|FOR THE LOVE OF READING|
|FOR THE LOVE OF READING|
My early childhood was golden. Really. My parents created an idyllic outside space that I remember being purely golden. There were the flower gardens, the cherry tree, and a large vegetable garden. I remember a patch of mint and lilies of the valley. It was a beautiful yard where I imagined, played and created a million different worlds and adventures. I grew up with the growing things. My memories from that early time really are tinged with a golden light.
I yearn to create such a world for my children. Alas, my garden beds are not quite as impressive. I have all the right tools. But, I struggle a bit with finding my inner-gardener. I’m sure she’s there. (I worry that she’s a bit crowded by my family’s needs, the house that perpetually needs picked up, the job that tends to take over every extra minute, and every other little thing that seems more important than digging in the dirt).
But growing things is important. I am convinced. So I keep planting and try not to notice that the weeds are taking over and the leaves look a little yellow. I peek at them sometimes from behind my book as I relax in the sun. I feel a bit guilty but, as usual, the books get my attention before the plants.
Right now I am reading a book entitled Opening Minds by Peter H. Johnston. His ideas have completely taken me in. There is so much to think about on every page. But, recently, one idea grabbed me and held on. He states, “… books are not merely to entertain or to teach kids to figure out words or even to learn things from. They are tools for growing minds”.
“Tools for growing minds”.
“Books are not merely to entertain.
Or to teach kids how to figure out words.
Or even to learn things from.
They are tools for growing minds”.
Johnston continues by stating that children need to discuss the ideas in the books that they read or hear read aloud. That children’s minds require opportunities for dialogue about text with their peers. And that these opportunities help their minds grow and change and develop into the minds of compassionate, insightful, adults. Therefore, he argues, we must use books as dialogic tools in classrooms and homes everywhere.
We must use books as tools.
If I don’t use my gardening tools, my garden will not flourish.
If we don’t use books as tools, children’s minds will not grow.
My gardening tools may sit unused a bit too often. My plants may grow weed-bound and yellowed. But the little minds in my house are still growing. And they are tended by the books that threaten to take over all the extra space.
We can all use books as tools to grow every child’s mind into a place tinged by golden light. Where ideas grow like vegetables and new insights bloom every single day.
We can do it. With so much joy and light.
We can do it together.
We all woke up today to snow, which isn’t unusual in Chicago. But all my kids know is that we celebrated the first day of spring a couple of days ago. “Nooo!” my son wailed as he looked out the window. My daughter just dove back under the covers. I agree with their sentiments. The snow needs to go.
Sometimes we get what we don’t expect. What we don’t want. But yelling no and hiding under the covers aren’t really options. (Well, not usually). Like a spring snow, sometimes we are ready to move on but Mother Nature has other plans.
As a parent and a teacher I have those spring snow kind of moments all of the time. I’m ready for spring and the kids still need the snow. I’m ready to move on and they need more time.
Even so, I tend to rush in and try to make everything go my way. But even shoveling like a mad woman is not going to change the fact that there is still snow coming down on this early spring day. I have to wait. And be still. And try to enjoy this moment.
Waiting is so hard. Waiting for the snow to leave is really hard. But the sun will shine and the snow will melt, all in its own time. Waiting is a part of being a parent and being a teacher. (By the way, parents, you are both).
So today, as I look out at the spring snow, I pledge to remember to wait. To be still and watch. To give my students and children the space and time they sometimes need. To make the work about what they need rather than what I want.
We can give children the space to do the work they need to do in their own time. We can support them and love them, get ready for what they need next and wait for them.
We can stop and notice the beauty of the moment. Where we are right now. Even in the middle of a spring snow.
There is joy in this moment. In all moments.
We can find it together.
Suzanne Hostrawser is a mother, a teacher, a lover of much warmer weather. She is available to work with you and your teachers to help them learn to use wait time to help students do the real work of becoming lifelong readers and writers. Contact her today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am lucky to be a part of a wonderful studio where I strengthen my body. It is very challenging work and to add to the challenge, a few times a year, they have “Challenge Month”. During this month you get to put a sticker on a chart to keep track of how many times you attend class (yes, stickers and charts happen in real life too).
