Mindful of the Messages We Send About Their Book Choices #TeacherMom

My 8 year-old has recently discovered how much she adores graphic novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to help introduce her to the genre; after all, I already knew how much she loves comics, and I could sense that while she’s a strong reader, she just isn’t yet ready for text-heavy pages. So the floodgates have opened:

Jennifer Holm

Ben Hatke

Ben Clanton

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Raina Telgemeier

Dana Simpson

Geronimo Stilton

Even as we have enjoyed discussing each of these books (and laughing at how quickly she devours them), I can’t help but wonder: what if I held the common belief that comics “don’t count” as reading? What impact would that have on her growth as a reader? What impact would that have on our relationship?

Yet, when I consider my 4 year-old’s reading choices lately, I realize my response has been much less supportive. The reason? They all consist of massive encyclopedia-like texts that are just not fun for me to read to him. Books like:

Clearly, both my readers need equal support and enthusiasm from me in order to feel that their growing reading identities are valued and valid. I realize it’s time for me to spend as much time browsing the library shelves and placing holds for my son’s reading preferences as I do for my daughter’s, not to mention to embrace his bedtime story choices!

Only when we work to catch our sometimes subconscious responses can we find ways to do better to nurture our diverse readers.

What messages, good, bad, & ugly, have you sent to your kids over the years? How has that adapted? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

What Happens When Programs > Books

When classroom literacy instruction starts to become completely overtaken by that literacy programs, do actual books start to get in the way? After all, reading a book takes more time. Selecting passages from actual books to share with students takes time. Talking about our favorite books (and building the culture that makes us want to) takes time.

And time is what we lack most as teachers!

Plus, when that program has mapped out tasks and “personalized” progress for every day of the school year, it seems our literary expertise starts to take a back seat to that very expensive program.

So what starts happening when programs > books?

Books seem like luxurious “extras” (you can get to your book when you finish the worksheet or level).

Books seem less efficient than the programs (we all know books have value, but if they’re not carefully scaffolding the reading development with every word, are they as valuable during class time?) 

Read aloud time starts to disappear (after all, the programs seem to encompass all the literary needs, not to mention time).

Programs are deemed more adept at identifying skills (at least, the skills most easily recognizable/test-able).

Kids talk less about the books they’re reading and more about the levels they’re on (it makes sense since all that time on programs suggests we’re more interested in getting them to the next level than we are about their reading interests).

No matter how appealing and adept a program might seem, we must be careful to seek balance and to protect our students’ love of books. As authors by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen write, “To see themselves as readers, students must also have opportunities to make decisions about what they will read.” p. 98, Pose, Wobbble, Flow. Pernille Ripp also writes eloquently on programs like Accelerated Reader & selecting literacy programs. Also this:

If books have started to be relegated to a sideline role in our classrooms, it’s time to ask ourselves how we can bring them back into our reading instruction in meaningful ways.

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Self-Selected Bedside Reading, Co-Written With My Kids #TeacherMom

As educators, we know the importance of student-selected text. We also know the importance of setting up a reader-friendly environment (ie, organized books, cozy reading nooks, time to read, etc). So I’m not sure why it took me so long to apply these principles to my kids own reading spaces. Oh, we had lots of organized, accessible books throughout the house, but I mean the most important self-selected reading environment: the bedside!

Over the last several months, we have since rectified the problem. It hasn’t taken much: a flashlight here, a ledge shelf there, but OH, have the results been extraordinary. It resulted in late-night giggles, stories shared with the baby across the room, and altogether, growth in my kids’ sense of identity as readers. Here are some of their comments about their bedside reading spaces.

7 year-old’s bedside interview:

What’s your favorite part about your bedside reading space?

“I love that I get to turn on my lamp when I want to start reading. I also love that I get to have some pictures that remind me of books and fiction.”

What are your favorite kinds of books to have next to your bed?

“Chapter books because they always have a surprise for you in each chapter. I also like comics because they are funny and give me good dreams. I also like mystery books because they have big surprises at the end.”

How is bedtime different now than it was before setting up your bedside reading space?

“There was no mystery or comics or chapter books to give me good dreams.”

3 year-old’s bedside interview:

What’s your favorite part about your bedside reading space?

“To read under my covers.”

What are your favorite kinds of books to have next to your bed?

“Star Wars.”

How is bedtime different now than it was before setting up your bedside reading space?

“Now I get to read with my lamp on.”

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When Texts Become Our Mentors — Really

What happens when we earnestly look to the text for learning?

