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26 August 2017 @ 09:41 am
Thanks to Colby Sharp, I now do podcast book talks on Anchor. The app is simple; the recording is effortless. Here is a link to one of the recent book talks, this one on Falling Water: https://anchor.fm/lssa?at=658440.

And here I am on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/booktalks/id1270493958

You might notice some background noise. I recorded some of the book talks as BH and Karin Perry and I were driving back from the Valley. So, that is the b=noise the road makes when you are driving 75 mph.

I hope you will "tune in" to the station. I am going to use it, in part, to demo book talks for my students. And it is also nice to have some way of archiving book talks on what I am reading.
Current Location: home, finally home
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
23 August 2017 @ 09:30 am
Karin Perry and I spent 7 hours with a wonderful group of librarians in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this week. We love being with folks who, for the most part, were our LS students over the past several years. The first thing we did that morning was spread out about 15-20 bags of books we were floating on to new readers. The librarians kept asking, "Really? these are ours? To keep?" they were joyful (which is nt a bad way to begin a day of learning together, right?).

We started the day with some information about metafiction. We discussed what metafiction is and gave them about 30 examples from books, both current and what we labeled as "blasts from the past." After the sharing and discussion, we had them do a 4 panel strip where they presented a short piece of metafiction. What we loved was the fact that several librarians used stories they had been told as children, many of them in Spanish. It was terrific to see them dipping into their store of tales they could share with kids in a different version.

We moved on to graphic novels and spent quite a bit of time talking about how they can play a role in literacy development. We had hoped to do a hands-on activity, but we opted to go outside and view the eclipse instead. Despite the triple digit heat (it was 105), we were as excited as kids to watch the eclipse (we had about a 65% eclipse in south Texas). Then we head back inside.

The final two hours of the day were devoted to #wndb. The other books we had shared that day were diverse, but we wanted to really hit this topic hard. Many of the librarians in south Texas are Hispanic. Our LS department physically took its entire program to the Valley (Laredo, Brownsville, McAllen/Edinburg) for 30+ years before moving to our present online delivery. We were well aware of the dearth of books featuring Hispanics. So, Karin and I knew they were interested in diversity. O
Current Location: home, finally home
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
20 August 2017 @ 02:47 pm
Please excuse the rather abrupt ending to the previous post. My department chair called us into a meeting a few minutes early, and I did not have time to do more than hit publish. So, let me continue now as some of our students take a practice exam )yes, we do trial runs as our student results are tallied to ensure we are doing a good job. Right now, we sit at 100% from the last administration, thankfully).

So, why "just say no" to AR and other canned programs?

Let's go back to choice for a few minutes, okay? Any time we limit choice, we act as censors. It does not matter whether we limit by lexile or level or even genre, a limit means someone is, in essence, not permitted to read freely. This is not to say that we cannot offer limited choices (select a biography, read a book of nonfiction, here is a list of 25 from which you are to pick 5), but the choice should be real (not choose Book A or Book B).

In my YA class, students can read books by some specific authors, but the titles are of their choosing. They read from sone lists (Printz, QP, GGNT, etc), but the titles are up to them. My required whole class selections have decreased from 25 (I picked them all) to 7, and I am working on taking that number to 5. In children's lit, 75% of books are student selected.

Limiting by arbitrary factors such as syllables, sentences, and semantics seems rather frivolous to me. Should we guide students at first? Sure. Should we place restrictions on them constantly? Nope. And, BTW, those blasted lists by grade level make me insane. Just because Book A is on the list for 8th grade should not mean a student in grade 6 should not be able to read it. Are we somehow worried that a re-reading is BAD? Research indicates, conversely, that it is actually GOOD (remember how many times kids want to hear Godnight, Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar?).

Excluding books by level, lexile, genre, form, or format is also a form of censorship. No GNs. Why? Must be fiction. WHY? Must be over 200 pages. Why? Think about requirements before being autocratic, please. Ask for a balance? Fine. Guest some alternative titles to someone stuck in a reading rut? Okay.

And return to another of my previous points about holding kids accountable? Conferring is just the best way I know of checking in with kids. In the 1970s Terry Ley wrote about DIR: Directed Individualized Reading. Patrick Allen's CONFERRING might be a valuable tool. Visit a classroom where conferring is used. If we read widely (and if not, why not?), we can certainly talk to readers about their books. When I first started reading-writing workshop, I had a list of about 40-50 books from which kids could select. They were books I had read and could discuss. As the school year progressed, my list grew from 40-50 to more than 100, many of the additional books suggested by the kids (BSC, SVH, anyone?). Kids loved that I had read the same books they did. Conversations were engaging and informative. I sometimes think programs allow us to be rather complacent about our reading because we have the program that does all the work. Who IS doing the work in the classroom?

