Tagged: oakland

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Reader to Reader, the KCP Podcast

Episode #2: Tamera, Oakland

favicon After a brief (one-year) respite, I’m back with the second episode of Reader to Reader: The Kindle Classroom Project Podcast!

Reader to Reader is a 10-minute interview with a student participating in the Kindle Classroom Project.

Yesterday I had the privilege to sit down with Tamera, a 12th grader in Oakland. She just received a Kindle Paperwhite from her teacher, Maria.

In this episode, Tamera talks about the book she’s reading, where she’s going to college, and why she’s a reader. But there’s also a special twist — because Tamera was a KCP student back in 2012-13, when she was a ninth grader and when the KCP had only 13 Kindles!

Please let me know what you think about this episode — and include ideas for how to make this podcast a real podcast. For example: Should I be more prepared? Should there be music? What questions should I ask? Should I be less energetic?

My hope is to continue interviewing students and putting out a podcast episode at least every month. If things go well, maybe I’ll send Reader to Reader to iTunes! Thank you very much for your support. favicon

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Look at these happy readers in Oakland!

favicon Teacher Lara (Oakland, CA) sent me a few photos today of more happy students reading on their Kindles — especially during lunch and after school.

Thanks for the photos, Lara — and thanks, students, for reading!

It’s becoming clear that something big happens when we give a student a Kindle that holds a library of more than 600 high-interest titles.

Simply: Reading happens more often, in more places.

Add that to the promise that students may request new books to the Kindle Library, and you have a powerful combination.

Thanks again to the students, teachers, and generous donors of the KCP. favicon

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What’s on your Kindle?

favicon KCP teacher Lara (Oakland, CA) sent me this great photo from her classroom whiteboard. Check it out!

What's On Your Kindle?

Have you read any of these books? Feel free to let everyone know in the comments! (I’ve read The Maze RunnerLet’s Explore Diabetes with OwlsTakedownThings Fall Apart, and Murderville.)

I really like what Lara is doing here. In a quick and informal way, she is celebrating her students’ reading, identifying good books, and building a reading community.

Reading is both a private and a social activity. On the one hand, we all need space to be with our own book and our own thoughts. On the other hand, reading offers an opportunity to connect. Young people have told me the exhilaration they feel when they talk to a peer about a common book they’ve read.

Thank you, Lara, for your dedication to your students and your hard work to promote reading in your classroom! favicon

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More reading enthusiasm at Oakland High School

13 Stack of Kindlesfavicon Good news continues to flow from Oakland High School, where students are reading a lot and appreciating their Kindles.

(Here’s a previous post about the enthusiasm.)

Teacher Jessica writes that her experience so far with the Kindles “is all very dreamy. I feel like I’m living in a movie about excited readers.”

Her students agree.

One student told Jessica: “I told my mom we were getting Kindles, and she was like, ‘Oh, you go to that kind of school now!’ ” (*positive tone*).

Then, during a not-so-interesting school assembly, Jessica witnessed “rows” of her students “slyly reading their Kindles.”

(I love it when students “misbehave” by reading.)

And then there’s this one: One of Jessica’s students approached her the other day and said, “I’m really turning into a reader! I just keep reading this Kindle, and I’m getting faster!”

This is wonderful news. The students at Oakland High School are eager, and they’re grateful, and they’re reading a lot. (You should see all the books they’re requesting!)

The Kindle Classroom Project isn’t doing anything to enhance the enthusiasm that Oakland students have for reading. The enthusiasm is already there. There’s nothing fancy or magical going on.

All the KCP is doing is giving students widespread access to books — whatever students want to read, whenever they want to read. The students and their excellent teachers are doing the rest. favicon

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Gobs of reading in Oakland

favicon I’m not sure what a “gob” is, but I’m certain that it describes how much reading is happening among the students in Oakland.

Let’s check the dictionary.

Screenshot 2015-10-17 17.08.51OK, I’ll take the second definition.

In the past week, here are some of the books that students in Oakland are reading:

  • Jesse’s Girl, by Miranda Kenneally
  • For the Win, by Cory Doctorow
  • Firefight, by Brandon Sanderson
  • Black Boy, by Richard Wright
  • If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan
  • Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Young Elites, by Marie Lu

I’m proud to say that I’m purchasing new books quickly for students. They request a new title, and within 30 minutes, it’s on their Kindle. (Katie just requested a book today, on a Saturday. No problem!)

My hope is that students are getting the message that I’m serious when I say they can read books they want to read. The only rule is that students may request only one book at a time. No hoarding!

