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Year End Update: #MustReadin2016

Year End Update: #MustReadin2016


#MustReadin2016 is a personal challenge to commit to reading books of your choice.  Visit creator Carrie Gelson’s site here for more information and for links to other #MustReadin2016 book lists. 

In 2016, I created a Must Read list of 12 books that had been recommended by my reading community and set a goal of reading 100 books by the end of the year.  I read 11.5 of the 12 Must Read books (halfway through The Thing about Jellyfish) and met my goal of reading 100 books (barely!) with the 101st book completed on December 31st. Highlights from my Must Read list, which you can find here, included Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate and Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin, which I enjoyed reading with my sons, as well as Personalized PD by Jason Bretzmann, which has greatly influenced my work with teachers this year.

As I reflected on participation in this personal reading challenge, I realized that I have gained valuable insight into how to cultivate reading communities for our students. Rather than reviewing the books on my list, I believe the real take-away is to consider how the lessons I learned from this experience can influence the ways in which we approach reading in the classroom.

Lesson #1: Set goals but allow adjustments.

For me, the goal to read 100 books in 365 days was lofty but gave me a target to shoot for.  When fall came around, I was teaching grad school and the kids soccer schedule suddenly equated to practice or a game every day of the week (yes-all 7 days!). I felt anxious that I wouldn’t meet my goal. Self-talk related to my reading goal became pretty negative.  How could I possible meet the goal I had set, given the limited time I now had for reading? I adjusted my goal to 75 books, which I felt was achievable. Once I hit 75, I talked myself back into that goal of 100 and ended up accomplishing it.  However, I believe that meeting the loftier goal is due to the fact that I could adjust it to a more manageable number when I felt stressed about meeting the deadline.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What systems are in place for students to set reading goals in the classroom?
  • Do students have the ability to reflect on and adjust their goals, or are they fixed targets?

Lesson #2: Lack of choice is detrimental to developing a reading identity. 

I believe choice is the number one motivational factor in accomplishing a reading goal. If someone had handed me a list of books and declared them to be the Must Reads of 2016, I would never have completed this challenge, even if the books were outstanding and even if they were books I would have been likely to choose on my own.  The power is in the choosing.  In fact, I didn’t look at the 12 books that I had deemed Must Reads and check them off one by one.  If I had, I would have missed The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Raymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo, The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt, and Mindsets and Moves by Gravity Goldberg, which turned out to be some of my 5-star ratings this year. I learned that I needed to read “off list,” even the list I had made for myself. Again, the power is in the choosing.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the balance between the percentage of books that students are assigned to read versus the percentage of books that they choose to read?
  • What happens when a student dislikes a book that they have chosen or wants to read “off-list”?

Lesson #3: Access to a large volume of books is critical. 

To increase the volume of reading, one must have access to various avenues for obtaining reading material. Sources included the public library, school book fairs, bookstores, online vendors, conferences, colleagues, and friends. I read audio books, eBooks, and good old-fashioned print.  I read in the car, on vacation, and in the doctor’s office, using an iPad or a phone.  If access to these sources had been removed, my reading goal would not have been attainable.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How much time are students spending looking for books that could be spent reading if high interest books were easily accessible?
  • How can we increase access to books both within and outside of school?

Lesson #4: A system for tracking progress is necessary.

My system of choice is Goodreads.  I was able to use the goal-setting, logging, and rating features to track my reading progress and estimate how close I was to my goals.  Goodreads allows users the capability of keeping lists of books, indicating books to be read, books read, and books categorized into customized lists. I could keep track of genre or recommended ages of readers and create lists for my kids. At any time, I could mark a book as completed or enter the number of pages read to track measurable progress. Most importantly, all of this tracking was done by myself, for myself.  Others could view my progress, but the only person holding me accountable was me.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How are students tracking their reading progress? Do students have ownership of this system?
  • Are options in place that are consistent with the way adults track progress toward goals?  Are they authentic?

Lesson #5: A reading community encourages and inspires an authentic reading life. 

Books beg to be discussed, to be written about, to be shared. A reading community provides a forum for recommending your next read, cheering you on as you work toward your goals, sharing reviews that showcase the uniqueness that each reader brings to the experience. Goodreads friends, as well as the “Must Read” and “It’s Monday, What are You Reading” groups, have served as in-person and online communities in which books are honored and readers are celebrated.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How are reading communities cultivated within the classroom?
  • How can we strive to create a space in which authentic discussion around books is the norm?

I’m kicking off 2017 with another goal of  reading 100 books and have started with some that I have been waiting to read for quite awhile: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson, Pax by Sara Pennypacker, and Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. I’m putting the finishing touches on my #MustReadin2017 list and welcome your recommendations for my next reads!

The book is in your court…

IMG_4918Visit Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to participate in the #IMWAYR community.



What Will Your Legacy Be? Celebrating Over a Decade as a Literacy Specialist

This week represented a turning point in my professional life.  I said goodbye to a job I have had for over a decade.  However, it’s not quite right to describe it as just a job.  I know that the fellow literacy specialists in my PLN will agree with me when I describe it as a passion, a way of life.

I created this blog to celebrate books and the way they connect us as teachers, students, and human beings.  I have always celebrated and will continue to celebrate reading.  But I always wonder… are my students becoming REAL readers?  Do they have a connection with books that will last long after I am gone from their daily lives?

As the goodbye cards began to appear on my desk, I was so proud to see a theme emerge. From teachers, from parents, and from the kids. I think the theme will be evident from the pictures below.IMG_5224-0IMG_5214-0

One of the things I love best about being a literacy specialist is that teachers often ask for advice for read-alouds.  I’ve been able to recommend The One and Only Ivan, Rump, Wonder, Along Came Spider, Out of My Mind, The Honest Truth, Each Kindness, Freedom Summer, and many, many others over the years.

