How to Create Empowered Readers – A Beginning

The sniffles started almost immediately.  Small choking noises came soon.  Then full out wails, tears, and gasps.  Theadora, our oldest daughter, was a mess as we drove home from Chicago today.  What had caused this sudden crying?  The end of Harry Potter Book seven.  The end of our 9 month journey accompanied by the ever amazing Jim Dale and the audio books of Harry Potter.  I was wistful myself to tell you the truth.  As I tried to console our distraught daughter,  I couldn’t help but feel slightly pleased, after all, isn’t this exactly the type of relationship that we hope our children, our students, have with books?  One that makes you want to cry, or laugh, or scream in frustration?  One that allows you to feel so intimately attached to something not created by yourself?  To feel the gratitude of brilliant writing and a long journey along with an author’s imagination?  To feel the loss of characters and of story as a book series finishes?

Yet, how many of our students have never experienced this type of sadness?  How many of our students have not experienced what is means to complete a series that one has become so invested in that it feels like the loss of a family member once the last page has been read?  How many years has it been for some, if at all, since they truly loved a book?  While we cannot change the past, we do have control over the now, over what happens in our classrooms. Over what happens from the moment they enter to the moment they leave.  And with that power comes an immense responsibility to empower our students, to offer them a chance at an incredible relationship with reading once again or for the very first time.  While it may start with having them choose their own books, this is not the only place students need more control to be empowered and passionate readers.

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Book choice.  This fundamental right to choose what you read is one that is so often taken away from our students because we want to help them develop as readers.   Yet when a child is not a  allowed to choose the very text they are asked to engage with, we give them little room for an emotional attachment.  How many of us adults will willingly invest in something we have been told to read?  So while we can expose and recommend, we must create classrooms where student choice is the norm, not the exception.  Where we help students find that next great book in order for them to become independent book selectors so that they can leave our classrooms knowing that they do not need us.  Not in the same way as they did in the beginning.  Where wild book abandonment is the norm and not something you need permission for.  Where indifference rules when a book is given up because we know that a new book awaits.  If we truly want students to feel in control of their reading identities then giving them the choice over which book to read is the very least we must do.

Book truths.  If we do not know what we are up against, then we can never change their minds.  This has been a mantra of mine since I started asking my students all sorts of things about their education.  So every year, and throughout the year, we continuously discuss how we feel about reading (and writing).  I never dismiss their truths, nor try to correct them.  It is not my job to tell them how they should feel, but it is my job to hopefully create a better experience for them.  I cannot do that well if students do not trust me, trust the community, and trust themselves and also trust the fact that perhaps how they feel about reading right now, if it is negative in any way, is something that can be changed.  (Yes, growth mindset at work here).  So ask them how they really feel and then truly listen, because it is when we listen, we can actually do something about it.

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Student post-it’s cover our whiteboard, our very first discussion of why we like reading or not from Friday.

 

Book Tasks.  Just Friday I was asked how many book summaries we would do this year.  I must have looked perplexed, because another student quickly added, “You know, write a summary every time we finish a book?”  I assured them that while we would work on summarizing, it would not be on every book, nor even books mostly.  Instead we discussed what we want to do when we finish a book; discuss with others, pass it on, perhaps forget all about it.  We must give our students control over what they do with a book once it has been finished.  We must allow them to explore ways to communicate their emotions with a book and certainly still develop as thinkers.  I keep thinking how I want our students to have choices every few weeks as we advance our reading; review, conversations, written ponderings, perhaps a summary, perhaps a video.  The point is, I am not sure at this point what we shall do once we finish a book because it depends on what the students would like to do.  I do not ever want to implement a task that makes a child slow down their reading or stop it altogether just because the task attached to it is horrific in their eyes.  So when we plan our reading tasks make sure that the long-term effects are not unwanted.  Make sure that it actually plays into our bigger picture; students who actually like to read, and does not harm this.

