Summer: Beach Balls, Best Friends, and Books

As I was sitting on my couch this afternoon, it suddenly hit me: I only have 2 weeks left of my sophomore year of college. After I got done panicking (I have a lot of schoolwork that still needs to be completed), I realized that this means that summer is right around the corner. Ahhh, summer. Warm weather, country music, lake days, family, friends, and movie marathons are calling my name (along with 40+ hours of work a week, but I’m choosing to ignore that as of right now). When I think back on this past semester, I realize that this class was my bright light. When I was feeling stressed or bogged down, I was able to drop everything and read for hours on end because “it’s homework.” Now that the class is ending, it’s time to start making some plans for summer. What will I read? What will I do to challenge and better myself? How do I keep finding great books to continue reading?

My YA TBR List

My TBR list is so full I doubt I’ll have any problem finding books this summer. The further we went on in the semester, the more the books started to pile up and the list began to expand. I have so many great classmates that recommended books, I just couldn’t say no! As I searched through YALSA and read blogs, I continued to find more books that I just couldn’t turn away from. Here are just a few that I’m excited to read:

  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • Lost in Love (City Love, #2) by Susane Colassanti
  • The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry
  • Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • When Reason Breaks by Cindy Rodriquez
  • … and many, many more!

When, Where, and How

This summer, I plan on packing up and going back home. I have definitely struggled with this decision throughout the semester; Curtis is a lovely town, but there is not a lot to do as far as activities. Also, many of my friends will not be going home this summer. However, this will free up my schedule to read a lot of books- tons, I hope. (Once again, I’m going to ignore the fact that I’m working full time this summer. Ignorance is bliss, right?) My free time this summer will be spent with the friends that are close to my home town, family, and reading. I tend to read right before I go to bed and sometimes right when I wake up in the morning. In the summer, I have been known to escape outside at dusk with my book or even take a book to the lake and read by the water. I like to read while I relax, so anywhere that I can achieve that feeling is perfect for me. This is exactly why I am positive that reading will continue to remain a habit for me. I went home last summer, and I basically followed the same routine each day: wake up, go to work, eat lunch, work, come home, exercise, shower, eat, watch TV, read, sleep, repeat. I have no doubt that this is exactly how my summer will look again, and I’m okay with that frankly. Reading will allow me to relax after long days at work.

Finding the Right Books & Challenging Myself

Honestly, looking at my TBR list just excites me. I think that I have a fantastic list of books to read as well as add to. In order to continue to find terrific books, I plan on keeping up to date with new releases and lists on YALSA as well as frequently visiting my local library and school library (perks of having a dad who is also the superintendent). I am passionate about continuing to find new and great books. By keeping up online and (hopefully!) still viewing tweets from my classmates about great books, I believe that I will be able to continue along the same path that I’m on right now.

Challenging myself and my reading life is incredibly important to me. I feel like I’ve really opened up my reading life to new and diverse genres this semester, and it’s important to me that I continue doing this. I’m going to try to do the #bookaday challenge this summer. I’m excited to begin this. I think that it will really challenge me and keep me reading, which is my main goal for the summer.

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(Image: commons.wikimedia.org)

The fact that this is my final blog post for this class is astonishing. Where did the semester go? It amazes me that summer is literally right around the corner and we are talking about our summer reading plans. YA Lit class, thank you for all of your feedback, recommendations, and encouragement throughout the entire semester. I appreciate it all so much and have truly loved learning along with you. This has been a class that I enjoyed and  can’t wait to continue with in the summer. I hope that between all of the hours put in at work you all have a summer filled with beach balls, best friends, and books.

-RG

Book Love: A Textbook With a Cape

Do you remember the first hero that you ever had? The first person that I ever looked up to was without a doubt my Uncle Brian. He was awesome and made the best alfredo sausage pizza known to mankind. Although he never actually wore one, I pictured him wearing a cape and saving the world (or just saving me from eating gross food). Of course, as I’ve grown, I have found different heroes in different areas of my life, including those found in my studies for my future career. Throughout this semester, I’ve had the privilege of reading Book Love by Penny Kittle. Her ideas have inspired me and made me think outside of the box. For this, I will be forever grateful (as will my future students, I’m sure).

Nurturing Every Student- Chapter 8

I loved this chapter wholeheartedly. A fear of mine is that I won’t be able to accommodate every student that I have. What if I don’t know what they like to read? How do I fuel a student’s desire to read if I don’t know how to help them? I want to have my classroom function as a community, so how do I accomplish this while still letting every student be an individual reader?

