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!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I’m not sure that I can say anything that hasn’t been said yet, but I feel strange not reviewing John Green’s latest masterpiece.  This will be short and sweet, and I’m not going to bother summarizing the plot because it’s been done to death.  Just know this-  The Fault in Our Stars is a book that should be required reading for young adults and adults.

Hazel is dying.  She knows this, her parents know, and her doctors know. But John Green has crafted an unforgettable, life-affirming book that will leave you laughing through your tears.  This isn’t a book about death; it’s a book about life and living it to the fullest.

I purchased three copies of The Fault in Our Stars before it was released. Other than brief appearances as they passed from hand to hand, I haven’t seen any of those books since January.  But at least half of my students, of both genders, have now read it.  And all three copies are continuing their journey from student to student through the summer.  That’s damn good for a realistic fiction book.  That’s the equivalent of five stars from my kids!

If you haven’t read this yet, I can’t recommend it enough.  The story is multi-layered and intensely literary.  While it’s published as YA, it certainly has many adult readers.

If you don’t already own all of John Green’s novels (or if you are like me, and just can’t turn this down) be sure to preorder the  John Green Limited Edition Boxed Set (autographed).  The graphics, designed by Karen Kavett, are really awesome because she and her sister attended school in my district.  My nerdfighters love that!

*purchased, all three copies, on my own

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!

#48HBC Update (Sunday)

Update!  It’s strange not dedicating the entire weekend to the challenge, but I’m happy with what I have done so far.  I think with blogging/tweeting/cheering people on, I will just hit the 12 hour mark.  I’ll be thrilled with that, considering I lost an entire day to previous commitments.

*Edited at 2:41pm

I’m reading in hour-long increments now.  So many distractions today!

*Edited at 7:37pm

Had to take the dogs for a run/swim at the park.

*Edited at 9:05pm

Time spent reading:

11 hours, 15 minutes

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

1.5 hours

Total time so far:  10 hours, 39 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.

What Kids Are Reading, 2012 – Why It Doesn’t Matter

I’ve been stewing over this study for a few weeks now.  Back when it started making the rounds on Twitter I was busy finishing up my National Board portfolio and I only had time to skim the study and make a few passing remarks to my PLN.  But today I was able to sit down and read it cover-to-cover. Boy, do I have a lot to say.

Anyone who has been reading my blog since the beginning knows how I feel about Accelerated Reader.  When I taught sixth grade I worked very hard to grow my students into readers.  Inevitably, though, they moved on to the local middle school, which utilized AR, and their growth stopped.  I documented a specific example back in 2009.  I know every school is different and that my experience does not represent all experiences but I fear that student’s experience is all too common.

Needless to say, Renaissance Learning’s annual study gets me all riled up.  I am going to focus on the 9-12 list here, but I imagine that the statistics would ring true regardless of grade level.  According to Renaissance Learning, the 9-12 list represents “388,963 ninth–twelfth graders … during the 2010–11 school year.”  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “In fall 2011, over 49.4 million students will attend public elementary and secondary schools. Of these…14.5 million will be in grades 9 through 12 (source) . An additional 6.0 million students are expected to attend private schools (source).”  In other words, if I am doing my math correctly, the study represents the Top 40 reading choices made by 2.8% of secondary students in the United States.  That’s a pretty small sample size.  The study doesn’t mention this, but anecdotally I know that many secondary schools utilize AR for below-grade level readers who are placed into ‘enrichment’ reading classes in order to increase their reading instruction. AR is a one-and-done curriculum solution in that you just need a proctor to watch the students read and take quizzes.  In these times of budget crises across the country, it’s a simple solution for too many schools.  So the sample most likely includes a large number of below-grade level readers to begin with.

Also speaking anecdotally, many of my former students readily admit to choosing the easiest books from the AR list for a variety of reasons.  For those who enjoy reading, the easy books are fast reads that let them get their AR requirement over and done with quickly.  And many students will tell you that they read easy books because the AR quizzes are so ridiculously hard to pass.  Easy books hopefully means quizzes that the students can pass.  It’s been a  few years since  I’ve had the opportunity to see an AR test, but those I did see were nothing but rote memorization.  Basic recall questions about setting and minor characters don’t prove that a student can read critically or think critically. I remember a conversation on Twitter last year where various YA authors were wondering if they would be able to pass their own AR quizzes- for the books they wrote!

I have no idea why the lists are broken down into individual grade levels for K-8 but 9-12 are lumped together- that’s not consistent and affects the overall list.  But I’m going to work with what I have and just look at the overall list of popular books for grades 9-12.

