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

When They Abandon Every Single Book

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“….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

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“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.



Be the change, being a teacher, Literacy, Passion, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student Engagement, student voice

The Rights of Our Readers

Today was the second day of school.  the second day of trying to get to know these incredible kids that have been gifted to us.  The second day of trying to establish the seeds for the habits that will carry us through the year, hopefully leading us to a year where they leave feeling like this year was worth their time, that this year made a difference.

Today was the day of one of our big fundamental lessons; when reading is trash or magic.  I shared my past reading mistakes in teaching, we shared when reading sucks or when it is lit (student choice of words).  As the post-its crowded the whiteboard, the questions and statements inevitable came.  Will we have to read books you choose for us?  Will we have to write every time we read?  Will we have to do post-it notes?  All things that in the past, I would have answered yes to but now the answers are different.  You always choose your books, even in book clubs, you will have plenty of choices.  You will not always write after you read, sometimes you will, and because of the work of teachers before me, you will be better at it than ever before.  And post-its?  Sometimes, when it makes sense, but not every time and not at home.  Only here because at home I just want you to work on your relationship with reading, the skills teaching that will happen in class.

As we finished our conversation we merged into what their reading rights are this year.  the things that I will not take away.  The rights they have as individuals on a reading journey.  This is not my idea, nor something new, but once again the work of others who have paved the way for my better understanding of what developing student reading identity really looks like.  As we discussed what rights they would have and what they meant, I wrote an anchor chart, a reminder that will hang all year so we don’t forget just what we can do together.  What choices we may have.  As we went down the list, the relief was palpable, the excitement grew.  Even some of the kids who had not so gently told me how much they hated reading right away, looked less scared, less set in stone as we talked about what this year would like.

And so this is where we stand tonight…  Our very first anchor chart to remind us of what it means to be a reader that is honored within our community.  What it means to be a reader that already has a reading identity, that we will continue to develop together, honoring everyone wherever they are on their journey, rather than forcing our well-intended decisions down over the top of kids.  Perhaps, once again, this year kids will develop a better relationship with reading, will grow as readers, will grow as human beings.  What more could we hope for when it comes to teaching?

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

After Accelerated Reader

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One of the questions, I am asked the most often is, “What do you do if you don’t have Accelerated Reader?” Or insert whatever computer program here.  It is a question filled with emotion, after all, change is hard, and for some kids, AR and programs like it seem to work.  For some teachers, it works.  And yet, it doesn’t work for all, it is expensive, and in my opinion, it is not worthy of the precious time we have with students every day.

Last night, as I sat surrounded by incredible passionate educators and leaders in the Imperial Valley in California, I was asked that question again, and here is how I answered it.

Giving up AR can be scary.  After all, it is a program that seems to tell us things we need to know; has this child read the book?  Have they understood it?  It is a program that allows us to chart progress, to reward growth.  To have an understanding of the complex process that is often hidden from view.  And yet, how much of AR is actually a true view?  How often are kids able to take the test without fully reading the book?  How often do they fail the test despite having read the book?  How often do we end up policing the testing, the book choice, the kids without actually doing meaningful work?

Our job as teachers is not to police reading, it is to support the love of reading.  There is a huge difference.

So we start by looking at the components already in place.  Every child deserves a classroom library, a school library staffed with a certified librarian.  Every child deserves a teacher who read children’s literature, who is knowledgeable and excited about reading.  Every child deserves time to read a self-selected book in a supportive reading environment.  Every child deserves to do meaningful work once they finish these books, building a reading community one book, one conversation, one connection at a time.

If we hold these components as rights, then the only thing AR really fulfills is the check off when it comes to whether a book has been read.  When we remove that, we must find other ways to see whether children are reading and whether they understand what they have read.

In my own classrooms, we have different methods to see whether kids are reading.  I have gone into more details about this here and also in Passionate Readers, but the first component is to simply kid watch.  How are they picking up books?  Are they picking up the same book day after day?  Are they making progress in the book?  We use Penny Kittle’s page tracker to help us see the page kids are on in class.  That way if a child is on the same page day after day, I know a conversation is waiting to happen.  Perhaps the book is boring, perhaps they don’t understand it, perhaps something is happening outside of class that is affecting them in class.  Either way, that small sheet of paper allows me to see if they are making progress.  I don’t need it as a reading log, I need it so that kids can take control over their own reading habits and see whether they are making true progress as they challenge themselves.  That way they have tangible data when we reflect at the end of every quarter.

We also set meaningful goals.  I recently wrote about what that looks like at the beginning of the year, but it is these goals that I discuss with kids.  While some may be quantity based, others are based on habit.  You may notice that so much of what we do is conversation based.  Not having a computer to tell me these things forces me to speak more to students, for them to actually reflect on their lives as readers, this is always a great thing.

