In It For the Long Game

It’s been four weeks since I have had a chance to discuss his reading one on one.  Four weeks since he decided to abandon the first book he had started after he was only 60 pages in and it had been more than three weeks of reading every day.  Four weeks since I got to have more than a surface level conversation about his reading life and I cannot wait to see what he says.

He tells me his goal is to read more, a goal I hear quite often in 7th grade.  I ask him to tell me more, why this goal, how is it going.  he grins and says, not so well, he really isn’t reading much.

I ask him about his book but that’s not it, he likes it a lot.  Then what is it?  He says, like so many kids before him, “I just don’t like to read…”

We finish our conversation and he pledges to try to find some time outside of class to get further.  After all, he has yet to actually finish a book this year.  I pledge to check in more often, even just a short visit, just to see if his new laid plans are working out.

He returns to his book and I return to the next child waiting to tell me about their reading life.

How often does this moment play out in our schools?  How often have we met those kids that tell us that they just don’t like reading and we feel the end of the year rushing toward us as if we, too, will fail in helping these kids create positive reading identities?

How often do we question the very practices we know kids need to become readers; time, access, choice, and community?

How often do we feel like we must be the teachers that cannot crack the code of this child and that all is already lost?

But before we despair.

Before we punish.

Before we tighten the reins.

Before we add more steps, more logs, more comprehension worksheets.

Before we think of what else we need to keep them accountable.

Take a moment and realize that we are in this for the long game.

That a child not liking reading even after we have been their teacher for almost two months does not mean that we have failed.  It does not mean that they have failed either.

It means that we are working on it.

That we celebrate the honesty when a child dares to tell us that they don’t like reading, and no, they are not reading outside of school.

That we thank them for the information and then ask them what they plan on doing with it.

That we remind them that reading matters and that we hope that they will find a way to make it matter to them.

We are not in this reading game to get them reading just this year.  We are in it to get them reading for life.

So before we change the approach of giving kids choice in books, time to read, access to books, and a community to read with, remember to have some patience.

Patience to remember that creating new habits takes time.

Patience to remember that it often takes many books to see yourself as an established reader.

Patience to remember that it often takes many conversations, many opportunities, many check-ins and walk-aways to really help a child find themselves as a reader.

And then when we question our own practices that we thought would work for every child, we remember that we may be up against years of unestablished reading habits and that just a few short months with us is not enough.  That sometimes we are just the tourniquet that stops the flow of hatred of reading and that it won’t be until later years that a child finds themselves within the pages of a book and cannot imagine coming back out.

So give yourself credit for the successes you see in your reading communities.  Give yourself credit for the books being shared.  For the joy being created.  And give yourself credit for having unlimited patience, especially for the child that tells you once again that they just don’t like reading.  Not yet, anyway.

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.

 

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Cover Reveal: Albie Newton by Josh Funk and Some Very Exciting News

I first properly met Josh Funk when he bought me a cup of tea in a convention center in Boston for ILA.  Properly because we had actually met at NerdCamp but had not had much time together.  So in a crowded hallway, we sat down to talk picture books, writing, and what it means to work with kids and try to make the world better.  Had I known that I would make a friend that day I would have made him buy me a donut (chocolate with sprinkles, please).

That day Josh told me of his latest picture book, he was still writing it and was wondering out loud about how characters would react to a child that perhaps didn’t see the wrong in his ways.  We laughed about the perfect endings we both wished for all of our children and realized that the not so perfect endings are sometimes what makes books so amazing and also life so hard.  I spoke of one student who right away reminded me of Albie Newton and how I wished that he would be a part of a world where his set ways were seen as strengths rather than an oddity.

More than a year later and that picture book we talked about is ready to have its cover revealed.  When Josh asked me if I would do the honor, there was no other answer than yes.  After all, this would perfectly coincide with another announcement I had planned; Josh Funk is a contender for Global Read Aloud 2018!  His books are some of my 7th graders’ favorites, as well as my own childrens’, and will be perfect for sparking conversations around the world.    I have wanted to tell him for some time but thought a little surprise would be better.

So surprise, Josh, thank you for trusting me to reveal Albie Newton to the world.

Who is Albie Newton?

A clever scientist?

A brilliant artist?

A mischief-maker?

On the surface, it might seem like ALBIE NEWTON is a cute little story about a boy’s first day at school and how he attempts to make friends (and fails with hilarity), but everything eventually works out in the end. Hopefully, you’ll revel in the adorable illustrations created by Ester Garay. And I certainly want you to laugh at the silly STEAM-related situations in which Albie finds himself. For example:

Arjun ate his snack and finished Albie’s cleanup duties,

while Albie built a science lab and found a cure for cooties.

But there’s a deeper level; one I really struggled with getting right. And Pernille Ripp helped me realize exactly who Albie was and how to keep his character true.

