being a student, being a teacher, books, Reading, Reading Identity

When They Abandon Book After Book After Book

When a child abandons one book after Design

“….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. And the pandemic shutdown didn’t help their habits in any way.

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

And it is not for lack of trying. Many of my students will pick up a book to try, some gladly, some more reluctantly, but many simply don’t find that right book. That book that transports them further into the pages than they have ever been. And I see it in my own reading habits that seem to have been altered by the pandemic. My attention span is shortened, my stamina for making it through slower part is nonexistent at times. I look at my own shelves and see more work rather than adventures waiting to happen. Books are no longer calling my name as loudly as my TV or gaming console.

So how do you re-establish, protect or create the joy of reading, when you really need students to experience a whole book from start to finish? When you know that somehow our readers need to stick with a book but you don’t want it to be out of force because that typically doesn’t change habits long-term but instead just cements the pre-existing tenuous relationship to reading?

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 grab and go, often a new book every day or every couple of days. They go into it thinking that as long as they grab a book then that is all they need to do right now or that is all the have space for right now. And yet, in this hurried book shopping, often with pressure from the teachers in the room giving limited time comes one of our missed opportunities. When book shopping is not given enough time, the conversations that need to happen with our serial book abandoners have no room to take hold and grow. It doesn’t allow them to leisurely browse, to flip through the pages, to consider things like the length of the book, the font, the text size, whether it is a stand alone or a series. They haven’t reflected much on their likes or dislikes and what draws them into stay for longer periods of time. And so when their book shopping results in yet another less than stellar book, it just adds further proof to the notion that all books are boring, that reading sucks.

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 pace?  What do they abandon?  Is there a pattern?  Are they aware of their own habits at all?  Have they had pleasurable reading experiences at any point? If yes, what was it? If no, why not? 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? Getting kids to recognize that book selection carries many components starts with a reflection of self and where they are on their journey.

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?  How do they browse a book to try it on? Thinking of all of this can help them with their next selection. COVID has added an additional layer of complication to this and so we have been browsing books by me pulling them out and acting as concierge of sorts, spreading opened books out in the room so they can read the blurbs, see the font and text size, helping them glance without touching. Opening up our room to more book discussion and recognizing where everyone is on their journey. Slowing down and making space for all of this may seem like wasted time but it is exactly what needs to happen.

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 can track this on this form or we can simply discuss when we have our reading conferences,  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. We often then set goals together, if they are in a pattern to only give a book 20 pages then how long do they want to try this one. Looking at their own patterns and habits help them discover where they can tweak and try new things.

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. I have also had kids successfully read two books at the same time, declaring that when one book got boring they simply switched to the other one. This ping-pong between books may seem counterproductive but for some of my most set in their ways abandoners, it changed their reading.

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 or determine how many pages they mus read, and yet, I worry about the longevity of these solutions.  What are they really teaching?  So instead, we must 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 wondering how developed their abilities to choose the correct book are.  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. And so realizing too that we may not see the fruits of the labor we invest into our students’ reading lives come to fruition is also part of the journey we need to be on. Because recognizing that when a child abandons book after book after book is not a weakness but rather an opportunity to study and reflect further on their journey as readers invites us into this work more delicately. It reminds us at the core that we all carry emotions within us when we read or not read and that for many what may seem as an easy decision or a cop out is instead a way to shield themselves from more negative experiences.

I know that this year, I will once again be transformed as a teacher, I already have been.  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 203 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.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences, while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help.

being a teacher, Dream, Literacy, promises, Reading, Reading Identity

The Promises We Make to Our Readers

2020 was a year I didn’t read much. The normal escape and joy I find within the pages slid out of my grasp as the world sent us constant reminders of our its cruelty and our own mortality. Reading was no longer an escape but rather a dreaded task, one more thing to do on an ever growing to-do list. One more thing I was supposed to fit in as my teaching life and outside life shifted on its head and somehow, some way, we were once again just supposed to make it all work.

I was reminded of how far I had slipped from reading as I spoke to one of my students in a private reading conference in December. His honesty was appreciated as he told me he didn’t really read much anymore, that reading wasn’t his thing and had never really been, and now it just seemed kind of pointless. I don’t know what he expected me to say but rather than fall into tropelike patterns exalting the validity of reading, I instead leveled with him and spoke from the heart, “I hear you, reading does feel kind of pointless right now. It feels like a lot of work. Not pleasurable. Not something that pulls and holds my attention. But what if we both make a commitment to read more? What if I start to read as well, so that we can work on it together?” I am not sure if he believed me, or if that promise even held a lot of meaning, but it was what I needed to kick start my own reading life again. After all, I implore my students on a daily or weekly basis to find space in their lives for reading so why not my own?

