Summer Reading on Reading

In this season of free voluntary reading a-plenty (hallelujah!) I have recently had some collaborative brainstorming sessions on piloting a new reading project with colleagues who, like me, feel concerned and motivated to continue to build our school’s culture of reading. Inspired thus, I just reread Stephen D. Krashen’s The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, which has started me down a happy rabbit hole of reading about reading. This has helped me rediscover some excellent advice for professional practice and affirmations of why we do some things we do.

Sometimes (what I consider to be) the most engaging and creative parts of this job are the things that have trouble making their way into daily library life; things like enticing, timely, and thoughtful displays, eye-catching promotional bulletin boards, and book talks. Revisiting and recommitting to the power of reading and its role in education is exciting, and helps focus my own summer work; thereby re-engaging through some deep fun.

AASL’s Position Statement on the School Librarian’s Role in Reading currently comes with a disclaimer of sorts, indicating that the statement is currently under review to align with the new National School Library Standards. Be that as it may, it’s pretty good as is and I don’t imagine the gist will change much. The last bullet point reads as follows: “Along with classroom and reading specialist colleagues, school librarians provide and participate in continual professional development in reading that reflects current research in the area of reading instruction and promotion.”

[Hey, look, I have all these books about reading! Let’s read them, shall we?]

Here’s what I’ve revisited in the last few days:

Bernadowski, C., & Kolencik, P. L. (2010). Research-based reading strategies in the library for adolescent learners. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

Farwell, S. M., & Teger, N. L. (2012). Supporting reading in grades 6-12: A guide. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. D. (2004). The power of reading: Insights from the research (2nd ed.). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (2016). The purpose of education, free voluntary reading, and dealing with the impact of poverty. School Libraries Worldwide, 22(1), 1+. Retrieved from Academic OneFile database.

Miller, D. (2015, February 8). I’ve got research. Yes, I do. I’ve got research. How about you? [Blog post]. Retrieved from The Book Whisperer website: https://bookwhisperer.com/2015/02/08/ive-got-research-yes-i-do-ive-got-research-how-about-you/

Miller, D. (2019). If kids can’t read what they want in the summer, when can they? School Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=if-kids-cant-read-what-they-want-in-the-Summer-when-can-they

Richardson, J. (2014). Maryanne Wolf: Balance technology and deep reading to create biliterate children. The Phi Delta Kappan, 96(3), 14-19. Retrieved  from JSTOR database.

Questions I have:

  • If, according to Krashen, direct vocabulary teaching is less efficient than reading, how can research/library specific vocabulary best be acquired, especially for ELLS?
  • While I hope that our learners consider the school library to be a comfortable place conducive to free voluntary reading, students can’t spend all of their reading time there. Do we as a boarding school create or even allow space in our schedule and facilities for reading?
  • Extrinsic motivation is generally considered to send children the wrong message about why we read, however, is this also true for young adults? Or adults? Could the kitsch factor of badges, buttons, and leaderboards actually serve to encourage older readers to join the “literacy club” (Krashen, 2004, p. 130)?
  • Serving our English Language Learners is an issue often on my mind, and about which I’ve written before. Krashen and others point to the importance of engaging in one’s first language as well as the learned language. Should I be providing more pleasure reading material in my students’ home languages? I’m thinking yes.
  • It may be that some of our students, for a variety of possible reasons, have not had the experience as younger children of being read to often by a caring adult. Is there a way with older students to recapture a connection between feeling safe and cared for with story and language acquisition, or do we just need to hold that as a piece of our students’ social-emotional learning?

Newly appearing on the to-read pile:

Baye, A., Inns, A., Lake, C., & Slavin, R. E. (2019). A synthesis of quantitative research on reading programs for secondary students.Reading Research Quarterly, 54(2), 133-166. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.229

Beers, G. K., & Probst, R. E. (2017). Disrupting thinking: Why how we read matters. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Merga, M. K. (2019). Reading engagement for tweens and teens: What would make them read more? Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2013). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child.

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. John Wiley & Sons.

Ross, C. S., MacKechnie, L., & Rothbauer, P. M. (2018). Reading still matters: What the research reveals about reading, libraries, and community. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.

