being me, Reading, Reading Identity

My New State of Reading

Normal Design

I haven’t really been reading much. Not like I normally do. Not like when I am home and the days are long and my to-be-read shelf beckons every moment I pass by it. Where I swallow a book a day, share it with the world, eager to pick up the next one.

Right now, my shelf makes me feel guilty. The abandoned books piled around the house. Starting the same book over and over again because I am sure it is good if I can just pay attention. Reading comes in short bursts between kids needing me, my computer pulling me away, my phone a distraction. The need to sleep. To simply sit and ponder. To be outside trying to connect with a world that feels very far away right now. It’s simply hard to read right now.

It’s hard to read when my children demand attention through their yelling matches and “I’m bored, Mom…” and their school work consumes hours of our time and it hasn’t even really begun yet.

It’s hard to read when my favorite genre, dystopian, hits a little too close to home.

It’s hard to read when the to-do’s of my job keep piling on, navigating new territory every day, not quite sure if what I am doing is even close to effective.

It’s hard to read when you worry.

When breathing is harder.

When loss is present.

When sleep is elusive.

When worry is a constant companion.

It’s hard to read when the world outside is scary.

(Even when I sit in my heated house, with a fridge that’s full and my paycheck still intact.)

I read to learn. To escape into worlds and stories unlike my own. To relax. To have my imagination lit up. To be transported and while right now may seem like the perfect time to escape, the tethers that hold me firmly in place are thickened steel, and my mind refuses to settle.

I cannot be the only one that feels that way. I am not the only one that feels that way.

My students tell me that they haven’t really been reading. That they sleep a lot. That there is so much work to be done now that school is back in session whatever this means. That they don’t have books. That they can’t find a good book. That they don’t like reading digitally. That they read the only book they had. That they tried but they have to keep going back to reread, hoping to grasp the story that slips through their concentration. That they don’t know what to read next because nothing sounds good.

And I get it. My assignment of reading 2 hours a week is merely an aspiration at this time. Of saying I hope you’re safe enough to read. I hope you are fed enough to read. I hope you are okay enough to read. That those taking care of you have what they need so you have what you need.

And so we send books to those who don’t have any (a survey and Amazon direct shipment helped us out with that). We send them links to digital books. We fill our Audible account with great books. We leave book reviews on Flipgrid in case they have a way of ordering books. We read aloud to pretend that we are still together.

Because that’s all it can be right now.

An invitation to those that are in a place to receive it.

A way to offer up a slice of normalcy for those who can access it.

Not as a way to punish or grade.

Not as a way to go on with life as normal, because it is everything but.

To demand someone read right now is to fail to recognize what may be happening in their world. Is to ask for the impossible for some.

That doesn’t mean we stop hoping but it does mean that we ask a lot more questions than we might usually: Are you okay? Are you safe? Are you feeling ok? Do you have what you need? Food? Heat? Books? Do you have a safe space to read? Do you have enough time to read? And we respect that students may not tell us their truth because they don’t have to. That all we can do is ask and try, not demand and want.

And we wrap our students in patience rather than demands. In understanding rather than expectations. And we fully sit with the knowledge that this reality is not like anything we have seen before and therefore our approach must change as well.

That perhaps a child can read but not think clearly. That perhaps a child doesn’t have the room for deep analysis right now. That perhaps they don’t have the energy to write but could speak? That perhaps a whole book seems much too much but a short story is accessible. That perhaps picture books are all they can do right now.

Choice, personalization, and giving options for students has to be central to what we do right now, to what we do all through the year.

That what we may be working through in our tiny slice of the world may look nothing like what our students face.

That if we, professional adult readers, are struggling, how does it feel for the kids?

Today, I am going to try to read. I have been fighting what my doctor assumes is Covid-19 but a mild case and the exhaustion is all consuming. I am going to get through 2 or 5 or 10 pages and then congratulate myself. Be happy that I tried, even if normally I would be able to finish a book quickly. Even if I normally would feel lazy if I didn’t read at least a book a day.

Today I am going to try again because yesterday I tried too. And I am going to encourage my students to try and to to keep trying. But I am going to continue to know that sometimes trying is all we can do. Trying is what will happen rather than completing and that is good enough for now.

Right now is nothing like normal. Let’s not push normal expectations on kids either.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

Passionate Readers, Reading

Picture Books Read Aloud Videos for Lesson Use

I am at our public library right now and it is deserted. Wisconsin was ordered to close their schools this coming week as more and more cases of Covid-19 pile up. The world is upside down.

