Youth Media Awards – I Was WRONG!

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Full disclosure: I’m usually wrong about these book awards. I pore over the criteria, talk to students and friends, read all the predictions, and still…I don’t chose the medal winners.

Today, I was WRONG, and that’s fine with me. I am so happy for Jerry Craft, Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson, and all the other winners of medals and honors today during the Youth Media Awards announcements. Congratulations! It was fun to watch and cheer on all our favorite books.

The Newbery Medal for 2020 went to Jerry Craft for NEW KID.

The Caldecott Medal went to Kadir Nelson for THE UNDEFEATED, written by Kwame Alexander.

Congratulations to ALL the winners of book awards this year. We will keep reading and sharing!

Youth Media Awards Announcements Are TOMORROW!

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I am excited to see what the committees chose for the Youth Media Awards medals this year. From the http://www.ala.org website:

The 2020 Youth Media Award announcements will take place on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, at 8 a.m. ET from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, in Philadelphia. Fans can follow the action live at http://ala.unikron.com , @AmericanLibraryAssociation or by following #ALAyma20 .

As I read others’ picks, I think this is the first year I’ve seen so many different titles crop up as front-runners in the conversation. Who will win? We will find out…tomorrow!

I reviewed the criteria for Newbery and Caldecott awards (the two “big ones” followed by school librarians), and I have chosen my favorites:

For the Newbery Medal (tough call), I chose…

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. I loved this story of the kids who live on the bridge (and their dog, of course), their entrepreneurial spirit, their problem-solving skills, and their love for each other.

For the Caldecott Medal (really tough call), I chose…

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña.

I think the artist’s perspective of the city’s changes over time reflect the Caldecott criteria perfectly.

These statements reflect my opinions. You may or may not agree, but please join me in watching the awards announcements tomorrow. Best wishes to all the authors and illustrators who worked so hard to publish the best books for children.

 

 

Best Books of 2019 — What a Year of Reading!

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Here it is! The Best Books of 2019! What a Year of Reading!

I pored over my book lists and reviewed my book stacks to create this “Best of 2019” list. I found it difficult to decide which books are “best,” since I (pretty much) like everything I read. I’m also a reader who reads what my friends recommend, and as a middle-school teacher-librarian, I read many #kidlit books, which makes this particular list different from some others I’ve seen. I’ll explain briefly. My criteria for this “Best Books List” 2019:

  • Book was published in 2019
  • Book was rated “5 Stars” on my Goodreads account
  • Book meant something special to me as a reader
  • This is my list as a teacher-librarian/reader, not influenced by other readers or reviewers.

This list is of books is organized by release date. I did not rank the books other than their “5-Star status.”

January 7, 2019 — The Art of Comprehension, by Trevor A. Bryan

January 8, 2019 — What is Given From the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack

January 29, 2019 — Cicada, by Shaun Tan

February 5, 2019 — Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre

February 5, 2019 — Song For a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

February 12, 2019 —How I Became a Spy, by Deborah Hopkinson

March 5, 2019 — When You Are Brave, by Pat Zietlow Miller

March 12, 2019 — Shout! by Laurie Halse Anderson

March 12, 2019 — Just Like Rube Goldberg, by Sarah Aronson

March 19, 2019 — Internment, by Samira Ahmed

March 21, 2019 — Reading to Make a Difference, by Lester Laminack and Katie Kelly