Wolf, M., & Stoodley, C. J. (2018). Reader, come home: The reading brain in a digital world. New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

What are your favorite sources on reading?

Take a Reading Inventory

“Summer slump” is an oppressive-sounding term, describing loss of learning during the summer when reading can stagnate. How do you avoid the summer reading doldrums and learning loss? A recent Harvard study stresses the importance of teachers personalizing the reading experience for students, shaping “lessons and activities” to support the reading experience. One way that our school is personalizing reading is through the Teacher Favorites program. Teachers sponsor books, allowing a wide variety of choice for students, and each book has a plus factor, suggested videos, websites, and art/writing activities that can enhance the experience of reading the book. (A big nod to McCallie School which shared their plus factor reading program through our AISL listserv.)

Whether students and teachers are blogging “what if” scenarios about a Harry Potter book or visiting online Holocaust museums as they read The Diary of a Young Girl, student engagement in the activities can enhance the reading of the book and enliven the small group book discussion with teachers and students in August. View our school’s suggested books and activities: Teacher Favorites 7/8 and Teacher Favorites 5/6.

Families can also build excitement for summer reading by placing an importance on reading habits in their home. This suggested Reading Inventory provides ideas to start conversations about the enjoyment of reading and how books can be an important part of the summer routine. Below is a checklist to jumpstart how families can infuse a reading climate in the home and include the reading habit alongside the demands of summer activities.

Step One: Make a Shelfie.
What were the books that ignited you as a young reader? Arrange those books for a “Shelfie” photo and share with your child the meaning books had for you. If you no longer have the books, capture screenshots of book covers or use GoogleSlides to arrange your Shelfie stack. Interesting conversations about books can arise as you share the types of books you loved to read and how your reading grew or changed. Modeling your love of reading and your reading habits is a powerful message to children.

Fairy Tales (upper left to right): Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, Andersen’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1945), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1928).

Step Two: Create Book Reading Corners.
Where are the prime locations for Book Reading Corners in your home? Do you have a basket of books by a favorite reading chair, bedside table, and even magazines or books in the bathroom? All of these are prime locations to make reading opportunities readily available and enjoyable, and these reading corners are a visible reminder of the value your family places on reading. Encourage your child to personalize and develop their own favorite reading corner.

Step Three: Read Poetry, Aloud.
My mother loved to share a large volume of children’s poetry, and she dramatized, sang, and engaged us in choral reading of the poems. She even (gasp!) invited us to write our initials next to our favorite poems and color in the line drawing illustrations. This poetry book became a living, breathing reflection of our time shared in enjoying poetry. Discover your own poetry anthology such as those by poets Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Paul Fleischman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson, and Nikki Grimes. Poetry anthologies are also themed to experiencing art (Hopkin’s Make the World New: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum) and even objects (The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko).

And, poetry is not just for young children. Poetry connects to tweens and teens in dynamic ways that reflect their own voices and concerns. Poetry can transport the reader through a historic moment (such as the sinking of the Titanic in The Watch that Ends the Night) and personal crisis (such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down), or celebrate heroes (such as Margarita Engle’s Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics) and feature voices of hope (such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners). Encourage your tween or teen to perform a Poetry Slam of a favorite poem. Poems spoken aloud allow us to savor the sounds and rhythms of words and connect powerfully to emotions.

Step Four. Read Aloud.
Reading aloud creates moments of bonding with your child as you share the mutual love of a book. Dive in and do the voices, and invite the child to chime in on favorite lines or read a page in the story. You can read aloud a chapter book that is above the reading level of your child, thereby building vocabulary and encouraging empathetic listening. Many children’s books have cliff-hanger chapters and cause children to beg for the next chapter to be read. For an extensive list of read-aloud books for all ages and genres, see Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease stresses that reading aloud not only increases I.Q., but also H.Q.(the heart quotient). Award-winning children’s books from ALA and books for young adults from YALSA are another way to select excellent writing from diverse voices.

Step Five: Books on the Road.
Summers are busy with family road trips and commutes to activities such as swimming lessons and ball games–perfect opportunities for stretches of time to enjoy books. Encourage your child to pack favorite books in the car (I always traveled with collections of fairy tales) or take advantage of wonderful audio performances of books to enjoy as a family. Many public libraries have audiobook collections, and our own school library is showcasing new audiobooks through Overdrive this summer. For quick free browsing and sampling, you can search a book title in Amazon Audible and listen to a few minutes of a book. Listening to audiobooks can be a delightful way to fill long car commutes, and children can read along to reinforce the experience of the book.

