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TEACHER VOICES: Shannon Jin-a Lamborn

Sustained Silent Reading Works

Two of my students with respective volumes of March, a graphic memoir about the civil rights movement, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.

Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) works because it provides both a mirror and a window for our young people. Reading is a mirror as it allows young people to learn more about themselves. It is also a window as it provides young people with access to cultures, lifestyles, norms, and communities outside their own.

In addition to building mindfulness and empathy, SSR builds skills. Regular reading increases knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and there’s loads of assessment data to back that up!

While SSR is one of my most valued components of my curriculum now, it wasn’t something that I have always felt strongly about. I initially implemented SSR because my coach, Mark, recommended I do so. I was hesitant to dedicate so much time to what I feared would amount to wasted hours of fake reading.

At the beginning of last year, SSR was one of the most annoying routines to facilitate. Students would pick a book at random off a shelf, open it, and stare blankly at the pages in an attempt to skirt any consequence for being off task or disruptive. They groaned every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and ravished any opportunity to voice their discontent with me and with reading. Commonplace student feedback on SSR included remarks such as: “This book is trash,” “When is this over?” and “Can I go to the bathroom?”

By spring semester, my students and I had transformed SSR into an oasis of comfort, calm, and joy. It would take less than a minute for the classroom to fall silent as students quickly became enveloped in their respective worlds of choice. I would often have to coax students out of their books and back into the world of the classroom.

“This book is actually lit!” – on Buck: A Memoir, by M.K. Asante.

To make SSR successful you need to do five things:

1. Genuinely believe in the power of SSR.

Joy and excitement are contagious and so is a love of reading. Communicate why and how you got into reading. Model how seriously you take SSR by norming that everyone who enters your class during SSR should be reading, adults included.

2. Name your purpose.

What do you want your students to get out of reading? Explicitly identify, name, and share your purpose with your students. Then create structures that allow y’all to work towards that aim.

3. Build a robust library.

Have you ever read something you weren’t into? Yes? Me too and it sucks! I like to tell my young people that there are too many books in the world to be wasting time choosing SSR books you don’t enjoy. Yes it’s important to be able to read things you don’t like but SSR is about choice.

Do research by talking to peers, students, and checking out recommended reading lists from websites such as: Buzzfeed, Goodreads, NPR, and the Young Adult Library Association. Make a social media post asking people to share the most influential books from their teenage years. Then, if you haven’t already done so, make a DonorsChoose account and start raking in those donations! Regularly have a project on DonorsChoose and routinely introduce new books into your classroom. Prioritize having multiple (I like three) copies of fewer, super awesome books over less access with more selection.

Given a Secret Scholar Award, this student would literally lol during the funny bits of books.

4. Nurture student relationships.

When students aren’t reading, make a point to ask students what they’ve read and enjoyed and what they’ve hated. Ask them to consider if there are any patterns there. If they’ve never read a book they’ve enjoyed, ask them about their interests or favorite television shows. Once you know your students as readers, it will become much easier to recommend books or connect students with similar reading interests to recommend books to each other!

5. Have a plan to get your books back.

At the end of the year I got over eighty books back – yes eighty! I did this by creating a public project to “Rescue Ms. L’s Library!” and publicly tracking the number of books returned. Personal incentives included extra credit points and a raffle towards new books. Classes were also in competition with each other to return the most books in exchange for snacks.

“This is a great book! It shows how gamers can be girls and is colorful.” – on In Real Life, a graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang.

I really, truly believe in the power of SSR. In the last weeks of school, I witnessed a magical moment. Three of my boys who used to hate reading were talking about the books they were reading and how cool they all were. One was reading Sherman Alexie’s Flight, another Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s In Real Life, and the third was reading Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost. These boys were so excited to share their knowledge of the plot and characters in these books that I actually started crying tears of joy! The seed had been planted, my students are readers.

In community,

Shannon Jin-a Yi-Lamborn
DonorsChoose.org/sjlamborn

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Free Kindle Books & Tips endorses the KCP

favicon Imagine my joy when I received an email message a few days ago from Michael Gallagher, who runs the extremely popular blog Free Kindle Books & Tips (fkbt.com), with more than 125,000 regular readers.

Mr. Gallagher was reaching out because he was writing a post to encourage his readers to donate their used Kindles. Would the Kindle Classroom Project be interested in being featured?

I said, Of course!

Little did I know that the KCP was going to be Mr. Gallagher’s exclusive recommendation for his readers’ used Kindles — that is, until I read the post early this morning. Please take a look! It’s entitled, “Donate Your Used Kindle.”

I’m very grateful for the post. Mr. Gallagher does an excellent job introducing his readers to the KCP and offering ways they can learn more. It is evident that Mr. Gallagher has built a strong readership that focuses on helping people make their Kindle experience better, including being informed of the best free and discounted books. I recommend that you check out the blog, and if you’re interested, subscribe to the FKBT daily email digest.

