Donalyn Miller's Blog

May 24, 2016

The Eighth Annual #bookaday Challenge

While educators, families and kids walk into every new school refreshed and hopeful, we are all exhausted and brain-fried by the last month of school. We push more and more things into our “I will get back to this when summer starts” pile. For many of us, our summer piles are stuffed with books we plan to read when we have more time.


It’s natural for reading to fall lower on our list of priorities now and then. We can fill our days with a hundred activities that aren’t reading. For every night we spend binge reading a book until the wee morning hours, we can point to weeks when we didn’t read anything more than Facebook posts. It happens to every reader.Our reading lives ebb and flow. Summer’s slower pace gives us breathing room—an opportunity to recommit ourselves to daily reading.


I started the #bookaday challenge in 2009 because I realized that my family and I read less during the last six weeks of the school year than any other time. Overwhelmed by end-of-year projects and school celebrations like band concerts and award ceremonies, we let our nightly reading routines slip by the wayside. When we did talk about reading, we talked about what we wanted to read during the summer.


Announcing the first annual Book-a-Day Challenge was a public declaration of my commitment to read one a book a day for every day of summer break. In the weeks leading up to summer vacation, I talked with my students continuously about how fun and exciting it would be to read as much as they wanted over the summer. We made lists of books they might read. I loaned books out for the summer. If I believed what I told my students, I needed to read more and ensure that my family read more, too. Beyond my responsibility as a reading role model for the children in my life, I needed a challenge. I wanted to kick start my reading life and push myself to read more than I ever had.


 


you cant read all day


 


I read 75 or so books that summer and rediscovered my reading mojo. My summer memories included wonderful reading experiences—languid days spent reading under my ceiling fan, taking my children to the public library and checking out a Radio Flyer wagon full of books, and connecting to the burgeoning online world of book lovers and educators. Beyond the personal benefits of Book-a-Day, the challenge reinforced the power of book talking to connect my students with engaging books. I walked into my classroom that fall with two overflowing bags of books to promote and share with my new students.


 


Over the past seven summers, Book-a-Day has grown and changed. In 2010, Book-a-Day became #bookaday and participants began using the hashtag to connect and share books on Twitter. In 2011, I met Colby Sharp online during the #bookaday challenge. The Nerdy Book Club community grew from the conversations #bookaday participants were having online every day. Folks started shorter #bookaday challenges during winter and spring holiday breaks. Jillian Heise created the picture #bookaday challenge, pledging to read one picture book with her middle school students for every day of the school year. Teri Lesesne and I shared the origins and benefits of the #bookaday challenge with colleagues at the Texas Library Association conference last month and invited everyone to join. More than a summer reading challenge now, the #bookaday community continues to share books and celebrate reading all year.


 


colby's first #bookaday tweets

Colby Sharp’s first #bookaday tweets in 2011.


 


The summer #bookaday event endures as an annual opportunity to hit the reset button on our reading lives, connect with other readers, celebrate books, and remind ourselves how much reading matters to our lives and the young people we serve. If you have participated in past years, welcome back! If you are new to the #bookaday challenge, don’t be intimidated!


It doesn’t matter if you actually read a book every day or not. Dedicate more time to read. Celebrate your right to read what you want. Make reading plans. Share and collect book recommendations. Connect with other readers.The #bookaday challenge is personal, not a competition. Finish that series. Tackle that epic historical your mother gave you for your birthday (last September). Try audiobooks. How would you like to grow as a reader this summer?


The #bookaday guidelines are simple:



You set your own start date and end date.
Read one book per day for each day of summer vacation. This is an average, so if you read three books in one day and none the next two, it still counts.
Any book qualifies including picture books, nonfiction, professional books, audio books, graphic novels, poetry anthologies, or fiction—children’s, youth, or adult titles.
Keep a list of the books you read and share them often via a social networking site like goodreads or Twitter (post using the #bookaday hashtag), a blog, or Facebook page. You do not have to post reviews, but you can if you wish. Titles will do.

 


Since I work year round now, I never really stop my #bookaday challenge. I read on average a book a day all year. Some days, I read twenty picture books. Other times, I spend a week or more savoring a lush book. The measure of a reading life isn’t how many books we read. It’s the experiences, the knowledge gained, the connections we make with other readers that make our reading lives meaningful. The summer #bookaday challenge gives us the chance to remember what we love about reading.


I am planning a wonderful summer of travel—inside and outside of my books. I hope our paths cross during the Eighth Annual #bookaday challenge or during my summer road trips. I look forward to connecting and sharing with you.

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Published on May 24, 2016 05:03

March 22, 2016

Best Books of 2016 (so far) March Edition

During the Michigan Reading Association Conference this weekend, I shared my recommended children’s and young adult literature titles for early 2016. I have expanded the list and posted it here for anyone interested. This list is current as of the books I read today. Thousands of books are published for young readers each year. I read approximately 350-400 books each year, which is a drop in the bucket!


feminism


Qualifiers:



I do not recommend books that I have not read.


“Best” is subjective. I filter my evaluations through my own book knowledge, my teaching and reading experiences, and the reading experiences of my reading community, which includes children. I don’t think every book on this list is perfect or exemplifies award-worthy criteria, but I do believe there is something for every reader.


I receive many ARC’s from kind publishers and authors. Receipt of a book does not guarantee promotion.


I buy hundreds of books a year. I often have to wait for a book’s release before I can read it. Tuesday, which is a popular book release day, is my favorite day of the week! I don’t think my UPS delivery person agrees.


When creating any book list, I strive to balance diversity, genre, reader interest, and recommended ages. I am bound by what books I can acquire at any given time.


If you do not see a personal favorite or much-lauded title, assume that I haven’t read it or I haven’t acquired or borrowed a copy, yet. 

 


In years past, I have sorted my annual lists into several categories including poetry, graphic novels, picture books, middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, and nonfiction. I chose to divide books into only three categories this year: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I want to reinforce that picture books and graphic novels are formats for storytelling and do not define or limit a reader’s age. Picture books and graphic novels are for everyone.


 


the first step


I use many sources to locate and research books I would like to purchase or borrow including recommendations from friends, colleagues, family members, and kids; children’s and young adult literature conferences and workshops; book review publications and blogs; and publishers’ catalogs & websites.


Here is the list of my recommended children’s and young adult titles of early 2016.