Kittle’s writing reassured me. Through community notebooks and quarter-by-quarter reflections, I will be able to see my students grow as readers. Choice is huge to everyone (as discussed in previous posts), so we shouldn’t be afraid to give it to our students. One student reflected on their past reading by saying “without choice, I would be continuing my trend from years past and not reading at all” (131). Students must be able to discuss books with others within the community (classroom) because, as Kittle says, “drawing connections… is so much deeper than studying one book in isolation” (122). Kids want to talk about books that they have read. They want to share their passion with others. One way to share the passion is through the Big Idea Books notebooks that talk about themes. These will be great for future students to look through and find new books to read.

One thing that I always loved about literature is that it allows us all to be flexible in the way that we view things. There isn’t always one particular answer or way to look at something. This is why I love Kittle’s teaching strategy so much. By allowing students to choose their own books, we are allowing them to follow their passion once they find it. This can be seen clearly in the students’ reflections on their reading. One student commented that her life “gained depth.. book after book page after page” (131). That’s the feeling that I want my students to reach.

Not only have I lived the lives of a dozen or so different people, I have opened the door to a great reading habit, enabling me to become hundreds of more people with the turn of a page… I have officially become a reader, not just a  “this is my assigned book this month, what chapters am I reading tonight” reader.

Creating a School-Wide Reading Community-Chapter 9

Standardized tests fail us; if this wasn’t clear before, it certainly is after reading. Teachers and school districts are often judged based on the scores that are received by students in their classes. These tests give a false knowledge on what students are actually able to do as readers. Standardized tests don’t measure the student as an individual, which is what is most important to me. Classroom teachers can measure this improvement. The goal should always be to have students finding a pure joy for reading that will follow them throughout their lives:

We want students to love reading and read for the rest of their lives. There is nothing in a standardized test that measures this or lets us know whether we’re close to reaching that goal.

Summer reading matters, just as my individual reading life does. I have to constantly keep reading to find new materials to share with my students. I need to dive further into different genres so that I can recommend them to diverse readers. I must continue to become a lifelong reader if I want my students to do the same. If I want my students to become voracious readers, I must show them my passion; this is important because “you can’t catch a cold or a love of books from someone who has neither,” as said by Jim Trelease (158). By embodying the values I want to pass onto my students, I will be more successful.

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(Photo: Amazon.com)

As I finished the last 2 chapters of Book Love, I felt a sense of both triumph and sadness. The ideas within this book have reshaped my personal ideas as to what my future classroom and the practices that I establish will look like. To me, Penny Kittle is a complete rock star, and I love to read her work. She has inspired me to look differently at classroom practices; through her work, I have grown as a future educator of literature. The wisdom imparted through this textbook will stick with me as I continue forward in my studies. It, much like my uncle, has an invisible cape. Penny Kittle, thank you for showing me what an education hero looks like.

We can change the story of reading.

We have to.

Every child. Every year. Every classroom.

Book love-pass it on.

-RG

The Power of Choice

When I was young, I was taught the power of choice. I got to choose what I wore to school and what I watched before bed (Full House, in case you were wondering). As I grew up, I got to choose what sports and school organizations I was a part of. I was able to choose how I filled my spare time after I finished my homework each day. I got to choose where I went to college, and I am still making choices today (such as binge watching CSI:NY and not doing laundry). The point of all of this is that my choices allowed me to take responsibility and fully love what I am doing because I got to choose it. Why, then, shouldn’t we let our students choose?

This week, I got to read a lot of wonderful articles that centered on how we can get students to read more. Or, maybe more truthfully, to read at all. It’s no secret that students today don’t read the assigned materials; it’s just way easier to simply SparkNote the book that they were told to read. How do we get our students to read more? How do we truly motivate our kids to read for a deeper meaning and not just read to get through an assignment?

I think that it should be every teacher’s mission to get his or her students to read more and deeper. Teachers want each and every student to be an effective reader that can hone their skills and develop them further. The main question is how do we make this happen? Although this is something that will need to be worked at, I believe that it is possible. According to Phyllis S. Hunter’s article, Raising Students Who Want to Read, “one of the main stumbling blocks that can prevent children from becoming skilled readers is a lack of motivation.” Her article, along with the others, really got me thinking about ways that we can get students to become motivated to read more and enjoy it. After reading, my main thought was that we must let them choose.

