An excerpt from Pam Withers’ Jump-Starting Boys

I’m excited to share an excerpt from Pam Withers’ Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life today.  Pam Withers is a former journalist, editor and outdoor guide who has written many sports and adventure novels for teens, including the Take-it-to-the-Extreme series. She has one son and lives with her husband in Vancouver, Canada. She is the co-founder of the youth literacy website Keenreaders and blogs at kidsliteracy.

Her latest book deals specifically with boys who are struggling in school. Below is an excerpt about boys and reading.  I think all teachers can agree that more time spent reading and more parents modeling reading will help students, both boys and girls, become more enthusiastic readers!

So What is a Reluctant Reader?

From these slumps emerge what are variously called “slow,” “struggling,” or

“reluctant” readers. And the majority of these are boys. But beware: There is no

widespread agreement on what a reluctant reader is. In fact, one sunny optimist,

Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade teacher who wrote The Book Whisperer, says, “Lord

help the students with [those] labels.” She prefers:

developing readers: those not reading at grade level, whether due to

inadequate reading experiences or learning disabilities,

dormant readers: unmotivated, uninterested, “good enough” readers who

don’t engage with reading due to a lack of support and role models,

underground readers: gifted or beyond the average student’s level, individuals

simply uninterested in what school requires them to read.

Sticking for now with the term “reluctant reader,” we’d like to add that some

of these boys have fallen so far behind (one to two grade levels) that reading now

elicits fear and embarrassment. Perhaps they started out with the disadvantage of

speaking English as a second language (ESL). There are also “closet readers” who

prefer to read at home so they’re not seen as a reader in school. And there are kids

who slide into and out of all these descriptions.

“These categories shift and change and vary with socioeconomics and ESL

factors,” says David Ward, an assistant professor in literacy at Lewis and Clark

College in Portland, Oregon, and a children’s author. “We’ve seen a terrible crash in

wages to middle class and below, and loss of jobs. That impacts the children, home

literacy, how many books a family can buy, even affordability for getting to the

library.”

Ward says that in conversations with parents across North America, the word

he hears most is “unmotivated.” Yet when he delves deeper, he finds that half the

parents using that term have a child with a physical challenge, diagnosed or not. The

other half could benefit from putting stricter limits on their child’s television, video

game, and other media time, he notes (more on that in Chapter Seven).

Screen time is often just a symptom of a larger problem, however: parental

busy-ness, or a lack of one-on-one interaction between child and adult. In their

formative years, children desperately need the one thing that busy parents often

cannot or will not give them: time. It’s a theme well addressed in David Elkind’s The

Hurried Child.

Regardless of why a boy gets labeled a reluctant reader, determined parents

can help turn him around. If we had to boil all the advice into a sentence, it would

be: Get him reading one-on-one with someone—with you, a reading buddy, a

reading specialist, whomever—and pull out all the stops to make reading a bigger

part of his life.

Again, there’s a direct link between how much time he spends reading for

pleasure and his future achievement in life. Or, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How

many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”

Slice of Life March 29th, 2013 #slice2013

sols_6

Yesterday it was announced that Amazon will be purchasing Goodreads next quarter.  I’m not sure how to react to this news, because I love Goodreads.  I loved its independence, the community, and the interface.  While I am an Amazon customer (no independent bookstores closer than an hour away), I don’t need Amazon taking over every website I use.  They already own all or part of Shelfari and Librarything, which is one reason I don’t use either site.

But what upsets me the most about the sale is that I encourage my students to use Goodreads.  It was independent and not tied to any major retailer, so I was comfortable recommending it.  It also allows my students to grow as they move through school and eventually graduate.  The few other book social networking communities I tried out were aimed at kids and my students would eventually age out of them.  While this may seem like a silly thing for me to worry about, it’s important that my students find a community of readers that can stay with them as long as they are willing to participate.

