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A teacher’s book recommendation, plus a trip to the library, leads Gonzalo to a book he loves

my bloody life

favicon 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! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #16

One month before graduation. “Now what?”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 4/18 2:10 pm
Family meeting week, the last of my advisees’ high school careers. I meet with K’s mom for five minutes, just to let her know that K is on track to graduate May 28. K has all her credits, she’s passing her classes, and she’s in good shape for the senior exhibition. Go ahead and order the invitations for the graduation party! K’s already paid her deposit to CSU Stanislaus; she’s ready to go. It’s the easiest meeting I’ll have all week.

2:45 pm
D’s mom comes in to talk about D’s progress toward graduation. He’s currently failing two classes, and he owes over 30 academic hours. D swats it away like it’s nothing: “Yeah yeah. I’m taking care of it,” he says.

“What about your exhibition slides? I haven’t seen any of them, and all 15 are due Friday,” I tell him. “You have to pass the exhibition to graduate.”

“Yeah yeah,” he says again, yawning and looking at his phone.

D’s mother takes copious notes in the binder she keeps for tracking D’s school endeavors. She knows that D has absolutely zero wiggle room, that he cannot fail one more class or miss one more credit if he wants to graduate on time. She has experienced his Fs as well as his last-minute recoveries. She’s been on this roller coaster for a while.

I tell them both: D can either walk across the stage on May 28th or not. It’s all in his hands. He nods again, checking his phone and pushing back his chair to leave.

3:30 pm
I’m surprised to see N on campus still, school having let out over an hour ago. N has stopped staying at school until the end of the day, cutting out the last 30 minutes or so every day because he can’t handle being here, or so he says. He’s angry all the time he’s not stoned, and he’s hard to be around. It’s almost a relief when he cuts out early, even though it’s absolutely not OK for him to be skipping school.

I ask him what he’s doing.

“Working on AP Bio with Ms. P,” he tells me and keeps walking toward the science room.

I’m surprised. It’s typical of N to buckle down the last few weeks of school and scrape by in his classes. But we still have another couple weeks! It’s not quite last-minute yet!

I resolve to call his mother and tell her the same thing I told D’s mom: N may or may not walk the stage in a few weeks. But I’m betting he will.

Wednesday, 4/20 4 pm
K is worried I’m going to tell her mother bad news. She has a good reason to worry: K never showed her mother her report card from January. K’s failing three classes, and her mother is concerned that K is always out with her friends and never at home studying. K’s older brother dropped out of high school and sits around the house getting stoned all the time, so mother naturally worries that K is destined for the same fate. The mother works long hours, cleaning people’s houses to make enough money to barely get by. She brought her children to this country to give them a better life, to give them opportunities she didn’t have.

K has to translate the bad news to her mother, and then translate her mother’s reaction. It’s too much for her, and she refuses to translate when it comes time to tell her mother she may or may not graduate, depending on whether or not she can bring up her Spanish grade. She cries instead of telling her mother she won’t be able to go to college if she doesn’t bring up her grades. Her mother can tell I’ve given some bad news—she sees her daughter crying—but she doesn’t know what I’ve said, and K refuses to say what she needs to say. I finally have to use Google translate. Her mother listens carefully to the robotic voice tell her that her daughter’s future is in limbo, that she may have to rescind her college acceptance and the scholarship and the work study and all the assistance she’s been offered if she doesn’t buckle down and get her work done. I’m embarrassed, listening to that horrible voice read this woman’s future to her. I wish I had found another teacher to translate, a human being to convey the scary news.

Again, I didn’t think it through. I didn’t put myself in this mother’s place and imagine a robot telling me my child’s future. What have I done?

4:45 pm
I talk to M’s mother on the phone. Her son has all As and Bs, has completed all his community service and academic hours, and is in excellent shape for graduation. She knows all this, of course, because she keeps a very close eye on her boy. She calls regularly, to ask about deadlines and upcoming events and homework assignments. She checks his emails and recently told me she’d found her son a date to prom but she needed to find one for his brother. Did I have any suggestions? I didn’t.

Friday, 4/22 3:30 pm
C’s dad calls for our family meeting. He’s a contractor and has had to take a lot of time off to deal with his younger son, C’s brother, who skips school all the time and is failing all his classes. C is the oldest, the exceptional child and very much a typical child of alcoholic parents: straight As, self-centered, over-achieving. He’s applied to schools all over the country, top-tier schools with excellent engineering programs, as well as UC Berkeley and UCLA. His number one choice is MIT.

His father and I spend a few minutes talking about what C needs to do to graduate in May: keep doing what he’s doing, and work on his senior exhibition. We spend more time lamenting that C hasn’t been accepted into any of the schools he applied to. How can that be? He’s a straight-A student, played soccer all four years of high school, first generation to go to college, qualifies for free and reduced lunch, Mexican American. What’s the problem? I don’t understand it, and I tell his father as much. I wish C had applied to some CSUs, but he brushed those aside. He was so confident. Now what? favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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Organizing the Web in 3 not-so-perfect ways: Inbox by Gmail, Save to Google, Google Keep

favicon Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Everyone uses Google to search, but what happens after you find something good? There are a ton of options, and now Google is offering choices, too.