Book Selection.  While choice is of utmost importance, so is the way books are selected.  Too often we schedule in book shopping time for when it is convenient to us, forgetting that all students need books at different times.  Selecting a book is a also something that must be taught, even in middle school, because many students still have a hard time finding a book.  We therefore discuss how to bookshop, which yes, includes, judging a book by its cover, and then we take the time it takes.  If we really want students to wander among great books then we must give them time for that wandering and we must embrace the social aspect that comes along with it.  After all it is this book loving community that should sustain student reading after they have left our classrooms.

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How many students would say the exact same thing?

Book Access.  While I cannot continue to purchase books at the rate I have been due to a change in our household, I know that one of the biggest reasons many of our students end up identifying as readers is because of the sheer volume of books they have access to both in our classroom library and in our school library.  Kids need books at their finger tips at all times.  Much like they must have time to book shop when they need it, they also need to be able to book shop right in our classrooms.  When a child is obviously lost, we or other classmates can jump in.  When a child is only pretending to bookshop we can offer guidance.  We cannot control how many books our students go home to, but we can make sure that whenever they are in our classrooms; the books are plentiful.

Book Time.  Providing students time to read in our classes is one of the biggest ways we can signal to students that reading really matters.  After all, it is what we give our time to that must be the most important.  So whether it is only 10 minutes, like I provide every day, our a longer amount of time; time for reading in class is essential.  Otherwise, how will we ever know that they are truly reading because anyone can forge a reading log.  The time for reading should be just that, not time for tasks or post-its.  Not time for partner discussions or writing.  Reading, in all its glorious quiet.  In all its glorious discovery.

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While the above areas may seem so commonsense, perhaps it is their commonsense-ness that makes us forget to implement them all.  It seems so obvious and yet… how many of us have told a child what to read (I have!).  How many of us have asked students to create task upon task after they finished a book (I have!).  How many of us have asked students to bookshop at a certain time and for a certain amount of time and wondered why they came up empty-handed (I have!).  The point is really that we have the choice to empower our students.  That we have the choice to show our students that their reading identity and developing it is a major part of our curriculum even if the standard does not cover it.  Even if the test does not measure it.  Because we know that at the end of the day we are not just teaching students that should be college and career ready, but instead are teaching human beings that should grow as human beings in our classrooms.  I may not be able to change every child’s mind when it comes to books and reading, but I will go in there every day trying, because my hope will always that they too will someday cry when they realize that a series has ended.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

As We Plan Our Reading Classes

If the children aren't reading in our classrooms, then what are we really teaching? @pernilleripp

We start almost every single day with 10 minutes of reading in our classroom.  With 10 minutes dedicated just to eye on eye on text.  With 10 minutes dedicated to the noble pursuit of falling into a great story.  I wish we could dedicate more time, but teaching 45 minute English blocks, means that 10 minutes is all I have been able to give so far.  To an outsider it may look like not much teaching happens, like there must be more important things to do than just the solitary pursuit of story.  In fact, when I first started embracing independent reading time, I remember making excuses to my principal as to why I wasn’t teaching more at the time.  I am sure he didn’t need the excuses, but I thought he did.  And that’s it, isn’t it.  We mistakenly think that when students are sitting in silence, hopefully immersed in a book, that we are not doing our job as teachers.  That we are somehow not fulfilling  our responsibility or promises.

So we cram as much other stuff into our English classes and leave independent reading time for those days where we have the time.  We plan our lessons down to the last-minute and plan for reading last so that it becomes a reward at the end if we get through everything else.  We plan for it once a week or every couple of days hoping that that is enough and then we sacrifice the time set aside the minute we must cover something else.  Our independent reading time is hardly ever sacred because it doesn’t look like real teaching.  I get it too.  I already feel the panic of the upcoming year and all of the things we should experience.  I already get nervous when I look at how few days we really have together and just how much we have to do.  Yet in the past many years as a teacher of reading and English, the time to read has been the one thing that has made the biggest difference. Even if it meant some days not getting to everything I had hoped.  So we can hope that our students will read outside of our classrooms, perhaps they all will, or we can make sure that we give them the one thing that is the most important in our instructional time; time to read.  Time to find a book.  Time to develop a reading life.  We can assign reading, we can punish those who don’t, or we can simply build our classes around the need for reading, even if we teach in incredibly small blocks of time.

