the biggest difference to all of my reading hating students?

Books, and plenty of them.  Books that were accessible through audio and text.  Books that were not there to push them in a certain direction.  That were not forced on them.  Picture books for the days where chapter books seemed to be too much work.  Free verse for those who had lost their connection with the magic of reading.  Graphic novels meant to teach, entice, and enthrall.  Everywhere they looked there were books and the books called to them.  Without judgment.  Without restriction.  Without one path to being a reader.

We also took time.  Ten minutes every day to read.  To find books.  To have conversations about the texts we chose.  To find something worthy of our time, that we perhaps would want to read later as well.  Ten minutes that were the expectation coupled with the idea that one should only read good books, not waste our time on books that would make us dislike reading more.  To abandon when needed, to book shop when desired.

And finally, we had each other.  Teachers that read and recommended.  Peers that read and passed on books.  A sense of urgency to read books that worked for us, that mattered to us, that would make us like reading or stay in love with it.  That would challenge us even if we were not sure how.

So this year, once again, we spoke books and every day I hoped for a change.  Every day I worked toward a change.  And how did it go?

On our end of year survey, I once again asked students how they felt about reading.  Then I held my breath and waited for the results.

I started the year with 70 students telling me they disliked reading.

Now there are 26.

104 students now say they have a better or continued positive relationship with reading.  Is it perfect?  No, but even within the kids that still ranked it less than a 4, 14 of them said they disliked it less.

That means that within a course of 10 months; 118 students or almost 91% of my students have a more positive relationship with reading than they did before, or that their relationship remained positive.

Because of great books at their fingertips.

Because of the time to read every day.

And because we built a community where reading for pleasure mattered and that became our curriculum.

It is not perfect, but it is a start.  It is not every child, but it is many.  It is not unreachable, but instead a promise of creating better reading experiences that in the end mattered to the kids.

And that is why I will continue to find the time for reading for pleasure in our curriculum.  Why I will continue to champion reading for pleasure, choosing your own books, and giving time to students to read within our class periods, because it works.  Because the proof is right here, in the very kids I teach.  And I don’t think there is any curriculum, nor computer program,  that could have provided me with the same result. Those come after, after we nurtutre the love, the interest, and the right to read books that matter.  So if you are wondering how to get kids reading; start with the foundation of choice, of time, and of community.  Then look at all the rest.

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.