In the beginning, Challenge Month went like this; you came to class , you got a sticker, the people with the most stickers won. Only the person a sticker on every single day would win a prize. Only the people who were able to come every day were challenged.
At that time, I was a traveling teacher. There were times when I literally could not come to class. So, I quickly gave up on Challenge Month. I was not challenged because there was not equal opportunity for me to be challenged.
It’s Challenge Month again but the rules have changed. This time, every sticker means I get a dollar off my next studio package. Even if I miss a day or two, the challenge is still available. (I feel empowered to save money!) And I’m not the only one. I notice that many more people are filling up their chart. We are all challenged equally. It’s worth the risk.
Challenge is a funny thing. We want to “challenge” our students. Cognitive rigor is a hot topic is schools today based on the new expectations set forward by the Common Core Standards. But what do students need in order to be challenged and not defeated?
To start, they need a level playing field. We cannot extend challenging work to only those who have been deemed “able” to be challenged. Challenge needs to be presented in a way that all students have access to the kind of work that creates cognitive rigor. All students.
You see, all students are capable of thinking in deep and challenging ways. We need to structure our classrooms so that every student has access to this kind of work. So, what does that look like when every student is appropriately challenged?
It looks like a classroom where many ability levels are represented. The class is a community of learners who trust one another and listen to one another and stay together throughout their day. They are engaged in learning and thinking and being challenged, together. It is a dialogic community where daily conversation is vital and all voices are valued. Students respect, and need, each other’s opinions and thoughts.
Text is at a variety of levels and the teacher is very aware of the point at which each of her students is challenged based on ongoing study of all kinds of classroom data. All students have opportunities to access and work with text at a variety of levels. There are opportunities for conversation about text that supersedes any text level.
There are opportunities to practice being challenged in small and whole groups. Students and teacher all work together to create opportunities for challenge at every turn. They take risks, and it’s hard, so they talk about it and work through it together. The teacher is a guide, a coach, a facilitator.
Her voice is not heard as often as her students’ voices.
Because she wants students to be the challenge. To own it.
Challenge isn’t exclusive, but inclusive. It’s a part of life.
If you walked into this classroom you would not be able to tell the struggling learner from any other learner. All of their voices would hold equal weight and they wouldn’t be kept from the challenge for any reason.
Challenge is a part of life. Taking risks is a part of challenge. But there needs to be equal opportunity for all students to access the challenge and feel empowered to meet it.
This is possible. All students can be challenged to think deeply and take risks as they learn. All teachers can create learning communities that work like this. And we can do it with joy.
We can do it together.
Suzanne Hostrawser is a passionate learner and knowledgeable literacy coach who wants to share her passion with you. She is available to provide specialized, job-embedded professional development opportunities for your teachers and leaders.
Contact her at email@example.com.
As a girl growing up in the 70s, sports weren’t necessarily a part of my life. I’m not saying that girls’ sports weren’t available, but it wasn’t like today. Now, almost every traditionally “boy” sport is available to girls in some capacity. But, back then, I just considered myself not right for sports.
So, I never grew up with any real context for the role of a coach. I mean, sure, I would occasionally see sports on TV (my dad was notorious for putting football on and falling asleep on the couch) and once I went to a Cub’s game with my jr. high school class.
Okay, so my experiences with sports were very, very limited. (It’s sort of embarrassing.)
But having a coach, or being a coach, in sports, typically has a very positive connotation. My husband’s father still works as a football coach, even in retirement. And my husband, Pete, remembers his coaches; mostly with fondness, but sometimes not. However, regardless of his opinion of the coaches in his life, he learned a great deal from all of these men.
There is a camaraderie around coaching in sports. There are slaps on the back and shouts of encouragement. There are speeches in locker rooms and one-on-one moments to encourage and teach and motivate. There is truth, sometimes frustration, and anger. But, often there is joy. There is always gratitude.
