Thursday, July 18, 2019

Reading Trap #4: Ethos, Building Credibility in the Classroom

I once handed one of my sure-fire favorites, "Winger" by Andrew Smith, to Gwen, whom I didn't know well. She brought it back the next day and softly said she'd like to try something else. I hit much closer to the bullseye with the 1958 classic "Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare.

Sheesh. How could two books be more different? In my defense, it was the beginning of the year, when most of my 25 new students are asking for suggestions. I was short on time and my matchmaking skills were taxed.

But in recommending books to kids, I have a reputation to uphold. If I hand them a book I say they'll love, and they don't love it, I am less trustworthy the next time I suggest a book. So when I shoot wide--as I did with Gwen--I must double-down to regain my credibility. Here are ways I can do that:

1) THREE BOOKS: Instead of recommending one book, hand the student three. I can't refrain from delivering a blurb for each, and then ask her to read a few pages from each and choose one. Not only does this increase the chances of a good match, it uses the magic of choice to strengthen the reader's investment in the book.

2) ADMIT UNCERTAINTY: I can say things such as "I liked this a lot and Rachel said it was the best book she read all year. But it's definitely not a book for everyone." Or "I'm not sure if you'll like this one. Be sure to put it down if it's not your thing. One of the pleasures of being a reader is deciding what you like and don't like."

3) READ WIDELY: I am pained when I hear teachers--even English teachers--say they don't have time to read. I swear on the Oxford: If you set a timer and read for 20 minutes a day, you will be a reader again. I cannot sell reading if I'm not a reader myself. I display the books I'm reading outside of my classroom. Here are the 36 I posted last school year.

4) LEAN ON YOUR READERS: "Ava,  you read this last semester. Do you think Zane will like it?"  Part of building a classroom reading culture is increasing the number of experts in the room. My goal is for students to become the book matchmakers for each other.

I mentioned "Winger" as one of the books almost every student loves. A few of my other sure-fires are "Blankets," a graphic novel by Craig Thompson; "Out of Order" by A.M. Jenkins; and "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes. Please share with me a title or two of your sure-fires with me!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Reading Trap #3: One Second Video

1SE is an app that stands for One Second Everyday. The English teacher in me wants to point out the misuse of "everyday," but other than that, I love this app. It is designed to help you store one-second video clips each day for a mashed super-fast look at your life.

But I use it to capture kids as they finish a book. This is, again, a gimmick to celebrate and encourage a climate of book love. As kids finish a book, I grab a quick video, then using the freestyle option on 1SE to mash them together. At the end of each quarter we watch the video together (2 minutes), and I also send it to parents in my weekly email.

Here's a sample of my students' second quarter reading last year. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reading Trap #2: Buttons > Grades

My friend JoAnn suggested I think of the "free" in "free reading" as a verb. YES! Let's free reading from the shackles of grades, quizzes, vocabulary lists, and all those ways we try to justify giving kids time in class to read.

I do not attach a grade to independent (free) reading because
  • I don't want the power and pleasure of reading to be married to grade-grubbing.
  • Each student is at a different point on the avid-reading continuum. How do I grade the kid who reads a book every three days and the kid who finally finished his first book since 6th grade? Both are awesome. The student who is reading-resistant needs my support more than any of them--not a failing grade.
  • I want to minimize opportunities for students to lie to me. If a student isn't liking a book, there is no loss in switching it out for another. 
Some might wonder, if we are not reading for grades, why are we reading? The answers (for pleasure, to be connected to other readers, to personally grow our stamina and knowledge) rise to the top once the grade is removed--and these are motivators that last long beyond the window of the current grading term.

That said, I'm not above using gimmicks to build a reading-happy culture and community in my room. This means celebrating the reading/sharing of books in ways that encourage students to join in.

One of my favorites is buttons.
Two Bee-a-Reader buttons on my lanyard.

I started giving BEE A READER buttons several years ago when my students finished their fifth book. I've since added buttons for the10th, 15th, 20th and 25th book of the year. If they read more than that--and some do!--they have to start over.

Buttons are inexpensive at about 25 cents each, and I love seeing them on my students' book bags. They say "I'm a reader," which is the identity I want them to embrace. I make a deal (not TOO big a deal) when a student earns a button: "Hey guys, Brynna just finished her 15th book!"

I have a buffet of gimmicks, and I'll explain more in future posts. In the meantime, I'd love to hear some of the ways you build reading culture in your classroom and reward reading without grades. Please comment!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Reading Trap #1: Confession Is Good for the Soul

Students in my classes read books of their choosing for the first 10 minutes every day. But making this happen is not as simple as telling kids to find a book and telling them to read. That method will result in a lot of fake-readers, daydreaming or checking their phones. It’s no wonder teachers who try to prioritize reading time give up if students aren’t using it to read.

So one of the first things I do with a new class is lay out reasons for building reading stamina. I’ve made a powerpoint that overviews reasons a person should consider becoming a voracious reader. One of the first slides invites students to examine reasons they have struggled reading in some way or another:

Because “tiny print” is the first reason that pops up on the screen, I can tell kids straight off that I don’t like books with tiny print. Given my druthers, I’d read everything in large print. Invariably, a few students agree they, too, don’t like tiny print. And we’re off!