There are many promises I make my students every year. Deeply rooted ones that aspire to help them feel safe, valued, seen, and heard within our community, within our curriculum, and within our learning. Closely held ones that push me to grow as an educator and to always reflect on what I am doing, to try to do no harm but instead recognize my own shortcomings in order to be better than I was. There are many promises I repeat throughout the year, some small, others major. And yet some of the ones that are nearest to the work we do center themselves within our reading journeys. Promises that I don’t think just my students deserve to have made to them, but all kids really, in order to create learning communities that not just focus on the content we must cover but the human development we get to be a part of it. But sometimes those promises can get lost, pushed off the table as we are faced with yet another set of commitments thrust upon us, forgotten as we swim in our survival modes trying to simply make it through the day and yet, these promises, these rights really are at the center of the transformative literacy experiences students should be a part of, so what may these promises be?

I promise to read. While I am often asked how I find time to read the books my students read, there is no easy answer because I don’t find the time. I make the time, and much like every other person in the world, I don’t have a lot of it. Yet I do know that every day, I can read a few pages. Every week, I can read a chapter book, read some picture books and constantly expand my knowledge of the books available to be placed in the hands of kids and recommended to fellow teachers. I read because I ask my students to read, it is as simple as that.

I promise to stay current in my reading. I remember laughing alongside my niece when we compared our 9th grade English class required reading lists because while we span 22 years in age difference, our lists were nearly identical. In 22 years, no new books had been added, in 22 years nothing had apparently risen to the top of what deserved to be explored by students across many high schools in America. What a loss this is. Because I can tell you that every year, books that will someday be considered a classic text are published, just waiting to be discovered by those of us who choose books. Every year, there are books that will transform the lives of readers, just like many classic texts have done for some. Every year, there are new works that beg us to ponder deeply about the human condition, even at the elementary level. But we cannot know this if we don’t stay current in our own reading. So I pursue the new, not in a dismissal of the old but in the rampant belief that new books deserve to be taught, to be discussed, to be brought into our learning alongside those that have occupied the space for many years.

I promise to read broadly. If my reading life was only for myself, I would never read a sports book, I would never read books about dogs, or mermaids, or a lot of historical fiction. I would focus simply on the texts that I crave and leave it at that but since I know that my students look to me for reading recommendations and ultimately search the collection of books I curate in our classroom to find their next read then I need to ensure that what they encounter shows a broad and inclusive lens of the world. That means setting my own reading desires aside at times and reading wildly in order for my students to have the opportunity to do the same. I need to recommend all sorts of books. I need to know all sorts of books. I need to purchase all sorts of books. And I need to recognize the gaps that may exist within our experiences and whose stories are centered in order to be able to actively work on filling them. It doesn’t matter that I teach a very homogeneous population because the world is not homogenous, so neither should our book collection be.

I promise to remove harmful or outdated books. I am grateful to have access to many people who read with a different lens than I do, that read with a lot more knowledge than I bring, and that share so graciously of their expertise in order for all of us to grow. My promise, therefore, is to listen and to act. If a book that I have in my classroom collection is problematic, even if I didn’t see it at first, then the least I can do is pull it. If a unit is centered too much on the story of only one type of journey, then my promise is to expand it to, to seek out sources that can help me expand the unit or question the unit altogether. In this day and age, there are so many people willing to share their expertise, such as Dr. Deb Reese and Dr. Jean Mendoza, Dr. Laura M. Jimenez, Dr. Kim Parker, Julia E. Torres, Tricia Ebarvia and Lorena Germán of #DisruptTexts and the incredible group of thinkers from We Need Diverse Books founded by Ellen Oh, all we have to do is tune in and listen and to not take it personally when a book we may have loved or grew up with fond memories of, or even one we have recently discovered and loved, is given a critical review. Open up our ears, listen in and do the right thing instead of clinging to our notions of perhaps we can make it work, or maybe it is not so bad after all.

I promise to pre-read. While I used to love discovering a new read aloud alongside my students, I now see the exploration I cut myself out of by not reading it first on my own. I now see the shortsightedness of not sitting down with a book and truly pondering how it would weave into the tapestry of our year together, to truly wonder whether this singular text deserves to be at the center of the work we will do for several weeks. When we don’t pre-read our texts, we may not see the potential hard conversations that we need to prepare for in order to successfully navigate them alongside kids. The extra wrapping we need to provide for the texts, the images and other venues of exploration that should be taught alongside it. Yes, the thrill of a new discovery is something I miss, but I would much rather be fully prepared to unpack a read aloud by pre-reading the text.

I promise to be honest about my reading. I have said before that kids don’t need perfect reading role models, they need us, the flawed ones, that are readers even when we don’t read but that share about the struggles that we sometimes face when it comes to staying connected to reading. My students don’t need to know me as a perfect reader, instead they need to know that I too, sometimes, don’t have the energy, that I too, sometimes, have a hard time finding a book, that my attention wanes, that I get bored, that I get frustrated, that I sometimes binge-watch TV instead of picking up a book even though I know what is better for me. That my reading life ebbs and flows but that the one constant I do have is that I always come back to it. That I still give myself the gift of considering myself as a reader even if I am not actively reading.