 


gertie's leap to greatness


I hope you enjoy the list and find some new titles to read and share. I will update this list throughout the year and share new books as I read and evaluate them. I post a lot of my presentations and lists to my slideshare page. You can subscribe and get an alert when I add new content.


Happy Reading!

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Published on March 22, 2016 17:22

October 18, 2015

Fallow Fields

It is still 80 degrees in Texas, but summer is over. Hay bails dot fields beside the road. It’s chilly in the mornings. Time to start carrying a jacket. Five months of gray skies and brown grass ahead. I don’t enjoy fall and winter weather, but I understand its value. The world can’t grow all of the time. A fallow field rests to restore its nutrients and prevent exhaustion. Mother Nature needs a break.


FullSizeRender (1)

Fall in Texas–brown grass and one leaf in my yard.


Our reading and writing lives cycle through productive and restive periods, too. We scribble notes and start drafts that don’t go anywhere. We linger in our last book—unready to leave it behind. Reading and writing help us understand and navigate our lives, but readers and writers need time to experience reading and writing without producing all of the time. The connection between our literacy and our lives travels between periods of growth, harvest, and dormancy. We must learn to appreciate and navigate these stages if we are to remain readers and writers throughout our lives.


I take breaks from reading, but they don’t last long. If I go without picking up a book for a few days, my bookshelves Siren call me back to them. My mind splinters when I don’t read and I feel it. I’m off-kilter and out of sorts. I don’t always finish books the books I start, though. I dip into parts and fall back out for long stretches. I have several books on pause at the moment. Some books blind me to all others. Some books take longer to warm my interest.


I go longer periods not writing. My blog goes dormant. I lose my notebook for a few days and don’t miss it. I beat myself up about not writing, but Don doesn’t think I should, “You’re always mulling over ideas, reading articles, talking with your friends. You’re always writing. You’re just not always writing it down.” He’s right. Being a writer has a lot to do with looking at the world as a writer. Writing demands observing. Writing demands time to think. Writing demands time to wallow.


We don’t commit to reading and writing once in our lives. We recommit to reading and writing again and again. We travel between seasons of dedication and neglect. Seasons of interest and apathy. Seasons of high productivity and low. We wander through fallow seasons and benefit long term from the rest. When reading and writing call to us again, we return.


In my early years of teaching, I failed to recognize my students’ needs to linger in books they loved, to pause between books, to go days without reading much. I didn’t reflect on my students’ need to percolate ideas, to revisit their writing, or to write without finishing anything. I do these things. A lot of readers and writers do. Some readers and writers need incubation. We need reflection. It makes us our reading and writing life better in the end.


Prescribed charts defining THE writing process crowd out the necessity for every writer (and reader) to find a process that works for them. There’s no lock step progression through a reading and writing life. We amble and wander and stop in various stages, as needed. We each must find our own way.


When we limit young readers and writers time to think about what they read and write, time to reflect on their reading and writing experiences, time to plan for future reading and writing, or permission to step away from reading and writing at times, we miss opportunities to model and teach our students strategies that enrich their literate lives and help them find their way back into reading and writing again when they stray.


Not all who wander are lost.


Examining the seasons of our own reading and writing lives provides insights that improve our ability to mentor young readers and writers. How do we see ourselves as readers and writers? Are there temporary or long term obstacles limiting our reading and writing lives? If so, what are you going to do about it? Which books lure us into reading binges and which books take dedication on our part? How do we handle these reading experiences differently? What do we do when our writing is stuck? How do we unstick it? How do we maintain and sustain a reading and writing life? We must give ourselves grace when we read and write less. Embrace time to dawdle and wallow, and value our students’ need to do the same.


Writers write. Readers read. We cannot wear these identities unless we actively read and write. That’s true. But writing and reading aren’t solely productive acts, they’re creative acts that require feeding to flourish and bloom. Readers who push from book to book leave themselves little room to savor a book’s meaning. Writers pressured to write on demand at all times miss opportunities to follow threads to where they lead. To every thing there is a season. Writing and reading have seasons, too.


Without this time, it’s difficult to find personal relevance in our reading and writing lives. If we want reading and writing to matter to our students, we must value the non-productive aspects of reading and writing that foster long term ownership and growth. Without this time, it’s difficult to find personal relevance in reading and writing. We must recognize the difference between resting and floundering—providing encouragement and gentle pressure when required and backing off when necessary.


Fields in constant production deplete their resources and lose the ability to sustain life, but fallow fields lead to rich harvests in the end.

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Published on October 18, 2015 12:32

May 3, 2015

Reading Is Its Own Reward: Summer Reading and the 7th Annual #Bookaday Challenge

I cleaned the season’s first melted chapstick out of my car yesterday. Summer must be around the corner. Time to check the expiration date on last year’s sunscreen and buy some new flip-flops.


Our bleak winter weather lasted too long, and I’m hungry for the sun. I long for the first day that’s so hot I can feel it warm my bones. I look forward to summer’s easy-going vibe, too. Released from the confines of winter clothes and school calendars, summer feels lighter. More freedom. Fewer rules. Although I travel quite a bit during the summer, the pace seems slower—more relaxed. As a mom, I’m relieved that our lives won’t revolve around Sarah’s high school schedule for the next few months. The Millers can gravitate back to our nocturnal natures—staying up too late watching movies and eating kettle corn.


Summer liberates my reading and writing life, too. I indulge in reading and writing binges instead of snatching time in between other things. I dream of languid days curled up under my ceiling fan—reading and writing for as long as I wish. Delicious as eating peaches over the sink.


Unfortunately, summer doesn’t offer reading freedom for all. As another school year winds down, I see renewed emphasis on summer reading programs, required summer reading lists, and contests. Teachers and administrators know that children who do not read over the summer lose significant academic ground when they don’t read. Summer learning loss is cumulative and creates an achievement gap between low-income and middle-income students that widens over time (Allington &McGill-Franzen, 2012). No matter what children accomplish during the school year, if they don’t read over the summer, their learning stalls or regresses (Cooper, Borman, & Fairchild, 2010).


summer reading meme game of thrones


Concerned about students’ summer reading, many educators and parents implement reading incentives and competitions to motivate children to read more. These well-meaning folks may be unaware of the negative long-term effects of such rewards. A meta-analysis of 128 studies on the effects of rewards concludes that, “tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation. Even when tangible rewards are offered as indicators of good performance, they typically decrease intrinsic motivation for interesting activities (Deci, Koestner, and Ryan; 1999).” Readers motivated for personal reasons are more likely to remain interested in reading than readers who are externally motivated through rewards (Marinak & Gambrell, 2008).


