Monday, January 25, 2010

Rekindling Reading Perspectives Part II

So, I finished Sarah’s Key on the Kindle. And I must say, the experience was an overwhelmingly positive one. For me, the best part was not knowing exactly how many pages I had left. Instead of feeling like I had to “save” reading for when I had extra time, I allowed myself to read on the treadmill, at the doctor’s office, on-line at the grocery store. Until beginning this experiment, I had never given much thought to how much book length and free time controlled my reading life. The Kindle has me thinking about how I can make more time for reading.

And as it turns out, it has my nine year old son thinking, too. In my house, we have been talking a lot about the future of publishing and how these devices will change the face of reading. My son, who I have introduced to you as a capable yet reluctant reader, very wisely said, “I would love it if I couldn’t see the end of my book. That’s the part I find overwhelming.”

Really? That’s interesting.

My next experiment is to download a book for him to read and see if not knowing how many pages are left help motivate him to read more as well. Could Kindle be a new tool for helping struggling and reluctant readers? One of the biggest obstacles we face with older strugglers is that they “pretend” to read books that are too hard because they want to be like their peers. If these kids were reading on Kindles, we could upload just-right reading material and nobody would have to know what they were reading. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking this might be a grant waiting to be written. We’ll never know till we try.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Re-kindling Perspectives on Reading: Part I

Books sustain my existence. In fact, my relationship with books is almost religious. I worship words. I praise information. I revere talented authors that make me think, argue, and question. I adore books—I love the way they feel, the way they look, the way they smell. Barnes and Noble is my Mecca.

Till now, the advent of the Kindle and the Nook and other e-reader devices has pretty much been lost on me. I kind of knew they were out there, but didn’t pay attention. I think it would have remained like that for a long time, but, as fate would have it, someone recently gave my husband a Kindle as a gift.

At first, it felt like an affront. I wriggled my nose and snootily asked, “what do you need that for?” I couldn’t fathom reading on a little computer thing. What if you want to make notes or mark pages? How do you know how much more you have to read? How do you curl up with a computer?

Despite my skepticism, I was curious. I wanted to know how it worked. The first thing my husband downloaded was a document I found on the internet that I wanted to read. I tried it. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t a book either. So at the urging of many colleagues and a couple of friends, I decided to read Sarah’s Key. The inspiration came at 9:00 on a Sunday night. I was in my pajamas and mentioned to my husband that I’d like to give this Kindle reading thing a whirl. Ten seconds and six dollars later, I had Sarah’s Key in my hands. It felt like reading magic. Could access to books be that simple?

At the time of this writing, I am 30% of the way through Sarah’s Key. I don’t find I’m missing the feel of the book. It seems those computer engineering types really did their homework about what readers want and need. It’s a great size. I tucked it in my purse and read while I waited with my son at the doctor’s office. The font size is good (and I could change it if I wanted), my hands don’t get tired. Snuggling and being cozy is not an issue.

As I proceed with this experiment, I have many thoughts running through my mind about how this will change me as a reader. As I consider that, I am also wondering how it will or could change the face of reading instruction. But those thoughts I’ll save till next time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saving Trees and the Quality of Student Writing

Hello. My name is Kim Yaris and I am a paper addict. I recently went through the files sitting on the floor next to my desk. As I peered down at the pile I had made, I saw that I had wasted what easily amounted to more than a ream of paper. Gazing at that pile made me think about the number of trees I personally have been responsible for killing. The guilt was overwhelming. While I take some solace in knowing that I have been faithful about recycling over the years, clearly, I need to do more to reduce and re-use. But what?

And then it occurred to me.


When working with young writers, I have traditionally instructed them to draft on yellow paper and publish on white paper. Somehow, I have expected that the colors alone will signify when to be messy and mark up your work and when to take great care and be neat. However, children have enlightened me. A clean sheet of paper is a clean sheet of paper no matter what color it is. To them, when you write on a clean sheet of paper, it’s done.

And that’s when I realized. What if they wrote on the backs of all of this paper that I’ve been wasting? Clearly, a piece cannot be considered finished if it is on the back of a used sheet of paper. So I tried it out with students in second, third, and fourth grade. I instructed them to write their drafts on my used paper. While a couple complained that they couldn’t write without lines, for most, no lines meant messier work which meant all the more reason to revise. They willingly added, deleted, and moved around their words. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not witnessed it over and over in classroom after classroom. But it happened. I re-used my reams of wasted paper and reduced the use of yellow lined paper and in the process, I transformed children’s openness to revision. Wowie, wow, wow. Who would have thought a simple change could get such a big result?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Show Me…How I Can Teach You

Following a whole class lesson on thinking about characters we meet in stories that we like and dislike, I gathered a small group of strugglers at the bean shaped table in the back of the classroom. I presented them a short text with six characters. Before reading the text, I introduced them to each of the six characters in the story. I gave them information about how the characters were related. After feeling like I had adequately supported these readers, I sent them off to read the text independently. I pulled up alongside students one-by-one to see how things were going. Did they have questions about the characters? Were they thinking about who they liked and disliked? Things were going great until…Thomas finished reading and blurted out, “Emily’s dead!”

When Thomas spoke these words, I was startled. Emily was a character in the story but she did not die. The old woman who ran the corner store was the one who died. What is he talking about? I wondered.

My gut reaction was to say, “Thomas, stop messing around.”

But I didn’t. Instead, I looked at him and said, “Show me the part where Emily dies.”

Now don’t go thinking that this was a brilliant teaching move. In my head, I was having one of those “Okay smarty pants” moments and intended to reprimand Thomas’ outburst in a dignified way.

But, lucky for me, asking Thomas to “show me” morphed into a moment of divine intervention. You can imagine my shock when a serious-faced Thomas took me back to the text and pointed to the paragraph that convinced him that Emily died. As I listened to him read, I could hear the meaning break down. In that moment, I understood how he didn’t get who was who in the story and how he wasn’t understanding how the punctuation communicated to him when a character was speaking. I understood that he wasn’t being fresh. He was genuinely confused.

And as I talked to him, a child sitting next to him meekly confessed, “I thought Emily died, too.”

As I sit here typing this, I am grateful at the outcome of this exchange but humbled by my initial reaction. What would have happened if I had reprimanded Thomas? In one breath I profess that reading is meaning, but in the other, would I have communicated that if you’re not getting it, you’re a troublemaker? Ouch.

From now on, instead of instinctively thinking that kids are messing around when they say seemingly absurd things, I will reach for the words “show me” to inform my next move.