Tag Archives: reading ladders

#kal (Kids are Loving) Reading Ladder: Mighty Memoirs and the Women Who Write Them

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Image: Amazon

I used this article from The Guardian as today’s Notebook Time invitation. I wanted students to reflect on their reading that they’d done and the reading they want to do in this new year. Two themes emerged from their responses: a number of them want to read books from authors of color because they “want to know about their background” and their “history,” while many others want to increase their text complexity. They’ve reached that moment of reading where what they started reading in September is now too easy. They are now discerning enough to tell me what they want and need more of.

They want to up the ante!

Thus, I think I’ll spend some occasional blogs on Reading Ladders as part of #kidsareloving (#kal) where I create suggestions for a range of complexity that will help kids grow as readers. And, because it matters, I’ll make these Reading Ladders as diverse as I can make them because, well, #weneeddiversebooks and because my kids want them.Thing is, once I read Reading Ladders a couple of years ago, that’s all I think about in terms of making recommendations. I also am motivated to get these out there because I know that we tend to keep suggesting the same books because we don’t know any others.

I bet we have similar dreams of reading ladders for kids; we simply need to write them down and share them. Thus, please feel free to make suggestions and recommendations as we go.

I know, I titled this memoir, but I have had readers start with Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-fattah and then move up the ladder. This YA book does a fantastic job of giving us a narrator that is smart, spunky and trying to figure out life as a teenager. That she is Muslim is only one part of who Amal is. Her character development is well done and I’ve had Muslim students read it and remark that they found all sorts of similarities between themselves and the main character. Win!

My fellow Heinemann Fellow Kate Flowers recommended I read Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. This was such a great recommendation! I loved it because as an introvert, Rhimes talked candidly and hilariously about what it means to step outside of ourselves and do what scares us. It also is a great parenting memoir, writing memoir…it’s everything. And I think kids would like it who are into reading about interesting people, or into Scandal, or anywhere in between.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae. I can’t keep this book in my library. It just returned today and is on my Next List, but I know I might get bumped if a student has to have it RIGHT NOW. Issa Rae is hilarious and a model of what it means to keep showing up, working hard, having lots of gumption. She is all #blackgirlmagic and fills a void for those readers looking for stories about how to make it doing what you love. [BTW, the Fresh Air interview with Issa and Terry Gross is everything, too.I was particularly struck with how much of her story is about literacy!]

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? Mindy Kaling: as hilarious as watching the Mindy show. Another one that is usually checked out all the time.

You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain, Phoebe Robinson. I know Robinson from her fantastic podcast, 2 Dope Queens. Her book sounds like it’s even more of what I love, tackling issues of race and popular culture while being hilarious. Yup. It can be done! (This one is on order).

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Source: Magic 95.9, Baltimore

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home, Sheri Booker. A coming-of-age memoir about a 15-year old girl who starts working at a funeral home for a summer job. From Amazon: “As families came together to bury one of their own, Booker was privy to their most intimate moments of grief and despair. But along with the sadness, Booker encountered moments of dark humor: brawls between mistresses and widows, and car crashes at McDonald’s with dead bodies in tow.” Seriously. You know you have a kid that will just LOVE this one!

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, Luvvie Ajayi. Luvvie has kept me sane while being one of the best critics about, well, everything. If you read this book, you should then immediately go to Luvvie’s home page and read everything she has ever written. You will laugh until you cry. She is that good.

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer, Una LaMarche. First, LaMarche has written some great YA titles that my kids love (i.e., Like No Other and Don’t Fail Me Now). Kids who’ve read her memoir have howled aloud in class during reading time, drawing all kinds of curious stares. That qualifies as a good book and one that’s kid-approved.

Whew! Reading Ladders grow and change all the time. Thus, if you have something that works here and keeps with the theme: memoir by a woman of color that is funny and either works with young readers or you think has the potential to work with young readers, then please leave it in the comments. Happy New Year!

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Filed under Book Love, Heinemann Fellows, Kids Are Loving, reading ladders

Turn UP for Reading

Finally, I get the schedule I want: all College Prep classes. In these classes, you’ll find mostly students of color, kids from low SES, all the other kids who are underserved by public education today.

Seriously: I’ve wanted this schedule since I began teaching at this school. I have had the most success and the most enjoyment from teaching from working with this population during my career. Don’t get me wrong: it’s always the hardest work to do on all sorts of fronts, but, usually, it seems that the work matters most here.