When I taught 6th grade, I always shared Goodreads with my students and encouraged them to join (with their parents’ permission).  Many of them did.  It’s been over 6 years since I first started recommending the site and I still hear from many of those students.  There is an ebb and flow to the site, allowing members to pick up where they left off, without any pressure or judgement.  In the last few months I have been contacted by 5 former students, ranging from 8th grade to current juniors in high school, who have become active on Goodreads again.

 One of those students told me she was looking up a book her friend was reading and the search results included Goodreads.  She remembered using the site with me, clicked on it, and soon she was adding books to her “want to read” shelf and reminiscing over the list of books she last updated in 7th grade.  I now see her adding books a few times a week and she even recommended a book to me!  The power of a reading community is stronger than most people realize and too many students (and adults) lack access to one in the flesh.  Too many of my former students tell me that they haven’t heard a booktalk since leaving my classroom, haven’t had a teacher recommend a book that wasn’t canon since being with me, and no longer remember how to find books on their own.  And how can we expect them to keep reading if no one is providing them with the opportunity to find and read books?

That’s why I love Goodreads.  I love that current and former students can message me about books.  I love that our school book club can have conversations between meetings.  I love that I can model my reading life and passion for all of my students (current and former) in an unobtrusive manner.  And I love that there is no commercial tie-in.  We are surrounded by ads all day and Goodreads was a welcome respite from that.  Sure, there are banner ads and such, but they were book-related and usually lead to a publisher’s official site or an author’s blog.  They didn’t lead me to an Amazon order page.

Goodreads is about community and passionate readers.  It’s not about making a buck.  At least, it’s not about making a buck for me.  Sadly, it seems to be about money for the founders.  I can’t blame them for that, of course.  But I do wish they had offered the users of Goodreads an option.  Maybe we would have been willing to kick in money to keep the site independent!  I’d even be ok with publishers buying into the site.  But a single retailer?  That’s harder for me to digest.

We have a while before anything changes because the sale doesn’t close until next quarter.  I’m not going to stop using Goodreads and I hope I won’t have to in the future.  But I will be watching carefully.  And in the meantime, I think I will be doing what author Kate Messner suggests.  We can support other retailers, especially indie bookstores, in the reviews we post.  But my students and I will keep using Goodreads, while crossing our fingers that the community isn’t destroyed by Amazon.  Because the community is what drew me to the site and it’s why I share it with my students.  Losing that would be a shame.

Bookworm Camp Day 3

We had another book-filled day at bookworm camp!  We continued talking about Breadcrumbs this morning and had a great conversation about Hazel and Jack. It led to researching Montessori schools, forest kindergarten, school closings in Minnesota, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson, and age-appropriate behavior. We talked for close to an hour! Then we watched Pixar’s “The Little Match Girl” short from a few years ago.

After that, we dove into learning about how books go from an idea in someone’s head to the printed book in the bookstore. We talked about agents and slush piles, editors and publishing houses. Then I shared Kate Messner’s Revision Gallery presentation with them.  They sat at the tables in amazement as we looked at the revision process through the eyes of real authors.  None of the campers had any idea that authors spend months revising their work. And they felt better about their own writing when they saw the grammar edits and “show don’t tell” comments on many of the drafts.  I can’t thank Kate enough for the presentation because it is always enlightening for my kids.

Once again, we read  30 pages of Liar & Spy before lunch.  I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a great read aloud for middle school students!

After lunch, we spent an hour reading our own books.  It was absolutely glorious.  When I announced that it was time to move on, they actually groaned!  It’s a dream spending time with students who love reading this much!

Finally, we watched most of Chip Kidd’s TED talk, “Designing Books is No Laughing Matter. Ok, It Is“.  (There are no words to describe my love affair with TED talks.) Chip Kidd is a well-known and respected book cover artist and his TED talk is funny and thought-provoking.  The campers really loved it and we had a great conversation about book design afterwards.  I shared this tumblr with them and we discussed redesigning book covers for new generations.  And we took a look at some of Melissa Walker’s Cover Stories to learn about the process behind some of their favorite books.  I think they learned a lot and they really enjoyed it.

