Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Chapter 5 and Appendices #cyberPD

Chapter 5 of Donalyn Miller's book, Reading in the Wild, may have been my favorite chapter of the book. It is titled "Wild Readers Show Preferences." Perhaps it is my favorite chapter because it is the one that caused me to do the most reflecting upon my own reading habits and on what I do (or, more accurately, what I haven't been doing) in the classroom.

My own reading preferences are similar to the Wild Reader Survey results. I, too, prefer realism over fantasy. However, that doesn't mean that I only read realistic fiction. I have varied and broad tastes when it comes to my reading preferences, but that's a blog for another day…

I examined my own reading preferences and mentally congratulated myself for the tremendous job I did in sharing my preferences with my students. Then it hit me. It shouldn't be about MY reading preferences. It should be about my STUDENTS' reading preferences. "Valuing their tastes shows our students that we trust them to make their own decisions about what they read. Students' preferences should hold as much sway in the classroom community as ours." (page 167) I began to feel guilty, but further reflection reminded me that I did do a great deal to honor my students and their preferences. Josh loved soccer, so I found both fiction and nonfiction books for him. Elli worshipped her dog and was an aspiring equestrian, so books with dogs and girls entering horse shows were added to my library. But did I dig deeply enough to find out about each students' preferences, or did I barely skim the surface?

Yes, I worked diligently to find books to suit my students' preferences, but where I truly fell short was in not reading widely enough myself. "We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students--as role models who read for diverse purposes and reading advisors who know a lot about books that appeal to all types of readers. The more widely we read, the more expertise we offer to our students." (page 167) An implication for me would be that I would have to start expanding my horizons, and I challenged myself to start by reading a graphic novel. I had just finished reading Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, so I then read Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Jacobson and Colon (2010.) In doing so, I  received valuable background knowledge about Anne and her family that I didn't learn from her diary.

Surprisingly, I also learned about myself as a reader and about my reading process. The graphic format was an unfamiliar genre, and I struggled to make meaning at times. We reading educators should do that more often--immerse ourselves in difficult and unfamiliar text. If we only read "easy" texts, we are not forced to examine our own metacognitive processes. Sometimes we unintentionally leave important details out of our think alouds because we read with automaticity; the reading process has become second nature to us. It is much more authentic, relevant, and worthwhile to our students when we show them how we grapple with our own unfamiliar, difficult text.

Donalyn discusses the power of rereading favorite books on page 175. I admit that from year-to-year, I frequently reread favorite picture books and novels in my classroom, but I rarely reread books for personal pleasure. (I hereby vow to reread To Kill a Mockingbird this summer!) There are definitely benefits of allowing students to reread their favorite books. Perhaps now I won't be so quick to judge when I see a student reading a book for the umpteenth time, but I will ask more questions about why the student chooses to do so.

As an instructional specialist who works mostly with literacy instruction, I frequently challenge the teachers with whom I work to make sure they have a balance in the genres of books they share with their classes: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This past year I shared the nonfiction website as a way to include more nonfiction that is both appealing and of high-interest. I love Donalyn's idea on page 181 of teachers sharing a few amazing, nonfiction facts each day with students during transition times. I've witnessed teachers do this with joke books, too.

In Donalyn's discussion of the reading habits conferences she has with students, she mentions on pages 184-185 that she assesses her students' independent reading levels three times per year. In my district, our teachers do the same thing but with a different assessment. We have been trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to move teachers away from labeling students with the level they reached. ("Oh, Johnny? He's a level 8. He could never read that book on elephants because it's a level 14.") Donalyn says that she records "at, above, or below grade level." I'd much rather my teachers view their students' levels in that manner instead of pigeon-holing them into a numbered level.

Donalyn ends the chapter with her 40-book requirement for her students. This is not new information to her fans and followers, but I like her explanation of why she does that is." The main reason Susie and I expect students to try a little bit of everything is so that they can find what they like to read." (page 192) How else will they know what they like if they haven't tried a variety of different genres? How will we, as teachers, know?

I appreciate the invaluable information in the appendices at the end of the book. I particularly like the easy-to-implement, straightforward, teacher- and student-friendly forms in appendix A and B. I would like to have the faculty at our school answer the Wild Reader Survey in order to start an interesting conversation about the results. I plan to share Appendix E: Students' Favorite Titles and Series with teachers interested in expanding and/or updating (or even starting!) their classroom libraries.

