As We Plan Our Reading Classes

If the children aren't reading in our classrooms, then what are we really teaching? @pernilleripp

We start almost every single day with 10 minutes of reading in our classroom.  With 10 minutes dedicated just to eye on eye on text.  With 10 minutes dedicated to the noble pursuit of falling into a great story.  I wish we could dedicate more time, but teaching 45 minute English blocks, means that 10 minutes is all I have been able to give so far.  To an outsider it may look like not much teaching happens, like there must be more important things to do than just the solitary pursuit of story.  In fact, when I first started embracing independent reading time, I remember making excuses to my principal as to why I wasn’t teaching more at the time.  I am sure he didn’t need the excuses, but I thought he did.  And that’s it, isn’t it.  We mistakenly think that when students are sitting in silence, hopefully immersed in a book, that we are not doing our job as teachers.  That we are somehow not fulfilling  our responsibility or promises.

So we cram as much other stuff into our English classes and leave independent reading time for those days where we have the time.  We plan our lessons down to the last-minute and plan for reading last so that it becomes a reward at the end if we get through everything else.  We plan for it once a week or every couple of days hoping that that is enough and then we sacrifice the time set aside the minute we must cover something else.  Our independent reading time is hardly ever sacred because it doesn’t look like real teaching.  I get it too.  I already feel the panic of the upcoming year and all of the things we should experience.  I already get nervous when I look at how few days we really have together and just how much we have to do.  Yet in the past many years as a teacher of reading and English, the time to read has been the one thing that has made the biggest difference. Even if it meant some days not getting to everything I had hoped.  So we can hope that our students will read outside of our classrooms, perhaps they all will, or we can make sure that we give them the one thing that is the most important in our instructional time; time to read.  Time to find a book.  Time to develop a reading life.  We can assign reading, we can punish those who don’t, or we can simply build our classes around the need for reading, even if we teach in incredibly small blocks of time.

Yet when we speak of developing readers.  When we teach reading.  When we teach English; silent sustained reading time with support should be the very first thing we plan for.  The very last thing we sacrifice.  Our independent reading time should be the one thing that does not get cut.  The one thing that we must fit everything else around.  This is not just a fancy notion, it is research based, just see this post that the incredible Donalyn Miller took the time to put together. There is so much research out there supporting the notion of every child needing time to read in school that entire books have been written to defend it.  (Here’s just one of them!).  And if you are an administrator reading this, you are instrumental in making this happen.

Independent reading time should be a right for all children in English, not just for those who got through whatever they needed to get through.  It should be  a guarantee for all of the children that enter our doors, much like those who enter a science classroom know that they will, indeed, do science.  So why is reading any different?

I know it is not easy to find the time.  I know it is so hard to give up even just one  minute.  So when we cannot change the system and give ourselves more time, how can we fit reading in?

I am currently working on a new literacy book, two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

 

Find Them a Book

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It was just before school ended that I realized that he hadn’t really read any books.  That my feeble attempts at finding just the right book had been just that and that he had successfully managed to mostly fake read throughout the entire year.  I remember the feeling of how I had failed, wondering how I could have been so blind.  Chalk it up to 120 students.  Chalk it up to my first year as a 7th grade teacher.  Chalk it up to 45 minutes or to the demands of all the new, but still how could I have let a student slip through my fingers that way?  How could a kid fake read in our classroom when my mission is exactly the opposite?

So I wrote a post-it note to myself and taped it to the wall by my computer.  Nothing fancy but a stark reminder of what I needed to do the following year.  “Find them a book…”

A year later it still hangs there.  New tape applied when needed.  No fancy script or colors.  Yellow, slightly faded, yet so important still.  Find them a book, indeed, and then find them another, and another, and another, until one day they no longer need me and they find their own.

I think of this as one student, a self-identified child who dislikes reading, has just finished sharing with me how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is the best book he has ever read.  How nothing will ever compare to that book, but that he will continue searching for one that might, but he might need my help.  That he loved that book so much but now is not sure what to read.

 

So we book shop together and I dig deep for all of the books that he may like.  I stack them high and walk away hoping that in that pile he will find a book that will move him forward on this new fragile path.  That in that stack he will see glimpses of what it means to be a reader.

Because we may tell our students that they just need to find the right book to fall in love with reading.  We may spend hours helping them dig into who they are as a reader.  We may put book after book in front of them in the hopes that they will find The One. But it is not just about The One.  It is about the one after and the one after that.  It is about the many.  Because it is in the repetition of falling in love with a book that we fall in love with reading.

So when a child finds their book, we must pay attention, because this is when reading is at its most precarious.  This is the moment where they start to see that one great book was not just a fluke, but instead a taste of what is to come.  What is waiting for them on our shelves.

So find them a book.  Then find them another and another.  Fill your classroom and schools with titles that beg to be read.  Teach them what to look for and know when to walk away.  We may start our journey with reading when we find the first book to fall in love with, but we choose to continue that journey when we find the next one.