We talk about the need for windows and mirrors. I believe Albie will be a mirror for some kids who often don’t get to see themselves in everyday, non-”issue” related stories.

Let me back up. One of the very first lessons you learn as a picture book writer is this:

The main character must solve the problem on their own – and learn a lesson in the process.

It’s a basic picture book paradigm – flip through pretty much any picture book and you’ll see what I mean. And this generally makes sense. Stories are far more satisfying if the main characters figure out how to solve their own problems. It’s less satisfying if a parent or teacher solves the problem and didactically explains the lesson.

But as an educator, you’ve likely encountered some students who, in certain social situations, have difficulty solving their own problems. And in some of those cases, kids may not even notice that they’ve caused problems … until it’s too late.

Back to Albie’s story, on his first day of school, he ends up unintentionally and unknowingly alienating his classmates one by one on each and every page of the book. As the tension rises and his classmates’ anger reaches a boiling point, Albie is still unaware he’s caused a conflict.

And then, I had my own conflict: How do I end this book?

Does Albie solve the problem himself? Does he apologize? Does he learn a lesson? That was the textbook answer according to the “Picture Book Paradigm”.

But I knew Albie’s character. He wouldn’t apologize on his own. I didn’t even believe he would change throughout the story. Would this be a satisfying ending for the reader? Would it be believable? After several phone calls and emails with my agent AND editor about this very topic, a decision had to made. Deadlines loomed. The illustrator was already hard at work.

And there I was, having coffee on a bench at the Hynes Convention Center for ILA 2016 in Boston explaining my struggle to Pernille Ripp. If you’ve read Pernille’s writing (and I’m assuming you have because this is her site, after all), you’ll know she’s got passionate opinions. And that day she didn’t disappoint.

Pernille said that she’d had students like Albie. And sometimes social interactions are incredibly challenging, to say the least. She adamantly said I needed to stick to my gut and have Albie NOT apologize or learn a cliché lesson. Because that’s how it would have been for many of the Albies she’s taught. And especially not because that’s just how picture books work.

Pernille’s encouragement gave me the confidence to keep Albie’s character the way I’d always intended – a mirror for those who need him to be one. And hopefully, Albie is a window for the rest of your students, who often have trouble interacting with and understanding the Albies of the world.

You might even say that Albie Newton isn’t really the main character of ALBIE NEWTON; the main character is everyone else in the class. And they’re the ones who learn that valuable lesson and come out of the story changed.

Without further ramblings, explanations, and ado, here is the cover of ALBIE NEWTON.

 

_Albie Newton.jpg

 

Thank you, Pernille, for hosting this cover reveal. And thank you for giving me the advice and confidence to make this book the way it needed to be.

ALBE NEWTON by Josh Funk, illustrated by Ester Garay, published by Sterling Children’s Books will be available everywhere on May 1, 2018.

Bio: Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books – such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission: Defrostable), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle (in conjunction with Girls Who Code), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!

 

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys __(naps)_____ during ___(rain storms)_____ and has always loved ___(doing his taxes)_______. He has played __(old and wise)_____ since age _(2)_ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __(goldfish)________.

For more information about Josh, visit www.joshfunkbooks.com or @joshfunkbooks on Twitter.

When We Punish Our Readers

Tomorrow my students will dig into their reading decisions over the past 6 weeks.  What have they read?  How much have they read?  What are they working on as readers?  Who have they shared books with? Are they growing or just being?

We do this in an effort for our kids to understand who they are as readers.  What they are doing well on and where they need to adjust.  They will figure out their comfortable reading rate.  They will see how much they should be reading on average in a week.  They will discuss the books they have read and those they have abandoned.  They will think, reflect, and set new goals.  I will mill around them, look at their reflection answers and support them any way I can.

Then they will share their reflections with those at home.

While many things will happen in tomorrow’s much too short lesson, there is a major thing that won’t.

Punishment.

For those kids who may not have read much, they will not lose privileges.

They will not be held back from recess.

They will not be punished into reading more in an effort to meet a goal set by me.

They will not be shamed.

They will not be separated from those where reading comes easy.

There will be no public dismissal of the kids whose reading lives are nor as established as others.

Why would there be?  How could we possible see positive change in those who are not reading, if we were to punish them?

Except in some schools, there are.

In some schools I see AR points, pages read, or books read used as a way to separate those who can and do read from those who can’t or won’t.  I see scores set by others determine how a child’s experience will be with reading in the future.

I see arbitrary measures shared with home as if the points from AR or another computerized test will truly tell the story of that child’s reading identity.

And I see punishment.  Privileges removed from the child who fails to meet their goal.  Reading rules implemented that instead of eliciting more positive reading experiences, completely undermine the entire experience.  And the kids stand idly by while we destroy their love of reading.

How has that ever been ok?  How have we ever agreed to this?  Have we lost our common sense when it comes to something as important as helping children become readers and remaining such?