Illustrated books, nonfiction informational books, and short story collections travel well because these books invite browsing, lingering over illustrations and short text boxes, and short chapter reading. Author Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science website has wonderful recommendations for informational books and activities. Graphic novels, magazines, and comics can also be good choices for books on the road. Classic Comics were my first exposure to the “classics,” and new graphic novels adaptations include Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation, The Giver, Manga Classics, and Shakespeare, Poe, and The Odyssey adaptations by graphic artist Gareth Hinds, not to mention the hilarious Hazardous Tales history series by Nathan Hale.

This five-step Reading Inventory may help families re-evaluate the importance of reading and reading habits in the home. See also the National Education Association, which features research on preventing the “summer slump” and provides tips to encourage reading. Spark enthusiasm with families for reading this summer!

Modeling Good Writing

In an NPR video series on Billy Collins, the poet laureate was asked how young poets could get started writing poetry. Billy Collins responded, “it’s such dull advice, there’s really no key to it, you just have to read, read poetry for 10,000 hours.”

Immersing young writers in models of fine writing was an idea echoed during a 2017 NCTE conference session on literary magazines. This session was a wonderful brain trust for individuals new to sponsoring a school’s literary magazine. In addition to bringing back copies of other schools’ literary magazines, I brought back the advice repeatedly heard: provide student writers with models of good writing and read, read, read.

In an earlier AISL blog, “Inspire Writing with Memorials,” I mentioned that our library and student LitMag editors are sponsoring a writing contest. Our LitMag editors were challenged to make promotional posters that not only advertised the contest, but also featured a poem example reflecting the contest theme of memorials or collections. As our LitMag editors searched for models of well-crafted poems, the library poetry book shelves became a cornucopia of inspirational ideas.

Below are two examples of poetry books that sparked imaginations, along with students’ poem reflections and poster design decisions.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle.
Margarita Engle, named in 2017 as the Young People’s Poet Laureate, celebrates the lives of Hispanic people from all walks of life in this collection of poems.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag editor, Sebastian, chose the poem “Life on Horseback”and explained, “this poem is a memorial to a Mexican-American cowboy named Arnold Rojas (1898-1988). Due to lack of job opportunities for immigrants, he worked as a farmworker. He leaves that job for a more exciting life as a cowboy. This poem emphasizes that you must take pride in your work and if you don’t, you should search for a more meaningful job.”

Design principle for poster: Symmetry.
Silhouetted horse heads face each other on the poster and displayed below are flags of Mexico and the United States of America, indicating the duel heritage of cowboy Arnold Rojas.

Maya Angelou (Poetry for Young People).
This collection of poems by Maya Angelou display her emotional connection with struggles
and triumphs of African Americans, including the struggle from oppression to attaining
lives of dignity.

Poem Reflection:
LitMag Editor, Alex, chose the poem “One More Round” and observed, “this poem shows a man who loves to work and believes his work is much more than slavery:  ‘I was born to work but I ain’t no mule.’”

Design Principle for poster: Repetition.
An intricate assembly line shows miniature factory workers heaving, hoisting, and loading large flour bags onto automated belts. These bags of flour are being processed so another man, drawn above the assembly line, can enjoy a bowl of cereal. Alex reflected that his drawing shows “a man that’s just eating a bowl of cereal and is treating it like any other. Look further down on the poster and you can see the work that goes into making this bowl of cereal is worth a whole lot more than it looks.”

This process of selecting poems to model well-crafted writing was a creative stretch for our LitMag editors: an opportunity both for design thinking and personal reflection on how poems communicate to an audience. The finished posters are now displayed throughout the school, inspiring our young writers through reading poems by established poets.

For further exploration of how writers rely on models of good writing, see these books that celebrate famous poets:

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Margery Wentworth
Kwame and co-authors pay tribute to famous poets by imitating the poetic style or enkindling the emotional connection of these poets.