As we prepare to switch to online learning, I have been thinking of the power of the read aloud. How having the social connection through shared books can bring us together. How doing a read aloud in this stressful time can calm us. And so as we plan for what we will do, I immediately thought of reading picture books aloud to my students and having them respond to them in a short paragraph through Google Classroom. However, there is one glaring problem; copyright violations, I don’t want to break copyright by reading aloud a book and then sharing it with students. So instead, I compiled as many lists as I could find here featuring the creators reading aloud. Perhaps the list will be helpful to you?

Kate Messner has a post that details which publishers have given limited permission to read their books aloud following their guidelines, see the post here.

Indianapolis Public Library has a compiled list here with more than 100 titles

Storyline online has a compiled list right here with some great titles

Kate Messner is compiling videos right here featuring authors and illustrators sharing their work and resources

Susan Tan has a great video channel featuring writing prompts and read alouds

Kidlit TV has a great compilation here

Harper Kids Has their read alouds compiled here

Vooks Online are offering a free first year for teachers and have videos compiled here

Brightly Online has a compilation here

Storytime with Bill from Little Brown Books can be found here

Mrs. P’s storytime can be found here

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is posting videos of her books as well here

Unite For Literacy has many stories read aloud in multiple languages compiled here

Free Kid Lit Visits and Authors Read Aloud compiled by A.Keene can be found here

Storytime from Space features astronauts reading aloud

I will keep adding resources here as I find them and as they are shared with me. If you know of any more, please share.

Take care, stay safe, and take care of others. We will get through this.

And by the way, if you can’t feed your family in the coming weeks or months, please reach out to me. I will try to send you a giftcard for groceries if I can.

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, global read aloud, Literacy, Reading

What Are We Reading Aloud? Survey for K-8 Educators in the United States

I have written before about the read aloud and its power for older students. I have written about how read alouds brings us all together, how they offer us a new language to speak as we build our community. How read alouds allow us to step into a world we might not know or invite others into one that we already live in.

Since founding the Global Read Aloud in 2010, I have been responsible for selecting a read aloud to be shared around the world. The task always feels heavy. The task also brings a lot of joy, but as I have mentioned, the task of selecting the books to be read aloud have also made me curious; what is already being read aloud in the United States? What are the corner texts that, we as communities, keep coming back to year after year? What do our students get to experience from year to year as they travel through our classrooms?

Rather than just be curious, I figured I would ask. So will you help me out by taking this survey and sharing it with others? I tried to make it easy to take but still offer up valuable information. I will share the results once I have enough responses, because once we know more we can learn together.

conferences, connections, Reading, Reading Identity

Reading Action Plans: An Invitation into Further Exploration

This blog has been quiet. Not because life has been by any means but because what we are doing in our time together in the classroom is quiet. It’s not very flashy. It’s not really that new, at least not for us. Every day, the routines we have worked on all year are in place; most students quietly reading during independent reading time, most students finding great books, most students knowing more about themselves as people than they did in the beginning of our journey. Most because not all, not yet any way; some still lament about how they dislike reading, how they do not plan on reading a book over the summer, but many others devour books, seeing their own accomplishments, challenging themselves to grow.

But for those who are not quite there yet, where reading is hard, where reading is not a comfortable activity. For those where reading is something they have spent a lot of time avoiding or simply don’t see the value in yet, at this time of year I add in an extra layer; a reading action plan. A quick invitation into further conversation about their reading life that runs 2 weeks and sometimes more.

I have written about them last year, but the idea is so simple and yet so powerful that I wanted to re-share it. Because all it is is an invitation into conversation every single day for a few minutes about their reading life. No pressure, but instead extra personal support, and an adult meeting them once again where they are at without judgment and helping them along their journey.

The note sheet I use to keep their journeys straight looks like this at the moment, or at least the front does, they change when I don’t see them fitting our purpose. You can see it here. This is not for the students to fill out but for me to take notes, which they can see me take because no one wants another person taking secret notes.

I usually use our reading data (which is just how many pages they are approximately reading within a week by signing in with their page numbers as inspired by Penny Kittle) to see who may be great candidates for some extra care. Who are the kids where reading is still a slog, where they are not really making progress or jumping from book to book? I try to keep it to 3 or 4 kids a class at any given time for a few reasons; I want to make sure I am really focused on them and I also want to be able to still meet with another few kids every day. While we typically start on Monday’s, you can start them any day.

