Questions and Actions

I just finished reading Book Love, by Penny Kittle.  I’m not going to lie – this book was inspiring, heart wrenching, and thought provoking.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, you should go right now and read.  Come back in a few hours.  It’s worth it.

Lessons Learned

There were so many things that I highlighted, underlined, starred, sticky noted, and Tweeted in her book.  These final few chapters did not fail to live up to my expectations.  So, rather than bore you with my ramblings, I want to just outline the take-aways and lessons I have learned by reading Book Love.

  • Teaching a love of reading is hard.  However, it is the kind of hard work that sometimes ends in disappointments.  It is also the kind of hard work that ends in miracles like Crystal (p. 159-167).
  • Teaching a lifetime of reading habits is hard.  You will find challengers and naysayers from surprising faces.  You will find the surprise champion for implementing a culture of readers.  You will cry.  You will smile.
  • Teaching others that choice is essential for a healthy reading life – especially for teens or for reluctant readers – is hard.  You will battle for the type of curriculum that allows choice, promotes readers workshops and writers workshops, and flips the whole idea of teaching on its head.
  • Teaching a love of reading is something that is a life mission.  It is something that you must be passionate about and it is something that will permeate your entire life.  Whether you are an English major, an English or Reading teacher, or the school principal (p. 141-146) – you are a teacher of book love.

Questions and Actions – How I will LIVE Book Love
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There is too much in this text to analyze or synthesize.  I’ve learned so much that it is difficult to put it into a few hundred words.  Instead, I think I’m going to publicly declare my intentions to be a teacher of book love.

My Declaration of Teaching Book Love

I hold firmly to the belief that we are all teachers of reading.  I have an insatiable desire to share books and stories with all people – young and old, student and friend.

I also firmly believe that as a teacher of book love I must live by example.  I will continue to read voraciously and to share these amazing (and sometimes not the best) stories through my blog and my Twitter feed.  I will help people find THEIR book – that gateway to the door of reading – and get that book in their hands.

I solemnly vow that I will never stop asking this most vital question

What are you reading now?

For it is with that question that I will frame my expectations, that all people will be reading something, and that their reading lives are just as important as what they had for dinner.  I will ask others for suggestions and will endeavor to ask this essential question multiple times a day and in every interaction I have.


What are you reading now?  Let’s talk below…


What are you reading?

This week I read some amazing articles on motivating students to read.  I learned a lot and some of my thoughts about teaching reading were reinforced.  I got some new ideas and thought critically about my previous beliefs.

I truly feel that our job as educators is to develop those life-long readers.  It is our responsibility to help our students grow.  We don’t have a choice in this matter – as educators it is our duty to motivate students and allow them to develop into readers.

But, how do we do that?

My Steps for Developing Life-Long Readers

I think there are four elements needed to create passionate, life-long readers.  We must complete them daily, repeatedly, and in new and innovative ways.  These steps are..

Talk about reading – their reading and our reading

Talking about reading is vital and essential!  We need to show our students through our actions and our conversations that reading is important.  We
CC: Flickr Creative Commons

should ask students what they are reading and honestly listen.  We need to talk about elements of stories, interesting nonfiction, and allow them to teach us about what they love to read.  We also need to allow our students to talk to each other about their reading.  Let them share with a neighbor the newest book in their hands or the book they stayed up too late to read.  Validate their experiences with books they didn’t finish or didn’t like (we all have been there), but help them move on to the next book that might be a match.  Conversation about reading is essential to developing life-long readers.


Share our excitement about books and drum up their excitement about books

This goes along with the first element – sharing our excitement about reading is sharing what we are reading with students.  Book talks, book trailers, and conversations with students will show them that we practice what we preach.  We should strive to be that crazy reading teacher who won’t stop talking about the newest book.  We also need to encourage their excitement about reading.  Let them do a book talk – not graded, just share what they read.  Allow them to “sell” the book they LOVE to their friends.  Excitement breeds excitement.  This is true in life and especially in our reading lives.


Set challenging and realistic goals to motivate our students.