The most popular book is The Hunger Games.  Is anyone surprised by this? It’s a gateway book for thousands of readers!  I know elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, and adults who have started reading again because Collins’ book pulled them into the vortex.  I have no issue with this being the most popular book for secondary students.  The themes are worthy and there is a lot to talk about.  Catching Fire is also found in the top ten, followed by Mockingjay.

The next three books are curriculum books.  Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Night, Animal Farm- would anyone argue that our students shouldn’t read these books?  My guess is these books are required reading in many schools and they count towards AR points, so the majority of the surveyed students read them.  Plus, three  of four are under 120 pages.  My guess? They are offered as part of a list and lots of kids pick the shortest books.  However, all three books are extraordinarily important books!  While their readability might be 4th/5th grade according to Renaissance Learning, I think there is a lot more to reading level than running text through an algorithm. Would I hand Night to a fourth grader?  Most likely no!  The themes and ideas are well above an elementary school reading level.  The same goes for the allegorical tale in Animal Farm. I read it as a 3rd grader because I read at a high school level and a teacher thought I should read books appropriate for my reading level.  You know what I got out of it at eight years old? A weird story about farm animals.  I didn’t have the background knowledge to fully understand the book!  I needed to grow up before the book would be important to me.  And guess what? If I reread Animal Farm today I would have a different interpretation than I did as a college student.  We grow and change and books grow and change with us, regardless of their text readability.

There are also a bunch of Nicholas Sparks’ books in the top 40.  Hmm, Sparks also makes many appearances on the NYT Best Seller list.  I have no issue with that.  Many adults read Nicholas Sparks so why should we fault high schoolers for picking up those same books?  Is he a fantastic writer? No sir. But does he get kids reading? Hell yes!

I have a big problem with the readability scores given to many of the classics on the list and that’s where the problem lies. Romeo and Juliet is listed as an 8.6 reading level and I think that explains why many of my gifted and talented students read it as a whole-class book in middle school.  Inevitably, they read it for 5 months, fill out countless worksheets, and still consider it a love story.  I teach the play in ninth grade and the number of students who read it in 6th grade astounds me.  Just because they are reading at a high school reading level doesn’t mean they can or should identify with R+J as eleven year olds!

You know what I would like to see?  The readability scores of the books that experts think HS students should be reading.  Last time I checked, lots of experts were decrying the lack of classics put into the hands of secondary students.  Classics were going to save us!  Only classics were worth reading!  Well, according to this list plenty of students are reading classics. But now the classics aren’t good enough because their readability school is too low.  So then what is the answer? How about we let students read what they want to read independently and as teachers, we push them to a higher level in class.  Get to know your students as readers. They like The Hunger Games? Awesome!  Hand them other books with similar themes. How about The Road by Cormac McCarthy? Oh wait- the ATOS readability is just 4.0 for McCarthy’s National Book Award winner.   Or 1984?  Ok, the ATOS for that one is 8.9  Phew!  I guess that one is ok for kids to read.

Here’s the problem as I see it- nonfiction rates as more complex than fiction.  That makes sense to me.  (Check out http://www.arbookfind.com/ for the ATOS levels of various books. Once you get into upper grade books, the majority of offerings are primary source documents and books from history.  Very little science, almost no literature, a smidgen of math-related books).

Here’s the deal- NF books are expensive. Librarians have little money nowadays and they stretch what they do have. They order the books that get them the most bang for their buck and that means getting kids into the library and getting teachers to use the books.  That doesn’t leave a lot of money for lots of new NF. And publishers are part of the problem, too. My students (boys especially) crave NF. But there isn’t a lot of secondary level NF that isn’t a textbook.  Someone get on that!

We do need to have students read more NF in school and increase the complexity of what they read.  I fully support this, which is why I support the Common Core Standards in theory (I worry about how they will be put into practice, though).  I love that the CCS ask content area teachers to include more reading and writing. Students should be reading primary texts in history. They should learn to read articles from scientific journals in science. I love having my students read the NYTimes in humanities. But do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Absolutely not!

Humanity craves stories. We need stories. And stories are frequently fiction.  Our students can and should read YA, middle grade, adult books- whatever interests them. And we should take them by the hand in school and move them into more complex texts across the content areas.  Many adults read the newspaper daily and read novels, too. Why can’t we trust our students to do the same?

My students read Chaucer and Shakespeare in class.  We read Achebe and Adichie, Golding and Sophocles.  But you know what? My students also read Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Paul Volponi, Matthew Quick, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Sarah Dessen. They gain a lot from those experiences, too.

Renaissance Learning is a corporation. They need students and they need school districts.  More importantly, they don’t make money if students are reading independently in classrooms like those belonging to Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Paul Hankins, or Nancie Atwell.  They make money  when students must be forced to read and when they don’t read well. Why are we swallowing their study hook, line, and sinker?

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