So, now that the summer is coming to a close, it's time for my real thinking to begin. How am I going to implement all of these ideas with my teachers when we are back at school? I cannot wait to see how the ideas presented here impact our school.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

READING IN THE WILD, chapters 3 and 4, #cyberPD

Growing up, I was exactly the kind of kid who would fit Donalyn Miller’s definition of a “wild reader.” I read constantly, just about any book I could get my hands on. And my obsession with reading continues to this day! I am Reading In the Wild, for the blog link-up and Twitter initiative #cyberPB. I am excited to have this opportunity to write a reflection on chapters 3 and 4 of Donalyn’s latest book,

Chapter 3 is titled “Wild Readers Share Books and Reading With Other Readers.” On page 91, Donalyn states that “If we want children to read more, we must provide them with classrooms, libraries, and homes where reading is the norm.” Classroom libraries are one of my “hot button,” “soapbox” issues. When I was a classroom teacher, our classroom library was the cornerstone around which all literacy activities revolved. I once cataloged my classroom library during a doctoral course, and I was astonished to see that I had over 3,000 books. These books were donated by students and their families, supplemented by points earned for freebies by Scholastic book club, and mostly bought with my very own money. I put a lot of money into my library because I believed that it was the most important investment I could make in my students’ literacy lives.

I walk into many classrooms now where, unfortunately, there are only a few dozen books for students to use. Public and school libraries are extremely important places, but I would argue that we should spend much more money investing in classroom libraries. Classrooms are where students spend the majority of their time, and students should have easy, ready access to books at any moment. Teachers have no control over the access that children have to books outside of their classrooms, but they have (almost) complete control over the books that are in their rooms. I challenge classroom teachers to stop spending their money on motivational posters or on the latest, cutest bulletin board borders and to start buying more books!

The bottom line is this: our students will not and cannot become wild readers if we do not provide them with lots of interesting reading material IN OUR CLASSROOMS.

Other trends that Donalyn noticed through her Wild Reader Survey included many ideas that were similar to the results that I got in my own dissertation research. In my study, second graders were asked about their reading lives. Like Donalyn’s Wild Readers, my second graders relished the opportunity to hear about books from other readers. In fact, most of the second graders relied on recommendations from others to decide what they would like to read. One of the strategies I introduced in the intervention classroom to motivate the kids to read was the use of book talks. The books that the teacher and I shared through book talks soon became the hottest, most sought-after titles in the room!

Chapter 4 is titled “Wild Readers Have Plans.” I love the quote on page 137 from Penny Kittle about the difference between readers and non-readers: readers have plans. Donalyn points out that there are different types of reading plans. One of those types of plans is a commitment plan. Perhaps this is the easiest plan for a teacher and students to implement. It means simply setting aside time each day to read.  This is simple for many teachers, but in many districts like the one where I teach, how teachers manage their time is mandated by higher-ups. When I was building my classroom schedule each year, I would first plug in the times that I had no control over: lunch, specials, etc. Next, I would plug in time for students to read independently and time for me to read to the students. (I should point out that this time was IN ADDITION to instructional reading time.) How did I find this “extra” time? Mainly I was able to pull minutes from non-instructional, time-wasting activities such as class restroom breaks. I also became a pro at teaching my students routines (for turning in work, for getting ready for lunch, for cutting out words for spelling sorts, etc.) that they could manage quickly and efficiently with little assistance from me.

While I did make sure that my students had time each day to read and that they had interesting reading material, I did not do much to motivate them to set the kinds of challenges Donalyn mentions in chapter 4. I have since set those kinds of challenges for myself. You can read about a couple of those challenges here: my mini-Newbery challenge , book gap challenge .

Chapter 4 ends with Donalyn talking about personal reading canons, “the books that have shaped and defined us” (p 159.) I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on which books I would say were in my own canon. I hope to make that another blog post soon!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Anne Frank Text Pairing

One of the many beauties of summer reading is that we have more time to read exactly what we want to read. Many of the people I know joke about how their To Be Read (TBR) stacks are so large that they are in danger of toppling, and despite endless hours of reading, only seem to grow and grow. After reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild (2014), I added a new type of TBR to my summer reading stack--my book gap. Donalyn defines a book gap as "the books we avoid or titles we haven't read in spite of popularity or acclaim." The first book I thought of was Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

I knew all about Anne Frank and her secret annex, but how in the world had I not read her diary? One of the free books I received at the IRA conference in May was Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Jacobson and Colon (2010.) I brought it home, and my 12 year old daughter immediately snatched it and took it to her room. Then, two weeks ago, when I went to see The Fault in Our Stars, I was entranced by Hazel and Gus's visit to the secret annex while in Amsterdam. So, I went to my library and got Anne's diary.

