How I Read as a Literacy Leader

cesar-viteri-426877-unsplashSchoool leaders cannot know literacy without being a reader. Therefore we have to read. Here, I share five suggestions for becoming a more intentional reader.

  • Read widely.

This means reading across a variety of genres and modes. Both online and offline. The main benefit is that we don’t get pinned within one type of prose. Otherwise, we might get into a reading rut. Like well-worn tire tracks in the woods, we can get stuck within these constraints and not realize the variety that literature has so much to offer. We should also read newspapers, magazines, blog posts, tweets…anything worth our attention.

Consider: When’s the last time you read fiction? As a school leader, I can relate to our busy lives. Reading fiction may seem superfluous. But at what cost? Research shows many benefits to reading fiction, including building a broader perspective and developing empathy. Nonfiction is also enjoyable; however, the best nonfiction has a narrative arc. This is not a post about reading fiction as much as it is to stress the importance of reading widely and becoming a well-rounded individual.

  • Read regularly.

Habits take time and intention. We repeat what we enjoy. So it is important that we construct our environments for optimal times for reading and accessing text. For example, I always have a to-read pile on my bedside table. I’ll even organize this stack based on which book I plan to read next… #nerdalert

During the school day, I sometimes carry a book or article with me on the off-chance of downtime, what Donalyn Miller refers to as a “reading emergency”. My two children have emulated my practice. Imagine what your students might do if you tried the same thing. If life is too busy for even that, consider audiobooks. Audible offers a monthly membership where you can download any book to listen to in the car to and from school. Whatever life throws at you, just read.

  • Read publicly.

Reading in public view is one of the best ways to encourage everyone to be a reader. We make it visibly acceptable to be a reader wherever we may be. I think there is this cultural aspect that has formed, where it is now okay to check in with our smartphones constantly, while reading a book becomes less of a norm. And to write in public…aghast! You will get weird looks at worst, apathy at best.

Digitally speaking, I post my book covers in my email signature from Goodreads. When I update my book I am reading, the cover changes. I am a part of a community of readers through Goodreads, which gives me access to others’ reviews of books I have read plus ideas for future reading. This is something you as a leader can share with students, who can emulate this practice through Biblionaisum. If online is not to your taste, maybe have a book board where you print off covers of titles you are reading by your door, like our school librarian.

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  • Read critically.

It’s good to remember that every text is the author’s take on the truth. That means I read with a critical lens. I’ll have a pen in hand and write in the margins. It’s a transactional process, where I am interpreting what I am reading through my current and limited thinking (why I need a reading community, see prior). As an example, I will sometimes highlight a few words in the text and accompany this annotation with a question or a comment. The author and I are (almost) having a conversation in this sense.

Sometimes, I will even select a text that runs counter to my current beliefs. At the very least, I will understand multiple sides of an issue. It’s also possible that my thinking will change on a topic. For example, I have picked up The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. This text, critical of reading online, will pair well with Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan. I can read both with a critical stance, knowing the two authors are coming at this similar topic from different perspectives, which could expand my own point of view regarding new literacies.

  • Read selectively.

For some professional resources, I have moved away from feeling I have to read the whole book. Some of the content is more relevant than other parts. My time is limited. Furthermore, I don’t have time for bad writing. The official reviews on Amazon, from legitimate sites and sources, are often reliable. We have to remember that we have permission to say “no” with regard to our precious time.

Same goes for recreational reading. For example, if someone recommends a book to me, and upon preview it is not of interest, I feel okay about declining. That said, I have been more careful about my own book recommendations to others. With others, I might say “You might find this book interesting. If you want, check it out. If you are not interested, feel free to throw it my mailbox.”

How do you read as a leader? What strategies or books have helped you know literacy? Please share in the comments.

 

Three Ways to Increase Student Engagement in Reading

The research is clear: If a student is not motivated to read and is not engaged in the text, all of the strategy instruction a teacher might provide may be for naught (Guthrie and Klauda, 2014; Ivey, 2014; Wanzek et al, 2014). That is why it is critical that we make reading meaningful so that students make meaning out of what they are reading and become lifelong readers.

The following three activities are excellent beginnings for increasing reading engagement.

