Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Reading As A Love Story!

One of the many things that I thought about this past summer was teaching! I was wondering why are we leaving so many children of color behind? Why are so many children reading below grade level? I spent a lot of time thinking about what could I do differently to be more inclusive of all students, even those who are many grade levels behind.

One of my dear friends talked to me about allowing students to read books on their grade level, and I completely rejected that idea; I just could not understand how that would work in a classroom. She went on to say that they could read on their level and be taught reading skills using whatever book they were reading. You just don’t know how my mind could not wrap around this idea, and I rejected the idea completely. However, I thought about what she said for a long time after the conversation ended.

For the past two years, I have been doing a unit the last quarter of the year where I allowed students to read any book under the sun and do presentations where they talked about the theme, literary devices etc. I can not even explain how incredibly awesome these units were for the students and I, but I still could not wrap my mind around doing this for the entire year.

After much thought, I found a blog by a lady named Dr. Kim Parker, who lives in Boston, and in one of her blog post, she talked about giving children choice. I sent her a random message and asked her to call me, and she did. She told me about how giving children choice has changed her teaching for the best, and she gave me titles of a few books that I should read, one being The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. I read that book and a few others, and the rest is history.

Finally met Dr. Kim at the National Council of Teachers
of English Conference in Atlanta

In The Book Whispers, Donalyn talked about teachers taking their love for literature to the classroom. I thought, I definitely could do a better job with that and decided to give this idea a try.

I decided to ask, not thinking it was possible, to have round tables in my classroom instead of desk, because based on another book that I read over the summer, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond Smith, many people of color are communal and thrive when we work together, and I wanted to try this in my classroom. Well, I am fortunate to work in a school where the very next day after I asked, I had tables in my classroom.

I started the year off by talking about books and the importance of reading every single day. If you did not know, there are book trailers, much like movie trailers, for just about every book under the sun. I have been showing tons of books trailers. I take them to the school's library often for the librarians to give books talks, and we even took a walking trip to the public library and everyone got library cards, and My People, the rest is history.

The students are reading, reading reading....This is so much more enjoyable for them and me than reading one book at a time, trying to keep the whole class together, completing questions at the end of each chapter, and literally begging students to read books that I love and many did not care to read.

Instead of reading four books a school year that were selected by me, I have challenged them and myself to read between 10 and 40 books between September and June, and they are well on their way to achieving their reading goals that was set by them. For my reluctant readers, I gave suggestions such as The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, and I spent a lot of time with students who had a harder time than others finding books that they wanted to read.

Every single day, we talk about books with love. I do mini-lessons where we analyze passages from the books that they are reading, and we talk about writing styles, writing techniques, and literary devices etc; I am teaching them to fall in love with words.

Many are excited to be the celebrity reader of the day where they talk about the book that they are reading with the class, take a picture with me, the principal tweets the picture, and the picture appears on the front page of the school’s website.

Now, many of my students are minority students, English as a Second Language students, have Individualized Educational Plans, are below grade level, and they are reading and reading and reading. My people, I realized that the students were not reading because they did not like to read; they were not reading because they did not like the books that I selected.

Now, I know there are people out there who think that they must read the classics: Catcher in the Rye, all of Shakespeare, Walden, Huckleberry Finn, BUT who said that these books, which are not typically inclusive of a whole lot of people, are the books that all students should read. We MUST rethink teaching and what we teach if we want full inclusion in the classroom.

My people, reading with the students and reading books that they love has caused me to fall madly in love with books, and teaching, and reading, and helping students to fall in love with reading all over again....

We can’t continue to do the same things over and over and expect different outcomes; schools must change with the times....

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016

It’s Christmas time again, and many of you may still be looking for that perfect Christmas gift to give to family, friends, teachers.... I am asking you to consider the gift of reading that can be inexpensive and have a lasting impact. 

This year, 2016, I have read thirty-seven books so far, and I am still reading.... If you are still looking for a gift idea, here is a list of the top ten books that I read this year. Now, I normally write a blog for every single book that I read, but I’ve been slipping. So, some of the books may have links to blogs about them and some of them may not. 

Here are ten of my favorite books of 2016:

#10 In Darkness by Nick Lake! I just loved how this book is a fictional story, set in Haiti, that goes back and forth between the Haitian earthquake of 2010 to some of Haiti’s greatest history which includes the great Toussaint L’Ouverture. There is so much to learn about Haiti from reading this book. Read the blog about it here.

#09 The Crossover by Kwame Alexander! This book is written in verse, and it is such a delight. I share it with students who have not found a book that they love yet. Read the blog about it here

#08 Brown Girl Dream by Jacqueline Woodson! I just love how Jacqueline tells the story of her coming of age and is able to intermingle her story with real life history. This book, like The Crossover, can also be read in one sitting, and it will give a person tons to think about and will also make a person’s heart happy. Read the blog about it here.

#07 The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller! This is a very important book that basically changed everything that I thought about teaching literature. This book helped me to fall madly in love all over again with teaching, literature, and children. Even if you are not a teacher, I think that you will enjoy this book. Read the blog about it here.

#06 Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond! This book is engaging, and just like The Book Whisperer, it made me rethink the way that I teach. If you want to understand how to teach children of color, READ THIS BOOK. Read the blog about it here.

#05 Life is Short by Wide by J. California Cooper! J. California Cooper is a master storyteller. The characters in this book will be with you long after you finish. I just love the love and care in which J. California Cooper writes about Black people. No blog for this one.

#04 As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds! This book caused me to laugh out loud. Being from the South, I could identify with these two African American boys from Brooklyn who had to spend a month in the backwoods of Virginia with their grandparents. DELIGHTFUL. No blog for this one. 

#03 Democracy in Black by Eddie Glaude Jr.! If you need a brief, engaging overview of systematic racism in this country, then this is the book for you. Read the blog about it here.

#02 The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore! This book has been out for awhile, and it took me awhile to get to it, but I am so happy that I did. This book is a great look at what can happen in America based on who you are born to and where you are born. Read the blog about it here.

#01 The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander! After reading this book, I will never look at an incarcerated or ex-incarcerated person the same. This is a book that I wish was not true, but I know that it is! Mass incarceration is real and intentional, My People. No blog for this one.

I am wishing every last one of you A MERRY CHRISTMAS and many years of good reading.

My reading list from 2015!
My reading list from 2014!
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