Saturday, September 9, 2017

I Jumped In.

Hey, y'all!  
Happy Back-to-School time.  It's my favorite time of the year.  My kiddos and I are settled in.  We have figured each other out, and now we are pretty much sailing smoothly.   We still stop and try again a few times a week to get routines down, but that's nothing compared to those first few days.  My room is now a mess of anchor charts, student work, and little bodies.  The air is starting to get a little crisp and a little cooler.  Some of the trees in my yard are starting to show hints of yellow in their leaves.  It's a magical time.

I wanted to jump on and do a quick update of my reader's workshop.  I talked up starting reader's workshop this summer, and I did a lot of research.  I read Donalyn Miller's books, The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.  I also thumbed through an old copy of Revisiting the Reading Workshop.  I used my graduate school's library to find more articles and books.  I printed page after page, made notes in Adobe, and discussed things online with others.  I also pored over my school's new curriculum, Being a Reader.  I gathered up all the sticky notes, highliters, colorful pens, and notebooks I could find...and I made my game plan.   

On the first day of school, I made a promise to my kids.  We will read.  We will read every day.  Yes, you will read those books in my class library.  Yes, I will read to you.  We will read.

On the second day, I let them explore them my class library.  I let them lay on the bean bags.  I let them move the pillows around, and I let them dig through the baskets of books.  Now, let me tell you, friends.  I am OCD.  I actually am.  Everything has an order.  Most of the time, that order doesn't make sense to anyone but me, but there is an order.  I've always felt so much anxiety over letting my kids just run wild in the library.  (Okay, okay, they don't actually run wild, but you get the picture.)  I was scared to let go.  I was scared to give up control.  I was scared to say, "Yes, you can read that book (even though it isn't on your reading level)"  

So, after letting them explore it for a short, short amount of time, I trained them on how to use it.  We talked about the importance of taking care of books, and I explained how important books are to me.  Books are my very favorite things, and I would pick up a book, model how to hold it, and talk about how I loved it when I was a little girl.  (Which, by the way, my kids are astounded about.  "You were little once, too?!")  When we had extra minutes in the day, I picked up books from the library and read them aloud, adding those stories to their mental filing cabinets of books they can retell during independent reading time.  I told them every day how much I love to read and how important books are to me.  

That second week of school, something magic happened.  We had a week of building stamina.  After that initial exploration of the library, they all wanted to read there.  I told them that we add those comfy, cozy spots as soon as I felt like they could stay on task, and they rose to the challenge.  The first day they reached ten minutes of independent reading, we broke out the comfy, cozy spots.  They spread out around the room, laying on pillows, sitting on stability balls, stretched on rugs, and lounging in bean bags with their tool boxes.  And y'all.  They read.  My babies that can't even sound out CVC words just yet were retelling stories to themselves, whispering the dialogue in the voices I had used while reading.  

 I hate to sound corny, but I almost cried.  There were my babies.  There were my babies of parents who had told me they struggled with reading in kindergarten and hated it now enjoying their books.  It's magic.  Refer back to my first post about the magic of books.  

After that day, I began to lay down on the floor with them, sharing bean bags with them and stretching out on the floor.  We read together, them sharing their favorite parts of books and me helping them conquer those words that have phonics rules we haven't covered yet.  

Last week, when we were creating our class reward jar (we choose a reward each week if we win the scoreboard game with WBT), I had at least five suggestions for extra reading time.  That's it, y'all.  That's the fire.  We've ignited it in room 3, and I plan to keep it burning.

I also incorporated home "book bags" last week.  I stuffed gallon bags full of books, and I sent those books home with each child.  They have a folder with a reading log and a sheet full of example questions.  My families are contacting me daily asking for new books.  That's the fire. It has spread from my classroom to their homes.  

To answer some burning questions I'm sure you have, I will say, "Yes".  Yes, I will incorporate books on their independent reading level.  My students have five books in their tool boxes plus a library book from our school library.  We start small group guided reading next week, which will tell me a bit more about what my students can and can't do.  We will start book shopping in the mornings before school starts (expect a post when I start that), and I will help them choose just right books.  They won't be reading books that are too hard all year.  

