That’s a Wrap! Success Stories and Book Stack Shots from 2017

emmajumpIf time flies when you’re having fun, then I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my reading life in 2017 since I have no idea where this year went! This was the third year with Independent Reading in my classroom and I think it has been one of the best. From freshmen rekindling the love of reading that they remember having in elementary school, to seniors begging “Please! Just five more minutes!” when the timer buzzed, students have been exploring and engaged with titles of their choice.

One of the unforseen bonuses of Independent Reading this year was the success of poetry in all of my classes. I give all of the credit to books like Milk and Honey and Whiskey, Words and a Shovel. They served as “gateway verse” to other collections such as There Are More Beautiful Things Than BeyoncéThe Princess Saves Herself in This OneFile_001, The Chaos of Longing, Forgive Me My Salt, New American Best Friend, and Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Not only were students reading poetry, but their reading choices encouraged one junior to add a third English class to his schedule – a poetry elective – when he is required to take only two. How cool is that? My English teacher heart is just about exploding.

File_000Another awesome moment happened with my seniors who are searching out topics and genres of interest as they transition from teen to adult. One student loved Lab Girl so much that she purchased a copy for her current science teacher. I don’t know if this is the sentiment that Penny Kittle wanted to reflect when she titled her text Book Love, but seeing how this student is sharing what touched her with others definitely “gives me all the feels” as my students would say.

Finally, students self-reported how many books and pages they consumed over the course of 2017. Their numbers are phenomenal. Top performers include:

  • ACP juniors who read
    • 27 books 7,953 pages (Christine)
    • 27 books 7,686 pages (Brandon)
    • 24 books 7,862 pages (Abby)
    • 21 books 6,874 pages (Krisha)
  • 9th grade honors who read
    • 49 books 13,204 pages (Nancy)
    • 44 books 12,681 pages (Piper)
    • 43 books 13,527 pages (Helen)
    • 38 books 12,224 pages (Natalie)
  • Honors World Literature students – 2nd semester seniors – who read
    • 22 books 5,934 pages (Eleni)
    • 15 books 4,183 pages (Olivia)
    • 13 books 4,123 pages (Conner)
    • 15 books 4,094 pages (Maddie)

On average, my freshmen read 21 books and 6,000 pages, juniors read 16.5 books and 4,250 pages and my seniors – who should have been partaking in the infamous Senior Slump – read an average of 14 books 3,400 pages each between February and the end of May! With that accomplishment alone, I could retire tomorrow fully satisfied.

But, I can’t end this post without sharing pictures from one of my favorite days all year: the class period when students helped each other take their end-of-year Book Stack Shots. In a noisy atmosphere that can best be described as organized chaos, students helped each other locate, stack, and document all that they had read this year. They weren’t afraid to let their personalities show.  I hope you enjoy the photos and maybe even glean some titles for your To Be Read list. Special thanks to the Trumbull High School Media Center for letting us raid the shelves during the last week of school!

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Happy Summer Reading, folks!

A Call for Ideas: Writing the Reading into the Curriculum

Dear fellow teachers:

When we began our Independent Reading journey in 2014, we had three classroom libraries and three willing (okay – crazy) teachers who decided to experiment with a program we found as a result of attending Mamaroneck High School’s 2014 NCTE Convention Presentation.  Three years later, we have expanded to nine classroom libraries. After presenting professional development to more than 200 educators across 11 Connecticut districts, we have arrived at a point where the administration wants to ensure that each student has an equitable experience with the Independent Reading program. They want it written into the 9th grade curriculum, which will be revised this summer.

This seems spectacular, right? We get to continue our program and to have the district fund classroom libraries for all 9th grade English teachers. However, in our department of 22, 9 teachers are currently employing Rigorous Independent Reading daily using the method that Penny Kittle outlines in Book Love. We have one more teacher practicing “Reading Fridays” where Monday through Thursday are regular instruction days and on Fridays, the classes read for a full 45 minute period. Finally, a number of other teachers use literature circles or engage the students in Independent Reading over one quarter or one semester of the year.  So, about half of the department has not elected to try the practice of Independent Reading, while others are trying various alternate methods to have students engage in some form of self-selecting and reading texts. So, here lies the rub: is it possible to assure an equitable experience for students across classrooms while maintaining the comfort level and current practices of our colleagues?

We have had many department meetings discussing the concerns our department has as well as the progress and positive improvement our students have made, but we still haven’t come to a consensus and have been told that “Independent Reading will happen in all 9th grade classes in the fall.” Our task is to figure out what that should look like and write it into the curriculum.

