Category: reading

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Please read: “The Need to Read,” by Will Schwalbe

favicon My friend Lynn emailed me “The Need to Read,” by Will Schwalbe, in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. It is definitely worth reading.

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Excerpts

Reading is the best way I know to learn how to examine your life. By comparing what you’ve done to what others have done, and your thoughts and theories and feelings to those of others, you learn about yourself and the world around you. Perhaps that is why reading is one of the few things you do alone that can make you feel less alone. It is a solitary activity that connects you to others.

I’m reminded that reading isn’t just a respite from the relentlessness of technology. It isn’t just how I reset and recharge. It isn’t just how I escape. It’s how I engage. And reading should spur further engagement.

And here’s my favorite:

Books remain one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny—but only as long as people are free to read all different kinds of books, and only as long as they actually do so. The right to read whatever you want whenever you want is one of the fundamental rights that helps preserve all the other rights. It’s a right we need to guard with unwavering diligence. But it’s also a right we can guard with pleasure. Reading isn’t just a strike against narrowness, mind control and domination: It’s one of the world’s great joys.

Source: http://j.mp/2gtt9kI (via Pocket). You can also find this article at 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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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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The rise of phone reading, and what that means for the Kindle Classroom Project

favicon Apparently, people are reading more and more on their phones. Please check out Jennifer Maloney’s article, “The Rise of Phone Reading,” in The Wall Street Journal.

In the last three years, according to Nielsen, the percentage of people who read primarily on their phones has jumped to 14 percent from 9 percent. On the other hand, the percentage of people who read primarily on their e-readers has plummeted to 32 percent from 50 percent.

From the article: “The future of digital reading is on the phone,” said Judith Curr, publisher of the Simon & Schuster imprint Atria Books. “It’s going to be on the phone and it’s going to be on paper.”

I think this trend is real and will likely continue. So why am I still collecting recycled Kindles and giving them to students? Shouldn’t I just encourage them to read on their phones? After all, the White House is moving in that direction, and the New York Public Library is developing an e-reading app for smartphones.

Moving to phones — as Worldreader has done — won’t work for the Kindle Classroom Project for several reasons. The most important reason the KCP cannot and does not want to rely on BYOD, or bring your own device. That’s inequitable. Plus, giving a student a Kindle is a crucial part of the program. When a teacher tells a student, “This Kindle is for you,” that means, “I care about you and your reading.”

The second reason is practical: Phones won’t work because they’re banned in most schools. The point of the KCP is to increase access to reading in order to encourage students to grow lives of the mind. That means making reading an option as often as possible, as simply as possible. If phones can’t be out, then students can’t be reading.

I won’t get into some of the other reasons — like whether phones distract students more than e-readers, or whether the phone “is antithetical to deep reading,” as neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf argues.

Sure, perhaps a trusty Kindle 2 e-reader is becoming antiquated, and maybe a few students (though I haven’t heard this from many of them) would prefer sticking with their phones to read. But overwhelmingly, students tell me they love having a Kindle and a library of 500+ books to read, along with the opportunity to request new ones whenever the like.

Source: http://j.mp/1Jixwou (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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“This Kindle is for you.”

Kindle Giftfavicon Too many programs for students have caveats and conditions. Too many rules and responsibilities. Too many if-thens.

“If you agree to do this list of items,” these programs say, “then you get these rewards.” Sign this paper, follow the requirements, and later, you’ll reap the benefits. If you don’t, too bad; your lack of follow-through demonstrates your lack of interest in the program.

I understand this reasoning. It’s an American tenet, after all, that consistent hard work leads to progress and success. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging these values in students.

But at the Kindle Classroom Project, there is a different message: “This Kindle is for you.”

This is what I tell the students when I give them their Kindle. The only rule is not to break or lose the Kindle. Otherwise, they get to use it as they like. They can read a lot or a little. They can choose what they read and request books they want.

