Category: reading

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Mateo reviews The New Jim Crow

coverfavicon Mateo, a student in Kathleen’s class in San Francisco, has this to say about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

I extremely enjoyed this book, and I admired Michelle Alexander’s courage to raise issues that are plaguing our society.

Alexander goes in depth about the prison industrial complex, in which we continue to see black men incarcerated for drug crimes. She states statistics that show that white men actually use and sell drugs at astronomical rates, but still black men are being imprisoned.

Alexander concludes that we are in “The New Jim Crow Era.” Many people feel as though we are no longer fighting against explicit racism; however, with the incarceration rates of young Black men, it shows people of color are still being “tamed.”

Alexander’s passion for and knowledge of the Prison Industrial Complex really inspired me to raise these same issues to people who are ignorant to the injustices people of color are facing. favicon

Readers: If you’ve read The New Jim Crow, please leave a comment for Mateo. What did you think of the book?

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Reader to Reader: LaMiya, Oakland

LaMiya Reader to Readerfavicon Today, I’m launching a new series. It’s called Reader to Reader. I’m excited.

The idea is to sit down with students who are participating in the Kindle Classroom Project, hear about their experience with their Kindle, and learn a little about their reading lives, including the book they’re reading now.

It won’t be fancy or glitzy — just two readers having a chat. But I do think that the result will be something special.

This first installment is a 10-minute talk with LaMiya, a 10th grader at Envision Academy in Oakland. She is a student in Nicole’s advisory and reads on a Kindle Fire.

Please enjoy!

For more information about LaMiya’s touchstone book: The Dogs of Winter, by Bobbie Pyron.

I hope you enjoyed this first Reader to Reader. (Yes, I’m working on my interviewing skills and audio quality!) Please leave your thoughts in the comments! favicon

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Books students finished reading today

favicon The Kindle Classroom Project is taking off.

Recently, I set up an add-on to my Google spreadsheet that emails me a message whenever a student has completed a book.

The emails come in every day, hour by hour. Students are reading, and they’re completing books, and they’re telling me about them.

Here are a few books that students completed today:

My Bloody LifeMy Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King
By Reymundo Sanchez
Review by Eduardo, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

This book was amazing due to the format it is set up in. This is actually one of the first books I’ve finished, but what helped out was how interesting the book was and how I could relate to some parts of the story. It was more like a movie than a book because I could picture all the scenes in my head. I like how it deeply explains what caused him to become gang affiliated. It inspired me to count my blessings and to appreciate what I have — because people have realities that I probably would have never survived. I recommend it to those who like gang- affiliated books because it does a great job explaining the struggles of a gang banger as a whole.

The ShallowsThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
By Nicholas Carr
Review by Nicholas, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

While reading The Shallows, I found it incredibly informative and provided a lot of useful information; however, it is not without its faults. The main problem with this book for me was that I found that it dragged on for too long. It takes Carr quite a long time to actually get to his point, but he does fill the in-between time with some interesting information. This alone should not divert you from reading this book. It is quite interesting if you are patient when you read; however, I suppose it all depends on your own reading style. As someone who reads a plethora of books at once, yet at the same time at a slower pace, I found this book to be interesting and recommend it for fans of non-fiction or people looking to get into non-fiction.

Paper TownsPaper Towns
By John Green
Review by Melissa, Kathleen’s class, San Francisco

I gave this book four stars (out of 5) because I loved it, but it is very predictable. It is very similar to Looking for Alaska and Abundance of Katherines, some of his other very popular books. It is pretty unoriginal that he writes about a dorky teenager secretly loving another mysterious teenager over and over again. Even though the storylines are very similar, the book has many quotes and metaphors that I enjoyed.

The completed books keep coming and coming. Over the weekend, one student in Hayward requested a book on Friday, and then requested the second book in the series on Sunday. Another student in San Francisco finished his book on BART on his way home.

