A year ago, I shared a digital reading notebook that I would be using with my 7th graders as I prepared for a year of pandemic teaching. The work we normally did by hand would need to find a home digitally as I had no idea just how long I would be teaching virtually, and so I created a collection of tools for students to use in order to continue our work furthering and centering their identity as readers, even as we were far apart.
Now a year later, I was asked whether I would be using the tool with my students again or whether it had been changed, and this post is the answer.
I did update the tool in September of last year as students started using it to streamline it a bit. Here is the updated version. It streamlined some of the pages and cut down the size a bit which helped a lot. I still love the tool, just wish there was a way to use it without it clogging down their computers.
So as of right now, because let’s face it things change all of the time, I will not be using the digital tool in this iteration again, for a few reasons, but the main one being that I am (right now anyway) scheduled to be in person fully with my 7th graders. This means that instead of having a digital tool like this, we can create sections in our notebooks for this work that they can can be shared when needed. This has in the past been easier for students rather than needing to log onto their chromebooks, then wait for the tool to load, then get to the right page etc. Another reason for stepping back to paper is because scrolling through the tool on chromebooks was unwieldy and slowed down our work. Many students wanted to do the work but their computers froze trying to open it up.
However, the work within the pages will still be going on in 7th grade. Everything within this notebook is important to the work we do as we dive into our reading identities and how the emotions and experiences we carry surrounding that shapes the decisions we make with our reading lives. I will just go back to stand alone forms, gathered in their notebooks or in my binder depending on the purpose of it, to do the work.
So where can you find some of these forms as a stand alone form? Their to-be-read list is just the first few pages in their notebook, they write down author, title, and genre so that they can find the book later. I usually have them set aside 4 pages for this. Others can be found via the links below.
While these first few surveys and goal exercises are just the beginning, they provide me with an invitation into a conversation even if they don’t write much because if a child writes “IDK” for most answers, that tells me something about them as a reader, if a child doesn’t want to share anything that tells me something about them as a reader.
As I dream about the school year to come, I am excited to continue our work surrounding reading identity and hopefully help students protect or cement a positive relationship to reading. I have seen the difference this work does, I have seen it impact kids in thoughtful ways as they start to understand and work with the experiences they have had as a readers and chart new courses. Not just because of these forms or the survey questions I ask, but because of the conversations and subsequent actions that they lead to.
One of my most successful ways in establishing trust and urgency with my 7th grade students and their reading choices is through our one-one-one conferring time. This established time happens during our independent reading time, every day for 20 minutes we start class with this self-selected reading time where every child is invited to fall into the pages of a book. It is the cornerstone of much of our continued work together and allows me a peek into who how they see themselves as readers, as well as the work they want to undertake.
Every conference is five to seven or less minutes after the initial one, that means that I usually can meet with three students every day. With class sizes ranging between 25 and 29 kids, this gives me a chance to meet with every student once every three to four weeks depending on what else I might need to help with during their independent reading time. When I taught 45 minute classes, it took longer as we only had 10 minutes of self-selected reading to start the class with.
I always take notes while I meet with them, it is to help me remember what we discussed, help me support their pathway and also keep track of who I am meeting with, I usually meet with them alphabetically because every child deserves a reading conversation and they can always see what I write down. I don’t want any child to wonder what notes I am taking and worry about that for some reason.
The conferring note-taking sheet I use changes as I think about its use further every year, so if you like this current version make sure you make a copy of it because inevitably it will change.
The top portion of the sheet is dedicated to when we meet for the very first time, while my students fill in an initial reading survey which offers me a glimpse into their thoughts of who they are as readers, it is really not until I sit down with them and get to know them that we start the work. After all a survey is just an invitation but a conversation is where we can start to explore their identity if they feel comfortable to do so.
The different components mean…
Confer by me or them – where would they like to have these conversations? I want to respect their boundaries and make them feel as comfortable as I can as we work to establish trust.
Book reading and rank – What’s the title of their current book and how would they rank the current book they are reading on a scale form 1 to 10.
Goal – What is the initial goal they have set for themselves as readers in the 7th grade reading challenge?
Why – Why have they set this goal, this is an important conversation to have because many of my students set a goal to just make the teacher happy, not a goal that they actually care about.
Last Year – What did their reading lives look like the previous year?
Progress – By the time we meet they have been working on their goal for a few days, how has it been going?
Hard about reading – what do they find difficult about reading?
The subsequent sections are shorter, I take fewer notes in order to be able to meet with students more frequently. Of course, if a child needs more time then we take it.
Some of the components remain the same, but the new ones are…
Read next – Do they have ideas of what to read next? I so often find that the vulnerable readers I teach have few ideas for what to read next and then spend an extraordinary amount of time trying to find a new read, this question will allow me a peek into their process and help them start book shopping before they finish or abandon their current book.
What are you working on as a reader – what is the goal they have been working on?
Progress – How has it been going?
Next step OR how is this challenging you – What are next steps they can take, what are next steps I can help them with and/or how does their current reading goal challenge them?
What did I learn about this person today? It is vital to me that I leave with a deeper understanding of who they are as a person and not just about reading, this question reminds me of that.
While this conferring sheet is only a small sliver of the work that happens all year as they explore and develop their reading identity further, it serves as a conversational touchpoint that reminds us of the goals we have, the work we need to do, and who we are as human beings in our classroom. While some kids are eager to share their journey as readers, others are much more hesitant or fully unwilling and I respect that as well. After all, they don’t know me yet so they have no reason to trust me. We then take the time needed to develop our relationship and continually invite them into this conversation. It takes patience and dedication but every child is worth it.
