This was originally shared as a short Nerd Talk at nErDcampmi 2017. The audio will be made available this fall on the Nerdy Book Club Podcast. I cried quite a bit, so I don't know how audible the audio will actually be. It is my hope that you find some comfort, heart, or confirmation in my words. If my words upset you and you feel offended, that's okay too. You are the one that needs to hear it the most. This is a portrait of one child's piecing together some of her childhood memories surrounding school. I do not have a learning disability, I do not live in poverty. But at times during my schooling, I was made to feel as though I wasn't enough. At times, I was made fun of for my thrift store clothes. Looking back, I never felt like I wasn't fully provided for, because I was, above and beyond. My parents were young and they were and still are smart, and caring. They are still married, they put me through college and they continue to teach me the value of hard work and not buying things I don't have the money for. This is the power of a caring relationship (my family and parents) versus the relationships I was often met with at school. So tread lightly, educators. Your words, your looks, your assumptions will have lasting impacts. In my case, there were many positive experiences with outstanding teachers, but they don't erase the bad ones.
I stand before you today, a reader, a learner and a thinker, despite some of the educators I have had along the way.
I can count on one hand the positive memories I have associated with reading as a child, that were connected to my educators. A Kindergarten Intervention Specialist whose room I would reenact There's An Alligator Under My Bed, complete with paper bags filled with plastic fruits and vegetables. My third grade teacher's Superfudge voice is still stuck in my head. An ordinary pebble given to me by my librarian after a read aloud of Sylvester's Magic Pebble. The kind of pebble that made me, as a child, feel like anything was possible. And perhaps the most lasting memory, was meeting THE RL Stine, an Ohio author you may have heard of before, in my elementary school library. Sidenote: our current librarian was weeding the collect at my elementary, I work in the district where I went to school. She found a copy of The Haunted Mask signed to "Central Elementary Friends" and she gifted me that book this year.
My time up here could be filled with the negative reading experiences over the course of my education. Being one of a minimal amount of seventh graders to fail the reading proficiency test. I spent the summer in summer school being drilled and killed. Finally giving my middle school reading teacher the most genuine smile her face showed me in those two years. Which, may seem endearing, but in actuality it was damaging. It made me feel like all of my worth was wrapped up in her being able to check me off a list of students who had passed.
Or the time in a high school social studies class where I spent my time socializing because I didn't understand the content, and maybe because I was bored, only to be called sorry by my teacher, in front of my peers.
I am not an advocate of children being disrespectful, but sorry?
Sorry that you can't engage the youth.
Sorry that you hate coming to "work" every day and you make sure we know it.
Sorry that you feel giving your kids worksheet after worksheet is actually teaching.
Sorry that you only saw a problem, when I, a child, stood before you.
A child with two young parents.
A child with WIC on her doorstep and thrift store clothes on her back.
A child who struggled a little bit with reading, but loved books more than anything in the world.
My teachers had good intentions. I'm sure.
But I am here to tell you that the world does not need your good intentions.
I do not need them, and if I do not need them, your kids definitely do not need them.
We don't need what makes education easiest for YOU, the adult in the room.
We don't need a clip chart on the wall showcasing all of our mistakes. Your cute clip art doesn't make it easier to be dehumanized in front of our friends.
We don't need novel study packets. We don't all need to read the same book, at the same time.
We don't need to know our reading levels, because none of you in this room know yours.
We don't need the assumption that an empty chair during parent-teacher conferences means that our families don't care about our educations.
We don't need to spend all quarter reading ONLY ONE BOOK.
We don't need a carpet spot because you don't understand that our young bodies were built to move.
We don't need every single book in our classroom libraries to be filled with kids that don't look or feel like who we are or the families we are a part of.
We don't need you telling us what to think. What is fair and just. And we don't need you to tell us to be silent when all we want to do is scream.
The world does not need your good intentions.
In Rita Williams-Garcia's newest book, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground there is a quote I have to share: "Around Cool Papa, Clayton didn't feel like a kid. He felt like a person." This is what we need.
