Tag Archives: school-wide reading

The Winds of Change Smell Like Books

Everywhere I look, I see books. bookshelf

Open in the hands of students.

Shared at the hands of teachers.

I’m dreaming about books. Like the pursuit of the one that got away, I am chasing after unopened books in my sleep. Waking in a state of minor panic – When WILL I have time to read all of these books?  I need a prep period just to read. I need an extra hour in the day. I need a sabbatical.

In the days since TTT came to share their wisdom and enthusiasm with the English Department at Franklin High School, literary excitement is wafting through our hallways and it’s all about books, books, and more books.

Students are buzzing about books.

As I walked through the commons a few days ago, I saw one of my AP Language students, Maddie, reading during her free block. I smiled and walked on. Then, I stopped, turned around, and went back to talk with her.

It was the best move of my day.

Sitting on the table next to Maddie was a copy of A Monster Calls (Since I sobbed over this book and poured myself into sharing it  with students in a book talk a few weeks back,  I’ve acquired six copies for my classroom and not seen one of those copies in days. Kids are handing them off in the hallway. Meeting for coffee to discuss. Making their parents read it. It’s beautiful) and in her hands The Girl on the Train. I asked her how it was going. “Ugh! Mrs. Dennis! I can’t read fast enough. I need to meet my reading goal and finish this book so I can start A Monster Calls.”

I almost hugged her.
I hugged her.
Maybe a second longer than was necessary, but I think we had a moment.

Only a few weeks earlier, before I had recommitted to book talks every day and conferring with kids about their independent reading, we had talked in class about how independent reading was going. Maddie had shared that while she likes to read, she wasn’t making time for it. She had been enthused earlier in the year, when getting time to read in class was something new and different, but hadn’t kept up with the expectation to read 2 hours per week.

I was reminded that Penny Kittle says teachers sharing their passion for books is contagious. In this area, I needed to do better.

While I was giving time to read, sharing lists of books to choose from, and piling books on the shelves, I had let my own passion for texts slip away into the haze of curriculum redesign, semester exams, and lesson planning. In essence, I was asking students to make reading matter without me. Not cool.

So, I grabbed a copy of Stiff, by Mary Roach and got reading.

Of course, I couldn’t put it down. Of course, I wanted to tell my kids all about it. So,  I shared my passion in a book talk, we ended up chatting about the use of humor in nonfiction, and my students were reminded that we are a community that makes time for what matters. READbooks

Reading matters.

And our commitment to that as teachers needs to be visible and constant if we are to have any hope in keeping kids enthusiastically discussing what they are reading and reaching for more.

My colleagues are buzzing about books.

I’ve been wonderfully lucky to work with brilliant and passionate English teachers for each of the thirteen years I’ve been in the classroom. In the past two years, I’ve even been lucky enough to be their department leader and do my best in recent weeks to facilitate our move toward workshop.

While we all share the very traditional love of To Kill a MockingbirdPride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby, our passion for reading runs so much deeper. In workshop, it’s our responsibility (and pleasure!) to get kids reading all manner of texts. Not just glancing in the direction of a book, but digesting it.

In short, we know that to get a majority of our students excited about reading, their teachers need to be readers.

Tickled to share a passage, can’t wait to see what you think too, ask a million questions, highlight in multiple colors, adorkable readers. The classics have a role in this, but so do countless other styles, genres, and soon-to-be classics.

Our district has blessed us with a huge surge in classroom library materials in preparation for our shift to workshop instruction. This puts dozens of books in the hands of teachers who are now chatting about Patrick Ness in the hallway between classes, feverishly searching for texts that are suddenly in high demand (Anyone have a copy of Columbine? They are ALL checked out! How about The Nightingale? I’ve got a wait list. With six names on it. For a book)and frequenting Thriftbooks.com to compare how much money they have saved to add even more titles to their libraries.

When in doubt, promote. We enlisted the help of some art students and had a poster made to show how super cool it is to read. A nicer group of people, you will never meet, but this poster says read, or else.

Reading Poster (1)

The students think it’s a riot…and have asked on more than one occasion which books we are reading in the picture.

Mission accomplished.

So, as the wind ushers in both spring and a journey with workshop, let the books come raining down as well. The more I see, the more I want to read. And the more I want to read, the more excited I get to prove to kids that we can all be readers.

How do you keep the beautiful buzz that surrounds books going in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comments. 