Yet when we speak of developing readers.  When we teach reading.  When we teach English; silent sustained reading time with support should be the very first thing we plan for.  The very last thing we sacrifice.  Our independent reading time should be the one thing that does not get cut.  The one thing that we must fit everything else around.  This is not just a fancy notion, it is research based, just see this post that the incredible Donalyn Miller took the time to put together. There is so much research out there supporting the notion of every child needing time to read in school that entire books have been written to defend it.  (Here’s just one of them!).  And if you are an administrator reading this, you are instrumental in making this happen.

Independent reading time should be a right for all children in English, not just for those who got through whatever they needed to get through.  It should be  a guarantee for all of the children that enter our doors, much like those who enter a science classroom know that they will, indeed, do science.  So why is reading any different?

I know it is not easy to find the time.  I know it is so hard to give up even just one  minute.  So when we cannot change the system and give ourselves more time, how can we fit reading in?

I am currently working on a new literacy book, two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

 

A Few (Or More) Great New Picture Books

Oh summer, I love you for many reasons; waking up because my children ask me to get up and make them breakfast and not because of the alarm, nights on the deck, lightning bugs, and naps, I am fairly certain, I could be a professional napper.  And the books…oh the books.  How much sweet er is summer time reading where I have the time to sit for an hour or more and just fall into the pages of the books I choose?  Or time to grab a whole stack  of picture books and read them end to end, pretending not to notice how much they will cost me but knowing that they will make our school year that much better.  So I think it is time to share a few (or more) of my very favorite reads of this summer.  Some are out now, a few are coming out soon.

Don’t Call Me Grandma written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon is not at all what I expected.  I loved the narrative of the grandma that is not like a grandma is supposed to be and then the unexpected hints of why she is the way she is.  I will be using this one for teaching Contrast & Contradictions from Notice & Note.  To see all of the picture books I like to use for that, go here. 

 

I have used Kobi Yamada’s book what Do You Do With an Idea for a while now and was eager to read his latest What Do You Do With a Problem?   What a fantastic addition to any classroom library for the message it sends of resilience and also the conversations it may lead to.

Another fantastic picture book to discuss problems and anxiety is Jack’s Worry from Sam Zuppardi.  I love the illustrations of how Jack’s worry follows him around and how he ends up solving it.  Many children would benefit from this book in their classrooms.

Hello, My Name is Octicorn created by Kevin Diller and Justin Love is in my pile of books for the first day of school.  Funny yet poignant in its message, this will also make a great picture book to teach theme.

What do you do when you are supposed to write but just don’t have any ideas?  You read Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead.  Beautiful illustrations coupled with a story that will make you think, this is a must for any writing workshop classroom.

I laughed out loud when I read Poor Little Guy by Elaina Allen, but this book is not just funny, it also carries a great message; don’t judge others by their looks because you never know what will happen.  I am a fan of this book.

Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset is so wrong, yet so right.  This book and its sequel I Love Lemonade are both worthy additions to any classroom library that is looking to recapture the fun of reading.  I cannot wait for the reactions of my students when they hear this book.

While I have been reading about the controversy surrounding Thunder Boy Jr. the debut picture book from Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, I think it is a great addition to our classroom.  I believe that a picture book that has controversy surrounding it is always a great addition because it will offer my students a perspective into something they may not otherwise think about.  Beyond the controversy though, it is also a picture book that speaks of pride in self and culture.

I have few words for this brand new picture book A Child of Books written by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Westman.  It is as if they went into my mind and gave me everything I need to try to convince children that writing can be magical.  Beautiful.  This is out in September, I encourage you to pre-order it now.

School’s First Day of School written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson (who is a brilliant illustrator)  is the book I secretly hope all of my students want read aloud on the first day of school.  Written from the perspective of a school and its first day, I love the feel of the book, the theme of the book and immediately reread it after the first read through.

What happens when those around you decide to keep spoiling the book for you and all you want to do is read in peace?  That is exactly what Mihn Le shares in his fantastic picture book Let Me Finish illustrated by Isabel Roxas.  How fantastic will this picture book be for discussing reader identity?