This post is a part of the Age of Literacy that ILA encourages all of us to participate in on APril April 14th.  How are you a literacy leader?  If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

 

The Things That Matter the Most

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I have spent a week listening to my students as they told me what they were proud of and how I could change to make 7th grade English a better class for them.  Child after child.  Conversation after conversation, and although my brain is tired from all this sitting, and I am ready to go back to working with all of them, I could not help but notice the things that kept coming up in as we spoke.

They told me that they are becoming stronger readers.  That they have these goals that they need to accomplish, perhaps with some help from me.  That class is fun (at times).  That it is not as bad as they thought it might be.  And over and over and over they tell me about the things that have mattered the most to them…

Having books in our classroom.  They know that when they finish a book, another one is  right there.  That if they need to abandon the one they have selected, that many others await.  That they love our school library but are so thankful for the library we have as well.  The books seem to call out to them as they sit in our room asking to be read.

Having time to book shop.  Once every few weeks we spend half a class simply book shopping.  We lounge in our time with the new (and old) books waiting for us on the tables.  I book talk a few and then watch as they meander along the piles, picking up book upon book and gazing at the pages.  Writing a few down, sharing them with others.  Book shopping is an event, something to look forward to and they ask for it as they see the piles of books grow by my table.

A list of books to be read.  We have several pages in our readers notebook dedicated as our to-be-read list.  The students are now getting in the habit of using it whenever they need a new book.  They are sharing them with each other too, “Did you add this book yet?  Oh, we have the same book listed.”  They do not forget about the books they are waiting for (right now Orbiting Jupiter and Crenshaw have a very long wait list) and with their list in hand they always find their next read.

A shared love of picture books.  All students are accomplished readers in our room because they can all pick up a picture book and “get it.”  They can all discuss the problem of Mustache Baby.  They can all discuss the theme of Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great.  They can all learn about courage from Malala and Iqbal.  Because those stories are found within picture books.  Because picture books allow us to love reading.  To access complex texts that no one has ever told us is not at our level.    To remember that reading is meant to be fun, even if it is a sad book.

And finally, they told me that the teacher matters.  That they need a teacher that does not judge.  A teacher that loves books.  A teacher that reads.  A teacher that does not give up.  A teacher that hounds them at times and holds them accountable.  A teacher that sees them, even when they try to be invisible.  A teacher that I try to be, even when I feel I fall short.

And those are the things that mattered the most.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

A Story of A Boy and a Book

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This originally was posted on The Reader Leader Blog from Scholastic.  You should really see the other posts on the blog!

He came to me with anger seeping out of every pore, a cloud of dismay surrounding him. Looking at us with eyes that told the world that he was not afraid, that he knew that we could not make him do whatever it was we intended to ask. That he would fight us with every cell in his body just to stay in control. Yet, for all of his anger, for all of his glances directed my way, he wasn’t one of mine. I didn’t have the pleasure of teaching him. He was in a separate English class, trying to be taught all of those things he had missed because of his anger and outbursts.

He wasn’t afraid of me, nor very angry. I posed no threat since I was not one of the ones asking him to please do, please sit, please stop. So every day I greeted him, smiled when our paths crossed, and told him that all of those books I had in my classroom could be his if only he wanted to read one. That even if he wasn’t mine, those books were still meant for him. Every day, he smiled and went on his way, seeing little need for any of the books I might have to share. As the weeks passed, he grew. He pushed his boundaries as children can do so well, always inching along that very fine line of control and struggle. I watched from afar; after all, he was not mine, so all I could do was smile and nod and remind him of the books that awaited.

One day, he didn’t just smile, but instead asked in all earnestness, “When can I be your student? When can I come to your class?” It wasn’t because he didn’t like the class he was in, or the teacher who taught him, but the books were calling, as they often do to so many kids that feel lost. I smiled and shrugged, repeated that the books were there for him whether he was mine or not. For weeks this played out until one day, he entered our classroom and I held my breath; after all, now he was mine, now I was one of the ones that would ask him to stop, to sit, to do. And I was scared of what would happen.

He sat quietly that first day in class. Bent his head and wrote ever so slowly, picking out his words with care, wanting so much to fit in and not just be known as that kid with anger issues. As the other students cleared out, he lifted his head, looked at the clock and asked, “Is it now? Can I pick my book now?” And he walked to the shelf of the book he had eyed and grabbed it, holding on to it as if I would ask him to put it down. “What do I do now?” he asked. “You read it,” I said, “And then you bring it back.” “That’s it?” “That’s it.”

