The 7th Grade Book Challenge Revisited

33% of my 118 7th graders told me they had not read a single book last summer.  That books were just not their thing or they were simply too busy.  33%…Many of them told me they had read the book club books they had been assigned the year before but not that much else.  Some told me they had fake read most of their way through years prior, averaging 1 to 2 books a year if even.  Some told me how much they loved books, that their summers were spent with their nose in pages because what else would you do when you have all of the time in the world

Teaching 7th graders has taught me many things, but one of the biggest is the incredible need to inspire a larger love of reading in more of their lives.  Not because teachers before them haven’t, but because for some reason it hasn’t completely stuck for all of them. So that becomes our mission; for the students to fall in love with reading or at the very least hate it less.

When I read the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, it significantly changed my reading instruction as a teacher.  Coupled with other landmark books for me such as The Daily Five by The Two Sisters, and also Mosaic of Thought by Elin Keene and Susan Zimmerman, I finally felt like I had a path I could follow when it came to the aspiration of reading.  It was as if I did not know how high of expectations I could hold my students to until after I read these books.  Donalyn’s 40 Book Challenge became a central tenet of my instruction, not as a requirement, but as a way for my students to challenge themselves.  While I made tweaks because that is what reflective teachers do, I stayed true to its original intent; to challenge my students to read voraciously, based on the research that Donalyn cites in her book that kids who score in the 90th percentile of reading tests read between 30-40 books a year.  I did not offer incentives.  I did not do logs.  I did not tell my less developed readers that their goals should be less because there was no way they could accomplish 40 books.  I asked them to shoot for 40 or more and then helped them reach their goals by giving them time to read, time to book shop, and support as they needed.  Some kids made their goals, others did not, but they all read more than they had before.

I knew that when I moved to 7th grade I wanted to do the 40 Book Challenge but I was also faced with the incredible limitation of 45-minute instructional blocks.  45 minutes to do everything.  45 minutes that only allowed me to give them 10 measly minutes of reading, rather than the 30 we had enjoyed in 5th grade.  After my first week with my 7th graders, I decided to change the language of the challenge in the beginning to 25 books rather than the 40, not because I did not believe that my 7th graders could not read 40 books, but because for some, simply saying 40 in the beginning seemed completely un-doable, especially because I could only give them 10 minutes of reading time every day.  However, if I had 60 minutes or more, I would still start with 40 books, after all with that amount of time kids should be given at least 20 minutes of reading every day.  But the idea remained; this was a challenge, something to strive for, something to work toward, and something that I believe all of my students can reach if we help them have successful reading experiences.

It appears that some believe that because I have called this the 25 book challenge in the past that that means I want my students to only read 25 books.  That somehow the original 40 book challenge is too hard for kids.  Neither of these statements are true.  All kids should be challenged to read 40 books or more.  I believe all of my students can read more than 25 books, my job is often to help them believe it too.  But just as in the original, it is not really about reaching the quantity set, it is about having incredible reading experiences.

As the year goes on we, therefore, adjust our goal, some continue to focus on the quantity while others change their focus either to different genres, harder vocabulary or even formats that they have not dabbled in before.  While some kids continue to focus on quantity, and for them we do the following breakdown for how books count, for others the challenge morphs into figuring out how they can push themselves as readers beyond a quantity standpoint.  (To see more about this read about the reading identity challenge).

  • Books under 200 pages count as 1 book
  • Books over 200 pages count as 2 books
  • Books over 500 pages count as 3 books
  • Books more than 750 – see the teacher
  • Depending on its size a graphic novel may count as a whole, half or quarter of a book.
  • 10 of the books have to be chapter books
  • If this goal is not high enough for a learner, they set a higher goal
  • They write down their titles in a reader’s notebook we keep at school and update it every Monday or whenever needed.

To see the hand out I give my students, please go here 

I do not ask them to read certain genres but instead take this as an opportunity for them to explore themselves as readers and figure out what they love to read.  I constantly book talk books, as do they once we get rolling, and I am constantly sharing recommendations to individual students.  We practice free book abandonment, making sure that the books we read are books we actually want to read, and we book shop monthly if not more.  Our to-be-read lists are extensions of our reading life and are used weekly, if not daily.