Looking forward to continuing with my campers tomorrow.  This week is flying by!

 

Bookworm Camp Day 2!

Today was our second day of bookworm camp and it was fabulous!  The campers started the morning with a creative writing activity, writing a diary entry from the viewpoint of a character who just woke up in a post-apocalyptic world.  It was a lot of fun and they did a great job.  I have some very creative campers!

After that we prepared for our Skype visit with Mike Mullin, the author of Ashfall. The campers were very excited because none of them had ever experienced an up-close-and-personal chat with an author before.  Or, as one of them said, “with a celebrity!”  We brainstormed some questions, prepared the room, and performed our test call.  That’s when I realized that we didn’t have a microphone!  Thankfully, it only took a quick call to the IT department and they raced up with a boundary microphone for us to use.  The guys who helped me were wonderful and could not have been more helpful.  (Thanks, guys!).  And then, we were ready!

The interview went off without a hitch.  Mike Mullin was engaging and kept the kids laughing and asking questions.  When he first popped on the screen the kids all exclaimed, “Wow! That’s a lot of books!”.  Mike laughed and then moved the webcam around, pointing out his huge TBR pile, his research bookshelves, and his library books.  He also explained that there were many more bookshelves in other areas of the house.  The kids loved that.

Mike started by talking a bit about Ashfall and telling us how he came to write the book.  He showed us his container of volcanic ash and told us about the road trip he took to trace the journey that Alex and Darla embark upon in the book.  That really impressed the campers.  Then, he read to us from Ashen Winter, the upcoming sequel to the first book.  The campers loved hearing the first chapter before it’s really “out there” for the public.  Plus, it’s great to hear the characters voiced the way that the author imagines them.

After that, Mike took questions from the campers.  At first, they were a bit shy, but they slowly opened up.  Mike was so engaging that they couldn’t help it!  He answered questions about how he wrote the book, his outlining process, where he is with the third book in the series, how books are titled, the inspiration behind some characters in the book, and lots more.  It as enlightening and the kids really got into it.  And of course, one of my boys asked if Mike plays World of Warcraft (Alex plays in the book) and was thrilled when Mike said yes.  His street cred went way up when he got deep into conversation with my camper about where he left off in the game.  Talk about authentic!

We talked to Mike way longer than we should have and I felt bad for taking up more of his time than we should have. But Mike was extremely gracious and continued interacting with the campers for a few more minutes.  I can not recommend his book enough and if you get a chance to Skype him into your classroom or library you should do it!!

After our Skype call we did a bit more of our read aloud, Liar & Spy before lunch.  The kids are really into the book, which I knew would happen!  But we had to cut it short to make it to lunch in time.

After lunch we took about 45 minutes to read our books, which was heavenly.  :)

We ended the day talking a bit about our next book, Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs. I’m looking forward to digging into fairy tales a little more tomorrow.

As the day ended, one of my campers turned to me as she was walking out the door. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that I got to talk to a real author today. Like, a real celebrity. It’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.” With a smile, she glided out of the room. Let me tell you, I spent the rest of the day smiling! This camp is AWESOME!

Bookworm Camp Starts!

Today was the first day of camp!  I am thrilled to be running a “camp for bookworms” through my local community college.  Last fall I read about Thalia Kid’s Book Club Camp at Symphony Space in New York City.  I was immediately overcome with jealous because that camp sounded like my dream as a kid.  A place to read books and talk about more books?  HEAVEN!

When my local community college campus sent out an email looking for counselors and camp ideas, I decided to throw my idea out there.  A camp for bookworms that would be aimed at middle school students.  To my surprise, they loved the idea!  Then I spent a few months picking three books for the students to read before coming to camp so that we could focus on them during the week of camp.  It was very tough, but I finally chose Mike Mullins’ Ashfall, Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs, and Karen Sandler’s Tankborn. My goal was to choose awesome, well-written books that the campers most likely would not have read before.

