Part I: #NCTE13

Every year after attending NCTE I struggle to summarize my experience. This year, inspired by my friend Cindy, I have decided to write two posts. Part I will focus on the events outside of the sessions I attended. Part II, coming later this week, will focus solely on the sessions I attended while I was there (and those I attended virtually, because there is no way to attend every session offered!)

NCTE is my home away from home. Even though it changes cities each year, the people make the event feel like home. This year’s conference was in Boston (which is now my favorite city) and it did not disappoint! I always leave physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, inspired, and renewed.

Chris and I arrived in Boston late Thursday night and checked into the Revere Hotel, which was gorgeous. I was presenting on Friday so I got everything ready and crashed. For the record, traveling by train is the way to go. So much better than the airport and airplanes, but just as exhausting! I tried not to spread myself too thin, but I still had a packed schedule for the weekend.

 

1. Don Graves breakfast Friday morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast hosted by Heinemann. The Don Graves breakfast was inspiring, to say the least. My awesome friend Jen was my plus one and we spent the first few minutes in awe as we looked at the rest of the audience.  “There’s Penny Kittle! And Ralph Fletcher!” The names kept coming.  Plus, the audience was full of NerdyBookClub friends, so it was the best way to start my time at the conference.

The breakfast was inspiring, as many of my English teacher idols spoke about the influence the indomitable Don Graves had on their lives.  You can see Penny Kittle’s intro here and some of the video clips from the breakfast here. Thank you to Heinemann for including me in this inspiring and amazing breakfast.  What a way to kick off the weekend!  I left pondering some new ideas for writing workshop and with a lot of notes in my phone.

2. Ripped from the Headlines and Applied to the Classics I was very blessed to present at NCTE with my amazing editor from The Learning Network, Katherine Schulten.  We had a slight snafu when our 75 newspapers were not delivered for the session, but we made do.  Katherine had a back-up plan and it worked out beautifully.

When I arrived at the room, I was stunned.  I was expecting a few friends and maybe some others, but the room was packed.  As in, people sitting in the aisles and standing room only packed.  I was terrified.  Just as I was about to have a heart attack, the amazing Leeann Spillane introduced herself and handed me a present!  She created a piece of art especially for me and it’s stunning.  It also calmed me down and the session went wonderfully.

You can learn more about our presentation from this post on The Learning Network.   Leeann also wrote a post about the session here and Using Information Text wrote another.

 

3. Exhibit Hall The exhibit hall is a bit like the Colosseum. It’s overwhelming, loud, and sometimes I’m afraid for my life!  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. ;)  But it’s also a great place to make professional connections.  This year I spent a great deal of time chatting with publicists about upcoming books and ways to use them in the classroom.  I also met lots of authors and chatted with them about my students.

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

4. Nerdy Party Maybe my favorite part of NCTE13.  It began with a dinner with my Nerdy friends and then we made our way over to the hotel lounge around 8pm.  By 9pm the NerdyBookClub had taken over the hotel lounge and there were readers, authors, publishers, illustrators, poets, editors, and so many others mingling and chatting.  Every time I turned around there was someone else to chat with!  Chris and I stayed until midnight and I still didn’t get to talk to everybody! I did get a chance to chat with YA author Gae Polisner, which made the whole night worthwhile.

Four hours of conversation centered on books and writing.  There is nothing nerdier or better.  Thank you to my NerdyBookClub friends for including me in your adventures and throwing an awesome party!  I’m already looking forward to #nerdy14!

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

5. General Session A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Sandy Hayes, president of NCTE.  She asked me if I would speak as part of her President’s speech at NCTE.  Of course I immediately said yes! Then I felt the terror take over.  I worked on my speech for a few weeks, but in true High Tech fashion, I finished it right before getting on the train.

I knew I would be speaking as one of a group of teachers that Sandy had invited to share their stories so I was very intimidated.

I think it went well.  I did not have a heart attack while speaking, though it was terrifying.  But more importantly, I was inspired by the other teachers Sandy invited to speak.  Each one of them made me laugh and a few brought tears to my eyes. Sandy’s idea of sharing the speech was brilliant and I wish more people had made it to the ballroom to see her in action.