This message emerged from conversations last year with KCP teacher and close friend Kathleen Large. Miss Large is an extraordinary teacher because she loves her students unconditionally and pushes them to a build a life of the mind. Gifts with conditions, she would argue, do not appropriately demonstrate the care, respect, and love we wish to offer our students. We must instead give and trust.

“This Kindle is for you” is powerful because it means, “I believe in you, I care about you, and I encourage you to read. This gift contains a library of books. Choose any of them to read. If you don’t find something you like, let me know, and I’ll buy it for you.”

If we want young people to read, we can’t complain that they don’t read, or say that they’re lazy, or that teen culture repudiates the quest for knowledge, or wonder why they don’t go to the library. Instead, we must put books in students’ hands.

Respected reading teacher Donalyn Miller calls on us to be “book patrons.” Here’s my favorite passage from her recent piece, “Patron of the Arts“:

“Many of my students over the years haven’t owned a single book they can call their own. It’s heartbreaking. While I recognize that many people lack the resources to purchase books, we must accept that for children to have access to books, someone—a parent, teacher, librarian, or generous donor must buy books and put them in children’s hands. If we truly value reading, the artists and publishers who create children’s books, and the children themselves, we must embrace our role as book patrons.”

According to Ms. Miller, the if-thens shouldn’t always be for our students. Rather, they should be for us. If we put books in students’ hands, then they will read.

I’m proud to be a part of the Kindle Classroom Project, and I’m very appreciative of the many donors, teachers, and students who make it possible. favicon

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Recommended Reading: “In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print”

favicon Nick Bilton last week wrote an ode to physical books in “In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print.” It strikes all the key notes: his mother’s passing, the inheritance of a 3,000-book library, her notes in the books’ margins, memories of childhood, and plenty of emotion.

In the piece, Mr. Bilton does not take sides on the perennial e-books vs. physical books debates. Each is good for its purpose. But if the purpose is to remember a loved one, then we know which format is better.

Excerpt
“In late March, a few days after my mother died from cancer, I sat in a cold living room in the north of England with my two sisters as a lawyer read my mother’s last will and testament. We were told that her modest estate would be divided evenly among her three children, with one exception.”

It always gets me thinking: Will people say the same thing about photographs? Many funerals now include hand-constructed tributes that include physical prints. What about a slideshow projected on a screen? Less emotional and impactful?

As for physical books, yes, there will always be that tactile experience, the feeling of the paper, the quality that an object takes on in an environment. It’s maybe true that a physical book offers a better reminder of having read a book.

But on the other hand, I don’t think I’ll forget reading Last Chance in Texas or Just Mercy anytime soon. Those books will stay with me even if their contents live inside my Kindle rather than on my bookshelf. favicon

Source: http://j.mp/1d7CUCM (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Why kids lose interest in reading as they get older

favicon Daniel Willingham is a leader in secondary literacy and independent reading, and his recent article, “Why kids lose interest in reading as they get older,” does a good job summarizing a few of the basic reasons that young people’s interest in reading declines as they move into middle and high school.

As students get older, Willingham suggests, reading becomes more of a chore. Teachers require greater comprehension, offer less choice, and demand that students read various genres for various purposes.

None of these reasons is particularly earth-shattering, of course. But they remind me that schools, by themselves, are not in the business of promoting independent reading past mid-elementary school.

If students are going to read widely, they have three choices:
1. Already love to read,
2. Live with a family that loves to read and promotes independent reading,
3. Have a teacher or be part of a program that encourages independent reading.

In other words, if we want our young people to read, it won’t happen automatically. There are too many other fun things to do. But it’s not rocket science. If we care about reading, and if we put good books in front of students, and if we foster a love of reading, then young people will read.

Excerpt
“Attitudes toward reading peak in early elementary years. With each passing year, students’ attitudes towards reading drop.”

Source: http://j.mp/1cm9dNs (via Pocket). favicon

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Book Review: The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, by Nicholas Carr ★★★★☆

Ed. Note: The following book review is by Noam O., a student in Kathleen’s class in San Francisco.