Based on my own students’ success over the past few years, I have some pretty strong opinions about what I think an Independent Reading program should look like (read here and here).  However, as someone who started Independent Reading during my 14th year of teaching, I understand what completely revamping instruction looks like and it’s unsettling. I understand how and why my colleagues have a healthy fear of change. So, I am left with more questions than answers as we begin to embark upon this journey of changing the curriculum to reflect our current practices:

  1. What does curriculum reveal about a community’s beliefs about literacy? What do we value? What do we want our students be able to do and carry with them as they graduate high school?
  2. How do (or should) we define Independent Reading?
  3. How much instructional time should be spent on engaging students in reading texts of their own choosing?
  4. What balance should there be between whole class texts and independent books?
  5. How do we support teachers as they embark on the journey of changing their classroom structure and culture, and their own instruction?
  6. What should be taught in the 9th grade English classroom?
  7. Can the skills we value be addressed via an Independent Reading program?
  8. What is the difference between offering instruction on skills and offering instruction on a text?
  9. If one teacher has students read for 10 minutes each day and another has students read for a 50 minute block of time, are they getting the same experience at the end of the week? Are these two different practices the same program? Is this equitable?
  10. Does one quarter of Literature Circles = Independent Reading solely outside of class for one semester = engaging in Independent Reading daily?
  11. What does the fact that Independent Reading has to be written in to the curriculum say about the culture of the school and community?
  12. What type of growth mindset should we have as educators? As a school? As a community?

I have been grappling with these queries for some time now and would love ideas and feedback.  What are your answers to the above pedagogical questions? How does your district’s curricula reflect your Independent Reading practice? Please let us know in the comments!

Sincerely,

The THS Reading (R)evolution

Top Ten Books That Will Let You Explore the World

There are moments when you just need to escape to another place or another time.  The following ten titles will do just that as they send you on a journey around the globe. Sometimes a book that takes you to a far corner of the world teaches you more about yourself than you would expect.  Happy traveling. 

the-god-of-small-thingsThe God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

With prose that borders on poetry, Roy takes you to India through the story of twins Estha and Rahel.  They traverse a series of childhood tragedies, including the death of their cousin, Sophie Mol, who does a “secret cartwheel in her coffin” that only Rahel sees. The God of Small Things is raw and beautiful at the same time as the narration circles upon itself. At the last word, I found myself turning immediately back to the first page, and I appreciated it all even more.  

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Lisa See1103

At seven years of age, Lily undergoes foot binding one year later than most girls as the diviner sees “something special in Lily.”  Because of Lily’s exceptionally small and beautiful bound feet, her family procures her a laotong –  a girl from another village to correspond with – a step up from the sworn sisterhood usually secured for women of Lily’s social status. Lily and Snow Flower, her laotong, share their hopes, dreams, successes and failures in the women’s secret language of nu shu. It’s not only the foot binding that left a knot in my stomach; when their friendship is tested by a misunderstanding, Lily finally comes to see the dark truth behind the beautiful characters in Snow Flower’s nu shu writing.  

81gudkysk8lThe Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson

In North Korea, Pak Jun Do helps his father in a work camp for orphans. The quick instincts that allow him to survive in that scenario do not go unnoticed by government officials and soon he is forced to work for the state, kidnapping others, while navigating the treacherous underground he has become a part of. Because of their strong resemblance, Jun Do he is forced to assume the persona of Comrade Buc, opponent of Kim Jong Il, when Buc is killed. In his role as “Comrade Buc,” Jun Do meets a famous singer from Pongyan, falls in love and makes it his goal to secure her safety. This thrilling story of espionage, torture, duplicity and survival kept me on the edge of my seat as it provided a fictional glimpse into one of the most secretive nations on earth.  

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez61o-ltkjb9l-_sx330_bo1204203200_

One of my favorite books of all time, Marquez’s magical realism delights and astounds. Wars, torrid love triangles, and a band of roving gypsies are all a part of the Buendia family history, told to the reader in segments over the course of the novel. Insomnia plagues, floods, and an overly zealous religious daughter in law cannot shake the Buendia clan. The story takes place in Macondo, a fictional city in Colombia, where Ursula, the matriarch of the family, holds her brood together for more than one hundred years.   

the-tigers-wife-tpThe Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht

Tea Obreht was only 26 when The Tiger’s Wife was published, yet it has a perspective and wisdom far beyond those years.  Natalia has a special bond with her grandfather, who encourages her in her profession as a physician.  But when her grandfather dies, Natalia travels through the Balkan region looking for answers about the strange circumstances of his death.  I love how this story is narrated through the legends Natalia’s grandfather told her in her childhood including tales of “the deathless man” and, finally, “the tiger’s wife.”  It’s greatest gift is leaving you to wonder if there really is a clean line between myth and reality.    