Ever really want something that is just outside of your ability?  Didn’t you work hard to attain that goal?  We should set goals with our students that ask them to expand their horizons, stretch their reading comforts, and be something that has high interest for them.  We should help them to set goals that they can reach when they put in that extra little push of reading muscle.  Maybe their goal is to read a certain number of books.  Or a certain number of pages. Or to read widely and read various genres.  Maybe their challenge and goal is to find that one book they can not believe they never read.  Maybe their challenge is to write about what they have read.  There are endless goals out there – it is our duty to help students articulate these goals and create plans to reach them.



If you are a long-time reader of Oz and Other Lands, you will know that I fully support the concept of choice reading.  You will also notice that I cite Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer) and other educators who advocate for not creating lists of “required reading”.  If you haven’t read all of those gems (rants?), go visit the archives and find some of the thoughts these wonderful educators have inspired.

But, here is the long and short of it:  let students choose.  Countless authors, researchers, teachers, and bloggers have found that when students choose their reading, they are more engaged and they actually want to read the books they have.  Choice reading should be encouraged in all classrooms – reading or any other subject.  If you have done justice to the other three elements (talking about reading, drumming up excitement about books, and setting challenging but attainable goals), this probably has been one of the key tools you have used.  If not, you should try it.  I promise that your students will surprise you, read things they never would have read before, and develop and grow into life-long readers.

That was a bit longer than I expected, but I find that  I am super passionate about this.  We are obligated to create a generation of humans who read, share their knowledge, and act compassionately.  It is vital to our well-being and to our society.  Talk about books and reading. Get excited about the topic with students.  Help them set goals that are attainable but still challenging.  Let them choose what they read to reach their goal.

I firmly, wholeheartedly believe that when we do that, we do justice to our profession and students.

Virtual Book Communities

Last week I thought about how talking about books within our classrooms helps develop a sense of our classroom community.  These classroom communities provide our teen students with a place to read books, talk about books, learn about the favorite books of others, struggle with books, and be a community.

But, what happens outside our classroom doors?  How do teens discuss their reading lives when they are not in school?  Some would think they don’t talk about their reading lives.  However, I found this is not the case!

How It Used to Be

Way back in the Stone Age (the 1990s) I was in high school.  My friends and I might talk about what we had read, but there was no Google or Facebook (or MySpace or blogs really) to talk with others.  We had to do it “old school” and talk face to face or even on the phone.

Image Credit:
     Image Credit:

Maybe it wasn’t quite the tin can era.  However, we were limited to people we knew when talking about books.

How It Is Now

Today’s teens have many different avenues for talking about books and developing their community of readers.  There are still all the “old school” ways – talking in class, discussing books at lunch or in the hall, hanging out with your friends over a book, and calling each other on the phone.

Today’s YA readers are going past these prehistoric methods though.  In my web research this week I found out that teens use a variety of platforms and social media services to talk about books.  They are not limiting themselves to people they know in person.  Rather, they are enlarging their reading community to include anyone who has access to the web.

Tech and the Community of Readers
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There are about a million different places that teens, and YA readers in general, go online to share book recommendations, get ideas, and talk about (or to!) their favorite authors.

These are a few of my favorites…

  • Goodreads – Goodreads is a pretty amazing site for cataloging your favorite books, rate the book after you have finished reading it, and get ideas from your friends.  You can connect your Goodreads account to your blog (check out one of my shelves on the right of this page), Facebook, or Twitter account.
  • Twitter – This has been the coolest new to me social media this semester!  I never had a Twitter account before, but I have found that it can be extremely exciting to talk books on Twitter.  I can tweet to my favorite authors, join in discussions with my classmates or with other readers, and share my thoughts in 140 characters or less.  Still working on keeping it to 140 characters….but a girl has to have a challenge now and then!
  • Blogs – Following the blogs of other readers is an amazing way that teens (and YA readers) can share their musings, their ideas, and their reviews about books.  Reading my classmates’ blogs has been a strong stitch in the fabric of my YA Lit Class community.  The blogs are places we can discuss ideas about reading and share books that are our favorites (or our not favorites).  I haven’t really explored how a person finds a new blog for suggestions.  Do you know how?  Be sure to let me know in the comments.
  • Pinterest – This is a new social media site for me.  I just joined Pinterest in January and mainly to get ideas for another class (Pythagorean Theorem time!).  But did you know that there is a HUGE Pinterest community that pins different images or articles or sites about books?  I definitely have fallen down the rabbit hole of Pinterest this week and have found some amazing resources.
  • Snap Chat & Instagram – Here are two social media sites that I don’t belong to.  However, it seems that teens are using these platforms to visually talk about books  This is great, especially for those who like to read but do not like to write – they can share their faves via a picture!  Then, they comment on each others’ photos and start the conversation there!