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(Image: pixabay.com)

Growing up, I loved to read. I read voraciously and excitedly; I simply couldn’t get enough of books. I would read during class after I finished my assignment and while walking across town to get home (I don’t really recommend this one. I definitely almost got hit a few times). Yes, I really did read a ton; but I read this much because these books were ones that I was able to choose. They weren’t assigned to me, and I didn’t read them because I had to. I read them because I loved to read. I loved to get into the minds of all of my characters and really walk in their shoes for a bit. I read my assigned readings, but I wasn’t passionate about them. I read them to get through the classes. This is something that I believe absolutely must change in our schools today.

By allowing our students the choice of books that they read, we are motivating them to read. I don’t know about you, but I always feel more inclined to read a book of my choice than one that has been assigned to me. All teachers want their students to be effective readers; the more that we can get students to read, the further they can progress in the future:

Effective readers aren’t just people who’ve learned how to read. They’re students who are motivated to read, because they’ve discovered that reading is fun, informative, and interesting. Motivated readers want to read. And the more they read, the more they can develop their skills. If there are signs of reading difficulty, we can intervene to get students back on track.

Let’s allow our students to choose. Let’s allow them to grow and learn. Let’s allow them to surround themselves in a reading utopia like the one that Jim Bailey discusses in his article. More than anything, let’s allow them to fall in love with books again, because books provide so much more than 10 points on an AR quiz.

More than anything, I want all students to have opportunities to rise above the norm, and maybe, just maybe, we will see many more students, not just our struggling ones, immersed in books they love, and thinking about their reading in ways we’ve never imagined. Their engagement will improve. Their growth will astound us. They will develop as critical thinkers, accomplished writers, and as empathetic individuals ready to take on the challenges of college and their world.

-RG

Say Yes to YALSA

Word of caution: if you already have an enormous ‘To Be Read’ list, avoid YALSA at all costs. You will only find more wonderful books that you feel obligated to add and read.

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(Image: Flickr.com)

Before this semester, I had never even heard of YALSA. YALSA works to advocate for teens and libraries around the nation. Through my research, I found out that it is a national association of people dedicated to build up our libraries “to engage, serve and empower teens.” YALSA not only advocates for the rights of teen readers; they also do research, train librarians and library workers, and give $150,000 to libraries every year. This association provides numerous lists that categorize books for readers to read.

Teens are not simply ‘older children’-they have reached a developmental stage that requires a different strategic approach in order to effectively understand, connect with and serve them. In addition, the needs and developmental abilities of younger teens ages 13 to 15 vary from those of older teens ages 16 to 18. YALSA helps libraries increase their outreach to teens and serve them better.

-YALSA answering the question “Why Focus on Teens?”

 

Let’s get one thing straight: book lists are dangerous. For example, today I thought I would spend some time looking through book lists and blogs for this class. “Some time” turned into hours. During this time, my TBR list exploded. Honestly, it did. (Good thing that I have this summer to catch up!) I found myself anxiously reading through the lists and feeling delighted when I saw books that I had previously read listed on them or found a great book to read (16 of these, to be exact). Book lists are excellent tools for readers to explore. By reading lists, book lovers everywhere are able to access both new and old books that could pique their interest. I explored the YALSA website and blog, the Hub. I looked through the 2014-16 lists of Best Fiction for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and the Teens’ Top Ten lists. The Hub, YALSA’s blog, had even more lists to explore. This site provided lists of books that covered topics in wide ranges, from substance abuse to Fairy Tale Retellings with Fierce Female Characters. The lists were numerous and thought out. There is truly a list for any type of book that you could be thinking of. If you didn’t get enough lists on those sites, be sure to look up Teen Services Underground, and be prepared to be amazed. Lists upon lists upon lists! It’s a reader’s dream. 🙂

 

As for me, I’ll continue to use this resource for quite some time I’m sure. I will access the “Quick Pick” list for readers in my class that need a boost on their reading and will encourage students to peruse through the site. I will utilize the lists to find books for classroom book talks. Anything that I can find that will help my students will be something that I will hold on to. YALSA is a great resource that will open doors for students for years to come; what more could you want, except maybe a tweet back? If you need me this summer, you’ll find me reading.

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-RG

#SocialMedia: Positive or Pesky?