1. Reading Aloud

This is quite possibly the most underutilized practice K-12 that also has the greatest potential for developing engaged readers. It’s how I got engaged in reading – my 3rd grade teacher read aloud Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. I was hooked. I don’t know how many times I reread that book after hearing it read aloud (my parents could verify).

When I was a 5th and 6th grade teacher, one of my go-to resources was The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. The treasury of recommended read alouds in the back of the book was indensible to me as a busy classroom teacher. Whatever he recommended, I know I could count on as a quality text that would create an excellent shared reading experience with my students.

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As a school principal, I continue to utilize reading aloud. For example, I read favorite poems, jokes and quotes during morning announcements. Also, teachers invite me to read a favorite picture book in their classroom. It’s a great way to share an excellent story while also getting to know the students better. In addition, I model for everyone – students and teachers – the importance of creating shared experiences around the written word.

2. Speedbooking

The purpose of this activity is to introduce students to new titles they might want to read and add them to their to-read list. The power in this practice is that the students are the ones recommending the books, not the teacher. This idea comes from an article out of the Wisconsin State Reading Association journal. It is an activity designed for English language learners, but as with most better practices, it is excellent for all students.

To start, I explain the purpose for the activity (to discover new books to read; to build a stronger community of readers; to learn how to write and share a short book review). Then I model for the students how to prepare their reviews. Recently, I used a favorite chapter book/read aloud of mine, The Smartest Man in Ireland by Mollie Hunter. Here are my notes I wrote under the document camera for 5th graders.

The students write their own short summary notes as I write mine in front of them. I make the point that the focus is on being able to verbally share a book review. The notes are there as talking points. Also stressed is the importance of stating the author’s name and considering why the audience might want to read the book. Students are apt to describe why they like something without thinking about their listeners in their review.

With notes and book in hand, students get into two circles facing each other. For some humor, I share with the students that adults used to participate in speeddating to meet someone they might want to date (“Ewww!” is the common response). To draw the analogy, I explain that they should be particular about which book(s) they might want to read and to be a critical consumer if they don’t find a title appealing.

This leads into each student getting 1-2 minutes to verbally share a book revew of their favorite title with their partner and then switch. One side of the circle moves either to the left or to the right, and the process starts over again. When a book strikes their fancy, they should write it down to consider for later. They may not hear every book and that is okay. A final product is a to-read list on an index card they can use as a book mark.

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3. Book Raffle

In 2013 I wrote about hosting a book raffle in a 5th grade classroom (click here for that post). The idea comes from Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley. Here is how it works:

  1. Select books from the school library and bring them into the classroom.
  2. Provide a list of the titles for each student + sticky notes for the raffle.
  3. Recommend each book to the students while they note which ones they want.
  4. Students put raffle tickets in for the texts they want to read.
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I have read all of these books. I could not recommend them without having read them.
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Students note which books they want on the list and prepare raffle tickets.
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The cups in front of each book will hold their raffle tickets.
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Students put in their raffle tickets for the books they want to read

All of the titles are from our school library. With the lists the students now have, they can check out any book they want but couldn’t get right away at a later date. I encourage students to “bug” their classmates to finish a book they want to read next.

All three of these activities are only the beginning for building reading engagement in a classroom. Teachers have to keep the momentum going, by reading aloud daily in the classroom, by frequently checking in and conferring with students during independent reading time, and by celebrating their literary accomplishments, such as number of books read and how widely they are reading. Donalyn Miller’s two resources (The Book Whisperer, Reading in the Wild) are filled with excellent ideas for any teacher looking to build reading engagement in their classrooms.

References

Going Schoolwide with Reading Engagement

Two years ago we sent our 4th and 5th grade teachers to CESA 5 to hear Donalyn Miller speak. Familiar with both of her excellent books, one of the hallmarks of her work is allowing the students to guide their own reading lives. This happens when the teacher provides opportunities for structured choice and exposure to quality, high interest literature in school.

One of the ideas gained from Donalyn that has entered our school is the reading graffiti board. A teacher created one in her classroom. The kids took off and took it over. They added quotes from their current books they were reading independently. The students also pulled memorable lines from the read alouds the teacher started facilitating on a regular basis.