Books, at our fingertips. In every room of our school. Books about the things we care about, not the things you care about. And teachers who love talking about those books with us.
Smiles. The kind that let us know that there is no other place you would rather be, than here, with us. Laugh with us, let us see that young person with the fire in their belly who decided they cared so much about the world that they wanted to help raise its children.
Supplies. So we don't have to be embarrassed over Rose Art, not Crayola. So we don't have to see that disappointed look on your face when we happen to lose our pencil, again.
Relationships. Get to know us, get to know our families. Care about us and listen to us when we speak to you or when we ask you questions. Be calm when we are overcome with big emotions. Know us enough to know that some of us get our siblings up and ready for school each day.
Choice. Let us choose whenever possible. Books, pieces of writing, seats, read alouds, classroom set up, curriculum. How can we be expected to make real decisions when no one is allowing our voices to be heard?
Humility. Instead of being annoyed that I am an hour late, let joy wash over your face when mine finally comes through that door. Instead of being agitated that I need to use the bathroom again, just let me go, as you would hope someone would let you go.
And last but not least, truth and knowledge. Hard conversations, educators who know their growth and depth of knowledge has no fixed endpoint, books that tackle the topics we live with everyday. A platform for our voices to be heard, honest depictions of our world, multi faceted narratives, the ability to evaluate sources, a chance to critically examine our own biases and then the means to do something about them.
I want you to stand up if someone in this room has ever inspired you. Inspired you to be a better person, inspired you to think harder and given you support when it comes to supporting kids.
Look around, you are what we need.
Teachers, authors, librarians, administrators... like Cool Papa who are dedicated to seeing us as people, not just kids.
A fourth grade student sketches a plant during a Cincinnati Urban Gardening Field Trip, 2017
What does it mean to innovate? Innovation encompasses all that we do in life. It’s less about the term innovation and more about the mindset that should be the steady foundation, resting underneath. One must be willing to grow by getting uncomfortable and questioning not only the world, but the roles we fulfill within that space.
As educators, we need to move away from technology as a mark on a checklist. We should move into a space where technology is merely a tool to help our creations develop. Technology can provide the software, so to speak, and the platform for sharing. We are in the driver’s seat when it comes to what we will create.
Knowing that the best reading teachers are readers, and the best writing teachers are writers, shouldn’t all of our teachers be innovators? If we want children to embrace and take seriously the role of innovator, then we must be willing to be the guide on the side offering support and mentorship. This mindset encompasses all content areas and grade levels. It is for everyone, PreK-12.
In my heart, the things I know to be nonnegotiable are students reading what they want and writing what they want. My whole classroom revolves around this belief that my kids deserve protected reading and writing time each and every day. Within this time, I value inquiry work and students exploring the things that matter to them. One book, one pen. These are the tools that will help us change the world, and these are the tools that I provide my students no matter the cost. All other things just do not matter if my kids do not have a voice and choice in all aspects of their day. Technology is the vehicle.
Our ability to shed our comfort and move into spaces that feel difficult and necessary for growth, shows a lot about who we are as educators. Sure, we can be flexible when it comes to pop up assemblies and schedule changes, but are we ready to really disrupt our thinking on the assembly line education most American children are receiving?
It begins with putting our kids first.
Deciding that the right thing to do is to involve children in their educations.
They should be making decisions about technology and every aspect of their educational careers. What we do for kids, we do to kids. Their educations should not be something done to them. Our focus should be kids and relationships with them first. Technology and reading the world can help us elevate their voices and give them the platform to share those voices with the world.
But, it starts with us.
The following is a reflection I completed for my second graduate class. This is only the last portion, but I wanted to have it in this space because I believe that others could benefit from these ideas/ revelations for a fresh school year start.
Guide on the Side
This class has been a great blip on my teaching journey. I have learned alongside dedicated educators. Educators who have challenged my thinking with their smart ideas. Educators who think differently and provide a simplicity and perspective that I often struggle to find.