And the best part of being part of the President’s speech?

Nancie Atwell spoke a few minutes after I did.

Nancie Atwell.

My English teacher hero.  I babbled and looked like an idiot, but we had a great conversation.  She even took a few minutes to speak with me about my writing.  Bucket list item? I think so!

6. Catching Fire Scholastic invited some of the NCTE attendees to a private screening of Catching Fire. Greatest idea ever?  I’d say so!  David Levithan introduced the film and I definitely squealed like a fangirl.  Then I spent the next two hours gasping and covering my eyes alongside a theater full of fellow English nerds. Absolutely amazing! (And if you haven’t seen Catching Fire yet, what are you doing reading blogs?!  Get yourself to a movie theater, pronto!)

7. ALAN Cocktail Party I love ALAN.  This was the first year I stayed for the conference after NCTE and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ll write more about ALAN later, but the cocktail party capped off my NCTE experience. The ALAN cocktail party is a low-key event where teachers and authors get to mingle, provided you aren’t too shy to go up and introduce yourself.  I chickened out when it came to introducing myself to Laurie Halse Anderson (next year!), but I did meet Andrea Cramer.  Love her! I also stuck with the wonderful Paul Hankins for a bit and he introduced me to Nancy Garden, who was an inspiration. Special thanks to Paul for taking me under his wing for a bit.  That guy knows everyone!!

Oh!  And I met Judy Blume! I totally babbled and I think I said something like, “You’re Judy Blume!”. Pretty sure she already knew that.  But Judy Blume!

And the ALAN party also provided me with the opportunity to finally meet Eliot Schrefer in person. I read Endangered last year and then our school book club also read it. Endangered is probably my favorite book of the last year and it was brilliant getting a chance to chat with Eliot. We’ve chatted over social media but meeting in person was fabulous.  We spent about 25 minutes chatting and Eliot also introduced me to David Levithan and Bill Koenisburg.  What great guys! (My new mission is finding a way to bring Schrefer to do a school visit at HTHS…)

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Me, Eliot Schrefer, Jen Ansbach (thanks for the photo skills, Noah!)

The ALAN cocktail party was the best way to cap off my NCTE conference.  And it led directly into ALAN and the many panels that inspired me to be  a better reader and teacher.  But more about those sessions later….   Part II: NCTE Sessions and ALAN to come later this week!

My NCTE Reflections

It’s been almost a week since I flew home from NCTE and I’m still recovering. NCTE is the best conference I attend all year and it’s a must-not-miss for me. I am reinvigorated, excited, and passionate after meeting with my fellow English teachers and learning from them. This year was the best year of all, because I connected with so many of my Twitter pals and they enriched my conference experience.

Chris and I arrived on Friday afternoon, ready for dinner. Unfortunately, due to the 3 hours time difference, it was only lunch time. (Sidenote- by the time I got used to the time difference, it was time to go home. Can’t wait for NCTE Boston because it’s on the East coast!). Chris and I checked in to the MGM Signature and it was best hotel decision we could have made. The Signature is connected to the MGM Grand, the convention hotel, via moving walkway and it’s about a 5 minute walk. But the Signature has not casino, is quiet, and has it’s own Starbucks that didn’t have a line all weekend. So awesome!

After grabbing a quick lunch, I left Chris to rest and explore while I hit up the exhibit hall and planned the rest of my day. The Southwest flight we arrived on had wifi, so I had made dinner plans with the amazing Chris Lehman and a few other tweeps.  I wanted to get the lay of the land first, so I spent some time wandering the exhibit hall (and picking up books, of course).  Then, I headed to the Mexican restaurant in the hotel and shared a fabulous meal with Chris, Meeno Rami, Franki Sibberson, Jen Vincent, Alyson Beecher, John, and many more.  Fabulous conversation, of course.  It was wonderful to put faces (and voices!) to Tweeps after chatting on Twitter for so long.

Then, it was time for us all to head to the NerdyBookClub party.  Yes, we were some of the only people in Vegas partying it up in a suite where the conversation centered around books.  And it was awesome.