What is the first thing that you do in the morning? Do you jump up out of bed and go for a jog? (If so, I am proud of you. Teach me your ways.) Or do you grab your current book and read a few pages? I can’t speak for everyone of course, but I don’t normally do either of these things. My morning routine consists of hitting the snooze button once (or three times) and, when I am finally prepared to face the day, I roll over and grab my iPhone off of my nightstand. I’m sure that you all know what happens next; I immediately get on to my social networking sites and catch up on what I have been missing out on. I check my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram piously every single morning, but what is the draw of this?

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(Photo: pixabay.com)

Social media has grown tremendously over the past few years and it will only get bigger. In fact, I don’t foresee a time when social media will slow down at all. According to Pew Internet Project’s research, 90% of people ages 18-29 used social media in 2013. This number grew from only 9% in February of ’05. People of all ages are joining the online community for numerous reasons, so why can’t we use it to form and join book communities?

This week, I did some research about teens, literacy, and social media. It’s interesting to see what sites people are using to create that community on. From Twitter to Pinterest, the online book conversation is growing. I loved being able to go through new sites and learn. It’s crazy to see the platforms that people are using to get the word out about new and interesting books.

Twitter: Before this class, I hadn’t ever really thought about using Twitter to find new books or create a literary community. When we first started this semester, I was pretty timid to Tweet out to classmates and create bonds. However, I now can see that Twitter is an incredibly tool. How awesome is it to have the authors of your favorite books right at the tip of your fingers? That’s one of my favorite parts about Twitter. If an author answers back to a Tweet of mine or favorites it, I might be guilty of fangirling a bit (or a lot). According to The Statistics Portal, there were 305 million active Twitter users at the end of 2015. Think of all of the people that you can connect with. My TBR list has absolutely exploded since I started this class purely because my classmates and other people that I follow on Twitter are fantastic.

Instagram: This is one social media app that I hadn’t considered using for a literary community up until this week. However, as I started to explore more, I was amazed. There are SO many different people sending out pictures of books and quotes of books that I sat looking over them for over 30 minutes. How awesome is that? I loved seeing pictures of old books that I loved growing up, such as Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, and I loved seeing some sweet Harry Potter pictures. From #currentlyreading to #bookstagram, there is a hashtag for every reader.

Pinterest: I’ve had a Pinterest for years, but hadn’t ever looked for books while on it. As I explored, I found some great boards with books for every type of reader. From “The Ultimate Guide to Dystopian Teen Novels” to “If you don’t know what to read right now…,”I found some awesome boards. I can see myself in my future classroom using this resource to help the reluctant reader find the perfect book for them. I even had to create a new board, Book Binging, on my own account so that I could save all of the awesome pins that I found. How handy is it that you find some great books on the same site that you can use to plan your (possible) future wedding? 😉

Goodreads: Goodreads is, of course, fantastic. I have loved using this site throughout the semester. It’s great to be able to look up a book and have numerous (and by this I mean thousands) of reviews at my fingertips. I love being able to categorize my books and keep track of everything I have read. It’s also a wonderful tool to get more book suggestions. I see what some of my classmates are reading on my homepage and, if the books looks interesting, I’ll go read the brief synopsis that is given and check out the reviews and ratings it has received. It is a great site to use when you need to manage your TBR list as well as the books that you have read. You can have numerous bookshelves that separate books out into categories to make your reading easier to keep track of. This simplicity is something that I always look for in a social media site.

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(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

If there is something that truly connects nearly everyone around us, it is social media. Everywhere I turn, someone is on their phone tweeting or instagraming a picture from their weekend. I truly believe that social media can have a positive impact on literacy and our classrooms. Think about all of the book sharing and awesome things that we have been able to do online this semester. I know that a lot of the books on my TBR list would not be there if I hadn’t been on Twitter or exploring Goodreads. If used correctly, I believe that social media is an incredible tool to use in our classrooms.

-RG

A Classroom Community

I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we never forget our first community that we came from. Honestly, I look back on my time in little ol’ Curtis, Nebraska with fondness. I proudly tell people where I came from, and I have a smile on my face when I say it. I draw from experiences and memories even today as I write; this is because I came from a community that I loved and felt truly a part of.

