Tagged: envision academy

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This is the 900th book in the KCP Library!

favicon Say hello to the 900th book in the Kindle Classroom Project Library!


The book, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, by Allie Brosh, was requested by Oakland ninth grader Steven earlier this week.

This New York Times bestseller is about being weird and awkward and having emotions. Bill Gates called the book “funny and smart as hell.” Another review likened Hyperbole to a book David Sedaris would write if he happened to know how to draw.

Steven is a fantastic reader and has great taste in books. Many ninth grade boys at Envision Academy in Oakland are “reading leaders” — in other words, avid readers who also help build the KCP Library with their astute requests.

At the center of the KCP is this ability for students to request books that they want to read. Generous KCP supporters donate money so that students can make those requests. As a result, a trust develops: Young people know that we care about their reading interests, because we make books that they want to read available to them 100% of the time.

If you’d like to learn more about the project, here’s a one-pager that describes the program. If you’d like to make a cash gift, here is an easy way to donate. Thank you! favicon

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Kindle Classroom Project reaches milestone: 800 students will read on Kindles this year!

favicon 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. favicon

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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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TEACHER VOICES: Trevor Gardner, #3

Letters of Rec and Looking Deeply

TrevorGardnerfavicon I ended my last post, which was written last November, with the quip, “The only downfall [of looping with the same students for four years] is the mountain of recommendation letters I am about to sit down and start writing.”

At that time, I had not yet begun writing the 41 college recommendations that have been my unrelenting duty since the days leading up to the first big deadline on Nov. 30.

And though the task has consumed at least 30 hours of my “free” time and led me on innumerable paths down the rabbit hole of Googcrastination, it has been anything but a downfall.

In fact, it has been an inspiring journey of memory and discovery allowing me to see my students more lucidly than I ever have before, and in turn, to appreciate, with renewed evidence, all the reasons that teaching is the most wonderful job in the world.

In one of my favorite essays by Paulo Freire, his “Fourth Letter to Those Who Dare to Teach” in Teachers as Cultural Workers (if you have not read this book, order a copy right now!), he discusses the quality of lovingness as one of the essential qualities of great teachers.

Freire explains:

And here I mean lovingness not only toward the students but also toward the very process of teaching… I do not believe educators can survive the negativities of their trade without some sort of “armed love.”

Sitting down to write these letters of recommendation for nearly half the class of 2015 at Envision Academy has been a transformative experience for me because it has asked me to focus on where these youngStars have grown, where they shine, how they have moved mountains to get where they are today.

I believe this deep seeing is a vital component of the lovingness Freire describes. It is also a perspective that educators – and society in general – take on too rarely in the midst of the negativity surrounding schooling (and especially urban schooling) in this country.

But what I realize more and more is that the most crucial thing I can do to equip myself with the “armed love” that energizes me to do this work year after year after year, is to look deeply at the incredible young people who surround me for seven hours per day – and genuinely see them for their best selves.

Oh yeah, and I only have five more recommendation letters to go, which makes it much easier to write such a positive post about a task so dreaded by high school teachers. favicon

Ed. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition.

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2 more reasons that e-books are better than physical books for classroom libraries

favicon I continue to fight with myself about whether I should advocate more strongly for e-books (over physical books) in classroom libraries. I want to, but my official position is still this: Both are good.

I know that sounds wishy-washy, so let me explain. If there’s a lot of money, then it’s best to get a lot of physical books and a lot of e-books and let the students choose which format they prefer.

But here’s the reality: There is just not enough money. In most public urban schools, there’s barely any. Teachers who want to build classroom libraries have to spend tons of time looking for cheap books, begging their friends for donations, and hoping that they win Penny Kittle’s Book Love grant.

(I hope I win Penny Kittle’s Book Love grant.)

So that’s why I believe strongly in e-books and Kindles.

This picture — which I took yesterday at Envision Academy’s student-run library in Oakland, offers two more reasons I prefer e-books. Take a look:

Sharon Draper Books

Do you see what I see?