Return by Aaron Becker is simply a masterful conclusion to his extraordinary trilogy that started with the book Journey.  What a powerful set of wordless picture books.

Finding Wild by Megan Wagner and illustrated by Abigail Halpin takes on a quest into the wild.  Beautifully illustrated with a text that begs to be shared, this is a great text for descriptive writing.

In my book Cale Atkinson can do no wrong and he goes on to prove that in Explorers of the Wild.  A dual part narrative that would be an amazing way to talk about how we judge others based on assumptions rather than knowledge.

Another incredible dual perspective picture book is Dear Dragon by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo.  Not only do I love the story of the two narrators a lot, but also how this book can lead to bigger conversations about what we assume when we hear someone share their story.  As I get ready to teach social justice, this book is the perfect entry into the danger of a single story.  This book is out September 6th, but is a must for pre-ordering.

Kwame Alexander is the reason many of my self-identified non-readers are now readers, so this picture book was a given.  Come to find out Surf’s Up illustrated by Daniel Miyares (another of my favorite writer/illustrators out there) is all about the pleasure of reading.  Yes please!  This is also in my first day pile of choices for my students.

You haven’t seen amazing non-fiction writing if you have not read Pink is for Blobfish written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David Degrand.  Not only is this a book that students have to pick up when they see it, they keep returning to it.  What a fantastic mentor text for how to do nonfiction writing right.

I was lucky enough to be given a finished version of They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel at ILA.  It is gorgeous.  It is mesmerizing.  And it is for all ages.  This book….yeah…there may be some awards in its future.  I cannot wait to use it to teach multiple perspectives.  It comes out August 30th, definitely worth ordering now.

What happens when you stop trusting yourself and instead start listening more to everyone else’s opinion?  Find out in Bertie Wings It written by Leslie Gorin and illustrated by Brendan Kearney.  What a great conversation starter about staying true to yourself.

I hope it comes as no surprise that I would love the picture book Worm Loves Worm written by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato.  A picture book that makes us think about the labels we feel inclined to put on people and how unnecessary they can be; yes please.

Pat Zietlow Miller continues to enthrall me with each new release.  Sophie’s Squash Go to School is the sequel to the super funny Sophie’s Squash and a great sequel indeed.  I love the theme of friendship and acceptance and also how it builds upon the first book.

I first fell in love with the work of Hannah E. Harrison when I read Extraordinary Jane (this is another must add to your library) and her latest picture book My Friend Maggie is incredible.  What happens to a beautiful friendship when an outsider starts to criticize one of the friends?  Pre-order this picture book, out August 9th, and find out.

 

Ok, I have more, but I will stop for now.  And yes, I purchased almost all of these books out off my own pocket because that’s what we do, and they were worth every single penny I spent.  If you want to stay up-to-date with what I am reading, I have decided to dedicate my Instagram account to that exact purpose, you can follow me there if you would like.

To see all of the many other lists of favorite books I have made over the years, go here.

What 10 Minutes of Reading Really Is

Do not be fooled;a child readingis a powerfullearningexperience happening.

For the past 2 years, my students in 7th grade English have started almost every single class with 10 minutes of independent reading.  With 10 minutes of falling into a book.  With 10 minutes dedicated to the one thing that research says will make the biggest difference to their reading comprehension.  When you teach just 45 minute classes, giving up 10 minutes can be seen as a major sacrifice, and yet, it never is; after all, reading time is one of the biggest gifts I can give all of my students.  And offering them up 10 minutes to read the pages of a book they choose is the biggest investment I can make into their future reading lives.  I give it gladly.

To an outsider it may seem like the 10 minutes is enough, that all you need for a successful reading experience is just to give kids time.  But if you dug a little bit deeper, you would start to see all of the work that leads up to these quick 10 minutes, all of the investment that has happened before all of my students are actually reading.  So what do the 10 minutes rest upon?