Update: Less than 12 hours since FKBT’s post went live, five people have already submitted their Kindles for donation. I’ve changed the Donate Kindle form so that FKBT readers can let me know how they heard about the KCP. I have a feeling that the Kindle Classroom Project is going to be expanding as a result of Mr. Gallagher’s generosity. Thank you! favicon

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Introducing The Highlighter!

favicon I like to read a lot: books, articles, and everything in between. Since 2012, I’ve published some of my favorite articles on education on Iserotope and talked about them. Then I began bundling the articles into a collection, Iserotope Extras, that readers could access anytime. (This led to this screencast, which demonstrated my extreme enthusiasm about the new feature.)

A few years later, in 2015, Iserotope Extras migrated to a weekly email digest, published every Thursday morning. In addition, the scope of Extras broadened to include articles on race, education, and culture.

The digest has been growing since then. The first issue had just two subscribers, and 80 issues later, there are 115 readers (slow and steady, similar to the Kindle Classroom Project). The digest is alive and well.

I’m therefore happy to announce that Iserotope Extras is now The Highlighter. Take a look at the new nameplate!

Every week, I highlight 4-6 articles that I think you’ll love. Coming soon, you’ll be able to see my highlights to these highlighted articles. (Here’s a sample.) The long-term idea is not only to share high-quality writing but also to invite you to read these articles with me, as part of an “article club,” or a nonfiction reading community.

If you’re not yet a subscriber, check out last week’s issue, or take a look at the archives. You can sign up at either place! If you are already a subscriber, thank you, and please leave your comments here! favicon

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Megabook Initiative donates 36 Kindles!

favicon I thought Karen-Alexandra Nogues was donating one Kindle when she completed the Donate Kindle form last week. It turns out that Ms. Nogues, founder and executive director of Megabook Initiative, intended on donating 36 Kindles!

Thank you very much for this wonderful and generous donation.

Megabook Initiative believes that today’s readers are tomorrow’s leaders. The program distributes devices to children in places where access to books is limited, including Ivory Coast and Togo. Ms. Nogues understands the importance of reading and found the Kindle Classroom Project through its partnership with Worldreader.

Here’s an interview with Ms. Nogues about Megabook Initiative. It’s a few years old, when Ms. Nogues was a senior in high school. Now she attends Harvard University and will graduate next year.

I’m impressed with Ms. Nogues, her commitment to young people, and her ability to explain clearly the importance of reading. We believe in many of the same things!

I look forward to getting these 36 Kindles ready for students in Oakland and San Francisco. Maybe they’ll go to ninth grade teacher Shannon, who maintains a robust physical classroom library and is ready for a Kindle pilot. favicon

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Please read: “Our School,” by Lauren Markham

favicon “Our School” is the best article on education that I’ve read in a very long time. Lauren Markham reports on the new curriculum in Alaska’s North Slope Borough School district, home of the Iñupiat people. It is a story of how a community can rebuild its educational system in order to decolonize, resuscitate, and heal.

If you are an educator, or if you care about education, there are many connections here. It will push you to think again about the big questions, like: What is education for? and Why do I teach? This article will be well worth your time.

Excerpt
“THE ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL education system in the United States fails people on the margins of society—whether it is impoverished communities in Appalachia, immigrants in Baltimore, African Americans in Chicago, or First Nations from New Mexico to Alaska. Free and universal education pretends to be our democracy’s great equalizer—but the system was made by and for a certain subset of people decidedly not on the margins. It can perpetuate inequality while intending, or pretending, to do away with it.”

You can read the article here: http://j.mp/2k6Dt4d. There’s also a chance that it’ll be included in Iserotope Extras, a weekly email digest that includes my favorite articles about race, education, and culture. Feel free to subscribe! favicon

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Please listen: “How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By Individual Choices,” featuring Nikole Hannah-Jones

favicon Nikole Hannah-Jones is my favorite journalist and my second-favorite famous person (after Bryan Stevenson). Here she is being interviewed by Terry Gross for Fresh Air (~45 mins) about school segregation and her article, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City” (from Extras #46). Ms. Hannah-Jones argues that segregation will continue to exist in our country “as long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children.” (Want more NHJ? Check out Extras #47, Extras #65, and Extras #4 — her gut-wrenching This American Life piece from July 2015.)

Excerpt
“One of the things I’ve done in my work is show the hypocrisy of progressive people who say they believe in equality, but when it comes to their individual choices about where they’re going to live and where they’re going to send their children, they make very different decisions.”

You can read the article here: http://j.mp/2jejEqu. There’s also a chance that it’ll be included in Iserotope Extras, a weekly email digest that includes my favorite articles about race, education, and culture. Feel free to subscribe! favicon