In a year unlike any other I have taught, I was curious to see how reading would be changed for our students, and changed it was. It makes sense too, with COVID impacting so many aspects of our lives, why not our reading lives as well? From kids not reading at all, to kids with no access to books, to feeling fully overwhelmed and finding little joy in the pages of books to those who burrowed deeper and read more than ever before, we faced it all and tried to do the best we could. We drove books out to kids, book talked our hearts out, gave space for independent reading time both virtually and in class, and continued our work discussing and exploring our reading journeys.
There were a lot of repeat favorites this year but also many favorites which did not get discovered because kids were not in class with us, some not at all, others only for a short amount of time. Many turned to whichever books they had at home if they had any or books they had read in the past. Which means that it was a hugely dominant year for white authors and creator, I think this speaks to what kids have access to at home as well and what they have read in the past as they gravitated toward old favorites. I noticed this early on in the year, which is why I used most of our book talks this year to highlight BIPOC authors and creators (which I do anyway every year).
As always, I loved seeing what made the cut because I simply could not do the work I do without the help of these incredible books. Some of these are fine for all 7th graders, some are more mature, I am including them all so that you can make your own decision. All parents are informed of the range of books that are present in our classroom library so that students can choose something that speaks to them. Not all of these books are in my library but are books that the students have found and read independently.
Other things I noticed were:
The most requested authors continue to be Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Tahereh Mafi, Rick Riordan, Jeff Kinney, Alan Gratz, and Dav Pilkey.
Middle grade books were a huge hit which also speaks to what the students felt emotionally ready for. Typically we have way more YA read in 7th grade than any other genre but not this year.
Free verse books and graphic novels were still the most popular formats of books.
Social justice books continue to carry a deep impact and are passed from hand to hand but many kids also wanted fun or really fast-paced books this year that didn’t take on heavy topics because they felt the world was heavy enough as it is.
Kids reading interests range widely, some students gravitated toward more traditional literature this year while others solely devoured lighthearted middle grade – this shows the incredible need for a broad and inclusive selection for all of our students.
I have gathered the list for shopping purposes at Bookshop.org – a fantastic website that partners with independent booksellers and pays them a higher percentage for anything they sell than Amazon. So please consider using them when ordering books or if you need to use Amazon please consider using this link.
Without further ado, here they are as reported by my seventh graders this year.
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity-and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki-near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be-not even Deka herself.
One touch is all it takes. One touch, and Juliette Ferrars can leave a fully grown man gasping for air. One touch, and she can kill.
No one knows why Juliette has such incredible power. It feels like a curse, a burden that one person alone could never bear. But The Reestablishment sees it as a gift, sees her as an opportunity. An opportunity for a deadly weapon.
Juliette has never fought for herself before. But when she’s reunited with the one person who ever cared about her, she finds a strength she never knew she had.
After Ember is rescued from a devastating house fire, she longs for a forever home. But every family that adopts the yellow Lab puppy brings her back, saying she is untrainable, has too much energy, or is just plain destructive. After three failed placements, young Ember is out of options.
The Sterling family runs a ranch that turns rescued dogs into rescue dogs. They’re willing to take a chance on the young Lab, not knowing that Ember’s first rescue will test her skills and strength beyond imagination…
Will Tyler may not be the biggest running back around, but no one can touch him when it comes to hitting the hole and finding the end zone. And no one can match his love of the game. When Will has a football in his hand, life can’t touch him–his dad isn’t so defeated, his town isn’t so poor, and everyone has something to cheer for. All of which does him no good if the football season is canceled. With no funding for things like uniforms and a well-maintained playing field, with every other family moving to find jobs, there just isn’t enough money or players for a season. It’s up to Will to rally the town and give everyone a reason to believe . . .
September 11, 2001, New York City: Brandon is visiting his dad at work, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Out of nowhere, an airplane slams into the tower, creating a fiery nightmare of terror and confusion. And Brandon is in the middle of it all. Can he survive — and escape?
September 11, 2019, Afghanistan: Reshmina has grown up in the shadow of war, but she dreams of peace and progress. When a battle erupts in her village, Reshmina stumbles upon a wounded American soldier named Taz. Should she help Taz — and put herself and her family in mortal danger?
Two kids. One devastating day. Nothing will ever be the same.
When African American, fifteen-year-old Raven came to the small, white only neighborhood of Crabtree Drive she’d thought she’d already braced herself for anything…until she finds herself involved with her young neighbor; the bizarrely naïve Dave. Starting with the fact that the ignorant Dave has never heard of simple things such as birds or fire, a string of events lead Raven to realize that something is clearly wrong with Crabtree Drive. Weird pupils, racist teachers and a PE Coach that teaches students to use semi-automatic rifles are only part of her concerns. It doesn’t take long before Raven becomes adamant that her and her family need to leave Crabtree Drive.
However, her plans to leave are constantly dissuaded by Dave who is adamant that nobody leaves Crabtree Drive by the road. In fact, it doesn’t appear as though anybody leaves Crabtree Drive at all. This setback turns out to only be minor in comparison to what gets in Raven’s path; because oftentimes a utopia for one is only a dystopia for another…
Seeing things. You were just seeing things.
For city girl Callie Velasquez, nothing sounds more terrifying than a night out in the wilderness. But, wanting to bond with her popular new friends, Lissa and Penelope, she agrees to join them on a camping trip. At least Callie’s sweet new boyfriend, Jeremy, will be coming too. But nothing goes as planned. The group loses half their food supply. Then they lose their way. And with strange sounds all around her–the snap of a twig, a sinister laugh–Callie wonders if she’s losing her mind. Tensions swirl among the group, with dark secrets suddenly revealed. And then, things take a fatal turn: Callie stumbles upon a cold dead body in the woods. Is the murderer close by, watching them? Callie has to figure out where she can turn and who she can trust, before her own life is at stake.