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(Image: Flickr.com)

Communities can have a positive impact on young people. Communities can give kids positive memories and, frankly, shape them for their future. This week, I read a couple of chapters out of Penny Kittle’s Book Love that impacted me, but one in particular really hit home and made me think. Chapter five discusses how the classroom can be seen as a community of learners that are meant to feed off of and learn from each other. By creating a community, we are able to get a more rich discussion and learn from other student’s point of view. Students can really get the feel of belonging to something. This can be incredibly helpful for many students. Read alouds (which are awesome) and writing exercises are just a couple of examples on how communities can enrich the classroom. Students can have peers review their writing and discuss novels.

 

The moments that bing our students, one to another, are the very moments when we need to be most thankful. These are the moments that keep kids connected to school. Building classroom community is dropout-prevention work

 

So, how do we create this community within our classroom? It’s inevitable that many of our students will come from different backgrounds and spend time with different people. They won’t all be best friends and won’t all have the same opinions. How do we create an environment that will benefit everyone? Penny Kittle had some interesting ideas about this. Kittle outlined 3 key points to building a community (74):

  1. Assign seats.
  • Some of you are probably already turning away at this. I know, I know. I was a kid that HATED assigned seating in high school! I wanted to sit by my friends. However, I now understand why this isn’t always the most effective. Not only is there often too much talking (definitely guilty of this.. Sorry past teachers!), but there is also at least one student who is left behind. Instead, mix it up. Put different people together and see what happens; you might get some great discussions on books happening!
  1. Change seating assignments every month.
  • This is also important. Classes must continue to be mixed up in order to get to know everyone. We can learn new things from every single person; my book interests are different from those around me, but that has never stopped me from reading something that a friend has suggested!
  1. Build talk into everything that happens in the classroom.
  • This was interesting to me. Allowing the students to have time to really share their ideas with each other is so important. They can discuss writing amongst themselves, or even write as a group. They can have table discussions that can serve as a book club of sorts. Students can take advantage of their peers to receive help on writing assignments.

 

I’ve always said the books do the work to capture readers. And equal to that, the community of readers and writers carries the energy in the room. Over there on the sidelines, cheering them on? That’s you and me.

 

It’s important that we as teachers realize how big of an impact the students can have on each other. Growing up, this was something that I never quite understood. However, looking back, I can see that some of my best learning was done during classroom discussions rather than lectures. I learn more when I am able to voice my opinion and hear thoughts from my other classmates. This is why book club has been such a fantastic activity to participate in this semester. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting together with 10-15 people to discuss literature. Sometimes, we all loved the book; other times, the majority of the group absolutely hated the book (still upset about this guys), but no matter what, we were able to discuss it and dig deeper into the book. Students need this. They need to feel as though they are a part of a group and community. As Kittle said, these “communities are essential because students care about what other students think” (75, Book Love). They want to bounce ideas back and forth and truly listen to each other.

 

What are all of your thoughts on creating a community classroom? Is it useful? How will you attempt to do so in your future classroom?

 

-RG

Diversity Through My Eyes

Last week, I posted a blog about why diversity is so important and why we need more of it. This week, I have been asked to post about my reading life and what exactly diverse reading means to me. To me, reading diversely is getting out of ourselves and experiencing the world from someone else’s point of view. A diverse read is one that will take its reader away from the life that they know and set them squarely in a life that is filled with unknowns. Sometimes the characters are of a different race; other times, the topics are what I see as diverse. When reading diversely, I often find that I don’t quite relate to the full struggle that the main character(s) are going through; however, I find that I can relate to the emotions that are exuded by them during their struggle. I feel heartbreak. I can sense their confusion or, sometimes, their anger. These novels and the stories that they contain open my eyes to a completely new world. As a future educator, this is crucial for me.

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Challenges

That being said, I have a lot of work to do. A lot. Prior to this course, I hadn’t ever really considered what I read. I never actively searched for diverse books. Honestly, sometimes they just fell into my lap through recommendations or library searches. Now, though, I am becoming more exposed to diverse books through the help of book club (go Avengers!) and other classmates. I think that it is sometimes a challenge to read diversely because we are afraid of what we may find. Some topics are graphic to read about and aren’t always appealing to readers. Other times, people find it easier to just stick with what they know. These people will read books by the same authors over and over again or will stick with the same genre. I will admit that I am completely guilty of this; once I find something that I like, I tend to stick with it. But, after these past couple weeks, I realize that I need to branch out. I must read through a window that will give me a glimpse of someone else’s life. This will make me feel more in tune with those around me; after all, we don’t all fight the same battles, and we certainly don’t walk the same path. Reading through someone else’s eyes makes me more empathetic and, quite frankly, knowledgeable. I’m not saying that this is always easy- in fact, I’ve read some diverse books that have broke my heart. But, I do know that it’s worth it. I’ve learned a lot from these books, and I feel that other people can learn from them too. That doesn’t mean that you can’t re-read some of your favorites from time to time. I still pick up Twilight when I’m working in the library at school and get bored (I can still find my favorite pages right away, too). However, it’s important to broaden your horizons as well.