Anne's diary was so intriguing. The details Anne gave about the rooms in the annex and the 8 people who lived there were quite vivid. But, there were many things I had questions about. Since this was a diary written only from her perspective, what was I missing? What events had been shown only from her bias? What happenings were going on that Anne knew nothing about? The diary ends abruptly, and without the notes at the conclusion of the book, I was left wanting answers.

I ran to Katie's room and snagged the Graphic Biography.

This was the first time I'd ever read a graphic book, and I truly enjoyed it. Many of the answers I was wanting were included--there were photographs of the Frank family and their helpers, a diagram of the secret annex, more details on how the eight in hiding were discovered and their fates. I was provided with much more of a sense of closure than had I just read her diary.

I am so thankful that I closed this particular book gap and, in the process, was also able to delve into the genre of graphic books.

Summer Professional Development Woes

Today is the 15th day of summer vacation (weekends not counted.) I have spent FIVE of those precious days off in professional development. That's one-third of my summer, so far, in professional development. (Thank you, Dr. Obvious, but I felt it was worth reiterating.)

On Friday, June 13, I went to the NTCTELA conference in Hurst. No one sent me to this conference; instead, I went because I was interested. I went because it was finally an opportunity, relatively close (if over an hour away is considered close) to home, to hear Donalyn Miller speak. I paid the $85 registration fee myself. I paid it because I felt it was worth it. Or, rather, I didn't mind paying that amount because I felt that I would grow immeasurably because of my attendance. And boy, did I!

On Sunday, June 15, I traveled with five of my colleagues to San Antonio for a three day conference on educating students of poverty led by Eric Jensen. Our principal presented us with this opportunity, and the six of us agreed to go. No, this time I didn't foot the bill for the travel or the lodging, but it did mean that I had to arrange for someone to watch my three kiddos in my absence. I was giving up several days of irreplaceable time with the three people whom I love more than anything. But I gave it up because it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear a guru share his secrets for working with our hard-to-reach kids.

Two days ago, I went to a one day offering by our local regional educational service center. Again, it was over an hour away. The two other instructional specialists at our school and I both attended. While there were numerous teachers there from across our district, there was only one classroom teacher from our school. Oh, and let me mention here that attendees to the conference were able to receive a $75 stipend for going! So why didn't more educators take advantage of this opportunity--an opportunity to grow professionally AND take home a nice chunk of change in the process?

I think there are a few reasons why more people didn't go. Obviously many people have conflicts--vacations, teaching summer school, and childcare issues. But what is really the issue here? Is it because there is a lack of a growth mindset? Do some educators not see the need to grow professionally? Surely that is not the case. Or, is it because a lot of professional development just isn't very engaging for the learners? Unfortunately, I think it is mostly because of the latter.

A friend of mine who teaches in a neighboring district recently had to take the required thirty hours of professional development for teaching gifted students. He posted several rants on social media. I inferred that the presenters were lacking in audience engagement. He complained about the unprofessionalism of the educators around him (something I, too, suffered from at one of my conferences.)

If we look reflectively at our professional developments in the same way that we reflect upon how our lessons went in our classrooms, I am sure that we would see some startling comparisons. If our audience isn't very attentive to the point of being rude, is it truly their fault? Is it their fault that the material may not be relevant to their lives? Is it their fault that they may not have had a choice in
attending? I argue that no, it is not their fault. Those of us who design professional development have an obligation to make sure that our audience is engaged, to make sure that the material is somehow relevant to our participants, and to account for the fact that some people were "forced" to attend. There is some sort of disconnect--the things we would never do in our classrooms are the exact things that many leaders of professional development do to their adult learners. We know that a lecture format is not very effective. We know that people need to talk and to move. We know that people need choice. So why aren't we addressing these things more often in our professional development offerings?

Monday, June 23, 2014

NTCTELA Conference: Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne

I have been a loyal stalker fan of Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne for years. I’m not sure how I was unable to see them present in person for so long, but I was. FINALLY my first opportunity to hear them speak was at the NTCTELA conference in Hurst on June 13. The title of their presentation was “E = MC2 (Engagement = Meeting Conditions Too).”

