Awards, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity

On Reading Rewards

He finally found a book he liked.

She actually has a book she wants to read over summer.

He read more books than he ever has before.

She tried a new genre and liked it.

He finally actually read a book rather than just pretend.

These major accomplishments are some that my students shared today as we gathered around to do our end of year reading celebration.

Some of my students read more than fifty books this year, some only read a few.   And yet, within that number lies the story of a child who tried, who didn’t give up, who kept investing themselves as a reader, no matter what their relationship was before they came to 7th grade.  I am so proud of how they have grown.

And yet, when I look around on social media I keep seeing posts about how teachers are throwing special celebrations only for the kids that met their 40 book challenge goal.  That met their AR level.  That reached the growth target set for them.  And I cannot help but get sad, and perhaps, a little angry, because are we truly thinking about what these types of celebrations do to the kids that once again are excluded?  That once again did not get invited?  That once again did not get any recognition no matter how hard they worked?

Once again it appears our well-meaning intentions have gotten the better of us.  That we get so focused on the goal, on the quantity, that we forget about the growth.  The incredible mountains that some of our students have overcome to simply find a book, read a book, love a book.

When we reward only those who have met the goal we have set, we tell the rest that while they tried, it was not enough.  That while they may have finally read a book, they are still not enough of a reader for us to recognize.   That our experience together was never about their growth but was about this arbitrary number that they needed to reach, this goal they did not set.  That while they may have felt like they accomplished something, they really didn’t.

Which teacher really wants students to think that?

What if we instead celebrated all of our kids?  What if we instead asked every single child to reflect on how they have grown as a reader?  What if we instead asked every single child to give themselves an award based on their own perceived accomplishment?

You might get something like this if you did…

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Kids who know they have grown as a reader and who see the worth in what they have done.  Kids who see that the teachers recognize this year’s worth of work and dedication and are so proud of them.  Because we are.  Kids who are proud of themselves, because they should be.

So I implore you, do not make your end of year reading celebrations about the number.  Instead, ask the students what they are proud of.  What they have achieved and celebrate them all.  Let them have the time to see how far they have come so that they can leave our schools with a sense of accomplishment that they might not otherwise have had.

PS:  Next year, start the year by having students set their own goals, as explained here, so that they too can work on something meaningful.

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.

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being a student, being a teacher, books, end of year, Reading, Reading Identity, Student

Best Book of the Year Speech in Just 15 Words

Every year our very last speech is a “Best Book of the Year” Speech.  Every year, my students declare their love for books in front of the class.  They share their favorite reads in order for everyone else to add them to their to-be-read list.  I scribble down each title so I can create a blog post for the rest of the world.  It is always fascinating to see the books that make the cut.

This year, we have worked on brevity.  On the importance of words.  On getting to the point, so we added a twist to this yearly event; you get 15 words exactly.  No more, no less.  15 words to make others write down the title you loved.  15 words to somehow give enough of a glimpse into the book to tempt others.

To inspire my students I read them a Cozy Classic – a 12-word re-telling of some very well-known classics.  Then I have them two days to create their speech, work on their gestures, and prepare for their performance.  The results yesterday were pretty stellar.  Engaged students and lots of titles added.  Lots of laughs while sharing the love of books we have read.  One more step toward creating reading experiences long after they leave us.  Long after the last day of school.

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 student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity

Who I Am as a Reader – A Reading Memoir Writing Project

White, Yellow, Red,  Free Image

Every year, we have tried to create a meaningful end to the year.  A meaningful way for all of us to come together one last time, to cement the year we have had.  To realize just how far we have come.  In the past few years, it was our This I Believe speeches, given on the last few days where students sometimes decided to delve into their past as they looked at their future.

This year, I wanted something different and an idea I have heard both Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesene mention came to mind; the reader memoir.  A seemingly simple narrative that would allow us to see the growth of our students as writers while they reflected upon their reading.  A way for us to hear the truth that they carry within them, to see the hopes or fears they have for their future reading life.

So three weeks ago, as we started our final reading challenge (a self-selected book club or an independent reading challenge), I unveiled the project, to see the slides, go here.  Write about your life as a reader.  The good, the bad, the future, the past.  Tell me about who you are now, how you have grown, the books you have cherished and those you didn’t.  About what made you a reader or turned you away from reading.

At first, some kids were skeptical, after all, why would they want to write about that, and yet as the memoirs themselves start to roll in, I cannot help but sit in awe as my students dive into their own reading experiences to share who they are as readers now.

“If we lived in a world without books, I’d make my own…”

“When we’re asked to read in class, I actually read.”