Classroom-How Can I Help Students?

I think that it is incredibly important for our students to have a diverse reading life. When I was younger, I read as both a mirror and a window. I loved meeting characters that reminded me of the people that I surrounded myself with, but I also loved entering into new and exciting worlds that I could never physically go to. Now, as a future educator, I see the importance of reading as a window into not only mystical worlds, but also as a window into another person’s reality. Sometimes, we just don’t know what people are going through, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. I’ve always been the type of person that wants to make everyone smile and feel better when they aren’t happy, but it’s obvious that that is not always an option. We just can’t always know all of the circumstances that those around us are in. Reading, though, can open doors into the minds of other people that have been locked shut. Sometimes, we can see issues come to light when we read. It’s important to be empathetic and understanding of others, and I want my future students to really see the world around them.

In order to help with this, I plan on having my classroom library be fully stocked with books. I plan on having my all-time favorite books in it of course (I am a shameless book pusher), but I will also place books in it that will open kids’ eyes to the world around them. Books that show them not only mystical lands, but also big cities in the United States where bad things happen to people everyday. Books that will place them directly into another person’s shoes to see how they live. These are the books that really teach us lessons. For example, I read Little Peach by Peggy Kern this past week for book club. If you haven’t read it yet, I would strongly recommend it. However, I’m not afraid to admit that I would never have picked up this book on my own. Never. I am so fortunate that my book club decided to read it, because I have learned numerous lessons from it. Talking about this book brought up so many issues and great discussions; it was my favorite book club meeting of the year so far! I want my students to not shy away from books that are different, because if I had done that, I never would have read such an impactful, eye-opening novel. I will have diverse novels available for them to read; I can only hope that they will be impacted as much as I have been.

 

So, I’m going to challenge myself to read more diversely. This semester, I’ve found that some of my favorite books are the ones that I wouldn’t normally pull off of the shelf myself; whether it’s a story about two young women with special needs who have always been told that they aren’t good enough (Also a great book. Check it out.) or a story about a young girl who trusts the wrong person and gets caught unknowingly in a sex trafficking ring, I learn and grow through these books. I know that I can’t diversify my reading on my own though, so I am always open to suggestions. 🙂 Diverse reading is something that I want to fully make a habit of doing; I know that it won’t always be easy, but I believe that it is essential for both my students and myself.

 

-RG

Diversity: Life Is A Box of Crayons

When I first think of the word “diversity,” an image of crayons instantly comes to my mind.

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(Image: Flickr.com)

Yes, you read that right; I think about crayons. When I was younger, I remember a teacher reciting an old saying to my class about how crayons can show diversity. Even though each crayon is different from the one next to it, they co-exist in the same box. On top of this, they also can make some beautiful pictures when they work together. There are shades of numerous colors. Some have sharp points while others are worn down from overuse. Some of their names are different from anything you’ve ever heard, but they’re still undeniably beautiful. Despite all of their differences that can be seen, they still live in the box together and work together to make unique pictures. So why can’t people do the same?

 “We could all learn a lot from crayons. Some are big, some are small. Some are sharp, some are dull. Some are pretty, some are bland. Some are long, some are short. Some have uncommon names. Yet, they learn to live in the same box.”

The Crayon Box of Life: Diversity

Diversity is, in my opinion, important for our nation and the classrooms within it. The United States of America is defined as being a “melting pot” of people from all different backgrounds put together. Since we have many different people living in one place, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the differences of every person. From the readings this week, it’s obvious that our country still has a way to go in this area. Diversity is important because we must allow our students to be able to see life through a different lens. We must also let our students have the opportunity to look into the “mirror” that a book can present to them. Books must be diverse in order to meet the needs of every student; this is one area that can be improved.

 

The Publication Problem
I’m going to be honest, I never really pay attention to what books I read. I often just grab a book that looks good to me or the one with the story line that sticks out. That being said, these are books that stick out to me; what about the other children and teens who might not have a book that they can relate to?