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Students proved themselves to be very adept at selecting quotes from the texts they were reading. That is why we tried it out on a schoolwide bulletin board. It is one way we are modeling literacy engagement, our building’s goal. Specifically, we are attempting to increase questioning and student discussion in order to realize increased engagement, in both our students and teachers.

Using the companion book to Wonder by R.J. Palacio, 365 Days of Wonder provides one quote a day, as curated by Mr. Brown, a teacher from the story. He refers to these quotes as “precepts”. We call them “Word We Live By” in our school. Many of the quotes come from well-know figures of past and present. Others are from fictional students in his class.

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I would select one quote and read it over the announcements. Then I used a metallic marker to write on the board. The board is located next to where students line up for lunch.

As we have filled up the board, there have been signs that others want to participate in this activity. For example, one of our reading interventionists shared an anthology of quotes “collected” by Pete the Cat. See image. Whenever possible, I’ve included an illustration. Students and staff have shared that they like hearing me on the P.A. system daily.

Good Intentions

As our quotes filled up our board from left to right, I noticed that the marker was wearing out. The silver just wasn’t as bright. In normal teacher mode, I would have gone out and purchased a new marker. But recognizing that reading and writing are participatory activities, I decided to retire my marker.

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My hope was that a student or teacher would “carry the torch” and start offering thoughtful quotes of their own. I even offered a rubric for what I believe makes for a quote worth sharing.

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No such luck! I guess this is a good lesson in teaching: No matter how much we model, we have to include the learners in our demonstrations at some point. This concept comes back to the gradual release of responsibility, reframed as the Optimal Learning Model by Regie Routman.

Scaling Down, Not Up

With that, I have “inducted” a few 5th grade students to find important phrases within authentic literature. I was previously meeting with a small group to discuss questionable behaviors in our school and how to solve them together. Ever the teacher, I had donned my instructor’s hat and requested that they journal about how school and life in general was going for them. Lots of giggles and little depth in their responses told me that this wasn’t working for anyone.

How many times does it take for someone to understand that when we tell learners to learn, it is often met with indifference and resistance? For me, I’m still counting. I’ve put the notebooks away for now. In it’s place was a preview stack of high interest fiction for a different composition of two interested 5th graders to choose from and read together. We came to consensus on The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Yearling, 2004). I think I had them at “underground city” during my brief book talk.

It was their suggestion to bring in a third student for our Monday book club during our lunch. We agreed that a more visual example of The City of Ember might help with comprehension when reading the book later. I found the graphic novel adaptation of DuPrau’s book in our school library and on iBooks. The three students could pick which text format in which they wanted to read the graphic novel in the classroom.

The next week, all three students came ready to discuss The City of Ember. I let them do most of the talking and asked a lot of questions, some of which I didn’t know the answer. These inquiries were mostly about their opinions about the text, and how the graphic novel might be different than the original we would be reading next. Our conversation lasted five minutes about the book before it evolved to their plans for the week outside of school.

First Signs

At our most recent meeting, one of the students commented, “Time goes by so fast during our book club at lunch.” Promising. Around this same time, a 2nd grader brought a new metallic marker from home and gave it to me as a holiday gift. She had noticed the dried out one taped to the reading graffiti board while waiting in the lunch line.

I know what to do with the new marker: When ready, hand it over to the students.

How Do You Find Time to Write a Book?

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photo credit: dhammza via photopin cc

With yesterday’s launch of my new eBook, this question seems to come up the most. It is sometimes followed up with, “You know, I have always wanted to write a book. It would be about…” I don’t have a simple answer, but I do have some suggestions if you also aspire to write about something you are passionate about and want to share with the world.

In the beginning of this project, about one year ago, I did not intend on this becoming a book. I simply started reflecting about our school’s progress in embedding technology into instruction through writing. I started writing a “booklet” to share with staff, especially faculty who were new to our learning journey. Even before that, I often blogged about our practices here.

Once I realized that this booklet was becoming something bigger than anticipated, I submitted what I had written so far to a publisher, Powerful Learning Press. The editor, John Norton, liked what he saw and encouraged me to write more.