After three years with 7th-grade book challenge, I can tell you, it works.  I am not surprised, after all, Donalyn Miller and her ideas have never let me down.  While not all kids reach their goals, many do, and many of those who did, never thought they would.  Yet the biggest success is not just the kids that reach their goal but within the kids that don’t.  As one child told me on his reading survey, “…I even read a book at home for fun, I had never done that before.”   That child’s number?  Five more than the year before.  Five more great books that he loved so much he book talked them to others.  Books that gave him such a great experience that he continues to chase that feeling again.

I will not pretend that it worked for everyone, there are always kids that issuing a challenge will not work for, where what we did together was not enough, but there are so many that it made a difference for.  Where the expectation to read every single day and reach a certain goal that mattered to them meant that they turned up their reading, that they selected their books more carefully, that they spent a longer stretch reading then they normally would have.

So for the 118 7th graders that I teach, I am so grateful that they believed me when I told then, “Yes, you can read more books.”  But do not take my word for it; let these pictures show you what it looks like when 7th graders read and become readers.  Let these pictures show you that yes we can get kids at this age to read, that just because a child is going through huge personal development reading does not have to become not lost.  What matters is the reading community we create.  And the high expectations we have for all of our kids.  27166703430_98b5a337ba_o26835817253_48478693c8_o27344117862_70e104318d_o27443368625_dc2b4b5b2b_o27344097252_2fe674e6bd_o

And in case you are wondering, that is 4,357.5 books.  Not bad for how many kids told me that reading was not something they felt like doing.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

My Favorite Reads Summer 2017

While it feels like my to-be-read pile has not shrunk, looking back at my Goodreads, I can see that I did manage to read quite a few books.  And while almost all were good, a few stood out.

My students have loved The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson for a long time and for some reason I had never cracked it open myself.  That was a mistake.  What a fun middle grade read this was!

From Goodreads:

Saving the school — one con at a time.

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz…. But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair — loser of the Blitz — announces he’s running for school president, against Jackson’s former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn’t talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won’t welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has “connections” to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn’t the only thing he wants to win.

How do you tell others to read a book about child abuse knowing that it will probably make them cry?  You just do.  The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott comes out October 17th and is a must add for middle school classrooms and up.  While the topic may be harrowing this is one of those books that could actually save a life.

From Goodreads:

Owen and his best friend, Sean, are both eleven years old. They’ve lived on Cape Cod all their lives, and now that they’re a little older, they’ll finally be free to spend some time on their own. But Sean’s mother has a different idea–she hires a babysitter to look after Sean. Paul is in his twenties, and a well-liked guy from church.

Paul starts doing things that just feel wrong. Because they’ve always been as close as brothers, Sean tells Owen, and no one else. What’s not certain to Owen is what he should do. Sean warns him not to tell anyone what is happening. But if Owen doesn’t tell, could something even worse happen to Sean?

A page-turner that starts from the back and moves forward kept me riveted while on vacation.  While perhaps not the most original story, I know that Genuine Fraud will entice many of my students.  Middle school and up.

From Goodreads:

The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Elly Swartz is quickly becoming a trusted author for me.  Her first book, Finding Perfect, was a Global Read Aloud finalist and Smart Cookie is another amazing middle grade read.  Out in January, 2018.

From Goodreads:

Frankie knows she’ll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she’s determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie’s is missing a piece.

But Operation Mom is harder to pull off than Frankie expects. None of the Possibles are very momish, the B&B’s guests keep canceling, Frankie’s getting the silent treatment from her once best friend, and there’s a maybe-ghost hanging around. Worst of all, Gram and Dad are definitely hiding secrets of their own.

If a smart cookie like Frankie wants to save the B&B and find her missing piece, she’s going to have to figure out what secrets are worth keeping and when it’s time to let go.

I have tweeted repeatedly about Miles Morales, Jason Reynold’s foray into the Marvel universe.  Not only is it Spiderman, but it also has some pretty important messages for its readers about how we view others.  Middle Grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He’s even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he’s Spider Man.

But lately, Miles’s spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren’t meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad’s advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can’t shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher’s lectures on the historical “benefits” of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It’s time for Miles to suit up.