On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was kidnapped from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers–boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround them is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out–and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying: Remember. Survive. Run.
Cassia has always trusted the Society’s choices. And when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, she is certain he’s the one–until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now she is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s ever known and a path no has dared to follow . . . between perfection and the truth.
Each contestant has their own reasons–and their own secrets–for joining the new virtual reality show CUT/OFF that places a group of teenagers alone in the wilderness. It’s a simple premise: whoever lasts the longest without “tapping out” wins a cash prize. Not only that, new software creates a totally unprecedented television experience, allowing viewers to touch, see, and live everything along with the contestants. But what happens when “tapping out” doesn’t work and no one comes to save you? What happens when the whole world seemingly disappears while you’re stranded in the wild? Four teenagers must confront their greatest fears, their deepest secrets, and one another when they discover they are truly cut off from reality.
One choice can transform you. Beatrice Prior’s society is divided into five factions–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions.
Her choice will shock her community and herself. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.
Who is Ida B. Applewood? She is a fourth grader like no other, living a life like no other, with a voice like no other, and her story will resonate long after you have put this book down.
How does Ida B cope when outside forces–life, really–attempt to derail her and her family and her future? She enters her Black Period, and it is not pretty. But then, with the help of a patient teacher, a loyal cat and dog, her beloved apple trees, and parents who believe in the same things she does (even if they sometimes act as though they don’t), the resilience that is the very essence of Ida B triumph…and Ida B. Applewood takes the hand that is extended and starts to grow up.
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like no making waves, avoid eating in public, and don’t move so fast that your body jiggles. And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
Clay and his friends have grown up under a mountain, secretly raised by the Talons of Peace to fulfill a mysterious prophecy. The five young dragons are destined to end the war that’s been raging between the tribes of Pyrrhia — but how they’ll do this, none of them knows.But not every dragonet wants a destiny. When one of their own is threatened, Clay and his friends decide to escape. Maybe they can break free and end the war at the same time — or maybe they’ll risk everything …
Alice has never believed in luck, but that doesn’t stop her from rooting for love. After pining for her best friend Teddy for years, she jokingly gifts him a lottery ticket–attached to a note professing her love–on his birthday. Then, the unthinkable happens: he actually wins.At first, it seems like the luckiest thing on earth. But as Teddy gets swept up by his $140 million windfall and fame and fortune come between them, Alice is forced to consider whether her stroke of good fortune might have been anything but.She bought a winning lottery ticket. He collected the cash. Will they realize that true love’s the real prize?
Jack is at the top of his game. He’s a senior running back on the football team, dominating every opponent in his way. To everyone else, Jack is totally in control. In reality, he struggles with an eating disorder that controls every aspect of his daily life. When Jack starts using steroids, he feels invincible, but will the steroids help him win the big game, or will he lose everything he’s ever worked for?
I guess I always felt even if the world came to an end, McDonald’s still would be open. Like one marble hitting another, when the moon slams closer to earth, the result is catastrophic. Worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun.As August turns dark and wintery in northeastern Pennsylvania, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.
Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.
Cassius Clay was a kid with struggles like any other. Kwame Alexander and James Patterson join forces to vividly depict his life up to age seventeen in both prose and verse, including his childhood friends, struggles in school, the racism he faced, and his discovery of boxing. Readers will learn about Cassius’ family and neighbors in Louisville, Kentucky, and how, after a thief stole his bike, Cassius began training as an amateur boxer at age twelve. Before long, he won his first Golden Gloves bout and began his transformation into the unrivaled Muhammad Ali.
Bunny and Nasir have been best friends forever, but when Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, Nasir feels betrayed. While Bunny tries to fit in with his new, privileged peers, Nasir spends more time with his cousin, Wallace, who is being evicted. Nasir can’t help but wonder why the neighborhood is falling over itself to help Bunny when Wallace is in trouble.When Wallace makes a bet against Bunny, Nasir is faced with an impossible decision–maybe a dangerous one.
A boy and his friends must find a way to survive in the mining tunnels after their new space colony is attacked in this gritty action-adventure novel, which School Library Journal called “a solid survival story.”In space. Underground. And out of time.Christopher Nichols and his family live on a new planet, Perses, as colonists of Melming Mining’s Great Mission to save the earth. Dozens of families like Christopher’s have relocated, too, like his best friend Elena Rosales.A communications blackout with Earth hits, and all of Perses is on its own for three months. It’s okay, though, because the colonists have prepared, stockpiling food and resources to survive. But they never prepared for an attack.Landers, as the attackers are called, obliterate the colony to steal the metal and raw ore. Now in a race against time, Christopher, along with a small group of survivors, are forced into the maze of mining tunnels. The kids run. They hide. But can they survive?
The last day of seventh grade has Jaime and Maya wondering who their real friends are.
Jaime knows something is off with her friend group. They’ve started to exclude her and make fun of the way she dresses and the things she likes. At least she can count on her BFF, Maya, to have her back . . . right?
Maya feels more and more annoyed with Jaime, who seems babyish compared to the other girls in their popular group. It’s like she has nothing in common with Jai anymore. Are their days as BFFs numbered . . . ?
A political heist page-turner set in middle school? Is that even possible? Varian Johnson shows us how it’s done. – Gordon Korman, author of SWINDLE Do yourself a favor and start reading immediately. – Rebecca Stead, author of WHEN YOU REACH ME Jackson Greene swears he’s given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he’s running for Student Council president, against Jackson’s former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it — but he knows Keith has connections to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count. So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby’s respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school’s greatest con ever — one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.
Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous–and extremely high-tech–fairies. He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family’s fortune. But he may have underestimated the fairies’ powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.
Then America meets Prince Maxon–and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
A tree full of monkeys the last thing fourteen-year-old Jay Berry Lee thought he’d find on one of his treks through Oklahoma’s Cherokee Ozarks. Jay learns from his grandfather that the monkeys have escaped from a circus and there is a big reward for anyone who finds them. He knows how much his family needs the money. Jay is determined to catch the monkeys. It’s a summer of thrills and dangers no one will ever forget.
When Savannah disappears soon after arguing with her mom’s boyfriend, everyone assumes she’s run away. The truth is much worse. She’s been kidnapped by a man in a white van who locks her in an old trailer home, far from prying eyes.And worse yet, Savannah’s not alone: ten months earlier, Jenny met the same fate and nearly died trying to escape. Now as the two girls wonder if he will hold them captive forever or kill them, they must join forces to break out–even if it means they die trying.
Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor-winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life–and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe–a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.
The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe–it does not like what it sees.
A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.
As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.Will the Thunderhead intervene?Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?
Brooklyn, 1998. Biggie Smalls was right: Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are cool letting their best friend Steph’s music lie forgotten under his bed after he’s murdered–not when his rhymes could turn any Bed Stuy corner into a party.
With the help of Steph’s younger sister Jasmine, they come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: the Architect. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him. When his demo catches the attention of a hotheaded music label rep, the trio must prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.
As the pressure of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only, each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, they need to decide what they stand for or lose all that they’ve worked so hard to hold on to–including each other.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does–or does not–say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Meet a malicious hand puppet that’s as much a part of your body as your hand itself. Attend a school that prepares students not for life, but for death. Witness a boy who lends his baseball glove to a different kid every spring–though he himself died years ago . . .
Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson, haunted by his secret knowledge of his mother’s infidelity, is traveling by single-engine plane to visit his father for the first time since the divorce. When the plane crashes, killing the pilot, the sole survivor is Brian. He is alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present.At first consumed by despair and self-pity, Brian slowly learns survival skills–how to make a shelter for himself, how to hunt and fish and forage for food, how to make a fire–and even finds the courage to start over from scratch when a tornado ravages his campsite. When Brian is finally rescued after fifty-four days in the wild, he emerges from his ordeal with new patience and maturity, and a greater understanding of himself and his parents.
Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood–those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard–a growing Red rebellion–even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction.
One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
In this young readers’ edition of Hope Solo’s exciting life story, adapted from Solo: A Memoir of Hope, the former starting goalkeeper for the U.S. women’s national soccer team gives readers behind-the-scenes details of her life on and off the field.
Solo offers a fearless female role model for the next generation, driven to succeed on her own terms. Young fans will truly be inspired by Hope’s repeated triumphs over adversity. Her relentless spirit has molded her into the person she is today—one of the most charismatic athletes in America.
I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid–but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Beginning from Auggie’s point of view and expanding to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others, the perspectives converge to form a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope.
The Greystone kids thought they knew. Chess has always been the protector over his younger siblings, Emma loves math, and Finn does what Finn does best–acting silly and being adored. They’ve been a happy family, just the three of them and their mom.
But everything changes when reports of three kidnapped children reach the Greystone kids, and they’re shocked by the startling similarities between themselves and these complete strangers. The other kids share their same first and middle names. They’re the same ages. They even have identical birthdays. Who, exactly, are these strangers?
Before Chess, Emma, and Finn can question their mom about it, she takes off on a sudden work trip and leaves them in the care of Ms. Morales and her daughter, Natalie. But puzzling clues left behind lead to complex codes, hidden rooms, and a dangerous secret that will turn their world upside down.
Efram is new to Troy, Ohio, a town where football is everything. And as soon as he sets foot in Troy Central High, the school’s head coach takes notice of Efram’s perfect football build. Suddenly Efram is gearing up for practice―even though he has never played the game.
Flick is too small to run for a touchdown or sack a quarterback. And with his mohawk and outsider attitude, he’s not exactly a team player. But he notices things on the football field that most people can’t see. When Flick and Efram team up, they’ll show Troy Central High a whole new way to win.
Why would Napoleon Bonaparte sell the Louisiana Territory to the recently formed United States of America? It all comes back to the island nation of Haiti, which Napoleon had planned to use as a base for trade with North America. While Napoleon climbed the ranks of the French army and government, enslaved people were organizing in Haiti under the leadership of François Mackandal, Dutty Boukman, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Touissant L’Ouverture, who in 1791 led the largest uprising of enslaved people in history–the Haitian Revolution.
Matt is missing. Bonnie’s brother left his classroom to use thebathroom –and disappeared. A police dog traces his scent to the curb, where he apparently got into a vehicle. But why would Matt go anywhere with a stranger? Overwhelmed with fear, Bonnie discovers that her dog is gone, too. Was Pookie used as a lure for Matt? Bonnie makes one big mistake in her attempt to find her brother. In a chilling climax on a Washington State ferry, Bonnie and Matt must outsmart their abductor or pay with their lives.
Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.
For seventh-grader Mila, it starts with some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice–the one place Mila could always escape.It doesn’t feel like flirting–so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others–and herself.
Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse–Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, god of the sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends–one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena–Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.
My whole world changed when I stepped inside the academy. Nothing is right about this place or the other students in it. Here I am, a mere mortal among gods…or monsters. I still can’t decide which of these warring factions I belong to, if I belong at all. I only know the one thing that unites them is their hatred of me.Then there’s Jaxon Vega. A vampire with deadly secrets who hasn’t felt anything for a hundred years. But there’s something about him that calls to me, something broken in him that somehow fits with what’s broken in me. Which could spell death for us all.Because Jaxon walled himself off for a reason. And now someone wants to wake a sleeping monster, and I’m wondering if I was brought here intentionally–as the bait.
Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.
Harry Potter spent ten long years living with Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, an aunt and uncle whose outrageous favoritism of their perfectly awful son Dudley leads to some of the most inspired dark comedy since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But fortunately for Harry, he’s about to be granted a scholarship to a unique boarding school called THE HOGWORTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY, where he will become a school hero at the game of Quidditch (a kind of aerial soccer played high above the ground on broomsticks), he will make some wonderful friends, and, unfortunately, a few terrible enemies. For although he seems to be getting your run-of-the-mill boarding school experience (well, ok, even that’s pretty darn out of the ordinary), Harry Potter has a destiny that he was born to fulfill. A destiny that others would kill to keep him from.
Do you believe in dragons? Now, for the first time, the long-lost research of renowned nineteenth century dragonologist Dr. Ernest Drake is presented in all its eccentric glory, happily bridging the gap between dragon legend and fact. The meticulous Dr. Drake assigns Latin names to various dragon species, ruminates on why dragons are able to speak, speculates on how they could fly, and explains the true purpose of their notorious hoarding habits.
The Center of Everything is the fictional story of 10-year-old math prodigy Evelyn Bucknow. Living in Kansas with her single mother and deeply religious grandmother, Evelyn believes she is destined to marry Travis, the boy next door. But as she grows up, she experiences the heartbreak of a love not meant to be.
Thirteen-year-old Ben Ripley has had a lot of field success despite only just beginning his second year at Spy School, something even graduates rarely experience. But he’d never have survived without the help from experienced agents and his friends. Now he’s been called in on a solo mission–and the fate of the United States of America is on his shoulders alone.The mission: Prevent a presidential assassination by infiltrating the White House and locating the enemy operative.And when everything goes wrong, Ben must rely on his spy school friends to save his reputation…but even friends can double-cross or be swayed to the enemy’s side.
Can a lost girl save a found dog? Find out in this unforgettable story about discovering true friendship, finding home, and the possibilities of forgiveness.
Hadley is angry about a lot of things: Her mom going to jail. Having to move to another state to live with her older sister, Beth, even though they haven’t spoken in five years. Leaving her friends and her school behind. And going blind.
But then Hadley meets Lila.
Lila is an abandoned dog who spends her days just quietly lying around at the local dog rescue where Beth works. She doesn’t listen to directions or play with the other dogs or show any interest in people. So when Lila comes and sits by Hadley (which is hardly anything, but it’s more than she’s done with others), Beth thinks maybe Hadley can help Lila. She tells Hadley they’ll bring Lila home as a foster dog and Hadley can teach her to follow commands, walk on a leash, and be more of a people dog so she’ll be ready to be adopted.
Only working with Lila is harder than Hadley thought, and so is the mobility training she starts taking to help with her failing vision. It feels like Lila is too stubborn to train and like learning to use a cane is impossible. But unless Hadley can help Lila, she’ll never be adopted into a home. If Hadley could just let go of her anger, she might be able to save Lila… and herself.
Winning means fame and fortune. Losing means certain death. The Hunger Games have begun. . . .In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
A universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin: Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way.
The year is 1941. Krystia lives in a small Ukrainian village under the cruel — sometimes violent — occupation of the Soviets. So when the Nazis march into town to liberate them, many of Krystia’s neighbors welcome the troops with celebrations, hoping for a better life.
But conditions don’t improve as expected. Krystia’s friend Dolik and the other Jewish people in town warn that their new occupiers may only bring darker days.
The worst begins to happen when the Nazis blame the Jews for murders they didn’t commit. As the Nazis force Jews into a ghetto, Krystia does what she can to help Dolik and his family. But what they really need is a place to hide. Faced with unimaginable tyranny and cruelty, will Krystia risk everything to protect her friends and neighbors?
Following her parents’ high-profile divorce, Paige and her brother are forced to move to Idaho with their mother, and Paige doesn’t have very high hopes for her new life. The small town they’ve moved to is nothing compared to the life she left behind in LA. And the situation is made even worse by the drafty old mansion they’ve rented that’s filled with spiders and plenty of other pests that Paige can’t even bear to imagine.Pretty soon, strange things start to happen around the house–one can of ravioli becomes a dozen, unreadable words start appearing on the walls, and Paige’s little brother begins roaming the house late at night. And there’s something not right about the downstairs neighbor who seems to know a lot more than he’s letting on.Things only get creepier when she learns about the cult that conducted experimental rituals in the house almost one hundred years earlier. The more Paige investigates, the clearer it all becomes: there’s something in the house, and whatever it is…and it won’t be backing down without a fight.
I went up the hill, the hill was muddy, stomped my toe and made it bloody, should I wash it?Justin knows that something is wrong with his best friend.Zee went missing for a year. And when he came back, he was . . . different. Nobody knows what happened to him. At Zee’s welcome home party, Justin and the neighborhood crew play Hide and Seek. But it goes wrong. Very wrong.One by one, everyone who plays the game disappears, pulled into a world of nightmares come to life. Justin and his friends realize this horrible place is where Zee had been trapped. All they can do now is hide from the Seeker.
Not every dragonet wants a destiny … Clay has grown up under the mountain, chosen along with four other dragonets to fulfill a mysterious prophecy and end the war between the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia. He’s not so sure about the prophecy part, but Clay can’t imagine not living with the other dragonets; they’re his best friends. So when one of the dragonets is threatened, all five spring into action. Together, they will choose freedom over fate, leave the mountain, and fulfill their destiny — on their own terms.
There you have it, another year of reading, another year of great books shared. What would your students say were their favorite reads?