Integrating Tech into My Reading Community

I am very thankful to my YA Lit Class and our professor Dr. Ellington for making us a community.  You see, I take this class online and have not ever actually met any of my classmates in person!  However, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I now have some amazing bookish friends.


My books, my computer, my TBR list...
My books, my computer, my TBR list… and my mess!

I am continuing to integrate tech into my reading life.  I currently use Goodreads, Blogs, and Twitter – especially for my YA Lit class.  I am going to continue to explore the depths of Pinterest to find lists and ideas about books.


I am also very lucky to be part of an “online book club” for YA Lit Class.  We “meet” every week in a Google document and talk about a book.  This week we discussed Crank and had really, really, really good discussion.  Without the web, I wouldn’t be able to have this experience.

Always More Questions

As I shared with the ladies in my book club yesterday, I always end up with more questions than answers.  This is especially true when the topic or idea is something I want to know more about (okay….so everything)!  I’m going to leave you with some questions.  Please answer below and let’s keep this conversation about tech and reading going!

  • How do you discover a new blog to follow?  What are your criteria for a “good” book blog?
  • Would you rather post images and photos or words when discussing books?
  • Is there still a place for the “old school” technology and books?  Do we put enough emphasis on being able to discuss books and themes orally?
  • How do we develop strong writers and readers if they communicate in 140 characters or less?
  • What is the best place online that you have found to get new book ideas?

Talking About Books

This week I spent some time reading Book Love, by Penny Kittle.  In her book, Kittle shares ideas of book talks, how they work for students, and the passion for books that students begin to share.  We also read a few articles about read alouds and the benefit they have for older readers.

As I think about my life as a reader and a teacher, I can see the importance of talking about books with students.  I want to record my current thoughts about talking about books.

The Book Talk

I’ve heard about book talks quite a bit this past year between Children’s Lit and now YA Lit classes.  Yet, I had never seen one.  That’s right….NEVER.  A quick YouTube search brought me to Ms. Jen Smith and this amazing book talk.

Now that I have seen this, I GET it.  She follows the format Penny Kittle lays out for us.  She holds the book and shows students the cover, the size of the book, and points out features of the cover that help draw the listener in.  Ms. Smith knows this book, she has read it, she shares how this book came to her (a student recommended it), and she knows the background of the author and why he wrote the book.  She reads short passages to the students.  She gives some background about the plot, but then supplements them with pieces of text that show the author’s voice, the action that is happening, and the pull of the plot.  This is a successful book talk – I’ve added the book to my TBR even!

I could do a Book Talk on ANY of these!

So, why would I take class time to do a book talk?  First, it helps to develop the community of readers in my classroom.  Penny Kittle emphasizes that we need to share our reading lives with students and the book talk is one way to do that.  Secondly, it is a great way to tell students about books they might not otherwise pick up.  Book talks can also be handed over to students throughout the year, giving them a chance to share the books that they love (and practice some speaking and listening skills along the way).


The Read Aloud

Book talks are great ways to share snippets of our favorite books with students.  Yet, how can we share some amazing books with students in a more in-depth way?  The answer to this is the Read Aloud.

A Read Aloud is when the teacher (or 2979328682_22e8a02813_osometimes the students) read part of a longer book or an entire book out loud to students.  The Read Aloud is a common feature of elementary classrooms and children’s libraries.  How can they work for teens?

Jess deCourcy Hinds explains the benefits of Read Alouds with teens in this article.  Read Alouds benefit teens, especially those who are dormant readers or who struggle with reading.  Teens often have a higher comprehension level when listening because the act of reading may require them to work very hard without much benefit.  Also, Read Alouds allow us to model reading strategies for our students – using context clues to define a word, reading with a proper pace and inflection, and sharing the fact that reading can be pleasurable.