This has all led me to the work that I am most excited about for the new school year. Three aspects that will be completely different than the ways I have started the year in the past:
Inquiry Based Student Guided Curriculum
Comprehension and Collaboration and Curious Classrooms will be the last two professional texts I finish this summer. These two texts provide inquiry units and lessons to help guide a switch to a student centered curriculum. I have to fight off the temptation to add any other texts into the mix. I also need to understand that C&C is mostly a guided resource that can be made into whatever I want it to be. This is my first step to planning for a fresh school year.
I shared that I plan on having my incoming students come to school and help me setup our new learning space. This is the work that I am looking forward to. Getting to know these kids before school starts. Getting to see what they like and what types of environments help them learn. Getting to interact with parents and guardians before the year has even started. After our work together, I want the kids to be able to reflect on the practice. I want the opportunity to share what we do because I know it will be a powerful exercise. I plan on blogging, tweeting and Instagramming the experience, but I will have students choose how they want to reflect on the work. Opening this up for reflection will also tell me a lot about the kids and how they prefer to publish, jot ideas and develop their little pebbles of inspiration.
Classroom Pet Inquiry
This past week, I have had many questions about classroom pets. Naturally, I took to my followers on Instagram. So many teachers at my fingertips! Within minutes, seconds really, I had access to real-life classroom pet experiences and advice from those who had actual experience with the process.
These teachers reaffirmed what I knew should be at the heart of this inquiry, and that is my students. Many encouraged me to get the kids involved with the decision and financial aspect not just because of fears and allergies, but also because of community building.
My own inquiry (using Instagram as a tool) helped me find the hashtag #classroompets. Here were tons of visual representations, snippets and little bits of advice to guide my inquiry. Next, I found out about a classroom grant program that will help us finance our new friend. Within 24 hours, I talked with my teaching partner about a beginning of year inquiry pulling in math, science, social studies and of course, reading and writing.
My own curiosity and idea drove my inquiry. I was engaged in my learning because I had access to innovative outlets and I cared about the topic. As I’m writing this now I am realizing that this could be the basis for every single exploration we take on this year.
We can have an idea. A question. A wonder.
We can have access and the ability to explore, if our schools let us.
Link to my full portfolio, if you're interested.
I just returned from my first professional speaking experience. I was asked to present at two of the 2017 Scholastic Reading Summit locations, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
Did I have anything to say? Scratch that. Did I have anything NEW to say? I feel that I am kind of out here saying the things that many of us already know. Many of the things that so many teachers already do in their classrooms. Then, I realized that I am saying these things and sharing my classroom experiences mostly with educators already inside the kid lit community.
Each time I step outside of that community, I worry about what I see. I worry about the posts flooding Facebook Literacy communities. I worry about the posts I see on Instagram. I especially worry about the general education questions that flood my DMs. A friend recently told me that you can tell a lot about where a teacher is in their journey by the questions they ask you. As someone who has come a long way since their first year of teaching, and as someone who still has many miles to go, I have recently been thinking a lot about how I approach these educators.
I remember a few summers ago when I was filled with questions, more so than normal. It was the school year that a representative from the county told me that "I ask a lot of questions," in front of my colleagues during a PD session. It was also the year that I joined Twitter and stumbled upon the hashtag #nerdcampmi. I had just read Reading in the Wild, and could not ask enough questions. I wrote down every literacy person mentioned in the book, joined social media outlets with my educator hat on and fell down so many hashtag rabbit holes. It was a year of tremendous growth for me.
It was a year in which I had a lot of questions.
A lot of questions that probably felt stupid, or obvious to those I was asking.
Now my thinking is hanging in the balance. Each day, the pendulum swings from "hey, let me get you some great resources for that" and "I'm still growing my learning on that topic as well," to "You just read The Book Whisperer and you STILL don't get it?!" It is an overwhelming piece and it is one that I think about more than I need to.