March 22, 2019 — Carl and the Meaning of Life, by Deborah Freedman

April 1, 2019 — Carter Reads the Newspaper, by Deborah Hopkinson

April 2, 2019 — The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander

May 7, 2019 — Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

May 14, 2019 — My Papi Has a Motorcycle, by Isabel Quintero

June 4, 2019 — On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

June 4, 2019  — Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Méndez

June 18, 2019 — How to Read a Book, by Kwame Alexander

September 3, 2019 —White Bird, by R. J. Palacio

September 3, 2019 — More To the Story, by Hena Khan

September 17, 2019 — At the Mountain’s Base, by Traci Sorell

September 17, 2019 — Stormy, by Guojing

October 1, 2019 — Maybe He Just Likes You, by Barbara Dee

October 1, 2019 — The Tornado, by Jake Burt

October 1, 2019 — I Can Make This Promise, by Christine Day

October 8, 2019 — Ordinary Hazards, by Nikki Grimes

October 8, 2019 — Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds

October 15, 2019 — Give and Take, by Elly Swartz

November 5, 2019 — Every Stolen Breath, by Kimberly Gabriel

What were YOUR favorite books of 2019?

 

First Semester Circulation – Middle School Library

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Here’s the TOP TEN Circulated Books for the First Semester in the Library – 2019:

Number 10! Awkward, by Svetlana Chmakova

Number 9! Claudia and Mean Janine: A Graphic Novel, by Raina Telgemeier

Number 8! Stop That Bull, Theseus! (Myth-O-Mania Series), by Kate McMullan

Number 7! The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson, Book 1), by Rick Riordan

Number 6! Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

Number 5! Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett Krosoczka

Number 4 ! Guts, by Raina Telgemeier (Also the fastest circulating book, going to a new student every 2 days on average since its release!)

Number 3! The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons, by Barbara Mariconda

Number 2! Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

And the Number ONE circulated book for the First Semester in the Library – 2019 is…

El Deafo, by Cece Bell!

We look forward to another semester of reading — See you in January, 2020, when I will challenge students to read even more.

 

 

Book Thoughts: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

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After reading Wonder for the “ump-teenth” time, I was adding it to my list of “Books of the Decade” today and I WONDERED how this book has stayed at the top of “kids’ favorites” lists for so long. Of course, it’s the story, which is universal and “real” for students in schools (and their parents and teachers). I was thinking about my top books of 2019 this week. Yesterday, I had a student run into the library. (What? No running!) He slammed White Bird (by R.J. Palacio) down on the counter (What? Why slam the book?) and pushed it towards me. (Hey! Are you okay?)

“This is the BEST BOOK I EVER READ!” I was stunned. This particular student reads a lot. White Bird has been on my “To-Be-Read” list for a while, but I never really looked at it much while it was circulating in the library. It has been popular since its recent release and a “Want to Read” title on my Goodreads account, so I said, “I’ll read it next. Thanks for the recommendation.”

I’m glad I read this book now. This year. This week.

White Bird tells the story of Julian’s grandmother (from Auggie & Me/Wonder), who hid from the Nazis during World War II. Julian has some schoolwork to do for class, so he calls Grandmère to learn more about his family history. What he learned took his breath away. (From Goodreads: “This is Grandmère’s story as a young Jewish girl hidden away by a family in Nazi-occupied France during World War II told in graphic novel form.”)

My thoughts: This book is a call for kindness, good deeds, and love of humanity – we really do need to take care of each other in this world. We must not let others steal our light; we must be a light for others. (I think this is true for any human, religious or not. #weareALLhuman)

Although it’s fictional (but historically accurate – see back matter), White Bird is a heart-wrenching tale of a survivor and the people who helped her survive. It’s about loving your neighbor. It’s also a warning and a prophecy: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) The quotes throughout the book hit me like a “ton of bricks,” as the saying goes. In 2019, we need these messages (and we need to act!) more than ever before (in my lifetime, anyway).

White Bird by R.J. Palacio is an important book with strong, not subtle, messages about the world we all live in. I’m giving the book 5 stars and adding it to my “Best Books of the Year” list tonight. If you haven’t read it yet, take my student’s advice: Read it now.

 

Reading Goals: Then and Now

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On October 18, 2017, I wrote a blog post about my reading goals/solutions for schools and for myself. Today, I revisit that post and update my goals; I look forward the future.

Make reading in school FUN again.