Finally (see, I have time to write an actual conclusion), if you are looking for ways to introduce kids to a wide array of books, use a Book Flood or a Book Pass or some other variation of this activity. Janey Allen first wrote about it decades ago. Have a huge stack of books to distribute to kids. Set a timer for every 2-3-4-5 minutes (you decide the time that seems right for your kids). Kids read a book for the short period of time. They can note whether this might be a good fit for them or they can take themselves out of the "rotation" when they find one they do NOT want to pass along. Do this for some time every day or once a week until kids have found some books to read. Be prepared for the kid who has not found anything (should do a post on these kiddos). You can read more about this here: http://murrayhill.wikispaces.com/Book_Pass Or here: https://dcjason.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/book-pass-day-one/.

Let's drop the dependence on programs and worksheets and instead focus on real books, rea reading, and authentic response.
Current Location: South Texas
Current Mood: determineddetermined
17 August 2017 @ 11:32 am
It is back to school time. Tax-free weekend saw hordes of parents and children descend on stories for clothes, shoes, and supplies. For teachers, back to school means a different kind of preparation. All over Facebook and Twitter educators were talking about picking that special book to share on the first day of school, the one that will set the tone for all that is to follow. They are searching for the just-right book. And that search meant not just looking at the books they have used in the past, it also involved asking for recommendations, tackling that still ominous TBR stack, and more. It also meant finding the book for Day #2, #3, etc. I loved seeing all of the discussion flow among the folks on social media.

There was another post, though, that was not about finding the just-right book. Instead, it was all about AR. It listed all of the arguments against using AR and then countered each argument with a "fact." Quite a few people lauded the post. A few questioned the use of AR. I moved on to another discussion of books for the first day of school. But I want to swing back to AR. I want to reiterate some facts of my own. They have appeared here before. Apparently, we need to talk about this from time to time. So, here goes.

1. Let's begin with the "research." I use quotes because the research is more than suspect. First, most of the research they cite has not a thing to do with the tests kids take. Instead, the research includes elements of AR that are not really part and parcel of the program. They are elements that can be part of ANY classroom. Reading aloud, book choice (but let's get back to that later, too), an environment that supports and encourages reading. There is NO research that shows that taking a 10 item quiz improves anything. As a matter of fact, it might just de-motivate a reader.

2. It narrows the books kids can read. ZPD, levels, and lexiles are the axis of evil when to comes to reading. Choice is limited. Re-reading is useless since there is no "credit" for reading a book you love again. And if there is not a test for the book you read, you are out of luck unless someone creates a test for you over the book. I cannot emphasize enough the power of CHOICE. Donalyn Miller and I have an entire chapter devoted to it in the book we are writing.

3. If you are looking for a way to track what kids are reading, here's a thought: talk to them. Yep, conferring is a much better way to see what they are thinking about the books they are treading. AND, we can dig deeper than those surface level questions from the AR program. If a question has ONE. RIGHT. ANSWER., it is not much of a question at all.

Well, there is more, but let's save it for another post.
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Current Location: office
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
07 August 2017 @ 11:32 am
I found myself caught up in a Twitterstorm yesterday. It started out innocently enough. Someone posted an enthusiastic response to a book read stating that it should be required reading. I posted immediately not because of this one post but because I am alarmed when I see someone's enthusiasm for a book immediately become an assertion that everyone should read the book.

My post:

I should know better. Before the evening was over, the discussion swung from my statement to a heated discussion about whole class novels. Some of the people posting told me I should read more professional books including Donalyn Miller's books. (Note: I did reply that I was familiar with her work and had even written the foreword for RITW and was working on a book with her right now). I tried to turn the focus back on the initial tweet, but this issue had taken on a life of its own.

Since I did not know all of the folks tweeting, I did a "background check." A few of those most adamant about #whole class novels were authors of novel units and worksheets. Of course, I thought, I had tread upon some sensitive toes. So, let me go ahead and do more than tread carefully.

Worksheets never have and never will create a love of reading. No one ever finishes a book longing for a novel unit of activities in order to feel as though she really had read and absorbed the book. I sat Saturday entranced by UNCANNY by David McInnis Gill, a book coming in September from Greenwillow. As I completed the final pages, my fingers did not itch for a shoe box so I could create a diorama. I did not feel compelled to do vocabulary sentences, to answer literal comprehension questions, or to write any sort of essay. Instead, I posted my admiration for the book online. I do this often. I will post about a book in a few words. I will from time to time call something a "must read." I do not mean it is required, though. It is a book I felt a lot of my social network will find as compelling as I do.

