being me, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Talk About Reading Logs Again

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

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

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

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

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

How I Know My Students Are Reading

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

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

If You Have to Use Reading Logs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Why Graphic Novels Belong in All of Our Libraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCTE Diversity in Graphic Novels

Exploring Literary Devices in Graphic Novels

A Printable Educator’s Guide to Graphic Novels 

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

Raising a Reader

Graphic Novels in the Classroom by Gene Luen Yang

Why Comics Belong in the Classroom – Gene Luen Yang TedX

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

The Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Learners

Comics Used for Therapy Database

Facebook group for teachers using comics

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

Research: Graphic Novels in the Secondary Classroom and School Libraries

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

CBLDF Panel Power

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

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

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

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

Understanding Comics:  The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

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

being a student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

When They Abandon Every Single Book

White,  Free Image

“….well, I didn’t finish any books last year…”She turns to me and smiles.

“What do you mean?”  I ask, not sure I have heard her correctly, after all, I know what amazing work they do in 6th grade.

“….I just stopped reading them, I didn’t finish them.  I got bored…”

She puts the book down that she is abandoning and starts to look for a new one.

I love book abandonment.  It is something I preach should be a taught skill to all kids, a right even.  If you don’t like the book, don’t read it, it’s as simple as that when it comes to building a love of reading.  And yet, this year, we have been exposed to a new level of book abandonment.  A whole group of kids who never, according to their own recollection, finished a book of their own choosing last year.  Not one, not two kids, but many.  And they really don’t like reading.

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

So how do you protect or create the joy of reading, when you really need students to experience a whole book from start to finish?

In conferring with many of my students, the obvious place to start is their book selection process.  When I ask them how they find their next read, many of them confess to only doing a few things, mainly look at the cover and then start it.  They haven’t taken the book for a test run, haven’t considered the length of the book, they don’t really know their likes and dislikes and so when the book turns out to be other than what they expected, they abandon it.

So reading identity is once again where we start.  How well do they know themselves as readers?  What do they like to read?  What is their reading rate?  What do they abandon?  Is there a pattern?  Are they aware of their own habits at all?  I start by interviewing them and taking notes, then I also have them reflect on themselves as readers and we track this information.  I also check in with them more, how are they doing with the book?  How are they liking it?

Book selection comes next.  What are their book shopping habits?  We refer to the lesson we did at the beginning of the year and help them book shop.  Who are their book people?  How do they find books to read?  What are their preferences?  What is on their to-be-read list already?  Thinking of all of this can help them with their next selection.

Track their abandonment.  While all students are expected to write down finished or abandoned titles, we are finding that many of our serial abandoners do not, so we will help them do that.  This is so they can start to see their own patterns; when did they abandon a book, why did they abandon it?  How far were they?  What type of book was it?  What strategies did they use before they abandoned it?   They will track this on this form.  This is only something we will do with these serial abandoners, not students who abandon a book once in a while.  What can they discover about themselves as they look at this information?  I also know that some of our serial book abandoners are not on our radar yet, so this survey will help us identify them so we can help.

Teach them stamina strategies.  Many of our students give up on books the minute they slow down or “get boring” as they would say.  They don’t see the need for slower parts to keep the story going.  They also, often, miss the nuances of these “slower” parts and don’t see the importance of them.  So a few stamina strategies we will teach are asking why the story is slowing down and paying attention to what they have just figured out about the characters.  Another is to skim the “boring” parts for now so they can get back to the story.  While this is a not a long-term solution, it does help keep them in the book and hopefully also helps them see that the book does pick up again.  They can also switch the way they interact with the text, perhaps they can read these sections aloud, or listen to an audio version for those parts.

Realize we are in this for the long haul.  Too often our gut reaction is to restrict.  To select books for the students to read no matter what.  To set up rules where they are not allowed to abandon the next book they select, and yet, I worry about the longevity of these solutions.  What are they really teaching?  So instead, we dedicate the time and patience it takes to truly change these habits.  We surround students with incredible books, we book talk recommendations, we give them time to read, and we give them our attention.  We continue to let them choose even if we are questioning their abilities to choose the correct book.  Becoming a reader who reads for pleasure, or who at least can get through a book and not hate it, does not always happen quickly.  We have to remember this as we try to help students fundamentally change their habits with books.  Restricting them in order to help them stick with a book can end up doing more damage than good as students don’t get to experience the incredible satisfaction of having selected a book and then actually finishing it.

I know that this year, I will once again be transformed as a teacher.  That these kids that I am lucky enough to teach will push me in ways I haven’t been pushed before.  My hope, what I really hope happens, is for every child to walk out of room 235d thinking; perhaps reading is not so bad after all.  Perhaps there are books in the world for me.  A small hope, but a necessary one.

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

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

Small Disruptions in Text

I have been so incredibly inspired by the work of the women behind the #DisruptTexts movement.  This movement, started by a group of fearless educators: Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena Germán, Dr. Kimberly N. Parker, and Julia E. Torres, have been leaders within the work that is needed to disrupt the cannon and also help all of us change the work we do with texts in the classroom.

While I am lucky in the sense that I don’t have canonical texts I am forced to explore with my 7th graders, I have realized that habit and ease had gotten me stuck in certain texts, that sure, seemed to work for students, but didn’t do much for their exposure to other points of view, nor did it represent all of the lives of the students I teach.  Thus a mission for the year began – disrupt the texts I use with students, pay attention to my own selection process, and ultimately create a broader experience for all kids in order for them to have more critical exposure to many perspectives.

So what does that look like for me?  Well, it began with two questions; why am I selecting the texts that I am and how can I select others?  As I looked at my lists of short stories, read alouds, picture books,  and even book talks, I quickly saw a pattern.  While my own reading life is fairly inclusive, my academic usage was not.  The same texts were used year after year and many of them were predominantly created by white, cisgendered, heteronormative people.  Even though I had been trying to purposefully select more inclusive texts!  While there were units where the scope had broadened, there was still this dominance, a thread, of the same type of texts used and highlighted.