Donalyn addresses the wild Nerdy crowd.

If NCTE is made up of my people, the NerdyBookClub is my tribe.  A room full of introverts, noshing on brownies, talking about books.  I met so many wonderful folks and got to know many of them better.  A huge thank you to Donalyn, Colby, Cindy, and the entire Nerdy-dom for a fabulous, fabulous party.  (At this point, I have to admit that I did sneak off a few times to see if the National Board results were posted yet.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.  At one point, the website went down and I knew the results were being uploaded.  I couldn’t handle finding out the results in the middle of the party, so I headed back to my room.  Plus, my body thought it was 3am at this point!).

The nerdybookclub party!

Can we have a Nerdy conference?  Because the party was seriously awesome.  R.J. Palacio (Wonder) was there, Beck McDowell (This Is Not a Drill), and Jonathan Auxier (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes).  Jonathan Auxier treated us to a booktalk about Peter Nimble and he did ridiculously awesome yo-yo tricks while talking.  He used to yo-yo professionally!  Needless to say, it was pretty much the best party I have ever been to.  So many Twitter friends were there, I made new friends, and we shared stories about books and connecting our students with books.

I headed back to my room around 3am EST and once I got back, I decided to check my National Board results one more time.  As my phone was loading the web page I was taking out my contacts.  I glanced over and freaked out when I saw that the website looked different.  I squinted, flailed around for my glasses, finally found them, and then read the magic words: “You are a National Board Certified Teacher”!  And that’s how I closed out my first night at NCTE.  Pretty darn awesome!

Saturday was devoted to lots of workshops.  I started the morning off bright and early in the sports betting area of the hotel, where Chris placed a bet on the Rutgers game.  Then, I headed to my first workshop while he settled in to watch the game in the comfy recliners.  My first session was about connecting high school English teachers and first-year compositional teachers.  The presenters were an AP English teacher, a first-year comp professor, and a mutual student. It was a great session and made me wish that more students presented at NCTE.  It was great hearing from all three stakeholders!  I was also happy to hear that college writing teachers do not ban the use of 1st person.  Instead, it’s about the students learning to make choices based on audience, tone, and voice.

After that session I rushed to the Folger Shakespeare session on assessment while teaching Shakespeare’s plays.  I had never made it to a Folger presentation before and I was impressed.  However, I did not get much out of the session that I hadn’t already learned from their fabulous professional books.  I ended up leaving a few minutes early because my phone was dying and needed a charge.

Then I spent some more time in the exhibit hall, where I chatted with lots of publishers and finally met up with Zsofia from Stenhouse.  Zsofia and I have been emailing for a few years and it was a pleasure to finally meet in person. She showed me a few upcoming books, which I will be posting about in the next few weeks.

Of course, I picked up a bunch of books for my classroom and waited on a few author signing lines.  Then I had a fabulous meeting before heading off to the NerdyBookClub session.  First of all, The Eagles (yes, those Eagles- the band) were in soundcheck right on the other side of the wall.  The NerdyBookClub really is made up of rockstars!  The session was awesome and the panelists traveled from table to table, presenting on a variety of topics.  Mindi made my day when she told us about Haikudeck, an amazing Ipad app for presentations.  But all of the presenters were great and I learned so much.  (I was tweeting so much that Chris had to bring my charger downstairs so I could recharge mid-workshop!).  Colby Sharp and Tony Keefer presented on their Nerdy Book Club, Jr. and reminded my how much I loved doing the Mock Newbery with my 6th graders.  I think it’s time for a mock Printz with my high schoolers.  I have ideas….

That night, Chris and I decided to see a little bit of Vegas.  We walked to the Bellagio and watched the fountain show, which was pretty cool.

Bellagio

Paris

Paris Hotel

You know what is not a good idea?  Walking to the Hard Rock Hotel from the Strip.  Everything in Vegas is much farther away than it appears.  Almost two miles later, through some very shady areas, we made it to the Hard Rock.  But we got our meal from the secret menu, so it was awesome.

