Reading Instruction Rabbit Hole #SOL23 8/31

Consider listening to this song as you start reading this post. With apologies to Joni Mitchell…

🎜Help me, I think I’m falling
Down the reading instruction rabbit hole again
When I get that crazy feelin’, I know I’m in trouble again…🎜

I may or may not have quite a few (ahem, a very large number of) tabs open on (more than one window on) my computer. They may or may not be largely (ok, almost entirely) about teaching reading to adolescents. I may or may not be trying to teach myself how to teach reading by consuming as much information as possible in the (already full) hours after work and before (ok, often well after) bedtime while the course is already in session. It may or may not be true that this is part of the reason that I’m writing this at 8:30pm rather than, well, any earlier hour.

I know the title of this blog is “Persistence and Pedagogy” but I’m usually at least a little more balanced. These days, I feel like I’m all persistence in search of pedagogy. So far, all the podcasts and books and articles have taught me one thing for sure: teaching reading is something that someone should take an actual class in, ideally before they are given a class which requires them to teach reading. But here I am.

On February 5, I turned to Twitter. I tweeted: 
Have successfully lobbied for a hs #reading class for rdrs who need extra support.  Now not sure where to start. 10 kids every day. Have done screeners for phonics & vocab. Everyone’s needs are different. Ideas/best practices for this class? Help? 

I got lots of good ideas. Y’all – there are LOTS of good ideas. So. Many. Ideas. The good news is that there are a lot of other teachers out there (I see you Anne-Marie!) doing all sorts of good work with this, and plenty of them are willing to share. My Knit Night crew has lots of ideas to offer, too. There is a lot to read about reading, let me tell you.

Today, I realized that our class may have found our rhythm: we open with a bit of phonics, practice with prefixes and suffixes, create words and brainstorm word families, echo read, choral read, read aloud independently, then take a break. Whew. Next comes vocabulary, then some work with sentence structure, maybe a word game & then the bell rings and, exhausted, we leave. Mostly, the cell phones stay away. Mostly, the students will at least whisper-read the words out loud.

I’m keeping documentation of student learning, and I really really hope this course has some positive outcomes for these students because reading well feels so desperately important. If you’re a reading teacher & you have ideas, feel free to send them my way.

🎜Help me, I think I’m fallin’ in the science of reading abyss 
It’s got me hopin’ for the future and worryin’ about the past
‘Cause I’ve seen some hot, hot theories come down to smoke and ash…🎜

Book Love

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the student teacher looking around the classroom in astonishment. 9:30 on a Tuesday morning in mid-November and every one of the students in Grade 9 English was reading a book. Every single one. L had finally caved last week when I plunked a shiny copy of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes in front of him and walked away as though I didn’t care even the tiniest bit if he opened it. (Reader, I did care. I cared a lot. And I walked away anyway.) Now, for fifteen minutes, the regular rhythm of ocean waves filled the room (thank you YouTube) and we all read.

He commented on it later; I knew he would. A room full of 14-year-olds reading books is, after all, truly an unusual sight, and it was this young teacher’s first day with us. “How did you do that?” he wondered. I almost laughed. Those fifteen minutes are the result of a career’s worth of practice, a lifetime of reading and a lot of support from other people.

My classroom is full of books. A wonky combination of scavenged bookshelves line the back wall, full of novels and nonfiction, poetry and graphic novels, all shelved according to the eclectic organization that more or less mirrors students’ reading tastes. Books have been tossed into class bins, waiting to be picked up the next day. Books lean against the blackboard, begging to be chosen next. They teeter in uneven stacks on flat surfaces around the room, waiting to be reshelved. They linger in desks where they were stashed just in case the reader could sneak in a few extra words before class ended. 

Some students enter this room and feel at home; others are less excited. By 9th grade, some people have already abandoned reading. Every year I ask, “When was the last time you read a book cover to cover?” Every year, I hear stories of reading lives gone dormant, reading lives that have never had a chance to grow.