One of my recent suggestions was One for the Murphy’s, a book that really touched kids’ hearts. This clever 5th grader used a One for the Murphy’s theme to create this good-bye card for me.  The best part is the picture of me holding a “Book of Books,” which represents all of the recommendations I’ve handed out over the years. Now, I have never taught this particular student, but I have taught her teacher. Today, I can celebrate the far-reaching influence that literacy specialists have.IMG_5219-0

One of the last moments that I had with students was a celebration of the progress they have made on their 40 Book Challenge.  As they were leaving, I invited them to take a book so that they could continue working toward their goals.  The response?  “Just ONE?”  As you can see from the picture, these students left with plenty to read. This is something else I will celebrate-  knowing that I have continuously put books in kids’ hands and hopefully inspired them to reach their reading goals.
IMG_5211I was also reminded of the influence we have as parents who model a love for reading. Today, for a class gift, I had to ask my eight year old son for a bit of advice that he would give his teacher who is expecting her first baby this month. He was on his way to practice, so I asked my husband to text me with his response. (Please excuse the poor grammar.  This is how we text!)

IMG_5262And so this is how I know that my legacy includes inspiring a love of reading. I see tracks of influence on the kids that I teach, the kids that are taught by teachers that I work with, and in my own children. Truly…something to celebrate.

CELEBRATE This Week: LIJoin the celebration every week on Ruth Ayres’ blog here.

Tips & Tools for Helping Students Set Reading Goals


At the beginning of every school year, teachers around the world all have a common goal: to know their students as readers. They are conferring, listening, surveying, interviewing, etc. to get a sense of student interest and ability.  We all know that in order to get better at reading, students have to spend time reading.  Kylene takes it a step further in her Tweet from September 1, 2014: “More reading helps create better readers. More choice helps create passionate readers, Let’s create both.”  Easier said than done!  How do we put this theory into practice? Below are some tips and tools to help you help kids become more passionate about reading.

Tip: Find out as much as you can about your students as readers. One of the most worrisome situations is when kids have books in the home but don’t read them.  It is one thing to avoid reading because you feel you can’t do it, but it is another to have access but choose not to.  My students have reported that they have hundreds of books at home but are reading in the single digits over summer break and even during an entire year. This is a 911 situation!

Tool: Reading Surveys- Look for a survey that includes the estimated number of books in the home as well as the number of books students read over the summer and the number of books read last year. Shannon Clark has an excellent survey here that is based on the work of Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell. I know that my work is cut out for me when my students come from a literacy rich environment but aren’t interested in engaging in reading.

Tip: Help readers set goals.  I’m not talking about reading for incentives and prizes.  I’m talking about the real type of goal-setting.  The type that you can find adults engaged in on Goodreads, Twitter, or in the blogging community.  When kids receive rewards for reading, we are sending the wrong message.  Reading is its own reward.  Celebrate by offering more reading time and providing kids with books of interest.

Tool: The 40 Book Challenge- Using Donalyn Miller’s ideas to set an expectation for reading in your classroom can help inspire and motivate students to read. However, it’s not about the number!  I have been working on my #MustReadin2015 list and have been getting stuck on “how many…” Donalyn reminds us that it’s not about the number and certainly not a competition.  If you are skimming over this section, thinking, “yeah, yeah, I already do this,” STOP and go directly to The 40 Book Challenge Revisited. If we were giving out award for the top blog post of 2014, this cautionary post by Donalyn would get my vote. Here is an excerpt:

“The 40 Book Challenge is a personal challenge for each student, not a contest or competition between students or classes. In every competition or contest there are winners and losers. Why would we communicate to our students that they are reading losers? For some students, reading 40 books is an impossible leap from where they start as readers, and for others, it’s not a challenge at all.” Donalyn Miller, 2014

Tip: Confer with all students regularly. A common concern of teachers is effectively managing independent reading.  They are worried that kids are reading books that they haven’t read.  They are at a loss for what to say and do during reading conferences. We need to reframe this thinking.  It can be an advantage to confer with a child about a book that you, the teacher, haven’t read. Just as we teach the writer, not the writing when conferring in writing workshop, we need to teach the reader, not the reading when conferring with kids about books.

Tool: Readers Front and Center by Dorothy Barnhouse– This book changed my thinking about conferring with kids. Dorothy explains the role of the teacher, the student, and the book when she states, “Conduct research conferences. Our job is to get to know how our students think as they read. Books are our indispensible partners in this work.” (Closely Reading Our Students, 2014)  Dorothy has taught me to focus on the reader’s thinking and what they are working on as readers. We should not be quizzing them to uncover the plot or elicit a summary. We should follow their line of thinking to help them apply strategies as they develop interpretation of text.

When we understand how students are operating as readers: their reading habits, their reading stamina, and their application of reading strategy, we can better help them set goals and select books that match their interest and purpose for reading.

My final tip is to walk the walk. Set reading goals for yourself. My students set goals for reading over winter break, which included the books pictured below.  A tool that can help you set your reading goals is Carrie Gelson’s #mustreadin2015. The rules are simple; list the books that you will commit to reading in 2015.  It is a personal challenge.  There are no incentives.  It is not a competition.  It’s just the environment we want for our students as well.

How are you helping kids become passionate about reading? What kinds of books are you recommending for your students? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments. If you have tips, tools, or book recommendations, please share. The Book is in your Court…




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