Boshblobberbosh: Runcible Poems for Edward Lear
by J. Patrick Lewis
Lewis, the 2011 Children’s Poet Laureate, writes poems in the style of Edward Lear to honor Lear’s whimsical language and playful use of the sounds of words.

To read more on how NCTE supports school literary magazines, see REALM Awards (Recognizing Excellence in Art and Literary Magazines).

Lower School: You can find it anyplace–even in the Middle School

Scene 1: It’s a Tuesday in the Middle School library, and Sophie–a 5th grader–is arriving for library class. She has her iPad in her hands, and has evidently walked all the way from the Middle School building (close to 100 yards, admittedly across mostly open grass) holding it in front of her face, playing a game that the ever-resourceful tween population has been able to get to despite the firewall.

Having made it all the way across campus, up the wide concrete-and-steel stairway (I tried not to imagine that part), across the lobby and through the library doors, Sophie is headed straight for the massive column that separates the circulation area from the seating area.

Surely she sees that column?

Surely she’ll stop before she–

“Sophie!”

She looks up and does a last-second course correction before placidly making her way to the chairs where her class meets (back at the game, of course).

Scene 2: On another library-class day, I tell the 5th grade that we will be using their iPads to access our library catalog.  Several of them do not have the catalog app downloaded on their iPads, and their school-controlled App Manager doesn’t have it as an installation option either.  Frantic swiping through home pages ensues.

“What does it look like?!”

“Mine doesn’t have it!”

“I can’t find it!”

“That’s okay,” I say, “I’ll show you how to make a shortcut for your home screen.”  They are still staring at their screens, swiping and yelping and talking to one another about how they do or do not have the app installed.

“Guys,” I say.  Swipe, swipe, yelp, yelp.

“Boys and girls.”  Swipe, yelp, swipe.

“People!”  They stop.  “It’s okay. I’ll walk you through it step by step.  Go to your home screen and open Safari.  Now type this address: heathwood dot–”

“It’s not working!”

“How do you spell heathwood?”

“Mrs. Falvey, it’s not working!”

(Meanwhile those who did have the app already installed are back to playing a game.)

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Of course it all works out all right, but scenes like these underscore the fact that we may be in  the middle school library, but this isn’t middle school.  In all but geography, these are still Lower School students.

I don’t know how many schools have moved their 5th grade classes up to the middle school.  Our school did it a number of years ago as a response to running out of room in the Lower School classrooms, and overall it has worked very well; our middle school is divided, with the first floor limited to 7th- and 8th-grade classrooms, and the second floor to 5th and 6th.  Day-to-day procedures and teaching methods are different for each section, even 5th grade compared to 6th, and these accommodations work well.  As I’m sure all of us have noticed, there is a world of difference between a 5th grader and an 8th-grader!  Fifth-graders may have shot up over the summer–especially the girls–but they are still, as our counsellor says, much more like little kids than teenagers.

In the library, as well, we make distinctions between 5th graders and the rest of the middle school.

For example, I have found that I need to introduce new concepts gradually, especially involving tech.  Our 5th graders may be digital natives, but they do need guidance in approaching tech as an academic tool (and in being willing to stop and listen to directions!).  At the beginning of the year, especially, when we are not actively using the iPads we put them down out of reach.  Impulse control–the struggle is real!

Also, our collection has to be carefully managed.  The Middle/Upper School library serves students in the 5th through 12th grades.  While I hope we will one day have a new building with separate space for the middle-school collection, in the meantime I have to manage two very different collections catering to a wide range of tastes and interests.  My predecessor handled this by choosing to skew the collection to the middle-school level; while this avoided any potential problems of inappropriate checkouts, the result was an entire group of students who were left without a collection.  This year, I am developing a YA collection separate from the general fiction collection.  These books have a different spine label, as well as a silvery holographic dot just above the spine label as a way to try and prevent “mistake” checkouts.  These books are also in a separate area of the library where I can easily see who is browsing.  While I do not plan to be a martinet about letting students browse that area, I do plan to limit checkouts to Upper School students.  We’ll see how it works out!