Yes, I will lose some of the books I send home.  That was a hard pill to swallow.  I am a collector of books.  What's the point in buying them, though, if I don't share them with my kids?  I will just have to lose some, and that's okay.  I'll be okay.  (Yes, I repeat that each time I send the books home.)

Yes, I count my kids looking at pictures and retelling the stories as independent reading.  Reading a book is making meaning.  If my students can look at the pictures in a book or retell the story and comprehend it on some level, then they are making meaning and making connections.  That's what I want.  We will worry about the "nitty gritty" of building decoding skills, vocabulary, and fluency at my small group table.  

I jumped in.  I jumped in when I was scared.  I jumped in wondering how this would go.  I jumped in thinking that my first graders might not handle it well, and I knew that I might have to regroup.  I jumped in knowing it was going to take a lot of kid training, kid watching, and patience.  I jumped in knowing all the anchor charts in the world won't teach my kids to love reading like I do.  I jumped in, though.  Now, we read every day, and we like it.  

A parent wrote me a note last week stating how much she loves the new reading program.  That speaks volumes.  That's the fire.

Light it.  Make those kids #happyreading.  

Love to all of you during this crazy time of year!    

Monday, June 12, 2017

Building Your Classroom Library

One of the questions I see asked most often on educational forums and blogs is the following:  How can I stock my classroom library?  There are a ton of tips and tricks out there, but I have compiled a few for you here.  

Many of you know by now that I am on a journey to start reader's workshop in my classroom.  To support a reader's workshop, you have to support reading.  And to support reading? You have to have books!  You know the drill.

So, how do you build your library?  

1.  Take advantage of free book programs.

The Brown Bag Teacher recently wrote a blog post getting free books for her classroom library.  If you live near a Half Price Books store, be sure to check out her blog post.

This program is not the only program that offers free books for classrooms.  Check out First Book, a nonprofit organization that provides books to different organizations serving students from birth to age eighteen.  

You can also start a project on Donors Choose.  This website matches teachers with various donors that contribute money to classroom projects.  The projects allow you to choose the exact books and resources you desire for your classroom.  I've used Donors Choose in the past to receive stability balls as a flexible seating option.  Starting a project is simple and painless!

If you serve in a low-income school, check out Kids Need to Read.  The link will take you directly to the application page, which details the requirements to receive a donation.  

Also, a quick Google search of "free books for the classroom" or "literacy grants for classrooms" will turn up all sorts of ideas.  

2.  Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Okay, maybe don't actually steal... but, beg and borrow all you want!  I've been extremely lucky throughout my teaching career.  I've moved into four different classrooms in the past four years, and each year, the teacher moving out of the classroom left a ton of great books behind.  These teachers were moving to different schools (or becoming the district's new dyslexia therapist).  Ask and ye shall receive.  Mention that you would appreciate them leaving any books they don't need behind, and chances are, they will.  

Does your school require you to pack classrooms away at the end of each school year?  Does your hallway become a gold mine or treasure trove of gently used classroom materials?  Don't be afraid to mention that you are looking for books, and don't be afraid to dig through those treasure piles.  I've come across quite a few books in this way.  

Also, put it out there into the universe.  Post it on your Facebook wall, pester your parents, and remind your neighbors (who are now cleaning out their attic).  Teachers need books, and most of the time, people will understand.  

3.  Start where you are.  Use what you have.

Just about every commercially made basal program or reading curriculum comes with leveled readers.  Are you pulling these each week to use during guided reading?  Great!  Put the ones you aren't using in your classroom library.  Afraid your students will read it before they come to your table?  Don't be.  Repeated readings aid fluency.  Let those babies read!  

Did your school recently adopt a new program?  Remember the previously mentioned leveled readers?  Save them from the old program to stock your library.  They may not be the classics you remember as a child, but your students will benefit from the wide reading that comes with a well-stocked classroom library.  

It should also be mentioned that these books are usually already labeled with reading levels, making it easy to set up leveled book shopping (which we will talk about in a later post).

4.  Online book programs

This one isn't free or even necessarily cheap, but I am including it in the list because it is awesome.  Reading A-Z allows teachers to print leveled books to use during guided reading or in classroom libraries.  If you need to be convinced, sign up for the free trial. You'll be glad you did.  