I promise to afford my students the same rights that I hold dear as a reader. I have written much, and spoken at length, about the rights of readers. About how our students every year create their rights and it is then my job to honor and protect them. And so those same rights come down to the same promises I make every year to myself as a reader and to my students. I can abandon books, I can choose to not read a book even if everyone tells me to read it, I can choose to speak about books or not, to recommend or not, to forget about a book or not. I can choose freely and widely, and I can get access to books to those where access does not come easy.

It is easy to get lost in our reading when the world tugs at our fingertips, when our piles of work seem insurmountable, when even taking care of ourselves seems like too much work. I know I have gotten lost but only for a little while, the path is still there, we are still readers even if we step off of it. Our students deserve to be in rich literary driven classrooms and curriculum that is not centered around the voice of one, but instead the voice of many. Our students deserve to have their stories told in the pages of our books, and they deserve to see the stories of others unlike them. Not to have their reading journey shaped by only one voice, or only one way, but instead a reflection of the many paths that lead us into reading and keep us there for years to come.

There are many promises to make, the question is, how will we honor them?

I am excited to get to work with other colleagues around the world doing virtual and in-person coaching collaboration, and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

Book Clubs, Literacy, Reading, Virtual Learning

Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School

Tomorrow, our very first virtual book clubs kick off. The project has been an immense puzzle and also quite a time consumer, and yet, I am excited to see these hopefully take off and help the students not only discuss amazing books but also just be together. We have been apart for more than 8 months physically, I hope that this will be a social boost for many and also a meaningful learning opportunity. I am also excited to jump into this inquiry unit as its focus is whether we already live in a dystopian society? I cannot wait to see what the students come up with and how they will expand their questions and answers as the unit progresses.

As we first started to plan for these virtual book clubs back in October, we quickly realized that unlike previous years, there were a lot more moving pieces to consider and that the orchestration would be a lot more immense. After all, we are fully virtual, kids do not come to school, so how would we pull this off?

So I am sharing everything I have here in this blog post in case you find yourself wanting to do virtual book clubs as well but it feels a little unwieldy. Perhaps the behind the scenes work we have done can help you start with them or perhaps you have some amazing ideas of your own to share. Either way, here you, you can make a copy of everything if you want to edit, just give credit. To see what I have done in previous years when we are in regular learning mode, go here.

To select their books – 4 weeks prior.

We knew that selecting and then distributing their books would be the first major hurdle but once again our incredible librarian team were prepared. They already have a safe weekly pick up for books, what we needed to make sure is that they had enough time to pull the books and prepare them for the pick up.

A slide from their book club choices

I introduced very briefly the unit in early November and then assigned students this slideshow to go through and select their top 5 books. They were asked to please select a book they hadn’t read before and also pick one that would feel manageable to them. Once students had looked through the slideshow, then then filled in this form so that I could start puzzling them together. And puzzle them I did. It took a while to get all of the students into manageable groups (less than five kids) and also to make sure that we had enough books. Our librarian had given us total number of books available for each title and a colleague had taken the time to breakdown how many books each of us would get. We revealed them in class the following week and kids then could email me if for some reason they had ended up with a book they actually didn’t want or if there was another group they would rather be a part of. Only one student did.

New this year is the short story option, we have a few students who are really trying but life is just a lot right now. We wanted to make sure they could also find success and not feel even more overwhelmed with the proposect of reading a long book. We pulled three short stories (The Pedestrian, Harrison Bergeron, and The Perfect Match), one for each week, and then distributed those to students. We will meet on Wednesday’s (our fully asynchronous day) and discuss the stories. I am excited to see if this will work and how the participation will work out.

The following week, students then picked up their books during our three pick up times. If a students was not able to pick up their book, they would get it delivered right to their mailbox. This was a massive undertaking but it worked, I am so grateful to all of the people who made physical book copies possible for the students to have.

Setting Up their Reading Schedules – One week before

Now that students had their books they needed to create reading plans and also set up discussion norms. In class, we had them work through three tasks: 1. Set up their reading plan, 2. Sign up for their discussion time with me, 3. Discuss and add to their norms. This took about 30-40 minutes, a lot longer than it would in class, but that seems to be the normal pace for virtual learning.

Their reading plan document is housed in the Hyperdoc we have created for the students with resources. This is their one stop shop for everything related to their book clubs such as teaching points, rubric, discussion help, meeting times, and reading plan. While it is available to the students, I honestly don’t know how much they will use it and yet having a shared collection of everything they need can only help.

To figure out their reading plan, they all went to this shared document and broke down their book. We reiterated that they shouldn’t finish their book more than two days ahead of the last day and if they wanted a bigger challenge they could read more than one book. This was hard for some students and easy for others so I jumped around from breakout group to breakout group to assist where needed. One group I am still assisting and will pick up the pieces with them tomorrow.

