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.   

Reading, Reading Identity

Creating an Action Plan to Jumpstart a Better Reading Experience

This is the form I use to keep track of my notes when I meet with students, to see the form, go to the update towards the end

Winter always hits us hard here in Wisconsin, and yet, this week, we broke records. It got so cold, everything shut down, the stores, the malls, the movies, even the bars shut their doors as the police told people to stay home. I spent three days by the fire playing games, reading books, laughing with my kids, and thinking so often about the other kids I have; the students I get to teach.

Because some of them are still not liking reading. Some of them still outright refuse. Some of them still go through the motions of what it may look like to read, but that spark, that change, that seed, doesn’t seem to have taken root, not yet.

And yet, there are many where the reading blossoms and continues to grow. Whose readerly lives seem to have taken on a life of its own. Who can tell you all about what it means to read, to be a reader. For them, I can breathe a little easier. For them, I can stay the course.

Yet for the ones who are not there yet, I need a new plan. Not one with more requirements or different reading “rules,” not one that veers off from our foundation: time, choice, access, community, and reflection. But instead a more concentrated approach. The check-ins I have with them every three or four weeks is not enough. They need a reading intervention, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, I am making them my action plan for the next few weeks to see if a concentrated boost is what they need.

So what I plan on doing, at least what I think I plan on doing, is simple – more attention, more conversation, more intentionality.

Step 1. Identify the kids who seem to be not there yet. Make a short list of those who need extra attention. Don’t forget about the rest of the class, but for the next few weeks; focus on these kids. I plan on focusing on no more than three a class.

Step 2. Pull a stack of irresistible books, these are the books that seem to have made a difference to kids in the past. Books like Monster, A Long Way Down, Hey Kiddo, and Boost. (I have a list going here).

Step 3. Start a conversation, I can use what I always use, “What are you working on as a reader?” However, I plan on each conversation lasting a little longer and centering around what I have noticed such as random book selections, little interest in what they are reading, and trying to figure out why. In my experience, students don’t always know why so this is where I can help a little with questions about their reading identity and their reading habits. What else can we uncover about their reading journey that can help them know themselves better and grow?

Step 3 1/2. Ask them how they can change their habits of reading. Help them uncover what is holding them back from reading, even if it is a lack of desire and discuss which habits can be altered to change their experience. Is it that they need a book at school and at home? Is it that they have yet to find a book they like but aren’t really looking? Is it that they are overwhelmed? Or that it seems pointless? What is it that is making them choose to not transform their reading experience?

Step 4. Help them set a mini-goal for the next week of reading. While all students have a year-long goal, for some kids year-long goals don’t seem very urgent, so focusing on a small success is more tangible and also more pressing. Discuss how they will hold themselves accountable, and let them know that I plan on checking in with them each day to see how they are doing, not in a judgmental way but as a coach and pep-talker. Have them write the goal down, I also plan on writing the goal down or I will not remember the specifics.

Step 5. Book shop together and enlist the help of a friend if they want. Pull out the stack of irresistible books and see if their friend has any suggestions. Give them time to truly browse the books, not just rush through selecting one. Coach as needed, step away so they have room.

Step 6. Daily check-in. Once the book has been chosen, then the conversations continue. Ask about their goal progress, ask them how I can support, and keep kid watching. Is anything changing? Why or why not?

Step 7. At week’s end, do an official goal check-in. Did they meet their goal? Why or why not? What needs to change for the following week?

Step 8. Keep checking in until end of the second week. Then figure out if they are on a better path or not. If not, back to the drawing board. If they are, then pull back a bit and see how they do. Scale back the check-in and focus back on all kids (not that they were completely forgotten), but it is time to see if this changed any habits at all.

Step 9. Remember that success comes in small steps. Remind myself that it is not a failure if a child only kind of liked a book, rather than loved it. Most kids need more than one book to transform their thinking.

A simple plan that I am sharing, simply to hold myself accountable. I am excited to see what this focus in attention will do for our readers. Hopefully, it will help them, if not, then I will think of something else to try. After all, there are plenty of ideas out there being shared.