#1: Look at all that wear and tear!
(The books are less than two years old.) It’s great that students have loved reading them — Sharon Draper writes extremely popular books for young people — but these physical books need replacing soon. (E-books don’t need to be replaced.)

#2: These books didn’t use to be there.
Last year, you couldn’t find a copy of a Sharon Draper book on the library’s bookshelves. Students were always reading Ms. Draper (see #1 above). But now, a year later, those six copies of Forged By Fire are just sitting there, not being read. With physical books, multiple copies have to be bought (expensive) when a title is popular. But when the trend ends, you wish you had spent some of your money on this year’s popular titles. (E-books can be read by six students at a time, all for the price of one.)

So it’s pretty clear to me that it’s best practice to encourage teachers and students to make the move toward Kindles.

But the problem is that there are a lot of people — including me — who like the idea of physical books. I love my Kindle, but it’s a bit harder to curl up with one.

Do students feel the same way? I haven’t done a formal study, but a recent lunch meeting with students in Hayward suggests no.

I asked them, “Do you prefer reading physical books?” Only one student said yes. Most were neutral or preferred reading on their Kindle.

Then I asked them, “There are a lot of people who think that a book is better when you’re reading the physical version. What do you think of that?”

Two students agreed with that notion and said that flipping pages makes the experience more tactile. But again, the vast majority said that the format doesn’t matter — it’s the story that counts.

I’m going to continue talking with students. Even though I believe strongly in the Kindle Classroom Project, it’s important to uncover what teachers and students want.

One thing is clear: What’s currently happening in public urban schools — a scarcity of books, resources, and reading — cannot continue. There needs to major shift in reading culture!

Please let me know your thoughts on this one! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Trevor Gardner, #2

Teaching as Stalking

TrevorGardnerEd. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition. This is his second post for TEACHER VOICES.

favicon Over the past four years at Envision Academy, I have had the unique opportunity to follow, or “loop,” with my current students through every grade level, ninth through 12th.

Facilitated in part by coincidence (I have both English and social studies credentials and have been willing to teach whichever course the school has needed) and in part by design (after looping with them for three years, I requested the position as their 12th grade World Literature teacher), I have grown with them for their entire high school careers.

One of their favorite jokes usually comes after I make a reference to something from the olden days of ninth or 10th grade, and it goes something like, “Trevor, I can’t believe you have been our teacher for all four years. Why are you stalking us? Are you going to follow us when we go away to college?”

Though their words arrive in jest, they reveal a connection that has been built over multiple years of learning together, a connection that could only have been built over several years, through struggle and triumph and more struggle. Over time.

I have been teaching high school in the Bay for sixteen years now. I have been privileged to develop deep and lasting relationships with my students; have laughed and cried and gritted my teeth with them; have backpacked along the Point Reyes coast with them; have farmed at co-ops in Venezuela with them; have co-presented workshops on restorative justice at educational conferences with them; have analyzed The Kite Runner using the feminist, Marxist, and psychoanalytic lenses with them.

The last time I taught 12th graders, I nearly pulled an all-nighter with several of them as they were preparing for their final Graduation Portfolio Defenses. But my current class of 12th grade youngStars is by far the group with whom I feel the deepest connection – and of whom I hold the greatest knowledge.

The reason is simple: time. One hour per day, five days per week, 36 weeks in a school year, three and one-third school years has taught me worlds about my incredible students (not to mention about myself – but that is another piece entirely).

I know that Raymond leans on his charisma and charm and will just get by unless he is held to high expectations and cajoled to push himself to do his best work.

I know that Dominique works harder and studies more than any student in the schools and sometimes still struggles to earn Bs and Cs.

I know that Jose’s creativity and imagination can take you on incredible journeys when in conversation with him but his pen falls silent when sitting in front of a blank page.

I know that when I pay attention to Gianni for his intelligence and knowledge of history and politics, he never uses negative behavior to seek that attention.