If you’d like to support Oakland students on their reading adventures, please consider making a donation via PayPalfavicon

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Enthusiasm from students in Oakland

favicon Kindles are arriving in Oakland — 370 when all is said and done — and students are responding with enthusiasm, appreciation, and gratitude.

Empire of ShadowsStudent Chi (Oakland, CA), who received her Kindle today at lunch, already requested Empire of Shadows, by Miriam Forster. She included this note: “I really appreciate you doing this for us. Thank you so much.”

(I’ve found that many students like fantasy, a genre I don’t know too much about, and this book, told from two perspectives, is part of a popular series.)

Other students are also taking advantage of the KCP’s promise: “Read whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want.”

Student Chris (Oakland, CA) requested Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which somehow was not yet part of the Kindle Library. (The library now stands at 538 titles.) He made the book request way after school, at around 7:00 pm, just in time for a good evening of reading. This energized me: If we want large gains in reading, and if we want our students to identify as readers, we must extend access to well beyond regular school hours.

It has also been heartwarming to witness the development of communities of readers. Student Katie (Oakland, CA) requested an additional copy of Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell’s extremely popular novel. When more than six students are reading the same title at the same time, a student’s Kindle reads “license limit reached.” To follow Amazon’s terms and conditions, the student requests another copy, and I purchase it immediately.

With Kindles, students can read books with their friends. They don’t have to wait for limited copies of books to become available. (Teacher Marni Spitz in San Francisco wrote thoughtfully about this point in her latest TEACHER VOICES post.)

As you can tell, all of this enthusiasm coming from students is encouraging me to work even harder. It’s a wonderful feeling to get thanks from students who recognize that their obstacles to reading have been removed.

Again, it is important to thank the hundreds of KCP supporters from across the country who understand the importance of providing young people with unmitigated access to books. Thank you! 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, #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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Building a culture of reading at a school in Oakland

2013-12-12 08.00.09favicon Today I was at the Oakland school, which always brings me tons of joy, and I got to read with the Kindlers during the 25-minute Sustained Silent Reading period.

(Spending good time with the Kindlers will be an entirely separate post!)

I have a lot of respect for high schools that dedicate a significant part of their schedule to SSR. After all, SSR is controversial. Some say that it doesn’t work, and others say that even if it works, it’s not appropriate for schools to devote so much time to independent reading, particularly in this time of the Common Core State Standards.

Blah blah blah.

OK, sure, it’s possible to do SSR poorly. Here are a few ways: (1) Don’t have enough good books, (2) Let kids fake read or do homework, (3) Pretend you care about reading when really you don’t.

I’m pleased to report that I get to work at a school where SSR is going brilliantly. The depth of silence across the school is profound. The students are all reading, and they’re curling up when they’re reading, and it’s eminently clear that they’re enjoying their books. When the 25 minutes is up, students don’t want to stop.

As a reading advocate, I believe, of course, that voluminous reading is the most important outcome of SSR. But a close second is the calm that SSR generates. Whereas other schools focus on mindfulness or meditation, this school gets the same result through reading. The students are still, and they dive into a different world.

There are benefits for the adults, too. They’re also reading. They’re not taking attendance or shushing students or getting ready for their lessons. Staff members who are not classroom teachers are reading as well. In fact, the main door to the school is locked, and there’s a sign that says that visitors should return after SSR is over. The school shuts down so that everyone can read. The only room with non-reading activity is, ironically, the library, which students visit to return finished books and check out (from student librarians) new ones.

It’s clear that this is all super impressive. I’m particularly happy because this is the school’s first year building a culture of reading. Much is possible in four months. The staff is absolutely committed. I also give the Principal a lot of credit. Not only did she find $10,000 to found the library (we’ve spent $4,000 so far on books), but she also has done a good job observing and reporting the data about how SSR is going. Money is important, but so is leadership and a high-functioning and passionate staff.

Here are a couple more photos of book door displays! (Note: Many schools have door displays of what teachers are reading. It’s much more powerful to have door signs of what students are reading.)

2013-12-12 07.59.54

2013-12-12 08.02.01

The school has big plans for second semester. After last week’s successful Book Fair, students requested three books they might like. Today I ordered each student a book! Librarians will organize and deliver the books to students either next week or right after break, depending on how quickly they can get through the project. Here’s my favorite part: After a lot of debate, it was decided that students will not get to keep their book after reading it. Instead, they’ll donate their book — complete with a sticker with their name on it — to build the school library. (Yes, it’s forced donation!)

I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, please let me know what thoughts and questions you have! favicon