In his landmark book, Punished by Rewards (1995), Alfie Kohn describes why reading rewards undermine long-term goals to engage children with reading, “What matters more than the fact that children read is why they read and how they read.  With incentive-based programs, the answer to “why” is “To get rewards,” and this, as the data make painfully clear, is often at the expense of interest in reading itself.” Short-term reading excitement for a contest does not spark long-term reading engagement.


Reading contests can harm students’ reading self-efficacy and interest. Why would we employ reading initiatives that derail internal reading motivation and divide kids into reading winners and losers? I have never met an adult who became a lifelong reader because they won a theme park pass or a t-shirt. Talking to kids around the country, many admit to me that they overestimate the pages, books, or minutes they record on summer reading logs, so they can win a prize or avoid negative consequences.


When we communicate to children that the only reason to read is to earn a reward or grade, we fail to impart reading’s true value. Reading is its own reward and it bestows immeasurable gifts on readers.


While you may be able to share the success of individual summer reading programs, there is little evidence that such programs foster lifelong reading habits or engage children with reading after the program ends. I suspect that most schools with successful summer reading programs invest in students’ reading lives all year long. If we want to engage our students with reading over the summer, we must focus our efforts on the fundamental best practices that encourage children to read for a lifetime instead of short-term external goals.


allington summer reading


Launching a successful summer reading initiative is not easy, but you don’t need incentives or competitions to do it. These factors have been proven to engage children with reading at school and at home:



Time to read. We must communicate to our school communities the importance of reading over the summer. Reading is a wonderful way to stave off summer boredom and increase students’ vocabulary acquisition, fluency, and background knowledge. Share research about summer reading loss and the benefits of summer reading with family members and school staff. (I recommend Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen’s recent books on summer reading.) Brainstorm with students a list of reading emergencies when they could read over the summer, such as car trips and rainy days.


Access to books. We must ensure that every child has access to engaging reading material over the summer. Many students lose their book access when school and classroom library close for the summer, and lower-income students feel this loss the most. Consider opening your school library for a few hours a week over the summer. Arrange for students to borrow books over vacation. Invite the local public librarians to your school to share their programs and pass out library card applications.


Choice in reading material. We must provide opportunities and encouragement for students to self-select their summer reading material. Choice is a powerful factor in human motivation. Providing children choice in what they read fosters engagement and increases reading motivation, interest, and effort (Gambrell, Coding, & Palmer, 1996; Worthy & McKool, 1996; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). Children who are given choices for summer reading read more and report higher reading engagement and motivation after summer ends (Kelly & Aligne, 2015; Allington & McGill-Franzen, 2012). Summer reading lists should include titles selected by students and provide students diversity in reading levels, formats, genres, cultural and historical perspectives, and topics. When offering books for summer reading, provide students free choice options. Celebrate children’s book choices. When we value all reading, we value all readers.


Family and community involvement. We must encourage our school communities to model and share positive reading habits with children. Parents who read and share reading with their children influence children’s future reading habits. Teachers who are engaged with reading are more successful at engaging students with reading (Nathanson, Pruslow and Levitt, 2008). Invite school community members to set and share their own summer reading goals. Encourage adults to invest time reading aloud and alongside children over the summer.

For the past seven summers, I have challenged myself to read a book for every day of summer break. I launched the first summer #bookaday challenge on my Teacher Magazine blog in 2009. The #bookaday challenge began as my public commitment to read more over the summer, and invite others to do the same. Over the years, #bookaday has grown into an online community for celebrating books and supporting each other as readers. Participants post recommendations and queries all year under the #bookaday hashtag and many people have forged professional and personal reading relationships that last far beyond Labor Day.


Beyond the goal to read and share, #bookday celebrates reading freedom. We can choose what we read, when we read it, and how we respond to what we read. No strings. No arbitrary markers of success. The #bookday challenge is the antithesis of a summer reading contest. No one keeps score. No one competes. Everyone who reads is a winner.


That best seller sitting on your nightstand collecting dust? The books you got for your birthday last August? That series you never finished? The picture book pile stacked on your office floor? Don’t you have books that glare at you because they sit unread? What would you like to read this summer?


The traditional #bookaday guidelines are simple:



Set your own start date and end date.


Read one book per day for each day of summer vacation. This is an average, so if you read three books in one day (I know you’ve done this!) and none the next two, it still counts.


Any book qualifies including picture books, nonfiction, professional books, audio books, graphic novels, poetry anthologies, or fiction—children’s, youth, or adult titles.


Keep a list of the books you read and share them often via a social networking site like goodreads or Twitter (post using the #bookaday hashtag), a blog, or Facebook page. You do not have to post reviews, but you can if you wish. Titles will do.

While #bookaday encourages people to read more, the challenge is personal, not public. The only reading goals that should matter are the reading goals we set for ourselves. If reading more books doesn’t meet your reading needs, what would you like to accomplish as a reader this summer? Commit to reading a little more. Push yourself to read outside of your comfort zone. Reread old favorites. No matter your goals, #bookaday offers a community of readers who will embrace you.


In the spirit of increasing book access and sharing books and reading, I am challenging myself to give away a book for every day of summer break. Every Saturday, I will randomly select one person who is actively using the #bookaday hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Winners will receive ten gently-read young adult and children’s books from my personal and classroom library collections. #Bookaday drawings will begin on May 16th and occur every Saturday until September 5th. Books will include a random assortment of advanced reader copies*, paperbacks, hardcovers, picture books—whatever I put into the box. All I ask is that you read the books, or give them away to kids who need them. One book will take them farther than any pizza coupon or award certificate ever could.


Enjoy a wonderful summer of reflection, rest, and a little reading. I hope our paths cross online or in person this summer. I look forward to meeting you and swapping a book recommendation or two.


*Selling publishers’ galleys or advanced reader copies violates copyright laws. If you receive an ARC you do not wish to keep after reading, donate it or throw it away.

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Published on May 03, 2015 22:51

February 28, 2015

Comic Book Girl

While I was out of town last month, our 16-year old daughter, Sarah, had a reading emergency. She told me the story over dinner when I came home, “Mom, my English teacher assigned us an independent reading project.”