For their meeting times, I am hoping to have 2 groups discuss in front of me live during our 70 minute block. That means that only one or two groups a class have to discuss outside of their class time. I am also grateful to the support staff I have embedded within our class that are also observing and assessing discussions with us. They know the kids and the curriculum as well as I do. Kids signed up on a first come-first serve basis as it then served as a motivator to get their reading plan completed. They can see the meeting times document at any time, but I have also sent Google Calendar invitations to all of them with the link to our Google Meet for when we discuss.

For the discussion of their norms, we used Jamboard. I have had mixed results with it, but this time I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. You can see what it looked like here. Kids had decent discussions about accountability and also how they wanted this experience to run.

While all of the students have done book clubs multiple times before, 7th grade tends to be the first time they have to decide what they will be discussing and prepare accordingly, rather than the teacher telling them what to track. So we have a “cheat sheet” which really is just scaffolds in order to help them be successful. Some of these discussion points are learning targets from the Teachers College Dystopian Unit which we use as a foundational guidance and others are once we have discovered with book clubs throughout the years. Choice reigns supreme and it is important for us that students can steer their discussions ina natural way, they do not have to stick to these but this is a starting point.

Actual Book Clubs – Three Weeks

So how will all of these moving pieces work? Well, I am hoping (because I am writing this before I have kicked it off tomorrow) that our next three weeks will offer students a chance to work independently, as well as not feel overwhelmed. So in order to make that happen, I wanted to offer them up some self-paced learning opportunities using Peardeck, as well as short mini-lessons using our mentor text Ponies by Kij Johnson, and then give them time to read and discuss as much as possible in class much like we would if this were regular book clubs.

In class time will be spent on a mini-lesson – learning targets again are pulled from the Dystopian Unit created by Teachers College. I will be reading aloud our mentor text so we can refer back to it throughout the next three weeks, as well as any of the mentor short films they will be watching asynchronously. I will also have them go into breakout groups for 5 minutes in order to decide what they want to focus on discussing in their groups this week, before my listening on their discussion I ask them what they focused on and I listen for anything attached to that. They can use the “cheat sheet” linked previously in order to help them. Since tomorrow is the first day, I am thinking it may take a little bit longer to get them started but I need to wrap it up within 35 minutes in order to leave them 35 minutes to read, discuss, and work.

So during their in-class learning time and outside learning time, they will have a few things to work through. 1. They need to read their chapters and be ready to discuss. 2. They need to write down any ideas for discussion as well as find evidence. 3. They need to discuss in front of me. 4. They need to work through two learning opportunities in order to expand their knowledge. They will have all week to do this.

So for their discussion, students will be assessed live. I have yet to create a good electronic version of my rubric so I may just do what I normally do, which is print a ton of these rubrics as I like to write directly on them while they speak, as well as tally how much they say and any page numbers they use. I will then either scan and email it to them after their discussion, or transfer it to a markable rubric that will be posted in Google Classroom under their assignments so that each child has one ( I have it posted right now as an assignment for me to fill in).

For their Peardeck self-paced work, they will focus on two learning targets. The first one is simply diving into a book club discussion and understanding better what it is we are looking for. We normally do this during class time but due to virtual time constraints, it is moved into independent work. The Peardeck looks like this, it is short and sweet and to the point because this is not meant to feel like just one more thing to do but rather an exposure, example, and then a quick check for understanding. For the second learning opportunity of the week, they will learn more about utopia, dystopian characteristics and then compare and contrast their book to these definitions. They will also watch a dystopian short film and then write about the rules and how it links to our current society. This Peardeck looks like this. The students will be assessed on the analysis and evidence they use to draw their conclusions. Normally they would also be doing this in class but these are not normal times.

The next two weeks will follow the same format, I have not created the self-paced learning opportunities yet but you can certainly reach out to me if you would like to see what they look like. We will be focusing on our inquiry question; do we already live in a dystopian society and so the learning opportunities will center around that.

So there you have it, so many moving parts but I am excited and I think the students are too. I hope this was helpful to you, let me know if you have any ideas or questions.

Update:

Here are the self-paced lessons students worked through. They went pretty well, it was a great way to fill in more world knowledge and get kids thinking about the world we live in.

Week 3 – Are We Living in a Dystopia Already?

Week 4 – Who Has Equal Rights?

being a teacher, books, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Centering Reading Joy in the Virtual Classroom

Our class lists were released yesterday and with it came the excitement for the upcoming year. While it may not look anything like I have ever taught before, the year will still start, the 80 or so students will still arrive, and the work with kids will continue much like it has in other years.