A book about periods?  Yup!  Well written, humorous and very informational, how many girls wish we had books like this in our libraries when they first enter puberty? Helloflo, The Guide, Period is out October 17th.

From Goodreads:

Honest, funny, and unafraid of the messy, real-life facts about a girl’s changing body, this is definitely not your mother’s puberty book. HelloFlo founder Naama Bloom’s mission is to create informed, empowered young women who are unafraid to ask questions and make the best choices for themselves and their bodies. A celebration of women’s bodies and all the confusing, uncomfortable, silly, transformative, and powerful changes that occur during puberty.

Refugee by Alan Gratz is one of my three must-read books for 2017.  It was a bad idea reading this on an airplane, as this book kicks you right in the heart.  5th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

JOSEF is a Jewish boy living in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world . . .

ISABEL is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety in America . . .

MAHMOUD is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe . . .

All three kids go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers — from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, their stories will tie together in the end.

A book about growing up in the 80’s with the threat of nuclear war hanging over you, about figuring out how two seemingly different cultures fit into you, about figuring out your friends and who you want to be.  I loved This is Just a Test, great for middle-grade and up.

From Goodreads:

David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy.

That includes his friend Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate — and David’s best friend — Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turns south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems.

I think we can all agree that Kwame Alexander is a living master when it comes to the free verse form and Solo, his newest book, is more proof.  Immerse yourself in the music as you read for a deeper reading experience. 7th grade and up.

From Goodreads:
Solo, a YA novel in poetic verse, tells the story of seventeen-year-old Blade Morrison, whose life is bombarded with scathing tabloids and a father struggling with just about every addiction under the sun—including a desperate desire to make a comeback. Haunted by memories of his mother and his family’s ruin, Blade’s only hope is in the forbidden love of his girlfriend. But when he discovers a deeply protected family secret, Blade sets out on a journey across the globe that will change everything he thought to be true.

A moving story of death, of friendship, of figuring out what is right, and also about one’s identity, All Three Stooges by Erica S. Perl comes out in January 2018 and is well-worth your pre-order.  4th or 5th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Spoiler alert: This book is not about the Three Stooges. It’s about Noah and Dash, two seventh graders who are best friends and comedy junkies. That is, they were best friends, until Dash’s father died suddenly and Dash shut Noah out. Which Noah deserved, according to Noa, the girl who, annoyingly, shares both his name and his bar mitzvah day.

Now Noah’s confusion, frustration, and determination to get through to Dash are threatening to destroy more than just their friendship. But what choice does he have? As Noah sees it, sometimes you need to risk losing everything, even your sense of humor, to prove that gone doesn’t have to mean “gone for good.”

The much-anticipated release Wishtree from Katherine Applegate lives up to all of the hype.  Sparse, beautiful, and told from the perspective of the tree in the backyard, life around this tree unfolds in an unexpected way.  Out September 26th, 4th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

I don’t know how I have been a teacher and never read a Gordon Korman book before?  I am so glad that has now been remedied with Restart.  This middle-grade book is sure to pull in those kids who identify as not liking reading and is also a Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.

From Goodreads:

Chase’s memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn’t remember falling off the roof. He doesn’t remember hitting his head. He doesn’t, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he’s Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it’s not only a question of who Chase is–it’s a question of who he was . . . and who he’s going to be.

But what if your dream is not to be adopted but instead to find your mother and make her see all that she is missing?  Three Pennies, Global Read Aloud 2018 contender, explores just that.  4th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

For a kid bouncing from foster home to foster home, The Book of Changes is the perfect companion. That’s why Marin carries three pennies and a pocket-sized I Ching with her everywhere she goes. Yet when everything in her life suddenly starts changing—when Marin lands in a foster home that feels like somewhere she could stay, maybe forever—the pennies don’t have any answers for her.

Marin is positive that all the wrongs in her life will be made right if only she can find her birth mother and convince her that they belong together. Marin is close, oh so close—until she gets some unwelcome news and her resolve, like the uneasy Earth far beneath the city of San Francisco, is shaken.

Thea and I devoured A Tale of Two Kitties in one day and then laughed for a long time.  Dav Pilkey is a master, enough said.