The Kindle Classroom Project is removing many of the gaps that deter young people from building robust reading lives. Some are:

– I don’t get to read what I want to,
– I don’t have the extra money to buy books from the bookstore,
– I don’t like going to the library, or it’s too far, or I have too many fines,
– My school doesn’t have enough good books,
– I always have to wait to read the book I want to read.

Those deterrents are real, and I’m very pleased to see how getting Kindles in students’ hands is addressing those obstacles, solving many of them, and encouraging students to reclaim their love of reading. favicon

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What students are reading this weekend

favicon The epicenter of the Kindle Classroom Project has recently moved to San Francisco, where reading activity has skyrocketed, thanks to excellent English teachers Kathleen Large (Leadership High School) and Angela Barrett (City Arts and Technology High School).

Kathleen and Angela are new teachers to the KCP, and they’re infusing energy, passion, and high levels of reading instruction into the program.

Their students are reading and requesting books, then reading and requesting some more. Today, one student requested Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please after reading a review that Michele Godwin wrote at LHS Books.

And the students’ reading doesn’t stop over the weekend. It just keeps going and going. Here is what some students are reading this weekend:

As I’ve said over and over again, when students get to choose what they read, they choose well. The same thing can be said about requesting books.

I don’t have the data yet to back up the assertion that I’m going to make, but I’m going to make it anyway: On average, students read much more and more often on Kindles than they do in print.

It’s wonderful to see students coming back to reading, reclaiming their love of reading, building robust reading lives, building their reading identities, and living a life of the mind. favicon

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Students are reading and reading

favicon Encouraging students to read isn’t rocket science, but it takes a few important ingredients: (1) a strong and committed teacher, (2) kind and curious students, (3) lots of good books.

I’m happy to report that everything is coming together for the Kindle Classroom Project. Students are reading and reading and reading. Thanks, donors!

Here are just a few books that Kathleen‘s students in San Francisco finished today:

bronxwood coverBronxwood, by Coe Booth

Erik’s Review: The book is the best book I have read so far. It is so realistic, and the details are so good that it made me picture everything and have a feeling of how it was happening.

Everything about the book is crazy good. It’s funny, sad, emotional, romantic, and addicting. I would recommend the book to everyone. It’s such a great book; I don’t think anyone would not like it.

American SniperAmerican Sniper, by Chris Kyle

Brandon’s Review: I can say that this is one of my favorite books that I have read, mostly because of how in depth Chris Kyle was while writing the book. Reading the book brought out a sort of patriotism because of everything he did for our country. All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend the book to people that like war stories or just want to learn about the U.S. Military.

(Brandon requested this book just a few weeks ago.)

dope sick coverDope Sick, by Walter Dean Myers

Lazarus’s Review: Dope Sick is one of the best books I have ever read. Me personally, I don’t read books how I’m suppose to, but when I started reading this book, I couldn’t stop. The struggles the main character went through are similar to people I know. The book was about a young African American male who gets himself in a lot of trouble by hanging with the wrong person. One thing I didn’t like about the book was the ending because I felt like the author should have put more into it. Besides the ending, I really enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend young African American males to read this book because it tells you the real deal about life.

Street LifeStreet Life: Poverty, Gangs, and a Ph.D., by Victor Rios

Alex’s Review: This book deserves 5 stars. This is an autobiography/memoir. It talks about Rios’s experience in the streets of Oakland, California. By the age of 13, he already joined a gang. He grew up in a really poor family where he was surrounded by crime and murder in his neighborhood. Later in Rios’s life, he decides to switch his life around, complete college, and help out kids who go through the same things he used to as a kid. He now has helped many people change their lives. Now I’m going to read his second book Punished.

* * *
I’m very pleased with the work that Kathleen and her students are doing. As Kathleen says, reading promotes “a life of the mind.” Also, where reading is, there are stories, and there is joy.

If you’d like to get involved, please consider making a $10 donation so that I can honor the next student’s book request. There is a cute little button on the top right corner of the blog.

