Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Love: Now's the Time

Book Love Book Club screen shot from Facebook

Where I began my reading
about growing readers and
reading workshop.
If you are not following the discussion of Penny Kittle's Book Love, stop reading this blog right now. Go to Facebook and join the Book Love Book Club. There more than 170 teachers, teachers from nearly every state in the nation, sharing their thinking about growing readers and  Kittle's book. It is as if  the changed we worked for during the It's Never Too Late  and Reading for Life literacy institutes has come to life: amazing.

Today's discussion of chapter three will focus on setting goals and encouraging growth. The chapter reminded me of a piece from a book I bought off the Barnes and Noble bargain table to use as a rip-up book for collage. The book is Now Is the Time: 170 Ways to Seize the Moment and the piece follows:

Now is the time...
to be curious 
Knowledge won't find us, we must find it.
Every day is a chance to learn something new.
Cast your net wide,
open your mind to the excitement of learning.
curiosity keeps us young at heart and mind.
When we stop learning, we stop living (124). 
Now is the time to be curious and to learn, to read and to discuss, to share and to enjoy; now is the time in our teaching lives to feed and sustain our teaching souls. When we stop learning as  teachers, we stop living passionate lives in our classrooms. Learning can be simple, like the tweaking we do to our instructional routines or curriculum. Last year, Linda Rief talked with me about how every year is eye-opening as she tweaks something in her practice to bring students closer and closer to where she wants them to be as readers and writers. Simple changes can yield instructional elegance.

That's what I found this morning in chapter three of Kittle's Book Love. She describes how she sets reading goals with students. Weekly goals are about pages read first, hours or time second. Students calculate their reading rate based on a ten-minute comfortable in-class read. Then they extrapolate out to hourly, daily and weekly page rates--their goals come from these calculations and of course, everyone is different. A simple switch flipped in my teacher brain. Ah ha. Brilliant.

Books that continue
to light the way to creating
life-long readers
Students in my English classroom set goals, but perhaps we have built castles on air as we set them. I used to tell students their goal (or my goal for them). I laid clear my expectations: 25 books a year. I wrote a bit about it here. I used to say that if students in New York and California could be expected to read that much each year (by their standards years ago) then we certainly could do that too. What I didn't tell students was that the 25 book standard, of which I learned about from some keynote or another, was actually a standard for fifth grade readers.

Fifth graders read much differently than ninth, eleventh or twelfth graders. Still, each year that I stuck to that spiel, I had students meet and exceed my expectations. The range was wide though with the lowest book count hovering near double digits. I don't use the 25 book expectation anymore. I tweaked that idea after reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and again after spending much of my spring break in Linda Rief's classroom.  Miller helped me better individualize reading goals by book count and by genre. Rief helped me refocus on students.  Kittle will push me to make the entire student-centered process more concrete. Every book I read pushes my practice and shapes what I think and do with readers in my room.

Kittle's  approach to setting reading goals using data quickly gathered makes sense and will be meaningful for my own students. Teaching (and learning) is change-laden. We tweak. We shift. We change. Our instruction, our beliefs, our ideas. All sorts of things evolve and change in our classrooms--I love that.

Passion rekindled.

I can't wait to start the new year with the readers in my room!


  1. Typically when I teach a novel, I give the students a reading schedule. I taught "Frankenstein" right before break and used the formula to have students assess their reading rate for the Shelley's gothic romance. I only gave kids the date for the in-class essay, which I designed so that they didn't have to be finished w/ the book since we only had two weeks. Those who didn't finish prior to break get the vacation to complete the reading. I didn't give any reading quizzes or a test. We simply read the book through several different critical lenses and talked about it via open mic, chart chats, etc.

    1. I find myself not teaching as many whole-class novels as I once did. Though when I do, we do something similar with open ended piece, discussion and a flexible reading schedule.

  2. "Fifth graders read much differently than ninth, eleventh or twelfth graders." -- Yes. This is what I'm trying to learn about from the Book Love discussion.

    How can high school teachers build on what happened before, or how we can pull students from the wreckage, whichever the case may be? Similarly, how can middle grade and elementary teachers do what they need to do to foster reading lives while simultaneously laying the groundwork for more sophisticated reading in high school?

    Winter break is providing a time; Facebook is providing a place; and we're all providing the professional development. Isn't that a great thing?


    1. Yes, that is a great thing, Gary. I think Penny does a great job of showing how we can build on students' reading histories: talk to kids. Interview them. Use surveys. Build that relationship and then move the reading forward.

    2. And I love that this discussion continues on throughout the internet world. I'm gaining so much from the FB discussion, other people's blogs and Twitter. I can't wait to get back to school!

  3. What has always bothered me is that elementary students seem to read so much and yet so many freshman enter high school not doing so. I have watched my friends' children and now my own as elementary readers. Some of the reading is due to the demands of our much-hated AR work. (AR gets in the way of my 3rd grader's reading!) There is no AR test on The Walking Dead Compendium that she has almost finished. She believes there are too many curse words for it to be AR-material. But perhaps she has much more down-time to read??? I am not sure what happens in middle school as she is not there yet.
    But goals are important to any life and attainable goals are the key!

    1. Attainable is key: in the classroom and as we've learned at camp. We slew(?), slayed, decimated, destroyed, imprisoned (choose your word) that dragon. It got in the way at first (early, first grade) but now (in middle school) Collin has been able to read through and around it as I imagine your daughter will too. It's a game or a farce or a way some justify reading. AR is not accountability. As Collin showed last quarter when he nearly doubled his points by taking 4 AR tests on the last day of the quarter to end with 196 points (his goal was set at 80).