I know many of us educators (and those at home) have been working hard all year to try to cultivate or protect a love of reading in our learners despite the incredible obstacles we have faced. Now with warmer temperatures and summer beckoning for the Northern Hemisphere comes the real test; will kids keep reading over the summer? Is what we did enough? Did we lay enough of a foundation, get them excited, get them hooked so that the next few weeks or months will not put them in a reading drought? While time will truly be the judge of how the work might pay off, here are a few ideas that may help depending on the age of the learner.
Every year we send home an email to our home adults to offer them ideas for helping their child stay reading over the summer. This gives us a chance to also highlight our summer check out programs run by our amazing school library staff, and share that their to-be-read lists that they have been cultivating will also be sent home. I have shared the email here before, but wanted to offer the ideas up again in a blog post as well for easy sharing.
So if you are a “home adult” as we call it, someone who is in charge of children outside of school, here are a few ideas for keeping kids connected to reading throughout summer. What other ideas do you have?
From the email home
As you may know, one of our main focuses in 7th grade is to help promote fun-filled independent reading throughout the year for all kids. We do this through independent reading time every day, practicing full choice in books all year, establishing joy-filled reading communities, and providing access to books for all kids. Now that summer is upon us, we wanted to offer up a few ideas to hopefully help your learner continue to read over the summer even when school is out.
Why is summer reading important?
From the Dept of Education, “Numerous studies indicate that students who don’t read or read infrequently during their summer vacation see their reading abilities stagnate or decline. This effect becomes more pronounced as students get older and advance through the school system.”
Every year, about a third of our students report not reading a single book over the summer while another third report reading just one. We see this then play out in their reading abilities and relationships as they come ready for 8th grade and beyond. Simply put, when children don’t read over the summer we see a decline in their reading skills which means that they start the next year at a deficit.
How can we help?
We want your learner to have awesome reading experiences this summer and we want to make it easy for them, this is why our school library will have summer check out again this year. Every learner, who is returning to Oregon Middle School for 8th grade, can check out books before school even ends and then also throughout the summer as the library will have open dates throughout the summer.
We will also send home your learner’s to-be-read list via email if they have one. This is the list we have worked on all year and it should hold many title ideas for your child as they try to find their next great read.
How can you help?
While we know many of you already promote summer reading – thank you! – here are a few more ideas on helping home adults make great summer reading plans:
Have a to-be-read list. All year we have cultivated ours, trying to add as many titles as possible so that when the students leave our classrooms they have something to help guide them when they are either at the library or at the bookstore. This is especially important for our “vulnerable” readers, those who have just discovered that books and reading may be for them after all and need a constant diet of amazing books. But really all kids should have one, not just some. Our students have been working on theirs and will share it in the upcoming week with their home adults, so reach out and ask your learner’s teacher to see if they have one made. Even if the school has not created a to-be-read list it is not too late to make one! Browse the displays at the library or at the bookstore if they are open or look for ideas on online for great summer reading for your child’s age group and write it down somehow. Keep the list on you because you never know when you come across an opportunity to find more books. I also share a lot of recommendations on my Instagram.
Make it social. I love reading a great book and then talking to others about the book or even better passing the book on to them. Make reading a social aspect of your summer; have reading “parties” where kids can discuss books in a safe way, create a book swap with other families, scour garage sales for long-lost favorites. Offer up yourself to read with your learner or get more than one copy of a book (if you have access to them) so that others may join in the reading. Too often as home adults we think we should read all of the books our child is reading and while that can be a fun bonding experience, it may be more powerful if you can get a friend of your child to be a reading partner.
Visit places where books are present. We go to the library a lot; when it is too hot and the pool is not open, when it is stormy, when we are tired. We also go to our local bookstore and browse safely. Accessing book, touching books, getting excited about books and anything that we can read is vital to keep the desire alive. Sign up for the public library’s reading challenge or make it a routine every week to go and get new books if you have transportation. Spend a few hours reading while you are there. If there is no library or the library is not accessible to you, reach out to your learner’s school, is there a way they can lend you books? Our school library does a summer checkout before the end of the year, as do I. If you are not able to go places where there are books, ask your child’s teacher if you may borrow a big stack of books from them if you promise to bring them back. I have often lent books to families over the summer as a way to help them keep reading.
Read aloud. Many home adults assume that their older kids do not want to be read aloud to, and yet, my students tell us repeatedly how much they miss it. So why not find a great book and take some time to experience the book together?
Use audiobooks. I love that I can borrow audiobooks from our library – both the collected stories of Hans Christian Andersen and many other series have captured our imagination for months. When your children are in the car, put on an audiobook. Have a copy of the book ready if anyone wants to keep reading and you have reached your destination. With all of the research coming out correlating audio books with further reading success this is a winning situation.
Find great books. Get connected online to communities like #Titletalk, #BookADay, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, or Nerdy Book Club to get ideas of what to read next. I am constantly adding to my wish list due to these places. Use the professionals like librarians, booksellers and teachers. Also, ask other home adults what their kids are reading, create a Facebook page to share recommendations or simply use you own page or whatever social media platforms you use, anything to find out what great books are available.
Create a routine. We read every night and sometimes even in the morning (as well as throughout the day but then again we may be slightly book-obsessed). Helping your child create a routine where reading is a natural part of the day mean that they will create ownership over the habit, thus (hopefully) inspiring further reading. I encourage my students to read first thing in the morning before they get up or as the last thing they do before falling asleep. Whatever the routine may be, sit down and read yourself, it is vital for all of our children to see their home adults as readers.