The famous “Gambler’s Special” at the Hard Rock Hotel

Sunday morning started out bright and early with some Starbucks before Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts’ fabulous session on research and note-taking.  What a breath of fresh air!  I did my student teaching at a TCRWP school and have used lots of their strategies in middle school and high school.  However, it’s been a long time since I was in a room of TCRWP folks and this reminded me how much I love them.  Chris and Kate were amazing and I am still thinking about what they said. Below are some of my tweets from the session.

I had to leave the session early because I needed to get to the exhibit hall to see Eliot Schrefer and Matthew Quick.  I felt so bad leaving the session, but I had promised signed copies to some students (and I needed some for me!).  Thankfully, the session was tweeted all over so I was able to continue following the last few minutes.  And on my way to te exhibit hall I ran into Donalyn Miller and the Paul Hankins, two English idols of mine!  Donalyn is a friend, but I had never had the pleasure of meeting Paul in person until that moment.  Of course, I was also impatient to get to the signings, but luckily no one understands that more than Paul and Donalyn.  So we hugged and chatted before I ran off and made it just in time for my signings!

I spent the rest of Sunday networking in the exhibit hall before spending a fabulous lunch with lots of my tweeps.  I also made sure I was out of the exhibit hall before the publishers started giving away books they didn’t want to pack up and bring home.  My suitcase was already full!

Later that afternoon I spent a wonderful time with Kellie, of Walden Pond Press.  We talked about upcoming books, books in the classroom, and lots more.  Kellie is absolutely fabulous and I am looking forward to chatting with her more at the next conference.

Finally, I ended my conference by popping into the ALAN cocktail party.  Before entering, a bunch of us Nerdy Book Clubbers met up for a photo.  I LOVE this picture and I’m so grateful for this fabulous PLN that has enriched my life.

At the party, I chatted with Mike Mullin and probably scared Seth Rudetsky when I practically ran up to him.  What can I say?  I’m a huge Broadway fan and love all of his work!  I also said my goodbyes and made my way back to the room to pack my last few books.  Next year I am definitely attending ALAN!

Sunday night Chris and I went back out on the Strip and visited the Siren show at Treasure Island, the waterfall at the Wynn, and a few other landmarks.  We picked up a few souvenirs, packed our bags, and took a quick nap before checking out at 4am.  Our flight left right on time at 6am and made it home at 5pm EST.  It was an exhausting weekend but one I would not miss for the world.  I left Vegas feeling invigorated and brimming with ideas, both personal and professional.  I can’t wait to put some of them into action and I look forward to connecting with my PLN even more over the next year.

I guess it’s time to start working on my NCTE proposal for Boston?

#NCTE11 Day 1 Reflections

I’ve been home from NCTE for a few days now and I am still decompressing and reflecting.  If you have the opportunity to attend NCTE’s annual convention you must go!  It is the most powerful professional development I have ever experienced.  Chicago was my second NCTE and I am already planning for the 2012 convention.  The PD is 24/7 at NCTE- whether at a session, in the exhibit hall, or just conversations over dinner.  In fact, those conversations were some of the best PD I’ve had in recent memory.  I had the opportunity to meet up with many of my Twitter friends and we talked about teaching, literacy, and so much more!

My convention officially started Saturday morning at 8am.  I woke up early to head over to the Palmer Hotel, where I was presenting with Donalyn Miller, Cindy Minnich, Colby Sharp, and Meeno Rami.  On my walk to the hotel, I passed the gorgeous Art Museum.

Once at the hotel, I finally met all of my co-presenters face-to-face.  I had sort of met Donalyn a few years ago at NCTE09, when she attended my session.  But this would be my first time meeting everyone else.  As I wandered the maze that was the 7th floor of the Palmer, I ran into Meeno, the amazing mind behind #engchat. She led me to the right room where I met everyone else.  We had put the presentation together via Googledocs and twitter and I think we were all a little nervous about how it would gel together.  Plus, with an 8am workshop, it’s hard to gauge how many people will show up.