I leaned in, whole body listening, “Hmm. What are the guidelines for the project?”


Once a teacher, always a teacher. I can’t help it. I wanted to know how “independent” this independent reading project was.


Sarah ticked off the requirements, “It has to be a book we haven’t read…”


We’re good so far. That’s a reasonable expectation.


She continues, “The book has to be 200 pages long.”


Whew, The Catcher in the Rye just makes the cut at 224 pages. Sorry, Of Mice and Men, you’re too short. Arbitrary rules like this one communicate to kids that teachers think students are lazy and hate to read, and they go for the shortest books they can find. What about students’ personal desires or prior reading experiences?


True, some kids might pick the shortest books they can because they hate to read. You’re their English teacher. Help them. High school isn’t too late to discover reading. Ask Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher.


locke and key cover


“And no graphic novels. She looked right at me when she said that, Mom.”


I sighed. Seriously, we’re still fighting this battle? Maus won a PULITZER in 1992. The only people who still believe that graphic novels aren’t “real” or “rigorous” reading reveal their own lack of reading experiences. Stephen Krashen and Terry Thompson put this misunderstood notion to rest long ago. Graphic novels provide reading gateways for many young readers. We’ve damaged a lot of boy readers over the years by scorning their comic book and magazine reading. Girls read comics, too. According to Market Beat, 47% percent of girls read comics. Sarah offers her idiosyncratic list of the following graphic novels and comics for your reading education:


American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang


Anya’s Ghost By Vera Brosgol


Babymouse and Squish by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm


The Complete Maus, 25th Anniversary Edition by Art Spiegelman


El Deafo by CeCe Bell


Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks


In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang


Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez


The Olympians by George O’Connor


Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley


Through the Woods by Emily Carroll


Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince


The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore


sisters telgemeier


“Everything Raina Telgemeier has written.”


Catch up on these:


Smile


Drama


Sisters


The Babysitters Club


“I read those because of RAINA, Mom. I never read those books.”


“What about Doug TenNapel? I know that you read Ghostopolis.”


“I read all of his stuff. Put him on there, too.”


Ghostopolis


Bad Island


Cardboard


Tommysaurus Rex


diviners


Sarah chose Libba Bray’s The Diviners for her independent reading project. All 608 glorious pages of it. Challenge accepted. Sarah’s a curious girl. She has strong opinions about things. She’s a sixteen-year-old. Don’t disdain her choices or attempt to define her. Reading or otherwise.


Yes, Sarah reads a lot of graphic novels. Sarah’s also read A Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Great GatsbyWuthering Heights, The Odyssey–all the canon fodder. I think she reads every book her teachers assign her to read. Sometimes, Sarah discovers that she appreciates these books. Other times, she reads an assigned book because she respects her teachers and does what she’s told. Engagement ratings? Mixed.


Sarah gave her boyfriend a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for Christmas because he somehow, “dodged reading it in 9th grade.” For some reason, Sarah isn’t willing to let him slide on Mockingbird. I get it. Her father wouldn’t let me slide on Sandman or Watchmen, either.


to kill a mockingbird


Reading shapes and transforms who we become–both as readers and as human beings. Encouragement and opportunities to choose what they read have lasting benefits for kids. **Self-selected reading:



Allows children to value their decision-making ability.
Fosters their capacity to choose appropriate reading material.
Builds confidence and a feeling of ownership.
Improves reading achievement.
Encourages lifelong readers.


I understand the role that reading classic literary works plays in Sarah’s education. She’s building a social and cultural identity, but she’s developing her personal identity, too. She feeds all of her identities with the books she reads–the ones she’s assigned to read and the ones she chooses on her own. Not all of her reading influences come from school. She’s building her own canon.


Sarah is a student. She’s also a singer. A gamer. A cheese Danish and cat lover.


She’s our comic book girl.


And she’s her own girl. It’s a marvelous thing to see.


*(Johnson, D., & Blair, A., 2003)

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Published on February 28, 2015 07:56

February 8, 2015

I’ve Got Research. Yes, I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?

In 1847, Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis made a remarkable discovery. When doctors washed their hands in a solution of chlorine and water, childbirth fever rates at Vienna General Hospital dropped from 18% to near zero. Offended that Semmelweis implied doctors were killing their own patients, the medical community rejected hand washing as an infection prevention measure, and drove Semmelweis out of medicine and into an insane asylum.


A few years later, Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister made scientific advances that reinforced Semmelwies’s claims about germ theory and infection. Hand washing between patient examinations is considered best practice today.


In spite of all scientific evidence, we still live in a world where hand washing isn’t universal practice. Folklore, tradition, and culture exert powerful influences on human behavior. You can’t convince everyone with research. You might recall that Pasteur invented vaccinations, too.


In 1977, the Journal of Reading (now The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy) published Richard Allington’s landmark paper, “If They Don’t Read Much, How They Ever Gonna Get Good?” Allington described factors that engage children with reading and charged that ineffective reading instruction hindered reading development for many children. Almost 40 years later, many educators remain ignorant of Allington’s findings or reject his observations outright. Multiple studies since 1977 have identified what helps children learn to read well and become lifelong readers, but the general public and many educators remain ignorant of this research.


In 2000, the federally funded National Reading Panel concluded that,


“With regard to the efficacy of having students engage in independent silent reading with minimal guidance or feedback, the Panel was unable to find a positive relationship between programs and instruction that encourage large amounts of independent reading and improvements in reading achievement (p. 12).”


The National Reading Panel Report caused as much damage to reading instruction practices as the standardized testing movement and set independent reading initatives in schools back decades. Instead of considering what necessary “guidance and feedback” teachers must provide students for independent reading to become most effective, many school districts and reading programs threw out independent reading altogether.


power of readingAlmost immediately after the report was released, the reading research community jumped to disprove the Panel’s dismissal of independent reading. Conducting meta-analysis of over 50 reading research studies, Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do. Krashen’s influential book, The Power of Reading, has been in print for 11 years now, but the New York Times still quotes the National Reading Panel from time to time.


I’m frequently asked to substantiate with research my opinions about independent reading. I don’t mind. The research is ubiquitous and it doesn’t take me much time to find it. While I am happy to provide websites, journal articles, and book recommendations for colleagues seeking more information about reading research, I often wonder why people ask for it. Does anyone go to the basketball coach and ask her to provide research to support why players are running plays and practicing shots? Does anyone go to the band director and ask him why musicians are playing their instruments during band class?