Allow real choice. I have seen some home adults (and schools) require learners to read certain books over summer, but summer is meant to be guilt-free reading. Where we reach for those books we cannot wait to read because they will suck us right in, where we fill up our reserves so we can perhaps finally tackle that really challenging book that we have been wanting to read. Where we explore new books because we want to. Too often rules and expectations infringe on the beauty of summer reading; falling into a book’s pages and not having to come up for air until it is done. That also goes for reading things that may be “too easy” or “too hard” – I devour picture books, graphic novels and all thing “too easy” in the summer, as well as trashy beach reads and Danish crime mysteries. I refuse to feel guilty about my choices in reading, because that is never what reading is about. And that extends into the year of reading I do when school is back in session as well.
Have books everywhere. Again, this depends on how many books you have access to, but leave books wherever your kids go. I have books in the car, in their rooms, in the kitchen, living room, etc. That way the books seem to fall into their hands at random times; stopped in traffic, quiet time before lunch, a sneak read before falling asleep. It is a luxury to have books in our house and so we try to make them as visible as possible. Again, ask your child’s teacher if they have books you can borrow if you do not have the opportunity to build your own collection.
Allow and celebrate abandonment, but ask questions. When a child abandons a book, this is a great thing. They are learning that this book is not for them and they can use their energy for a book that will be for them. But ask questions so that they may think about what type of book they might like. So they can think about what type of reader they are and want to be. Make sure that there are other books they want to read as well so that they can keep trying to find great books.
Explore new books together. Summer can be a great time to try to push your own habits of reading, as long as it doesn’t feel like a chore. Set a reading challenge, compete against each other if you want, challenge each other to read each other’s favorite books and revel in the shared experience.
Be invested and interested. This does not mean that you ask your child to write reports about what they read, in fact, I would be very careful as to what type of work goes along with reading over the summer beside reading, but do ask questions. Ask whether they enjoy the book or not. What they plan on reading next. Read along with them or beside them. Make reading a part of your life so it can become a part of theirs.
Keep it fun. Too often, especially if our child is not a well-developed reader, we can get rather nervous as home adults and think that we must keep them on a regimented reading program at all costs. That we must have them write about reading or track it somehow. Have them read, yes, but keep it light and fun. The last thing we want to do is to make reading a worse experience for them or adding more stress to your family.
I have been thinking a lot about reading experiences of kids lately. If you follow my writing, you know that this is something I think about a lot. Perhaps it is because I finally have big classes of kids in front of me rather than small cohorts. Perhaps it is because we have only 7 weeks left of the year and I feel the urgency of the mission we have been on all year to help kids change their relationships to reading. Perhaps it is because I am presenting on this topic around the world and so I keep thinking of what else we should discuss about it, what else we can do to potentially change the narrative that seems to be repeating itself this year despite our best intentions.
Because I see a lot of kids not reading. I see a lot of kids disengaged from reading. I see a lot of kids who don’t see reading as something valuable or even something they have want to spend time doing. And I see a lot of adults not quite sure how this keeps happening despite everything we are trying.
So perhaps, this post is a way to remind myself to take a deep breath, perhaps it is an offer to us all to rethink the dialogue that surrounds kids’ reading lives. Perhaps this is a reminder to those who need to hear it that this disconnect between books and readers is one we have been working through for a long time, one that we will continue to work through for a long time, and it also didn’t just happen because of the pandemic. And that there are things we can do but that sometimes we create obstacles that we can’t even see, we don’t recognize the long term consequences of short-term ideas.
I could blame previous curricular decisions, after all, wouldn’t we all like to assume that it is solely because of the decision some other teacher made that created the readers we have. And yet, when we do that, we don’t see our own part in this either. We don’t see how we often have to interrogate, audit, and change an entire system rather than just one teacher. It is too easy to blame one year or one experience for killing the love of reading. When we get stuck there, it does us no good, it doesn’t allow us to see past those small decisions and instead focus on the entire experience. It doesn’t allow us to see that perhaps the whole system we function in needs to be aligned and adjusted. That what we see as “okay” may not be at all.
So instead, I would offer up that we use our worry about kids and their relationships to reading to urge us forward. That we start to invest in long-term solutions, discussions, and curricular choices that offer up an opportunity for all kids to connect or re-connect with reading year after year. That we shift the focus from what one teacher can do to what an entire system can take on. That we recognize that to center reading joy is not just the work of one, but the work of many, and that kids need more than one great teacher urging them to read.
And that starts in conversation rather than reading logs. That starts in meaningful work rather than computer quizzes. That starts with making space and time for kids to explore the parts of their identity that is tied in with reading and asking them how they ended up where they are. That starts with recognizing what the reading rights are of all kids, not just the ones we get to teach on a daily basis and then wonder how the experiences they are all guaranteed shape their readerly lives or not.
And so we must put our emotions aside for a bit in order to step into these conversations, to recognize that everything we do should be put on the table in order for us to weigh what may work for all kids. What should be instituted on a whole-school or all-district schedule.
It means that we offer space to think and then space to do. That reflecting on the journey we are on becomes a part of the curriculum, even when we feel pressed for time like this year. That we listen to student voices and have them move us into action. That we consider the weight of their words as we plan for future units and experiences and not just assume that we know what they need or even what they want.
The work of creating joyful reading experiences centered in powerful instructions, access to books, free choice of independent reading books, culturally relevant teaching and ongoing conversations should not and cannot fall on the shoulders of just one teacher. We are not enough, the year we may have with students is not enough. It has to be a whole district or at the very least a whole school conversation and plan.