Finally, I have found that I have to be careful about seating for my 5th (okay, 6th too) graders.  I purchased some awesome beanbags (stuffed with foam pieces, not polystyrene beads–highly recommended, with reservations as noted next) from Ultimate Sack (http://www.ultimatesack.com/) this fall.  The students love them–mostly because they are actually big enough to take a nap in and therefore nearly impossible to move (hence the conditional recommendation as mentioned above).  Did I mention that I bombed the spatial reasoning section on my high school career-skills test?

Exhibit A:

It’s the size of a small car!

Yep, these are very popular.  So we began the year spending anywhere from 5-10 minutes at the beginning of every class discussing where the beanbags were (Upper Schoolers take them to the back to nap on), how to move them (roll them like you’re a dung beetle), who should to sit on them this week, who got to sit on them last week, and who can do the best parkour pattern using *all* of the beanbags.  (Mrs.Falvey = facepalm). Needless to say we had to lay some ground rules for the beanbags!

All this to say that even though they may be located in the middle school, 5th grade is still very much still in the Lower School for most of the year.  And that is okay!  iPads and pillar-obstacles and beanbags and keyword searches are all learning opportunities in their own right.  I try to keep in mind that early-middle school students are still learning a lot about navigating life, and overall they are a joy to work with. I love their wide-open enthusiasm, the fact that they still love to read and be read to, and the fact that they will still speak to me when I see them on campus!  But oh, how I wish I had measured those beanbags ahead of time!

 

 

 

A eulogy for our local newspaper

Last fall, I read Cecily Ross’ The lost diaries of Susanna Moodie, a fictionalized journal based on the life of a woman who emigrated to from England to the backwoods of Canada in 1830s.

If that hasn’t put you to sleep, know that I am fascinated by Moodie (and her sister Catharine Parr Traill) for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that they settled in the area I call home. I often walk by the Cobourg wharf where their ship landed, have made the 10-minute drive into the country to see the historic plaque posted where Moodie first lived, and read the daily paper in which she published her poetry.

But no more – our local paper, published since 1831, has been shuttered. Sad but not surprising; many of the people indignant about the cut hadn’t shown their support with subscription dollars, and advertising revenue has understandably declined along with readership.

What will I miss about having the local paper in our library?

  • Reading coverage of school events (and having someone to ask to cover an event)
  • Learning about students’ & colleagues’ non-school activities in the community
  • Keeping up with obituaries of those who’ve passed in our small town
  • Watching someone complete the crossword or Suduko
  • Having a plethora of newsprint for art teachers in need (she says with partial sarcasm)

I am no Luddite, but felt it important to mark the end of this chapter. I’m curious to see what fate lies ahead for our national papers – one has recently changed formats, and I’ve been surprised to see it being read more frequently in our casual seating area. Coincidence? Temporary halt of the inevitable?

 

Interactive summer reading

I know it’s (only) April, but with just seven weeks of school left, my mind is on the finish line – summer! I don’t want to think about database renewals or cleaning the mess that is the workroom, nor do I care to give another thought to the book hospital that is overflowing with patients or the inventory that is calling my name. That can all wait until tomorrow (or the next day). No, right now, I’m planning summer reading!

For the past two years, I have created recommended summer reading magazines – my favorite picks from the year (here’s 2015 and 2016). I include them in my end-of-the-year library newsletter and send black-and-white copies in our end-of-year reports which go out mid-June. I print some in color and place them on our Parent bookshelf in the lobby, so that all who walk by can see and take them. I have ideas in mind for this year’s magazine, but I want to do more – I want this year’s summer reading to be interactive.

Lower school students do not have required reading over the summer, but I know they are reading voraciously. I have wondered about how to stay connected with students and their reading over the summer and have dismissed many ideas because I didn’t think they would work with our population. Send me a picture? Write me a letter? Blog about it? What’s a quick and easy way to collect and share our summer reading?

I am always looking to connect the right student with the right book at the right time, and now I find myself in need of the right tool. Books, I’m pretty good at and manage to stay updated. Tech tools, I always feel a step behind. So, please try not to roll your eyes when I introduce the new (ahem: four years old) tool that I plan on using for summer reading this year:

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Flipgrid until just recently, but I feel like I am seeing it everywhere nowadays. For those of you, maybe like me, who may not know what it is – Flipgrid is essentially a video discussion board. Imagine if Padlet and Voicethread had a baby (though I wonder about the ages of those two…). For my summer reading Flipgrid, I plan on taking video of myself talking to students about sharing their summer reading. Then, they can go to my Flipgrid page and add their own video about what they’re reading. In the end, I hope to have tons of videos of students sharing with me and each other. What I love about Flipgrid is how easy it is to use – go to the board, click the plus sign, and record yourself! It organizes the videos much in the same way as Pinterest, very neat rows, and students can watch each other’s videos.