Also: If you’d like to leave comments for any or all of the four students, please do so! I’m sure they’d love to hear from you, especially if you’ve read the books they’ve read. favicon

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Why it matters that Mark Zuckerberg is reading books this year

Mark Zuckerbergfavicon Mark Zuckerberg is reading books this year.

Every year, Mr. Zuckerberg makes a self-improvement goal. They’ve been varied — everything from wearing a tie to meeting a new person every day to learning Chinese to eating meat only from animals he’d personally killed.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s goal to read a book every two weeks this year is a big deal. Obviously it’ll help several authors and publishers make tons of money. (Mr. Zuckerberg’s first book, The End of Power, jumped from #45,140 on Amazon to the Top 10. That’s pretty amazing.)

But I’m less interested in the book industry and more interested in how Mr. Zuckerberg, at least this year, will become the new Oprah.

Here’s what The New Yorker had to say about Mr. Zuckerberg:

Mark Zuckerberg New Yorker

Many of us (including author Jonathan Franzen) may have not always liked Oprah’s book choices, or even the idea of one extremely powerful person recommending what we should read. But Oprah got millions of people reading — and millions of people talking about the books they were reading.

That’s the problem with books — vs. movies, TV shows, and even podcasts. There are too many of them, and not enough people are reading the same books at the same time, and so therefore, a lot of times, this is what happens between friends.

Friend #1: Hey, did you read Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande?
Friend #2: No, but I heard about it.
Friend #1: You totally should read it.
Friend #2: OK, right. Yeah, so have you read All the Light We Cannot See?
Friend #1: No, but everyone else has. Is it good?
Friend #2: It’s amazing. You should read it.
Friend #1: OK.

This silly conversation happens all the time — and would never happen with a top movie, like Selma, or even a popular podcast, like Serial. With other forms of media, there are more shared experiences and shared conversations.

That’s not to say that I dismiss reading for its own sake. There are plenty of books I read that I love that don’t need to be talked about. Some books are just for me. Reading is wonderful as a solitary act of self-discovery.

But sometimes, I want to talk about a book. And even in book clubs, discussions sometimes stay on the surface. If books are meant to challenge our perspectives, to deepen our sense of meaning, and to build connection and empathy, then it would be nice if they’re talked about sometimes.

And that’s why I like that Mr. Zuckerberg is reading. Read on, Mr. Zuckerberg! favicon

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The Kindle Classroom Project promotes reading. That’s great. But what if it promotes the death of the physical book?

favicon I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about whether the Kindle Classroom Project is contributing in a small way to the death of print books and thereby is sabotaging one of the program’s primary objectives: to reduce the gap between the reading haves and have-nots.

It’s best to write about these thoughts, rather than pretend they don’t exist.

The argument goes like this: Though the KCP may solve one huge problem (getting good books in students’ hands), it ultimately discourages independent reading in the long run. This is because the program focuses on Kindles, thereby discrediting and dishonoring the physical book as the primary means of reading over the past 500 years.

So if the program urges students to read on Kindles and does not offer physical books as an alternative, what happens when the Kindles get returned or stop working? What then?

Over the past week or two, whenever I feel like I have an answer, I quickly sidestep and consider an opposing view.

Like this morning, when I learned about Out of Print, a documentary by Vivienne Roumani. Please check out the trailer.

I can’t wait to see this film — and am secretly hoping it’ll come to San Francisco and play at a film festival, or maybe at the Roxie.

My big thought is, I know that Kindles work. Over the past three years, I’ve seen it again and again. Many students reclaim their love of reading with a Kindle. Other students love the Kindle because it’s like having a library in their backpack, with no worries of overdue fines or waiting for books to become available. Still others love to change the font size or look up words using the built-in dictionary. It’s pretty clear that Kindles do offer affordances that the physical book cannot.

But I also think that there has to be a place for physical books in the Kindle Classroom Project. After all, the KCP is a reading program, not a technology program. The point is not to disrupt an antiquated technology system. Instead, it’s mean to disrupt an unjust social system.