When students finish a book, they often do what we adults do.  They recommend it.  They put it back on the shelf.  They hand it to someone to read it as well.  Sometimes they write about it in a reading response, but not often, because I have found that it is often all of the things we have kids do with their reading that actually makes them dislike reading.  This year, I will also have them do reading ladders, an idea created by Teri Lesene, explained here, so that students can ponder whether they are challenging themselves or simply reading at the same rung.  They also keep a list of books they have read, finished, or abandoned in their notebook and at any point, I can ask to see that.  This list is something we update in class so that the kids that forget also have a chance to do it.  For kids who are motivated by competition, I try to make it an internal one.   Can they beat last year’s numbers of books or some other goal?  I do not believe that reading should be rewarded with a prize because it tells kids that reading itself is not worthy of their time.  That it is something they are being bribed to do because it has no value on its own.  Reading is its own reward.

And finally, when it comes to the assessment of skills, I don’t need a test on a book to tell me whether they comprehend it.  I can either discuss the book with them even if I haven’t read it or I can use a common text, such as a short story, read aloud, or picture book to assess their skills of reading.  After all, all of the independent reading we do is for practice, for building the love, it is not to be graded, the skills we are developing are what we need to grade and that can happen with any text that we know together.

Getting rid of any component that has been a cornerstone of instruction is scary, it takes work, and it takes a change in practice.  But it is worth it for our students and the reading experiences they deserve.  I would recommend anyone who is looking to get rid of a computer program to really speak about the experiences that need to replace it.  How will that look on a day-to-day basis and also how it will help the students.

Teaching is hard work, it is easy to see how we can be persuaded to place children in front of computers to help us out.  To see the short-term gains sometimes from these programs.  And yet, what about the long-term?  At what point do children, and adults for that matter, need to internalize what reading really is?  A discovery of self?  A discovery of the world?  A transport into more understanding, more empathy, more imagination?  Removing AR is a process, but one that is worthy of our time, because kids deserve rich reading experiences at every level, and computers, no matter how well-tested their programs are, cannot provide the same meaningful interaction as we get from a conversation, real assessment, and building a community of readers.

To see more thoughts on AR please see Jen Robinson’s posts which showcase other work on it.  Donalyn Miller’s post on it and do take the time to read Stephen Krashen’s discussion of the research that AR uses as a selling point.


being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

7th Grade Reading Challenge

So much of the work we do in room 235D comes down to students discovering new facets of their reading identity.  Whether it means the books they like to read, when they read, or even if they read, all of the work that comes with being a reader is part of what we do.

I believe in meaningful goal setting with kids, but I also know that much like us, adults, kids are great at setting goals and then doing nothing to pursue them.  They are great at having us set goals for them, relinquishing ownership so that they don’t really need to do anything to work toward them.  And so our work has been centered on developing their reading identities through personal goal setting and it starts with the introduction of the 7th-grade reading challenge.   What used to be a quantity based challenge is no longer “just” that but now asks students to really think of the reader they are right now and how they would like to grow as they move through 7th grade.

The challenge starts with self-reflection.  I need to know more about them as readers, but I also need to know how well they know themselves in order to support them well.  We do this with a simple survey about their reading habits which they start to fill out on the first or second day of school.

After that, we unveil the actual challenge:  Set a goal to begin the year, while you are expected to read at least 25 books this year if this is not a stretch for you, then set a different goal.  That goal can be a quantity goal or a habit goal.  They can choose whatever books they want to read, I will recommend many different types of books but not force them to read different genres.  We will, instead, read different genres as mentor texts in our work.

Once the survey is filled out and the challenge has been revealed, we meet one on one.  I ask questions based on their answers and together we craft a meaningful reading goal for them.  This can be anything from reaching 100 books in a year to a goal of simply finding a book they would like to actually read.  Because I teach so many different readers, their goals will always be different.  And there needs to be room for all of them, as much as I want every child to read many, many books, sometimes where we start is simply by helping them want to read and that needs to be celebrated as an accomplishment as well.  They write the goal down on this sheet and we glue it into their reader’s notebook, that way it is accessible when I meet with them again.

A few of the questions that I ask to help them uncover or further dissect their reading identity are:

Who are you as a reader?  This question is the baseline of all of the work we do.  Often times kids who have negative experiences with reading will not know what to write, which tells me that they are not aware of the facest of being a reader.  This then becomes a question that tells me throughout the year how they are developing.

  • Where do you read?
  • When do you read?
  • What do you read?
  • How do you read?
  • How do you choose books?
  • How do you abandon books?
  • When do you abandon books?
  • Who are your reading people?
  • What do you do when you finish a book?

And then we start with independent reading time, every day, every class, every kid.  And I will check in with them as quickly as I can to see how they are doing.  They reflect at least quarterly on their goal, if not more.  We reflect together and with peers.  We celebrate all accomplishments so that all kids can see themselves as accomplished.  And we continue to work on what it means for them to be a reader.  One text at a time, one conversation at a time, one child at a time.

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.