“It’s ok,” I say, “it’s ok. There’s something here for everyone” and I offer books from childhood, books they used to love, books someone once read aloud or books they’ve seen as movies or books full of pictures. I tell them about stories that have made me cry or laugh out loud. I ‘fess up to my serious crush on Jason Reynolds and admit that I have read past my bedtime and that I still can’t read horror novels – then I show them the collection of horror novels that I won’t ever read.

I tell students that I am a scavenger. I frequent little free libraries and I know which public libraries sell books cheap. At garage sales I explain why I need to buy all the books for much less than they are asking. I convince friends to pass along the books their teens are done with. Once, a former student cleaned out her room and brought me all the books she thought other students might like. I even ask on Facebook (because I’m old).

And this year? This year I won a grant from The Book Love Foundation. I applied last Spring, knowing that it was a long shot – so many teachers apply; so few can be funded. When I found out that I had won the grant, I cried, and then I got to work making my list. The books arrived last week – boxes and boxes of them. Books by Indigenous authors and Black authors and Muslim authors and LGBTQ authors; books with characters who wear hijabs or who face monsters or who had a child while they were in school or who found success beyond their dreams. Books about sports and books about travel and books about memories and books about the future. Books you’ve definitely heard of and books I haven’t read yet. (That might have been the students’ favourite part. “Wait. You haven’t read this one? Are you kidding? I’m going to read it before you!”) So. Many. Books. Good books.

We unboxed the books together, and already the Rupi Kaur is tucked next to someone’s bed; two of the Maze Runner series are out; Alice Oseman is circulating; Girl in Pieces has a waiting list; Kwame Alexander went to basketball practice, and Tupac’s poetry may have lured in the one last reading holdout – the lone student who hasn’t really read anything yet. These books honour the students in the classroom. Thanks (at least in part) to the Book Love Foundation, the students know that they are valued and valuable.

As for that student teacher, I don’t think I’ll have to convince him that choice reading is magic. Oh, I’ll I need to let him know that in September we could barely read as a class for five minutes, but he’s seen what happens when people know that they can read what they want, for real. And once I shelve these new books, maybe I can help him start his own classroom library, too.

(FYI – these grants are made possible by donors. If you want to help support classroom libraries, please consider donating here.)

Picture this: Slice of Life 12/31 #SOL20

I’m working my way around the room doing reading conferences. Several students have chosen more challenging novels in the last week or so, and I’m curious to see how things are going. As I sit down next to O, I see that he is on page 177 of Harry Potter. He’s been reading it for less than a week.

“Wow!” I say, genuinely impressed. “You’re making really good progress!”

He glances up, murmurs “Mmhmm” and keeps reading. I hate to interrupt, but I also want to check in on him. This is the first book without pictures that he has ever read (which I talked about a few days ago). I want to make sure he’s getting it.

“What do you like about the story?”

He places his finger on the line he was reading and looks at me, eyes wide with wonder. “It’s like I can see the pictures in my mind while I’m reading the words. That never happened before.”

My heart nearly bursts. Elementary teachers often get see students learn how to read; in high school these moments are few and far between. Often if students arrive in high school reading poorly, they leave the same way. For so long, I have worked to help kids learn, I have tried to believe they are “at promise” as much as “at risk,” but it is only now, more than twenty years into my career, that I think I might have hit upon a method that works. I am almost embarrassed to say what it is: meet them where they’re at; let them choose their book; give them lots of time and encouragement; believe in them; wait.

But, oh! He can picture what he’s reading. I could write about this every day forever and ever.


When English goes to Math: Slice of Life 7/31 #SOL20

“Amanda! Just the person I wanted to see! I have a story you’re going to love.” Mr. W pops into the English office on his prep. We are both pedagogy nerds, and we love the Applied classes we regularly teach. Mr. W teaches math and I teach English, so we often have many of the same students. We like to swap stories and have even managed to create a couple of lessons that overlapped, much to the shock/horror/delight of our students. I’m grinning before he even starts talking.

