I am very happy to announce that the Kindle Classroom Project has reached another big milestone. The 800th Kindle arrived yesterday. Here it is!
Big thanks to Liz (Columbia, MD), who donated this 800th Kindle, a new Fire. Thank you very much, Liz! Already a KCP supporter, Liz contributed again, taking advantage of Amazon’s recent Prime Day sale.
Liz’s Kindle is the 186th Kindle donated this year. That’s about one Kindle a day!
For the first time ever, the Kindle Classroom Project will serve an entire school beginning next month. Every single student at Envision Academy in Oakland will get a Kindle and access to a library of nearly 800 books, plus the ability to request new books, thanks to supporters’ generous donations.
If you’re interested in donating your used Kindle, go to the Donate Kindle page. If you would like to make a cash donation for books, in order to support all 800 students and their reading interests, please go to the Contribute page.
If I had to identify the exact point in time when I started to actually like reading, I’d say it was somewhere around fifth grade, when my rather annoying 10-year-old self discovered the magic of Harry Potter. (Ha, see what I did there? Magic. Get it? It’s funny.)
Though I was obviously far too young to really appreciate the nuances of J.K. Rowling’s writing, I enjoyed it nonetheless: I loved Harry, I loved the Wizarding World, I loved how the adults in Harry’s life thought repeatedly sending a minor into life-threatening danger would be a good idea.
After that, being the little ambitious fifth grader prone to delusions of grandeur I was, I decided to set out and prove to the world that I was the most avid reader ever. When that aspiration crashed and burned just like every other dream I’ve ever had in my life, I decided to lower my expectations and settle for just being an avid reader.
Because I file everything not strictly related to academics into the “more or less useless” information part of my mind at the end of every school year, I can’t tell you exactly what impressions the books I read in middle school left on me, but my fondness for reading grew at about the same rate the acne of my classmates’ faces did during those days.
After hearing that more or less useless account of my reading history, I think I can safely say how pleased I am to be part of the Kindle Classroom Project without sounding like I’m only saying it because I’m obligated to do so (which I am) and being insincere with my words (which I’m not).
I’m antisocial and introverted, and no love of reading can fix that, so I don’t particularly enjoy having to go to the library. I don’t like having to awkwardly stand there while a librarian checks out my books and silently judges me on my selection. Now, with the Kindle Classroom Project, I don’t have to!
While I’m not one of those kids from the part of my generation who have trouble returning pencils they borrow (at least, I don’t think I am), I somehow still feel much more at ease having a Kindle on hand instead instead of, say, 732 physical copies of all the books in the KCP library. It’s much more convenient and easier for me now to make use of and appreciate my literacy with the Kindle.
If I feel like reading a book, I can just click on the title and wait a minute or so for it to download. If all the digital copies of the book are checked out, I can simply request another copy online instead of being put on some library waiting list, which, granted, only happened to me once at the Oakland Public Library, but the waiting list was 40 people long and made the task of finishing my summer reading list more cumbersome.
If I feel like reading into the wee hours of the night because I didn’t feel like I read enough during the day, I don’t need to turn on the light to see what I’m reading; the Kindle is the light! Of course, reading in the dark while staring at an LCD screen isn’t the best way to take care of your eyes, too, but I already wear glasses, so the worst thing that can happen to me from reading a Kindle at night is eye fatigue.
Because of the KCP, my love for reading has flourished and ignited in ways I never thought it was capable of before. Why, just a few months ago, I decided to read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle just for the hell of it. Yes, I may not have understood half of the book, but I would have never even considered checking out a physical copy from the library. If my growing passion for reading was a fire, then I guess you could say my Kindle was… kindling for that flame. (See what I did there? Again, nothing? Come on, it’s funny.)
When my best friends have weddings, and I want to say a few words at their rehearsal dinners, I have been forced to perform raps to express how much I love them and how happy I am for them. The reason I rap has nothing to do with my rapping skills (although if you really want to know, they’re pretty good). The truth is, I have to rap. Because if I get up there and try to articulate my feelings for people I love in a traditional speech, I will just start crying. And not like cute, wipe-the-tears-away, collect-myself crying. But like the snot, gross, can’t-breathe crying.
My first year teaching I think I cried every single day. Ask my sisters, or my parents, or the people on my subway ride home. I seriously cried every. single. day.
Two weekends ago, I yet again did some serious crying. But these tears were very different than first-year Marni-teacher tears. These were 9th-year Marni-teacher tears: reflective, grateful, overwhelmed-by-all-the-love, -support, -luck, and -encouragement Marni tears.
One of my students and I were asked to speak at Facing History’s annual benefit dinner. My first thought was, “Oh s*&t. How am I going to not cry?!” And also: “Wow.”
So, I decided to conquer my crying head on. And in front of 800 people, composed of students, fellow educators, friends, strangers, generous donors, and one of my heroes, I unabashedly confessed my identity as…. a crier.
In fact, my speech opened with: “When people ask me who I am, what is at the forefront of my identity, I without hesitation say: I am a teacher. To my family and friends, I am known as the crier. And to my students, I am the teacher most likely to cry in class.”