Update: I checked in with a few of my kids today and ended up creating this form to help me keep track of what we discussed. The form is a work in progress, just like the rest of my teaching. It was great to have a bit longer with a few kids as we got to discuss their books and their habits, I am excited about this process.

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.   

conferences, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

Who Wants to Read it Next?

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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.    

being me, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Book Quantity and the Damage It Can (Sometimes) Do

Note: This post is a personal reflection with more questions than answers. In no way is this post meant to be used as a way to to argue for lowering expectations for kids when it comes to increasing reading quantity. The research shows us again and again that access to great books and the time to read them in both supported and unsupported ways is what creates reading success. Both of these are also privileges and not something that all kids, still, despite the numerous years of research have access to as Donalyn Miller reminded me of. What this post is meant to highlight and discuss is when we teach kids who have access to books and set incredibly high goals that then destroy their reading experience. That change their reading experience into one that chases only books as a point, a notch, or a number, rather than helps support their development as readers who experience books.

Today our students did a midyear reading goal reflection, a quick check to see whether or not their reading goal for the year should change. A quick check for them to take the pulse of their own reading life. It is always interesting to listen in as kids discover that they are either reading a lot more than they thought or need to step it up a bit to make their challenge goal of reading at least 25 books in 7th grade. For some 25 books is not a big deal, for others it is a mountain that they are steadily climbing, slowly putting one foot in front of the other as they find yet another book to hook them to a readerly life. They know there is no punishment for not meeting their goal. They know it is meant as a motivator for them to increase their reading. It has taken several years and different iterations for us to reach a reading challenge that seems to be successful for nearly all. And today, was a day to check in on that challenge.

As I meander by the students, a girl asks me how I am doing with my reading goal; 105 books? They like to check in now and then to see if I am staying on track, even if it is just to marvel at the goal itself. 105 books?! Who in the world can read that many books? She is trying to keep up with me but she is only at 30. I quickly tell her that one of the things I am also working on is slowing down when I read and yet the look she offers me tells me of her disbelief. After all, if my goal is to slow down then how come I am trying to read so many books?

Today, that look really hit me. I usually shrug it off, it is not the first time a student stares at me in disbelief, but today amidst the slowness of the day it gave me pause. Why is my goal so high? Why am I trying to read so many books? I don’t need to impress anyone. I am not in competition with anyone. Sure I love to recommend books but I am not the only one capable of doing so. What started as 80 books a year five years ago only keeps growing and to what end? Why the need for the high number, when 70 or even 50 would suffice?

And so I sit tonight realizing the danger of my own reading goal. Of setting it as a quantity one rather than one that calls for me to challenge myself. With this goal of 105 chapter books for the school year, I am falling into the same old habits as our students do when we focus on speed versus quality; picking shorter books, skimming texts, forcing myself to read even though my heart is not in it. With the increase in quantity comes a seemingly decrease in enjoyment. Reading is now a task in order to reach my goal, rather than something I do to relax. My to-be-read bookshelf is now work waiting for me to complete rather than adventures beckoning me to join them.

I see this happen with students too who for some reason believe that high quantities of books mean that they are automatically stronger readers. For some of my kids who set goals of hundreds of books in a year who seem to be missing most of what they are reading. Now, don’t get me wrong, research, of course, shows the positive correlation between reading large quantities of texts and being a better reader, but at what point for some kids and even for some adults does it become detrimental rather than good? At what point does the hurried race after too high of a goal in order to impress encourage students to skim read, to skip pages, to develop poor reading habits rather than lose themselves in the experience? Instead of setting a goal that challenges them in a new way? How do we balance the need for students to read more, which many need, but also to read well?

There is a balance, of course, that sometimes gets lost in the school shuffle where kids’ reading lives are made into contests through public book challenge displays, leaderboards, and reading scores. Where it often matters more how much you read versus what you read and what you get out of it. Where students are celebrated for reading quickly, even if they didn’t fully get the chance to actually appreciate what they read. Yes, quantity, and increasing quantity and access to great reading material matters for all of us, but so does slowing down, savoring text, and actually enjoying the experience. This is how we help students become or remain the types of people who cannot wait to read for fun. Where is the balance?