I ask them to meet with me during reading time and explain my idea for some extra attention, I don’t want to force it on them but instead discuss what they could gain from it. This is important because too often when students are vulnerable readers we remove all choice from them which leads to further resentment toward their reading lives. If we are going to meet every day, I like their to be a genuine discussion of why and how it may help them. This is instrumental to everything I believe in; keeping a child’s wellbeing in mind before I implement anything. I can’t do that without conversation. If a child doesn’t like the idea, we come up with something else for them, however, this has not happened in my years of doing this.

The first day takes longer because we discuss their current book. Questions I ask are pretty standard:

  • Which book are they reading?
  • How far are they in it?
  • Why did they choose it?
  • How are they liking it so far?
  • Where will they be in the book in a week?

Then I move down into the notes section, where I ask them about their outside reading life – this is an ongoing conversation throughout the year- and we discuss what their reading plans are for outside of English. My job here is to listen and to ask questions that explain their thinking when it is not clear, not to judge. They also tell me where they think they will be in their book the following day. This is again an important aspect because we so often set the goals for the students and those goals are unrealistic and also have little concern for the reading journey they are actually on. So instead we discuss what is a realistic goal and what the steps are they will take to reach that goal. Some students don’t have any plans to read so we discuss why not and how we can change that. Some have other obstacles in their path and so we discuss those. Whatever is going on, we discuss, and we brainstorm together. Once we have a goal and a plan in place it is time for them to read, so I thank them for their time.

The next day, we meet again, except this time I only ask about how far they got – no judgement – and what their reading life looked like in the past 24 hours. If they read, awesome! If they didn’t, why not? Again, I am not here to make them feel bad but coach and support instead. As we wrap up our quick 3 or so minute conference, they set a goal for the following day and then they are off to read.

And then we repeat that for a week. At the end of the first week, we discuss successes. These range from reading more than normal, to knowing when to abandon a book and picking a different one. From reading at home one night – wahoo – to actually not hating the book. There is no success that is too small to be celebrated, this is important as the goal here is for the kids to learn more about themselves as readers and people, not for me to punish them into reading.

The following week, we continue with our quick check-ins, celebrating successes along the way, and at the end of the week we decide on what the next step should be. There are different options:

  • Another round of daily check-ins for those that are not quite ready to fly on their own.
  • A gradual release to a three time a week check-in for two weeks.
  • A once a week check-in
  • Or released back into the larger pool, which means a check-in every 3 to 4 weeks depending on what we have going on.

Once again the child and I discuss and decide together. So why bother with this? Beyond the obvious of all kids deserving as much as one-to-one time as possible in our limited time with them, you also uncover so much of what is really going on in their reading lives and what they may need to move further in it. From recognizing that some kids simply forget to bring books home – we have plans in place for that – to not knowing how to fit reading into their lives – we have a plan for that – to still not being able to find books they actually like, having a few minutes every day can get them steered back on course in a way that wouldn’t happen unless you had more time.

While I wish I had time to discuss reading with every child, every day, I don’t, but this takes me one step closer to connecting with all the kids, to helping all the kids. It is not anything flashy. It is not anything brand-new, but it works, much like we know it works. Perhaps the idea can work for others as well?

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, books, kids, Reading, Reading Identity

A High Five For All Of Us

I’m on the road again. February seems to have been a long list of travel. Of packing up the suitcase and saying goodbye to those at home, to the kids in my classroom. Sometimes that is the reality of what I do. It is hard, but worth it.

This week has been one filled with the worry that you get when one of your own children is sick. When they are up for hours at night with a fever so high you think your thermometer is broken as you call the doctor in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation and the end of February in Wisconsin is a bundle not for the weak.

So I packed a book for my flight tonight, after all, the stack of to-be-reads is overflowing. A new book by my friend, Phil Bildner, that even though it definitely was about baseball and I still don’t understand baseball despite my 21 years in America, looked like it would offer me a world that I could sit in for a while and forget about the now two sick children at home, nestled securely in the care of my husband.

And I read, and then I finished the last page, and then tears came, because this book, A High Five for Glenn Burke, is yet another book we have so desperately needed. That our students so desperately need. They they deserve. That I fear will be ghosted by some educators or school districts because it is about a boy who loves baseball above everything else but is also finding the courage to share what he has known for while; that he is gay and he worries how the world will handle his truth and his heart as he bares it all. And this book is written for our middle grade kids. The kids that so often do not get to see themselves represented in our books because a long time ago someone deemed that anything that has to do with sexual identity or gender is “too mature” for ten-year-olds or younger.