“So, you have O, right?”

I nod. I have O and four other students for the second semester in a row.

“So, this week has been nothing but trying to get him to pay attention.” Oh, yes, how well I know this. “It’s been his ipod, phone whatever. All week long.”

I am still nodding when Mr. W delivers the twist. “But yesterday, I look up, and what is he doing? He’s reading. I couldn’t believe it. There he is with Harry Potter under his desk. I couldn’t get him to stop. He read for most of the class.”

I wince. “Sorry?” Then I pause, “Actually, sorry not sorry…”

Mr. W gets it. He grins and his eyes twinkle. “But wait! Then, at the end of class, he comes up to me and says, ‘Sorry I wasn’t paying attention, sir, but I’m reading Harry Potter and it’s the first book I’ve ever read without pictures and it’s really good.’ And what could I say? So I agreed. Whatever you’re doing, it’s working.”

I am speechless.

Mr W pauses, letting me take this all in, then says, “But to get you back, next week I’m sending him to English with math worksheets…”

I have to laugh, “You can’t fool me. I know you don’t do worksheets.”

He chuckles, “Drat! You know me too well!” Then he leaves the office, and I sit, quietly stunned.

How lucky I am. How lucky to have a colleague who also loves these students, who knows the value of reading, who takes the time to tell me this story, even though he could have seen this as a disruption

How lucky I am that I get to teach so many of these students for a second semester. Having them all year is a real treat for me. I love how we can move past the routines of the classroom and start to reach for deeper learning. They trust me more: they’re more willing to try a new form of writing, knowing that I’m there to support not judge; they’re more willing to let themselves try a new book. I am so lucky to watch this unfold.

I know that reading is really tough for some of my students; the words on the page just don’t quite come together in their minds for various reasons. Daily independent reading is a hard sell. It takes us weeks (months, for some of them) to fall into the rhythm of regular reading. I have to be extremely consistent and firm. I have to really believe that they need to start where they are and that, for some of my students – grade 10 students – that means spending a semester reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amulet and Bone. These are all good books, and I’ve read the research about reading & graphic novels & developing readers, but I will admit to moments where I wonder if they will*ever* move forward.

And here we are. O is reading Harry Potter in math class. His mother told me that she went out and bought him the whole series. And J has finished his first chapter book and started The Ranger’s Apprentice series; his mom bought him the series, too. And V is on book 5 of Percy Jackson. M has a favourite author (Jason Reynolds!!).

And me? I’m just going to spend this Saturday morning basking in the feeling that I work in a school where we – students and teachers alike – celebrate our work and our success. What could be better than that?


Book magic

Elisabeth recommended it, and Catherine had a copy. I committed to exploring graphic novels this year, so I read it. I liked Hey, Kiddo a lot – well enough to recommend it – but it didn’t knock my socks off. Still, I decided to book talk it in my class because many of my readers are either artists or are reading lots of graphic novels right now: It seemed like a good fit.

Hey, Kiddo

Some books get immediate love in my class – two or three sets of hands reach for them as I finish talking, and the kids have to work out who gets to read first; others languish – I set them near their intended target, but the book stays firmly closed; this book snuck away from me – a student picked it up when I wasn’t looking, and I had to glance around the room to see where it was.

I wish I could say that I was thinking of this student specifically when I gave the book talk, but truthfully, I had a few kids in mind. Only after I saw J caress the cover as he slipped the book into his backpack did it occur to me that this book might be the right book.

He savoured it over the next few days, lingering over some of the images, writing about it during a free write, rereading certain sections. The book was clearly speaking to him. At the end of the week, I swapped out my friend’s copy for a copy I’d picked up from the public library. After all, I needed to return the book to my friend. J was fine with this so long as he could keep reading.

This weekend, as I was returning the book, I told my friend Catherine – who is also a teacher – how much J loved the book. I told her about the journal and the careful attention. Her response was immediate: “Give it to him.” I was startled – graphic novels aren’t cheap – but Catherine insisted, “If it’s changing his life, he should have it. It’s too mature for my students anyway.”