I mean, really look to the text.

Not some sterile passage from a basal.

Not the occasional book that seems to coincide with our unit.

Not even the mandated whole-class novel, though I have heard merits on both sides (some pros here, cons here).

I mean full-blown looking to texts as our mentors day in and day out.

Starting out units immersing ourselves in books on every level and topic we can find (our school librarian was a saint in consistently helping me prepare for the immersion stage of our units).

Getting to really get to know the author–his/her style, favorite strategies, even personality — and then talking about what ____ is doing to make us feel or think the way we do?

Setting out each day for authentic discovery within the pages of the mentor text — which, of course, means we don’t necessarily know what our students will find?

Engaging alongside students as we also seek out examples of what we’re trying to better understand as readers and writers?

I have been on both sides of this approach to mentor texts. And I’d like to share a few before/after effects I observed in my students:

Before: 

  • I rarely, if ever, heard students refer to themselves as authors
  • The writing strategies we were trying to learn about usually felt much more abstract with little context.
  • As we inevitably turned to worksheets, our approach felt more contrived.
  • Students looked to me for each day’s literary learning.

After:

  • Students saw authors as people — people who were once kids like them that had to learn and hone their craft in the exact same way we were — which led to them referring to themselves as authors, too.
  • We made it our daily mission to seek out clear context within books.
  • The strategies we were trying to learn about felt much more natural.
  • We all looked to the books for rich, co-constructed literary learning.

We become better equipped to find and share mentor texts when we read as much as we can as teachers. Whole language reading/writing workshops will also include plenty of examples of texts that coincide with each unit (One of the reasons I enjoyed Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series). But of course, there are also plenty of free online resources available, too! Here are a few:

Making the shift toward integrating mentor texts into our daily literacy learning has been pivotal for authenticity. After all, if we say it’s all about reading and writing books, shouldn’t books be our primary companions?

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3 Fabulous Rhyming Picture Books & Their Powerful Impact on Reading

A recent favorite read-along is the beloved classic, “Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. After just a couple listens, I would find my 3 year old chanting the phrases during make-believe play, marching up and down the halls.

This kind of small adoption into personal speaking and listening have a major impact on literacy development. From fluency to comprehension that words are made up of small sounds (known as phonemic awareness), rhyming and or lyrical books can be powerful for our youngest readers.

Here are three of our recent rhyming reads that have become instant hits with my kids:

A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans

This delightful tongue-twister immediately had me thinking of Dr. Seuss. I especially loved the gorgeous artwork as brown and grey swirls as fluidly as the wordplay. Incidentally, research shows that such tongue-twisters take the power of rhyming/lyrical reads up a notch when it comes to that above-mentioned phonemic awareness, so go ahead and check out “Fox & Socks” again with your preschoolers, too!

When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano and Christian Robinson

This one isn’t technically a rhyming book, but it is oh, so lyrical. Not to mention on the very topic that most young kids everywhere continually obsess about. “when’s my birthday? where’s my birthday? how many days until my birthday?’ launches a beautiful countdown to kids’ favorite celebration. My kids especially loved the birthday chart at the very end of the book.

Gone CampingA Novel in Verse by Tamera Will Wissinger and Matthew Cordell

This outdoors-loving girl adored this book the moment I had it in my hands. In delightfully varied forms of poetry, follow the story of Sam and Lucy’s camping trip. Individual chapters are particularly valuable as short reads to build fluency with your older students (see a discussion and specific strategies from Russ Walsh here). And of course, the handy reference at the back on rhyme, rhythm, literary devices, and poetic forms makes the perfect companion for any poetry unit.

What are some of your favorite rhyming and/or lyrical reads with your kids?

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Read Alongs Here to Save Sanity During Christmas Break #TeacherMom

Raise your hand if your kids ask to watch movies all day every day during holidays? Raise your hand if it has your sanity hanging by a thread within a few minutes?

via GIPHY

Enter read alongs! We already had a couple of these from CD’s included in picture books, but I decided to explore the audiobook section of our library as well to see whether my kids might enjoy them.

Parent win! Besides the blessed decrease in movie-begging, I have observed some unlooked-for benefits:

  • Opportunities to cooperate as they share the books while they listen
  • Opportunities for my older child to encourage print awareness with her brother
  • Discussions on expressions and vocabulary with my daughter as she repeatedly listens to Kate DiCamillo’s humorous “Bink & Gollie Two For One” (ie, “there are no winners here,” or “without question”)
  • Increase in our reading time as we can listen to stories while we eat meals
  • Impromptu dance parties (courtesy of the baby thoroughly enjoying the music that plays in the background of many of the books)

If any of these sound appealing, fire up some audiobooks today! In addition to checking out your local library, be sure to browse these free online options:

Storyline Online: High-quality read-alouds, often read by actors and actresses. I especially love that this one includes an app — makes it easier for me to play books over Bluetooth speakers so we don’t need to worry about huddling around a screen.

