Let’s Spread More Book Love

pexels-photo-242261.jpegI have been blown away this year by the new bridges books have built in my classroom. Much of it is due to being inspired by other teachers in my building. We talk all the time about how to get more kids reading, and we celebrate kids’ successes regularly. This often consists of me seeing my colleagues in the hallway and jumping up and down excitedly when we see a mutual student take a leap and stretch as a reader in some way.

As a parent and a teacher, I cannot stress enough how important it is to give kids independent reading time EVERY SINGLE DAY, no matter what age. Reading books THEY choose, though we support those choices and also nudge them to push themselves, too. I’ve seen the difference reading time and choice makes. It’s taken a lot of work and deep breaths, and every single moment has been more than worth it. I’ll never go back to my old ways. I’ve seen so many bridges built between kids and books, kids and me, kids and each other, kids and other teachers, my colleagues and me. We’re going to keep building more bridges as well as strengthening the ones we’ve created this year.

Here are some of the tangible things I’ve done this year to change my classroom and build a reading culture.

-All three classes have a minimum of ten minutes of Book Love every class. Independent reading. They choose their books. Yes, every single day. My Language Arts kids get between 10 and 25 minutes since their literature and English is a combined class.

-I took on the forty book challenge. Read forty books in one school year. As of today, May 14, I’ve read over sixty books. Most of them are middle grade or young adult novels. Most of them are also in our classroom library. I hung images of all of the book covers on our classroom door. So did my job share partner. We ran out of room on one side and are on to the front part of the door. It’s the first thing our kids see when they walk in our door. BOOKS.

-Building my classroom library. This year alone, I have spent $600 on books for our classroom library. Currently, my job share partner and I have approximately 300 books in our classroom library, and we need more! What got me reading young adult and middle grade books with gusto was this. I focus on books I want to read. I try to read as many as I can before I put them on our shelf. If I’ve also read it, my conversations with kids are that much better, and it helps me recommend books more effectively and from the heart.  

-My job share partner has read many of the books in our classroom library. Many of her students use our classroom library. We’re both spreading the Book Love.

-I have spent at least twenty hours writing a grant for books for my classroom library through the Snapdragon Foundation. They fund books purely for classroom libraries. I asked for $3000. Why not ask for the moon? Even if I do not get the grant, it was a deeply reflective, powerful process for me. Even if I do not get the grant, I will keep finding ways to get books in my kids’ hands. I will find out in June. Keep your fingers crossed!

-I have recommended hundreds of books to my students. Many of them have told me the books I’ve recommended are some of their favorites they’ve read this year.

-I have seen dormant readers pick up and finish books. I have seen dormant readers ask me for suggestions. I have seen kids recommend books to their peers. I have watched kids connect with what they’ve read. I know it because we talk about it. I have seen avid readers grab books off my shelves and come back the next day claiming how much they loved it and couldn’t put it down. I cannot underestimate how much joy this brings me. Bridges everywhere.

-Two big leaps for me were book talks and conferring with readers. These may be my biggest areas of growth and where I’ve also seen kids grow most as readers.

Book talks. At first I was uncomfortable because I am not a salesperson! I feel like books come to me when I am ready. I don’t like to push anything on anyone. But then I just started talking to my Language Arts kids about books that moved me and why they moved me. From there, it got much easier. I kept referring books that I knew particular kids would like as well as books they may not have heard of. I keep an ongoing list in class of books I’ve booktalked. I get new releases like Kwame Alexander’s Rebound the day they come out. I show book trailers, and I read excerpts, backs of books, the inside covers of books. I just booktalked Jason Reynolds’ book, Sunny, and read his dedication at the beginning. “To the weirdos.” Because we’re all weirdos, right?! Sold.

Conferring with readers. I was also intimidated by conferring with kids because…honestly, I’m not sure why. Maybe because it felt new, and I wasn’t sure if I was “doing it right.” Now it is one of the best parts of my day! I am conferring with all three classes now, not just LA. I am following my instincts more. I am loving the thoughtful, funny, interesting mini-conversations I get to have with kids. Often, just asking, “How’s it going?” gets kids talking. Or “What will you read next?” Or “Do you relate to the main character at all? Why? Now I realize that conferring is FUN. It builds relationships. It connects us, and it is awesome. Once again, this is what I’ve done my whole life with my own three children who love books.