From Goodreads:

He was the best of dogs… He was the worst of dogs… It was the age of invention… It was the season of surprise… It was the eve of supa sadness… It was the dawn of hope… Dog Man, the newest hero from the creator of Captain Underpants, hasn’t always been a paws-itive addition to the police force. While he can muzzle miscreants, he tends to leave a slick of slobber in his wake! This time, Petey the cat’s dragged in a tiny bit of trouble — a double in the form of a super-cute kitten. Dog Man will have to work twice as hard to bust these furballs and remain top dog!

If this post was a list in order of favorites, Dear Martin by Nic Stone would be at the top.  In fact, this begs for a re-read as I want to continue to think about this book, another Global Read Aloud 2018 contender.  7th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.

All’s Faire in Middle School hit on so many realistic middle school scenarios that I found myself cringing at times.  Oh to go back to that time of trying to fit in, of figuring out who you are, and all of the mistakes you make in the process. 4th grade and up.

From Goodreads:

Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind–she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.

A book about a boy who loves a skunk and will do anything in his power to keep it.  A book about a boy who just happens to seem different than others but without being about that.  A Boy Called Bat is another Global Read Aloud contender for 2018, 3rd grade and up.

From Goodreads:

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Masterful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and stays with you long after that last page.  Long Way Down is another absolute must-read of 2017.  Global Read Aloud contender 2018, 7th grade and up, out October 17th.

From Goodreads:

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Kate Messner is a master story-teller and she does not disappoint in her newest chapter book, The Exact Location of Home.  I ached for the longing of Zig as he searches for his father. 4th grade and up but definitely for middle school as well.

From Goodreads:

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

There you have it, what a fantastic summer of reading it has been!

When We Make a Child a Level

Pardon my passion for a moment, but a few things need to be said.

When we make a child a level we diminish the entire child. Levels tell a child that they are not worth us getting to know them.  That we don’t have time to take the time we need to help them better.  That their entire reading identity is the same as every other child that is at that level.

When we make a child a level, a letter, or a number, we are telling them that that is all they need to know.  That that is all we need to know.  That they do not know how to shop for books, that they can rely only on outsiders who have determined what is best for them.  Thet their level speaks for them and that our conversations need to be about comprehension and skills, rather than who they are as readers.

When we make a child a level, we can teach more.  We can do more.  We can match kids up more easily.  We can rely on others to do the hard work of getting to know the very child that is in front of us and help them discover who they are as readers, as human beings.  And we can go home, lulling ourselves into thinking that we actually helped that child by telling them to only pick from certain levels of books because that is what the research told us to do.

But that is not what our reading instruction is only about.  It was never JUST about matching kids to text.  It was never JUST about finding the right fit book.  It was never JUST about 99% comprehension rates, good fit books, or the five finger rule.  It was never just about the quick solution or the short-term fix.  In our obsession with getting things done, we have forgotten that it takes time to develop a reader, it takes time to become a reader, it talkes trial and error, and it takes discovery.  Levels can take that away from us all.

It is about discovering why reading matters.  Why reading makes us better human beings.  Why they should leave our classrooms, our schools, and find more books so that they can continue to wonder, to search, and to feel something.

So when we make a child a level, ask yourself this; who is that level really helping because it sure isn’t the child in the long run.

PS:  I was quoted today in a discussion piece in School LIbrary Journal, about how leveling disempowers children, other smarter people are quoted as well.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

Are They Reading At Home?

But how do you know they are reading?  How do you know they read at home?  How do you know that what they are reading is worth their time?  Is challenging them?  Is what they should be reading?

These are the questions I am asked a lot.  These are also the questions I juggle myself.  Once those kids leave our classrooms, how do we know what they do at home?

We are so focused on data.  On proof.  And I get it; without proof of further reading, how will they ever get better?  And yet, the things we implement often lead to less reading, to less enjoyment, to future damage.  So why spend our time now, thinking of ways to hold kids accountable for their outside reading when we don’t even know the kids yet?  Why search for the one perfect way when choice and figuring out how we want to share our reading is vital for our reading identity development.