Today was our first day of camp and it went really well!  I have a small group of students, and an even mix of boys and girls.  They are all entering 7th or 8th grade and they are avid readers.  We started out by introducing ourselves and talking about our book preferences this morning.  I have a paranormal fan, action fan, humor fan, romance, classics, and lots more.  One student is currently reading Sherlock Holmes while another is working on his own novel.  I’m very impressed!  We also had a great discussion about e-readers.  I was surprised to hear that most of the students do not use e-readers, and if they have one it was usually a gift.  Those with gifted e-readers said they use them to read classics or free stories/novels posted in the e-bookstore.  In fact, they were pretty big fans of self-published shorter works.  That’s a first for me!  But they were unanimous in declaring their love for paper books.  E-readers were more of a matter of convenience, used on vacations or while waiting around in places without reading material (usually a phone was used in that case).

We spent today talking about Mike Mullins’ Ashfall, in preparation for s Skype call with him tomorrow morning.  The kids can’t wait to chat to Mike Mullins after our talk today.  We discussed our favorite parts of the books, how we might react in the event of a supervolcano reaction, and other book recommendations for those who enjoyed Mike Mullins’ Ashfall.  After lunch, we watched a 30 minute BBC documentary about the Yellowstone supervolcano so that we all have a good grasp on the scientific possibility of an eruption in the next 50,000 years.  That will give you pause!

I also started a read aloud with my campers today.  I wanted a book that we could definitely finish this week, as I don’t want to leave them hanging once camp ends.  The choice was a no-brainer for me.  Thus, we began to share Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead today. It went over really well! We are all looking forward to reading more tomorrow.

It was a fantastic day and time flew by.  I am so looking forward to tomorrow! We will be talking to Mike Mullin, reading our books, enjoying a read aloud, watching some book trailers, writing our own post-apocalyptic scenes, and then we will dive into Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs for the second half of the day.  It’s going to be a great week!

As we were wrapping up our day, one of the campers raised her hand.  When I looked over, she quietly said, “This if off-topic, but I just want to say how glad I am that I found this camp.  I love to read and not many teachers encourage me. Most of the time they yell at me to stop reading.  So this camp reminded me that it’s ok to read.”

Well, that just about broke my heart.  She went on to tell me that her 3rd grade teacher caught her reading under her desk and marched over to her, tore the book out of her hand, proceeded to yell at her and humiliate her, and tossed the book to the front of the room.  The worst part?  The camper told me, “I wasn’t mad at her for yelling at me, because I guess I was breaking the rules. But I was so mad at her for disrespecting my book and losing my page when she threw the book. I’ve never been able to forgive her for that.”

I was speechless.  All teachers should be encouraging readers, not humiliating them for reading under their desk, looking for more time to read.  It’s one thing to guide a student back to the topic at hand.  Sometimes it just needs to be done.  But to humiliate a young reader?  To throw their book across the room?  To lose their page?  That’s so disrespectful.  Thankfully, this child was a reader and always will be.  But a more reluctant reader, maybe one who just found that perfect book, might be convinced to never pick up a book again after an experience like that.

And that’s why I am thrilled to be running my bookworm camp this summer.  There are lots of readers out there dying for a space where they can share their favorite hobby.  I am happy to provide that for them.  We have four more days of camp and they are going to be amazing!

Teachers and ARCs

*This is a revised and updated version of a post I published on the blog back in 2011.  

I feel like I walk a fine line as a blogger sometimes. First and foremost, I am a bibliophile.  But I am also a high school English teacher, a lover of technology, and a book reviewer.  Because I review books that I receive from publishers and at conferences, I am fortunate to receive ARCs, or advance review copies, sometimes.  This means I get to read and review some books before they are published.

ARCs and review copies I picked up at NCTE this past November. All ARCs went to my classroom library.

I teach at a fabulous high school that shares a campus with the local community college.  We do not have a school library, but the students have access to the campus library at all times.  This means they can access databases, journals, and other periodicals that most high schools can’t afford.  But it also means that they do not have a library geared towards high schoolers.  There is no YA section, no popular fiction section, no best-sellers shelf.  Thus, my classroom library is utilized by many students in my school of almost 300.