I began the year by reiterating what college prep is: that the expectation is that students will GO TO COLLEGE. Thus, they need to be able to read and write well. When I said that the first time, I’m pretty sure I heard a student whisper to another “this isn’t Honors,” and I took the opportunity to say: l tend to teach all my classes the same, from grad students to them. That expectation is loosely true: work really hard, do your best, and you end up okay. I scaffold and help kids who need it, but I teach my CP class just like it’s an Honors class, more or less. If we can by joyful during the majority of the time while doing the work? Well, that’s incredible, too.

I knew I had to get kids reading as soon as possible. I caused a huge amount of controversy by asking for a cart from our school’s library for my classroom–apparently that’s not a policy the school adheres to. So, just when I had kids HOOKED on books, I had to take the cart away. I have always maintained a classroom library of hundreds of books (usually around 500, give or take the ones the kids don’t return), but the last time I was in an under-resourced school, I donated ALL of my books. And I have a good-sized high-interest library at home, but I am now at the point where I use those books for PD and other events, so I try not to bring them to school. That resolve didn’t last long at all once I got the kibosh on the library cart. Now, I’m in a frenzy of applying for grants (and don’t get me started on how much money our school district spends per kid…) so I can buy enough books to sustain my classroom library. UGH.

What cannot be overlooked, however, is that THE KIDS ARE READING BOOKS!! Yes, lots of books. 12. That’s the completely arbitrary number I came up with and told my students that they needed to read that number of books in addition to our whole-class texts. Why not set a big, hairy audacious goal? I mean, geez, what do we have to lose? Even if they come nowhere near close to 12, they’re going to read something because I’m going to make sure of it. Seriously. And we are going to have a huge party at semester’s end where we do, indeed, turn up for reading. Reluctant readers are my jam. I’ve worked with them for years, so their lines of “I haven’t read a book in years,” or “I don’t read,” or “there’s no book I like,” is sort of like music to my ears.

Gauntlet thrown.

Once they say those lines, I get busy. While there are so many great books out there, I think we tend to forget the old reliable, tried and true ones: Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, First Part Last by Angela Johnson…I’m not going to list them all, but I might try to put some ones at the end of this post just in case folks are wondering. What is important to note is that there are books out there for every single kid. You just have to get the books into their hands. Which means, too, that, as teacher, you have to become THE BOOK PERSON. That is both a great honor and a daunting one because it’s all I can do to stay one step ahead of them.

I’m now consumed with the idea of Reading Ladders: I want to get students to increase the complexity of the texts they read. The idea is that each book they read should be just a bit harder. The thing is, with kids who aren’t big readers, every rung has to be just right, because they’re quite fragile, these young people. If it’s too hard, they’ll quit. Not interesting enough. Done. Boring? Kiss of death. And just when I might hope we’d get some momentum going? We have to begin again. And, as I tell them often when they’re on my nerves: we don’t have time to waste, particularly when we’re trying to make years of gains in a semester.

How do I pick the rungs on the ladders? While students read during our daily self-selected reading time (20 mins. every day), I conference with 3-4 students, working my way around the class every two weeks. I conduct a Status of the Class conference before reading time begins and students report the page they’re on. I can coax, praise, ask questions during that time. If a student isn’t making enough forward progress, I make a point to chat with them during the conference to figure out what the problem is. Students are also required to read at least 20 minutes outside of class daily. I’m trying to get them to develop a habit. 20 minutes of their own teenager time is HARD to devote at the beginning. We talk about how we can get to 20: 5 here, 10 there, 5 more…reading on the bus, trying to read before bed, between technology time…I am relentless in turning my classroom into a literacy community as quickly as possible. I have a wall as they walk out entitled “Reading Suggestions.” I read a lot and I also read a lot about books, so if there’s something I think a student will like (based on reading surveys and conversations), I put their name on a Post-It with the book suggestion (my life is written on so many Post-Its in my classroom). I model reading, which is sometimes hard and sometimes easy. I got caught up in this chick lit book, Big Little Lies, that was on a 2-week loan from the library. It was SO GOOD that I extended reading time a couple of times so I could read. I told the kids that I even put my son to bed a half hour early so I could finish the book. They loved it!

It was a true story. Couldn’t put the book down. I also remembered how fun it is to be caught up in a book, where all you want to do is read, not be disturbed, slow down so it doesn’t end.

All kids need that feeling. And the ones I have this semester are starting to feel it. With the exception of 5 or 6, all the rest have finished at least one book already, and many are on to their second or third. We have momentum. I am terrified about what is going to happen once we begin a whole-class text study, but I have some ideas about how to approach it (and I’ll write about those, too). I am also worried about how I’m going to come up with books and how I’ll find time to write the grants I need to write…

For now, though, the books are in the kids’ hands and they are READING. And there is so much right in that.

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