I used to use reading logs, after all, that parent signature certainly meant compliance.  Then I had kids of my own and I realized that I pretty much sign whatever it is that is sent home from school.  I also realized that the minute my kids had a log attached to it, the last thing they wanted to do was reading.  I gave up the reading logs to the cheers of my students who told me that they had been instrumental in wanting to read less.

So then I turned to reader’s notebooks.  Forced reflection after every read.  Five minutes of writing about your thoughts, your feelings, or one of the questions I had posed.  Five minutes to digest your reading, in silence.  Five minutes every day, until I heard the groans of my students.  Until they begged me to please stop.  So I stopped.  And I wondered, how then do I foster accountability in their outside reading lives when I know how important it is for kids to read?

And then I realized, that I can’t.  That there is truly little I can do the moment they leave room 235D.  That instead of worrying about how I will keep them accountable when they are not with me, that what I needed to focus on was what they were doing with me.  That the biggest component of our reading instruction has to be to foster the love or lessen the dislike of reading so that it might inspire further reading once they left the classroom.

Because as adults, we figure out how we want to reflect on our reading.  We read our books and then we make a choice; what do I want to do now?  The book itself seems to guide our decisions; there are some books that I have to write about because they change me in such a fundamental way.  There are some books I have to hand to others because I want them to have the same experience as I just did.  There are some books that I cannot wait to book talk, knowing that they will inspire more kids to read.  There are some I share on Instagram hoping that others will place them in their classroom.  And then are some that I read and I put aside and then do nothing with.

Sometimes when we read we do nothing.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t read, it just means that we had an experience we didn’t want to share.  Why not offer that as an option to our students too?

So I ask my students now to explore.  I give them time to discuss, more time is needed for sure, to book talk, to recommend.  Sometimes we write.  This year we will look at Flipgrid (I think) and use Instagram, and any other things that my students think may work for them.  And there will also be times where we do nothing.  Where the experience with the book was enough.  And for some kids their reading will incerase at home because they finally fid some books to love, while for others it will be a whole year goal.  Some will fight me on it, they do every year, and others will just need gentle nudging.

So perhaps our discussion should not be how do we hold kids accountable for their outside reading, but instead how do we create passionate reading environments in our schools?  How do we foster a need to read?  An interest that will carry through their days?

I am in this quest to create readers for a lifetime, not just for this year, and so I don’t need the false accountability that will end the moment they leave on the final day of school.  I do not need tools like AR quizzes, reading logs, or forced nightly reflections that they do not change their habits long-term.  I do not need to create more hoops for my students to jump through when it comes to reading; I need them to want to read.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

 

 

Great Picture Books to Inspire Hope in the World

It seems that these are dire times.  That hate, anger, and rage against others is more than the norm than ever.  I can tell you, going home to Denmark, many friends have asked me; what in the world is happening in America?  At times, it feels as if we are judged as a nation by the very loud actions of a few and so it comes down to the rest of us, those whose voices are for some reason not being heard to make sure that the America we know is one of love, of hope, of kindness.  A place where all can exist unafraid.  What better way to spread more kindness, love, and hope in the world with a few great picture books?

I wonder if there will ever be a time where I can read I Wish You More  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  (Author), Tom Lichtenheld  (Illustrator) without tearing up.  After all, Amy’s whole mission in life seemed to be to spread more love and happiness.  What better way to remind ourselves that this is what we should wish for everyone?
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson  (Author), E. B. Lewis (Illustrator) continues to be a needed book.  We must teach children that their actions, even their unkind ones, have repercussions and that we all play a part in how we make others feel.  While this book does not offer up a happy ending, in my eyes, it offers up the perfect one.

My favorite Peter H. Reynolds book, which says a lot, is The North Star.  We follow the journey of a boy who goes on a windy path to get to where he needs to be.  I end every single year with a read aloud of this book because my students are on a journey that is just beginning, even if the future seems a bit unknown and sometimes scary.

Originally published in 1993, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is about to be reprinted in 2018 for its 25 year anniversary.  What a powerful picture book written by Maya Angelou using paintings by Jean Michel Basquiat to remind us to face our own fears.