THEN: The fondest memories I have of school reading are of teachers who read aloud fantastic stories (using the voices of characters!) and showed us wonderful covers of beautiful books in well-stocked libraries, where we could choose what we wanted to read to take home. We got to use free time to peruse almanacs, maps, atlases, and we talked about the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tales that grossed us out the most. Every year, my family saved money for the Scholastic Book Fair, because we would get new books to read and share. I was a good reader because I read. We read a lot.

NOW: The best part of being a school librarian is sharing a brand new book, just out of the box, with students in the room. “Look what I just received!” I yell across the room, so people in the hallways hear me. “Come and see!” As students gather around my counter, I show them the fresh titles to add to the collection, and bright eyes open wide. Students clamor to be the first to check out the best titles – the ones they’ve been waiting for – and the few minutes of time I spend book talking is FUN. The line forms at the checkout sign; I place books in readers’ hands. THAT’S what it’s all about. I still dream of a school where reading is the most important activity during reading class, and where students want to come to school, because it’s fun.

Make real reading a priority. Real reading.

THEN: That means no snippets of articles or excerpts of stories that have been torn apart and meticulously “leveled” back together to “help” children read. Real reading. That means real books — not basal readers. Real reading. That means real authors weaving their own creations and illustrators designing the pages to make readers say,”Ah! Wow! Awesome!” Real reading, where students are led to practice (at least 20 minutes a day, uninterrupted, in school) with the help of a qualified reading teacher and supports that are there and can be taken away so students can transfer their learning from one text to another. (Yes, this means direct instruction, led by a teacher, and not a computer monitor.)

NOW: Real reading is still my goal, and it’s a tough sell. Administration members (outside the school building) send emails, speak at meetings, and send reports, making sure all teachers know that we MUST follow the mandates “with fidelity.” We MUST account for the ISTEP scores of students. We MUST raise student achievement. Recently, there’s been a push with a big-name researcher to hold teachers accountable by following a certain plan, a certain program, or a certain method of teaching reading. If one does not comply, then shame on you! Some loud-speaking “experts” say that books are not necessary to learn to read, or computer programs teach just as well as teachers (or better), or independent reading time is just a frivolous dream and not worthy of adding to the school day. All of these issues are frustrating (and wrong!), and teachers continue to fight back, citing their own evidence, following researchers who care about kids, teaching children to read in spite of those mandates. Real reading is really needed — inside schools. Students count on us to help them learn, and we are letting them down with each failing grade/standardized assessment.

Invite teachers to attend professional development:

THEN: Conferences, workshops, classes, etc. that will enhance their skills in teaching reading. Build PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) where teachers can learn with other educators and support each other in the work. (Yes! It’s work. That’s okay.) Have teachers practice “best practices” in reading, and watch how they — and their students — grow.

NOW: I still promote author signings and events, conferences, and workshops. I am a life-long learner, and I love sharing my learning with others. My author friends and conference teammates are essential to my learning and my sharing – we promote authentic reading, writing, thinking, and learning. I invited teachers to travel with me to events and share in the joy of learning something new. I will continue traveling and connecting with others not only because I love it, but because I challenge myself to take those conversations and lessons back to the classroom, where kids are waiting.

Promote reading/literacy in each community in the nation.

THEN: (Not just for the affluent communities) Education is important, and reading is important for one to become an educated, intelligent citizen of our world. Be a reader yourself, spend time talking about reading, and spread the book love! (This is my favorite part of being a reader in the global community.)

NOW: I am officially a professional development presenter and speaker. This is my most important dream come true. I love it! I look forward to many adventures in the future, spreading book love and helping others to be as passionate as I am about reading, and teaching reading and writing. Another dream I’m following now is my friend’s dream to open an indie bookstore for our community – encouraging children and teens to “read locally, connect globally.” This is a wonderful way to spread the book love AND help our youth. I’m also researching and reading on my own, and I renewed my memberships to worthwhile organizations such as NCTE, ILA, and ALA. I continue to join Twitter chats, such as #kidlitwomen, #wndb, #tcrwp, and #g2great. We need intelligent citizens in our country who know how to read, write, and think. I will continue to find ways to lift up our youth and promote literacy. THIS is the time. THIS is the place. And as our school motto reads, “I am the one!