5.  Thrift Books

I recently discovered Thrift Books, and I wish I had known about it five years ago.  There was many a mad dash to a bigger town in college to find books I needed to go with student teaching lessons.  Thrift Books would have solved that problem.  This website is an online thrift store for books.  I tried to look up just about every book I could think of for different thematic units throughout the year, and all but one of the searches turned up what I was looking for.

The best part?  Most of the children's books are less than five dollars, and if you spend more than ten dollars, the shipping is free.

(And side note, the site is also great for ordering the latest Liane Moriarty books for yourself.  Just saying.  Teaching little humans is daunting.  Get yourself a good book or two, and sit in your favorite chair with a Diet Coke.)

6.  Thrift stores, thrift stores, thrift stores.

Thrift stores, y'all. THRIFT.  STORES.  I wish someone had told me to hit up the local thrift store to find books for my class library when I first started teaching.  This idea came from searching for my own books in thrift stores.  I love digging through the shelves in thrift stores to find hidden gems.  A good 85% of my Dr. Seuss collection came from thrift stores.  

Not every thrift store is created equally.  Trust me.  Some thrift stores will allow you to walk away with a trunk-load of books.  Others will have you dousing yourself in Germ-x and heading to the nearest Barnes and Noble.  

I live in a small town in Mississippi.  My favorite thrift stores around here are City Thrift in Tupelo, Mississippi and the Goodwill Bookstore in Southhaven, Mississippi.  The Goodwill Bookstore will blow you away.  Make the trip.  

You may have to dig around, but I guarantee you will discover books you can use.  Many of these books are in excellent condition.  I have discovered books containing stamps from their previous classroom library homes.  Doesn't it make you feel warm and fuzzy to give those books a new home in your classroom library?  

A word to the wise:  Go through your books before purchasing. It is a huge disappointment to come across books that make your teacher heart swell with excitement...only to discover they are missing pages or have scribbled pages.  These disasters don't happen often, but beware, they do happen.  

Most thrift stores offer discount days throughout the week for different types of price tags, and some even offer discounts for students or teachers.  Just ask!

7.  Use discounts when you can

Barnes and Noble offers a 20% discount for educators.  Just go to your local store and ask to enroll in the educator program.  Voila!  20% off your future Junie B. purchases! 

I have actually found books at Micheal's, too.  They are few and far between, but I love the ones I have found.  They were part of some special book drive the store was doing, but I was able to use my 15% teacher's discount to purchase them.  

8.  Take care of the books you have.

This should be self-explanatory, but train your littles to take care of their books (i.e. your books).  Create a book hospital in your library, and train your students to place books with torn pages or broken spines in the hospital.  Choose a day each week to check the hospital, and bandage up your books with tape.  

It also never hurts to hold a class discussion about how to handle books.  Talk about what it means to take care of books, and create a culture of careful hands in your classroom.  

I hope this helps you on your journey to create (or build) your classroom library.  Once you have the books, we will talk about how to set it all up and invite your munckins to read, read, read!  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why Not Now? (and Lighting the Fire)

Hey, y'all!
Welcome to a little dream of mine called "Lifetime of Literacy".

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read.  I love everything about books.  The way they smell.  They way they sound when you flip pages.  The way they feel in my hands.  I remember vividly starting kindergarten with my Pocahontas t-shirt and matching purple jelly shoes with the sole purpose of learning how to read.  In my mind, reading was all I would need to be successful.  

I also distinctly remember my mom reading to me.  Not just whole books but also notes we wrote together.  She would write something and read it to me, and I would, in turn, write it and read it back to her.  I also can't tell you the number of hours I have witnessed my own mother reading book, after book, after book.  It was almost a given that I would learn to love it. 

Then, in fifth grade, I read about racial inequality among friends and I realized that books could make me care about things.  Books could give me opinions.  Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me all about life on the prairie.  Harper Lee taught me to be kind to everyone. Jay Gatsby taught me to have hope under the most dreary circumstances.  Harry Potter taught me that magic exists.  John Green made me cry (over and over).  