I had tears for the kids who tell me their parents don’t understand. And I worry for the kids who tell me that their libraries don’t carry these books because they go against their “values.” And I get angry at the adults who stand in the way on purpose of these books being placed in the hands of children. Children who so deserve to be seen and heard and loved and protected because the world is already cruel enough.

So I write this post to not just highlight the incredible masterpiece that is Phil Bildner’s new book, but for us, the adults, in the lives of these children to understand just how much it matters for our kids to be seen. How much they hope to be represented in our libraries, in our classrooms, in our curriculum, in our teaching staff. That some kids don’t get to be accepted at home so they hope that school is the place where they will be. That some kids face hatred before they come into our rooms and hope that with us they will be accepted for whoever they are, wherever they are on their journey. And they hope but it doesn’t always happen and soon they learn to hide that part of themselves, because it is safer to live half-hidden than be known for all that they are.

So we can say that we value all kids. That our school strives for success for all. That we have high expectations and support for all. But it is a lie when we gatekeep our libraries. When we don’t ban outright but simply never purchase. When we shield ourselves behind doctrines that do not follow one of the biggest doctrines of them all; love others as you love yourself.

Sometimes love comes in the words that we share. Sometimes in the treats. The smiles. The opportunities that we provide after we plan lessons long past our bedtime. But love also comes in the books that we place on our shelves. The ones we talk about. The ones we make a part of our curriculum and ask all of the kids to read, to hear, so that they too can know about each other and so that every child, no matter who they are, will know that with you they are safe because you showed them a book that was about them.

Because your actions will always speak louder than your words.

You should buy, read, and share Phil Bildner’s A High Five for Glenn Burke and many more LGBTQIA+ books, it’s the least we can do.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

books, Literacy, Reading

A Few Favorite Books from Our Classroom for Teens Who Say They Can’t Find a Great Book

One of the many benefits there is from being an educator who reads a lot is that I get to create many different reading lists in my head. From the child that asks me to find another book just like the one they just read, to the colleague who needs some books to take their mind off of bigger things, to the child who tells me that they have never liked a single book, there are lists in my head with ideas. These lists grow as I read, study what our kids are reading, and also get to know our readers better.

One of my most used list from my head is for the last group of kids, the kids that come to us saying that all books are boring. That all books they have tried are only okay or not worth their time. Who read a book only because they have to or fake read hoping we won’t notice. Those books are in high demand.

There are a few trends with many of the books that help kids find value in reading again. Many are free-verse or novels in verse, many have mature topics discussed throughout, many are shorter. In fact, I would say that the world needs even more of these books – books with mature, complex storylines that are around 200-250 pages, especially those written by #OwnVoices authors.

So which books make the list at the moment for our readers? Here are a few suggestions…

I have loved book talking Torrey Maldonado’s Tight to my students because you can see them get interested quickly once I share the book. After all, how many of my students can relate to the idea of trying to navigate demands from friendships without losing yourself.

I rejoiced loudly at the news that Nic Stone wrote a middle grade novel. Students love both Dear Martin and Jackpot but for some of my students they need a little more accessible language, which Nic so seamlessly delivers in this Clean Getaway, her new middle-grade novel without sacrificing the complexity of the story.

Another book that has been replaced multiple times is The Rose that Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur. I love when students discover this book because they so often check with me to see if this is “The Tupac” or some other guy.

I book talked Standing Strong by Gary Robinson last week and it had an immediate wait list. I can’t wait to see what the students think once they have read it.

Free-verse continues to reign supreme for many of our students and this new addition Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai has been gaining attention since I book-talked it a month ago.

I cannot wait to book talk Manning Up by Bee Walsh this week. It has a few common patterns that seems to do well in our classroom; it’s free verse, it is action packed, it is more mature, and it is about sports.

We have continued our discussions about influences, bias, and what causes us to do what we do throughout the year and so I book talked The Wave by Todd Strasser and the book has furiously made the rounds. It’s short, accessible, and a riveting read as we see just how frightfully easy it is to manipulate others.

I have lost of how many kids have read Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee.

Yummy – The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke

I have replaced Yummy more times than I can count because it is one of those books where once I book talk, I tend to not see it again. One kid book talked it repeatedly as he tried to convince other us its rightful place in their reading lives.

One of our newer additions to must-read books has been Warcross by Marie Lu. This book is featured in our dystopian book club work and is a book that kids love for its fast pace and mystery.