This year rather than having a luxurious 5×90 minutes a week with every child, we are fully virtual for the first quarter at least, a decision I am inherently grateful for. That means that I will see my students 2×70 or 4×35 minutes depending on when I have them during the day. They will have 60-90 minutes of asynchronous work to do as well throughout the week. A huge reduction of time and thus also a huge need to really focus in on what we will do together, the learning journey we will be on. As I sat in a meeting with my fantastic colleagues last week, one thing immediately became clear, we all wanted to preserve independent reading during our live time, but not just that, we wanted to center it in reading joy.

But how do we do that when the students are not right there? When we don’t have the tool of proximity, body language, and being able to physically hand them a book? When the time is much shorter? When we can’t read the room or pull them in for a quick conference? When everything has to be pre-planned, pre-scheduled, and done from afar? Well, there is a way to do so.

We will center it in identity. I have written a lot about how (re)discovering and continuing the development of their reading identity is at the center of the work we do. With tools like our reading identity digital notebook which centers in discovery, goal setting, ad honest reflection, this is the work we do all year. That means that within the first week, our students will do their initial reading survey (slide 13 on) in order to establish a baseline for how they are starting and where they need to go. This also offers me a chance to get to know them and their journey up until now. I ask for their honesty but also know that some students rightfully so don’t trust me yet. After the survey, the very first reading conference we have discusses their answers and helps them evaluate the goal they have set. The survey offers me a place to start and a place for the students to reflect back upon as they grow.

We will center it in our reading rights. As a class, we will create our reading rights much like we have in the past, but instead of being able to post our reasons for why reading sucks or why it is magical, we will do it on Padlet. Students will then work in small breakout groups to notice patterns and decide what type of rights they would like to have as readers in our community. I know there are a few rights that they will have no matter what they come up with; they have the right to choose books that matter to them, they have the right to abandon any book, they have the right to do meaningful work, they have the right to read with others. Every year, the students create fantastic rights that create the foundation for our learning together, to read more about the process see this post.

We will center it in personal goal setting. For several years, I set all goals for students and then grew frustrated when there was no buy-in or little progress on the goal. Now, students set their own goals, determine steps for how they will reach them, and reflect at set times on their progress, fine-tuning what they need to work on and (hopefully) noticing their own progress and developments. (Slide 7 on). Diving into the 7th grade reading challenge and discussing what a goal may be beyond quantity has been instrumental to the work we do as it allows kids to see beyond the page number for worthwhile reading habits. Reading growth comes in many sizes and it is important that we acknowledge, protect, develop and praise that. To see more about our reading goal setting, read this post linked here.

We will center it in choice. Getting books in the hands of kids is at the forefront of our ELA departments mind and in collaboration with our incredible library staff, it will happen. We will book talk books during our live time; I do a quick read of the blurb and give my opinion encouraging kids to write down potential titles on their to-be-read lists. We also have static book recommendations as found in our class hub which is housed on our class website. Our librarian will also be booktalking and highlighting books. Students will be able to request books both from the library and from our classroom collection through a simple Google form (here is what mine looks like) and they will have the opportunity to be “surprised” – adding in additional books they may like with every pick up order. They will then have twice weekly pick-up times where books can be grabbed following safety guidelines. If a child cannot pick up the books, we will find a way to get them to them. Book access is paramount for all kids, no matter their access to transportation. For those looking to book browse and shop safely while in class, please see this post for ideas.

We will center it in time. Even though I will have less live time with students than normal, we will still spend time reading together. For the class that only has me for 35 minutes a day, it will be 10 minutes of uninterrupted reading time (mics off), for those with 70 min in a day, it will be 15-20 minutes. I will be working behind the scenes with kids who may not have books, don’t want to read etc during this time. I will say again; if we say we value reading as one of the biggest components of student growth then we have to spend time on it and not just assign it assuming it will happen. Of course, I will hope that the students will also read outside of class but recognize that for some that will simply not happen. The very least I then can do is make sure they have time to read with us when we are together.

We will center it in talk. Reading conferences usually happen when students are doing their independent reading and while that would still be super convenient to continue, I have a feeling that during that time there will be plenty of “in the moment” things to take care of. So instead, I will ask students to confer with me every two weeks where we will have a private ten minute conversation in regard to who they are as a reader and how their goal is progressing. Not only will it give me a glimpse into their reading life, but it will hopefully also serve as a way to get to know them better. Students will have a choice to do it virtually or via the phone, I wrote more about the set up and process here.

We will center it in read aloud. Using read alouds, picture books in particular, has long been a mainstay in our community. This year is no different as I kick off the year with a picture book read aloud, We Don’t Eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins, as a way to dive into what we need to feel safe. I will read it live holding it up to the computer, but as the year progresses, I will scan the pages in so the students can see them in a slideshow while they listen to my voice read it live. Reading aloud bring joy, invites reflection, invites conversations, and offers us a springboard into topics that matter to us; identity, consent, fighting oppression, curiosity and many other aspects of the world. Sharing texts, whether short stories, long form, or picture books, allows us a shared language so we can speak books to one another.

