A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.

A Few Remembered Things

Ever since I returned from the CCIRA conference, I have been meaning to blog about lots of different sessions and ideas that I came away with. To give you a very brief overview of the conference, I left feeling rejuvenated in my practice and it also reminded me of some simple truths that I had forgotten about (which I will mention later). I also loved that my mentor’s takeaway from the conference was that our students needed to be reading more and that we needed to make reading more obvious in our school. To make that shift, I feel like we as an English department need to revisit some things (i.e. mandatory 4 part book reports every quarter across every grade), but we also need everyone in that building to join our conversation about reading and books. This change makes me excited for tomorrow, next quarter, next fall, and the years to come. I know change is slow and this culture shift is probably years away, but I want to be a part of it for my building. I want to be part of the catalyst for change.


Photo Credit CC0 Public Domain

Currently, I have been allotting Thursdays and Fridays as reading days in my reading class. We do nothing but read the whole period – me included. Students spread themselves all over the classroom; many of them enjoy cramming themselves into tiny corners or under tables and desks. Some bring pillows and blankets from home and make themselves comfortable as they read. In the entire year, I have only had two students fall asleep during this time. I’ve encountered many more reluctant readers who will spend the whole 45 minutes staring off into space or ripping a piece of paper carefully to make a bookmark, but, for the most part, my students use and look forward to that time. This choice to allot all of Thursday and Friday to reading in my reading class is not necessarily a popular decision with my coworkers, but it’s one of those battles I’m willing to fight. I know I’m not giving my students enough time, that really half of every class period in reading should be dedicated to reading, but right now it seems like all I can do in a building driven by data results and raising test scores, no matter what.


Photo Credit searchengineland.com – Alistair Dent

During CCIRA, I remembered something I never thought I would forget. It shames me to say this, but in having a language arts class and having a reading class, I somehow managed to divorce reading and writing. This is horribly embarrassing to write here, but I did. In my reading class, I wasn’t really having my students do any sort of meaningful writing. I got too wrapped up in the pressure around me to teach reading strategy after reading strategy after reading strategy and vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary, while trying to avoid the reader’s books with the comprehension questions that follow them that I know the 6th and 8th grade use. My first year of teaching a reading class has felt a little like trying to navigate a mine field while trying to put the wings on a plane that has already taken off. This class really cements the fact that I have no idea what I’m doing yet and startles me with how easy it is to get sucked into a building’s ideology and culture. When our countdown to PAWS (the Wyoming state standardized test) starts in October and we don’t test until the 2nd week of March, it takes everything I’ve got to pull back from the test prep frenzy and really evaluate what I’m doing and whether it’s helping foster readers and writers. I still didn’t escape without botching it a few times and I still have an entire quarter to go.


I’m definitely trying something new in teaching… (Photo Credit singlemommovement.com)

Here are the top five things I’m doing to move forward after the conference and some personal reflection:

  1. Bring writing about reading back into my reading class. I’m thinking of building a book review blog for my students to post to, but no matter what. We’re going to start writing about our reading.
  2. Actually learn how to use a reader’s journal effectively in the classroom. This is a tool that I definitely believe in, but have and continue to struggle to use well.
  3. Connect my students to a community of readers that is larger than the Wheatland Middle School 7th grade through real writing and reading opportunities – abolish the traditional book report in my classroom and introduce them to real live discussions and conversations about book.
  4. Continue to bring in new books for the students to explore and keep their interest peaked (I recently did a genius hour over communism and the Cuban Missile Crisis and students are bugging me for books about it – best part of this week!).
  5. Be a more active part of the conversation in my school building about fostering reading in our school culture – find a place to start the visible change.

Photo Credit: colleensharen.wordpress.com

Any other ideas you have about what I could start doing to bring reading back in my school, I would love to hear them. What are you doing in your own classrooms/reading lives?


2 comments on “A Few Remembered Things

  1. kelseyempfield
    February 27, 2016

    I applaud your weighty changes you are going to incorporate! Unfortunately, I have not figured out the reader’s notebook, blogging, or connecting with readers outside of the school. So when you figure it all out I’m looking forward to learning from you! Personally, I’m going to try the modified lit circles this year and go from there. However, I think the most impactful yet difficult change will be the school culture. Last spring I read a wonderful Nerdy Book Club post about a school who dropped everything for a half hour every day to read. Teachers, students, custodians, secretaries, principals, cooks – everyone read. Imagine what signal that sends to students about the importance of literacy! I truly believe you will be a catalyst for an amazing change like that.

  2. Elisabeth Ellington
    March 26, 2016

    I’m wondering about revisiting Penny Kittle’s Book Love and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild. Both present reading programs that really work and that focus intently on what actually needs to be happening when we teach reading: kids need to read. Perhaps you could try to spearhead a faculty learning group that reads and discusses Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide together. It’s so short and focused and I think more accessible and relatable for colleagues and admins who resist.

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