“I don’t think I was meant to be a reader.”

My parents would sit with me and my siblings, reading us stories, and we would huddle close and listen. Then I would begin to slump, falling asleep to the flowing words.”

As my students’ words surround me, I cannot help but be grateful for the words they have chosen to share, the truths they have given me as I prepare for another set of readers and nonreaders next year.  What a way to end, by knowing them even more.  What a way for them to end, by knowing themselves a little more.  Perhaps, this will be something they also remember.

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.

being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

Five + One Ideas for Redefining the Whole Class Novel Experience for All

I knew I had to teach reading when I was first hired as a 4th-grade teacher.  After all, every teacher teaches reading.  Yet, I didn’t know how to really teach reading.  I knew components of effective literacy practice, and yet, what those actually looked like within my own classroom was a bit of a mystery.  How did actual teachers of reading teach reading to kids who already knew mostly how to read?

My very first answer?  Whole class novel, of course.

Thinking back to my own days of learning how to read, I knew to not go the basal approach, and yet I remembered that shared experience of reading the same novel as everyone else.  Of discussing.  Of trying to find meaning within its pages as we drove each other to deeper levels of understanding.  Of even finding a few books I never knew I could love (For Whom the Bell Tolls, anyone?!) to remembering the year together (9th grade honors English with Mrs. Vincent at Lenox Memorial High School, Massachusetts)because of the very books we shared.

Since I knew my students were not quite ready for Hemingway, I picked what I hoped would be a great anchor text for us – Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, the beloved classic rite-of-passage read by Judy Blume.

I now had the book.

All I needed was the work to go with it.

So I found it on the internet, an entire packet just for the book, with questions, activities, and word searches galore.  The students could even color in the pages if they so chose.  Prep work done, I was ready.  And so we began our fourth-grade year together within the pages of a very short book, 144 pages to be exact and we split it up evenly within the 7-ish weeks I had set aside for the task.  4 pages a night could certainly not be too much to ask.  Let the reading begin.

And it did.  So did the packet work.  The lackluster discussions.  The rigid instruction, and perhaps even some scolding when students dared to read ahead.

Rarely do I remember us marveling at the audacity of Fudge.  Rarely do I remember gathering the kids around the pages of the book to look at something together.     Rarely do I remember coming to class excited to discuss, to share, to connect around the book.

But the work pages.  The long-drawn-out reading.  The lack of excitement.   That I remember.

And so for a long time, I swore off whole class novels.  Even jumped in the camp of telling everyone else how awful they were.  How they are killing the love of reading in kids.  But what good does that type of rigid thinking do when my very own memories betray me of my own whole class novel experiences.  And so it turned out that I, once again, was proven wrong.

Because it wasn’t really about the whole class novel.  It was about me and my own adherence to terrible decisions that surrounded the experience.

So now, let’s look at this concept of the whole class novel and how we can actually make it work within our reading environments without killing the love of reading.  It turns out what we need are just a few tweaks and perhaps a dose of common sense.

Step 1 – Redefine the purpose.  Rather than using whole class novel to produce a lot of work, how about we redefine the expectation to producing a whole lot of talk.

Idea – Cut out the written work altogether or boil it down to one main product.  Does it have to be written or can it be filmed?  Does it have to be an analysis or can it be a discussion of relevance?  By connecting the book read with other issues in our current society?  Does it have to be produced alone or can it be produced with others?  Can we assess the discussions as they happen and not worry so much about the end result? And can we please roll back on the annotations.  There is very little reason to annotate an entire book, other than to prove you have read it.  Is that really what we want kids to work on?

Step 2 – Redefine the access. One of the major problems within a whole-class novel is that for many students the book is not a great match for their current reading capabilities.  While it is good to stretch students with challenge texts, you don’t want to put it so far our of their reach that they simply feel defeated and it becomes yet another nail in their “I hate reading coffin.”  For others students, the book is way too easy and they would rather read other books after they have read this one.

Idea – Offer choice in accessibility.  Do all students have to read it with their eyes or can it be listened to?  Can it be shared as a small group read aloud?  Can kids partner-read?  Can kids read it quickly and show up ready to discuss when needed?  Provide multiple access points so that all kids can focus on the purpose; engaging discussions.