Why must English teachers constantly defend the need for students to practice reading and writing in a class dedicated to reading and writing?


Do we really need research proving that kids who read the most outperform kids who don’t read that much? Do we really need research proving that when readers are engaged with what they read they invest more effort in reading? Do we really need research proving that when kids have books in classrooms, libraries, and homes they read more? I suspect many of the research requests I receive are from teachers who need research to convince administrators or parents who question why kids are “just reading” in a reading class.


If you are looking for research about independent reading, here are a few of the research reports, journalistic articles by researchers, and professional books that have shaped my understanding of independent reading and informed my teaching:


“Every Child, Every Day” by Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel


“Creating Classroom Cultures That Foster Reading Motivation” by Linda Gambrell


The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen


Classrooms That Work: They Can All Read and Write by Patricia Cunningham and Richard Allington


Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community by Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Lynne, McKechnie, and Paulette Rothbauer


Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss & Terrell Youngno more independent reading without support


No More Independent Reading Without Support by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss


Engaging Adolescents in Reading edited John Guthrie


“Farewell to Farewell to Arms: De-Emphasizing the Whole Class Novel” by Douglas Fisher and Gay Ivey


The IRA/CBC/NCTE Position Paper on Leisure Reading


Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report (2014)


book love penny kittle coverYou can find more reading research by cross-referencing the bibliographies of my books, and books by Kelly Gallagher, Linda Rief, Laura Robb, Kylene Beers, Penny Kittle, Teri Lesesne, Jeff Wilhelm, Lester Laminack, Janet Allen, Cris Tovani, Franki Sibberson, Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Irene Fountas and Gay Pinnell, and other teacher practitioners and researchers who have written well-regarded books about reading.


I invite everyone to share in the comments section of this blog post the professional resources that have formulated the research-basis for your teaching methods. We can all learn and share from each other.


You might be saying to yourself, “Oh, you can get research to say anything.” No, you can’t. You cannot find credible research proving that the Sun rotates around the Earth or that bad air causes diseases. You cannot find research proving that test prep improves children’s reading achievement or test performance.


In The Reading Zone, Nancie Atwell reminds us, “A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone became a reader.”


Today, any doctor who rejected hand washing as a basic hygiene measure would lose his license. Rejecting foundational research in reading education is teaching malpractice. Pinterest and Teachers-Pay-Teachers aren’t pedagogy. We must become knowledgeable and remain current about research in our field. That’s what professionals do.


The children we serve deserve professional teaching.

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Published on February 08, 2015 11:08

September 14, 2014

Open a World of Possible

This week, Scholastic announced its new global reading initiative, Open a World of Possible. Through education programs, print and online resources, and literacy events, the Open a World of Possible campaign promotes the importance of independent reading for children and provides tools to support and sustain independent reading initiatives in our home and school communities.


On the Open a World of Possible website, you can:


Watch the inspiring literacy campaign video written by National Student Poet, Sojourner Ahebee, and narrated by actress and mom, Sarah Jessica Parker and videos from kids, parents, and teachers celebrating their love for reading.


Register for the November 6th Bigger Than Words webcast with Usher.


Access Scholastic’s comprehensive reading research summary, The Joy and Power of Reading, and practical, research-based resources for parents and teachers.


Read Open a World of Possible: Read Stories About the Joy and Power of Reading, which includes over 100 essays from literacy thought leaders, researchers, teachers, and authors like Katherine Paterson, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Walter Dean Myers, Alfred Tatum, Penny Kittle, Franki Sibberson, and Colby Sharp. Share these essays at staff meetings, education classes, and parent programs. Children will adore reading and discussing author Kwame Alexander’s poem, “How to Read a Book.” The e-book is available as a free download.


I’m honored to participate in the Open a World of Possible initiative, which advocates for young readers and their families, and inspires us all to promote and encourage independent reading in our homes, classrooms, and communities.


As a sneak peek, enjoy my essay “Reading Sent Me to the Principal’s Office,” which appears in the Open a World of Possible anthology. My beloved elementary school librarian, Mrs. Potter, changed my reading life forever—a reminder of the power we have to influence children’s reading lives each day.


open a world of possible


Reading Sent Me to the Principal’s Office


(excerpted from Open a World of Possible: Real Stories About the Joy and Power of Reading. Scholastic, 2014)


The only time I went to the principal’s office was because of reading. My mother claims this isn’t precisely true, but it’s my story, so I get to tell it how I want.


A precocious reader, I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. Knowing how to read by first grade didn’t seem like a problem to my mother and me, but my teachers thought differently. Initially enthusiastic about school, I was bored with the phonics worksheets and bland textbook stories that made up our school’s reading program. In third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Shugart introduced us to a new reading activity—SRA cards. Stored inside a large box, each color-coded card included a reading selection on one side and comprehension questions on the back. Mrs. Shugart tested each of us—determining where we should start in the SRA program, and for an hour every day, my classmates and I read SRA cards and answered questions.


I didn’t mind reading SRA cards. I knew I was a good reader and also a little bit of a show-off. I don’t remember where I started in Mrs. Shugart’s box, but I burned through those cards. Every day, when I turned in my questions, Mrs. Shugart clucked her tongue and scrutinized my work, “Three cards today? Are you sure you’re really reading them?” I stood at her desk while she checked my answers against the key. If I missed even one question, she would send me back to my desk to repeat a card—insisting that I read too quickly.


Eventually, I finished the last card in the box. Mrs. Shugart didn’t know what to do with me during SRA time, so she made me sit with other kids and help them read their cards. I hated it. One day, Mrs. Shugart returned from the office to find me standing at the chalkboard, chalk in hand, writing the answers to SRA cards on the board. With a gasp, she snatched me by the arm and marched me down to the principal’s office. The secretary called my mother.


No-nonsense about behavior and grades, my mother was unhappy about getting a call from school. Waiting for Mrs. Shugart, Mom asked me what happened, “You were cheating? What were you thinking, Donalyn?” While she talked with Mrs. Shugart and our principal, I sat outside the office in agony—imagining increasingly horrific punishments.


After an eternity, my mother emerged from the principal’s office and escorted me to the car. I kept my head down and my mouth shut. As we pulled out of the school parking lot, my mother sighed, “Did you know that Mrs. Shugart was standing there for three minutes before you noticed her? She says that you gave out at least ten answers and she has to skip those assignments with the other kids now.”