Well, we ended up with a great crowd and the presention, “Pound for #: Twitter Hashtags for Professional Development and Literacy Initiatives” was AWESOME.  I am so lucky to have presented with such pros.  We discussed #engchat, #bookaday, #titletalk, #ARCsFloatOn, and the basics behind hashtags and archiving.  We also discussed community and met some of our favorite tweeters.  I had so much fun and the time just flew by.  We also had a back channel throughout the presentation (#4pound) with people both in and out of the room participating.  It was a fantastic resource and really kept the conversation going.

I also admit to doing some reading while my co-presenters were speaking.  Cindy had brought a stuffed rabbit with her and placed it on the projector while she was explaining how to archive. She it #teamrabbit, you see. I knew that lately everyone had been talking about this picture book by Jon Klassen called I Want My Hat Back. Teaching HS, I don’t buy a lot of picture books so I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.  Lucky for me, Colby had brought his copy along and I borrowed it.  First of all, I am #teambear all the way.  But more importantly- BUY THIS BOOK.  I already purchased a copy and read it to my freshman.  I also plan to find a way to share it with my seniors (it only takes 5 minutes to read).  It is not for the faint of heart and probably not for all average picture book readers.  But it is my new favorite book. Get yourself a copy ASAP.

After finishing up our presentation, Meeno and I raced back to the Hilton to attend a session about Chicago as a setting.  The panel consisted of young adult authors John Green, David Levithan, Simone Elkeles, Jillian Larkin, and James Klise.  The panel was great and I learned a lot about setting, revision, and general research when writing books.  I took a lot of notes to share with my students, especially in reference to research.  But the most amazing moment came at the end.  John Green is a favorite of my students and also myself- his Looking for Alaska is the book responsible for bringing me back to YA literature.  I promised my students that if the opportunity to arose, I would tell John Green that my nerdfighters said “hi!”.  I made my way up to the panel and introduced myself to John Green.  He was super-nice and shook my hand.  He even said to tell my nerdfighters that he said hi.  Needless to say- thrilling!  I immediately updated our class Facebook page with the news and my kids were ecstatic.  So thanks, John!

After that, I went upstairs to my room to recharge my phone (a theme for the weekend) as I had been tweeting so much from the sessions.  After a brief rest I headed down to the exhibit hall and picked up some ARCs.  While down there I literally bumped into Jordan Sonnenblick, who I recognized from his Facebook profile picture.  (#authorstalker).  I introduced myself and we talked about some his books and how I used to read Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie aloud to my 6th graders, which led to a fantastic service project we put together for the children’s oncology hospital in a nearby town. Jordan was very gracious and let me know that he has YA novel coming out in the spring and I was able to snag myself an ARC at the Scholastic booth. I am so looking forward to read it!

I wandered around for a few hours downstairs, talking to vendors and jotting down notes for my colleagues. When I passed the Chronicle booth at one point, I recognized the wonderful Kate Messner signing her books. I stopped to introduce myself and we were finally able to meet. Kate and I have been to the same conferences in the past but our schedules have never allowed us to meet face-to-face. Needless to say, she is a sweetheart and I was thrilled we were able to take some time to talk.

After I finished up in the exhibit hall, I made my way to my last session of the day which focused on teaching The Canterbury Tales.  I love Chaucer but it can be hit or miss with my students.  The panel was fantastic as all of them had attended NEH’s summer experience in Canterbury.  They shared many of their ideas and the experiences they have in their own classrooms.  I took copious notes and walked out feeling re-invigorated about my choice to teach the tales.

That night, Chris and I spent some time in downtown Chicago.  I was determined to see the “bean” and I was not disappointed.  It’s gorgeous!

We also had our first experience with deep dish pizza, which was amaaaaazing.

At the end of the night, I took a picture of my stack-o’-books and uploaded it to my class Facebook page.  I wanted to make sure I stayed connected to my students even though I missed two days of school.  The Facebook page allowed me to do so, while also letting them know what I was doing at the conference.

Needless to say, I had a waiting list before I got back to my classroom!

 

Day 1 of NCTE was unbelievable.  I met some of my idols and listened to many of them share best practices from their own classrooms.  I learned about writing from some of the best in the business.  I spent time learning from my colleagues.  I loved presenting with my panel and I was able to spread the word about #ARCsFloatOn.  It was an amazing day.