Step 3 – Redefine what we read.  Why is it that our literary canon are still the same books that I read more than 20 years ago in high school?  Yes, there is merit at some point in your life to picking up some of the classics, but you will get infinitesimally more out of them when you are invested.  To Kill a Mockingbird was incredibly boring when I read it in 9th grade, but when I re-read it as a 23-year-old, I had a better experience.  So how about rather than using this format as a way to expose students to classical texts that they otherwise may not pick up on their own,  instead use it to garner deep discussion that can mirror the societal discussion surrounding us? Besides, what about how problematic some of these texts are?  we cannot keep hiding behind the cloak of “that’s how they spoke in that time” to make it okay to read them.  See this great article here discussing some of the major issues with our current literary canon.

Idea – Critically evaluate the classics and give choice.  Perhaps some kids do want to read the same books as their parents did, but others don’t.  Take a critical lens to what you are offering up.  Who are these choices for?  Why are these choices offered year after year?  When were these books selected?  Simply saying its because they are classics is not enough when we have brilliant books that have been published within even the last 50 years. (Even this year!)  There should be a balance.

Step 4 – Redefine the time.  One of my major mistakes was to stretch our whole class novel out over way too long of a time period.  I have seen some schools use an entire book for a quarter of the year.  I don’t care how great the book is, few people can sustain their interest for 12 weeks or more.

Idea – Shorten the length.  Three weeks max.  That way you have to move through it at a good speed and you can focus on the most central or interesting parts.  Within a three-week period, there is also a sense of urgency that otherwise can get lost.  Students have to keep up with the text to keep up with the discussion rather than assume that they can simply read it later when it really starts to count.

Step 5 – Redefine your role.  One critical aspect I lost within our whole class novel was that it was all centered on me.  I generated the questions (or purchased them in my case).  I led the discussions.  I assessed the work.  That is easy for kids to get through and exhausting for the teacher.  There is also very little buy-in as far as responsibility and it is easy for kids to coast through, especially those kids who have pretty great reading skills.  That is not the intent behind the work.

Idea – Share the responsibility.  Start as a role model for how to lead discussions but then share the responsibility with students.  Delegate who will come up with questions and who will steer the conversation?  Getting students invested beyond the quick answer can lead to more engagement and definitely more understanding of what it means to engage others.

Step 6 – Use it sparingly.  I have heard of school districts that mandate that every single reading experience is through a whole class novel for an entire year.  In fact, my own amazing niece is currently a victim of that.  I don’t use that term lightly, but you know what it has done for her love of reading after several years of this?  Yup, totally quashed it.  When I ask her what she reads for fun, she says nothing.  That’s what doing the same thing over and over can do for you.  It may have been great at first but going through the same routine over and over is sure to lead to routine fatigue.

Idea – Everything in moderation.  Reserve the whole class novel for those one or two incredible books that you just know will light your class on fire.  Reserve it for the fall as you establish your community and perhaps once more in the spring when you know each other so much better.  Use it as a tool to challenge their thinking, their analysis, their communication.  Put your all into it and then do something else; free choice, book clubs, anything but another whole class novel.  Make it special and treat it as such.

While it has been a while since my students actively dove into a whole class novel with me, I am always on the lookout for that amazing text that I feel we all need to digest together.  Once I find it, I cannot wait to dive in with my students.  Until then, if you need more ideas and inspiration, please read Kate Roberts new book, A Novel Approach.  

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.

 

being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student voice

One More Time for the People in the Back

I don’t think that I can yell any louder.

How many times that I have repeated myself on this blog.

How many times I have repeated the voices of those who speak the words loudly, of those who spoke the words long before I ever did.

I don’t think I can say it in other ways than I have, but I suppose one more time for good measure.  For the people in the back of the room, or for those who just showed up.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to surround them with books.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to give them time to actually read.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to create a community of readers.

If we want to help kids like reading we need to help them develop their reader identity.

We need to help them go beyond our help.

We need to help them go beyond their level.

Their Lexile.

Their data.

The computer program that tells them what they can do or not do as a reader.

We need them to see worth in what they are doing and worth in who reading helps them become.

We need to help them see that reading matters beyond the journal entry, beyond the project, beyond the thing we just made them do to prove that they are actually reading.

We need to speak books.

To share books.

To have books that show them who they are and also what others are.

To celebrate books and all types of reading so that within our classrooms and schools every child can see themselves as a kid who reads. As a kid whose reading matters.  As a kid who doesn’t read “easy” books, who doesn’t cheat in reading when they listen to audio books.  As a kid who might not just be a reader someday, completely dismissing that they are, indeed, already a reader.

And not just in their own eyes but in our eyes as well.

So I suppose I can say it one more time; what we do with the reading we do matters.

What we don’t do with the reading we do matters.

The identities we help create matter.

And the words our students share about what is killing their love of reading matters.  the least we can do is listen to them.