Now, in the interest of complete honesty, I have written guides for quite a few books. I have done guides for GNs and guides for individual titles. I try to make these guides flexible so that educators can take a few questions or 1-2 activities and personalize them for their classroom. I always recall the 42 page guide I saw for Make Way for Ducklings some years ago. The book itself is only 32 pages. So, short is good. Questions tend to be more than regurgitation and recall. Activities are not too prescribed.

I compare that to some of the tortured packets I had to complete for #wholeclassnovel studies. To this day, I detest so many of the novels I was forced to read in school. There are swaths of titles and authors that I avoid because I spent countless hours doing word searches (did a word search ever move a less than enthusiastic reader to the avid reader category?) and vocabulary definitions (completely ignoring context clues, etc.), and doing some sort of project which only tangentially related to the novel at hand.

Let me be clear: no unit of study ever made me love a book I did not already love. Analyzing it, dissecting it did not make it a better book in my opinion. In many cases it cemented a hatred of a particular book or author. And I wonder how many others feel the same way? So, love a book. But don't let your enthusiasm extend to the "this should be required reading" impulse. Love the book. Promote the book (authors love that, too). Booktalk the book. Make the book accessible for other readers.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: perplexed
02 August 2017 @ 09:34 am
What? Another post from me so soon? I must be recovering more from the chemo and radiation side effect. I know this because I am more readily moved by some of the things I am seeing in social media. Censorship reigns strong still. Lexiles (which autocorrect changes to exiles) are once again rearing an ugly head. But it was a comment on a FB discussion that really hit me the wrong way.

"Thanks for your opinion." was the comment. It was in response to part of the discussion taking place about the role of the librarian in creating, supporting, and sustaining lifelong readers. One commenter had observed that this is a central role of the librarian in the school, a sentiment to which I heartily agree. However, another commenter asserted that this role is already a part of librarianship and what needs to be emphasized are the other components, most notable the role of technology.

Now I support tech as much as the next guy. Anyone who follows me knows I use technology. It is part of my teaching and part, a large part, of my learning. But, folks, we cannot simply assume that books and reading and readers do not need to be explicitly stated when we talk about the role of the librarian (or any educator for that matter). I am sure many of you know that school librarians are an endangered species in so many places. We also are seeing loss of shelf space (we can make everything virtual some well-meaning but quite frankly ignorant person will assert) and library space (need space for makerspaces, after all. I think I need a separate post on this). The school librarian and her/his collection has been demonstrated to have positive effects on test scores (and more, but test scores are often bottom lines). Loss of the school librarian and the collection, conversely, have adverse effects on scores, particularly for ELL learners.

So, the "thanks for your opinion" comment was dismissive whether the person posting it meant it to be. I am happy to report that there were plenty of people who chimed in (including yours truly). If books and reading and readers are not at the heart of what the librarian does, than we are in danger of redefining the librarian as a tech supporter or the supervisor of makerspaces. According to the dictionary, the definition of librarian is:

late 17th century (denoting a scribe or copyist): from Latin librarius ‘relating to books,’ (used as a noun) ‘bookseller, scribe'

Librarians RELATE to BOOKS. That is my opinion.
Current Location: home, hot home
Current Mood: miffed
30 July 2017 @ 05:20 pm
It seems strange how many ideas I get for blog posts while sitting in church. Father will say something and my mind pings. Sometimes it begins writing the post while I should be paying attention (sorry, Jerald!). Today, I simply tucked the word brochure into my memory so I could go back to paying attention to the brilliant sermon. It (the sermon) was about the Kingdom of Heaven (stay with me, we are getting to reading, I promise) and how trying to describe t was sort of like those brochures offering time share property in the Bahamas. Many of us chuckled in rueful recognition. We have seem those brochures.

But this got me to thinking about books, reading, and creating readers. Donalyn Miller and I have been working for some time on a book about those topics. A long time. We each begin work on a part of a chapter, open up a tab and disappear down the research rabbit hole. I know I have wondered more than once about just writing a brochure to sum up all we need to know about books and reading and readers. Step One, Step Two, etc. Here is a template for each step. How hard is this, right?

And then we find ourselves with 50 pages on response with more to tell. I have written 3 separate chapters on reading aloud and three other books about books and reading and readers. It cannot simply be a brochure or a template or a program. It is more complicated than that. And we are not trying to sell time shares. We are attempting to provide educators with the research base, the pedagogy behind some of those things that someone else might simply put into a brochure. Why read aloud? Why choice? What role does access play? How about response? What does true engagement not just "look" like but what is it actually?

So, no brochures though there are days when I think that would be preferable and certainly simpler and faster. There are more rabbit holes of research that will trip us up and hold us captive for a while. But for each rabbit hole, for each chapter that refuses to do anything but grow, for each new idea that presents itself in the middle of the work, we know the book is getting stronger (and not just longer).