I want to help others, like those that have helped me along the way. We need support from each other. I will help others. I will continue to open up dialogues (especially ones that teachers don't want to talk about), I will continue to post articles and link to research we all should know, as I hope others will continue to do for me, and I will continue to answer the questions I am asked, but at some point... I need teachers to start helping themselves. Yes, the community is out there to provide support, but I have put in a tremendous amount of self-guided work along the way. I have read many books, I have used trial and error in the classroom, reached out to others, and I've even taken to Google when I have a question that could easily... be answered... by a Google search.
My frustrations are not with the questions asked.
My frustrations lie in this space: when we know better, why are we not doing better?
Kylene Beers said it best:
If children want to learn vocabulary,
they should read.
If they need to develop fluency,
they should read.
If they need to learn about a topic,
they should read.
If they need to be a person they are not,
they should read.
If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe,
they should read.
We know this, right? Yet, what do so many teachers have children doing?
It just all feels like complete madness to me.
We should get something out of the way here. It is bogging down teachers and inadvertently, kids, everywhere.
It doesn't matter that YOU don't like the book. I'm looking at you, parent or teacher, who is clutching your pearls at this very moment because I started with an image from the new Captain Underpants movie.
Authors know what I'm talking about. You receive it in scathing Amazon reviews, you might receive a nasty letter from a parent who has never sneezed or burped or farted (say that last part in a Gru voice), or you might even be lucky enough to write a book that has been placed on a Banned Books list. As late as 2012, Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was still making the yearly top ten list because of uptight people contacting the Office for Intellectual Freedom. This book was released in 1989 and if my elementary librarian had a record of the amount of times I checked it out, I'm pretty sure my mom would have said "wow, my kid was reading... and reading a lot. Well done fine librarians and Alvin Schwartz!" I was obsessed with all things scary as a kid. My attitudes about reading might be different now if I was censored when it came to checking out children's' books in my own school library.
Look, no one needs you to publicly declare that you don't like Captain Underpants, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Guess who does? Kids. (And a lot of cool adults, like me). Need data to support that statement? There are now more than 164 million copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in print. When Old School was released in 2015? Over a million copies sold in the first week. (Independent, 2015). This is about them, not you. The last time I checked no master villains have been developed because of reading funny books. We probably could have defeated some epic jerk faces IF they had read funny comics as a kid.
Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report shows us what we already know: kids love to pick out their own books. Just like adults do. It also shows us that kids want books that make them laugh. They want fun reading experiences. Books like the ones I've mentioned give kids exactly that. This article from 2012 sums up my sarcastic attitude towards these parents who are upset that their kids are having enjoyable reading experiences. It is all about Captain Underpants being the most challenged book of 2012. I highly encourage you to read it.
This past weekend, my family went to go see Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. I haven't heard my husband laugh that hard at a movie in years. I was in tears because I was laughing so hard. My almost eight year old, glued to the screen. My three year old? Cried because we had to take her to the bathroom right when Professor Poopypants was getting his. Underneath the humor was this sad realization that Dav must have had years and years ago. So many schools are sucking the fun and life out of kids. Complaining that kids can't think critically when they haven't been given the time they need to play and explore their own interests. This system is bringing kids down and this movie highlights this, just like all of Dav's books. I believe if we as teachers, and parents, helped our kids find what they really love and gave them time to explore it, lives would change.
My dad always gives me great perspective in this area. He has always been an avid reader. I am talking taking the whole family to Barnes and Noble to read and explore, whole room dedicated to his beloved motorcycle magazines, always something in his hands avid reader. I was explaining the movie to him and the commentary it provided on education. He said that his first favorite motorcycle magazine, Cycle, is what taught him writing mechanics. Not his teachers drilling isolated grammar and sentence structure, but reading an actual mentor text is what showed him how to write. He battled the stigma around being a kid that wanted to make and work on things with his hands. He became a reader despite the adults around him, limiting him. I want my kids to become readers with my help, not in spite of me. But how many of our kids are forced into these same situations because of teacher attitudes?
