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

Why Graphic Novels Belong in All of Our Libraries

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Literary Devices in Graphic Novels

A Printable Educator’s Guide to Graphic Novels 

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

Annual Reminder that Graphic Novels are Real Reading 

Raising a Reader

Graphic Novels in the Classroom by Gene Luen Yang

Why Comics Belong in the Classroom – Gene Luen Yang TedX

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

The Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Learners

Graphic Novels and Picture Books for All Ages by Donalyn Miller

Comics Used for Therapy Database

One teacher’s journey in using Comics with students 

Facebook group for teachers using comics

Research: Graphic Novels in the Secondary Classroom and School Libraries

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

CBLDF Panel Power

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

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

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

Understanding Comics:  The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

When They Abandon Every Single Book

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

assessment, being a teacher, Literacy, Reading

A Notecard Check – A Simple Way to Check for Understanding

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Students’ answers to when I asked when does reading suck…

Ask our students what makes them hate reading and many of them will say the work that comes after.  The reading logs, the essays, the taking notes when reading, the post-its, the to-do’s.  Not the act of reading itself.  They share their truths year after year and year after year, I wonder how I am going to see whether they really are understanding and learning without making them drown in assignments that make them hate reading.  It is a hard balance to find, especially if your students like ours have reading abilities that range from years above grade level to years below.

While the students will be working on other skills with their reading, right now, we are working on increasing stamina and enjoying their books, a skill that some of our students need a lot of work on.  When we introduce too much to them to do, that is when they end up not really working on their reading but rather hunting the text for their answer. This is when they start to dislike reading.  While being able to disseminate a text and do the heavy work with text analysis is important, I cannot have them do that all of the time, not every time they read.  After all, how many adults do that every time they read?

This year, my colleague, Reidun offered up a great idea;  the simple notecard.  The notecard is unassuming.  It is limited in its scope based on its size and it also does not take much time.  Rather than writing anything long, which we only do once in a while, when students have been introduced to a teaching point such as writers using emotive language, we then ask them to return to their own self-selected text and look for an example.  As they read they find a sentence or two, write it down and hand it to us.

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A student’s example of descriptive language found within her text.

When I have a moment, I am able to quickly scan through to see who got it and who didn’t, make a note of it and then figure out who needs to be in one of our small groups.  Who gets it, who doesn’t.  The kids spend most of their time reading, rather than taking notes, and I get a chance to peek into their thought process.

As the year progresses, our skill focus will change, our questions will deepen, and yet, offering students time to “simply” read is something that we will continue to protect every single day.  The notecard allows me to peek at skills, to inform my instruction, and to collect data.  All without causing a major interruption in their time with the text.

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

 

 

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

Small Disruptions in Text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

I Don’t Read

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

I bet those students are in your room as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

being a teacher, Reading

What’s In Our Reader’s Notebook

A frequent question I get while speaking to other educators is what does your reader’s notebook look like?  I usually don’t have a good answer because much like for many others it is a work in progress, every single year.  This year, however, it feels a little more solid as the year gets underway and we use the tools we have used previously with a few small tweaks added as we need them.

So what can you find in a student’s reader’s notebook this year?  In order, you will find…

Our To-Be-Read List

This is the very first page, hand-drawn by students, and used every single time we bookshop or have book talks.  Part of my check-in conferences means I peak at their to-be-read lists as well to say what they have on dock for their reading experiences.  All the list says is the title, author, and genre which just means where they can find the book. This is on page 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Our Who Are You as a Reader Quarter 1 Survey

This simple survey gets glued to page 5 as a way for me to see where they start the year as far as the relationship with reading.  As we re-take the survey throughout the year, the will be glued in after it (I screwed this up and did not leave pages for this so this year the rest will be glued in on the back pages).

Our Reading Challenge for the Year

On page 6 and 7 you will find our reading challenge documents as well as their personal reading goals for the year.  This is what we confer about for their first reading check-in.

Reading Rate Tracker

Inspired by Penny Kittle, we do a reading rate tracker once in a while to see how many pages a student should be reading every week or so if we ask them to read at least two hours outside of class.  This is glued in on page 8.  This helps us with the reading data we gather in class as students study their habits, set goals, and also increase their reading.

Books I have Finished

On page 9, we have another hand-written page simply titled “Books I have finished.”  This is where students write down any titles they finish.

Reading Response Pages

Then we have the rest of pages for reading response and anything else we need.  We did not want to tab out sections beforehand because we always get the section needs incorrect, which my smart colleague, Reidun reminded me of.  Instead, we plan on tabbing as we need to. I will say though that we do not write a lot of reading responses.  These are one of the top reasons students report hating to read, so we are very picky about when and what we have them write about to discuss their reading in their notebooks.

So there you have it.  Nothing too fancy, but it works for us for now.  We will add sections as we need them.