I’m looking forward to introducing this next month and might encourage some beta testers to add videos of what they want to read over summer break. Have you done anything similar? Advice to share?

The Secret to a Successful Faculty/Staff Book Club

One of my favorite ways to connect with the adult community I’m a part of is to organize a fun book club to read and discuss a few titles  per year. I have done this in both independent schools where I have worked and participation has varied, from just myself and a few others to a packed house, 15-20 participants, requiring us to break into two groups to discuss the book. What’s the key to a successful program? Its  seems to depend on a number of factors. I wonder if those of you who are leading groups at your schools will agree or disagree.

  1. Choosing the right book. Fiction/Non-Fiction. Adult or YA to read what our students are reading? Length. Genre.
  2. BUSY-NESS in the year. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Scheduling–is it a day time or evening discussion?

Excuse me for a moment while I preach to the choir: book clubs by there very nature do not require that everyone love the genre that you are reading. However, I’ve found that some people do have strong preferences re: spending time on fiction when they prefer to read non-fiction, almost exclusively. That seems to be the case for many who are interested in participating in book discussions at Emma.

The large group of readers at my last school thrived on fun fiction (“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” anyone?,  also “The Paris Wife”, “Loving Frank”, “The Postmistress”, “Unbroken”and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, “Little Women” vs. “March” in a Men are from Mars, Women from Venus match-up, to name a few).  We met at a local restaurant, split appetizers and ordered an adult beverage, and either my library colleague or I would start the discussion and have a list of questions/discussion points that we could refer to if there was a lull or if we needed to pull the proverbial car back onto the road. It was great. No one throw anything at me, but I feel like we had a lot more free time to read for pleasure because we were at a day school. Organizing another book club here in this boarding community has been a different creature entirely. Clearly, I’m still learning and working to perfect the formula for success.

I typically propose books a week or two before a school break so that there is more time to read. Because there are evening faculty meetings once a month, so many people coach, and because  everyone has a night of dorm duty or proctored study hall or such, it’s tough, nay impossible, to find a time that works for everyone. That’s just life. I usually go with a Thursday evening discussion somewhere on campus–typically my house or that of my colleague/neighbor who has no children, a working fireplace, and a perpetually clean house. I bring dessert and wine. We typically get the same 4-6 regulars who participate.  Once we finish our discussion, I open up “next read nominations” from the group. That’s how it goes for the rest of the year. Maybe that’s okay? I have a hard time admitting that something can’t be improved, so I’m examining the challenges and trying to do better, to attract a more diverse group, etc.

First, there’s choosing the right book. I usually start the year out by proposing a few titles that I would like to read and discuss, then letting people vote. I try to offer a number of different titles, for example, this year we started with “A Man Called Ove”, “Fun Home”, “A Tale for the Time Being”, and “Blood in the Water: the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy”, a new release that was nominated for the National Book Award, is timely politically in its dealing with prison reform, human rights violations, and fake news, and it also focuses on a horrific event that took place just a few hours from our campus. Like I said, this community likes its non-fiction, so Attica it was (though “Ove” was a close second). I offered both a lunchtime discussion in a small dining room and an evening discussion to try to get those who weren’t free in the evening. Everything was looking good!

What piece did I miss? First, new releases aren’t available in paperback. CHA-CHING!  The waiting list at the public library was huge. Strangely, our library copy took an inordinately long time to arrive from Amazon. Second, length! The book is 752 pages. A lot of those are notes, but still, it’s a good 600+ pages of text, which is a lot to take on over Thanksgiving break. It was such a small group that we cancelled the evening meeting and went with the lunch time one. I brought recent articles from the New York Times that cover investigations at 54 prisons where prisoners continue to suffer the same abuses that Attica’s prisoners were protesting. We were a small but mighty group and did have a good discussion, but we all agreed that we should alternate between heavy non-fiction like this and lighter novels. Our new format is to alternate. We decided to read “Ove” over our winter break and discuss in late January. I’m not sure how many it will attract, but hopefully more than Attica did.

