Tagged: donalyn miller

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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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I love anonymous donors on DonorsChoose

donors Instead of assigning everything my students will read, I’m trying something new this year: a move to Reading Workshop in my English 9 class. My ninth graders will participate in The 1,000,000 Word Challenge.

When I look at the research (thank you, Stephen Krashen), it’s a no-brainer. Free, voluminous, voluntary reading is the way to go. Besides, test scores have gone down among ninth graders at my school (to only 27 percent proficiency) over the last five years, so something new needs to happen.

Still, it’s a controversial choice. Questions abound. Here are a few: (1) Will students actually read? (2) If they read, will their reading be rigorous enough? (3) Aren’t you giving up on “real” homework?

Instead of getting caught up in those questions, I’ve decided to focus my attention to connecting my students with good books. Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, and Nancie Atwell are my inspirations. If I unabashedly share my love of reading — if I show my students I know them and care about them through the books I recommend to them — they will like reading, too.

One of the requirements of a Reading Workshop is to have a substantial classroom library so students have access to high-quality books. Although Gallagher is correct when he writes in Readicide that “building a classroom library is a career-long pursuit,” I can’t wait. I need books now.

In addition to finding books at used book stores and Salvation Army stores, this summer I turned to DonorsChoose for help. It was easy: I selected the books I wanted, 10 to 15 books at a time, wrote up a little proposal, submitted the project, and waited.

I didn’t end up having to wait that long.

Six projects, 100-plus books, and an Amazon Kindle later, I can safely say that I love anonymous donors on DonorsChoose! Sure, a few of my friends and family helped out, too (thank you!), but my main donors have been strangers: wonderful people out there who love reading and learning and who believe in my project.

If anonymous donors have contributed more than $1,000 in just one 8-week summer, perhaps I have struck a chord. My donors will help me to withstand any criticism I’ll face and to remain singularly focused on working with students to deepen their interest in reading.

You too can be one of my anonymous donors! Here are my current open projects on DonorsChoose. (No pressure, you don’t need to remain anonymous!)