I drafted these words for a blog post in March of 2016:
I read a post by Kelly Gallagher about the number of high school seniors who admitted that they had never read an entire book. Although I was saddened by this news, I would have to agree. School is a place where if students ACT like they are busy, teachers leave them alone. This should not be acceptable any more!
My main reading grade in my reading class comes from the motto: “Read During Reading Time.” I give my students, choice, time, opportunities (I have a huge classroom library) — all of the categories required to promote reading inside (and outside of) school. So why is reading left behind?
(I never published that post.)
Wow! These words still ring true today, at the Saturday workshop for Indiana Partnership for Young Writers at Butler University — and I still have the same question. Kelly Gallagher was the Visiting Scholar today, and the entire workshop I was picturing my past reading classrooms, reflecting on my teaching, and questioning why nothing has changed for students in school. I have always held the belief that students should, indeed, READ during reading class. I didn’t understand why people standing outside the classroom were looking for anything else inside — namely the teacher at the board teaching reading comprehension skills, with students “performing tasks” and “taking notes,” or completing a worksheet, or taking a test. I ended the draft above with a question: So why is reading left behind? What I meant (at the time) was that it seemed like activities that could be observed as students “being engaged” or “learning” were better indicators of “reading” than reading a book. It wasn’t the first time I heard about an observer reporting to some reading teacher, “Students were just reading.” I questioned (in my head), “What do you want them to do in reading class?”
That question in my head bothered me so much that I made it my teaching reading motto: READ DURING READING TIME. It WAS (and IS) what should be happening in reading classrooms. Period. In a published piece, I posted these words on my blog in October of 2017:
I attended the IRA (International Reading Association, now International Literacy Association) Annual Conference in Minneapolis in 2009. I remember rushing to a session on reading research that would explain how to improve student achievement in reading (my area of teaching). I was so excited; I sat on the edge of my seat with my notebook in hand. I heard about research that spanned 5 years, with over a thousand subjects. At the end of the presentation, the main presenter looked at the crowd and asked, “You know what we found?” (“What? Tell me!” I thought. I readied my pen to the paper.) He gave a long pause and studied the faces looking back at him, and he smiled.
He said, “The more you read, the better reader you become.”
I gasped (I could hear it.), I thought to myself, “What? Duh! I knew that!” Reading creates better readers.
Obviously, this “kids-don’t-read-in-school” issue is still grinding on my nerves. Thank you, Kelly Gallagher, for reminding me again that reading creates better readers — and adding “better writers” — in middle school and high school. Here are the BIG IDEAS I took away from the workshop:
1. One MUST READ to become a good writer. Today we read quite a few texts, wrote about them, and shared with a partner.
2. We need to read and write with students in school every day. Every. Day.
3. There are 4 teaching moves that can help students to become better readers and writers: increase volume of reading, give choice in reading and writing class, model good reading and writing for our students, and confer with students about their reading and writing.
I promise I will not keep my thoughts in my head anymore. I love teaching reading, writing, and I love learning. I want my students to love reading, writing, and learning as much as I do.
This is NOT a Valentine. It’s just a little note that tells readers they will enjoy this lovely picture book by Carter Higgins! Carter has taken all the Valentine-stereotypes and threw them out the school bus window, and shows us what Valentine messages really mean.
Valentines sparkle; they’re pink and glittery.
But you might like the brown in the mud puddle.
Valentines have cooties that tumble out when you open them.
“But if we both get cooties…then we can have cherry juice…together.”
This is NOT a Valentine. It’s a good book to share with someone in February…
or any other month you like.
I love learning about people and their real-life stories. I especially love the lesser-known stories of historical time periods. Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. and we also remember other great names in Civil Rights history. Did you know that some famous Civil Rights activists were children? Today’s IMWAYR title should be shared widely. I share here to remind myself and others that children CAN and DO make a difference in our lives and in our communities.
The Youngest Marcher: The story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, by Cynthia Levinson will stay with me for a long time. I know the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches and speeches, and they have inspired me in the past. Last year when I read The MARCH Trilogy, I learned so much more from Representative John Lewis’ firsthand accounts and experiences. Now I am reminded (through a picture book — see, picture books teach all ages) that there were children arrested in May of 1963, one being Audrey Faye Hendricks, who was nine years old at the time. I thought, “NINE? They arrested 9-year-olds?” Yes, yes, they did, and by doing so, they filled the jails in Birmingham, Alabama. Amazing. Frightful. Inspiring.
I missed this book when it released in 2017, but I am so glad I have remedied that. I recommend that you buy this book and keep it — read it when you need a good story about children being brave and changing the world.
If you ever hear someone say picture books are just for kids, don’t listen! Read these picture books. You’ll be glad you opened your heart.
Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell. (Feiwel and Friends, 2017)
Matthew Cordell doesn’t need words to convey the message of empathy, love, and kindness in this Caldecott nominee for 2018. I felt so much — for the humans and the wolves — in this story about being lost in the snow. A small child waves goodbye to her school friends, and begins her walk home. A pack of wolves also sets out around the same time, with a little one struggling to keep up in the blowing snow. Both the small girl and the small wolf become lost as the pages turn white. What happened next pulled at my “mom” heartstrings.This is a MUST READ book for all ages.
Love, by Matt de la Peña. Illustrated by Loren Long. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018)
I read The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse by Mac Barnett. Mr. Barnett is always so clever with his storytelling skills, and he got me giggling again. “Early one morning, a mouse met a wolf, and he was quickly gobbled up.” End of story, right? Not quite.
See, there’s already a duck that has made a home in the wolf’s belly. The mouse and the duck made such a ruckus inside the wolf that the wolf got a stomach ache. A hunter then hears the wolf, and sets up to shoot. I can’t give the story away, but I promise you’ll be amused. The ending is also a surprise. Genius.
A twisted tale about predators and prey with a load a laughs. You’ll never think of hunting the same way again. (Good thing.) By the way, the illustrations with familiar bright eyed-animals created by Jon Klassen make The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse another Barnett/Klassen classic. A good book for a long winter’s night.
My plan was to start tomorrow, but I opened The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp tonight after a longer-than-expected drive home from the NCTE annual conference, and fell in love immediately with the structure of this amazing text. I’m sure I’ll read this one quickly again, and later slow down and really ponder the wonder of this amazing project. Colby Sharp is the co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club, so by nature, he is a reader and writer. He asked several authors to supply creative writing prompts for each other, then sent packages to authors with the prompts, asking each to share their writing/creating process. He wanted to share (with his elementary school students) how writers come up with ideas and “observe the way that creativity works.”
Mr. Sharp wrote in the introduction, “A few weeks later, the pieces started coming in, and HOLY SMOKES! I was completely blown away.” As I flipped through the pages tonight myself, perusing the structure of the book, I, too, was in awe of the prompts themselves and the projects that were submitted. For example, author Peter Brown submitted this prompt: “Create something that includes a tree looking out-of-place.” Illustrator Lauren Castillo answered with a drawing of a city scene, and there’s a tree there, looking quite out-of-place.
I can’t wait to read this book deeply and maybe even try something myself. Thank you, Mr. Sharp, for challenging all of us — experts and amateurs — to create!