Guest Post: How a High School Improved Reading by Building Little Free Libraries

busLast summer, I became a Penny Kittle convert. I originally didn’t know what I was signing up for, but something kept driving me to be sure I was where she was. Turns out, it’s been the best hunch of my teaching career. The mind shift I was searching for. A complete game-changer. And this is year eighteen.

After 2 ½ days with Penny, I spent the rest of my summer trying to keep up with my churning brain. I wrote more than I have since I was a slightly over dramatic, totally drowning-in-love teen. I read. And I read. And I read. I rediscovered that lust for story I had almost forgotten. I freed myself from the idea that pleasure reading was fluff and gripped the concept of reading what speaks to me as a means of improvement – just like I would soon ask my students to do.

In the midst of my mid-career crisis (maybe crisis is too harsh?), I found a tweet about the site littlefreelibrary.org. The various clever wooden boxes built for books captivated me. I loved the idea of a take-one-leave-one system designed to build community. What fun! I wanted one! Maybe a home project with my own children? Then, I had a thought. What if we put these book boxes in the hallway at our high school? What if this could be the reading take-over Penny Kittle encouraged? So, on my wild whim, I retweeted the link with that very suggestion.

Soon (which means mere seconds in the Twitter world), my teacher peers of all disciplines — math, sharkscience, history, technology, world languages — responded with enthusiasm! They wanted to build wooden cubbies! They wanted to donate books! They were all on board! So, the fun began…

In an August inservice session, I presented the idea to the full faculty, highlighting the importance of choice-reading in ALL classrooms. I used so many of Kittle’s words in an effort to begin a movement. We have to get all of our kids reading – the rich, the poor, the gifted, the challenged, even the ones who don’t eat their vegetables. And, in a school as diverse and unique as ours, we couldn’t wait another second. Of course, there was one small glitch; I didn’t know or have the means yet to build the little libraries. But I knew we could.

Following my first session, our new theater tech teacher immediately approached me, and he offered to have his tech class build the first set! I cried. I usually do at most sentimental things, but I just didn’t expect this outpouring. Books began to appear in my classroom from teachers and then parents. Some opted to write an inscription inside their favorite books, explaining to the future reader the special significance of that particular tale.

#hebronreads was born.

The theater tech class created the first five Book Nooks, as they are now called, from lumber and Slide2supplies donated by our community. In true theater style, the Nooks have flare – a shark, an Alice in Wonderland, a school bus, the Parthenon, and, of course, a book! All student created! All on pedestals in various niches in our halls. At our fall open house night, books poured in from parents who heard our call to promote literacy, and books continue to appear in my classroom like gifts from the Tooth Fairy.

Students in our advertising and marketing classes competed to create a campaign for the program. On World Read Aloud Day in March, we paused to read to our students, and we passed out bookmarks and talked books during lunches. Students have daily choice-reading time in math classes and business classes in addition to English classes. Another book drive is slated during our spring football game in May. A spring literacy night with former Hebron High School grad now YA author Lindsay Cummings is in talks.


This is only the beginning.  

In my hopes and dreams, we will build more Book Nooks and litter the building with choices. We will continue the book drives until all classrooms have some sort of libraries. We will keep talking reading and promoting ideas via @hebronreads. And one day, when we are feeling pretty confident in our literacy push, we will make Nooks and take them filled with books to neighboring schools who need more stories in their lives too. Hebron High School is now a thriving community of readers, and it is truly glorious!

Parent quote:

“My son has always loved to read (‘loved’ is probably an understatement), so when he found these books in Hebron’s hallways, he was very excited.  He came home telling me what a neat thing this was — books for the taking, any book, all kinds. Once he understood the program, he commented on what a great idea . . . read a book, replace a book, or just bring it back. Great idea, Hebron!”    Carolyn Sherry

Donna Friend teaches at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas. She is making readers out of English III students and leads her department into the chaos of educational risk-taking. Currently, she is honored to be her campus as well as the Lewisville Independent School District’s Secondary Teacher of the Year, an accolade that, despite her 18 years of teaching, she doesn’t yet feel old enough to have earned! Her current favorite book is Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and she is practicing being a regular reader and writer along with her students. She has a 9 year old son, a 6 year old daughter, a hubby, two cats, and a few fish. She once dreamed a young adult novel and still regrets not writing it down immediately after waking. Find Donna on Twitter @mrs_friend

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