And we must bring back common sense reading practices to protect the very kids whose reading lives we were told to nurture, to protect, and to grow.

Perhaps you will join in the yelling and the powers that may be will one day hear us.

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

being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement

Growing Readers Past our Classroom Walls

I recently had the gift of being observed by teachers outside of our district.  Our students are used to it and go about their regular ways, no putting on a show for strangers here.  I always get nervous because while I think our community it magical, I am not sure what it looks like to outsiders.  Do they see all of the growth?  The work?  The small routines and decisions that go into creating the learning community we have?

During our conversation, a fellow teacher asked me how I help our students read outside of our classroom, after they leave, either for the day, the week, or even the year.  And while I am not sure all of our students do, I have seen the change once again this year.  I have seen many students read more.  I have seen more students embrace books and reading.  I have heard kids who told me they hate reading also have a favorite book to share when asked.  Knowing that there is a change afoot,  made me realize that once again, this subtle difference of not just wanting to read inside the classroom, but outside of it, is something we accomplish through a lot of small steps and not just one thing.  And that as always many of the ideas I have come from others who have graciously shared their ideas such as Penny Kittle, Nancie Atwell, and Donalyn Miller with a few tweaks thrown in just for us.

It starts with a fully stocked classroom library because I need our students surrounded by books at all time.  I need them to see the importance of always having a book ready, of always picking their next read.

Then it becomes where else do you get books from?  We use our school library but also talk about all of the other books are present.  Where can they access books beside our room?  Where will they get books from over the summer? If they can’t get to a library, I will gladly lend them some.

It starts with the creation of a to-be-read list and while some readers already have these in place, many don’t.  Many also don’t see the need and fight me for a long time about it, usually dismissing it with the idea that they already have a book to read.  Yet, we make one and then we use it, day in and day out as I ask them to please open to it when we have a book talk in the room.

Then it becomes a tool they adapt to use on their own.  So we start with one way to keep track but then we discuss how else they can have a list.  Is it on their phone? Is it their Goodreads account?  Is it the never-ending wishlist on Amazon?    What will they actually use so that they always have ideas for what to read next?  It cannot be my system because they will never maintain it once I am gone.  And so when they ask me what they should read next my first reminder is always to check their to-be-read list, to start there so they remember all of those books they thought might be worth their time.

It starts with book talks by me.  Every day, every class.  Students get used to the routine and write down titles they are interested in.

Then it becomes book talks by students because little beats a recommendation from a fellow student.  Whether it is through unofficial moments where I ask students to share a recent favorite read, our more structured thirty -second book talks where they actually write down what  they will say and I have the covers ready to project, or to their end of year “Best book of the year” speech, they get used to discussing books, sharing favorites and not so favorite, of speaking about books without me.

It starts with book shopping with them, we set up our routine together the first week of school remembering how to book shop.  Discussing how it is totally fine to judge a book by its cover as long as we look at other things as well.  Then we book shop as a class or I help a child who needs it with one-on-one guidance.

Then it becomes them book shopping with friends.  Rather than book shopping with me, I step further in the background, not highlighting as many books and also looking around for a peer for them to book shop with rather than me.

It starts with me being a reading role model.  And being an obvious one.  While I always say this is “our classroom,” it is my books read covers that grace our walls, and my book talks that dominate at first.  However, that is not good in the long run because we don’t set students up for continued independence but instead further their reliance on us.

Then it becomes students as reading role models.   And so, giving the conversational space back to students to make sure they know each other as readers, while they learn about themselves as well is a main focus for us. Students not only reflect on their own reading habits but also share with each other. They not only recommend books but also discuss reading plans. And while I certainly share my own as well, I am only one voice of many.

It starts with a discussion of summer reading and it’s importance.  Casual comments made about keeping the reading spark alive, of discovering who they are as a reader.

Then it becomes making plans.  Actually discussing how they plan on continuing their reading after they leave our classroom.  They share ideas, I share ideas, and we discuss why it matters.  We discuss the books they want to read.  We take pictures of their to-be-read list and email it home.  They borrow books from me and share their favorite reads.  This isn’t a one day lesson, it is a lesson that evolves, that crops up when needed, that is repeated more urgently as the year winds down.  After all, it took some of our students a long time to become readers, why should staying one take less time?

when I look at the reading community I get to be a part of every day, I cannot help but notice how the power of it always lies within the small details; the books, the displays, the conversations and yes, the patience and persistence that it takes to help build a reader.   None of that happens overnight.  None of that happens with just one book.  Or just one person.  It takes a community, it takes deliberate action, and it takes an endless amount of belief that every child can have positive experiences with reading.

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