Revisiting Reading Class: Two Years Later

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I drafted these words for a blog post in March of 2016:

I read a post by Kelly Gallagher about the number of high school seniors who admitted that they had never read an entire book. Although I was saddened by this news, I would have to agree. School is a place where if students ACT like they are busy, teachers leave them alone. This should not be acceptable any more!

My main reading grade in my reading class comes from the motto: “Read During Reading Time.” I give my students, choice, time, opportunities (I have a huge classroom library) — all of the categories required to promote reading inside (and outside of) school. So why is reading left behind?

(I never published that post.)

Wow! These words still ring true today, at the Saturday workshop for Indiana Partnership for Young Writers at Butler University — and I still have the same question. Kelly Gallagher was the Visiting Scholar today, and the entire workshop I was picturing my past reading classrooms, reflecting on my teaching, and questioning why nothing has changed for students in school. I have always held the belief that students should, indeed, READ during reading class. I didn’t understand why people standing outside the classroom were looking for anything else inside — namely the teacher at the board teaching reading comprehension skills, with students “performing tasks” and “taking notes,” or completing a worksheet, or taking a test. I ended the draft above with a question: So why is reading left behind? What I meant (at the time) was that it seemed like activities that could be observed as students “being engaged” or “learning” were better indicators of “reading” than reading a book. It wasn’t the first time I heard about an observer reporting to some reading teacher, “Students were just reading.” I questioned (in my head), “What do you want them to do in reading class?”

That question in my head bothered me so much that I made it my teaching reading motto: READ DURING READING TIME. It WAS (and IS) what should be happening in reading classrooms. Period. In a published piece, I posted these words on my blog in October of 2017:

I attended the IRA (International Reading Association, now International Literacy Association) Annual Conference in Minneapolis in 2009. I remember rushing to a session on reading research that would explain how to improve student achievement in reading (my area of teaching). I was so excited; I sat on the edge of my seat with my notebook in hand. I heard about research that spanned 5 years, with over a thousand subjects. At the end of the presentation, the main presenter looked at the crowd and asked, “You know what we found?” (“What? Tell me!” I thought. I readied my pen to the paper.) He gave a long pause and studied the faces looking back at him, and he smiled.

He said, “The more you read, the better reader you become.” 

I gasped (I could hear it.), I thought to myself, “What? Duh! I knew that!” Reading creates better readers.

Obviously, this “kids-don’t-read-in-school” issue is still grinding on my nerves. Thank you, Kelly Gallagher, for reminding me again that reading creates better readers — and adding “better writers” — in middle school and high school. Here are the BIG IDEAS I took away from the workshop:

1. One MUST READ to become a good writer. Today we read quite a few texts, wrote about them, and shared with a partner.

2. We need to read and write with students in school every day. Every. Day.

3. There are 4 teaching moves that can help students to become better readers and writers: increase volume of reading, give choice in reading and writing class, model good reading and writing for our students, and confer with students about their reading and writing.

I promise I will not keep my thoughts in my head anymore. I love teaching reading, writing, and I love learning. I want my students to love reading, writing, and learning as much as I do.