“Mom, I don’t think the other kids will mind skipping those cards,” I said, “What’s going to happen to me?”


“Well, I asked if you could move to the 4th grade reading class, but everyone nixed that suggestion. We came up with a different plan. Every day during reading time, you will go down to the library and help Mrs. Potter.”


And that’s what I did. Every day during SRA time, for the rest of third grade and into fourth grade, I worked as Mrs. Potter’s library aide. Looking back, I recognize that spending an hour a day with Mrs. Potter permanently influenced my reading life.


I don’t remember what Mrs. Potter looked like, but I can still hear her voice in my head, “Horses? You like horses? Have you met Marguerite Henry? Let’s start with King of the Wind.” After King of the Wind, I read every Marguerite Henry book in the library—Misty of Chincoteague, Brighty of Grand Canyon, and White Stallion of Lipizza. I read Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, too.


When I ran out of horse books, Mrs. Potter steered me toward other animal books like Old Yeller by Frank Gipson, Rascal by Sterling North, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling. Every book Mrs. Potter gave me launched another adventure.


Each time I returned a book, Mrs. Potter spent a few minutes chatting with me about the story, asking what I learned from the book and what parts I liked. Under her guidance, I read a staggering pile of books—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, most of the Newbery winners, and selections from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. In my opinion, Mrs. Potter was a magician—able to find a book that matched any random interest of mine.


I took reading for granted before my two years with Mrs. Potter. I enjoyed reading, but I didn’t grasp the power of reading until she showed me. From then on, my education belonged to me because I loved to read. I can learn about anything, travel anywhere, ask my own questions and seek my own answers because I read. Thanks to Mrs. Potter’s wisdom and guidance, my life has been one long reading adventure—rich and exciting and mine.

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Published on September 14, 2014 09:39

September 7, 2014

No More Language Arts and Crafts

I’ll admit that I hold my children’s teachers to a higher than reasonable standard. Would you want my kid in your English class? As a parent, I could be a burr in your saddle. I get that.


I’m not a harassing parent, I promise. Most of my children’s teachers have no idea who I am, other than Celeste and Sarah’s mom. That’s how it should be.


On the other hand, my children’s teachers don’t know who Penny Kittle is. They don’t know who Kristin Ziemke is. They don’t know who Kelly Gallagher is.


Heck, my children’s teachers don’t know who Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins are. It doesn’t matter if they’ve read my books about teaching reading, but it does matter when my children’s teachers haven’t read a book or article about teaching reading in 20 years.


A line divides parents who know a lot about reading and their children’s less-knowledgeable teachers. What can we teacher-parents do when our children have poor reading instruction at school? I may not have my own classroom this year, but this reading war front line cuts across my lawn. It stretches across my dining room table—limiting and defining my children’s reading lives.


My oldest granddaughter, Emma, spends an hour and a half at our house every morning and afternoon. My husband walks Emma to first grade. We help her with homework. Celeste, my older daughter, joked with us last week, “Andrew and I don’t think we’re are going to have to worry about Emma’s reading log all year. It’s always filled out when we pick her up.”


Of course, I’m going to read with her. You can bet your tail feathers that I will monitor my grand baby’s reading homework.


Emma has a reading log. Each day, she’s supposed to read for 20 minutes. We record the book titles for what she reads and sign Emma’s log. Kids with unsigned reading logs receive consequences at school. Emma’s vague on what happens because her log is always signed.


the troublemakerLast week, Emma and I re-read three outstanding wordless picture books, Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo, and Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo, a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. Filling out her reading log, Emma said, “We can’t write those books down, Mimi. We didn’t read any words.”


These books are standouts—amazing pieces of storytelling. Award-deserving. Emma recommends them, too.


Sadly, they’re not reading log worthy.


Somewhere in Texas, on a first grade teacher’s desk, sits a reading log with my signature on it. I have publicly denounced reading logs for a decade, but I still sign one every night for my granddaughter. I feel the injustice every time I hold the pen.


And the world spins madly on.


Our younger daughter, Sarah, is a high school sophomore this year. Sarah is a reader. Well, Sarah was a reader. Her dad and I hope she will be a reader in the future. She doesn’t read much any more. Burdened with pointless assignments for English class, Sarah doesn’t have time to read or write at home. Her English teacher doesn’t give Sarah and her classmates time to read or write at school, either.


Sarah is in the gifted and talented program. She’s an International Baccalaureate student. She takes an advanced English course. Sarah’s first project this year? Make a collage about The Beast from The Lord of the Flies. Her second project? On the corners of a tissue box, share your hopes, dreams, fears, and personal creed. I guess Sarah’s teacher needed Kleenex.


Sarah told us that the kids didn’t even share their boxes with each other. They just stacked their boxes on a table. That’s where kids’ hopes and dreams belong—in the back of the room.


Two weeks into school, and Sarah still hasn’t read a book or visited the school library with her class. The Lord of the Flies was assigned for summer reading.


Last week, Sarah’s teacher launched a discussion about “why reading matters” and “what makes a book worthy.” She lectured the class for an hour about literary merit. She never asked students to contribute their opinions about the importance of reading and the value of books. What could Sarah and her classmates possibly know about reading? She’s the teacher. She knows why reading matters.


It’s clear that my children’s teachers value school-based definitions of reading. Reading matters outside of school, too. I’m glad Emma and Sarah learned this at home, but what about the kids who don’t?


On Facebook this weekend, I invited friends to share the worst reading assignments they’ve seen as students, parents, and teachers. In many cases, our children complete the same boring, teacher-directed reading assignments we did 30 years ago. Putting low-level comprehension questions on iPads doesn’t improve the questions.


My Facebook query opened a floodgate. Dioramas, book reports, paragraph and chapter summaries, Accelerated Reader quizzes—teachers confessed to assigning landslides of pointless busy work to their students. Parents bemoaned burdensome reading logs and worksheets. Librarians complained about teachers’ restrictive book selection criteria that prevent children from self-selecting books—unreasonable page limits, reading level boundaries, and narrow genre requirements.


What are children really learning from us about reading?


I’m not a perfect teacher. I’ve assigned some crummy, waste-of-time, language arts and crafts projects to my students over the years. Cereal Box Biographies, novel unit packets, and vocabulary crossword puzzles—my students churned out a lot of mindless work. It finally occurred to me that if I hated grading 98 cereal boxes, my students hated making them.


