Tag Archives: reading

Things I’ve Learned as a Supply Teacher

Although I was fortunate enough to have landed two LTO (long term occasional) assignments since becoming an occasional teacher, I’ve learned a few things during my days as an on-call supply teacher too:

Bring something for the headache.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Arrive as early as possible to review the day plan and make sure the resources listed are actually on hand. And to use the washroom.

Don’t forget to pick up the attendance again at lunch.

If you can mispronounce a name, you will.

Count kindergarten children before and after they so much as walk through a door, every time.

Always make sure there are smocks before getting out the paint.

Bring a whistle. And something to write with. And it wouldn’t hurt to bring your own white board markers. Really.

No matter how clear the lesson plans seem to be, the students will ask you a question about the assignment you won’t be able to predict–and probably won’t be able to answer. (Bonus: when you are the classroom teacher, be sure leave explicit instructions. And an answer key where necessary.)

Kids love it when you know Percy and Junie B. and Chester and Babymouse and Raina and Geronimo and…

Even if you have to speak to “that” student over and over again, she’ll still smile and wave and say hello the next time you are in. You should do the same.

Nothing beats a good read aloud.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 36)

“Now that I know how reading feels, I do it all the time!” BB#2, 6.5 years old, backing up his brother as he tried to convince a friend to read more books.


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My Kid Just Said (Part 34)

“We had to make a prediction about whether or not the animal in the story would survive, and I said yes, because these guided reading books never end in tragedy.” BB#1, 9.5 years old.

I suspect he’s right about that…

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My Kid Just Said (Part 30)

“If I’d known this book was so awesome, I’d have read it a long time ago!” BB#1, 9 years old, about The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, which had been sitting on his shelf unread for a couple years until I started reading it aloud to BB#2 the other day. Now I’m not allowed to read it unless they are both there.

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Reading Contests: Who Wins?

We spent a lot of time in the library this summer break. After our first visit, as we checked out a stack of books, the librarian handed me a pamphlet for the summer reading program. For every book the boys read, they’d get a sticker in a passport. Since we clearly didn’t need this incentive to visit the library or read, I politely said no thanks—and let’s just say the look on the librarian’s face was one of surprise.

In my mind, reading is its own reward. So far, the beautiful boys read (or are read to) because they enjoy it, not for prizes. I see no need to mess with this formula. And a recent story in the news just confirms my belief that reading-for-awards programs can backfire.

According to the story bouncing around Twitter, a librarian criticized a child for reading too much after he won an award for reading the most books over the summer for the fifth year in a row. People are shocked and horrified, some even calling for the librarian to be fired. My opinion will not be popular (nothing new there…): I think people are missing the point.

You see, it is apparent the child in question is an avid reader. Probably the kind of kid who would read whether or not he got a prize, just for the sheer love of it. Which is wonderful. As a fellow bookworm, I can relate to this child, and suspect he’d have a few things in common with my own boys. But to my understanding, the librarian did not actually suggest he was reading “too much”. She was simply concerned that no other children even stood a chance of winning because they can’t keep up to the reigning champ. Other children, perhaps including those who don’t read as well or as avidly as this particular child, but actually need the encouragement and support of a library reading program more than he does.

In my mind, the library put itself into this position. The contest revolves around how many books each child reads. So where does that leave children who read longer, more complex texts, but fewer of them? Or children who struggle to read even the minimum number of books to enter (ten), but not for lack of trying? What about children who know they won’t “win”, so don’t even participate? Could this type of contest encourage children to skim through books without really comprehending them, or choose less challenging texts than they might have if no one was counting? How does this celebrate the achievements of the rest of the readers–those who picked up a book for pleasure for the first time, or who grew as readers? Perhaps the problem is not that a single child dominates the competition–but that reading is a competition at all.

I can completely understand the boy’s feelings (and when I was nine, I am certain I would have believed that children who didn’t read as much as I did weren’t working as hard—but now as a grown up and as a teacher, I understand those children might have been putting in far more effort than I ever did.) And it’s understandable he wants an award that he qualified for, based on the rules put in place by the library.

But I think the point of this whole debacle is not that a librarian is trying to discourage a nine-year-old from reading. The real point is that awards, stickers, points and logs are the wrong way to encourage readers—because the children who read anyway don’t need them, and those who need additional support can’t compete on those terms.

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Reading is Reading is Reading…

“You know I refuse to take out books based on TV shows, put it back on the shelf.” – overheard at the library

No doubt the mom who said this to her little girl the other day has the best of intentions, but I couldn’t disagree more with this rule. You are in a library, and your child is excited about a book she’s looking at and…you refuse to check it out?!

There are probably a few reasons for this parent’s approach to book choice. I’m just guessing but perhaps she was thinking it would save her from having to read aloud what is probably not the most compelling piece of children’s literature out there. Or, maybe she hoped to discourage her child from asking to watch the TV show itself. Maybe she believes strongly in sharing high quality texts with children. I can understand all of these reasons. But my thought is, the little girl was interested in reading the book. They were in a library filled with lots of other books—if they took out several, does it really matter if one of those was arguably a piece of fluff reading?

Think about what you like to read. Maybe it’s dense literary novels. Maybe it’s technical documents. Maybe it’s in-depth non-fiction on Very Serious Topics. Or…maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s fashion magazines. Maybe it’s blogs. Maybe it is the sports page. Maybe it’s genre fiction. Or maybe, like so many of us, it’s a bit of everything. As a reader, you have the right to personal choice: shouldn’t children*, if we want them to grow to see themselves as readers?