I gave J the book today. Busses had been cancelled because of freezing rain so only three students made it to class. J was astonished when I told him it was his, “Really? For me?” He held the book tightly for a moment before slipping it carefully into his backpack. And then, he told us his story. Just us, in a small circle in our little room in the library, drinking tea and sharing truths because of a book that made someone feel a little less alone in the world. One magic book.



They, um, sort of understand #SOL19 25/31

Paula Borque over at litcoachlady has been offering a wonderful list of ways to spark writing all month long. I’ve been tucking some away, trying some myself and sharing some with my students. On day 18, Paula shared an idea about using sketchnoting to synthesize our reading.  Since I’ve been actively trying to incorporate sketchnoting in my classes, I was instantly intrigued.

My students are in Grade 10 and many (though not all) arrive in my class without a strong reading base. They will admit to reading few or no books for several years, to fake reading, to avoiding writing and more. I’ve been using choice reading with conferencing to assess their understanding and development as readers, but all of this is mediated through words. I wondered what would happen if I used Paula’s spark and asked my students to sketch something from their reading after our independent reading time. The results were fascinating.

Some students clearly understand what they are reading. Below, I can see this student’s focus on character relationships, plot and even some emerging theme in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.img_8421

The next student is reading HP Lovecraft (!) and his sketchnote highlights his focus on sentence structure and diction. He chose to sketch a two-sentence paragraph that he found hard to understand because of its diction and complex structure. Afterwards, he said that sketching helped him figure out what it meant.img_8428

Another fascinating moment was this one, where a student who is really a novice reader tried sketching a moment from Monster. He originally thought that Mr. Harmon was the judge, but as he drew, he realized something didn’t fit. We spoke briefly, looked at the text, and learned that Mr. Harmon was the father not the judge. He was talking to his son in the visiting area of the prison. This sketchnote helped him clarify his understanding and helped me see his gaps.

The next day, that same student picked up far more details as he read:


Finally, one of my English Language Learners spends her independent reading time working with our (amazing, generous, talented) librarian on language development. Right now we’re specifically working on English vocabulary for everyday words in her home, since her family doesn’t speak English. Rather than sketch her understanding of a book, she sketched a room in her house and labeled as many items as she could. Then I was able to sit with her and identify some errors and add a few new words. This was incredibly effective. I was able to see that she hears/says “belw” for “pillow” and “cheer” for “chair.” Her pronunciation of those words improved almost immediately once we recognized this. Moving from “rog” to “rug” was harder. We also added “dresser” “sheets” and “bedspread” to her lexicon. Baby steps.


To be clear, I didn’t just walk into class and say, “Hey guys, draw today.” First, I sketchnoted my own reading – the graphic novel 7 Generations – alongside my students. We talked about my choices in terms of plot, character, important ideas and images. I’m never going to win any awards for my art, but I think the students felt better knowing that I really wasn’t looking for perfection.


Then, we did it three days in a row so that they had a chance to really “get it.” Some students moved quickly back to writing – no drawing for them, thank you very much –  but others stuck with sketchnotes. In the end, I think that sketchnoting our understanding of our reading expanded the way some students could express themselves and let them show me what they know in a way that isn’t exclusively mediated by words. Sketchnoting let me see some of the processes of student comprehension. It feels like this is another tool in my toolkit to help develop proficient readers. Thanks, Paula.