So for the past few months, I have spent a lot of time on text selection within a few areas.  By auditing my habits and my patterns, I found plenty of opportunities to disrupt my own “canon” and also help others find better texts.  Here are the areas that I have focused on:

Picture books.  Reading a picture book aloud is something sacred to us, and while I have a fairly inclusive picture book collection, I was not really keeping track of which I was choosing and sharing.  By having a visual representation of the picture books outside our room I am reminded to look for a broader scope and to include many different perspectives.  (To get ideas for great books to read or share, follow my Instagram where I do “live” recommendations as I discover books.)


Read alouds.  I have always mostly selected our read alouds based on the merit of the story.  Is it a story that will elicit interest and conversation?  Will my students be changed after this read aloud?  And yet, I did not pay much attention to the author and the identity they represented.  Now, the two go hand-in-hand.  Questions I use to assess whether a book should be read aloud are many, but a few are:  How is this author’s identity represented within the text?  How is it different than what my students have already been exposed to?  How is the main character different than the last main character we got to know?

Book talks.  Once again, random selection was the way I did book talks.  Sometimes it was a book I had just finished, other times an old favorite.  This meant that I didn’t always remember which books I had book talked and surely did not pay attention to whose stories I was book talking.  Now, my system is twofold – I write down the books I plan on book talking and also keep a written poster in our classroom, which I fill in after a book talk.  While the poster will need to be replaced soon, it allows me to see the bigger picture of what I am blessing through book talks.  Just looking at it today, I realized that I had not book talked any books featuring characters from within the LGBTQ community, which is something I plan on rectifying.

Seeing this was a reminder to book talk more books by female authors, as well as authors from within the LGBTQ community.

Short stories and text excerpts.  This is where I needed the most disruption.  I had some great short stories that captured the interest of students, but most were by white authors.  I simply had not paid attention to this part of the selection process and had instead just grabbed stories others had recommended or stories that I knew.  And this is part of the problem I think for many of us; we recommend the same stories over and over, we remember the same stories being used and somehow they then receive more merit as legitimate texts than they really deserve.  Now, my selection is focused on the author’s identity, the main character’s identity, as well as whether the story fits our purpose.  By using fantastic short story collections such as Funny Girl,  (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, and Hope Nation, as well as first chapters from great #ownvoices books I am ensuring that my students are meeting new fantastic authors and stories that will hopefully not only better represent their own experiences and identity, but also the identities of others whom they may not know.

So what can you do if you want to start disrupting your text choices as well?  The first would be to follow the work the movement #DisruptTexts  and the women behind it do, but then also audit yourself.  What are you reading?  Book talking?  Sharing?  And using with your students?  Whose identities and experiences are being represented as the norm?  Whose voices are left out?

Read more inclusive texts and start a document to track texts you may potentially use with students and their purpose.  We have a shared mentor text document as a team where we can drop text in as we find them.  Create visuals that show you just what you are blessing and share and take the vow to do better, to notice your own patterns and change the texts you use.  While I still have a long way to go, I am already feeling better with the intentionality of the texts I am exploring with students, as well as the opportunities we still have to do better.

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

I Don’t Read

White, Black,  Free Image

“I don’t read” has been a refrain heard loudly in our classroom for the last three weeks.  Several students have informed me that reading is not something they do.  Not something we can get them to do.  And they have been right.  For the past three weeks, these few kids have stood by their words, proven them to be true and we have pondered what the solution may be.

I bet those students are in your room as well.

So what have we done, when children loudly claim this identity of children who will not even pick up a book?  Who will not even open a book? Who will not even book shop?  Who will not even give it a try?

We start with what we have a lot of; patience.

I think of the kids who come to us declaring loudly how much they hate to read and how many negative reading experiences they must have had to get to that point.  How many times they must have felt defeated in the face of a book and now have found a way to protect themselves.  When you refuse it is much easier to not get hurt. When you refuse it is not to anger the teacher, but o shield yourself from more embarrassment, more harm, more hurt.  How every moment we do not force them to but instead offer them an opportunity for enticement is one more moment of negative counteracted by a moment of positive.  Of how we tread lightly, offering up multiple opportunities to read every single day, but never shaming, never demanding.

Instead treating their refusal as the gift that it is; a view into the minds of a child who feels like the act of reading is not something that is safe for them.

So we treat it with care.  With gentleness as we whisper our repeated question; how can we help?  And we offer them an array of enticing books, leave them at their fingertips and walk away.  Pop up books, picture books, graphic novels and other safe books placed within their reach with no judgment wrapped around them, but instead only an opportunity to try.

And we repeat that motion every day, reminding them that they should read but leaving it at that.  Pushing books toward them and holding ourselves back from rushing over there if they do, indeed pick one up to flip through the pages, instead allowing them time to sit in the moment with a book, and not a teacher that tells, “See, I told you they weren’t all bad.”

And we speak books with them.  Including them as a full-fledged reader in our classroom, sharing recommendations and not giving up despite their many shutdowns.  Despite their many refusals.  We invite them to book shop, to abandon books, to read books that matter to them even if they are not yet reading.  There is no punishment attached to not being a reader who reads actively in our room, why should there be?

And we repeat this every single day for as long as it takes.  And we smile, and we invite, and we try to help them feel safe.  To see reading as something that is not hurtful, but instead a moment of quiet in an otherwise overwhelming world of noise.

And every day as they declare that they do not read, we acknowledge their truth and then offer them a word of hope, “yet…they do not read yet.”  And that’s okay because we have a whole year to go.

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.