So what happened between then and now? To begin, I dedicated time to write. This meant selecting certain days and times where I would just sit down and write. I wasn’t worried too much about images to embed, grammar, or organization. My goal was to get my thoughts down on paper, digitally speaking.

What I found out about myself is that I have a hard time writing at home. Too many distractions? I don’t know, but I would go to certain establishments that specifically did not have wireless. This way I wasn’t tempted to check my Twitter feed or see what’s shaking online.

In addition to dedicating time to write, I also read a lot. Seems counterintuitive, right? How would I have time to read if I needed to write? The ideas suggested in my text did not come out of thin air. They are a series of connections I have made between different people’s perspectives. This includes books, articles, websites, tweets, blog posts. The information I gleaned from reading was in addition to the in-person and online conversations I had with many experts on authentic literacy assessment.

Whether I was reading or writing, I also became better about identifying and utilizing writing emergencies. This is similar to “reading emergencies”, those unexpected downtimes for engaging in reading that Donalyn Miller promotes in her book Reading in the Wild. Writing emergencies would come up when taking the kids to swimming lessons, or when I might be waiting for an auto repair. I would pull out my laptop and write a few paragraphs during these lulls.

So where does one find the motivation to write and complete a book? Having a helpful and supportive community was essential for me during this process. My wife was very encouraging about taking time to go write. My editor and other beta readers provided needed feedback. Also, having loose deadlines was definitely motivating to “get after it”. This book had one author’s name on the cover, but there were many contributors.

Maybe the most important factor in finding time to write this book is that I was compelled to share what I now knew with others. Our work we were doing was unique and deserved to be promoted. I was constantly thinking about it. It was hard to “turn off” all that was happening. The only way to get these ideas out of my head was to document and share them. Some time spent away from family and friends was hard, yes, but I would like to think I was more present for them when I was done with writing for that day.

To learn how other writers who are also practicing educators develop their resources, check out two blog posts:

Both their experiences and expertise far exceed mine.

So do you have an idea rattling around in your head? Is it all you think about? Would others benefit from learning from what you know and are able to do? Maybe it is time to share it in a more formal capacity. Please share in the comments where you are at in your thinking right now.

Rethinking Reading Logs

In another lively #educoach Twitter chat, we discussed the first chapter of Donalyn Miller’s book Reading in the Wild. This excellent resource provides educators with many ideas on how to raise readers for a lifetime, and not just for that next test or quiz.

A topic that came up near the end of the discussion was reading logs.

There were multiple responses. Most of them were not favorable toward this practice. I realize why educators use reading logs: We want students to become habitual readers. But why do we develop habits? A habit is a behavior that we repeat over and over because we experience something positive from it.

Reading logs do not develop lifelong readers. It is the act of reading itself – the entertainment to be had, the information gained, and the subsequent socialization we experience – that keeps us coming back for more.

So how can we rethink this assessment tool, so that the accountability we place on students to become more regular readers augments instead of detracts from the experience?

Reading Graffiti Boards

Our 4th and 5th grade teachers all attended a one day workshop with Donalyn Miller last fall. Reading graffiti boards is an idea suggested by her. The teacher puts up black butcher paper. He or she then models how to write favorite lines from their book they are reading on the board. Metallic markers make the writing pop out.

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During my regular walkthroughs, I enjoyed watching this graffiti board expand with student contributions. This tool for sharing led to students having more authentic peer conversations with each other about what they were reading. It also served well as a natural way to recommend titles.

Would this have occurred with reading logs?

Blog Instead of Log

My son hated filling out his reading log as a first grader this past school year. It was like pulling teeth, as they say. Because he liked technology (just like his dad:), we tried blogging about his reading instead.

We used KidBlog as our writing tool. Initially, it was still the same process of forcing him to respond to his reading. But once he started getting comments from family members, such as his grandmother, he became more motivated to share his reading life.

We hit pay dirt when one of his favorite authors, Johnathan Rand, posted a comment on his blog post about his book series Freddy Fernortner: Fearless First Grader. (I had emailed the author my son’s post about his books, in hopes of him responding.) After a discussion in the comments, including many questions from my son, I suggested hosting a Skype chat between the author and his classmates.