This movie is powerful, just like Dav's books. The movie that I had posters for up in my classroom, and one that my fourth graders were pumped to add to their must see lists for the summer. Imagine if I would have had a bad attitude about that book and movie as their role model? I might not have had kids writing Dog Man inspired comics literally all year, I might not have had kids experience a resurge in the original series, I might have even decided to keep these books out of my library all together. In that case, what message would I be sending my kids?
That I don't value these books and reading experiences.
What an awful message to send to children. I won't be the one to do it. All reading experiences should be valued. LET KIDS READ! I am about sick of all these adults standing in the way! You want readers, so stop attaching rewards, AR quizzes, leveled baskets and shitty attitudes about children's literature. LET KIDS READ!
The kids will find the comics.
And then they'll read them.
Stop being a baby.
Sit down next to them and read them too.
It might just lower that high blood pressure.
My hardest work of the day is when my kids have settled in with their books. The lights are down low, but not too low. The windows are open to let in the breeze. It takes us a few moments to get into the zone. Once the crinkling of headphones bags, the logging-in on Audible, and the shifting of chairs comes to a halt, I get to work.
Conferences look different based on what readers need at the time. Some days I kid watch from a couple of different spots in the room and fill out an engagement inventory. On other days, you will see four or five kids huddled around my kidney table reading quietly as I check in with each reader. Most of the time, I will be working one on one with my readers.
The goal is simple: readers spend workshop time reading, and I spend workshop time helping them with their reading. It is my job to help readers grow. To make them feel like reader is a name they are worthy of. They are worthy of the name, and sometimes it takes many conversations throughout the year to help them try that on that name, to help them own it. How can so many teachers continue to ask me how I know that my kids are reading? How can so many teachers continue to require logged reading, when the answer is as simple as the goal? Give kids time to read, access to books and then work to help them as they grow and try on the name of reader. Be there for the conversations, because I promise they are the best part. The conversations are taken to a new level when you are living a readerly life, yourself.
Talking with kids about reading is the heart of workshop. Yes, I will work with readers on goals to help them grow. Maybe they are working to recognize pieces of plot in fiction to deepen their understanding. Maybe they are working on visualizing a mental movie as they read. Those things are all an important part of my work, but my favorite thing about these conversations is the heart that each individual reader brings to them.
Last week, I met with a fourth grader who was rereading Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series. First off, how advanced is that decision to reread a series? I started the conference by telling this reader that I was beyond impressed with this move. Then I asked him why? I like to keep things open-ended because let's face it, whoever is doing most of the talking, is doing most of the working. His response helped reaffirm why these conversations are so important. He said "The first time I read this series, I read with my heart. This time, I'm going to let my brain do the work." Profound.
A fourth grade reader actually said this to me. Please tell me, where would he have added this response on a standardized test? On a reading log? On a multiple choice quiz? In a fat packet with literal comprehension questions for each book? There is no place for heart work on these measures. The place for heart work is during conferences. Conversations between two readers will tell you everything you need to know about a reader, and more.
That day, I also met with about four other readers in his class. Keeping my check-ins at about five a day gives me the chance to meet with my kids once a week, at least. As I sat down next to another reader, I noticed he had a copy of Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, a book I had book talked just a few days prior. A book that I did not imagine seeing in the hands of this reader. I picked up Breadcrumbs and said "whoa, nice." He then said "Yeah, I am already 80 pages in and I really like it so far." I followed up with "80 pages? That's past the point of no return, what made you choose this one?" He told me that when he heard me book talk Breadcrumbs, it reminded him of Elsa from Frozen. He said he knew he wanted to give it a try because he liked Elsa and he hadn't spent any time reading fairy tales during the school year (that week we had completed a mini lesson on gaps in our reading lives). Then he looked over at me and said "This is my first big book." Being the outstanding actress that I am (I really wanted to cry), I simply said "wow, how does that feel?" He fidgeted with the book in his fourth grade hands and said "It feels really good."
This. This is what I am talking about. That reader had no limits from his teacher. That reader was not afraid to tell his teacher that he likes Elsa from Frozen. He was not afraid to try something new, step out of the box because of the safe community in our classroom. The community is a pivotal piece, because if you don't have it, conversations might not sound like this.