So he left that morning, clutching Amulet: Book 1 to his chest as if it were a safety blanket. And I figured that the minute he left our classroom, that book would be forgotten; his day would develop, and soon our conversation would be a distant memory as his ingrained behaviors clouded his judgment once again. So I wasn’t surprised when at lunch he walked up to me and handed me back the book. “Did you not like it?” I asked, already running a possibility of other titles in my head that I could offer him. “I am done,” he said. “Done? But I thought you were so excited to read it?” I asked, my voice laced with confusion. “I did…I loved it…Can I have the next one please? I promise to bring it back.” He had read it already. He had fallen in love with a book. He was ready for the next one. For one moment in that day, he was just a kid who loved a book, just a kid like all the other kids, asking for the next book in a series that had spoken to him. So we walked into our classroom, found the next book and he left, clutching it to his chest once more, ready to wrestle anyone who would try to take it away.

We fall in love with books when they speak to us. When within their pages, we find a piece of ourselves we didn’t know we were missing. We clutch these books to our chests long after we have stopped reading them as a way to shield us from a world that we sometimes do not understand. Books become absorbed into our identity and allow us to risk, to love, to care about something even when we feel the most vulnerable. Even when we feel the world is not for us, we can find safety within the pages of a book. That is why my classroom is filled with books–so that every child has a chance to find a piece of armor, so that every child has a chance to find a vessel that will hold his dreams and protect them when they need to be.  My students may not understand each other’s pasts, each other’s behaviors, but they understand books, and so when a child falls in love with a book and it becomes part of him, it builds a bridge for others to understand that child better. For others to be let in.

Books provide us with the magic that we dream of as teachers. Books, whether fiction or non, chapter or picture, give us the building blocks that we need to connect with our hardest students. To connect with those that we sometimes feel at a loss to reach.  That boy didn’t stop being angry. He didn’t stop feeling that the world was out to get him, but he did start believing that somewhere in the world was a place for him to fit in. That he too could be a reader, that he too could belong. That his anger would not be the only thing that defined him, even when it spoke the loudest. That boy knew he had a home with us whenever he needed it. He still does, even though he is no longer around. My door is always open, the books always calling out for anyone who needs to belong, if even for a moment. I will never forget that boy and his book.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my 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.

Want to Be Our Audience?

My fantastic 7th graders are working on short choral poetry performances and would love a real-live audience.  Well not live, but actual kids to watch their short videos and then give them feedback on their performance.  We are looking for 4th grade and lower to assess us, videos will be shared via Google Drive and feedback will be given via a short Google Form.  This is open to anywhere in the world.  Videos will be posted next week and then we would love feedback by the following Monday, November 9th.

If you are interested, please fill in the form below and you will receive a link with the videos when they are available, you can do as many as you would like.

On Slow Readers and What It Means for Student Reading Identity

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I am ready to hang a banner in our classroom to loudly display the following words, “Being a slow reader does not make you a bad reader!” and then point to it every time a child tells me with a downward glance that they are slow readers.  The shame of the designation oozing from them.

Since when did taking your time as you read become something to be ashamed of?

And yet, they continue to tell me they are slow as they share their true reading lives.  They tell me that being a slow reader means they hate reading, that they cannot find any books, that there is no way they will ever read enough books in 7th grade and that there is nothing to be done about it.  They have given up because of speed.  They have given up because of everything they have attached to the word “slow.”

And with our emphasis on getting things done, including books, in our schools I cannot blame them.

So I tell them instead that they are not “slow,” they are simply taking their time.  That yes, increasing reading speed can become a goal for them but that it should not be the only goal.  That I understand that when you read at a slower pace (notice the difference in word choice) that you sometimes lose meaning so we need to find a pace that works for them.  Because you see, being a fast reader does not make you a great reader.  In fact, I struggle publicly with my own fast reading and have as one of my goals that I need to slow down.

Yet, they do not believe me.  Not yet anyway.  And how can they?  When the standardized tests they take to measure their worth as readers are timed?  When the countdown clock appears urging them to hurry up and answer or else it will count against them?  When I give them all a book challenge of reading 25 books or more and they automatically feel that is a mountain they cannot conquer?  When they see their friends whizzing through books and cannot help but compare themselves?

We create environments where fast = good and slow = bad.

So as Thomas Newkirk says, “There is no ideal speed in reading.”  Instead it depends on the purpose, the time, the book they are reading.  And that is what we should be teaching toward.  That students need to find a reading pace that works for them and then make sure that the reading environment we create supports that.  We have to remove the stigma of the word “slow.”  We have to help our students find success as readers, to redefine their own reading identity so that that very identity does not become a stranglehold or the reason they give up before they even begin.

So we hand them books they can conquer successfully to build up the confidence they lack.  And I don’t mean books designated by levels, but books that they want to read based on interest.  We hand them graphic novels.  We hand them page turners where they will want to read on.  And then we hand them time.  We remove the “get it done” pace that seems to surround us as we teach.  And every time they say they are slow readers and mean it as a bad thing, we tell them they are mistaken.  We change the very language we use so that they can find a new way to identify themselves.  So that they can feel proud of the time they take when they read, rather than see it as yet another deficit.

We decide what being a slow reader means.  That change comes from us.  Our job is to make sure students know it.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!