Book clubs or literacy circles are some of my most favorite explorations to do with kids. Making space for deep discussions, led by the students, and framed by an inquiry question is something that I love to be a part of. That’s why we have done book clubs twice a year for the past many years. I would not do more than that, kids also want to have experiences where they are not forced to read a certain book with peers, even if they have a lot of embedded choice. And as always, when in doubt, ask your students how often they would like to do them, make space for their ideas and allow for personalization and ownership.
If we look at the research that surrounds reading enjoyment and motivation, we see a direct correlation between the effects of reading intervention programs and how kids feel about themselves as readers. They can do so much good but they can also do a lot of damage. Richard Allington and others remind us of the incredible impact the reading curriculum decisions have on our most vulnerable readers. That “the design of reading lessons differs for good and poor readers in that poor readers get more work on skills in isolation, whereas good readers get assigned more reading activity.” That our most vulnerable readers are “often placed into computer programs or taught by paras rather than placed in front of reading specialists. That their experience is fundamentally shaped around their perceived gaps rather than their full person. So how does that play out year after year when a child is not placed in front of a trained and caring reading specialist but instead of a computer that cares nothing about their reading identity or how hard they are working? How will it play out when kids only see their reading value in the points they get, the levels they pass, and the scores they receive? Not books read, not experiences created, not background knowledge developed, or small accomplishments celebrated.
A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable. Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t. Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others. Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in. That a better reader is someone who will continue to come back to reading when they can, finding value within whatever materials they read in order to make their lives better in some way. A better reader is not just a child who reads hard texts, always pushing their skills, but also someone who commits to the very act of reading. And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read “easy” books, how much of their individual reading identity journey have we dismissed? And what becomes of the reader?
So do we tell our students to embrace easy reading whenever they want to keep them loving reading? Or do we push them so hard to develop their skills that their connection to reading breaks and then we wonder why reading becomes something just to do for school and tasks?
Associated with this, Ripp discusses the importance of respecting the journey that each reader is on.
And yes, I teach that child that reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid every day, who is not sure of what else he can read that will make him love reading as much. My job is not to tell him, “No, you cannot read that,” but instead to urge him to read more books in the series and to celebrate the reading that is happening. To recognize that this child has discovered a part of himself where he finds a purpose within the pages of this book and to help him find books that will offer up similar experiences. Not to take away, but to recommend, while also protecting the fierce commitment that exists between a child and a favorite book. To explore why that child loves this book so much and then help discover others like it. To acknowledge the reading relationship that already exists and to build on that rather than breaking it apart at all costs because I know better.
I remember coming up against this challenge when I took a class for the library session. The classroom teacher would scould me when the boys would return with a non-fiction text or graphic novel. Reflecting on this now, I am left thinking about Dave Cormier’s argument for ‘care‘ as the first principle.
So dear educators, this is me sending love out into the world, letting you know that it is okay to say no. To say no more. To set boundaries and stick with them. Just like we teach the kids. Just like we were taught so many years ago. Don’t let others make you forget that.
If you are like me, January brings excitement, positivity but also exhaustion. This quiet month is one where I sometimes find my energy running low, my creativity running out, and rather than take the time to take care of myself I barrel on as if that will do the trick. So this year, much like the years before, I am challenging myself to take better care of myself, as well as those around me. And so the 30-day challenge is back. A challenge meant to remind me of all the good. Challenge me to take better care of myself. Challenge me to slow down. Challenge me to focus more on meaningful interactions, rather than hurried conversations. Feel free to join me if you want or create your own.
So for now, I will be on here. I will be in my classroom fully present. I will try to find a better balance between sharing and staying quiet. I will be in the Global Read Aloud community, the Passionate Readers community. I will be actually reading more of the fantastic things written by others whose work inspires me to be more than I am. I will be diving back into research. I will be looking at my own practices in order to grow. I will be by my fireplace reading a book. I will be at my dinner table laughing with my kids. I will be just Pernille, not Pernille that has a lot to say and doesn’t always know when to be quiet. If you see me on there, it is probably a cross-posting from Instagram or a very rare moment indeed. But until then, take care of yourself. I am trying to take care of me.