So today as the students did their midyear goals, I changed my own. I don’t want to read 105 books this year. I want to read 80. 80 amazing books that I cannot wait to finish. 80 books that I cannot wait to share. 80 books that allow me to fall back in love with reading and see it for the great gift it is, not for the job it has become. And who knows, perhaps I will read more, but I am allowing myself to slow down. To sit with the books. And I cannot wait.

PS: It is not too late to join the winter book club study for Passionate Readers – it starts this Sunday. Come join the conversation with hundreds of other educators as we try to create reading experiences for all of the kids we have. Also, I am currently planning my summer speaking schedule, see this page for more information if you would like me to help reach your vision for creating a school experience where students are empowered and engaged.

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

Let’s Talk About Reading Logs Again

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Let’s talk about reading logs for a moment.  Yes, I know I have gone down this path before, but it bears repeating because not a week goes by without someone asking about them.  Asking how they can speak to their child’s teacher about the reading log they have now been assigned.  Asking how they can convince their colleagues that they are not needed.  Asking how they can change their own practices.

As someone who used to believe in reading logs and assigned them myself, I get the draw.  A way to check to see if kids are really reading outside of our classrooms – sign me up.  We veil it in reasons such as to become a lifelong reader you need to read for pleasure.  If I am not around to see that then I need proof.  And yet, reading logs is every single year one of the top reasons that my students hate reading.

As a parent, I have seen the damage firsthand.  When presented with a reading log one year, Thea quickly informed me that ALL she had to read was the 20 minutes that it said, after that, she was done.  It didn’t matter how much I told her that it was not just 20 minutes that she needed to read because the piece of paper told her so.  And the paper trumped my insistence to simply read.

We have been lucky in that every time a reading log has been sent home for our kids to do, three times and counting so far, we have had incredible teachers who have been fine with us not doing them.  We explain that we read every night, that the log changes our carefully protected reading habits, and ask whether they will simply trust us when we say that our child reads.  But this is not always the case, sometimes teachers insist that they are done, that they use them for grading purposes, that they are not an option.  They attach rewards, punishments, special treatment to those who either do or don’t do the logs.  As if parents signing a piece of paper tells us anything about a child’s reading habits.  Because I am here to share a secret; as a parent, I lie on reading logs.  I don’t always know which specific books my child just spent the last 30 minutes devouring.  Sometimes I do, but not always.  I can’t tell you the exact minutes of reading because we don’t keep track.  Sometimes we simply forget to sign because life is busy.  It reminds me of what Donalyn Miller says that the only thing a reading log proves is which parents have a pen on Friday morning.

I write this post not to shun, not to rage, and not to put down. I write this post not to say what is right or wrong, but instead to add a little tiny piece to the ongoing discussion of where reading logs may or may not fit into our classrooms.  Of the damage and the usefulness of reading logs.  This is not a post with absolutes, or at least, I don’t think it will be.  Instead, it is a post meant for discussion.

How I Know My Students Are Reading

One of the biggest reasons I know teachers use reading logs is the accountability piece, if students fill out a reading log then I can see their outside reading lives, and while that is sometimes true (remember, parents lie) there are better ways to do it that don’t involve the traveling of paper back and forth.  How do I know my students are reading if I don’t check their reading log?  How do I know that at some point their eyes meet a text?  There are many ways actually.