I know that Anthony works two jobs on the weekend and almost always still finds a way to complete his projects and essays on time – and that when he does not, he nearly kills himself trying.

I could keep going and make a list of similar comments for each of the 72 students in the class or 2015. The point is this: relationships are paramount. Trust, care, and commitment are the foundation for strong teaching and learning.

It was largely chance and circumstance that gave me the opportunity to loop with my students for the past for years, but now that I have, I would advocate for this kind of “stalking” to become a model and best practice for schools everywhere.

The only downfall is the mountain of recommendation letters I am about to sit down and start writing. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Trevor Gardner, #1

“How’s your year going?”

TrevorGardnerEd. note: Trevor Gardner teaches English and social studies at Envision Academy in Oakland. He also serves as an instructional coach and is a member of the school’s leadership team. Trevor has written for a number of educational journals, including the esteemed Phi Delta Kappan, in which his piece on restorative justice, “Make Students Part of the Solution, Not the Problem,” appears in the October 2014 edition. This is his first post for TEACHER VOICES.

favicon It’s the same conversation every September, repeated dozens of times in the first few weeks of school. In the hallway on the way to class. In the teachers kitchen waiting for your leftover Thai food to heat up. On the walk to the parking lot after school. It begins with the routine question, “How’s your year going?”

Then the inevitable calculation, the mosaic of words, emotions, challenges, and complexities that form the day-to-day reality of teaching in an urban public school.

Such a struggle. Challenging but inspiring. Just wish we had more support. Barely keeping from drowning. Really love the kids but… All of these words have come out of my mouth at some point in the past few years, sometimes in the same breath. And I have heard them repeated multiple times by my fellow teachers, trying to find the right way to characterize the Sisyphean work we do for a living.

But this year, I have found myself in an unusual predicament, one that has me feeling guilty every time I am asked about my year. The question is unleashed, and the solicitor is almost always confounded by the tone and enthusiasm of my response: “I LOVE teaching! My students are amazing!! I am having so much fun!!!”

Trevor Gardner

Now, let me explain. I do love teaching. I am a lifelong teacher and I see it as a gift and a privilege to play such an important role in the lives of so many incredible young people. AND it is by far the most difficult thing I have every done – and one of the most challenging careers I can imagine taking on. Being a good teacher is hard work. For most of my career, I have found myself teetering on the edge of I cannot do this anymore.

Fortunately, equal parts inspiration and empowerment (both my own and that of my students) have kept me in the game.

But, like I said, this year feels different. Yes, the hard work and long hours are inescapable. But joy is the dominant emotion. I am literally LOVING teaching – like I imagine a video game tester (does that job really exist?) or a professional soccer player might love his job. I am having fun every day.

What is unique about this year? you ask. I wish I had a reproducible formula to share with teachers everywhere – but I am still trying to figure it out myself. Here are a few of the factors I have been able to identify so far:

1. Relationships.
I have been looping for four years with the same group of youngStars (another full post coming soon on that topic). This happened more by coincidence than by design, but it has been an extraordinary journey. Knowing them, teaching them, and learning from the same students since 9th grade created a special bond among us. When I refer to them as “my” kids, I truly mean it.

2. Experience.
After fifteen years of teaching English, history and Humanities to high school students in the Bay (8 of them at Envision), maybe I have finally hit my stride. Malcolm Gladwell has hypothesized it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. Well, 15 years is closer to 20,000 hours of teaching – but maybe I’m just a slow learner.

3. Seniors.
Is teaching seniors just that much different? I have taught 9th grade for 12 of my 15 years in the classroom, and this is only my second time teaching seniors in my career. Maturity. Determination. Ability to walk to the garbage can without knocking someone else’s pen off of their desk (some are still working on this one). Yes, it’s a luxury, I know. Thanks 9th grade teachers.