I’m still learning how to be a better teacher. I’ve missed a lot of chances to connect my students with reading. I’ve created negative reading experiences in my classroom. I didn’t know what I know now. I learned. I grew. I evolved. I improved. I was a novice teacher once, but I’m not new any more. When you know better, you do better. No excuses.


Celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2nd can’t offset a year of reading logs and book reports. Our children must spend more time reading than they spend completing reading-related activities. Generating grades shouldn’t drive teaching decisions. Our children must develop positive reading identities. Worksheets don’t value readers or reading. Children should not become readers in spite of school.


At some point, ignorance becomes a choice. When teachers reject evidence-based teaching practices in favor of outdated traditions, it’s a choice. When parents endure the disrespectful, useless reading work our children bring home, it’s a choice.


Share what you know. Learn as much as you can. Build relationships. When we remain silent—afraid to rock the boat, offend a teacher, or question an administrator, it’s a choice. What choices do our children have?


We must advocate for children’s reading lives, or they won’t have reading lives.


If we don’t speak up, too many children will make the only reading choice they have left. They will choose not to read.

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Published on September 07, 2014 10:17

August 16, 2014

Why I’m Not Answering Your E-Mail Today

I know I owe you an e-mail response. Looking at my inboxes, it appears I owe the world an e-mail. It’s not that I don’t want to respond. I do care, but if I give as much time to answering my e-mail as it demands, I would never read, write, or talk to my family and friends, again. Yes, I could have answered your e-mail instead of writing this blog post. I could let g-mail consume me and never again feel the rays of the sun.


I have two e-mail accounts, Sisyphus and Bartleby. I conservatively receive 300 e-mails a day—each box. I admit that occasionally it’s a Talbots’ coupon. If you e-mailed me during your workday this summer, I was likely standing in front of our teaching colleagues leading a workshop, or attending a literacy conference. At night, I’m usually on airplanes. I feel blessed every day to have these opportunities, but they do limit my availability.


You must know that I spend a lot of time reading. I need to read for both my sanity and my soul. In a traveling life, reading wards off loneliness. The stories I’ve read (and lived) inspire and sustain me. I’m not much good to myself or anyone else if I stop reading.


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I read journal articles, professional books, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook posts about teaching and reading. I need to remain current with our profession. I’m not done learning how to be a good teacher. To keep growing, I must read research, innovations, conversations, and world news. I will never learn all there is to know.


I read hundreds of books a year written for kids. I enjoy children’s and young adult literature. Reading it helps me stay connected to my students and the children in my life. Staying current on children’s literature remains a vital part of my teacher education. Bottom Line: I should always be able to recommend a book to a kid. That’s where I started. Who am I if I can’t do that?


I enjoy and appreciate children’s and young adult literature for my own reading purposes. I’ll admit it. At this stage of my reading life, I’m chasing a great story. I want to read things that excite and surprise me. Children’s and young adult authors are the best writers around these days. Yes, I read The Goldfinch this summer. OK, part of it. I didn’t like it as much as Grasshopper Jungle.


I read all of your e-mails, I promise. You’re not just casting into the wind. I respond to as many as I can every single day. Some days, it’s five. Some days, it’s fifty. I will eventually answer you. I learn a lot reading your e-mails; you stretch my thinking and show me what topics matter to teachers.


Reading e-mails feeds my writing, but answering them doesn’t. If twenty teachers ask me the same question, I need to pay attention. My answer to you might be addressed to thousands of teachers or just myself. Reading in the Wild began with questions teachers asked me. My blog post about the 40 Book Challenge grew from e-mails, too. I’m working on a book right now with Teri Lesesne. I need to spend more time writing it. She’s counting on me to row my side of the canoe.


Fleeting free moments in my life– I tithe to writing. I discover and work through a lot of ideas and feelings when I write. Writing helps me think. Everything I read, hear, see, feel, wonder—comes together when I write. As Donald Graves said, my brain is “in a constant state of composition.” I’m a painfully slow writer. I spend an inordinate amount of time percolating ideas. Thinking about what I want to say through my writing takes up more time than writing does. I have grown to accept my processes. Sometimes, I slip my writing out into the world and share it. That feels good.


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I might have time to answer your email today. I probably won’t. I’m sorry. I’m going to lunch with an old friend. I haven’t seen her in almost a year. Later, I’m going bowling with my husband and my teenager. You’re important. They’re more important.


I promise to be fully present when I answer your email. I will focus on the conversation and engage with you. I will take the time and write a decent answer. You may be waiting awhile. I know it’s rude, but I can’t help it.


I need to be fully present and engage with my life, today. I hope you take the time to live your life today, too.

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Published on August 16, 2014 09:39

August 12, 2014

The 40 Book Challenge Revisited

Years ago, at a professional development workshop, Ellin Keene poked fun at the creator of the overwrought and overused “Text-to-Self, Text-to-Text, Text-to-World” reading strategy. If you’re laughing right now, you know that Ellin is one of the original architects of this strategy, which appears in her groundbreaking book (co-authored with Susan Zimmerman), Mosaic of Thought.


A few years back, a woman proudly announced to me at a workshop that she was, “doing her own version of the Daily 5, but she could only get in three of them.” I imagine Gail and Joan want to know which three. I should have asked, ladies, but I was at a loss for words.


It happens; the original thinking behind an instructional idea becomes lost when it’s passed along like a game of Telephone. You heard about it from a 60-minute conference session. Your teammate attended a book study and she gave you the highlight reel. The teacher down the hall is doing something innovative. You should try it. We’ve all seen the quick adoption of shiny, new ideas without a full picture of how these concepts fit into best practices (or don’t).


I’ve shared many ideas through my teaching and writing, and I stand by what I’ve put out into the world—but the one idea most demanding a revisit is my 40 Book Challenge, which appears in The Book Whisperer. In a nutshell, the 40 Book Challenge invites students to read 40 books across different genres during the school year.


I wonder sometimes if I failed to communicate the true intentions behind the 40 Book Challenge. Teachers email me or contact me on Facebook and Twitter about it every day. I have also seen a lot of what my dear friend, Teresa Bunner calls, “Book Whisperer Gone Bad” activities that actually undermine children’s development as independent readers instead of fostering it.