Right now BB#2 has a thing for Pokemon graphic novels. He can’t really read them on his own yet, so guess who ends up reading them? And I admit, I find them deadly dull. I’ve even been known to drift off while reading them aloud. But I still get them out for him, and I still read them. Why? Because he loves them. Pokemon graphic novels get him excited about reading. And isn’t that the point? I suspect it’s unlikely he’ll still be reading them in two or three years, or when he’s a grown up. He’ll have moved on.

And, they are not the only books he’s exposed to. Our usual haul from our weekly trip to the library includes whatever picture books  draw him that day; a few non-fiction texts, often about cute animals; picture books that I pick up, often based on recommendations from educators or writers I follow on Twitter; sometimes a movie or TV series on DVD; something in French for his brother; a couple of easy-reader type books; and often a high-quality novel that will be our bedtime read aloud (we’re currently reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl).

As I’ve mentioned before, we also have a large collection of books at home. We receive kids’ magazines in the mail. And Pokemon cards have been hugely motivating for BB#2 in terms of reading and numeracy—board games too. So if he wants to take out some book based on a TV show—if that is the book that has him wanting to be read to, or to read, today—hells yes, add it to the pile! Better than whining for a toy from that show, no? Or watching the show?**

*With the understanding that certain content may not be appropriate for certain children at a certain age.

**In all honesty, I’m an everything in moderation kinda mom, and freely admit that we do watch TV and play video games here, in addition to reading and lots of other stuff.


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Reading: It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Reading is a big deal in our house.

Before returning to school for a Bachelor of Education, I worked in-house as a web editor in the publishing industry. I currently edit books and write back cover copy on a freelance basis. Since I graduated, I’ve taken additional qualifications in teaching Intermediate English and Reading. My undergrad is in English and Mass Communication (as is my husband’s), and I also have a diploma in Print Journalism. We have a LOT of books in the house (here’s to boxes of hand-me-downs from big sisters with older children!) My husband and I both love to read. So creating and nurturing a love of books in our boys was a no-brainer.

We’ve read to the boys since they were infants. At eight, BB#1 is an avid reader who reads everything from chess instructions to the Wimpy Kid series, kids’ magazines to novels like The Hobbit. Thanks to French Immersion, he can and does read in two languages. We have a deal when the Scholastic flyers come home: I will buy him French books, and he can choose to purchase English books with his own money.

Just turned five, BB#2 is not quite reading independently yet (at least, he’s pretending he isn’t), but loves being read to. He is excited when his Chirp magazine arrives in the mail, has his own library card, and will bring us book after book to read to him.

So, filling out the reading logs their teachers send home should be no problem, right?

Wrong. Something strange happens when my boys are asked to log their reading or read for homework. They are no longer interested. I have to nag them, either to read, or to write the titles down in the log. I’ve struggled to articulate exactly why that is, but this tweet from a teacher I came across a few weeks back puts it pretty plainly:

“Reading logs make liars of bad readers, annoy good readers, & tells us nothing about their literacy.” @jenmarten

You are probably saying, not all kids are like mine. Not all kids actually want to read or be read to, or have the culture of reading that we have at home. I know this. So how do we encourage those kids to read if we don’t offer rewards, and how do we know they are doing it if we don’t ask them to log their books or minutes? I don’t have the answers, but I do know this: if we offer stickers or pizza or a points system for reading, we’re telling kids that it’s something unpleasant with no value of it’s own. If we tell them they must quantify their reading by logging pages or minutes, we’re saying we don’t trust them, and that we know they wouldn’t actually choose to read if they didn’t have to.

These programs may get kids to pick up books, write them in a log (and maybe even read them), but they are not creating readers. And as @jenmarten suggests, what does a list of book titles a student may or may not have read even tell the teacher about that student’s ability to read, and understand what she’s read, anyway? Likely nothing the teacher doesn’t already know.

Since the boys are already reading on a regular basis, I suppose I could just fill in their logs without telling them. But that feels wrong—like pretending something is working when it’s really not. And in BB#1’s case, though he reads in English every day, he’s more likely to spend an hour reading in French by choice one day, and then not the next, rather than the prescribed twenty minutes a day. While this to me is more authentic and therefore more valuable, it doesn’t look as impressive on a daily log.

BB#2’s log can be of books he’s read, or that are read to him—and there is a small prize for every twenty-five books read. But at the rate we read, we’d be getting a prize every couple of days. And since we clearly don’t need that motivation to read together, well, it just feels silly.

I’m not alone in this thinking. I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts by educators outlining the downside to reading logs. But here’s my question: if we know that reading logs and programs can cause more harm than good, then why are so many teachers still using them? And even more confusing: if what I’m most concerned with is nurturing my children’s passion for reading and interest in learning—if I know that they ARE reading, and that whether or not they fill out their reading logs in senior kindergarten and third grade is going to be meaningless in the grand scheme of their educational lives—why am I so conflicted about this? Why can’t I bring myself to write a polite note saying, in this house we don’t log reading, we just read.

I think I know why. It’s two-fold. And sort of embarrassing. As a teacher, one without a classroom at that, I’m worried about appearing judgmental of other, experienced teachers’ practices. As a parent, I’m concerned those blank log pages will reflect on me—that their teachers will view me as one of “those” parents: uninvolved, unsupportive, ignorant of the value of regular reading.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

For further reading. You know, if you like that sort of thing:

You Don’t Have to Read Every Day

My Son is Afraid to Read

Daddy I Want a Book Buck

This post by an administrator suggests how we can get all kids reading, without rewards:

Creating the Conditions: A Love of Reading

I also recently led a discussion on the following article as part of an assignment in my Reading course:

How to Create Nonreaders


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