 

 

 

 

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: “With Fidelity”

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I’m upset about the word FIDELITY in education. This word has given me headaches for at least 2 years now, as I attend meeting after meeting, session after session, on how, if teachers would just use “the program” or “the strategy” or “the textbook” “with fidelity,” that students will be successful in school. Teachers are evaluated, schools are graded, and the one thing that is reported about education is if we could all just make this one change — fidelity — then we could all succeed in life. I looked up “fidelity in education.” Here’s what Google showed in the first pop-up screen (a Google definition of “fidelity in education”):

“Fidelity of implementation occurs when teachers use the instructional strategies and deliver the content of the curriculum(s) in the same way that they were designed to be used and delivered.” (Yep. It said, “curriculums.”) Does that ever happen? (A question for another time)

The second intriguing link (from the Center on Instruction’s RTI CTRL:http://www.rtictrl.org/files/Fidelity%20Checklist%20A.pdf showed a Fidelity Checklist — a checklist/worksheet that an observer can use to collect data on if a teacher is using curriculum “with fidelity.” The sheet includes Instruction/Presentation, such as “teacher and student materials ready,” “follows steps and wording in lessons,” “provides students many opportunities to respond,” and “completes all parts of teacher-directed lesson.” The checklist also has a category for General Observations of the Group, including “student engagement in lesson,” “student success at completing activities,” and “teacher familiarity with lesson formats and progression through activities.”

Well…

Oh, wait! There’s more! A third link at www.rtinetwork.org/getstarted/evaluate/treatment-integrity-protocols says this about Fidelity Checklists:

“These protocols have been developed by a variety of sources (publishers, graduate students, practitioners) and no claim is made for their sufficiency or thoroughness. They are posted as an aid to practitioners and researchers and should generally be considered as experimental products that require research as to their psychometric characteristics.”

What does this mean to me? Well…

  1.  This means that “fidelity” to anything in education, especially a curriculum (program, what have you), is following the program to the letter — even “following steps and wording…” — which makes me so angry that I spent thousands of dollars receiving my license to teach! What this says to me is that as long as I can read a script, and “provide students many opportunities to respond,” I can be a successful teacher. This is WRONG! According to the checklist above, teachers should also be “familiar with lesson formats and progression through activities.” Many teachers are not trained in this way. Teachers do not know WHY they are reading this script, doing this lesson, following this instruction. They just do it. They are observed as working “with fidelity.” This is MADDENING, as outcomes for “success” are shown as minutes using the program, NOT how well a child learns the material (or if the child even uses the material once the program is over).
  2. This also means that “fidelity” includes students themselves — “student engagement in lesson” and “student success at completing activities.” Have you ever seen a group of students use a program with fidelity? Really? I haven’t. A whole group of students mindlessly completing activities is NOT LEARNING, and I’m sorry (not sorry), but one or two members of any group at any one time are NOT fully engaged, nor are they successful at completing activities. Students (or teachers, or politicians, or whoever) completing activities does not equal success. Can you say a group of people — let’s say teachers, for instance, are teaching with fidelity when they watch their students (proctor – that’s the word) take a standardized test? NO! Those same students don’t pass the test, and then everyone is up in arms about the lack of “quality education.”

Let’s all take a hard look at “FIDELITY” in education. Please. Let’s go back to the question of “WHY.”  WHY do my students need to work with this program? WHY will they gain more if they complete this task, rather than that task? WHY does minutes with a program mean more than an intelligent conversation (I’m thinking here, a conversation around a book’s theme, for example.)?

WHEN will society change?

(Just my evening of rambling. Please take this post with a grain of salt, or respond intelligently, as you wish. Thank you for reading.)

 

Thinking About “The 5 Truths of Reading” by Pernille Ripp

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I’m stealing today — stealing great words, great thinking, great learning. Pernille Ripp first wrote “The 5 Truths of Reading” on her blog in 2015, and as she says, the post is “old, but still relevant.” I agree. I’m thinking about how I can be more of an advocate for authentic reading and teaching practices as I start my new position as school librarian this fall. Here are my thoughts about the 5 truths: (See Pernille’s original post here.)