Conversations connect readers. Connected readers make up a community. Communities of readers can change the world. One heart at a time.
The intense gaze of an engaged reader.
Each day I am a researcher in the field. Observing. Listening. Note taking. Talking with my subjects.
Don't ignore all the little signs that readers are fully engaged. Hunched over in anticipation. Hand underneath the next page ready to turn. A gasp. A sigh. An UGH.
And my favorite: "Mrs. Riedmiller!!!!! ..........."
How did we get here? Well, it took a lot of hard work. It took a teacher who chooses to read a lot because she finally loves it again, it took daily protected time for reading, it took support for readers while they stretched out their limbs, it took a library full of engaging books that just happen to be there for these particular readers, it took a library down the hall and down in the valley to fill my gaps, it took readers seeing their teacher as a reader too. It also took their teacher deciding the only materials they needed were books and notebooks. It took their teacher dropping all of the TPT bullshit. It took their teacher pulling a Mr. Acevedo and saying "this is a no worksheet zone!" It is hard work.
However, it is work that can and must be done. How can we encourage other teachers in our building to join this journey with us? It isn't enough that we are the only ones (or one of few) doing this work. You have the community in your own classroom? Guess what? Now it's your sole mission to bring it to every other classroom in your building. In your district. Don't like how heavy it feels? Then you need to walk away from this post right now. Come back when you're ready.
Somehow, we need to take a step back. Take a step back from all the interventions, all of the material purchasing, all of the red tape, and decide that we value literacy. We value it in a way that says we will fight to get books into kids hands, and those books will be ones the readers picked, not us. We value it in a way that means we will continue to grow as educators, even when the district mandated PD might not be what does it for us. My core support group is filled with people that don't even live in my state. Reach out. We're out here, I promise. We value it in a way that shows it because we make time for it. You make time for the things you value. Period. If you value a packet full of graphic organizers over a book a kid chose in his own hands, then shame on you.
It's not good enough that you say "this is how we've always done it." It's not good enough that you feel like your hands are tied. It's not good enough to continue to say that no one listens to your requests. Get louder! Get smarter! Get tougher!
This fight is ours. It's on our shoulders, it's our responsibility. We can't continue to blame administration or whoever else is in the way that week. Stop telling your kids to have a growth mindset when you don't. Stop throwing RIGOR in their face when you shut down at the mere assumption that the answer is no. The top paragraph showcases what I want, and I am not willing to give it up. If you want it too, you have to fight for it. Ask the tough questions, push back when decisions are made that don't contribute to the greater good. Fight for what you believe in!
Get up. Dust yourself off and get back to work. We are here to serve kids. No one else.
"It is estimated that the "Summer Slide" accounts for as much as 85% of the reading achievement gap between lower income students and their middle- and upper-income peers." (Why Summer Matters in the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Frazen, August 2009.) WOW! We know that it is important for kids to engage with reading year-round, but there are certain shifts we must make as educators during the summer to help prevent a slide in both comprehension and engagement.
You see summer reading come in many forms in schools that are abuzz at the end of the school year. Our school used to do a calendar with parent signatures and the kids that read all summer got an ice cream party when school resumed in August (yikes). Even though that strategy now seems terrifying to me, it was backed by a well-meaning librarian. One who knew the research about summer slide and wanted to do something about. Other schools make required reading lists, or other incentive programs made to motivate students. The problem with that extrinsic motivation is that it does not stick. It motivates a student with a reward, not the actual reading. So, what can we all do? What are some ways to keep our kids reading over the summer and maintain those Wild Reading classrooms we have worked so hard to establish during the school year? Here is a list of things that I have found to help keep my kids engaged with reading over the long summer.