 As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. I didn’t want to become the “black” representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.-Walter Dean Meyers

When reading the articles on diversity for this week, I found myself astonished. Walter Dean Myers’s article held a statistic from the University of Wisconsin that said only 93 books out of the 3,200 that were published in 2013 were centered around the lives of black people. 93 books. That number shocked me. I find it troubling that this number is so low. Christopher Meyers, in his article The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, discusses the issue further. Meyers points out that despite the reassurance from publishers that they will commit to diversity, it is certainly lacking still. Could it be society holding back? Is there an unwritten rule? These are questions that are posed within the article that I think deserve to be answered.

There is yet another big question that needs to be asked. How are these children supposed to have books that are more than just windows into other peoples’ lives? Professor Rudine Sims Bishop posted an article titled Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors that really clicked for me. The article discusses the fact that books can serve as windows that allow readers to look out into a brand new world that they might never (or can’t ever) enter into. For me, this window includes books such as Twilight (it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to make a reference. It feels good) and Girls Like Us. These books offer a perspective into a completely different life, and it really benefitted me to be able to take a look into that life. Other books can function as mirrors, showing us a reflection of ourselves through the novel. Readers can look and see references to our own lives and experiences. Both situations are vital, but with the lack of diversity in novels, are everyone’s needs being met? To me, the answer is simple: no. No, everyone is not getting what they individually need from novels. Bishop states that “children… Have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others.” Children need to understand the diverse world that they live in, and books can give them an idea of different backgrounds that are all around them.

 They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves.- Professor Rudine Sims Bishop

 

Celebrate Differences

It’s obvious to me that, in the words of Walter Dean Meyers, “there is work to be done.” What can we do now? Even though we are not publishers or in charge of that side of the business, we can still help our students. We can truly embrace and celebrate diversity and what all of it entails. We can buy and read books that will help us to diversify our reading and help children find books that are not only windows, but also mirrors into their souls. Let’s become friendly with the crayons around us. After all, most prefer a colorful, vibrant sunset to a gray afternoon. Differences make a beautiful picture. It’s time that we start to actually realize and embrace that.

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(Image: Flickr.com)

-RG

Love for Libraries

When I was a senior in high school, I had the privilege of working in our school library. Since my school librarian was awesome, I was able to skip a lot of the work that normal teacher’s aids had to do and was able to instead immerse myself into stacks of books and read for an hour each day. Pretty sweet deal, am I right?

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(Photo: Flickr.com)

Ever since that time, I have fallen head-over-heels in love with libraries. I love the feeling of walking in and not knowing what book (or books) I’ll come out with. I love letting my eyes peer out onto numerous shelves holding (literally) hundreds of books that are just waiting to be read by me. I love all of the book-obsessed people that I’ve met while in a library. Basically I just love books, and this is a love that I want to instill into my students.

What do I want to do in order to instill that love, you may ask? I want to have a classroom library.

 I can see the alarm on the face of my mother (who knows how much money I can spend on books) and all those before me. “NO,” they’re thinking. “We cannot let her loose to buy books for a library. She’ll be broke!” These comments, albeit harsh, are certainly true. I am a shameless book buyer. So where’s a girl like me to start on her adventure of creating a truly awesome, student-friendly classroom library? Another question would be why should I have a classroom library? Is it really necessary?

In my opinion, a classroom library is absolutely necessary. I want my students to be able to have numerous options to pick from. I want to have so many books that kids from other classes are willing to come in and check it out. I want my students to never have an excuse to not read. The problem is figuring out where to start. This week, we read a blog post by Sarah Andersen titled “Creating and Managing a Classroom Library.” This post is inspiring and beyond helpful. The fact that she started out with just 35 books and grew her library is enough for me to know that I can do it, too. The blog discussed ways of management and budgeting, which will both be incredibly helpful. After reading, I went and counted up what books I have already, and am starting to plan. You can bet that I’m hitting up Goodwill and garage sales all summer to search for books!

Now to answer the question of why. Why have a classroom library? Of course there will be a school library, but is that honestly enough? Could there be harm done in giving the students more choices? Absolutely not. I believe that having a classroom library is incredibly important and can help students become better readers. I really enjoyed Andersen’s blog post “Is ‘Getting Along Fine’ Good Enough?” This post showed exactly why adequate is never the best. If we want our students to excel, we must give them every opportunity possible to get there and show them that we care as well. Andersen shared responses to a poll she took on this blog, and the results are incredible. Out of 58 students, 52 said that they borrow books from their classroom library. 52 students. Look at how many students that library alone is reaching! Those students are ones that might not have looked elsewhere. This number alone shows how influential a classroom library can be.