On Teachers-Pay-Teachers, I found worksheets, award certificates, rubrics, and posters using “The 40 Book Challenge.” While citing me as the source (shudder), the teacher who designed these materials offers incentives and creates competition between readers—the antithesis of my teaching philosophy and research about incentives tied to reading.


An unfamiliar parent emailed me to complain. She tracked me down on the Internet after asking her son’s teacher about the “outrageous requirement” that students read 40 books and complete 40 book reports this school year. Her son’s teacher said the assignment was based on my work, and this upset mom wanted me to know that I was hurting her son. I responded that while I expect my students to read 40 books, I don’t tie any assignments or grades to this expectation.


A close friend shared on Facebook that a teacher publicly humiliated his daughter because she “only” read 35 books this school year. The complexity or length of the books his daughter read weren’t considered. What she gained from these reading experiences didn’t matter, either.


Visiting a school last spring, a 4th grade teacher told me that she didn’t “allow” her students to “count” any books that were under 100 pages long. Walking the school library together, I asked the teacher to look at the biographies, traditional literature, and nonfiction texts available (and appropriate) for her 4th graders to read. After 20 minutes of searching, we found 12 biographies that met her stringent guidelines. It never occurred to her that she was limiting her students’ choices or access to books.


The 40 Book Challenge isn’t an assignment you can simply add to outdated, ineffective teaching practices. The Book Challenge rests on the foundation of a classroom reading community built on research-based practices for engaging children with reading. Assigning a 40 Book Challenge as a way to generate grades or push children into reading in order to compete with their classmates corrupts everything I have written and said about reading. The 40 Book Challenge is meant to expand students’ reading lives, not limit or define it.


The 40 Book Challenge is a personal challenge for each student, not a contest or competition between students or classes. In every competition or contest there are winners and losers. Why would we communicate to our students that they are reading losers? For some students, reading 40 books is an impossible leap from where they start as readers, and for others, it’s not a challenge at all.


If Alex read two books in 4th grade and reads 22 in 5th grade, I am celebrating with him. What an accomplishment! Look how much Alex grew. He didn’t grow because he read more books. He grew because he had 22 successful reading experiences.


Conversely, when Hailey read 55 books in 4th grade, reading 40 books in 5th grade isn’t challenging her. Encouraging Hailey to read biographies and historical fiction, which she claims to detest, does more to stretch her than simply reading more books.


Honestly, I don’t care if all of my students read 40 books or not. What matters is that students stretch themselves as readers and increase their competence, confidence, and reading motivation through their daily participation in our reading community. The 40 Book Challenge works for my students and me and for the many teachers successfully implementing it because of these core beliefs:


Everybody reads here. Let’s get started. Our direct influence on students’ reading lives lasts 40 weeks—36 weeks of school and 4 weeks of school vacation. Setting high expectations (roughly a book a week) communicates that reading is ongoing and continues from the first day of school to the last—hopefully longer. Students should spend more time reading than they spend completing reading-related activities like worksheets, reading responses, and projects. Students who read the most will always outperform the students who don’t read much (Krashen, 2004).


*Strong readers have lots of reading experiences. You need to be a good all-around reader. Encouraging students to read widely—sampling books from every genre—improves their reading ability by expanding their reading experiences. If you spend every day working on your jump shot, you’ll improve your jump shot. To be a strong all-around player, you must practice passing, guarding, and dribbling, too. To be a strong reader, you must practice reading poetry, fiction, nonfiction, wordless books, graphic novels, blog posts—a little bit of everything.


*There’s the right book for you out there somewhere. Let’s find it. For many students, trying a lot of books helps them find the one type of text that excites them and invites them into reading. True preferences come from years of wide reading—trying books, having some false starts, discovering authors, genres, and writing styles that we enjoy. Students who haven’t read much may not have found the books that speak to them. Reading buffet-style—tasting all types of books—students can discover what the world of reading has to offer.


*Whether you read or not isn’t a choice, but what you read is YOUR choice. I don’t waste a lot of time at the beginning of the school year talking about why students might not like to read. Everybody reads here. Everybody is a reader. Whether you read or not is off the table, but what you read is your choice. Whatever you want. You pick. Providing students with choice in what they read increases their reading motivation and engagement (Gambrell, Coding, & Palmer, 1996; Worthy & McKool, 1996; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000).


*Your reading life matters. Students’ personal reading goals have as much value as our academic goals. Classrooms exert tremendous influence on the development of students’ reading identities—whether it’s positive or negative. While students learn the skills of reading, they must develop a positive reading identity to remain readers (Serafini, 2013).


Without these core beliefs in place, the 40 Book Challenge becomes another tedious reading assignment that drives kids away from reading. If students leave our classrooms hating to read or skate through without any positive reading experiences, we have failed. It doesn’t matter what they scored on the reading test. It doesn’t matter how many books they read if they stop reading when they leave our classrooms.


I recently received a Facebook message and photos from Aliza Werner, a third grade teacher at Parkway Elementary School in Glendale, Wisconsin. Aliza and her students held a 40 Book Challenge last school year, and she wanted to share her students’ successes with me, “Through the challenge, we created an enormous sense of community that embraced comfort, security, growth, sharing, excitement, and organic learning and curiosity that I had never felt before in any class.”


alizas class photo Aliza’s 20 students read 1741 books last year and they all met or surpassed their academic reading goals. More important, these 9-year olds developed a bond with each other and with reading that will last long after 3rd grade. Recounting anecdote after anecdote about her students’ individual reading successes, Aliza told me, “I could go on and on, as I am so proud of each of them in their own way.” Looking through the photos of Aliza’s beaming students, this note from Kristen made me smile.


Kristens best year ever


 


It’s clear that Aliza and her students embraced the full intent of the 40 Book Challenge. Aliza says that her students are still chatting over the summer–sharing their reading. In a classroom culture where reading threads through every class day and every conversation—everyone grows as a reader and finds reading more interesting and personally meaningful. Every reader has value. Every reading experience has value. It doesn’t matter who ultimately crosses an arbitrary finish line.


How can we empower our students and help them grow? How can we make reading an exciting adventure? What do we want our students to remember about reading and our classroom community when they leave? The 40 Book Challenge kicks off a year of reading. That’s Day One. What about the rest of the year? Developing students’ positive reading identities and development as lifelong readers—these must remain our priorities every day, all year long.

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Published on August 12, 2014 12:02