An enticing classroom library.  For the past 6 years, I have been spending a lot of money, yes, my own mostly, to try to build up a library that would entice my students.  Just this morning, I realized I needed to go to the book store to find more sports books as I look at the year to come.  While our library now is large, it certainly did not start out that way; when I weeded my books, I had less than 150 left, but they were of decent quality and so our foundation started with that.  Having an in-class library, coupled with a school library, has made a huge difference to my not so invested readers.  The books are right there, at their fingertips, and they can bookshop any time they want.  They do not have to wait for library time or even a pass to grab a new book.  However, having a school library has also made a huge difference because they see a knowledgeable adult that can help guide them to books we do not have in our classroom library.  Another adult has the chance to know them as readers and to help them select their next favorite read.  I do not think my students would read as much if they didn’t have immediate access to books that spoke to them.

An exploration of reading identity.  We spend a lot of time reflecting on who we are as readers, much to the chagrin of some of my most resistant readers.  They are content with declaring themselves as non-readers and would prefer for it to be left at that.  However, starting on the second day of school we start to dig into what type of a reader they and also what their goals are.  They start to evaluate what has shaped their reading journey so I can figure out how to best support them further,  or break down some ingrained habits of non-reading.  This is a constant conversation in our classroom; what do you like to read, how do you know, why do you abandon books, what book do you want to read next are all questions that surround us as we discover who we are and who we want to be.

A reading-obsessed adult.  I read voraciously, even when it is summer, so that I can pass books to my students.  I am connected to other reading crazed adults so that I can find more books for our library.  Being a reader myself, and especially of the books we have in our classroom, means that I can speak the same language as my students.  By handing books to students and telling them that this may work, we start to develop a deeper relationship than just student/teacher, instead developing one based on the books we love.  If you reach reading, you should be a reader yourself, because how can you expect students to invest into something if you don’t invest yourself?

An understanding of self.  We learn how to book shop together, to-be-read list in hand, because this is a skill that many of my students have not developed.  When they do not know how to find the next great book, they don’t read.  It becomes one more thing that they use to not read.  So together, we bookshop and tie it in with our reading identity exploration.  We make it a social event at least once a month, adding as many titles as we can to our list, but it is also an anytime event.  If a child is constantly book shopping it tells me they do not know who they are as readers and so the conversation starts there.

A challenge.  Modeled after Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge, my students have a 25 book challenge (or higher for those where 25 books is not a big deal) and this challenge drives us forward as we plan our reading.  All students read with urgency, not at a hurried pace, but with the need to read more than the year prior.  We discuss our progress, we revisit goals and we tweak as needed.

A goal.  My students are not “just” reading, although frankly “just” reading for some would be a major win.  They are always working on something, however, many of them are working on goals directly tied to their reading identity, or the lack of one.  So while some kids may be working on skills tied to their reading comprehension, others may simply be working on habits; trying to find a book they actually want to read, trying to re-identify themselves as readers.  When I confer with students, I ask about their specific goals and if they do not have one, then we set one together.

A learning purpose.  We use Notice and Note from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst to dig deeper into our reading, as a springboard to discuss and write about our reading, and so students are expected to do this work at all times.  However, they are not always doing that work, sometimes we read simply to read.  What matters is that they CAN do it when needed.  We also read to identify writing craft, to learn about the world,, and to explore ourselves as human beings.  Having a self-selected text as a way to spur discussion means that all of the students are able to participate in conversations, because they have actually read the book.

For the past 2 years, I have seen many 7th graders rediscover a lost love of reading or even start to work toward a better relationship with books and reading.  I have seen 7th graders build upon the foundation of reading love that their previous teachers have laid.  Almost every single child I have had the honor of teaching has read more books than they thought possible.  When I ask them what made the biggest difference they tell me that the 10 minutes made them into readers.  I always smile, because I know that the 10 minutes played a major factor, but they forget all of the other components that come into play when we have a well-developed independent reading experience in our classroom.  So start with the time, but do not think that is enough.  After all, we are not just teaching reading, but trying to create reading experiences.

I am currently working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book titled Reimaging Literacy Through Global Collaboration is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers

Why is it all right to impose rules on children's reading lives that we would never follow as adults?

Choice.

The number one thing all the students I have polled through the years want the most when it comes to reading.  No matter how I phrase the question, this answer in all of its versions is always at the top.  Sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding, sometimes just stated as a matter of fact; please let us choose the books we want to read.