Glass Cage Coverfavicon The Glass Cage is a neutral book about the pros and cons of technology and automation. I enjoyed it because I expected the book to be biased against technology, and I expected it to speak of the evils of modern technology. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the author’s neutrality and his ability to weigh the pros and the cons of technology and automation. It talks about how technology has been incredibly helpful and is the hallmark of our species. At the same time, the book also speaks of the dangers of its misuse and how we must balance the use of technology. favicon

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Book Review: Crank, by Ellen Hopkins ★★★★☆

Ed. Note: The following book review is by Nicholas G., a student in Kathleen’s class in San Francisco.

crank2favicon Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, was one of the most interesting fiction books I’ve read in a long time. The writing style author Ellen Hopkins employs is odd, yet it provides for a much more entertaining read. It is almost like reading a poem, yet it still is very unique.

The story tells of a girl and her downfall into the depths of drug addiction. I would recommend this book for someone looking for an unusual but quick read. Since the pages are like a poem with unorganized stanzas, it actually doesn’t take too long to get through this book. favicon

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Book Review: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson (★★★★★)

Just Mercyfavicon Please read this book as soon as you can. That’s pretty much it.

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, is probably the best book I’ve read in the last five or so years.

It’s pretty much about everything I care about: social justice, race, poverty, compassion and empathy, commitment and dedication, and the power of hard work and hope.

Mr. Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, is an attorney who has spent his life defending people on death row. He has done most of his work in the South, where the death penalty, along with years of mass incarceration, serves to extend the legacy of slavery.

In fact, Just Mercy is a perfect companion to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. While Prof. Alexander’s book focuses on the institutional progression from slavery to race terrorism to Jim Crow to segregation to mass incarceration, Mr. Stevenson centers in on the personal, dedicating most of his book to the case of Walter McMillian. He intersperses the main narrative with poignant, disturbing chapters on injustices facing women, children, and people with intellectual disabilities.

There are many reasons to read this book. If you care about issues of social justice, the justice system, race, or poverty, then this book is a natural fit.

But this book is even more. It will push you to consider what you’re doing with your life, about what you stand for, about how you treat people. It will get you out of the humdrum dailiness and encourage you to think about the big.

Just as an example, here’s a short excerpt where Mr. Stevenson reflects on why he stays in this challenging work. After a page in which he describes how society has “broken” his clients, he continues:

I do what I do because I’m broken, too. My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it. We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, consider watching Mr. Stevenson’s TED Talk, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice.”

As Mr. Stevenson says, let’s listen. And once we’ve listened, let’s talk about what we may not want to talk about. Let’s believe things that we haven’t yet seen. Let’s consider our hearts in addition to our minds. Let’s have an orientation of hope. And if you’ve read the book, let’s start talking about it! Please leave a comment. favicon

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On teachers and classroom libraries

favicon Today I visited with Nancy Jo Turner, a good friend and former colleague, at Realm Charter School in Berkeley.

We chatted and talked about life and about teaching, and I was reminded of her beautiful classroom library and her commitment to independent reading.

Beautiful: Clean design, covers facing outward!
Beautiful: Clean design, covers facing outward!

Hanging out with Nancy Jo also reminded me how hard it is for teachers to maintain robust classroom libraries. (She’s doing it, though, very well.)

It’s (at least) a part-time job:

– Encouraging students to read,
– Checking books out to students,
– Conferencing with students,
– Finding money to purchase new books,
– Checking in returned books,
– Re-shelving returned books,
– Keeping track of completed books,
– And more, of course.

I honor the work that Nancy Jo and other teachers are doing across the San Francisco Bay Area to ensure that students have immediate and ongoing access to high-interest books.

It is also praiseworthy that teachers celebrate the reading of their students. Here’s just one of the ways that Nancy Jo does this:

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When I visit teachers in their classrooms, it gets me inspired to continue thinking about the best ways to build reading cultures in schools. It’s not easy work, but it’s worthwhile work.

After all, when students make reading a habit, and when they start liking it again, and when they’ve completed several books, there’s something big that happens. Conversations improve. There are more hopes and what-ifs. And students start building a bigger life that is their own. favicon