We will center it in time. Building a community centered on reading joy takes time. For some kids they are already invested and ready, others will work on it all year. I know that this year presents additional obstacles that make the road seem even longer, the climb even steeper, yet I can honor every child’s journey by giving them all year to grow. By getting them books. By helping them discover personal value in reading beyond what the teacher asked them to do. I can center our practice in what we know is good for children; choice, time, meaningful work, skill development, community, and access.

We will center it in acceptance and celebration. Our students come to us with so many different emotions tied to reading. I will not help them if all they feel is judged within our virtual walls. I will not help them if I determine their path or tell them how to be a reader. Instead, I can create a space where kids feel that wherever they are on their journey is okay, that however they feel is okay. We will do meaningful work together, we will share read alouds, we will speak about what it personally means to be a reader and develop the skills we need to be stronger readers. We will use reading as a tool of transportation, as a tool of growth, not just in the skills we develop but also in how we view the world. There is room for every child’s reading journey on this mission, there is no one size fits all approach needed.

I know it can be tempting to create a lot of accountability measures in this virtual/hybrid Covid-19 teaching time. I know that it may seem like no big deal if we have kids log every minute, every page. If we ask for adult signatures to prove that they are, indeed, reading like they say they are. If we tell them all to read the same book over and over in order to create classroom conversation. If we ask them to write a short summary, do a small recording, take a quiz every time they finish a book. But what may seem insignificant quickly becomes a potentially damaging requirement. Writing one small summary about a book does not do a lot of harm but having to repeat the process every time one finishes a book can quickly lead to disdain for the reading process itself. Asking kids to log often leads to kids only doing the bare minimum rather than paying attention to when they have the capacity to read longer or the desire to. Asking kids to only read the same books does little to develop their independent reading identity and often makes them liars. The short-term gains from many of these accountability measures are not worth the long-term damage. So rather than focus on the quick accountability tools, take the time to really build the community. To invite the students into the governing decisions. To take stock and change course when it doesn’t work. To continually keep the dialogue open. And to give yourself grace as well. This year for many is not what we had hoped it would be. For many of us we are in entirely new territory. But we got this. We will do our best and then we will return the next day and try again. We don’t need to have all the answers just an idea of where to start.

Building reading joy is possible in virtual teaching, it may just look a little bit different than it has in the past and if there is one thing I know we educators are good at, it is embracing change and making it work. So one step at a time, we got this.

If your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually or live throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

being a student, Literacy, new year, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven, Student-Led, tools

A Work in Progress: Digital Notebooks for Reading Identity Development

Just the front cover, to see the whole notebook, press this link

While my district gathers information as we try to determine what the fall can look like my wheels have been spinning. While I may not know whether I will be in a hybrid setting or completely virtual, I know that it will not be school as usual and so a huge question I am wrestling with is how do I translate what we do as a community face-to-face into this new mode of teaching? How do I continue to center our classroom on reading and writing identity when we won’t have the same opportunity for daily discussion and community exploration? When I won’t be right there to kid-watch and adjust my instruction and care of them accordingly?

Every year our readers’ notebooks become a trusted place for many of our students to reflect on who they are as readers, how reading impacts them, and how reading fits into their lives. It is all-year work that ties in with the overall focus on identity, how they see the world, how the world sees them, and how our lens of the world impacts our action. It is at the heart of what we do and yet, this year, I don’t know when I will be with them to do this work. How do we still do meaningful work in our notebooks without kids having to upload every image into our learning hub, how do we center our work in our identity and see how we grow throughout the year?

Enter digital notebooks which really are just fancy templates to make slide shows look like notebooks as my husband pointed out. And yet within the fancy template also comes a familiarity. These templates look like the notebooks we would use with kids, they can be organized in ways that will hopefully make it easier for kids to navigate the work and will ground our work for the year whether we are face-to-face or online.

And so last night, I created a digital notebook for our reading identity work based on a template created by Laura Cahill and while it is a work in progress I wanted to share it here as I know a lot of people are trying to wrap their heads around this work as well. As I write this, my former students are assessing it to give me feedback, I have also asked for feedback from other educators. I know it could be better, I know that collaboration will always improve my teaching.

In this work, I also know that I need to be careful with my students’ reading lives. That year after year they tell me how much they hate to write about their reading, how when we attach to-do’s to their reading it becomes a chore rather than a journey. That when we are constantly asking kids to prove that they are reading they start to not read. This is not anything new, I have written and shared the words of my students for years and it grounds me in every decision I make as the teacher who starts our journey and guides it throughout our year.

With this in mind, I had components in my instruction that I wanted to address as I created this tool.