On a whim, my assistant and I bought some used copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” personal essay, based on her 2012 TedX talk (64 pages), and hoped to get an informal group discussion pulled together over lunch in the new year. We threw it out there and said “the first four to respond to this message will get the book delivered to your mailbox today!”. There are 9 people on the waiting list right now! A few admitted that this was the right length for them to read and discuss during the school year. So the desire is there, but not the time. Hmmm…

So, I wonder, do we look for more articles/short stories/essays to read? Do we plan our reads at the end of the year and announce them for faculty to read for pleasure over the summer? {Who will be able to recall details for something they read months before? I surely can’t.} Or do we chalk it up to “it is what it is” and any group coming together to discuss books is a good thing–big or small?

What is working for you at your school? Are there any boarding school success stories that I can learn from? What titles have been especially good to discuss?

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

In Tony Schwartz’s opinion piece for the New York Times titled Addicted to Distraction, the executive and author laments his inability to sit down and read a print book. Citing numerous reasons for his lack of focus and several bad habits that had also gotten out of control, Mr. Schwartz “created an irrationally ambitious plan” to right these behaviors and in essence, went cold-turkey for 30 days. Over the time period he aimed to reduce the amount of time he spent on the internet to re-establish his attention span, start eating better, and get more exercise.

He admitted that he had some success over the 30 day period of abstinence, noting that he stopped drinking diet soda and gave up sugar and carbohydrates. But he failed completely in his quest to modify and cut-back on the time he spent on the Internet. As we start off the year with new resolutions, I was humbled by his efforts and results. And he honestly characterized his use of technology and the internet as a need to be constantly stimulated or a way to get a “fix.” His struggle was a portrait I could identify with in relation to my own technology use and reading habits, and that of the students I teach.

Mr. Schwartz’s experience kept resurfacing in my mind as I read Sherry Tunkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In her book, Tunkle explores the idea of distraction in the classroom and the “hyper-attention” behavior we see in some of our students. In her chapter on Education she writes, “There is a way to respond to students who complain that they need more stimulation than class conversation provides. It is to tell them that a moment of boredom can be an opportunity to go inward to your imagination, an opportunity for new thinking.”

Ms. Tunkle’s book is based on the idea that with technology we have greatly limited our face-to-face communication. The inability to connect through discussion has occurred virtually everywhere from the dinner table, the workplace and in the classroom. And she readily admits that “we want technology put in service of our educational purposes.” But she argues that we have to be intentional about the outcomes we want from utilizing the technology otherwise it may be distracting the teachers and students from focusing on one another.

Over the winter break, like many of us, I tackled a growing pile of print items to-be-read and took a brief hiatus from my daily technology habits of searching, sending emails, and collecting data. The winter break also provided many opportunities for socializing and I found that having such a rich variety of opportunities to converse with friends, neighbors, and family was extremely fulfilling. The combination of these two factors – conversing more and using technology less – led me to create two New Year’s resolutions that I think will have lasting results. First, to engage in more discussions from the simple water-cooler chat to more deliberate and proactive conversations about new resources to enrich lessons. I know that I learn a lot from those I meet and share with, and in 2016 I want to continue to foster and nurture that growth. And second, to create a mindful plan for using technology in my life. This week was a victorious balance and I look forward to 50 more weeks where I am productive and still have the ability and time to engage in deep reading and conversation.

What are your technology and classroom related New Year’s resolutions?

Break’s coming…are you ready?

In years past, I have prepared for the upcoming winter break by creating my own “Eighth Wonder of the World”, aka ” The Great Wall Of Break Reads”, by lining the wall around the fireplace pit in the center of my library with good books.

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The rest of the collection is upstairs in tall stacks so there isn’t a ton of room for book displays. It works in that it puts the book covers in girls’ faces. They see the glossy print books and are reminded that they will soon have ample time in which to veg out and read. It’s good! English teachers have brought their classes in to “shop”, have asked me to book talk the wall, and it’s given me the chance to promote Overdrive, too, if there’s a lot of competition over individual titles.