Yet, how often is this a reality for the students we teach?  How often, in our eagerness to be great teachers, do we remove or disallow the very things students yearn for to have meaningful literacy experiences?  How many of the things we do to students would we never put up with ourselves?  In our quest to create lifelong readers, we seem to be missing some very basic truths about what makes a reader.  So what are the rules we would probably not always follow ourselves?

Removing choice.   I have to start with the most obvious; removing choice in reading (and even in writing).   We know that choice matters, we know as adult readers we revel in the sheer experience of being able to choose what we want to read.  We take it for granted and will even rebel in small ways when someone says we have to read something.  Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers.  And I get it, we think we know better when students repeatedly choose wrong, yet, it is in the selection process that students can uncover who they are as readers, if we give them time to discuss, reflect, and yes, even try the things they choose that may not be a great fit.

Forced reflection.  We seem to be reflecting kids to death with our requirements to write a little bit about every book they read.  Or having them keep a reading journal or having them write about the signposts or whatever else they are finding when they independently read.  It is not that we shouldn’t have students reflect when they read, it is that we make these one-size-fits-all requirements where students cannot discover how they would like to digest their reading.  How often do we as adults write a paragraph every time we finish a book?  Or summarize it?  Or make a diorama, (which yes, I made my students do)?  While I know adults that would love to do all of those things, I also know many that would not.  In fact, many adult readers I know would slow down their reading or hide their reading if they had to do all of that “work.”  When I teach the signposts (from the excellent book Notice and NoteNotice and Note) I tell my students that they are not expected to find them when they are reading at home, but that they are meant to be able to find them when asked.  There is a big difference in the way they feel about the task because it is not something they have to do all of the time.

Forced tracking.  Oh reading logs, I am looking at you here.  Yes, as an adult I track my reading on my Goodreads account.  I even write reviews sometimes.  But I don’t track my pages (unless I have a bigger purpose in mind and then it is for short amount of time), or time how long I read for, or even have my husband sign for me.  I make time to read because I love reading.  And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it.

Points and competition.  Yes, AR, you have it coming.  Plus all of the other initiatives that we put in place to urge students to read.  And I get it; we desperately want students to become readers and to keep reading, yet this short-term solution can actually have a long-term consequence; kids who do not read for reading’s sake but for the prizes or honors attached to it.  We know what the research says regarding motivation and reading and how it can actually have adverse effects, and yet, we continue to concoct programs to try to get them reading.  How many adults though would read more because we then could take a computerized test that would give us points?  How many adults would be okay with their reading lives on display for the world to see?  Some would, while others would hate for the world to know something that they see as a personal discovery.  Why do we assume that what might work for one child will work for all?

Limited abandonment.  As an adult reader I practice wild book abandonment, passing books on when I know they are not right for me, yet as teachers, we often have rules for when students are allowed to abandon a book.  I used to subscribe to the 50 page rule myself.  Why?  If a child wants to abandon a book, they are on their way to knowing themselves better as a reader.  This is something to celebrate, not something to limit.  If a child is a serial book abandoner, and yes, I have a few of those, then we should be asking them why, rather than just stopping them.  What did they not like about this book?  What do they need to look for instead?  Help them explore their reading identity so that they can develop it rather than have them mimic yours.

Inane bookshopping rules.  My students used to be allowed to bookshop on Fridays.  That was it.  Yet, as an adult reader I bookshop all of the time.  I am constantly on the prowl for the next great read and my to-be-read list is ever expanding.  I get that book shopping or browsing sometimes becomes an escape for a child when they do not want to read, but then we work with that one child, rather than impose limits for all.  My students know that book shopping can happen anytime during our independent reading time, or even if they have completed other tasks.  I would rather want children that want to look at books, than those who abhor it.