Look for my day 2 reflection in the next  day or so!

#NCTE11

Just popping to say that NCTE has been fabulous. Look for a summary later this week, after I have had time to digest everything and reflect.

Looking forward to next year in Las Vegas!!

NCTE10

I just want to take a moment and thank all of the awesome teachers who tweeted from NCTE 2010 this weekend.  I was able to follow many sessions and presentations via the great Twitter updates.  If you did not get a chance to follow, check out the hashtag #NCTE10 for the latest updates.  Sounds like it was an amazing conference and I am so sad I could not go this year- I am already planning for NCTE ’11 in Chicago.  (Formulating some presentation ideas right now…..proposals are due in January!)

I do have one complaint about the NCTE Convention, though.  Last year I presented and a lot of the presenters (myself included!) uploaded resources, Powerpoints, etc to the NCTE Ning.  I looked forward to the same thing happening this year.  While it is not the same as being at the presentations, obviously, it’s phenomenal to get resources from other teachers and to be introduced to new people through those resources.  This year I was dismayed to find out that NCTE had the presenters upload to their Connected Community.  I find the new Community to be frustratingly impossible to navigate as it leans towards Web 1.0 instead of 2.0.  The threads are all over the place, the division between topics is hard to distinguish, and the navigation is bizarre. But I was willing to work through the bumps in the road for the Convention materials.

Well, boy was I miffed when I clicked on the community entitled “2010 NCTE Annual Convention”  and got the following message:

Sorry you are not eligible to view the Digest

What?  Weird, I thought.  My membership was up for renewal on November 30th, so I assumed it was related to that.  Off I went to re-up my membership (and change my journal subscription from Voices in the Middle to English Journal!) Done and done, I tried the Connected Community again.  Still no go.  So I turned to my PLN on Twitter.  Apparently I was not the only one having this problem and we soon realized NCTE controls what every member sees on the community.  Apparently, only registered conference attendees have access to the convention digest on the community.  What?!  What happened to open access?  Think that maybe they are going in the opposite direction that teachers are steering their students in?

Thankfully, some presenters were upset by this, too- they posted their presentation materials on Slideshare, blogs, and even the old Ning.  But come on, NCTE!  Why are you segregating members based on the money they were able to spend in this economy?  I would love to have gone to NCTE but lost my job when I should have been planning the trip.  It just wasn’t a possibility.  Will I be there next year?  I sure hope so!  But you are alienating your members with your new “community”.  I have no plans to participate in the Connected Community thanks to this experience.  I get so much more out of the English Companion Ning and I will stick with that!

I am Mentioned in an NCTE Journal!

I am honored!  NCTE’s Voices from the Middle focuses on YA Literature this month and I have been perusing it bit by bit over the last few weeks.  Thanks to Mrs. V. for pointing out that I am actually mentioned in one of the articles!  I am honestly gobsmacked!  The article, Technology Toolkit: Making the Shift: YA Lit 2.0 by Sandy Hayes, lists great examples of the different aspects of children’s literature online.  My blog is listed under YA Lit 1.5 as the only example of a teacher blog about young adult literature featuring book reviews, interviews, and author news.  I am so, so, so excited!  :-D

When You Need a Pick-me-up

Today was one of those days. You know those days that start off completely wrong and only continue to increase in frustration as the hours tick by? That was my day.  When I got home (after a long day at school followed by home instruction), I sat down to relax.  I decide to peruse the latest issue of NCTE’s Voices in the Middle. When I turned to Penny Kittle’s contribution to the journal, I breathed a sigh of relief.  There are lots of people out there who believe what I believe about reading and writing instruction.  Recently, I’ve been feeling like I am floundering, like there are too many people who think tweens and teens can’t become readers.  That those who don’t read by age 10 or so are doomed to never read for pleasure and we should just move on to helping them pass the test.  So thank you Penny Kittle.

Penny Kittle’s article, Mission Possible, can be found on the NCTE website (if you are a member of NCTE).  For those who aren’t members, I am going to share a few of the lines that really brought a smile to my face and firmed up my resolve to help my students morph into lifelong readers. But I strongly urge you to go seek it out and read it for yourself.  I’ve printed out a copy to hang in my room as a daily reminder that I’m not fighting this fight alone.