I chime in with my inability to read with concentration if people are talking (distractions) and how especially in the evening, I find myself closing my weak left eye to prevent words from dancing around the page. And I’m not a fast reader. There is almost an excitement in the room as students share the things that have hindered their reading and realize they are not alone.

This communal confession bonds us as a class. We ALL have trouble reading at times, and we’ll work to become readers despite these struggles. This open acknowledgment is a subtle way of keeping the room fake-reading free. We may need a book with larger print, or easier words, or we need to suck on a lemon drop to keep from falling asleep, or switch books because this one is boring, or hold a notecard under a line of print to keep our place. No one is hiding their reading fears in Room #408, and that is the first step to moving forward.

I’d like to know if you can add to my slide of reading struggles. Do you or your students have reading struggles I've missed? Please share!

Trap #2: Gimmicks or Grades?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Setting Book Traps to Catch Readers

The book that had the most profound influence on my parenting was Mary Leonhardt’s “Parents Who Love Reading Kids Who Don’t.” No longer in print, its thesis is both simple and revolutionary: do whatever it takes to help your child become a reader. Her strategies include what I call "setting book traps": never say no if your kid asks you to buy a book; load up your library card with non-fiction titles of whatever your kids are interested in and prop them in front of the family’s cereal bowls at breakfast; let kids read as late into the night as they want. Read to them. Read with them. Make reading a centerpiece of the home. Leonhardt makes a great case for reading as the single skill that will serve them longest and best through their various life challenges: schooling, loneliness, new passions, understanding of others. As a reader myself, I wanted desperately to raise readers, and I did.

But my passion for turning young people into readers did not stop with my own children. It is the driving force behind the choices I make in my freshman English classroom. If I can get the right book in the hands of a reluctant or indifferent reader, she will experience engagement and emotional connection that she will go looking for again and again. Once she realizes that books deliver that feeling, ta-da! She’s a reader.

A stack currently next to my chair

This transformation is the greatest reward of my teaching. The question “Did I teach them anything?” laces itself through my summer reflections. In truth, we don’t know what our students learned at a depth to last into their adulthoods--or even sophomore year. Our school’s wrestling coach, when asked if he had a good season, said, “Ask me in 10 years when I see what kind of men they’ve become.” I feel that way about my teaching. If my students forget everything I taught them but are readers as adults, I will claim success, because they will know how to pick up a book for knowledge, clarification, pleasure and comfort. They’ll have at their disposal a means to find both answers and questions.

Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about strategies I use to push (I’m both sneaky and forceful) kids to read more than they thought they could.

But there are always a few that escape my traps. So as I share my ideas with you, I hope you will share your strategies with me as well. Next year I want to catch them ALL!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

This App Changed My Life

I love a good list. I make one every morning to maximize my productivity, and I usually check off two or three items before I get distracted, lose the list, and fritter the day away.

So I was a sucker for the “Never forget anything again” sales pitch for Due, a list-reminder app for my phone. The fact that it cost $4.99 convinced me it would work better than any of the dozens of free list-making apps out there.

And it has! After spending $5, I figured I’d better watch the video explaining the app’s features to maximize my purchase.

In for a penny, in for a pound. I’d sunk five bucks and watched the video before realizing I still wasn’t sure how to set up my list and would need to commit another 30 minutes into acclimating myself to the gadget.

Which I did. But this means I must now use the app constantly to get my time and money investment back out of it. So I’m using Due for every task of my day, from “crawl out of bed” and “brush your teeth” to “throw the used coffee filter in the trash” and “waddle to the refrigerator and eat a popsicle.” And indeed, each item on my list receives my full attention for the twelve-step process I’ve developed for getting my money’s worth:

Open Due app
Add item to list
Set timer and repeat notification
Set ringtone
Double check time zone
Sync to computer
Tell someone about my app
Check to see if the app did, in fact, remind me of my do-do item
Tweet about it
Do the item on my list
Swipe right

My productivity is skyrocketing.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Bossy the Cow: What Our Words Say to Girls

I was again reminded of my second-grade report card--a memory I mentioned in a blog post last winter.  The gym teacher had written a word that I couldn’t quite make out. I thought maybe it said I was “busy”--and I hoped that meant I was especially active. I liked P.E!  

My mother translated the teacher’s handwriting and told me the word was “bossy.”

I remember the mortification I felt when I realized my mistake. But last week Missy, a colleague I adore, posted a photo of her fifth-grade report card with the teacher’s comment “disruptive influence in the classroom.” Her post cast my own report-card memory in a harsher light.

Who were these teachers who saw Missy and me--bold little girls--as threats to the order and authority of their classrooms? And are such comments from a bygone era, or are we still demeaning females for behaviors tolerated or even praised in males?

Missy and I have grown up to be productive, leaderful women. But the same traits that serve us well as intrepid spokespeople for quality teaching and justice for all as adults were not seen as positive characteristics in the elementary classroom.

And that got me thinking about the word “bossy,” which I don’t think I’ve ever heard used to describe boys. Women are bossy; men are the boss.

When I dashed the word into my search bar, Google gave me this ever-so-helpful usage example:
"she was bossy, scared of nobody, and full of vinegar"

Note the feminine pronoun in the example.
A subsequent definition for Bossy: a common name for a cow. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard of a bull named Bossy.

Bossy is a word that underscores the subtle ways language influences our thinking and our thinking influences our language choices. I am choosing to notice my own use of this word and others that make women and girls doubt their value as leaders.