It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? #SOL10 11/31

imwayr2b2015Elisabeth Ellington over at The Dirigible Plum introduced me to “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading” or #IMWAYR. The idea is that people share the children’s and young adult books that they are reading right now and include a short review or reaction. I followed it for a while but eventually had to stop for my own mental health. Seriously, these people read SO MUCH that I started to feel a little badly about myself; I could not keep up at all – which is crazy because I read more than anyone else I know in my day-to-day life. If I read more than Elisabeth’s post every week, my “to read” list and my hold list at the library get a *little* out of control. (Ok, truth: even if I read only Elisabeth every week my hold list gets a little out of control. Also, it may be true that I max out my monthly acquisitions recommendations to my public library every month. I was a little embarrassed by this until a librarian friend told me how much she loved it. Whew.) And finally, I teach high school and, many of the books sounded amazing but were not ideas I could pass on. (That said, I’ve kept my dyslexic 8-year-old knee deep in graphic novels because of the recommendations, and I’m convinced that this is the support he needs as he moves into more word-based chapter books.)

All of that to say, I love the idea of #IMWAYR, though I rarely participate. Last year I even incorporated it into a grade 9 class I inherited part way through the semester. Every Monday we started class by talking about what we were reading. This discussion became almost mini book-talks and morphed into some writing. Eventually one student participated in a CBC (Canadian equivalent of NPR) book contest, defending I’ll Give You the Sun as a book that all students should read. (That, by the way, was all about her. I’ll acknowledge providing the initial platform, but she found the contest, prepared, entered and did the whole thing by herself.) Clearly, #IMWAYR has some legs!

And today I cannot resist: I just have to tell someone about the book we just finished reading out loud in our house and some of the other amazing books in my life right now. Guess what, dear reader? You win! You’re the one!

First, The Great Brain Does It Again by John D. Fitzgerald


If you don’t know The Great Brain, you are in for a good time. I like to think of him as kin to Tom Sawyer with a money-loving heart and an observant little brother. This book is number 7 in the series (originally the last book, but one more was published posthumously from the author’s notes). You can read the books in any order and each chapter stands more or less alone.

The stories are narrated by JD, the Great Brain’s little brother, and they all take place in a small town in Utah at the end of the 19th century. JD’s older brother, Tom D (or TD), is constantly plotting ways to get rich, mostly by swindling kids out of their money and then convincing them that what he did was acceptable. What I love the most is that while we are laughing at yet another swindle (JD will acknowledge that he has literally never won a bet with Tom even as he shakes his hand on one more sure thing), the books don’t shy away from complex issues like poverty, religion (the family is Catholic in a majority-Mormon area – but no insults here, just acknowledgements), Indigenous peoples (respected!), and even depression (in an earlier book) . This particular book includes lots of belly laughs along with a chapter that brought tears to both my eyes and my 10-year-old’s. We talked about family expectations, chores, who has responsibility for their actions, why Indigenous people were placed on reservations… You get the picture.

We’ve been reading the books out of order (because I couldn’t find them all), so we’ve got two or three left, and we can’t wait to get to the rest of them. Also, we are clearly going to love Tom Sawyer when we get there.

I also just finished Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson


There is much to love about this coming of age novel. First, the language is gorgeous. But my favourite thing is the narration by Jared, the protagonist. He is gentle and thoughtful and narrates his life without self-pity. His voice is so strong that it took me a while to see him as others must: a druggie, alkie, Indigenous kid who is going nowhere. He does not see himself that way – who does? – and his actions make complete sense when we are inside his head. In fact, what I love about this book is that as I read, I believed that Jared’s responses were the only real response available to the world around him. This is first person narration at its best.

I have two reservations about this book, and neither is enough to prevent me from highly recommending it. First, the trickster stuff really picks up right at the end. This is the first book of a trilogy, but I would have like more trickster earlier from a plot perspective. Second, I’d have to think about various reactions if I were to teach this book. Though the violence, drugs and alcohol are all filtered through Jared’s narration, there’s not really any repudiation of these things. So, in terms of *teaching* the novel, I’d want to be thoughtful. In terms of reading it, I’d say “have at it!”

And finally, a mini plug for Ben Clanton’s books Rot, The Cutest in the World and It Came in the Mail.

rot-the-cutest-in-the-world-9781481467629_lg and  81rqrq7hy1l

We found these because my kids wanted more Narwhal books. We’ve finished the Narwhal books (to date) but we found Ben Clanton. Both of my boys – ages 8 & 10 – giggled their way through these and the older declared that It Came In the Mail was “a really good book” even though he’s supposedly done with picture books.