So where do you start? We start with one single question to guide our work; what are the reading experiences EVERY child is guaranteed in our care. We lay it all out on the table in order to constructively look at what the reading experiences are for every child no matter the reading experience and skills they have had before this year. We truthfully recognize what often happens when a child is identified as being behind in whatever scope the data says and how often that impedes the choices they get to make throughout their day and even the joyful reading experiences they get to be a part of. And then we fight to give them access. We fight to give them equality in their reading experiences and we monitor what happens to the kids in our care.
And we cannot do that work without listening to the voices of our students, without asking the home adults what they see happening while we have kids in our care. We cannot do this work without revisiting the question again and again to re-align and readjust. Without truth, courage, and a recognition that sometimes our best ideas are not the ideas that should continue on.
It takes humility, patience, and toughness to do this work. Our students deserve that their experiences are carefully constructed around choice, around freedom, around receiving the care they absolutely deserve. We can do it and it starts with a conversation and it continues with a commitment.
I have never worked through so many changes in my educational model as I have for the past year. COVID teaching has pushed us all to the max, not just with what we are expected to do but also in how we are supposed to adapt to whatever ideas, programs, and decisions that come our way. It has been thrilling some days to invent and re-think at such a rapid pace, but many other days it has been exhausting. I have felt like a fraud on more days than I can count, a terrible teacher too. And yet, a year into this COVID teaching, I can also start to look back and ponder what the long-term effects are going to be on our instructional model. What will stick around from all of our innovations and what will disappear?
One of the components I worry about is the increase in the use of computerized programs to teach children especially in teaching reading. I have seen these programs play out in our kids’ lives as our 7- and 8-year-olds all spend more than an hour and a half a day in a variety of computer programs; Lexia, Dreambox, Smarty Ants, Raz Kids all expected to be done every day. The programs are woven in throughout their curricular day, used as a way for their teachers to do small group lessons and other supported work, and yet despite our best explanations, our own kids don’t care. They beg us to let them skip the programs, asking us if they can please just read a book instead, do a math workbook. “I will do whatever you say, mom, just please not that… ” is an often heard refrain in our house.
My kids are not alone in the change of their programming, in many districts around the US at least, teachers have been asked to implement new self-paced computerized teaching programs in order to close the opportunity gap, to stop “learning loss,” and to continue to engage all learners no matter our proximity. I can see the appeal of these programs easily; it allows us to place kids at their prescribed level and the computer does all the work as far as which lessons they should be invested in. It provides us with more data and hopefully allows our students to develop further skills that they may otherwise not have mastered yet. It is one more tool as we work on the opportunity gap for all of our kids. It is one more way to engage kids and to keep them learning, even when a global pandemic stopped us from sitting right next to them, stopped us from so many educational opportunities.
And yet, as always, I wonder about the unintended consequences of our new implementation of so many programs, many of them focused on developing reading skills. How will these computer programs affect the reading identities that we are so carefully developing with our kids? How will a computer care for them as human beings and not just participants in a program, (hint; it often won’t)? Because I see it play out in my own house, as well as with my own students. I hear it from teachers who wish they would have funding for books but are told there is none and yet are asked to use these programs which we know all come with a hefty price tag. I see it when my own kids would rather lie to me about whether or not they have done their Lexia minutes, knowing I will get a report from their teachers when they haven’t, than actually do it.
And so I wonder if we are checking in with the children who are asked to use these programs and how these programs are affecting their already tenuous relationship to reading and to being a reader. I cannot speak about any other kids than the ones I teach and the ones I raise but the impact of reading-focused computerized programs have been deeply felt by many of them; they often hate them, they fight every step of the way when asked to do them, they see no purpose for the programs other than to punish them. To remind them that they are lesser readers than their peers. They are exhausted by the screen and by the questions so much so that when I ask them to please find a book, they don’t want to. That they would rather put their head down, leave the room, or argue than actually invest into the work we do with reading outside of the computer. So these curricular choices are making the work that we are trying to do with them as far as wanting to pick up a book on their own, wanting to invest into an emotionally fraught reading journey and change their relationship to reading to something more positive, even harder. And that cannot be dismissed as a trivial side effect.
These pandemic choices will have long-term impacts, and not always positive ones, on the kids affected, especially if we don’t revisit the choices we made in the past year. What may have worked while deep in pandemic teaching may no longer work when we are back with students and again able to hand them books, teach them in small groups, and center our reading work not just on the skills they need to develop, but also who they are as readers. We must make space for both explorations within our curriculum.
I am not saying for these programs to never be used, at least not some of them, but I believe that we need to include the voices of the children who are being asked to use the program and to consider the unintended consequences that this program may be having for some of them. And also ask their families, if the school of my children school asked us, we would have plenty to say. As it stands, they haven’t, but we may just be speaking up anyway.
So what are the conversations we need to have? We need to move past the data and ask our students how our chosen programs affect them, whether they see them helping or hurting them, how we can make their experience better? How could we use a program without doing harm? How much time would they be willing to invest into a program if needed, what else we should do in our reading experiences. And we should ask the home adults and the teachers the impact they see the program having, negative or positive. And then we should listen, and then we should do something with what we are told.
All this to say, that as always, we need to speak up and make space for the voices we may have excluded. That it is easy to roll our eyes and vent behind closed doors, but that we must also find the courage to question the programs and decisions being made within our districts and within the lives of our own children. That while computerized reading programs may seem like the solution so many of us have been looking for when it comes to filling in knowledge gaps, that they may actually move us further from our goal of bolstering children who see themselves as readers outside of what school makes them do. We must remember that what may be viewed as a short-term gain may have unintentional long-lasting negative effects on the very kids we are supposed to be nurturing. After all, what does it matter if a child can read better but chooses to never read again due to their hatred of the tools we used to get them there? As Kamil reminds us, “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 how are we protecting and caring for their motivation and engagement? Because I don’t see many computerized reading programs doing that.