Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader

Becoming Leaders of Readers

7 Comments

My friend and colleague @directoramy and I often discuss the work we are doing to support our district’s literacy initiative and our curriculum alignment to the Common Core.  In fact, it is how we spend most of our time together these days.  Last week, our conversation took an interesting turn, as they often do, and we found ourself discussing children’s literature and wondering how many teachers in our schools are up to date on the recently published titles… we weren’t sure of the answer to that question.  California has traditionally been a very textbook-driven state.  With the added layers of many of our schools participating in the Reading First Initiative and being identified as Program Improvement under NCLB, the textbook-driven focus intensified.  In fact, one of the requirements in the State of California when a school/district is identified as a PI school is to “implement the core (textbooks) with fidelity”.  Teachers have received so many messages that this is what they need to do that it is what we have seen in classrooms for years.  We have done a lot of work in our system recently to focus on engaging students as readers with rich non-fiction text.  As a result, we have seen some highly engaging lessons focused on making meaning and building comprehension of great informational text, but we started to question…What about great literature?  When do our students get to experience that?

MH900401070The conversation left me wondering… how do we turn students on to great literature if we are not familiar with it ourselves?  How do we know what books to recommend to our students that align with their interests if we haven ‘t read widely and engaged with the books that our children might love?  One of the things I love about my daughter’s current 4th grade teacher is how well she can engage with Ashlyn as a reader.  She has been able to recommend so many books to my daughter because she knows who Ashlyn is and what she likes, and Ashlyn is gobbling up the books!  In fact, it is her teacher’s passion for literature and her vast experience with engaging children’s and young adult books that have really turned my daughter on to fiction; until this year she mostly read non-fiction texts.

When I was a middle school English teacher, I read so many pieces of great young adult literature.  When my children were younger, we read wonderful picture books and chapter books together, but as they have become proficient readers themselves, they have gone off on their own reading adventures, and I have left this genre behind.  My kids have actually been trying to convince me for some time to read some of their favorites (I did succumb to the Hunger Games series), but other than that I haven’t made the time.  That changed this weekend!  Amy and I made a commitment to read more children’s and young adult literature after our conversation, and I picked up my first book!

Inspired by my daughter and a fabulous 2nd grade teacher in Canada, @carriegelson, I read the book Out of my Mind  by Sharon Draper.  I loved it!  Even more importantly, I loved the conversations I was able to have with my daughter about the book!  I also know Amy (who is also reading this one) and I will enjoy discussions about this title, and I know it is a book I can discuss and recommend to teachers.  Looking for additional recommendations, I turned to my PLN and have received many wonderful recommendations from two teachers passionate about children’s lit (you seriously need to check out their blogs!) @carriegelsonThere is a Book for That and @jkloczkoRoom 6 Bob Cat Blog .  Next on my list was The One and Only Ivan.  I finished it this morning (a nice thing about children’s books is that I can read them fairly quickly)!  Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and walked away with a great appreciation for the style of writing and the amazing voice the author was able to give to a gorilla! A bonus for me is that I now have a new book that I can recommend to Ashlyn – I KNOW she will love it!  At Carrie and Jennifer’s suggestion, I will tackle The False Prince next.

One of the things I appreciate about the Common Core is that we are asked to balance fiction and non-fiction reading; we are also asked to ensure that students are reading rich and complex texts.  I am certain that the intent is that we actually read great pieces of literature and not the condensed versions that are often watered down in textbooks.  We are asked to have our students think about books, talk about books, and write about books.  With all that is available to us on the internet, we are also so easily able to find other resources that connect to the text.  In a quick search today, I found interviews with the authors, video book trailers, discussion questions, book reviews, blogs and connections to great informational text pieces to support  both of the titles I read – I find this exciting, and I think others in our district will too!   I now want to think of ways that our system can begin to build our collective knowledge of great children’s literature beyond what we have in our textbooks.  I am certain that the excitement a few of us have about renewing our passion for great children’s and young adult books will quickly become contagious… after all, what educator doesn’t LOVE a good book!

If you are looking for a few good recommendations, the following resources are a great place to start (Thanks, Carrie!)

Top Ten Read Alouds for 6-10 year olds

2012 Favorites

My Picture Book 10 for 10 in 2012

Non-fiction Picture Book 10 for 10

7 thoughts on “Becoming Leaders of Readers

  1. Shelley, another post that spoke to me! I seem to just keep forwarding them on to myself and staff! I live that when I have read a book, it gives me authenticity with the students that I recommend it to. Abby is my YA Book Whisperer- she led me to Out if My Mind (makes you see special needs students in a whole new light) and One For the Murphy’s, Capture the Flag-to name few. Jack introduced me to The False Prince and the Runaway King, as well as I, Funny and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I find that I now switch back and forth between “their” books and mine, both fiction and professional. Having the rich conversations that we share over what we are reading during dinner has brought our family closer- and I know that we are truly instilling the love if reading in our kids. Thanks again for a great blog post!

    • Thank you, Leah! I appreciate your kind words and am happy to have the new book recs! I agree that reading what our children are reading is such a great way to stay close. I had amazing conversations with my son about The Hunger Games series – LOVED! I am also enjoying my conversations with Ashlyn about Out of my Mind. She has also recently read Hatchet and other Garl Paulsen books (which were old favorites of mine) and I have loved that she has done so. She lso highly recommends Firegirl which I will be reading soon. Thanks also for commenting on her blog – it meant a lot to both of us!

  2. My mom told me I should read your blog and she was right- it was really good! You might like Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind, Liar and Spy, 13 Treasures, See You AtHarry’s, The Tiger Risingand The Brilliant Fall if Gianna Z. A few classics that I live are Roll of Thunder, hear My Cry and The Great Gilly Hopkins. As you can see, I REALLY love books ! 😉

    • Thank you so much for the book recommendations! I am adding them to my list. It sounds like you an dmy daughter would have a lot in common… she is also a book lover! She recently shared with me that I would love “Firegirl”… I wonder if it is one you might like as well!

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  4. Shelley First of all, I think it is fantastic that you will be forming a new relationship with your children over books shared, discussed and enjoyed. Lots of wonderful just in that! But of course, in your role, you have the opportunity to make the love of reading and the sharing of that love contagious. So, about this, I am thrilled! Books have such power to connect us – in the stories they offer, the memories they conjure and the emotions they rally. I hope to continue our connections over books and thank you again for sharing so many of my favourite titles through links in this post! Happy Reading!

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