This is the most important work you will do as a teacher.

You get one year to make a mark.

You get one year to infect each child with a need to read, with a belief that it matters, with the desire to turn off the Celtics and pick up a book.

YES!  We can turn our students into lifelong readers when we show them the power of choice.  Empowering students to choose their own books, their own genres, their own authors opens up new doors.  How do I know?  It happens every.single.day in my classroom.  Today I helped students find new books.  One student just finished his first book since 4th grade.  Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden hooked him.  Now he is moving on to the entire series.  But when he came crashing through my door this morning, waving the book over his head and shouting, “I finished it, Ms. M.!  I did it!  And it was awesome!  You were right!  Can I have the next book?!” I just wanted to hug him.  He left today with a list of books he wants to read this year and I couldn’t be prouder.  Are we there yet?  Not completely.  But the door has been opened.  And when he completes his 40 book genre requirement in June he will be prouder than he can even imagine right now.  And I will smile.

Alan stopped reading in eighth grade. He remembers he used to read, but now he doesn’t have time for it. He loved war books because he was curious about his father’s service in Vietnam, but there weren’t any war books in English class. Novels and poetry and Shakespeare took over in high school, and it was all so far outside of his interests at 14 that he refused to try anymore. And really, who at 14 has the maturity to choose differently? It was book after book, month af- ter month, nothing that he wanted to read. He skimmed SparkNotes to pass his classes, but by 11th grade, he’d dropped to the lowest level in English. He wouldn’t read the classics, so they were read to him. Alan no longer saw himself as a reader because he wasn’t motivated to read within the narrow space we allowed.

We can not give up on these students.  Just because they don’t enjoy reading for pleasure, don’t pick up a book instead of “Call of Duty”, and would rather text than read doesn’t mean we can’t turn them on to books.  But if we want them to be readers we need to respect them and give them the credit they deserve!  A student who tells us they hate reading deserves to be heard.  Why do they hate it?  Could it be for the litany of reasons my students list every year?  Things like being forced to read only novels an adult chooses.  Or being told they can’t be trusted to choose their own book (usually they realize this through the actions of adults rather than their words).  Maybe it’s because they read below grade level and no one tells them they can do it.  No one works them.  Or maybe it’s because they are overwhelmed and don’t know where to even begin when trying to choose a book.  I hear all of this and more each year.  Yet in June, every student leaves my room having discovered something they like to read.  And most of them are readers who walk out the door grasping a list of books they can’t wait to read over the summer and following year.  So we can make them into readers.  If we see them as readers and provide them with authentic motivation.

As Kittle states in her article, providing a classroom library that is vibrant and static, ever-changing, is a tangible reminder that I expect my students to be readers and will accept nothing less.  They may not all read on the same level, and some may never reach grade level during the 180 days I have with them, but they will read and they will improve.

We need to give students time to read.  Yes, in class.  This means sharing read-alouds and allowing students time to read their independent reading novels without being forced to write inane summaries all the time and without being forced to constantly answer basic recall questions to “prove” to us they are reading.  Instead, when we show students that we value reading then they will value it.  Does that mean working even harder to make time for everything we are responsible for in English?  Sure it does.  But nothing else will make students readers.  And making them into lifelong readers is the greatest gift we can give them- academically, culturally, and in life.

Nancie Atwell (2007) said, “For students of every ability and background, it’s the simple mi- raculous act of reading a good book that turns them into readers, because even for the least experienced, most reluctant reader, it’s the one good book that changes everything. The job of adults who care about reading is to move heaven and earth to put that book into a child’s hands.”

I believe you can make it happen.

This year.

Today.

Right now.

Atwell says it better than I ever can.  She  and Penny Kittle have helped relight a fuse that was beginning to flicker out after a frustrating day.  All it takes is getting to know our students as readers and then helping them find that one book.  THE book.  The one that will change their life forever.  I’d say that’s the most important standard we can cover, regardless of our curriculum.

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