“Hey, coach,” an athlete might say after a game, “Thanks.” (cue the moment of teariness for the men watching, the quick eye rub to erase all evidence).
So, it is with some pause, that I call myself a coach. I am certainly not the “speech in locker room” kind of coach, but I have my moments. My game is literacy; reading, writing, thinking, all things language and learning.
However, when I take a moment and think deeply about the word “coach,” and how it is viewed in school settings, I must take an even longer pause.
Because, often, the role of literacy coach is not perceived with the same back-slapping camaraderie as a sports coach. Often backs are turned and doors are closed as the literacy coach walks down the hallway of the school.
Sometimes, I wish that someone would call out, “Hey Coach!”
They might say, “Hey, coach of reading! Of literacy! Let’s start working on this game right now. It’s the most important game of all. My players are ready to read. To write, and think and talk. To learn. What can you do it help all of us have our best game yet?”
Because the same moments that make coaching a sport so beneficial for everyone involved, can happen with teachers in their classrooms. The same spirit of collaboration, joy and gratitude should be a part of coaching an educator as they refine their practice and grow in reflection.
The big moments, the “speeches”, in professional development sessions can help build common language and start important conversations.
The “practices, the scrimmages”: the approximations in the classroom build engagement and a spirit of innovation and reflection. They start the process of experiencing small changes in instructional practices that ultimately benefit teachers and students in big ways.
The small moments, the one-on-one moments, of being frustrated, even angry, can ultimately building better teaching by encouraging us all to learn together. To trust one another. Allowing us to take chances and speak the truth.
Through coaching and teacher relationships, we can try on new teaching strategies together and then look to see how they impact student learning. We can work together to make the teaching and learning even better.
Coaching. Sports or literacy. It can change the way the game works for everyone involved.
Then comes the joy. The gratitude. The child, who wouldn’t read, couldn’t read, who now sits and reads and smiles and says, “Hey, teacher! Hey, coach! Thanks. ”
I know we can do it. Teachers and coaches can work collaboratively to all learn more, to be stronger teachers of all things literacy. We can do it, together.
I’m sitting here with that lump in my throat. You know it. When you want to cry but you’re trying not to. I think it’s a losing battle. The tears are getting closer and closer.
My son turned ten today. It’s such a wonderful blessing and he is a wonderful, wonderful child. I just gave him a giant good night hug. He didn’t even pull away. I could have stayed there for ten more years.
But he’s growing up. And I feel sad that so much time has already gone by. I thought I had so much more time. And now half of his childhood is gone.
Ten seemed like forever away. But now it’s here.
Ten is a pretty important number. A school year is ten months. A decade is ten years. And both always seem like so much time.
You think: I can wait to do that. I’ll get to it later.
But I’m here to tell you that ten goes by in a moment. And suddenly all of the waiting to do something turns into nothing actually done.
Have I been a good parent these past ten years? I can only hope and pray and keep watching.
And think about the next ten with an urgency I didn’t have before.
We need to approach every ten in our lives with just as much urgency. Ten minutes, ten hours, ten days, ten weeks, ten months in a classroom, in a child’s life, equal up to so much so very fast. There is not a minute to wait. We must not wait for another ten to go by. Not even ten seconds.
Do your best teaching now. Be the best parent you can be. Right now. Because you will blink and ten more will be gone.
Ten years just completely gone. And a tiny baby as tall as your shoulder.
Just like that.
We can all approach life and teaching with the urgency that will give all of our children the best chance to learn every day.
Make the next ten count.
Turn up the volume
Our house is full of books. Lots and lots of books. I admit, I have a problem. I develop relationships with my books and getting rid of them is like losing old friends. Instead I pack them away and stow them in closets. Yet, there are still enough of them that it seems as though they are in every corner of my children’s rooms.
In fact, voluminous would easily describe the pile of books that just fell over in my daughter’s room. That would be a nice way to describe it. No, volume of text is not a problem at my house.
But, text volume is an issue for a lot of students in our country. Or the lack of volume.