1. Make Plans
Before school is over, we start making plans for the summer. We take a look at our reading notebook and see some of our gaps for the school year, series that we really loved and what we plan on reading next. In my experience, it helps to write down the plan. This book form I created is one way for students to keep their list on hand. Students write the titles of books they want to read and color them in as they read. There is no reward involved with this, and students don't have to color, but the coloring helps some of us see what we have completed. You can also use the form to just keep track of what you ended up reading over the summer. That's it! We have forms just like this one that we keep in our reading notebooks, so my kids are pretty comfortable with this. We also share apps, websites and free book programs (from the Public Library and Barnes & Noble), so kids know where to find books during the summer.
2. Provide Access
Kids cannot read over the summer if they do not have any books to read. Period. It seems that some teachers and librarians have no idea that their kids live in book deserts. These same teachers rebute with "go to the public library, it's free!" This is not the answer for all families. Some communities have stringent requirements to get cards, like proof of residency. Some families have no way to get a library. Some families have anxiety over past fees and penalties, and some families do not have libraries in their communities. With that being said, we should not ignore the plethora of resources our public libraries offer.
-Give books away. The end of the year is a great time for teachers to weed through their classroom libraries, and these books can be laid out on tables in the library or cafeteria and students can choose books that they would like to keep. If you have two copies of great books in your library, give one away. Buy books for your kids. Do whatever you can to provide them with access to books they WANT to read. Last year, we saw kids excited for their "first books," some of our students didn't own any books.
-We don't just want to give kids books that we feel like aren't good enough for the library anymore, plan ahead. You can order books from Scholastic using bonus points all year long and have quite the collection for kids to choose from in June. Order a book for each of your kids that you know they will like (because you know them) and give it to them as an end of year gift. Ditch the water bottles, mechanical pencils and candy.
-Add Little Free Libraries around your community. These projects take some fundraising and planning, but they provide instant access to books for everyone in the community. We currently have two, one at each of our elementary schools. Our plans are to add two more before next summer.
-The Public Library. Our public library comes to our school and gives kids sign-up forms for library cards. Your library might do the same. They might even offer to come in and get kids signed up on the spot. Your public library is just waiting for you to reach out and ask for help. Our librarians in Hamilton County are top notch. Give kids handouts, showing them the summer programming and book clubs that your county offers. There would be nothing stopping you from some sort of carpooling effort and summer visit schedule.
3. Community Outreach
Last school year, our librarian was inspired by a presentation from the librarians who set up Books on Bikes. She changed the name to Books on Blankets and we started planning. Over the summer we spent one day a week (for the whole summer) providing a read aloud, free book and popsicle to every child in attendance. We had some families who came to BoB every single week during the summer. This means that their kids had at least one shared reading experience a week and one book they read a week. Using our outlets (Facebook, all-calls, school website and Twitter) we reminded families of our events and encouraged them to attend. Teachers, staff members and community members signed up to read aloud. They also helped pull our book carts out, helped kids select books and helped cut popsicles and clean-up. Our giveaway books were ones left from the giveaway at the end of the year, and some donations from our local Half Price Bookstores. This is such a simple way to provide for the community, and our ultimate goal is for a van. Be creative and start a project like this in your community!
There are so many great ways to share books with kids over the summer. These are three things that work for me and my district. None of them involve rewards or pre-made lists. I hope this post gets you excited about trying out what works for us, or sparks some inspiration to branch out and build on these ideas.
I happened to come across an ARC of Laurel Snyder's Orphan Island, due out in May of 2017. Thank you to Patrick Andrus to allowing me to read this one. I have been anticipating it's release.
Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. I cannot imagine what kind of challenge in must be to build worlds in the ways that excellent fantasy writers do. This book pulled me right in with some intense imagery. The setting is easy to imagine, it feels like paradise. A paradise where only nine children live in complete and happy bliss. Immediately I am pulled to images of Lord of the Flies or Blue Lagoon. The transportation to a new world is one that I have experienced for many years now.
How many times as a child did I imagine living far away, left to my own devices? More times that I can possibly remember. I was quite moved by The Boxcar Children series as a child. A couple of my childhood neighbors worked with me to create their world in our backyards. We made wild onion soup, set up different rooms in our house made of boxwood bushes. It was all quite magical, yet safe. The hollers of our mothers were always within earshot.