So if you see this happening in your school, in your curriculum, to your child; I hope this post gives you courage.  I hope this post gives you pause.

We cannot punish children into reading.  We cannot make reading a punishment in itself.  We cannot let outside goals, set by us, determine what rights a child will have.

What we can do instead is support.  Is help.  Is create access to books and speak books with our students.  Give them time to read and have them do meaningful work.  Have them set goals that are meaningful to them and then help them accomplish them.  Help them reflect when they don’t.

We worry about helping children become readers but then fail to see our own hand in their unraveling.  Our kids deserve more than the punishment they get, why did we forget that?

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.

 

On Limiting Choice

Whenever I speak of choice and letting kids choose their own books, I am always met with skepticism from some.  Surely you mean choice for those who know how to select a book?  Or those who are at a certain reading level?  Or those who I know are reading?  I fear I disappoint people when I tell them no, when I say choice, I mean choice for all.

For the kids who do not know how to choose…yet

For the kids who do not know how to read well…yet

For the kids who are in intervention.

For the kids who may try to choose not to read.

For the kids who seem to always choose wrong.

They all need choice.

If we constantly limit choice in reading because we need kids to always be reading a just right book as determined by us, how will kids ever learn to self-select a book? As Greg McKeown writes; When we remove choice, we learn to be helpless.” We are teaching our kids to be helpless and always search for the adult, the level, the lexile, the whatever artificial thing to help them choose a book when we need them to start to trust themselves.

So I ask you this; when is it right for a child to choose their own book?

Is it when they are just beginning and they are just discovering the magic of reading?

Is it when they can actually decode and can, therefore, read words out loud?

Is it when they finally read chapter books, even if it is slow-moving?

Is it when they have finally reached their grade level as determined by a reading comprehension test?

When do we offer them choice?

Because I will tell you, if we do not offer choice until they have reached their grade level reading level, then we will have lost so many readers before then.

So we offer choice and we offer our support.  We help them figure out how to book shop and we use tools, such as reading data as PART of the support.  But we don’t tell them that they can only choose from a certain bin, or shelf, or letter level.  We don’t tell them that this is the only section for them.

Part of growing up is making mistakes.  It’s fighting through something.  It is figuring out what you need.  It is using the tools and resources that surround us so we can make our own decisions.

If we constantly limit choice because we believe we are doing kids a favor, we are limiting their chance to grow in the long-run.  So when I say choice, yes, I mean, make no mistake about it.

 

 

A Call for Common Sense Reading Instruction

It appears that in our quest to make sure students can comprehend what they read that we have lost our common sense.  That we have started listening much more to programs, politicians, and shoddy research than the very kids who the programs are happening to.  That we have pushed the ideas of teachers aside, of best practices, and solid pedagogy, and gotten so lost in the process that we turn to more experts to tell us what we used to know.

So it is time for a little reminder of what we know about best reading practices; those same ideas that my students have been reminding me of for years.  Those same ideas that the godfathers and godmothers of reading have been shouting loudly for years.

Choice matters.

And choice for all matters.  Not just for the kids who already know how to read well.  Not just for the kids that seem to be able to pick the right book almost every time.  Not just for the kids who already feel like readers.  Choice for the vulnerable, for the strugglers, for the resistant, for the kids who don’t think they will ever like reading, for whatever we deem to label a child that just not has blossomed as a reader just yet.  And real choice, not the pretend you have choice when I ask you to select from this one stack of books.

Time matters.

And not the time to do more stuff about reading, but actually read in class.  To plant the seeds of further reading as Allington discusses in his research.  To actually give them time to read within our school day before we make them do more with their reading.  How can we say that reading a great book is vital and then deny them the chance to do it right in our very own classrooms?  How do we find time to have them read in class, we, educators, stop speaking so much in class.

Perception matters.

How we view the abilities of our students directly influence the instructional choices we make.  When we perceive them as high-achieving and capable we give them freedom, more chances of creativity, and have better relationships.  When we are afraid that they will not be able to handle something, we restrict them, we tighten our control, we have them read less, do less meaningful work, and also have a more strained relationship with them.  Do you see all of your students as capable readers or just some of them?

Access matters.

We know children should be surrounded by books, and yet how much money is spent on other resources rather than books.  When I see 1 on 1 programs rolled out or other major tech initiatives, I always wonder if the same amount has been spent on books?  Not because I don’t support the technology, but because books aren’t often seen as investments.  I always wonder if there is a classroom library in every room.  Yes, we need fully staffed school libraries with certified librarians for all kids AND we also need classroom libraries in every single classroom.  In fact, research shows that students read 50-60 % more in classrooms that have libraries than in those without.

Representation matters.