And sitting right in front of me, listening to me talk about my crying, was Bryan Stevenson, literally the best person ever and an exemplary human in every way and I can’t even finish this sentence because he’s just too wonderful and I can’t believe this happened to me and I am getting overwhelmed and I have to breathe. BREATHE.
So as I was saying: Bryan Stevenson is—in addition to being the best human, the best TED talker, and the best writer—a really, really, big deal. In my universe: the biggest of big deals. I seriously felt like I was essentially telling President Obama: “Oh hey Barack. Just so you know, I cry a lot.”
And while I couldn’t see Bryan’s face, he was there. At the front table, in the sixth chair. And since when I had first met him in person approximately 42 minutes before my speech, I was a bumbling buffoon, I knew I had to keep it together. Not just for the 800 people out there, but for Bryan. And for first-year teacher Marni who would’ve never been able to do this. So for most of my five minutes, I held it together. I spoke of the amazing impact Facing History has had on my students and my classroom, and how I cried a lot. And I spoke of moments when my students connected with historical moments that seemingly are generationally and culturally distant, but are in actuality so very close.
I shared the story of bringing in Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a 93-year-old survivor of the Tule Lake Japanese Internment Camp, who had spoken to my students:
“And then, the lunch bell rings. Hiroshi think it’s his hearing aid. So he takes it out and continues to talk. AND NOT A SINGLE STUDENT GETS UP FROM THEIR SEAT. Not one of them looks at each other with a “can we go now?” Face. They are HANGING ON his EVERY WORD. He continues to speak for TWO MINUTES AFTER THE BELL. And while those two minutes were by all teacher definitions pure magic, it wasn’t until I read their thank-you letters that I realized this experience helped my students see themselves as the next generation of upstanders.
One of my students, Brittney, wrote:
‘Thank you for coming and sharing your experience. I learned how far people would go just to marginalize a group of people due to their fear, but in reality, their fear is just ignorance…. and how we use stereotypes as a way to judge people. I’ll bear witness and remember so nothing like that could happen again.”
I didn’t actually cry until it came time for me to introduce my student, Arvaughn. He had won a national scholarship through Facing History the previous year for his mind-blowing spoken word, which he performed that night. For 800 people. For Bryan Stevenson. I began to cry, but am proud to say that at least while up there, it was the cute, wipe-the-tears away, collect-myself crying. (I think.)
I wish I could think of a way to put into words just how deeply lucky I felt for that evening—for the chance to meet Bryan Stevenson, and tell him how inspiring he is, and how much his dedication and passion move me and inform my classroom, for the chance to introduce one of my beloved, insanely talented and inspiring students and to be reminded that our work as teachers is also such a big, big deal.
And for the chance to speak, even for just five minutes, on behalf of so many teachers who work so hard, who do such incredible things, and who often, never get opportunities like this. And so when I got home that night, I couldn’t help it.
I got in my bed, watched Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk for the ten-thousandth time, and cried the snot, gross, can’t-breathe crying. And I think it’s safe to say, I was honestly the happiest I have ever been. Because I, 9th-year-teacher Marni, realize that on so many levels, I got to be part of something so rare, and so special. And I understood that this night, and all the crying moments leading up to it, were more than anything, a testament to the cocoon of boundless support, mentoring, and encouragement my family, friends, coworkers and students have wrapped me in for 9 years. I don’t have a rap to synthesize it all just yet, but trust me, I’m working on it.
Many of us don’t entirely understand the power that teachers have to encourage young people to become engaged readers.
Gonzalo is a ninth grader at City Arts & Technology High School in San Francisco. Gonzalo’s ninth grade English teacher, Brittany Pratt, and his Reading Lab teacher, Marni Spitz, have built a strong culture in their classes to promote independent reading.
Yesterday, Gonzalo and his peers visited The Mix at the San Francisco Public Library and had time to check out books for the summer. To prepare for the field trip, Ms. Pratt arranged with SFPL to ensure that all students had library cards. In addition, earlier in the week, Ms. Spitz recommended several books to Gonzalo.
It looks like the library visit went well. This morning (yes, a Saturday morning), Ms. Spitz received this enthusiastic email from Gonzalo:
Hey Ms.Spitz thanks for the recommendation of the book “My bloody life” I absolutely love this book it’s so amazing and intresting I already read 50 pages in the span of an hour and that’s the most I’ve read in a day my whole life so excited to read more and possibly finish the book before I we go back to school Monday and share all about the book with you thank you again love this book so much!!!!
My experience says that it takes just three or four books (ideally in a short period of time) to change forever a student’s interest in reading.
This seems fairly easy — but it’s not, at all. For this transformation to occur, three crucial ingredients need to be in place: (1) Access to a ton of good books; (2) Teachers who have read widely and know how to recommend the right books to the right students; (3) Students who trust those teachers, who let them in, and who take a risk to follow through on their teacher’s recommendation that reading is for them.
Great work, Gonzalo, Ms. Pratt, and Ms. Spitz!