Another series that made a profound impact on playtime was The Babysitter's Club. I mean, what 80's/90's kid didn't have the same experience? You read Kristy's Great Idea and all of a sudden you have three of your closest friends gathered and a notebook with a cutout of JTT's face plastered on the front, Babysitter's Club scribbled in your best fourth grade cursive.
And while all of these memories of early world building sit fondly in my heart, there is one more that burns the brightest. As an early reader I was drawn to Mercer Mayer. Drawn might not be the word. Obsessed?
This book: There's An Alligator Under My Bed is one that will always remain a childhood favorite. I had a kindergarten teacher who made this fantasy world real and that inspired a lifetime of play when it comes to reading. I do not remember it all, but I remember her setting up plastic vegetables, fruits and cookies in a trail like the one the boy makes in the book. We had read the book together and then she transformed our classroom into the pages, and wow. What magic there was in that.
And so, I continued to build worlds. Whether it was the boxcar or my friend's bedroom because she was the only one who had a bubblegum pink Girl Talk phone.
As an adult, I no longer build these worlds, but I thoroughly enjoy visiting them through the work of others. If you like to be transported to different places with bizarre rules and possibilities then Orphan Island might be a nice choice for you. While the world is only one piece of the book, it is important. It allows the narrative of friendship and growing up to unfold in the most interesting way.
Students write narratives on Kid Blog.
Can you feel the shift to sheer fear in the classroom? It radiates down the hallways. It makes it's way into team and staff meetings. It permeates the four walls of our learning spaces. If you're a third grade reading teacher, it has probably lived in your room all year. The fear is not coming from the kids, it is coming from their teachers. The fear of will my kids pass the test? is sinking into schools all over America, right now. Tis the season.
This is not the same fear that lives in my teacher heart. My fears take the form of wondering if my kids love reading yet. It takes the form of hoping to one day hear the cheers that fill that room when it's time to get back to our latest writing piece. My fear is that the reading and writing community I worked so hard to establish is soon coming to an end. That it's time for me to pull away my scaffolds and see if my kids can still find books they WANT to read, and that it's time for them to see that all year my editing marks have not covered their notebook pages because I don't want their writer's voice strangled and left dead in a sea of red ink. These are my legitimate fears.
Teachers, do not be afraid that your children will not pass a test. We are human, they are human. We have days when we are not feeling well, when there is no possible way we can focus on another boring, made-up for testing story and the surface level comprehension questions that follow. And that is okay. Teachers, you work hard! You love kids! You are in the trenches helping them along the way every single day. Do not discount all of your hard work and theirs for one day. One day that means what exactly?
I will say this, and I mean it. The only "test prep" my kids do is this: they read and write every single day. We read across genres. We write across genres. Guess what? My kids still work on narrative writing even though it will not be tested on the Ohio Fourth Grade AIR test they will take next month. My kids make up stories that they want to tell, they find their voices. They work through hard times and share happy times. They anticipate book releases and their book talks and critical analysis can bring you to tears. They grow. They grow each and every day and that is worth more than one day of a test.
I am reminded of a time that Donalyn Miller appeared on Penny Kittle's The Book Love Foundation Podcast. She said this "Nobody goes down to the basketball coach and says hey, why are the kids just dribbling basketballs down here? Nobody goes to the band hall and says you know, don't you think the children should be comparing an oboe to a clarinet on a venn diagram? Don't you think that would improve their musicianship? We will still in the same school go down to an english classroom and ask why the kids are just reading and writing in here?" If you want kids to be better at reading and writing, they must have time to read and write. Not to fill out graphic organizers, hamburger writing templates, do language arts and crafts or even... your really "fun and engaging" test prep task cards.
So teachers, guess what you need to grow readers and writers?
Books. Lots of them. Across all genres and formats.
Paper & pencils. Lots of paper.
Time. Lots of time to read and write.
Communities that offer support and socialization. Lots of socialization.
Test Prep 101.