Now, I often don't have time to read.  When I do, however, I still get lost in books and can't put them down.  That's why I often don't start them if I know it will be a few days before I can pick them up again.  I also can't read in bed for this reason.  I'll keep the mister up all night.  But then again... There is something so soothing about opening up a good book on a rainy day, snuggled with my fur baby and sipping coffee.  I can't not make time for it when I have time to spare.  

That's me, though.  I am under no illusion that the entire universe loves to read as much as I do.  To me, that's a darn shame.  There is magic in books.  

Try to imagine for a moment what it was like to be a six-, seven-, or eight-year-old.  Try to imagine a classroom, lit by the soft glow of lamps or string lights, and a teacher with wire-rimmed glasses reading a story that completely entrances you.  How do you feel?  Relaxed?  Happy?  Can you picture the story in your mind?  What if I told you the teacher is reading the story with different accents, pitches, and dramatic pauses?  Can you imagine it?  

Now, imagine that same teacher is forcing you to read the book she was just reading aloud.  You have to read it, stumbling upon letters, sounds, and digraphs with which you may or may not be familiar, with other children staring at you as you slowly die your slow death from this book?  Now, how do you feel about reading?  You hate it, don't you?  It isn't useful to you, and it made you feel stupid.

This, friends, is the rub.  One bad experience with reading, and a child's entire opinion of the act is shifted and tainted for the rest of his school experience unless, somewhere, along the way, a teacher cares enough to change it.  

If you are a teacher, how often do you see your own students scooting toward you on the rug, begging to see pictures again?  How often do they ask you to read their favorite stories ("Please, Mrs. Elkins, read Knufflebunny one more time!")?  

The read-aloud magic is always there.  Always.

However, when you tell your students, "Okay, boys and girls, now I want you to read to me," they look at you as if you have promptly told them you'll be taking away recess for the rest of the year.  

Our soul job, as educators, is not to teach kids what to learn.  It's to make kids want to learn.  

By expecting our children to automatically love reading on their own, we are doing them a huge disservice.  For a little background research, I highly suggest reading up on the Matthew effects of reading.  Or, if you're feeling really froggy, read through Hart and Risley's book, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.  All children are not created or prepared for school equally.  Jane may have parents that talk to her and read to her every single day.  Johnny may see his mom for five minutes before she heads to one of three jobs.  Ann may love to read and devour anything you put in front of her.  Luke may only know seven sounds when he enters first grade.  

So, friends, how do we fight the good fight without committing reading homicide in the minds of our kids?  

Pay attention.  

This blog is going to be all about it.  

I am blessed/cursed/privileged/honored to work in a Title I school.  I am surrounded, day in and day out, with some of the most inspiring, fabulous teachers and some of the most devoted, fabulous kids.  The cursed part?  These babies often hate reading.  

So, why now, in the middle of graduate school am I choosing to start Lifetime of Literacy (LoL for short)?  Well, why not now?  I am currently working on a literacy degree, and it has opened my eyes and heart to the world around me.  It has shown me that literacy comes from a place in your heart, not in a book.  

That's cheesy, I know.

Ron Clark told me, though, that I have to sell whatever it is I'm teaching.  Literacy, and reading, is no different.  You better sell it like you need the money to keep your lights on. 

My vision for LoL was originally to reach children all over the world.  I am not, however, unrealistic.  I've no doubt that my tiny blog will not make it to the darkest, most illiterate parts of the world.  

So, the vision changed.  Now, the vision can be simply put into three words: Light the fire. My hope is this:  Through pouring my heart, soul, and passion into making myself a better literacy teacher and sharing that with the world, I will light a fire.  One tiny spark will trickle down' on a teacher's grass somewhere, and she'll think, "Hey!  Look at that!  A literacy fire!", and then she'll send out sparks of her own.  

My mission is to teach my students to want to read.  It's also to show you how I'm going to do it.  

I'm no expert.  I'm a twenty-something year old teacher in my fifth year that learns a little more each day about the kind of teacher I want to be.  I'm not here to tell you what to do or how to run your classroom.  That would be offensive.  I'm here to show you what does and does not work for my own little class of first graders in a Title I school in small town Mississippi.  

I hope you learn and grow along with me on this journey.

PS:  Stay tuned for big things, such as a TpT store with reading resources, an Instagram page to keep up with the latest from LoL, and a YouTube page to give you the rundown on how I use the resources!