Before the Skype chat, the classroom teacher had the students suggest several questions for Mr. Rand. When they finally did connect with him, students had the opportunity to come up and speak with the author, each with a question in hand.

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After this experience, I was told that many of my son’s 1st grade classmates were much more motivated to read, especially the Freddy Fernortner chapter book series. This included one student who last semester was in Reading Recovery.

Would this have occurred with reading logs?

Create Book Trailers

In another one of our 4th grade classrooms, a teacher had discovered Educreations. This is a simple web-based screencasting tool that can be used on iPads and other mobile devices. Students in this classroom still had reading expectations, but they were to create a book trailer for a title they had recently read.

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Book trailers are visual and audio summaries of titles, with the purpose of convincing someone else to read that book. The students in this classroom regularly shared their creations with their peers by mirroring the content onto the whiteboard. I was told that one of the more challenging students in this classroom, who refused to do much of any other work, was highly motivated to create these book trailers.

Would this have occurred with reading logs?

I realize my repeated question is rhetorical. The reactions, products, and feelings toward reading that I listed would not have occurred with the outdated practice of paper-based reading logs. There needs to be an authentic audience for the responses students are asked to produce about their reading. This audience creates a more profound purpose for these types of assessments and accountability tasks.

What is your opinion on reading logs? In what ways have you augmented how students respond to their independent reading? How do you know it is working, in that your students are becoming lifelong readers? Please share in the comments.

Making Our School’s Learning Visible

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Our wall of effort has gone digital. Instead of posting the great efforts of our students on a wall by the cafeteria, we now proudly recognize them on our flatscreen. Using a digital media player, slides now rotate with names of students who have shown strong growth in reading and mathematics. We also celebrate the efforts of our students that have affected others through acts of kindness and service.

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So now we have this semi-barren wall. In the future, it will be drywalled so that it provides for a cleaner aesthetics. While several of our accolades adorn some of this space, there are several empty sections that could be displaying something important. I don’t know an educator that felt comfortable leaving a wall blank.

So what are your suggestions? Really, I don’t know what should go here. Here is what we have for ideas so far:

  • Take Donalyn Miller’s idea from Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and create a Reading Graffiti Board. The gold spaces you see in the middle would be covered with black paper. Then, students and staff members could use metallic markers to write their favorite quotes from books they have read or are currently reading.
  • Classrooms could print and post pictures of the students at work, creating a Visual Learning Mural. Parents often express their desire to see what is happening in school. Grades and assessment reports don’t provide the whole picture. And as we know, students are not always very good about articulating what they learned on a daily basis with their parents.
  • Our focus this year as a building is informational writing. Our expected outcome is for the vast majority of our students to produce at least one quality explanatory paragraph. What if this space was designated as a Writing Mastery Wall? Teachers would submit what they felt was exemplary writing to me, and I would attach that piece of student work to the wall with the student’s grade level noted. The purpose of this project would also posted on the wall. Teachers would be encouraged to refer to the Common Core State Standards and the district curriculum when they determined as a team what was worthy for the wall.

What are your thoughts? Do you think one of these ideas works best for our wall? What other ideas do you have? Please share in the comments.

Create a Buzz with a Book Raffle

Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley, in their new book Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2014), offer a variety of great ideas to encourage students to be life long readers. One idea I tried this week with 5th graders was hosting a book raffle.

I was asked by one of my 5th grade teachers to share some titles I enjoyed when I taught this same grade seven years ago. Below is my list of books that I “blessed”. The students used Donalyn’s template for recording the books they wanted to read.

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Reprinted with permission from Donalyn Miller.

After I shared a short recommendation for each book, students could put a red ticket with their name on it in that book’s cup. This would enter them into a drawing to read that book first. If they were not picked for a book they really wanted, they could still use their list they created to check it out later. All of these titles came from our school library.

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Once all the books were claimed, I led the dozen or so 5th graders down to the library on the first floor to check them out.

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Without book talks, I suspect that several excellent titles would sit on their respective shelves in school libraries. This idea from Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley helps kids become more aware of great books and authors that deserve more attention. Both students and adults can get into reading ruts without the support of a community of readers.