Another answer to the question of “why” would be that a classroom library helps a teacher build a relationship with her students. By incorporating a library into our classroom, we are able to reach more kids and form relationships with them while doing so. I can’t wait to talk about books daily with students and help them pick out the perfect one for them. After all, according to Book Love, the relationship is the most important part of teaching. What better way to accomplish this relationship than to talk about something that you have common ground on and hopefully a love for?

So yes, I will be saving my money for a classroom library. In fact, the plan is to “start reading and begging and spending money” as Book Love explains it. It may take me awhile to get there, but once I do, I know that it’ll be worth it for my students in the end, and that’s all that matters.

-RG

 

Confessions of a Self-Proclaimed Picky Reader

I have a huge confession to make:

I self-censor books that I read. And I didn’t even know it.

I know what you’re all thinking. How did I not realize this? The answer to that question is simpler than you may think. I have always been a reader, but I have always read books that fall squarely into my comfort zone, which includes fantasy, romance, dystopian (shout out to The Hunger Games and Divergent series), etc., but I haven’t really branched out past that. I used to think that that was okay.

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(Image: pexels.com)

However, after our class readings this week, I can see what a huge issue this is. Self-censorship itself is a massive issue. I hadn’t ever really considered the issue of banned and challenged books. Whenever I would walk into the library, I would simply look over the books and pick one that piqued my interest (and probably fell into my comfort zone). I’d never thought about the actual buying of books or the backlash that can be felt by librarians and administrators over this. The crazy truth is that this is a very real thing that happens all around us. Books are being censored due to their content and are being pulled off of shelves. Librarians are choosing to not purchase certain books due to their content that could upset parents. They are also choosing to not purchase these books in fear of losing their job. Librarians should not have to worry about this, especially when they are simply protecting the reading rights of their students. According to the article About Banned & Challenged Books, “censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.” Librarians should not have to worry about losing their jobs for buying books that could enrich their students’ lives; shouldn’t our librarians and teachers be applauded for trying to protect our students’ rights to what they read?

The answer to that question is yes. Novels with particular ideas might make adults squirm or feel uncomfortable. In fact, they might make me, a teacher-to-be, feel uncomfortable; but does that give us the right to take away those opportunities from students? Should we be able to decide what is good for them and what isn’t? No, I don’t think that we should. We must protect the reading rights of all of our students and stand together to not allow books with certain themes to vanish from our shelves. Perhaps these books can help our students grow and learn more. Maybe they don’t serve a purpose to one person, but can have a lasting impact on another. Parents that challenge novels for their content must realize that students have needs that are sometimes only met within the pages of a novel that covers difficult issues. We simply can’t let these types of books disappear.

You won’t ever make a difference if you don’t step out of the box… We can make a difference to children. Who knows? That very book that you thought was inappropriate may be the one that turns a child in the direction that he needs to be going or that gives a child quiet hope about a situation.

Recently, I read the book Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. This novel is an LGBTQ novel that is centered around the relationships of several young boys. I will admit that this novel was not one that I would traditionally pick up to read, but I decided to read it in order to diversify my reading. What happened, though, was magical. I learned SO much from my reading. Getting different perspectives and really placing yourself outside of your comfort zone can honestly make a world of difference. Although I will always have my favorite types of books to read, I understand that I must read numerous different things in order to truly help my future students. Just because I might not necessarily have all of the same interests that the students do, that doesn’t mean that they can’t read them. They might need to read them. These types of novels might just be the ones that they’re craving to read.

So, when it comes to my own personal self-censorship, I am trying to branch out. I believe that when we self-censor ourselves, we are losing out on some amazing stories and chances for personal growth. I’m sure that I might not always like everything I read, but that shouldn’t stop me from reading new and different things. I understand that my future students will be walking a completely different path than I did while growing up, and I want to be able to understand some of that. I want to fill my shelves with a collection of different types of literature. I want to be able to guide them towards books that are in their comfort zones (and some that are not). In order to do this, I must read many other books. Books that might not fit squarely into my comfort zone.

And you know what? That’s okay.

-RG