Downside: it only reaches those who enter the library. While I would like to claim that 100% of our students spend their days in our space, it’s simply not so.

Other downside: I’m still up to my neck in shelving after this year’s “Researchmageddon”. Anyone who says the print book is dead should come visit after the final drafts of fall research papers are turned in. I’m being conservative in how many more books I pull. I think it’s called “Shelving PTSD”. It’s a thing, I promise.

So where can we go to reach 100% of them, to increase our odds of checkout and decrease the things we take back and shelve?

We head to the dining hall, that’s where!

The day before Thanksgiving break, my assistant and I carted over armloads of books that we were prepared to talk, new and classic alike, and set them up on a table outside the dining hall, where every student would pass. We brought two laptops with barcode scanners and made a quick banner out of butcher paper that read “POP UP LIBRARY! Get your break reading here!!”.

There was a line, friends, a line! We checked books out to students and adults alike.  We  talked books with girls we had never talked books with before. We learned about their lives, we learned about some big time competition we didn’t even realize was competition…fan fiction. [More on this in a future blog post. Stay tuned.] We invited them to write reviews for our library blog when we returned from break. When all was said and done, we checked out all but a few of the books we had taken over and had very little to carry back. I only found one book in lost and found later.  🙂 All in all, I’d call it a success!

I’m thinking of moving the pop up library around campus and making it into a hashtag game, sort of like the food truck phenomenon. We’ll definitely do it again Thursday and Friday this week, but we’re open to other ideas too! What do you do to promote break reading at your school?

Also, if you haven’t already read “I’ll Give You the Sun”, stop what you’re doing and grab it for your own break reading. Best YA book I’ve read in a long time.

Wishing you all a restorative winter break and a happy, healthy 2016!

What book taught you most about being a girl?

Registration for the 2016 AISL Conference is filling up fast! Not yet convinced? I am still using an idea I first learned about during the 2008 Toronto conference! It’s become one of our biggest school-wide literary events each year, and is much anticipated by staff and students alike. This year I had my first ‘when is Red Reads?’ query on the second day of school!

At the 2008 conference, Havergal College librarian Tony Nardi shared information about his school’s reading contest, where six book champions battle it out to be crowned winner. The part that particularly appealed to us, as a grade 1-12 school, is that you didn’t have to have read all of the six books in order to participate. One of our English teachers had the vision for the contest for our school, customized it for SCS, and Red Reads was born!

The theme of this year’s contest is ‘The Book That Taught Me Most About Being a Girl’. Members of our community were invited to submit their nominations on paper or electronically, and we were thrilled that we had submissions from grades 2-12 and staff. A team of judges met to whittle down our hundred or so entries to a top six, and these finalists will present at a special assembly on November 17. After this assembly, members of our community will vote for their favourite presentation, and the person who made the most compelling case, to become our ‘Red Reads’ selection for the year. We follow up with another special assembly in January, focusing on the winning book, its message, and author.

Our six finalists this year are:

1) Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, submitted by a grade 10 student

2) I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, submitted by “Justice and Peace”, a grade 6 / staff duo

3) Alexandria of Africa by Eric Walters, submitted by a grade 8 student

4) The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, submitted by a grade 11 group

5) Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, submitted by a grade 6 duo.

6) Life in Motion by Misty Copeland, submitted by a grade 6 student

The benefits to running a program like this are numerous. It allows us to have school-wide reading festival, it is adaptable for a variety of themes, and it is an excellent focus for our senior school book club. It also increases library traffic, and the chatter about books in the halls! The library does a huge amount of support for this program; we use library periods to share information and discuss Red Reads choices when possible.

As a judge (and advisor), I was not allowed to nominate a book, but I have written an SCS Reads blog post on my choice. I’ll update this post once the winner is announced (in early December). I expect it to be a closely-fought contest this year!

For further information, take a look at an article my co-advisor and I wrote in Independent Teacher Magazine about reading at SCS. It’s a few years old now, but it gives a great overview of the reading culture here at St. Clement’s.

UPDATE!: Our winning book was Life in Motion by Misty Copeland. SCS students and staff are encouraged to read the book over the Christmas vacation in preparation for the follow-up assembly in January.