Currently reading:
Read aloud: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
YA: Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
PD: Book Love by Penny Kittle
Just for me: Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman


I might have a problem #SOL19 7/31

This is on my bedside table


I just finished Son of a Trickster last night, and I really enjoyed the way that that Indigenous narrator’s voice makes sense of his actions, which from the outside definitely look like those of a druggie kid failing out of school, and reveals the motives behind the appearance. It’s the first of a trilogy, and it felt like it – much of the real action doesn’t come until right at the end and it feels a little unfinished.

That book is sitting on top of these two. A Velocity of Being was a gift, and it is perfect in

img_8230many ways: it’s beautiful and has amazing illustrations, it has a nice heft to it and is a bit oversized without being as unwieldy as a coffee table book, and it comprises letters from all sorts of amazing writers. I am nibbling away at it steadily. Near that is Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. I was about halfway through this lyrical, thoughtful contemplation of the intersection between science and religion, our desire for permanence and our experience of change, when I had to return it to the library because someone else had it on hold (sigh). Now I have it back, but I feel like I need a bit of a slower pace in order to really appreciate Lightman’s prose. I have it until the 15th and March break starts tomorrow afternoon, so I should be good.

The thing is, that those three are sitting next to theseimg_8231










which looks like this up close

So now you see the problem. I’ve kind of written off the ones in the right hand picture because they are holding up my alarm clock – so I’ve decided that they are more furniture than actual choice at the moment. And I’ve read almost all of the book on dyslexia; I just like to have it nearby in case I start freaking out about my child and many of my students having dyslexia, which I do on occasion. Four of the ones on top of that have been borrowed and I really need to give them back (sorry Tara, Debbie & Anthony) but I also really want to read them first. Anyway, they’re furniture now, so they have to wait.

Five of those in the left hand picture are library books. The EA who works in my classroom says that I am not allowed to check out any more books until I work my way through these. This makes perfect sense (which is one of the many reasons she is amazing), but my library hold list is pretty long, and I didn’t dare tell her that another one has already arrived at my local branch. Plus, they all look so good. And they come recommended. And they are so different! How am I supposed to choose which one to read next? Sometimes I nibble at a few and make a choice, other times I just pick up the one that looks right and dive in. Right now, I’m a little overwhelmed. I might have a problem.

The overwhelm is why my nightstand rarely gets this full. Usually the guilt overcomes me and I have to clear the decks. I get to feeling bad for the books sitting there forlornly, begging to be read, and I have to start returning them, whispering promises that someone else will come for them, someone will open them, turn their pages, love them. Sometimes I put them right back on my hold list, promising that I will take them back when the time is right.  But today this is my nightstand – any suggestions for which book I should start with tonight?






New Year Reading Blues

Coming back to school after Winter Break is always tough for me. It’s not that I don’t want to see my students & colleagues – I do! – but, frankly, Ottawa in January is cold and dark. I would be just as happy to spend most of the month curled up under a bunch of warm blankets drinking tea and reading books. My students, I fear, would choose to spend their free time differently.

Before break, we were on a reading roll. My little class of 11 (now ten – long story) had read 55 books as of  December 4. We were up to 63 right before break, and I was seeing great signs of what I thought was an emerging literary life, at least, if you count Diary of a Wimpy Kid as literary – which I do. Some of my students had plans for their next book. Some were recommending books to others. Rupi Kaur’s poetry was getting passed around – and not only because it is a little racy. When we left for winter break, I was really pleased.