The History of Love – Nicole Krauss26078ab0-ab24-0133-a05b-0e7c926a42af

In Poland, Leo Gursky falls in love with the girl next door, but she is sent to American for a better life.  Gursky never relinquishes his love over the years, coming to new York as soon as he is able, and spends decades searching for the woman he loves. As his emotions run deep, Gursky’s writes a book about her, stating: “Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” At the same time, as Alma Singer, fourteen, watches her mother lovingly translate a book from Spanish to English, she sets out to find the author whose words have touched her mother so deeply. I think this might be one of the greatest love stories ever written as paths intersect and hearts meet again across the oceans.

PulitzersThe Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Sympathizer is a complex and layered tale of a man who escapes Viet Nam only to act as a double agent in America, reporting on his fellow Vietnamese refugees.  Remaining anonymous throughout the novel, he describes himself as a “a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces” and “a man of two minds.” It is gripping and suspenseful, telling of love and betrayal.  Nguyen’s words lured me into this double-sided  world and kept me hooked on every syllable.  

A Long Way Gone – Ishmael Beah

a_long_way_gone

Ishmael Beah tells the true story of his life as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone. This moving memoir is tragic and shocking as Beah recounts gruesome details of what he, and other children, were forced to do at the hands of the government army. The descriptions haunt the reader, as they must haunt Beah, but there is hope; he writes this book from his “second lifetime” that he has been granted in the United States. I found this to be a quick but heavy read.

Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetysbetween_shades_of_gray

Lina is fifteen when she is forced from her home in Lithuania in the dark of night.  The secret police take her and her family to a forced labor camp in Siberia, separating her from her father.  An artist, Lina draws pictures that she hopes will reach her father, her illustrations clues to where she and her family have been taken, hoping they will eventually reunited.  This historical fiction chilled me from the first line, “They took me in my nightgown,” through to the end as Lina fights for those she loves to survive.

Americanah – Chimamanda Adichieamericanah

If you haven’t yet read a novel by Chimamanda Adichie, I am jealous of you.  There is nothing quite like the first time you hear the sound of her words and the cadence of her language. In Americanah, Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves her country, family, and boyfriend behind in search of a better university experience in America.  Adichie narrates the journey between continents, countries, races, and cultures. Nigeria and the United States are depicted, unapologetically, in all of their splendor and ugliness. The countries are vastly different and exactly the same all at once, showing that it is our humanity that unites us.

 

 

Slaying the Naysayers Part II: What the Research Says

In a wonderfully informative blog post, Russ Walsh documents a number of educational articles and academic research that demonstrate the positive impact that Independent Reading has on literacy and creating life long readers. The papers and studies that he cites prove that Independent Reading, “An instructional strategy which has been around since the 1970s” has met its goals to:

  1. “Provide students with time to practice the reading strategies they have learned through classroom instruction in a real reading situation and, therefore, improve reading achievement.

  2. Promote positive attitudes towards reading in the hopes of making reading a life-long habit for children.”

What I find most helpful is that Russ deconstructs the opposition, notably Tim Shanahan, who claims that there is “a lack of empirical research to support the practice for improving reading achievement” and that “Independent Reading violates what we know about motivational activities and, therefore, will not create lifelong readers.” Many naysayers like Shanahan often cite lack of evidence for their unwillingness to engage students in Independent Reading.  Show me the data, they say, and then we can talk about change.

Russ has sifted through the data, writes his post using a number of valid academic sources,  and reaches the following conclusions:

“The verdict seems clear. A well-planned, well-executed program of Independent Reading is an important part of sound literacy instruction. To be most successful teachers should follow a few guidelines from the research.