Thanks, Jerald, for making me think beyond the sermon.
Current Location: home, hot home
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
28 July 2017 @ 12:12 pm
This fall will be the beginning of my 28th year teaching at the university and my 41st year of teaching in general. And I am not the only one who anticipates those first days (even though mine are now online). But at NErDCAMPMI, as I sat in an incredible session hosted by Jen Vincent, Kathy Burnette, and Chad Everett, something made me think differently about all of the preparations for those first days. "How can we get everything into place before we even know what our kids will be like?" That question and the work Donalyn Miller and I are doing with CHOICE has made me think about those first days differently. And now I also add in the results of the Twitter chats Karin Perry and I conduct at the end of our YA lit semesters. Student feedback about books and assignments also changes some of my plans.

I guess it's is all about reflection, something I think many of us do on a continuing basis. How did this assignment go? Did it accomplish what I planned? If not, what do I need to do? Do I tweak or start from scratch? How did they respond to the selection of books? Which ones resonated? Should I drop one and replace it with another? Which should replace the dropped one? So many questions.

This is what keeps me coming back for all those first days. I make changes and see what happens. I let students help me tweak or drop and replace. I offer more choice than ever before. It sort of disproves the old adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. This aging canine is still learning. So, while I have the basics in place, there are some things that have to wait for the students. I am amazed sometimes at what they will suggest. It generally leads me to learn something new, to try something different.

So, as I prepare for this 28th year of YA literature, I think of the standards (yes, we still have mandated things at the university level) but I think more about the students. What changes can I put into place to make this year a year of firsts for both them and me.
Current Location: Home
Current Mood: pensivepensive
24 July 2017 @ 09:41 am

We all are concerned about the future.  As educators, we see the future unfolding each and every day as we watch our students grow and develop. We see students we had years ago and are amazed at the young men and women they have become.  And there is such an emphasis on the future in education of late.  The phrase future-ready appears time and again in my social media feed. My concern is that I think this phrase means very different things for some. So here are some random thoughts. I am still mulling things over in my brain, but for now these may seem disconnected.

1.  Future-ready should not mean ignorance or dismissal of the past. 

2.  Future-ready has to mean bringing people along, bringing them into the fold so to speak.  

3.  Future-ready needs to be more than a slogan or a catch phrase. 

4.  Future-ready cannot and should not be only about technology.

5. Future-ready needs to be grounded in good pedagogy, based on firmly grounded research.

Here are a few reasons I am raising a red flag.  I see the term makerspaces being used for activities that are more arts and crafts than for true makerspace activities.  These spaces are to be for invention; often, I see that all students are making the exact same thing. How is that innovative? I  like this article (https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7095.pdf) from Educause.  

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17 July 2017 @ 12:15 pm
Something Chad Everett said recently resonated with me. He was responding to someone who was discussing the importance of remaining neutral in a situation. Chad suggested driving a car halfway up a hill and placing it in neutral to see what would happen. Boy, that was a perfect way to encapsulate what is wrong with being neutral, especially in matters pertaining to education. Note: this discussion of neutrality was brought about by Secretary DeVos' assertion that she would remain neutral in cases involving civil rights and education. But, you know, this short-sighted concepts of being neutral can apply to quite a bit in our world of education.

As I walked the exhibits of the International Literacy Association this week, there was the usual enormous booth space of Reading Renaissance, aka Accelerated Reader. It has had a prominent display at conferences for years, and its appearance always causes me to wince and then grumble. But I go way beyond wincing and grumbling when I see educators (teachers and librarians) discussing the merits of AR on social media. Ditto discussions of Lexiles and levels. There is no neutral position here, folks. If we want kids to become lifelong readers, levels and lexiles and tests and other programmed approaches need to go the way of the early primers (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_England_Primer). Those early "books" gave way to the basal texts (See Spot run! Run, Spot, run!). I can still hear Mem Fox reading from a basal with "expression" while the audience guffawed at how inauthentic the language was.

Lexiles and levels and tests narrow choices for readers. I think of them in the same way I do censorship of other means. They tell kids, "Sorry, you can't read that. It is not on your level." I wonder what would happen if I were to do that in a library or bookstore to an adult. I suspect it would not be pretty. Choice matters. Choice is crucial. There is no, "well, you can select from this shelf," when it comes to choice. And we, as educators, need not be neutral in this. We need to take a stand. Know the research. Fight against the censorship that results when we allow a program to narrow the choices for readers.

I am getting ready to board a plane back home. I have books with me that are, I am certain, below my RL and Lexile. And I will most definitely be taking a test on them. I will, however, pass them along to other readers. I will talk about them to anyone who will listen. And I will celebrate the FREADOM TO READ.
Current Location: Airport
Current Mood: Feisty