And those classroom libraries need to represent the diverse society we live in.  We need to critically evaluate what we bring into our students’ reading lives, not because it always has to be classical reading but because we need great books for many readers.  That means we say yes to graphic novels, audio, comic books and other amazing formats of books.  That means that we search out and specifically purchase stories featuring a diversity of characters from #OwnVoices authors.  That means that we not just aware of who is represented, but also how they are represented.  And we constantly assess who is not represented in our classroom library.  We start small with our library collections and build them every month.

Reflection matters.

When we finish a book, what do most of us do?  I can tell you what most people don’t do – write about it.  And yet, what is one of the most common practices we have students do in our classrooms?  Those little jots, reflection pieces, reviews, and logs are making the very act of reading a chore.  Not for all but for some.  So why make all kids reflect after they have finished a book?  Why not give them choice?  Perhaps they want to do nothing, perhaps they want to book talk it, perhaps they want to share the book on social media, perhaps they want to write.  Let them discover what their reading identity tells them to do rather than follow a blanket rule.

Our knowledge of children’s literature matters.

If we are teaching readers then we should be reading their books.  Every time we read a children’s book we are able to speak another language with our students.  The books we recommend get read more, which also means that the book gaps we have (books we do not tend to read) dictate what we don’t recommend.  So read widely and proudly.  Read children’s literature as much as possible so that you can become a proper reading role model, not just because you said you are, but because you are able to speak books with the very kids you teach.

Trust matters.

When a child tells me that they read at home, I trust them.  Much like I trust them to work on reading outside of our class.  If I hand them a reading log to have parents sign, I am telling them that I don’t trust them when they share their reading decisions with me to quote Jessica Lifshitz.  For some that may take all year to achieve, for some, the habit never fully solidifies.  But we try every day as we offer up reminders of why reading more than just what is accomplished in class matters.

Personalization matters.

When we purchase the programs, when we make blanket decisions, when we force the same procedures on every child, we are telling them that we are too busy to get to know them.  That their unique reading identity needs to fit within this one box, no matter where they are on their journey.  That we would rather trust a program than trust the very kids we teach.  So use the program but keep your students in mind, detour when needed, and administrators, please tell your teachers to trust their experience rather than just follow a program to fidelity.  Give them time to wrestle with new ideas, new challenges, and new curriculum.  Trust those that are ready and support those that need it.  So much can depend on one great administrator.

You matter.

And so you must find the courage to speak up when you see instructional decisions harm the love of reading that our students carry.  You must start conversations within your own district, your own buildings, and you must reflect on your own decisions.  Ask your students how you can be a better teacher for them.  Ask them what makes reading amazing and what makes it awful.  Question your own practices and admit when you need to grow.  We are only as good as our last decision to change.

So we can purchase the programs, we can get caught up in test scores and test prep.  We can continue to search for the next big thing or we can go back to the things we know work for all kids; time to read, choice in what they read, access to books, and a community to grow with.  Don’t lose touch with your own common sense.

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.

 

On Creating Reading Experiences

They groan when I tell them about the Signposts.

“Another thing to write about, Mrs. Ripp?”

“Do we have to?”

“Why can’t we just read?”

Their post-its hang behind me, reminding me of all they have said about what kills their love of reading.

And I get it, we, meaning educators, have written reading to death.  With every post-it, every jot, every stop and think, every time we ask them to do more work and forget about the virtues of aesthetic reading as discussed by Louise Rosenblatt, we make them dislike it more.  In our eagerness to help kids become better readers, we have made the kids drown in their post-it notes.  We have broken meaningful stories into such small tasks so that the very meaning that made the story worth our time is gone.  We have forgotten about the purpose of all this instruction it seems; to create literate human beings that can grow from what they read, both intellectually, but also on a heart level.

Yes, we need to teach skills, of course, we do.  But we also have to let the kids use those skills in meaningful ways.  We have to let them practice too without telling them to use post-its, without telling them to write down, without telling them to look for specific things, because if we don’t, we don’t know if they will ever be able to do it without our prompts, our scaffolds, our tasks.  We have to remind them, and ourselves, that when we read it is not just to complete a task attached to it.  That the task is just a practice for the real deal; for when we read and we have an experience with the text.

So I tell them not to worry.  The signposts, or any other skills we review or learn are just tools.  Tools to use when it makes sense.  Tools to use so they can complete the tasks that we do need to do at times.  Practice them so they become habit when we need them but that it is also okay to just read and let the movie flow in our heads to the point where the rest of the world falls away and all we can focus on is how close we are getting to the end of the book.

So let your students experience meaningful words, not just more reading tasks.  Let them experience what it means to read and then feel something.  Let them experience what it means to read and sit in silence.  Let them read and get to the end and then discuss what the text made them think of, not just a few skills you have just taught, not just the repertoire of tools they may have.  Balance is needed in all of our classrooms for the purposes of reading, our students are telling us this loudly if we will only listen.

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.