We need to turn up the volume, the amount, of reading in schools. We need to support programs that provide books for children who do not have access to them.
Richard Allington, one of my favorite literacy experts, speaks passionately about this issue. He states that students are struggling to read due to lack of access to text in many schools and communities. Children do not have voluminous piles of books in their homes or schools. They are not reading enough text, because, in many cases, it is simply not available.
But even in schools where there is an abundance of text, students are often not engaged in actually reading very often. I’ve observed many guided reading sessions where students are actually reading for just a few minutes. And, in order to become readers, students need to read. They need to read a lot. A whole lot.
Research shows that amount of reading is the very best indicator of whether or not a child will become a lifelong reader.
So, turn up the volume, my friends. Turn it way up.
It is possible to increase the volume of student reading in our classrooms. It is possible to provide books for children who do not have access.
We can create time and space for more independent reading and engage students in becoming people who love to read and have the stamina to read big, big books. So the reading never ends.
We can do it, together.
Check out these charities that work to increase the amount of books available in communities right around the corner from you:
Reach Out and Read
My children live life out loud. They do everything with a considerable amount of noise. Their play is narrated by pretend conversations, sound effects, exclamations. When friends join them, their play is a back and forth of pure loudness.
Childhood is the land of loud. The development of a child requires that they hear language and use it and revel in it. They need to experiment with sounds and volume. Their noise is learning out loud. I love to hear it, to encourage it, to engage it (sometimes, to my husband’s dismay).
Schools are full of the out loud living of kids. We try to contain it, but it bubbles out of the doors and windows.
So, the fact that some schools are discontinuing the practice of teachers reading aloud is a mystery to me. Particularly, removing the aloud reading of novels.
The excuse is always time. There’s not enough time to read a novel. “I don’t have time,” they say. But the real story is that it isn’t always a priority. And, why?
I cannot think of anything that builds capacity for more language, bigger language, sophisticated language, and rigorous language more than sharing a wonderful novel out loud. The positive learning outcomes of hearing the language of a challenging novel are numerous. But the other social- emotional outcomes are incredible too.
When a teacher reads out loud, her students want to do it too. It becomes pure fun. They emulate the inflections, the emotion. They see their teacher as a child again: someone who reads out loud, who creates voices, who makes sound effects, who loves to be out loud. Someone who thinks reading is really really fun. And, they start to love their teacher a little more and the relationship is forged in reading. And they want her to teach them to be a reader too.
Reading is, at its core, a social act. It requires someone to write and someone to read. It requires a relationship with the author, the reader, the thinker. And to bring that world to a child through out loud reading is pure magic.
But learning to read is not magic. In order to be a reader, a lifelong reader, a child must have early and continuous experiences with the language of books. Beautiful, amazing books. These experiences should continue throughout their childhood and even into adolescence. Children need to hear books they cannot read themselves read out loud so that they can use the schema of book language as they grow and become more sophisticated readers. And then they will aspire to read more sophisticated text because, at its core, it’s fun.
I urge you, all teachers, to fight for the right to read out loud. Make time. Read out loud while you laugh out loud, cry out loud. Get lost in the out loudness. Start building readers through the love of reading, out loud.
It is possible. We need to use and prioritize reading aloud for the benefit of our students. Fight for the right to be out loud as a reader. For the love of reading.
We can do it. We can do it together. Joyfully. Out loud.
I used to love travel and tourism more than I do today. It’s true. My husband talks about visiting places far and wide and a small part of me withers.
“Maybe later,” I say. “There’s too much going on this year. It’s just not a good time.”
I’m sure I’ll soon get over this weariness with travel. You see, I was a traveling teacher for four years and the glow and shimmer of being a traveler wore off so quickly. Airports lost their gleam. Tourism lost its glimmer.
I’m sure that very very soon I will look forward to being a tourist again. Airports will again become harbingers of warm weather, sunny beaches; the amazing sights and sounds of vacation. I will be on my way to being a tourist in some exotic locale.