  1. Make every effort to ensure student engagement in reading during Independent Reading time. This includes making sure that students are in a book that they can read successfully on their own and monitoring the class during reading time.
  2. Guide student book choice for appropriateness and interest level by working beside them as they make selections.
  3. Confer with individual students regularly. Rather than quizzing their comprehension, start a conversation about the book. What stood out for you? is a good conversation starter.
  4. Provide regular opportunities for students to talk about their reading with other students in partnerships or small groups.
  5. Assist students in making goals for their reading and have them keep track of their progress toward the goals.
  6. Through modeling, teach students how to respond to their reading through a variety of written and oral formats including a response journal,in text post-it notes, letters to the teacher, quick writes, etc.
  7. Rather than set an arbitrary amount of time for Independent Reading from the start, work to build student stamina. Early on in establishing the routine for Independent Reading, stop the reading as soon as students begin to fidget, whether that is in 3 minutes or 15. The next day set a goal for Independent Reading that is a few minutes more than the previous day, until you have built the time spent engaged in reading to your desired length – 20, 30, 40 minutes depending on age and grade.
Shanahan says one of the reasons that Independent Reading fails is that ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him take a bath.’ That may be true, but I think you can lead a child to reading and set up conditions where she is most likely to engage in reading. And if we can get kids reading good books, the research would indicate they will improve their reading and be motivated to continue the reading habit. The best reading motivator is getting lost in a good book that speaks to you in some deeply personal way.”
It’s always good to be able to “prove with cold hard facts” what you are witnessing in your classroom.  I do agree with Shanahan in one regard: that conditions are important. Passionate teachers can and do create a classroom culture that values reading and literacy. 

The articles from Russ’s Works Cited are linked here:
 
 
 
Gambrell, L.B. et al. (2011). The Importance of Independent Reading. In Samuels, S.J. & Farstrup, A. What Research Has to Say about Reading Instruction (4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Slaying the Naysayers: Dealing with Push-back

We just came off a phenomenal day of professional development where we planned and implemented a full day of presentations and workshops for just under 90 teachers representing 11 districts across our state.

This group of middle and high school educators attended sessions on how to jump-start Independent Reading in their classroom.  We had such positive feedback from individuals that it served as a reaffirmation that what we are doing is truly making a positive impact on students.

 

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I would like to report that the entire experience was a complete love fest – that everyone held hands, swayed, and sang “Kumbaya” – but that would be wildly untruthful. Although we had many teachers and administrators (from our district and others) commend our work and tell us that they felt inspired, there were still teachers in the crowd who were not ready to buy in.

This story is not new to us, and it’s not new to many other teachers who have reached out to tell us that they’re comforted – and saddened – to hear that they are not the only ones dealing with this type of push back.  When we first began our journey in 2014, we were “three lone nuts” with a “crazy” reading idea.  People looked at us, from a safe distance, with a small dose of curiosity and a large amount of doubt.

So, what do you do when you’re having trouble convincing your peers, in the words of our principal, “that if something is good for kids, everyone should do it?” The simple, and difficult answer: figure out where they’re coming from and meet them there.

First, you have to understand why they think the way they do.  There are any number of reasons why an educator would resist or nay-say a program.  Here are just a few:

  1. They feel threatened and see this is a top-down decision they were not involved in.
  2. They believe that this is another short-lived, fly-by-night education reform.
  3. They feel they lack the training or support to restructure their classroom.
  4. They have gotten comfortable and are simply afraid of change. Period.

On a certain level, I can understand where some these teachers are coming from.  I have seen my fair share of initiatives come down the line only to be dismissed or completely revamped.  It is frustrating to reshape your teaching time and again, only to feel like you are moving in circles. Especially with our current climate of education reform, it’s no surprise that teachers are skeptical and reluctant to embrace something new.  However, every good educator should engage in self-reflection and constantly seek out professional texts and opportunities for growth.

Changing attitudes is difficult. Here are a few ways that you can start to make a difference:

  1. Let your colleagues know that there is a learning curve and that it’s okay to make mistakes.
  2. Encourage honest reflection. Be a safe sounding board as they embark on their trial and error period. Help them work out the kinks without judgement and with unwavering support.
  3. Offer teachers a support system.  There are a number of groups and networks dedicated to reading and reading strategies. Hearing from the experts is useful for new and veteran teachers alike.  Offer them mentors and resources such as Penny Kittle, Three Teachers Talk, Nerdy Book Club, Teacher Learning Sessions, Carol Jago, Kelly Gallagher so that they can find their footing and test out new ideas.
  4. Finally, and most importantly: ENCOURAGE THEM TO LISTEN TO THE STUDENTS. A portion of our workshop (and a highlight for many who attended) was the lunch panel of eight teens who answered questions about their experience with Independent Reading.  They were open and brutally honest as they fielded inquiries from teachers and administrators.

 

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Student panel answers questions about the Reading (R)evolution

All of these students came to school on their day off to talk about the impact of independent reading on their lives.  One of them moved from a remedial class up to honors over the course of three years.  One had not read a book cover to cover since fifth grade and went on to read twelve titles last year. One student read 65 books, and she wasn’t even my top performer.  What more powerful testimonial could there be?

So, when you find yourself facing naysayers, hang in there and stay strong. Keep doing what is good for students and know that you are not alone.  If even one student reads one independent book (but believe me, it will be way more than that), you will have made a difference and that is what really matters.