  • They sign in with their page number.  On our whiteboard hangs a simple sheet that allows kids to put down the page they are currently on in whichever book they are reading.  At the end of a week, I do an average tally for each kid.  They have individual reading goals (set by them) that they keep track of in their notebooks and they also enter in their page numbers in a reading data sheet.  This allows kids to see their own patterns of reading, as well as to reflect on their growth.  I can quickly glance and see who is reading or not.
  • I watch their reaction.  Kids who read want independent reading time.  Kids who are in a great part of a book want time to find out what will happen next.  Kids who slowly get settled into their book, who distract others on the way; those are the kids I need to check in with and help.
  • I keep an eye on their to-be-read list.  As I confer with kids, I glance at their to-be-read list, it should be messy, with titles added and sometimes crossed out.  I know which books have been book-talked so I can see when kids are using it.
  • I kept an eye on their book bins.  A whole bookshelf in my room used to be the proof that my students read.  Periodically I would look through their bins, noting which books a kid has and whether those books had changed.  If they hadn’t, I checked in with that child.
  • We recommend.  Another favorite in our room is the speed book dating.  We quickly rattle off a book we love and why it should be read while the listener has their “I can’t wait to read ” list in their hand.
  • We show off our reading.  I have my reading door outside of the room so that my students always know what I am reading and my students can recommend books to their peers on a book tree.  This makes our reading is visible.
  • We discuss.  Reading should not be a solitary endeavor so we make time to discuss our books and why they are the best or the worst book ever.
  • I kid watch.  If I want to know whether kids are reading, I watch them.  Sometimes instead of conferring, I just sit back and pay attention.  This is one of our great superpowers as teachers, don’t forget that.
  • We reflect.  I often ask students to tie in today’s teaching point with whatever they are reading right now.  Whether it is on a notecard or through conversation, students take a moment to think and apply and once again lets me see what they are reading.
  • We do monthly reading reflections.  This year I really wanted to have a open dialogue with the students in regard to their reading life and although I do constant one on one or small group instruction, I wanted something more formal that I could file away and look at when needed.  My students know they are not judged on what they write but rather that I use it as a way to start a conversation with them.  I always appreciate their honesty and my actions show that.  The surveys are quick and to the point.
  • We have great books.  If you want kids to read, have great books.  I do not know how much money I spend a year on books, I know it is a lot, but every time I am able to book talk a book and see the reaction in my kids, it is worth it.  Couple that with an incredible librarian and my students are pretty lucky in the book department.
  • I lose a lot of books.  Because I encourage my students to take our books home to read, I inevitably lose a lot of books.  While it is hard to think of it from a financial standpoint, I also know that hose books are being read by someone.  So yes, it is hard to constantly replace books (and expensive) but it is something that goes along with being a reading classroom.

If You Have to Use Reading Logs

I have written before on my complicated relationship with reading logs; from being a teacher who demanded all students fill them out, to a teacher who threw them out, to a teacher who was asked to use them as part of their teaching, to a teacher whose students asked them to stop, to a parent who has signed them.  But I have never written about how to use them better.  Because I don’t like reading logs, there I said it, but at the same time, there are so many teachers that do, great teachers that care about children’s love of reading, and there are even teachers that have to use them.  And I don’t feel that shaming others will further the conversations.

My biggest issue with reading logs comes from the inherent lack of trust that they communicate; we do not trust you to read every night, we do not trust you to read long enough, nor do we trust you to grow as a reader, so fill out this paper instead.  And while I could write a whole post on that, I think Jessica Lifshitz did a much better job on it than I ever will.

And yet, I also see the value in getting a window into the reading lives of a student.  I see the value of having students understand their own reading habits so they can figure out how to grow.  To mine their own data so to speak in order for them to discover new patterns and new goals.  So what can we do, if we have to use reading logs (or we want to) to make them better for students?

Ask the students.  Ask the students their feelings on reading logs and consider their feedback carefully.  If most of your students think this tool will help them become stronger readers then work one out with them.  For those that are opposed to them, figure something else out.  If we truly want students to fully embrace the opportunities that we say can be found within a reading log then we need to make sure they have buy in as well.  Create reading logs that are meaningful to the students, which means that they will probably look different from year to year, based on the students we teach.

Ask the parents.  I will flat out tell you that I will sign whatever I have to from school.  I will not count the minutes, I hate writing down titles because we read a lot, and I do not see much value in her logging her reading every night.  If you want proof, ask me in an email or in conversations, but do not make me sign a piece of paper.  If some parents like reading logs then by all means work out a system with them, but exempt the other parents since more than likely they will probably not be invested anyway.

Differentiate.  For the kids that do want a reading log, find out what it is they would like to gain from it.  I have a few students that love coming in every Monday and writing down the titles of the books they read or abandoned over the weekend (that is all they keep track of plus a rating).  For those kids their record keeping is a way for them to remember what they have read and whether they liked it or not.  They do not keep track of minutes or anything like that, we discuss that in our written reading reflections that we do once in a while or face to face.  So find out what it is that the students like about logging their reading, if it is the reward that is attached to it then that should be a huge warning sign.