All over the country, education budgets are being slashed, teachers are having their pay cut, and school librarians are being RIFed.  Classroom libraries, which are almost always to be teacher-funded (out of teachers’ own pockets), are certainly suffering.  However, research shows that classroom libraries are vital – they encourage students to read more!  We need to do everything we can to encourage students to become lifelong readers.  But it takes a village to raise a reader.

According to research, school libraries should provide at least 13 books per student. That means I need 3900 books for my students!  Those books should be age-appropriate, showcase a variety of genres, support the curriculum, and reflect student interests. I am going to be honest here- I can not afford to purchase the dozens of books my students need every year.  I pay for all of the books in my classroom library, just like most teachers.  In my case, I am very lucky because I do receive review copies and ARCs, from publishers and at conferences like NCTE.  For other teachers, this means ordering from Scholastic, visiting warehouse sales, soliciting donations from students/parents, and looking longingly at those new titles in the bookstore but knowing it’s impossible to buy them all.

As a blogger/reviewer, I know I am extremely lucky.  I have access to review copies and ARCs, which are all placed in my classroom library.  Publishers value the “buzz” that is generated by these early copies and my students love that they get a chance to read books before they are officially published.  I start the year by explaining what ARCs are and showing the students some unfinished copies.  My sixth-graders and my high schoolers both understood that ARCs are not finished works and may differ from the final draft.  But ARCs work wonders with readers.

ARCs are magical.  Nothing hooks a reluctant reader like the promise of reading a story before the rest of the world has access to it.  That, plus the knowledge that they can share their thoughts on Goodreads is the best motivator I have!  I utilize ARCs almost daily in my classroom.  At the beginning of the school year, I explain ARCs to my students.  We analyze a few older copies (whatever hasn’t fallen apart from the year before) and note the differences between ARCs and finished copies.  This ensures that the students are aware that ARCs are not final copies and may have errors in them, lack illustrations, and so on.  The students are usually fascinated by this because they have not had access to ARCs in the past or never knew they existed.

I show the students our ARCs shelf and explain how it will be updated whenever I get new ARCs.  I tell the students that they are free to borrow ARCs at any time, but there is one requirement: they must share their ARC experience after reading it.  This can mean writing a review on Goodreads, passing the recommendation on to a friend, or ordering a finished copy of their own.  Whenever I get a new ARC, I try to booktalk it before placing it in the library.  As soon as I mention “ARC”, students wake up and pay attention.

ARCs help me decide how to develop my classroom library collection, too.  If an ARC catches fire and is passed from student to student, falling apart as it moves through the class, I know I need to order a few finished copies.  This happened with The Hunger Games when I taught 6th grade. My single ARC was in tatters before the finished copies were published, long before most people knew who Katniss, Gale, and Peeta were.  I knew I would need more than one copy on my bookshelf because the ARC was so popular.  Needless to say, I was right.  More recently, my ARC of Matthew Quick’s Boy21  became popular with many of my students and I made sure to purchase a finished copy for the classroom library. If an ARC has a small, but dedicated, fanbase, I make sure I put a single copy in the classroom. If an ARC has a rabid following, then I will try to find more than one copy. ARCs usually last a season or two in my classroom before falling apart, so it is imperative that I replace the most popular and well-loved ARCs with finished copies!

Unfortunately, many teachers don’t have access to ARCs because they don’t blog, can’t afford to attend conferences, and aren’t aware of local publisher previews.  That is why I started #ARCsFloatOn.  ARCs can not be cataloged in libraries (public or school) because they are not finished copies.  They also can not be sold.  Thus, many reviewers end up throwing ARCs away after they read them, often long before the finished copies are produced.  There are thousands of teachers across the country who are dying to give those ARCs a second chance.  They put them in classroom libraries, give them to student groups, and use them to make collection development decision.

#ARCsFloatOn encourages reviewers to recycle those ARCs and get them into the hands of kids and teens!