If there is a book that defines our time together it is this masterpiece by Jason Reynolds. Long Way Down continues to be one of our most worn-out, passed around, talked about books more than a year after its release. I have lost count of how many readers have asked for books just like this after they finish its pages.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is the second most read book series in our classroom, and for the kids who are not quite ready to decode its many pages, the audio version beckons. With its complicated plot lines, incredible world building, and suspense, I am in awe of the talent that is Neal Shusterman and how he never underestimates our readers.

Eleven by Tom Rogers about 9/11 is a book that I book talk on the anniversary of the attacks and I see it passed from child to child. The kids I teach now were born after the attacks and long for books that can help them understand what happens. With its dual narrators, the book is fast paced yet accessible for many.

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines is one of the more mature books in our classroom, but without fail it is one of the most read series we have. With its focus on football, small town, tragedy, and relationships, it pulls readers in from many walks of life.

Also more mature, the poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace is one that especially many of my 7th graders who have not found value in reading gravitate toward. I book talk it individually as well as to the class.

I have seen The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey dismissed more times than I can count by adults who deem it too easy for our readers, and yet, this series has single handedly transformed at least three readers’ lives in our classroom over the years. Why someone would dismiss a great series that a child wants to read continues to baffle me.

The Crossover – Graphic Novel Adaptation by Kwame Alexander and Dawud Anyabwile Even if a child has read The Crossover (which is also on this list), they still get so excited to see the graphic novel adaptation.

Handed Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren to one of my hockey players and she could not put it down.  Her word of mouth recommendation means that it is flying through the classroom, and kids who told me they hate reading are devouring it.

Image result for hey kiddo

Kids cannot believe that this is a graphic novel.  With its unflinching look at how addiction shaped his life and his talents, Hey, Kiddo by Jarret J. Krosoczka is flying through the room.

“Mrs. Ripp, I only want to read books like this one…” so said one of my most resistant readers this year, and it happens every year.  Jordan Sonnenblick’s Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pies is one of those books I can count on to be a great reading experience for almost every child I hand it to.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone is one of those books that takes you by the heart and then twists it painfully.  Unyielding in its honesty, this book stays with you long after the last page.

What happens when the alpha bully at a middle school hits his head and forgets everything about himself?  I think so many of my students can connect with Gordon Korman’s Restart for many different reasons.  It is fast-paced and Chases’ dilemma makes you want to read on; will he go back to how he was?

Also by Jason Reynolds, Miles Morales – Spiderman is the first full-length novel that features the comic book character Miles Morales as Spiderman.  Need I say more?

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt has hands-down been the biggest game changer for a lot of my readers.  I have 7 copies circulating and none of them sit on the shelf for more than a day.  We have it on Audible as well for students who prefer to listen to their books.

 Rhyme Schemer also by K.A. Holt is about a bully who becomes the victim.  I love how students relate to this story and often see this passed from kid to kid.

Who would think that our most resistant readers start to fall in love with reading through free verse?  What Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover has done for our reading life cannot be underestimated.  I have already had to replace my copies of this book this year and students are eagerly awaiting Booked on it’s arrival date of April 5th.

Reality Boy by A.S.King may have a very angry protagonist but I think the anger and “realness” of the books is what draws readers to it.  This is another book that is often recommended from student to student.

Another free verse book, this one is House Arrest by K.A. Holt has been making the rounds as well.  The discussions in class that this book leads to are powerful for many students.

When a resistant reader recommended this book to me I knew it had staying power in our classroom.  Carl Deuker’s Gym Candy is not your typical sports book and I think that is why it has been so popular with many resistant readers.  It is a little bit raw and a little bit unresolved, a perfect choice for many of my more picky readers.

Another Jason Reynolds book, Ghost is book one in the Track series and left my students wanting to read the next book, Patina, right away.  Easily accessible langueg with a relatable character who does not have the easiest life, this was a book many kids declared as a favorite.  

Boost by Kathy Mackel was book talked last week and has not been in my classroom since, quickly passing hands from student to student.

For the first time ever, I used We Were Liars by e.lockhart (Emily Jenkins’ pen name for her YA books) and I was not disappointed.  It was clear that my group of readers quickly became absorbed as they begged for just one more minute of reading time.

It can come as no surprise that Monster by Walter Dean Meyers is a book many readers gravitate to.  I have loved the reflections and thoughtful dialogue that this book creates but even more so how many students have recommended to each other.

What are your must adds/must-reads that you pull out for the kids who say they can’t find a great book?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.