When my students started telling me their reading truths, I drove home in shame; how many of the very things they told me had killed their love of reading where things that I had done myself as a teacher?  How many of the things was I still doing?  Yet, within the words of my students, I found the biggest truth of all; different children need different reading experiences and so that means now is I try to create a passionate reading environment, where there is room and scaffold for all of my readers.  Not just those that can work in one system concocted by me.  I know that sometimes large things are out of our control, yet, there are so many small things that are.  Think of what made you a reader or what stopped you from becoming one and then use that reflection to shape the way reading is taught and practiced in your own learning environment.  Being a teacher means that we learn from our mistakes, I have made many, and it means that we continue to strive for better.  We cannot do that if we don’t listen to the students.  And you know what; don’t take my word for it; ask your own students.  Then listen. Then do something about it.

PS:  Today I pondered out loud on Twitter how many educators tell students to read at home or over the summer and never read themselves.  Being a reading role model should be a requirement for all teachers of reading, it makes a huge difference.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

The Leveled Library; When Is It Time to Remove the Scaffold?

Levels were never meant to confine a child's reading choices or life, they were meant to help them on their way. pernille ripp

When I was a 5th grade teacher, I was told to level my library, or at least a part of it.  When I asked why, I was told that it needed to be done so that students could find the right fit books.  Yet, in our classroom, this was already happening.  I was a 5th grade teacher after all and most students had many different ways of determining whether a book would be the right fit for them or not.  This was something we had developed throughout the year.  Just like when they went to our school library, the students knew to pick up books, flip through the pages and determine whether they wanted to read a book by reading a few pages and so on.

When I present, I often discuss levels and our seemingly obsession with the boxes they create for us.  We love when we can quickly point a child in the right direction.  We love when we can hand a kid a stack of books without having read them and say; these are for you because their level told me so.  Whether Lexile, Fountas & Pinnell, AR score, or another contrived measuring form; levels seems to have permeated our educational experience.  And it makes sense, after all, with our obsession with data and standardized testing, we love when we can break something complicated down to something tangible.  But reading identity was never meant to be broken down like this.

Levels are not meant to be a child’s label, but a teacher’s tool to quote Fountas & Pinnell.  They were never meant to be hindrances to children exploring books, nor were they meant to be the focal point of how we know a reader.  They were meant for guiding us, the teachers, as we planned our instruction in order to help students succeed at the reading strategies we were teaching.  And yet, I have seen entire classroom libraries designated by letters, even whole school ones.  I have heard from librarians that were told that they had to police their book check outs to make sure a child had picked the correct books.  From teachers who have seen children stop reading because they were only allowed to pick from certain boxes.  Levels have even shown up in our book order magazines in order to help parents guide their child’s decision.

I cannot be the only one that is horrified at what this is doing to our readers?

You see, levels, much like a child’s reading level, is meant to be a scaffold.  We start our early readers by guiding them using every tool that we have, including the reading level they are at, as we try to help them figure out how to pick books by themselves.  Having a level or a letter helps them on their beginning journeys as readers.  So does the five-finger rule.  Yet at some point, our conversation needs to move beyond the letter, or whatever other designator we have.  We need to shift the exploration of reader identity past the easy and into the hard.  We need to start asking students what draws them to books and what keeps them there.  How do they know when a book will be successful for them?  How do they book shop?  How do they keep track of what they want to read next?  It has to be more than just because the level said it would work for them.  Those conversations take time, they take energy, and they take us knowing our students in a deeper way than just their supposed reading ability.  It also takes investment from our readers, which again, takes time within our curriculum.  If our goal is to create reading experiences where students will leave our classrooms and school knowing who they are as a reader, then our conversation has to extend beyond the level.

So before we level our entire library, or even tell a child what level they are at, remember that depending on our students, it may be not only unnecessary, but also damaging to their future reading life.   As educators our main goal is to create independent learners, yet the very levels we use to help students reach independence means that they are not.  Moving beyond a level, a label, or whatever else we have decided will break down a child for us must be a priority as teachers of reading.  We must ensure that their reading identity does not hinge on an outside indicator, but instead on their own understanding of themselves as readers.  That takes time, and while time seems to be something we have very little of in school, it is an investment into their future life as adult readers.

Levels were never meant to confine a child’s reading choices or life, they were meant to help them on their way.  Much like we remove training wheels from a bike when a child is old enough, we must remove the levels as well.  We owe it to the future adults we teach.

PS:  I love this post from Kylene Beers “A Kid is Not an “H””

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.