Keep it in class.  When I had to do a reading log in my former district, we kept it in class.  Students were asked to write down the title and for how long they were focused on the book right after independent reading.  That way, organization and parent follow up were removed from the equation and all kids (and me) were following the district expectation.

Stop rewarding.  If reading logs really are meant as a way to investigate ones’ own reading habits then stop tying in rewards with them.  The reward is in the reading, not the ticket, not the pizza, not the trinket.  Ever.

Stop punishing.  When we punish kids who do not turn in their reading logs, we forget our bigger purpose; to establish lifelong readers, instead investigate.  Why was it not turned in?  What happened?  And for the sake of everything good; do not force a child to then miss recess to make up for the lost time in reading.  You do not want to equate reading with punishment, ever.

Make it an experiment.  If you like using reading logs to find out student habits, then do it as a 2-week experiment with all students.  Have them for 2 weeks keep track of when, where, what, and how much they read and then have daily or weekly conversations and reflections on what they discover.  Set tangible goals from that.  Do it periodically throughout the year if you really want this to be seen as a learning opportunity, that way students can see a value in tracking their reading life this way.  If you have them do it all year, most students lose interest and will not see it as an opportunity to grow but just as one more thing to do.

Leave time for reflection.  Rather than log, we reflect.  My students set monthly reading goals and then at the end of the month they reflect on how they did through a survey.  The students and I will meet and discuss formally and informally and this is what I use for my vantage point into their reading life.  I ask them to tell me what they are working on and they do.

Don’t forget the purpose of reading logs.  If the purpose is to help students grow as readers then make sure that the very act of filling out a reading log, with or without parent signature, is not damaging that purpose.  It is often when we set up more processes for students in order to help them read better that we lose them as readers.  When kids spend more time doing things attached to reading, rather than the act of reading we have a problem.

In the end, in our pursuit to establish classrooms filled with passionate readers, we must make sure that the things we do, even little parts of our day like reading logs, do not do more harm than good.  That we fit our processes around our students, rather than the other way around.  That we continue to debate, question and consider as we decide what to invest our time in.  And that we always, and I mean always, ask the students what they think.  Even the little ones, they have a voice that matters too.

For all my ramblings on reading logs, here is where to start.

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.

 

 

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

Why Graphic Novels Belong in All of Our Libraries

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Look at that; an incredible graphic novel is shortlisted for the National Book Award.  Image from School Library Journal.

Our oldest daughter, Thea, has been in intense reading intervention since she was in Kindergarten.  This creative, vivacious, book-loving child just could not seem to find the right words when she looked at the letters.  And yet she persisted through it all, continually going back to books even if the words proved to be elusive.  Like many parents whose children do not come naturally to reading, we have seemingly tried it all.  More read aloud, more quiet reading, more strategies, more conversation, more intervention, more of anything we could think of and yet, I will never forget that day in 2nd grade when Thea came home and declared, “Mom, I don’t think I am a reader  because reading is just too hard….”

I think you could have heard my heart break a mile away.

Because here was a child who had grown up surrounded by books.  A child who had grown up being read to. A child who had grown up being surrounded by readers.  A child who had seemingly been given every opportunity to be a reader and yet, the foundational skills of reading, the decoding of actual letters to form words, that seemed like it would never happen for her.

So we did the only thing we knew how; we handed her more books, more reading for pleasure, less pressure, more time.  And so did her teachers.

A few months later, Thea once again had a declaration to make.  “Mom, I’m a reader because I can read this book!”  I came to the front door where she stood clutching a book to her chest.  She said, “I can’t read all the words but the pictures help me figure it out.  I have to go read it now to Ida and Oskar…” and she did, and they sat together huddled around this book that had shown my daughter that she was a reader despite her struggles, and she repeated her reading, and she carried that book hugging it to her chest.  She placed that under her pillow at night, every day checking to see if it was still there so she could read it one more time.  Carried it back and forth to school as she got braver and found more books just like it that also made her believe she was a reader.  We still have that book; it is Dogman by Dav Pilkey.  Her teacher recommended it to her and our daughter’s reading life has never been the same since then.