Besides, physical books do a couple things better than e-readers and e-books. Namely, they’re good at building reading relationships between a teacher and a student — a crucial step in bringing students back to reading. Also, print books are way better for discovery — to help students find what they’ll read next.

So I’m trying to figure out the best way to incorporate physical books into the Kindle Classroom Project without diluting the major thrust of the program. No decisions yet, but I think I’m getting close. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! favicon

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Uh-oh: Here’s what a classroom library is not supposed to look like

favicon Unfortunately, I see this all too often.

Classroom Library in Disarray

What’s sad is that there are tons of great books here. But they’re in disarray, strewn about, all in crazy directions. Not good.

I understand why this happens: The teacher is likely overwhelmed, working too hard, running around all day, shushing students, making copies during passing period, and trying to survive.

Of course, this inference may be untrue. But from the looks of this library, my gut says that this teacher is pretty stressed out. And it’s likely that the students aren’t doing a whole lot of reading.

Maybe I should do a TV show called “Classroom Library Makeover,” where I go around and save classroom libraries like these. My first tip for this one: Sign up a student librarian to keep the shelves in check. It’ll take just one day for the books to be beautifully displayed again. favicon

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It’s never too late (and it can’t be): Helping struggling readers in SF and Hayward

51m9xce9QGL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_favicon Students entering high school are all over the place when it comes to their reading skills. Some read at the college level already, while others struggle. In general, though, they’re 1-2 grade levels behind where they need to be.

For the average student, who is a little behind, we know what works. Care about reading and invest time teaching it. Teach specific strategies of skillful readers with challenging texts, while at the same time encouraging students to read voluminously books of their choice. It’s hard, but it’s easy.

My colleagues and I have had moderate to strong success with this Reading Apprenticeship + Independent Reading approach. For students who read above, at, or slightly below grade level, the program has helped students read better, feel better about reading, and build their reading lives.

Unfortunately, what works for 70 to 75 percent of our students has not worked consistently for the lowest quarter of them. We’ve found that students who read at the third through fifth grade level do not improve at the same rate as their peers. Teacher Pam Mueller calls these students “lifers.”

This year, my colleagues in Hayward and San Francisco are working together, in different ways, to do something about this problem. Here’s a quick summary of our two approaches:

+ San Francisco: Reading Lab
After looking at the data last year, the thoughtful principal recommended built-in reading and Math intervention classes for incoming ninth graders. These small classes (about 15 students each) resemble Ms. Mueller’s class as outlined in Lifers: Learning from At-Risk Adolescent Readers and follow WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship framework, which allows for additional reading practice and dedicated time for reading.

So far, the three sections are going very well. Last Spring, when the teachers began preparing the curriculum, they expressed concern that students would feel stigmatized being placed in Reading Lab. Not so! At all. There’s tons of joy, and so far, the students are joyfully serious.

I can’t wait to tell you more stories from Reading Lab. Social Studies teacher Marni Spitz, contributor to TEACHER VOICES, is one of the three English teachers involved in this project.

+ Hayward: Reading Cohort
Today I attended this year’s first meeting of a teacher-led study team on reading, founded last year by teacher-leader Tess Lantos. This year’s goal for the cohort, which includes the principal and teachers from all disciplines, is to learn how to meet the needs of the school’s lowest-skilled readers.

The teachers will look at the results from the reading diagnostic, which students took a few weeks ago, and each identify five focal students. Then, the teachers will administer the Qualitative Reading Inventory to gain insights about exactly where each student struggles in their reading. From there, the interventions will begin, either in small groups or individually.

I’m very excited by this approach, too, particularly because the cohort includes Social Studies, Math, Science, and Spanish teachers. It’s not a normal thing to see non-English teachers working earnestly to improve their reading instruction.

I am fortunate to work with smart, skilled colleagues who care deeply about their students. My colleagues really get how important reading is for a student’s academic success and overall well-being.

What do you think? Do you have comments or questions? Please leave a brilliant insight! favicon