4. Community.
The class of 2015 at Envision Academy is a special group of students. If I hadn’t already exceeded by word limit, I would write a brief description of what makes every one of them shine. I’ll just say that the way they take care of each other and hold each other up is a model for what community should look like in our society.

5. Engagement.
This is how teaching is supposed to feel. There is an energy around the content of the class that makes me excited to create the lessons, then come in and teach them every day. I feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society sharing the secrets of life and literature with so many eager pupils. Right now we are reading The Kite Runner and learning literary theory, and often the most significant challenge during class is giving space to all the voices who want to participate in discussions and reading. What a beautiful dilemma to have!

OK, I realize that several of these factors are actually beyond our control as classroom teachers, so maybe what I’m saying is that having a joyous year teaching is just the luck of the draw. No, perhaps it’s about the gold at the end of a lengthy rainbow. Actually, I think I’m just a very thankful educator sharing what too few of us experience on a normal basis – the genuine joy of teaching. favicon

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Popular books among Oakland youth

favicon When you’re starting to build a classroom library, one of the best ways to find high-interest books is to ask your students what they like.

It’s not always best practice just to ask them with no context, though. If they don’t see themselves as readers, they may request a book they read several years ago, like A Child Called It or The Giver. That’s no good.

What is better is to team up with your local public library and put on a Book Faire. I’ve written about the Book Faire at Envision Academy in Oakland. It’s great. Students browse about 150 books and then fill out a slip of their top three requests. Then, if you have the money, you buy some!

Take a look at a few of the most-requested books from last month’s Book Faire in Oakland!

Any surprises? For me, there’s nothing shocking about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Life in Prison, or Perfect Chemistry. But I didn’t expect Hunger Games to still be so popular.

On the other hand, I was pleased that Zom-BMonument 14, and Article 5 made the list. Students everywhere still like zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian tales. Why not? (I liked Zom-B.)

The only non-memoir nonfiction title in the group, Buzzed is an excellent resource for students who want “the real truth” about drugs. It makes me happy that it’ll be checked out. wtf, maybe not so much (though I haven’t tried it yet).

Please let me know what you think of the students’ requests! Did they choose well? Have you read (and enjoyed, or hated) any of these books? And feel free, as always, if you feel the urge, to buy a few for my students over at their Amazon Wishlistfavicon

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Another successful Book Faire in Oakland

favicon I like the Book Faire that Envision Academy in Oakland puts on to build its school library and to promote reading among students.

The process is simple.

Once a semester, Mary, the school’s vice principal, calls up the Oakland Public Library Teen Zone. Its librarians, Brian and Xochitl, are wonderful. They know what students like to read, and they pull 150 high-interest titles from the shelves.

The day before the faire, I drive on over to the library in my Honda Civic. Brian grabs a cart, which we load with five massive book bags. We wheel the books down to my car, and I drive them on over to the school.

When I arrive, student librarians are ready to receive the books, take them upstairs, organize them into genres, and put them on tables. Here’s a picture of part of the ethnic literature table:

2014-05-08 10.41.31

Once the books are on tables, everything is ready for the event.

The event runs extremely smoothly, thanks to the student librarians. They have the whole process down pat. Classes come in (this time, the groups were organized by Math classes), get a book request slip, browse the books for about 10 minutes, and then fill out their slip with three choices.

It’s great to see students talking with students about books. It’s also great that students know that we’re going to buy the books that they request. (That’s what the book request slip is for. After the event, I go through the slips and purchase up to three copies of each requested title.)

Overall, the Book Faire is simple and smooth. I can’t say enough about the student librarians. If you want to build a reading culture at your school, the single most important investment is to find, train, and cultivate the skills and passions of student librarians. Mary, the school’s vice principal, has done an excellent job building this group.

Here’s a quick picture of them after a job well done:

Book Faire 3

Please, if you have a minute, consider leaving a brilliant insight. What do you think of this Book Faire? What thoughts do you have about the student librarians? Thank you for your insights! favicon