  1. Give students choice in what they read. Assigned reading is not the way to get kids to read. Usually the word “assignment” is followed by a collective “Ugh./Aww, Man!/That’s stupid!” from students in the classroom. I’ve heard it; I know. The love of reading for reading’s sake is gone immediately, and that’s not what we want. Our intentions are good — we want students to read good books, to be exposed to meaningful literature, to become more intelligent human beings. But when we assign reading that we choose, we are pushing our lives, our values, our choices into the faces of our children. Instead of assigned readings, give students choice. Talk about books that they might love, build a classroom library where students can find themselves, and create a classroom based on sharing those wonderful titles and the lessons they bring.
  2. Don’t judge the books – or the students. Pernille stated, “Our glances, our purchases, our book conversations all shape the identities that our readers are creating.” I’m guilty here, for sure. Not so much in glances or conversations, as I love to hear what my students are reading (and why they chose a particular book). My purchases have been my decision, though, and mostly reflected what I would like to have in my classroom library. No more! I have followed #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) for over a year now, and I have consciously built a better library. Instead of deciding what you want, ask your students what should be in the library, and heed the call from recommendations given to you. Once I had a student tell me, “Mrs. S! I know this isn’t your genre, but you HAVE to read this!” One of the best things I ever did. I loved Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs! Listen to your kids. They know. Give them a chance. (Image courtesy of books.google.com)
  3. Be a reader. This is a big one! I cannot imagine being a reading teacher or a librarian without being a reader first. Shouldn’t reading be a pre-requisite for becoming a reading teacher? I think so, and recently I’ve said that out loud more often. Each time I finish a book, I’m more intelligent than I was before, and that is what I want for my students, as well.
  4. Read because it’s reading time. My motto in my reading class was “Read During Reading Time.” I still find it disheartening to hear that people who observe teachers find that there’s “just reading” going on in the classroom. Excuse me, it’s READING class! We have to get rid of rewards, points, and prizes for reading. We have to find that JOY of reading is its own reward, and we have to do that at school.
  5. Label books, not readers. This is so important. Pernille mentioned that Fountas & Pinnell (speaking at the ILA annual conference) stressed that levels are for books. Pernille also said that labeling books meant placing a sticker or stamp on them to show what bin they belong in. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst have done extensive reading research, and I remembered that Kylene said, “This is a child, not an H.” I remembered that when a student asked me once after a formative assessment, “Am I a red?” (as in, “Did I fail the test?”) I have the shivers now, just thinking about it again.

These 5 truths have been on my mind. Hopefully sharing my stolen thinking (thank you, Pernille!) will deeper our conversations about reading and teaching reading in the classroom.

 

A Writer’s Identity Crisis

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“Are you a real writer?” One of my students asked me that this year.

“Sure, I am!” I proudly stated.

“Do you have a book?”

“No, not yet. Someday, maybe.”

I saw the rolling eyes. (Middle School!) I kept writing anyway. But I thought about this conversation, and I found myself asking the same question. Am I a writer?

Well, I’m a blogger. I have been for years now. I write “Slice of Life” stories with my friends at Two Writing Teachers (www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com). I write book reviews. I write posts for the Nerdy Book Club (www.nerdybookclub.com). Is a blogger a writer?

I’m a teacher, so I write lesson plans and curriculum notes. Does that count as writing? I spend most of my time on this, so I’d like to think so. But no one ever reads that kind of writing, except maybe a principal or a substitute teacher every once in a while. If no one reads your work, are you a writer?

I write reflections about my reading. One of my favorite professional books from this last year is Writers are Readers: Flipping Reading Instruction Into Writing Opportunities by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth. I read all the time. I’m a better reader than a writer, but I do write about my reading. I have flipped my classroom and my students are readers AND writers. Does that make me a writer?

I’d like to think I’m a writer, but I don’t write every day. It’s a terrible problem! I make the common excuses: say I don’t have time, say something else takes priority, say I don’t have anything to write about. Maybe I’m not a writer. Hmm…

As I try to figure this out, I’ll keep writing. Maybe someday, I’ll be a writer.

 

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