-I have read countless blogs about reading workshop. Mainly Pernille Ripp, Three Teachers Talk, and Moving Writers, which have tons of useful strategies and theories. I retweet them constantly, email articles to myself, and use their ideas almost daily in some way.

-Professional books: I have read The Book Whisperer by Donalynn Miller, Book Love by Penny Kittle and Disrupting Thinking by Robert Probst and Kylene Beers. I’ve also read Beyond Literary Analysis and Writing With Mentors by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell.

-Writing my own blog. Writing keeps me grounded, connects me to my students’ needs and processes, and it helps me reflect on my practice.books-education-school-literature-48126.jpeg

Next steps for next year:

-Building more classroom community by having kids share MORE with each other in partners, with the whole class, and with our school. I just read about using Goodreads or Biblionasium-both look like great possibilities.

-Figuring out a systematic way to have kids record what books they read, what books they want to read, and how many hours they are reading on a weekly basis.

-Figuring out a better system for my classroom library checkout.

-Celebrations of reading.

-Locating great picture books, graphic novels, and nonfiction to include in my classroom library.

-Figuring out more explicit ways to teach strategies: how to read more like writers and write more like readers without strangling the Book Love we are cultivating. Too much analysis kills it. I am also going to use mentor texts more effectively next year and will have kids make more note of when they run across strong writing or focus in on a mini-lesson (i.e. figurative language or sensory details).  

-Further collaboration with my colleagues. My colleague Leslie and I talk almost every day about Book Love and Writing Love and how to maintain and sustain it. We talk about how to get more teachers seeing the benefits of offering daily independent reading as well as the incredible benefit of classroom libraries. We’ve seen the impact this year. We’ve got way more kids reading, ya’ll, as my southern friend Leslie would say. She’s been doing some serious book whispering this year, and I am trying, too.

It’s been a great year of building bridges with books. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and I also can’t wait to dive into more summer reading!pexels-photo.jpg


Plant Seeds. Now Watch Them Grow. Don’t Give Up.

pexels-photo-133082.jpegWhen I read The Book Whisperer, by Donalynn Miller, I had no idea it would impact me like it did. Something clicked. Actually, it was more like a bomb going off.

I realized crucial things. The way I’ve taught my own children (all avid, passionate readers) to love to read is not how I’m teaching my own students to love to read. The way I am teaching my students to interact with books is not what I need as a reader. The way I am teaching my students is potentially turning them off to reading. This is hard to see, and it’s doubly hard to admit, but it is the truth.

My reading instruction contradicted my treasured beliefs about books, that one of our most beautiful freedoms is being able to read whatever we want. Lexiles don’t matter. Topics don’t matter. Time matters. Choice matters. Passion matters.

Time and time again, I’ve watched my most book-loving students disengage from our assigned reading or our whole-class novel. I would watch and reflect. Maybe it’s just the activities we’re doing. Maybe I’m not asking the right questions or being engaging enough. Maybe it’s my teaching.

Now I see it. There are no maybes. Reading is incredibly personal. Choice is incredibly important. Supporting kids to choose what they want to read when they’re ready is what truly empowers kids and sustains the path towards becoming lifelong readers. And they need time to make it happen. Every teacher worth their salt wants students not only to love to read but to read for their entire lives. Every teacher wants students to pass their love of reading on to their own children. Otherwise, what is the point?

The bomb blew up. I realized I needed to change.

Luckily, I had support. There are some seriously dedicated book whisperers in my school who helped me think about reading differently. They were already whispering to our students, handing them books, talking to them about books, and most importantly, being patient. They were whispering to teachers, too. One of them offered a book study on The Book Whisperer to give us time to read, talk together, reflect, and hopefully even make some changes.

It takes time to plant seeds. It takes even more time for them to take root, to sprout, to survive adversity, to grow tall and strong.

I took deep breaths and made change happen.

After implementing as much as I possibly could handle this year, I am seeing our seeds grow. I have seen massive impact. To sum it up, I’m reading more, my students are reading more, and they are loving what they read. We are connecting on a whole new level together about books. We are building book love. I am super inspired.

If you work with kids and books, check out The Book Whisperer. It may just change your thinking, too.

Don’t be too afraid to change what you do. It is never too late.

Plant some seeds. Then, watch them grow. Keep this in mind. You can always plant more seeds. The supply of soil, water, and sunlight are at our fingertips, and we are persistent farmers who never give up on our crops.

Thank you, book whisperers. I am working on becoming one, too.field-meadow-flower-pink.jpg