ARCs Float On is a grassroots effort by  me, a Reach A Reader Advisory Board member.  The program aims to get ARCs into classroom libraries by matching willing donors with needy teachers.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Teachers interested in being contacted by donors may register here. Your information will be vetted and added to our searchable database. Reviewers with books to donate may search the database for schools. Donors are then responsible for contacting teachers with a list of the books they have available, and to arrange for shipping or dropoff of the books–it’s up to both parties how to “float” the ARCs. Donors are responsible for all arrangements and shipping costs. We just provide you with the means to connect.

I’ve shipped many middle grade and elementary ARCs to other teachers, using Priority Mail flat rate boxes.  For approximately $11 I can ship 15-20 books to another teacher.  Most of the time, the teachers are willing to pay shipping costs, which makes it even easier for the donors.

If you are interested in donating books, you may check our database at the #ARCsFloatOn website.

By donating the books that you receive for free, you are promoting awareness of great books and authors, helping teachers and librarians, and encouraging more reading. You can learn even more about this initiative through the Twitter hashtag, #ARCsFloatOn.

I can’t imagine not having the opportunity to share ARCs with my students.  Like a librarian or bookseller, I am constantly handselling books to my students.  A highly coveted ARC can turn into 10-20 book sales within my school.  But more importantly, at least to me, an ARC can turn  a dormant reader into a voracious reader.  Having the opportunity to read a story and share an opinion before the general public can attract dormant readers to my classroom library.  And reading one book can lead to reading another.  It can lead to a student finding a favorite author or a genre they enjoy.  And that means we all win.  This is why e-ARCs don’t work for me.  I need paper copies because e-ARCs expire and can not be shared with my students.  I would hate to see paper ARCs eliminated.  Instead, I want to see paper ARCs getting a second and third chance at life in classroom libraries!

*#ARCsFloatOn is endorsed by many of the major publishers!  They are happy to see ARCs getting into the hands of students. :)  ARCs can not be cataloged in a library, but classroom libraries are a-ok.  The ARCs don’t last long (a season or so) and most teachers then end up purchasing a hardcover copy.  Again, a win-win for publishers and students alike.

Other posts I have written about using ARCs in the classroom:

#ARCsFloatOn- How Bloggers Can Help

ARCs and Authors, Bloggers and Blogs! My Oh My!

#48hbc Finish Line Post!

And I’m done!!!  It was a busy weekend, crammed with a wedding all day yesterday, visiting the in-laws, food shopping, taking the dogs for a run/hike, and watching the Tony Awards.  But I did it!  I made my goal and got back into the groove of reading.  Plus, I am about to make a $30 donation to RIF.  :)

Final Stats:

Time spent reading:

12 hours, 18 minutes

Time spent blogging/tweeting/encouraging others/catching up on the challenge:

1.5 hours

Total time: 13 hours and 58 minutes

Books completed:
Capture the Flag- Fantastic MG mystery.  I loved it!
One for the Murphys- Get your tissues ready.  Loved the connection to Wicked.
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo- A Christmas gift from my baby sister, which came highly recommended.
Salvage the Bones: A Novel- I am too much of a dog lover to be able to enjoy this book.  I appreciate that it is well-written, but it left me feeling sick to my stomach.  Warning: excessive focus on dog fighting.
Sudden Flash Youth: 65 Short-Short Stories (Karen and Michael Braziller Books)- Looking forward to using this with my freshman next year.  Some of the stories are really powerful!
Mangaman- A student recommendation. Not my favorite, but enjoyable. I’m not a graphic novel reader, yet.
Trafficked- So, so good.  I love watching Law & Order: SVU, and this read like an episode of the show.
The Polar Bear Scientists (Scientists in the Field Series)- I love this series so, so, so very much.

I also got halfway through the e-galley of Rebecca Stead’s upcoming Liar & Spy.  It was my “squeeze in some reading” book, because I try to avoid reading on my iphone unless I have to.  But it’s so worth it!

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