So it’s on all of us. If we don’t give space. If we don’t strike up conversations. If we don’t reach out and ask for help from the very people we work with. If we don’t share more of our mistakes as some of us are handed pedestals to stand on, then we are doing a disservice to those who come to us or guidance, who trust us with their time, who call us colleagues and mentors.
As we look at our incoming students and the names that they carry, I feel the importance of the correct pronunciation. How their names carry their history. How their names carry the hopes that their parents grew as they blessed their new baby with a way to be known to the world. How because I gave up on correcting people, I will forever be known as something that my mother didn’t intend. How even when my husband tells me he loves me my name is not completely correct. How my own children don’t know how to say it the right way because their American tongues get in the way. And I chose to live with that. Too late to make a difference now.
As some of you may know, we are moving from a 45-minute block of ELA time to a 90-minute block. I cannot tell you how excited I am for this to happen. To actually have more time to dig in, to have fewer students so I can know them better, to be able to pull small groups more often and really support student growth – yes, please! But with this change comes a lot of decisions. We want to make sure students are engaged and challenged well within the 90 minutes. We don’t want it to drag on, we don’t want it to be lecture. So as the year starts to come closer, the ideas and aspirations we have had are starting to take shape and I thought it would be nice to share them here, in case others need some inspiration.
So I am wondering if we for once and for all, can we all agree that there is no such thing as a girl or a boy book? That kids need to be exposed to characters that inspire them, no matter their gender. That kids need to be exposed to characters that will expand their worldviews and invite them into new worlds that they knew little of before, no matter their gender. That kids need to be exposed to great books, without us adults thinking that they will only read a certain type of book based on what we see in front of us.
We must give them a chance to experience more than what they are. Books allow us to do just that, but not if they never read them. Not if we never recommend them. That’s on us, which means we can change it, so let’s do that starting now.
I have realized in the past week that self-care is something I need to plan for. Is something every educator needs to plan for. That no matter what we do, which role we play, we can always feel like we are not enough. Like there is not enough of us. But I have also realized that that is not true.
There is enough of us but just too much of other things.
There will always be more coming at us, no matter what we do.
Work invades our personal time, private leaks into public, the intimate is trivially shared, and the concerns of the wider world seep into what ought to be a space for recuperation and recovery. Above all, horror finds us wherever we are.
So it is time for me to step back a bit. To do less work publicly, to share less, to not be so immediately available. To be just Pernille, the person who doesn’t have all of the answers necessarily. That only creates something because she cannot help it. That gives all of her when she is in a public space, but then steps back when she is private.
So look at the power of the tools you have at your disposal. Look at what you can do with a camera. With a computer. With your voice and your connections. Look at whose voices are missing in your classroom. Look at who your students need to meet so that they can change their ideas of others.
We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories? Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.
Which book I choose to share depends on the lesson. I treat it much like a short story in what I want students to get out of it so it has to suit the very purpose we are trying to understand. I introduce the concept by sharing a story and then I ask my students to come as close as they can to the rocking chair in our corner. Once settled, whether on the floor, on balls or on chairs, I read it aloud. We stop and talk throughout as needed but not on every page, it should not take more than 10 minutes at most to get through an average size picture book. If it is a brand new concept I may just have students listen, while other times they might engage in a turn-and-talk. I have an easel right next to me and at times we write our thoughts on that. Sometimes we make an anchor chart, it really just depends on the purpose of the lesson. Often a picture book is used as one type of media on a topic and we can then branch into excerpts from text, video, or audio that relates to the topic.
if we listen to Louise Rosenblatt, and I don’t know why we shouldn’t, she reminded us back in 1978 that children need to be taught that there are two types of reading. Aesthetic reading which focuses on the love of reading, on living within texts so that we can create a relationship with the text. On being with the text so that we can see ourselves as readers. And also efferent reading, reading for skill, reading to work on reading. The things we do with what we read.