How will I support kids through this tool? Each component is a separate lesson that we place the foundation for in the beginning of our year together and then return to throughout the year. I have written about all of them on this blog throughout the years as well as gathered all of my thoughts in my book Passionate Readers. So when I ask students to use their to-be-read list or reflect on who they are as a reader, they are not going into this unsupported, instead we weave lessons throughout these conversations such as about our reading journey, which emotions tied in with reading we carry, and many other things. It is also so much bigger than this notebook, this is work embedded in the conversations we have, the media we surround ourselves with, the quiet reflections, the surveys, the connections, the trust, the community, and everything else that we do with the realizations and questions we have. Please do not think that this notebook is all we do or encapsulates all of the work that happens throughout our year, it can’t be and it won’t be.

How will I know whether they are actually reading? I won’t. That comes down to trust, where they are on their journey, as well as which role reading plays in their life. There is no single tool that is worth me implementing for all kids that may not cause more long-term damage to their reading identity. When we are face-to-face, I usually have kids sign in for attendance with their page number that day, this allows me to get a quick glance at their reading that then is deepened in our reading conferences, that is not a fully viable option this year. So instead, the “Accountability” tab offers them an option to choose a way to show me when they have finished a book, and the “Reading data” tab gives them a way to keep track of what they are reading. I will be stressing to kids that their reading data is not meant to capture every minute or page read like a traditional reading log would, but instead to let them give a broad statement about their reading life the previous week. It is the two sections in particular I am still not loving, that will probably change as the year gets going and that I will be keeping a deep eye on as far as potential harm to reading habits. I also know that some kids will not want to use this reading notebook at all, that they would rather refuse than engage, so then that will simply be where we start our conversation. I will be utilizing reading check-in conferences as well, I am just not sure what they will look like yet since I don’t know my school year will look like. I will share my ideas for that when I have them.

How can we get ideas for what to read? Book shopping and surrounding kids with books is a cornerstone of what we do and kids need more than audio and digital books to really continue their reading journey. I have already written about ideas of how to help kids get books in their hands if in a hybrid or virtual learning environment and I will be sharing more ideas as I plan with our incredible librarian and other colleagues for when we know more. I know I will be doing live book talks whenever possible, but also dedicating time in our instruction for kids to book browse virtually, as well as continue to suggest books whenever I can to individual kids. Another idea that I am loving is that when students pick up or drop off books, we add extra books to the bag that they may also like, so that instead of just one or two books, kids get a bag of five or so.

How can students set reading goals that matter to them? For too long, I set the reading goals for my students. Luckily, I saw the light several years ago and I haven’t looked back since. Having students set meaningful reading goals, though, takes time. Many kids, even kids who have fantastic relationships to reading, want to hurry through the goal part and set it just so their teacher will check it off on their to-do-list. This is why setting a 6-week goal at a time and following it up with conversation will be so important in our year together. This is why our goal is not just focused on quantity but habits. Yes, they should read more than they have in the past if they can, but “more” encompasses many different things not just quantity. Kids can use the same goal for more than one round of 6-weeks as needed, some of my students work on the same goal all year. I just want to ensure that we have built in reflection time for the goals and will add dates when I know what my school year calendar looks like.

How will they develop their thinking about who they are as a reader? “Who are you as a reader?” is a question we have used for a few years now in our work with students. At first, many of my students have no idea what to answer, they don’t know necessarily what the question means or are not sure what I am looking for in their answer. That is why this is a year-long reflection question and one that we unpack together, especially because reading identity really just equals identity and so when I ask who are you as a reader what I am really asking is who are you? Since trust is something we build, I see a significant change in students’ responses throughout our year together.

While this is not a finished tool, it won’t be finished until we start using it because my new students will surely impact the work we do and how we do it. For now, this is my best draft and so I share it with the world in the sense of collaboration. That also means that you can certainly make a copy of it and use it, but please do not sell it or forget attribution. This is the work that I along with others have developed over several years. I am grateful that Laura Cahill shared the template for free, so this work is shared, as always, in the same spirit. Feel free to leave questions or comments for me.

To see the full reading identity notebook, click this link.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in a virtual and hybrid model throughout the summer and would love to help others as well.

books, Literacy, new year, Reading

Book Shopping and Handling Books in Our Classrooms During Covid-19 – A Few Ideas

If there is one thing that is considered the cornerstone tool of what I do with students it is the sharing of the books that we read throughout the year. Our classroom and school library collection is vast, it is varied, it is inclusive, and it is always a work in progress. For many years the books that we read are what brings us together, what centers all of the work we do within our reading identity and the time we spend on independent reading is what students tell me year after year makes the biggest difference in their own reading lives. I spend a lot of time watching kids and how they handle their books; do they dive right in, eagerly open up the book when it is time to read? Do they hesitate? Do they ignore my request to find a book altogether? Do they avoid touching books at all costs? How a child handles a book will often give us great insight into how they feel about reading. That is something that e-books and audio, while both amazing, simply doesn’t provide us in the same way.