These elements are essential to developing our community of readers because they model real-life pleasure reading.  It engages students and allows them to truly enjoy a book without the pressure of being assessed on the book’s features – especially if reading is a challenge.


My Future Classroom

My future classroom will be FILLED with books.  I want to also share with students some amazing and inspiring works.  I want to ignite their passions for reading and create a community of readers who share the goods and the bads of different written works.  I can do this by incorporating Read Alouds and Book Talks.  These are just two ways that I can talk about reading with my students and maybe, just maybe, help them to find their reading passions.

Well, what do you think?  Should we talk about books and share books with our students?  How do we “defend” these practices to the naysayers?  Let’s talk below….

Reading Widely – My Path to Diverse Reading

We have focused on issues of diversity in YA Lit the past couple of weeks.  We have learned about the need for diverse characters and diverse authors.  We’ve looked into some amazing resources on the web for reviews and news about diverse YA Lit (see Rich in Color, Diversity in YA, and Disability in Kidlit).

Tonight, I am pondering what it means to me to be a diverse reader.  My diverse reading life would be one that sees me reading widely, not deeply.  This means I will read books written by many authors – authors who look like me and those who do not look like me.  I will also read from many different genres – both my favorites and my non-favorites.

The Road to Reading Widely

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

How will I get there?  First, I want to continue to give myself reading challenges. This semester we are working towards a Book Bingo – forcing us to read widely.  There are other challenges though, too – Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge has 24 tasks to complete.

There will, of course, be challenges to reading widely.  The first is the challenge of access.  I can’t afford to buy every diverse book out there.  I can’t even afford to buy every book that I read.  Living in small town Wyoming can also contribute to the access challenges.  While we have an amazing public and school library, we do not always have funds to supply them with the latest books.  Finally, I need to be held accountable.  Whether it is through blogging, challenges/book clubs with friends and colleagues, or some other method, having someone keeping me reading widely will be necessary.

The Importance of Reading Widely

I’ve laid out the numerous reasons why it is personally important to read widely.  But, it is also important for our young people to read widely and diversely.

Diversity in the reading lives of teens is imperative!  There are many worlds and viewpoints that students may not have been exposed to before.  There will be situations that students will encounter that are different from their own.  One way that we can prepare students for encountering these situations is by encouraging to read widely. It will prepare them for real life.

I want to also have a plan for helping my students read widely and diversely.  First, I will do my best to have a diverse and wide classroom library.  I want to have book talks (by myself or by students) about a diverse array of authors and characters.  I will create classroom display that rotates and features different genres, authors, characters, and recommendations.

The final thing I will do is something that I have been thinking about and beginning to do already.  I will gather a list of my students’ favorite books.  Then, I will do my best to read their favorites.  I want to model reading widely.  I will share my reading with my students.  I will keep a running list of their suggestions and a tally of my reads.


It is my honest hope that I can lead by example and teach my students to read widely.

What does diverse reading mean to you?  What books should I include in my wide library?  Let’s talk below….

Classroom Libraries…A Necessity

One of the most important things in a classroom is the classroom library.  It is probably only second to a passionate teacher.

As English teachers, we must build classroom libraries filled with books that are new, fresh, and exciting to students.  But, how do we do that?

Our first step should be to create a library filled with many different genres, abilities, or “doors into reading”.  Penny Kittle’s Book Love gives a bunch of recommendations in a huge range of doors to reading.  I just kept highlighting and marking options she lists!Book Love

How do we fund our classroom libraries?  Books are expensive – especially if you are buying tens or hundreds each year.  I admit that I am a bibliophile.  Look at all these YA books I already own!

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And yet, I know I cannot fund a classroom library on my own.  Sarah Anderson has a couple of really great blog posts on classroom libraries.  She talks about the different methods she used to fill her classroom library.  She received books as gifts and set up a fundraising site for books.  She had to also set herself a budget – or she would spend every dollar she has on books.