Donalyn and Teri have not kept it a secret that they are busily writing a book together (along with 20 of their closest friends.) They shared that the working title of their book is The Engagement Manifesto. The book will include information on what engagement is, what it is not, and how we can tell if students/readers are truly engaged. Teri went on to explain that engagement truly is “the unconscious delight of getting lost in a book.” (LOVE that definition!)

The entire presentation was built around Australian researcher Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning: immersion, demonstrations, expectations, employment, responsibility, approximations, and response (feedback.) Donalyn and Teri also shared dozens (dare I say “hundreds”?) of book recommendations. That alone was worth the price of admission to the conference.

I took nine pages of handwritten notes during their lecture. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Donalyn on technology: What is the iPad offering the learner?

Teri on how to start a read aloud: Begin reading picture books with the cover. Look at the fly pages. Notice everything you can, all over the book.

They reminded us that the number one way to improve reading proficiency is through independent reading. The number two way is through read aloud.

The more striving readers you have, the more read alouds you should do. It is the great equalizer. DM

RIGOR is not about levels and lexiles. It is about how complex the text is. COMPLEXITY is how an author does things in interesting ways that are accessible to the reader. TL

“Reading belongs to the reader.” DM

Value reading preferences. True preferences come from wide reading. DM

Striving readers become stronger subsequent readers with each book in a series. DM

Donalyn and Teri were definitely in their element—discussing literacy practices and books with educators. Some of the books they recommended that are now on my Amazon Wish List (come on, pay day, Mama needs some new books!) include:

I Kill the Mockingbird (Paul Acampora)
The Knife Of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)
Absolutely Almost (Lisa Graff)
One for the Murphys (Lynda Mullaly Hunt)
Jane, The Fox, and Me (Fanny Britt)

I cannot wait until the next time I’m able to hear the Dynamic Duo of Donalyn and Teri in person again!

NTCTELA Conference--Matt de la Pena

Although school hadn't even been out for an entire week, I started my summer professional development on Friday, June 13, in Hurst at the North Texas Council of Teachers of ELA (NTCTELA) conference. I am not a member of the organization, but when I saw who they had lined up to speak--well, I had to go! The keynote speaker was author Matt de la Pena. Other featured speakers included Donalyn Miller (the Book Whisperer), Teri Lesesne, Penny Kittle, and Matt Glover.

I had read lots of buzz about Matt de la Pena on social media and on blogs, but I had not read any of his work prior to the conference. I felt a little guilty about that. Our gift for attending the conference was a free copy of one of Matt's books. I received his novel Mexican White Boy.

Matt was quite an engaging keynote speaker. He spoke about how his book We Were Here was based on Of Mice and Men (another classic I need to read.) He told a great anecdote about how he changed the name of his main character after he witnessed a boy selflessly give up his seat for a girl at an assembly in Queens.

Matt spoke about how people have all kinds of definitions--parental-definition and educational-definition. The hardest definition to break away from, he said, is "self-definition." Matt shared that he was a reluctant reader growing up because he wasn't exposed to a literary world growing up. He said that he never saw another adult male (other than a teacher) read. The book that made the difference for Matt was one he read while in college--The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Soon, novels became Matt's "secret place to feel."

Matt closed by challenging us educators to pay attention to the kids in the back of the room. Those little seeds that you are planting, he said, might not bloom until years later.

Matt de la Pena definitely planted some seeds in me. Because of his keynote speech, I decided that I needed to read some of Matt's books and The Color Purple. I finished The Color Purple yesterday. I  see some parallels with Matt's story. The main character, Celie, after much heartache and pain broke away from her definitions--from society's definitions, from gender definitions, and finally, like Matt, from self-definition.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

When I see the title of a book mentioned a few times by different friends, I typically get the book to read it myself. Such was the case with Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I hadn't read anything by the author before, so I went to the library and picked up that book and another of hers.

I admit that I was guilty of judging the book by its cover. It looked, to me, like the perfect summertime love story. Well, as it turns out, that was only partly true. When Lou loses her beloved job, she is left no choice but to take a job as the caretaker for a quadriplegic named Will. Lou and Will develop a fondness for one another, but Lou soon learns the real reason that she was hired. Her job then takes on a new urgency as she tries to give Will a reason to live.

This touching story was an easy, fast read, but it was definitely not the feel-good, read-while-relaxing-on-the-beach book that I had envisioned. The book asks its readers to redefine what it means to truly love someone. Would you allow yourself to go through hell if it meant that the one whom you love is finally getting the only thing he really wanted in life?

I'll be thinking about this book for awhile. Four of five stars.