We know that COVID-19 is cruel in many facets. We know more about the potentiality of spread and the risk of exposure due to the diligent research happening globally. What we know today may be further refined tomorrow and so this post is not meant as a guidelines post, but rather as an idea post, ultimately, whatever guidelines we are handed from districts or other governing policies trump any ideas. There are ways to still have kids book shop and browse books, there are ideas we can implement to keep them safe. We know that COVID-19 lands on surfaces including paper but the CDC has told us, “Children’s books, like other paper-based materials such as mail or envelopes, are not considered a high risk for transmission and do not need additional cleaning or disinfection procedures.” (CDC, Apr 21, 2020). However, a new study says that some print materials such as board books need at least 96 hours of quarantine.

I am not as worried about kids getting exposure by touching a book briefly and then another child touching it, at least not if I read what the CDC has to say about it: There is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and how it spreads. Coronaviruses are thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging. However, it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads...but more about the social proximity that tends to come when we book shop and such which can lend to increased exposure. While all people in our school are required to wear a mask if/when we open, I still want to minimize risks as much as possible. So how can we still have kids book shop and browse books without increasing their exposure risk, because surely, telling teachers and librarians to close their book access and solely focus on digital is not the only solution. And neither is going crazy with ideas without knowing the risks.

So I wanted to share few ideas but also direct you toward ALA’s guidelines (some of them are from the spring and the guidelines may have changed since then.)

My own ideas for my classroom collection include:

A quarantine space for books that have been handled. If I am teaching in a hybrid fashion, I will have three classes a day with the the same kids for two days, then a different cohort with also three classes another two days (Online will not be with live, they will be in a separate cohort – so some kids will start with me at the the beginning of week and the other cohort will end with me live. So cohort A: Live M + T, Virtual W + R + F, Cohort B: Virtual: M + T + W, Live: R + F, it’s a lot to navigate. I plan on having a basket for kids to place books they have touched into and then removing them from the room with gloves if I can get some. Then books will be left to wait it out for at least 96 hours before being placed back in our collection.

A highly requested and read book cart. The titles that tend to fly off the shelves, like the ones listed here, will be on a separate cart so that kids don’t have to dig through anything to get them. I will have some form of electronic synopsis available for kids to browse through in our Google Classroom so they can read the blurb and not handle the book. They can then grab the book they would like when they have found one to try. I can also be the one handling the book and act as curator when we are bookshopping.

Touchless browsing. Another idea I have is to grab collections of books and leave them out with the back or blurb facing up. Kids will be encouraged to write down potential titles on their to-be-read list and then check out a few books to try. When they leave us for the week, they should bring the books home to try as part of their online learning.

Lysol and Clorox browsing. Every students browses books with disinfectant wipes in hand. If they touch a book and they end up not grabbing it, it gets wiped down by them right after and then handed to me to be set aside. Books should be cleaned if dirty and then disinfected. (Do at your own risk, me wiping down a book once in a while in my classroom is not the same as a book in a school or public library being wiped down all of the time).

Electronic browsing. I don’t have a digital library collection of titles but will start working on one for the coming year, that way students can browse through titles we have in our classroom and put in a request through a google form for a book they would like. I may even just do this in Google Slides. While I am not going to do anything super fancy, I know there are fancy ways to do this.

Video book talks. There are many already made and to be found on Youtube which will help me speed up the processing time, but I also want to start recording electronic book talks to have for throughout the year. Besides, we all do book talks differently and I want to use them as another way for students to create connection to our community. This approach not only allows me to curate a collection that I can use year after year if I want, it helps me audit what I am book talking since I will be pulling specific book stacks to use. I am allowed into my classroom right now for the sole purpose of grabbing books and I will be grabbing as many inclusive titles as I can to use.

A video tour of our library. I will be recording a tour of our classroom library when I head in so kids can see different genres available, how it is organized, and also just get ready for using it at some point. This will be part of their online learning so they are preloaded with some info before they are in the classroom. That way I can also pull out books to show, showcase how things are shelved, and build some book excitement.

If we are fully online, I am hoping to set up some sort of concierge service to drop off sanitized books for kids. Much like librarians have done throughout the country, kids would be able to request books and then have them placed in quarantine for a drop off or pick up. In the spring we were not able to get into our schools which greatly limited physical book access for all of us. We were able to get some books in the hands of kids who had none through a google from and mailoing but it was nowhere enough to what we would have liked to see. We know book access in a major inequity and so my district right now is also discussing ways to get physical books to all kids and not just e-books.

Also, I am hoping to drop a book off to each student as we begin the year if we start online. I would choose selections from Books4School under $3 each and then drop them off when we do our scheduled “yard visits.”

I asked on twitter what other people were doing and was once again deluged with wonderful ideas, thank you to everyone who shared!

Link to Jill’s playlist
Link to Demco blog
Link to BookDash

While we wait for districts to release our fall plans, I know we will find a way to get books in the hands of kids. We have to so feel free to share more resources and ideas in the comments.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in a virtual and hybrid model throughout the summer and would love to help others as well.