Tourism is a funny thing. When we are a tourist we look at the sights, we take photographs and exclaim over the novelty of every little detail of our vacation spot. “Look at that building! Look at those people who actually live here! Do they know how amazing this is?” We revel in every sight and sound. We notice everything about the surface of a place. We stare and smile and point and exclaim. (We are ridiculous).
But being a tourist is fun. It’s fun to only see the surface and never delve into the reality of living somewhere. We don’t live in those buildings. We only watch the residents working and living. We watch them. We are not engaged in real life in this place. We are not engaged in the hard work of living here. We are not residents.
Last year, I was fortunate to hear Michael Opitz and Michael Ford speak at the International Reading Association Conference in New Orleans. They were speaking on Engagement and Joy (topics so close to my heart).
They said something that has stuck with me throughout this last year. Allow me to paraphrase:
Students need to be residents in their learning, not tourists.
Think about that for just a minute. Let it soak in.
I see so many students who are tourists in classrooms. They look at the sights; “Look at that book! Look at that writing! Look at those teachers who are reading and writing! Listen to their thinking!” They notice everything on the surface. They stare and smile. They go home and live their real lives as residents of whatever they love to do. Maybe being readers, maybe not.
They are not engaged in the work because others are doing it for them. They are watching the work, and it’s fun to watch, but it’s not their work. They don’t own it. They don’t live in it. They are not engaged in the hard work of being learners. They are tourists.
But we can change that. It is possible. We can take away the tourist and make a resident. Students can be engaged in the real work in classrooms.
We can do it. With joy. We can do it together. Let’s all reside in the real work of becoming readers.
Save the tourism for our next vacation.
It’s not a word I use lightly. I mean, when I say I love something, it means I really love it.
(Okay, so I suppose I don’t really “love” pizza, but it’s really, really close).
So when I say I love reading, I really do. At the core of my being I love reading. This love; this need to be engaged in reading, to be close to reading, to understand reading started at an early age. And I have proof.
My grandmother was a teacher. She inscribed every book she ever gifted to me with a similar message. “To my dear Suzie…”
My grandmother’s love for reading leapt out of every book she gave me. Her love for me lead the way. It lead me to my love of everything reading.
Teaching a child to read.
Teaching a teacher to be a teacher of reading.
Talking about reading.
Laughing with children while reading.
Crying with a book.
Feeling so much love.
And, now, crying about the loss of love as an attribute of reading in classrooms today.
Reading would not exist in the absence of emotion. Love being an important one. A child must love books, love to read, in order to be a reader. A lifelong reader. If a child does not embrace reading and love it, he will not read.
She will not read.
Hence, the crying. The heartbreak.
I write this blog because someone taught me to love to read. It has transformed my life and created a passion in me bigger than most everything in my life. Sometimes it makes me angry that I love it so much. It makes me want to break up with reading.
“I don’t care anymore,” I say. “I want to be a yoga instructor. Because I don’t care about Reading. I am done thinking about Reading and talking about Reading. I am done with everything Reading!”
(It’s true, ask my husband. It happens a couple times a year).
But the reality is, reading is here to stay. It’s part of my heart. My grandma helped put it right there. Right in the middle.
So when I watch teachers and schools go through the process of teaching students to read as though it is a procedure, I cringe. When I see teachers reading a script to teach a child to read, I whimper. My heart breaks when I see reading instruction reduced to something it was never meant to be.
If you are not using beautiful, favorite books to teach reading, you are not teaching students to be readers and to love reading.
If phonics is the only way you teach reading, you are not teaching students to be readers and to love reading.
If you are using a script to teach reading, you are not teaching students that you love reading so that they will want to be readers.
If the joy of reading, the love of reading, is not clearly evident in your classroom everyday, you are not teaching students to be readers: readers who love reading.
I promise- it is possible. We can teach students to be readers and to love reading, even in the world of Common Core. We can use beautiful books to engage students in the joy and the love of reading. We need to.
We can do it. We can do it together. (Thanks, Grandma.)