So when I hear teacher’s tell students that graphic novels are too easy.  That comic books are not real reading.  That it is time to pick a “real” book.  That they can read books like that for fun but not for learning, I tend to get a bit upset.  You see, comics are what kept me reading long into the night as a child when books seemed like too much work.  Graphic novels are what make my students who declare they hate reading actually give it a try.  Dog Man and all of the other books by Dav Pilkey are what made Thea believe she was a reader.  How can we just dismiss that?

You think graphic novels are easy?  Read March by Senator John Lewis.  You think comics are just for fun?  Read Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates. You think graphic novels don’t have substance?  Read Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.  And then tell me that graphic novels don’t belong in our classrooms.  That they don’t count as real books.  That they are just dessert books, or filler, or vacation books or whatever other terms we use to tell kids that that book they just selected is simply “too easy” for them despite their obvious excitement.

Because when you tell a child that the book they have chosen is too easy you may be dismissing the first book they have ever connected with.

You may be dismissing the first book they have ever actually enjoyed.

You may be dismissing the first book they have ever seen themselves in.

You may be dismissing the first book that made them finally believe that they, too, are a reader.

Because you see when we tell kids that a book is too easy we are dismissing their entire reading journey.  We are dismissing who they are as readers and just how much work it may have been to get there.  We are telling them that their reading journey only has value if they read books that we deem appropriate and that is never okay.  Have we gotten so lost in our reading instruction that we cannot see the harm we can do?

So it is time for us all to realize that while comic books, graphic novels, or any other medium that has pictures in it may seem “easy” at first glance, I think the word we are really looking for is enticing, not easy.  Is inviting, not fluff.  Gives courage, not a cop out of reading.  And that these masterful pieces of literature are, indeed, full-fledged members of the book family.  Are, indeed, full-fledged literary components that deserve not just to be placed into the hands of our students, but also taught alongside other books.  To be held up as shining examples of literary greatness that we should appreciate, promote, and celebrate alongside all of the other books we have.

Thea is still a reader and she still loves Dog Man.  She loves Captain Underpants – Tralala!  She loves Bad Kitty, Smile, Lunch Lady, Baby Mouse, Bad Guys, Cleopatra in Space, Lowriders in Space, and any graphic novel that comes her way.  But she also loves Wishtree, The One and Only Ivan, Aru Shah and the End of Time, George and all of the other books she has read since then.  Books she would have never had the courage or gumption to try if she had not found Dog Man.  If Dav Pilkey had not had the heart and courage to continue to write books that kids would love even if the adults didn’t.  I owe our daughter’s reading life to him and to her teacher that saw a child who desperately needed to feel like a reader and was smart enough to hand her a graphic novel.  Not because she thought it would be easy for her, but because she thought that it was just what Thea needed.  And boy, was she ever right.

If you need more information or ideas of why graphic novels and comics belong in  our libraries and schools, here are just a few resources shared with me:

Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Determining the Criteria for Graphic Novels with Literary Merit

NCTE Diversity in Graphic Novels

Exploring Literary Devices in Graphic Novels

A Printable Educator’s Guide to Graphic Novels 

Ted Talk:  Jarret J. Krosoczka How a Boy Became an Artist 

Raising a Reader

Graphic Novels in the Classroom by Gene Luen Yang

Why Comics Belong in the Classroom – Gene Luen Yang TedX

A Place on the BookShelf for Graphic Novels by Jarret J Krosoczka

The Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Learners

Comics Used for Therapy Database

Facebook group for teachers using comics

Dr. Debbie Reese’s Resource for Graphic Novels by Native Writers

Research: Graphic Novels in the Secondary Classroom and School Libraries

The Power of Manga, Comics, and Graphic Novel Through the Lens of AASL Standards

CBLDF Panel Power

Diversity in Graphic Novels via NCTE – fantastic compilation of links, sites, and resources
Graphic Novels to Keep by Dr. Laura Jimenez (Thank you also to Dr. Jimenez for the continued push to highlight more diverse titles)

Professional Titles:
The Graphic Novel Classroom: Powerful Teaching & Learning with Images by Maureen Bakis

Class, Please Open Your Comics: Essays on Teaching with Graphic Narratives by Matthew L. Miller

Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom: Essays on the Educational Power of Sequential Art by Carrye Kay Syma

Understanding Comics:  The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

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.