The Indianapolis Public Library Ready to Read CompilationThese books are well-laid out visually for you to browse and click, taking you to a Youtube video read aloud. There’s some overlap with the books available on Storyline, but there’s still a great selection of old favorites along with some great newer reads!

Just Books Read Aloud: This one has the largest selection of the three at over 700 choices, though you will notice that the quality of the read alouds tends to be lower. But if a child finds a treasured book, I doubt he/she will mind!

What audiobooks or sources have you found and enjoyed?

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5 Favorite Children’s Books (2017 Read Alouds)

I always love the opportunity to make another #booklist because it helps me catch up on my Goodreads indexing — not to mention the fact that it helps me think about which books really draw me in and why. So I appreciate this pass-it-forward invitation via Norah Colvin. Thanks Norah!

For those I nominate that want to join in, here are the “rules:”

  1. Thank whoever’s nominated you and share their blog link.
  2. Let us know your top 5 children’s books
  3. Nominate 5 people to do the same
  4. Let your nominees know you nominated them

I can’t make a top 5 list of children’s books without it being from a pretty specific category to narrow it down! So I’m going to choose from junior fiction. That I’ve read this year. That I would consider as classroom read aloud material. These were the ones that I couldn’t put down — that I carried upstairs and downstairs and in my diaper bag and on my nightstand, all in the hopes of catching another few pages. I hope you enjoy them as well (P.S. You’ve probably noticed a genre trend here–I promise I did check out many realistic fictions, but for whatever, reason, they weren’t doing it for me this year. Mystery all the way in 2017!)

Incorrigible Children by Maryrose Wood: I am dying for the next book in the Incorrible Children series! As much as I love following the story of the 3 children raised by wolves that are now brought up by their plucky young governess Penelope Lumley, I think I might enjoy Wood’s Lemony-Snickett-like narrative asides just as much.

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson: If you loved Roald Dahl’s books growing up, or even just possessed a vague inclination, this one is worth checking out. In a Matilda-meets-Charlie & the Chocolate Factory story, Tabitha Crum, along with 4 other children, is invited to the home of a fabulously wealthy Countess for an important announcement. She is quickly swept up in a mystery as children start disappearing and the Countess doesn’t seem what she appears.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Breath-taking. I loved the poetry and flow, and I never wanted it to end. From Goodreads: “One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic…An epic coming-of-age fairy tale.”

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan: Ok, this one definitely merges some historical fiction in with the mystery! I enjoyed the character development and interactions as Nell works to prove herself to be of use to her Aunt Kate when she is brought to her doorstep. This assistance eventually builds from chores to real-life detective work to assist Aunt Kate’s work with the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel: I was introduced to Oppel’s work this year and loved it all (The Nest and Every Hidden Thing also topped my lists this year, but neither one would probably be suitable as elementary read alouds–intensity in The Nest and some mature content in Every Hidden Thing). The Boundless will make for a gripping read-aloud as Will Everett must keep ahead of a deadly plot while working his way up the Boundless train!

5 bloggers nominated to add their 5!

Pernille Ripp: Many of my library book holds are because of Pernille’s advice! An English teacher in Wisconsin, she’s always pushing the status quo on reading and writing instruction.

Faige Meller: Though retired from her own kindergarten classroom, Faige’s work in influencing children is far from finished! She often writes about her work as a substitute children and about how we can better connect with our students–and one of my daughter’s new favorite reads (Roxaboxen) came from her recommendation.

Man-Cub Mamas: On the #TeacherMom spectrum, this blog is definitely more on the Mom side, with all sorts of tips at home. My favorite, of course, as been the book recommendations, supplied by a good friend of mine, which is why I’m adding the nomination here!

LitLife Blog: The literary connection of this blog is clear in the title, and I am a huge fan of Pam Allyn’s work. I haven’t heard from them on that platform for a while now, but perhaps this nomination might invite a new book list? 🙂

Library Girl: I am so impressed by her work with the #30SecondBookTalks and World Book Talk Competition. Jennifer LeGarde is passionate about creating cultures of reading.

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