I had a great break. As it started, my own children and I finished our read-aloud of Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider. (An incredible read-aloud, although be prepared to encounter lots of complex pronunciation.) On my own, that first weekend, I tore through Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys. As our family headed off on vacation I read Debris Line by Matthew Fitzsimmons (a former colleague who’s written a fantastic series of action-packed thrillers), then Ami McKay’s fun new novella Half Spent Was the Night and finally Bill Bryson’s slim biography of Shakespeare. And, we finished our read-aloud of Funke’s follow-up to Dragon Rider, The Griffin’s Feather. So, um, yeah, that’s six books in two weeks. But one really was a novella and Bill Bryson’s book is full of information but it’s not really super-long… and we were on a plane…

I am not actually a crazy person. I really didn’t expect that my students would read much over break. The class I keep writing about this semester is not the “Academic” track and most of them do not identify as readers. But maybe I am crazier than I seem, because yesterday, as we were talking about our break, I realized that I was kind of hoping that they would have read *something.* So I was disappointed when only three of nine students said they had read anything other than social media over the holidays. That’s only 1/3. Even my student who most identifies as a reader didn’t read. The only silver lining is that one student was absent, and I’m betting he read something, so that’s four of ten. 2/5 – ever so slightly better than 1/3.

I really really really really (that’s four “really”s, if you’re counting) want them to be readers. And I deeply believe that a) they need to read more to learn to read well and b) that reading well – and even enjoying reading – is important. (To paraphrase Donalyn Miller, I’ve got the research. Here’s hers and there’s plenty more: like this, and this, and this…)

And guys, I did not want to write this blog post. Because there are only 12 more teaching days before exams. 12 days x 20 minutes of independent reading + me cheering them on. No matter how I do the math, I just don’t think that’s enough time to help them see that they can be readers, that they are readers. I just don’t know if one semester was enough. And some of them are *so close.* I feel like if we could just keep reading…

But we can’t. And I kind of feel like I failed them. I’m bucking myself up by reminding myself that this is the first semester I really went all in with choice reading, that I’m getting better and better at reading conferences, that I’m building my classroom library (and making extensive use of the school & public libraries when my own library isn’t enough), that the reading survey I did at the beginning of the semester suggested that many of the students hadn’t read a single book in the last year. We have made real, tangible progress.

I just don’t know if it’s enough.


(I asked my husband to read over this blog post before I published it.  He reminded me that I’m not supposed to approach teaching like a major league baseball player looking to maintain a high batting average. Instead, I help my students get a little better every time they step up to the plate, and by that measure each one of them is better off today than they were at the beginning of my class. I hate it when he’s right, and when he uses baseball metaphors.  He also reminded me that everything looks a little darker in January when you live in Ottawa but grew up in the Southern US: both a figurative and literal truth. He’s also right about that.)


On Oct 9 I published a blog post about my 11 Grade 10 students having finished 10 books. We were so excited that I ordered everyone pizza. They could not believe that they had finished ten books in just over four weeks. I was excited and a little relieved that my crazy “read what you want” book experiment with “lower track” students appeared to be working. (Once again, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s work has really inspired me on this road.)

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, today I bring you (drumroll…): FIFTY FIVE!

Just take a peek into our classroom:

And look at the readers:

And check out these reader behaviours:

  • Students are recommending books to each other. As of now, 3/4 of the class has read Jason Reynolds’ Long Way Down and one student just convinced another that she “has to” read Carlos Luis Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind.
  • Students are reading at home. One girl lost phone privileges over the weekend and finished a book!
  • Students have their next book ready to go. They are developing lists of books they want to read.

Finally, let me tell you what we are reading right now because the sheer variety of levels and topics reminds me of why choice is so important as a motivator for these readers.

Nancy Drew, Amulet, Long Way Down, In Cold Blood, Shadow of the Wind, Tupac’s poetry, The Hate U Give, The Crossover, Skellig, a hockey memoir (forgot the title), The Lovely Bones

They’ve also read Trump’s Art of the Deal, Hatchet, Crabbe, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, 39 Clues, Rupi Kaur’s poetry, another one by Kwame Alexander, One of Us is Lying… and so many more.

So, four-ish more weeks of class, two weeks of Winter Break… We’ll keep reading – and I’m pretty sure that, in the end, we’ll have some readers.