When we learn about what others have accomplished and overcome sometimes our own troubles do not seem as scary.  I love Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics 
At times, the biggest reminder we need to not feel afraid is to be in the very moment we are in.  Now by Antoinette Portis is magnificent in its simplicity and powerful reminder of mindfulness, quiet, and patience.

 

 

While not out until February 2018, I wish Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill would be the very first read aloud in every single classroom.  We are so quick to tell children to be kind, but do they really know what that means?

Sometimes our best-laid plans and biggest dreams don’t turn out the way we had anticipated, so then what do we do.   In We’ll Paint the Octopus Red 

 

 

How can you find hope in a picture book about death?  In the Danish picture book Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved (Author), Charlotte Pardi (Illustrator), Robert Moulthrop (Translator) they manage to do just that.  While death is inevitable, how we feel about it is a choice.
Have we forgotten how to be united as a nation?  Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass  (Author), E.B. Lewis (Illustrator) shares a remarkable story that would be a great reminder to many.

 

Be a Friend by  Salina Yoon reminds us all to see past the obvious when looking for a friend.  After all, who doesn’t hope to meet joy?

 

While it is certain that all of Kathryn Otoshi’s books could be on this list, my favorite is One.  The book reminds us of what the power of one can do in the face of adversity.

 

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald  (Author), Freya Blackwood (Illustrator) reminds us of the power of familiarity even when everything seems new and scary.  It is also a beautiful tale of friendship and reaching out to others.  

 

Sometimes the world is so scary that all we want to do is shut the door and protect our hearts.  The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers reminds us to not do that but to keep on loving even when we are afraid of our hearts breaking.

 

We are one, even when we are split, even when we are hurting, even when others seem hell-bent on splitting us apart.  One Today by Richard Blanco  (Author), Dav Pilkey (Illustrator) is the beautiful poem from President Obama’s second inauguration is the commemoration of the dreams so many of us carry for the United States.

 

A few great picture books to bring back hope, and love, and kindness.  What are your favorites? To see all of our favorite books, go here.

 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

They Don’t Just Need to Find the Right Book…

She tells me, ” I just don’t like reading, Mrs. Ripp, and I am okay with that…”

I turn to her about to say the line we all have said, (can you say it with me?), but before I open my mouth, she interrupts…

“And please don’t tell me I just need to find the right book because that’s what they all say…”  and with that, she walks away.

Her words follow me home and now two years later still ruminate.  I was about to say it, I have said it, and I probably will say it again, and yet she is right, of course.  How many times have we told a child that they “just” need to find that right book?  How many times have we told a child that reading will make complete sense once they find the right book?  As if there is one single book that they just need to find and then everything will fall into place.  One that book is found then the magic of reading will all of a sudden unfold around them and they will all be readers after all?

How easy this is to say to a child when they tell us their reading truths and yet have we really thought about what we are telling them?

When we tell a child that they “just” need to find that one right book we dismiss much of their reading identity without even knowing it.

When we tell a child that they “just” need to find that one right book we dismiss all of the reading they have done to that point.

When we tell a child that they “just” need to find that one right book we dismiss the work that goes into reading for many of our students and all of the work they have put into becoming readers.

Sure, it is a hopeful statement, especially if you have the memory of that one book that made the biggest difference to you.  But what about the child that tries every single day to read and it still doesn’t make sense?  What about the child that did find that book but then was not able to find another one?

Because the thing is with helping students become readers who like to read, it is not about just finding one book.  It is about finding one book they love and then finding the next one, and then the next.    That doesn’t simply happen no matter what we tell kids.  It takes work, patience, persistence, and even some luck at times.  It takes conversations and questions and hope for every child.  It takes relationship and communication.  Honesty and even frustration.  It takes you knowing a child and a child knowing themselves.     Because while one great book can be just a fluke two great books are harder to dismiss.  It is about helping them find these books on their own.  about figuring out who they are.  About validating all of the experiences they have had with reading so far and either protecting the positive or changing the negative.

And so before we let the words roll off our tongue so easily, stop for a moment and think; what is it we really mean when we say “just find the right book?”  Because it is not just the book they need, it is the time, the skill, the motivation, and the dedication.  And while it starts with a great book it does not end there, even in the best of circumstances.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.