Over the past couple weeks, Google has released three new products:

Inbox by Gmail– Inbox by Gmail Extension. This extension allows you to save links to a bundle in Inbox by Gmail. This might be good for you if (a) you already use Inbox by Gmail and (b) you tend to save and organize links by sending them to your email. What’s not great, though, is that I don’t think you can send those links to friends once they’re in Inbox. (You can send them directly from the extension.)

Save to Google. This extension lets you save and organize webpages from your computer to a dedicated bookmarks page, google.com/save. You can add tags and notes, plus you can view your links on your phone. (But you can’t add new links from your phone.) Again, the biggest weakness of this extension is that you can’t share those links later on (unless you go back to the original webpage, of course).

Google KeepSave to Keep. This extension allows you to save links as new notes in Google Keep. If you already like Keep (I sort of do), this might be a good option. Once a link is a note in Keep, you can share it with friends (especially if they use Keep, too). The bad news, though, is that links are hard to organize easily, though the service now allows you to add hashtags easier (#) via phone.

While it’s nice to see that Google is taking some steps to help us organize the internet, I have to say, I’m not really sure what the company is doing. Each of these products offer just a tidbit of the entire puzzle. For people who don’t want to keep tons of tabs open, and who don’t want to keep sending links to their email, there has to be an easy way to save-organize-share. Right now, Google is not providing those three basic features. favicon

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Upgrading to the Kindle Oasis? Donate your used Kindle to students in the SF Bay Area!

favicon I admit it: Though I have no reason to, I’ll be buying the new Kindle Oasis.

Kindle Oasis 3

My Kindle Voyage is fine. And so is my Kindle Keyboard. But I’ve owned every single Kindle since the Kindle 2, and there’s no stopping me. Despite the steep $289 price tag, I’ll be getting an Oasis when it comes out later this month.

It turns out that I’m not alone. A couple days ago, I read that 41 percent of Kindle sales come from current Kindle owners. This means that there are millions of used Kindles in people’s homes across the country, ready to be given away — to partners, children, grandchildren, and friends.

In case you’ve already saturated your friends and families with your previous Kindles, you should consider donating your latest device to students in Oakland and San Francisco.

I run the Kindle Classroom Project, a program that promotes the love and power of reading. Students get a Kindle and anytime access to a library of 730+ books, along with the right to request new books they like. With the KCP, students read what they want, where they want, whenever they want.

Kindles encourage young people to read more because good books are always in their hands.

If you’re interested in donating your old Kindle, check out testimonials from students and teachers. And once you’re convinced, head over to the Donate page to take the next step. Thank you for donating your Kindle, and enjoy your Oasis (as will I)! favicon

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What the KCP Means to Me:

Laurin | Oakland, California

Laurin-KCPfavicon I have had my Kindle for about 2 months and I love it. At the beginning, you don’t know what to read because there’s so much to choose from. Choosing just one book seems impossible — well, it was for me!

I love the Kindle program because it allows you the opportunity to choose among hundreds of books, books that you probably wouldn’t be able to read because you can’t afford them or you can’t find. The KCP is a great opportunity to read a variety of books, from romance to comedy. Any genre you want to read, the Kindle has it.

I really have enjoyed my Kindle, I have been reading series over series since I got my Kindle. My reading speed has increased because of how I have being reading over this month. I have cried, laughed, and even gotten mad when I read, and that is because reading has become such a constant thing that I read many books with different plots. Each plot extends my imagination and allows me to grow as a reader.

I recommend the Kindle to everyone. It’s such a great device. You just get so much enjoyment from just one tiny little thing. Because of the Kindle, my passion for reading has returned, and I am more eager than ever to read as many books as possible in one day. By far the Kindle program is AMAZING. Everyone should try it! favicon

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What the KCP Means to Me:

Grace | Oakland, California

facebook-picturefavicon I’m really glad I get to be a part of the Kindle Classroom Project! When I first heard about the Kindle Classroom Project, I thought it was an awesome idea that would give students opportunities to read throughout the school year and would offer easier access to books for students who do not have the time to check out books at libraries.

As a student, and especially as a senior, I am always busy. I have to juggle work while balancing my busy schedule at school and outside of it. However, I enjoy those precious moments where I can kick back, relax, and read on my Kindle.

During Spring Break, I was surprised how much of a bookworm I’ve become. I’ve been reading so many interesting books (such as Legend and The Young Elites by Marie Lu). I’ve been a huge bookworm in the past, but I’ve never really had time to read because I was preoccupied with other stuff. It would also be a hassle to go to the library and borrow books.

My Kindle, however, feels like a mini-library that I can carry around anytime: in my backpack, my purse, or in my hand. There is a huge library full of books to choose from within my Kindle, and I’ve discovered so many interesting books to read!

Thanks to the Kindle Classroom Project, I have rediscovered my joy of reading! I thank the supporters and teachers who have made the Kindle Classroom Project possible! Thank you for your support! favicon