What is there to lose?

Join the THS Reading (R)evolution

We are very proud to announce that we will be hosting a Professional Development opportunity for any interested Middle/ High School Language Arts/ English teachers, Reading/ Writing/ Media Specialists, and/or administrators on November 8, 2016 from 9am-2pm at Trumbull High School in Trumbull, CT.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR FLYER: thsreadrev-consortium-flyer

The goal of this unique opportunity is to engage participants in professional development on the benefits of Independent Reading, and to offer instruction on how to effectively implement this proven program.

Our program was initially inspired by Mamaroneck High School’s presentation at the 2014 NCTE National Convention. It highlighted their Independent Reading program which is modeled after Penny Kittle’s Book Love.

We culled strategies from various resources using research and our experiences to design our current program. The THS Reading (R)evolution is successful because it establishes a culture that supports reader choice, daily reading time in class, and accountability.

Here is what the day will look like:

  • 8:30-9:00 – Arrival and Registration
  • 9:00-10:45 – Session 1 – Presentation: How to Jump Start Independent Reading in Your Classroom
  • 10:50-11:50 – Session 2 – Round Table Discussion: Embedding Independent Reading into Your Current Curriculum
  • 12:00-12:50 – Lunch Round Table with students, administrators and faculty members who are currently participating in the program or implementing it in their classrooms and district.
  • 1:00-2:00 – Session 3 – Individualized Sessions based on need and interest. Topics could include: Acquisition of Classroom Libraries, Assessments, Professional Resources, Daily Organization (Reading Rates, Reading Logs, Book Talks)

During this Professional Development, you will receive:

  • Independent Reading Starter Kit
  • Link to the Online Presentation
  • Classroom Library Recommended Title List
  • Professional Relationships and Support Network

Registration Information:

  • To register online click here: https://goo.gl/forms/wmJF110351w8izOk1
  • Cost of the event is $5 before 11/1 and $8 after.
    • Day of Registration will be accepted
    • Checks ONLY – made out to: Trumbull High School
    • First 20 Registrants will be entered into a raffle. The raffle winner will be given 10 books for their Classroom Library.

If you have questions you can email us (THSReadRev@gmail.com) or DM us on Twitter (@THSReadRev).

Let’s start and sustain a professional conversation about the nature of reading in our classrooms!

A Tribute to Mrs. Mary Raccuia

This post is a loving tribute to Trumbull High School’s Mary Raccuia, who passed away last week after a long illness.  She was our beloved Library Media Specialist and will be dearly missed.  Mrs. Raccuia was a voracious reader and enjoyed sharing titles with the lone nuts as she devoured all sorts of contemporary and young adult literature.  While students were able to access her reading posts through the library website, we most enjoyed her chasing us down in the library, waving the next good read.  Thank you, Mrs. Raccuia, for helping the Reading (R)evolution put the right books in our students’ hands.  Your dedication to our profession and kind heart will never be forgotten.

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The following is a list of a few books Mrs. Raccuia recommended to us this past spring.  Go ahead and add them to your TBR list – she always had the perfect suggestion. If you are looking for an interactive, online book recommendation site, visit Mrs. Raccuia’s blog.  

Cover Title Author
 everything Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng
 mosquitoland Mosquitoland David Arnold
 sway Sway Kat Spears
 this-star This Star Won’t Go Out:  The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl Esther Earl

Lori Earl

Wayne Earl

John Green

 real live.jpg Real Live Boyfriends E. Lockhart
 belzhar.jpg Belzhar Meg Wolitzer
 somewhere in the darkness.jpg Somewhere in the Darkness Walter Dean Myers
 a-man-called-ove A Man Called Ove Fredrick Backman
 rook.jpg Rook Sharon Cameron
 audacity.jpg Audacity Melanie Crowder
 the weight.jpg The Weight of Feathers Anna-Marie McLemore
 alexcrow.jpg The Alex Crow Andrew Smith
 farfar.jpg Far Far Away Tom McNeal
 shallowgraves These Shallow Graves Jennifer Donnelly
 justvisiting.jpg Just Visiting Dahlia Adler
 calvin.jpg Calvin Martine Leavitt
 thanksforthetrouble.jpg Thanks for the Trouble Tommy Wallach
 rosie.jpg The Rosie Effect Graemen Simsion
 unbecoming Unbecoming Jenny Downham
 all the brightplaces.jpg All the Bright Places Jennifer Niven
 thosewhowishmedead.jpg Those Who Wish Me Dead Michael Koryta
 drownedcity.jpg Drowned City:  Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Don Brown
 dumplin.jpg Dumplin Julie Murphy