She also encourages students to donate books.  They enjoy taking ownership in the classroom library and love when Mrs. Anderson puts their name in a donated by bookplate.  They also make suggestions about what should be in the next round of book acquisitions.

What is the value of a classroom library?  I don’t think it is something you can calculate or quantify.  Sarah Anderson’s students sum it up amazingly.

They say her classroom library gives them access to books, they do not need to worry about due dates, get recommendations and build a relationship with their teacher.  These are not things you can count or measure.

The value of a classroom library is that it gives teens an open and available resource, doors through which they can enter the world of reading, and begins to create life-long readers.

The classroom library is essential for every teacher.  What do you think should be in a classroom library?  How will you build your library?  Let’s talk below….

Did you read the assigned reading?

This is the question that I am pondering today.  I experienced assigned or required reading as a secondary student.  I know there are students today who are also assigned reading.  But, what is the purpose of assigned reading?  More importantly, is there another way to motivate students to read without assigned reading?

Reflecting On My Experiences

So, what were my experiences with required reading?  As I talked about a few weeks ago, I read everything I was assigned (except The Scarlet Letter) for school.  Yet, some of the books we read didn’t quite make sense to me.  Smart student that I was, I dialed up AOL and supplemented my reading with Spark Notes. This was just expected procedure among us students in high school.

3006348550_1017d24be8_oI do remember one moment of questioning though.  As a Freshman, I was in a different English class from one of my best friends.  Her class read Animal Farm and my class did not.  I always wondered why we were not required to read this book.  And, why were they being taught Animal Farm?  Why did our teacher choose specific books for us?

A “Typical” English Class?

Is there a “typical” English class?  One that would be recognizable to all students across the country?  I think there is one – at least parts in each class across the country.

It seems that this typical class is assigned “classics”.  You know these – Scarlet Letter, Animal Farm, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights.  I know that I struggled with these books about adults with adult problems!  I mean, how was I supposed to relate to the community that Dr. Frankenstein lived in?  How am I supposed to relate to it now, as an adult?

These “classics” are taught year after year in class after class to generations of students.  Why?  I think we were assigned to read them because they were deemed to be “classics”.  What made them classics?  Well, the fact that they are taught year after year in class after class to generations of students!  Everyone reads them, so why shouldn’t our teachers have us read them?

A Novel Idea – Penny Kittle

This week we explored the first couple of chapters of Penny Kittle’s Book Love.  In the book, Ms. Kittle explores the question of why students don’t read the assigned reading.  She also asks how students “pass the tests” without reading.

The short answer to these questions is:  they don’t read because it is boring or hard or doesn’t relate.  They pass the tests by getting notes from friends or from Spark Notes (or Wikipedia now).  And, isn’t that exactly what I did with The Scarlet Letter?

What would happen if we changed the way English is taught?  What if we focus instead on, as Penny Kittle suggests, building a reader’s stamina and volume with texts they are passionate about?

Crazy, right?

But maybe not.  Over the years she has asked her students about their reading habits.  This video shows just a few of her students’ reactions to her questions.  Her students in the video have read SO many pages and books – all because she lets them have choice in their independent reading.  CHOICE. There is even a student who says, “with the two I didn’t finish I still read…”  She didn’t finish a book and that was accepted.  Amazing!

Most of the students Kittle talks with find that they will read more if it is something they like or something they are passionate about.  Once we help students find the book that will be their forever friend, they will read it.  And the next one.  And the one after that.  And one about one of the issues.  And on and on until we have a capital R READER!

Classroom of the Future – of NOW.

I read a lot of good information this week.  So, how can I put it into use?  How can I create a classroom with students who read a vast volume of pages and books?  How can I match each kid with the book?  How can I teach them to analyze literature and teach the content I need to teach?

In my classroom, I will:

  • Help each student find their reading passion, whether it is National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, or Shakespeare
  • Encourage my students to read more than they ever had, read things they like, and talk about their reading
  • Teach the skills of literary analysis with in class books – where we can struggle with meaning together
  • Most importantly, I will GIVE THEM TIME TO READ.

What do you think?  Did you read all the required books?  How would you have changed your experiences in English class?  Let’s talk below….