Speak Out! For Banned Books #BannedBooksWeek

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This week is Banned Books Week (hooray!). Banned Books Week is one of my favorites. I always find it helpful to talk first about how books are classically banned. This video from ALA is great:

This often leads well into a question and answer period where we talk through why certain topics appear often on banned books lists. Next, I show the following infographics, which I find helpful. The first one is a bit dated, but it is beautifully done.

For more banned books infographics and fun graphics, in general, click here!

We had a great discussion today about where politics belong in the classroom. Students offered some phenomenal comments about how they could be fair in their presentation of politics but also show they didn’t support hateful speech. In past years, I’ve had students read popular banned picture books to talk through how and why books are banned. This has proven very effective as well.

We always end by talking through the many resources available to teachers. These include those available on NCTE’s Intellectual Freedom Center. If you haven’t checked this out (or ILA’s comparable resource center), I recommend these resources highly.

Happy reading! Let’s celebrate our FREEDOM TO READ!

 and

Teaching Tuesday: Grading is Complicated: Ruminations of an English Teacher Educator

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“Grading is Complicated: Ruminations of an English Teacher Educator”

My students (future secondary English teachers) have a lot of questions about grading. They wonder if effort should count. They wonder if an emergent bilingual who works dang hard on three drafts of an essay should receive the same grade as another student’s essay, which is better. They wonder if in the grading process, after looking at other student work, it is fair to go back and change a previous student’s rubric evaluation. They wonder if we need to use rubrics for everything. They wonder if rubrics are too limiting of intellectual freedom.

My students are brilliant, and they ask complex questions that don’t have definite answers.

Let’s take them one-by-one. I invite readers to push back on any of the comments. I don’t have the answers, and I am often wondering if I need to reimagine my conceptualizations of grading.

Should effort count?

I believe that effort should count. The book that we read (Wormeli’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal) argues that effort shouldn’t count. For me, that’s conceiving of grades in simplistic ways. English language arts, as a subject area, cannot be quantified. I think that multiple drafts should count. If we are to accommodate the varying needs of students in our classrooms, we need to consider effort. A student who has a learning disorder who works dang hard and produces draft after draft to improve an essay should get some credit. Not counting effort standardizes grades in ways that might be harmful to learners. I argue that we need to individualize students’ learning progress. We need to know our students, and then we can evaluate whether the paper earns the A. Does this dilute grading systems? It sure does. But are we in this field to actually help students improve their writing or reading, or are we in this field to calculate GPAs and circle the grade of an 81 on a written essay (something that can hardly be quantified)?

Let’s complicate it even more:

Emergent bilinguals. If we don’t include effort and don’t focus on students’ personal improvement in their reading and writing, wouldn’t emergent bilinguals who are just learning a new language fail repeatedly? For me, this is an easy-to-see example of why effort does need to factor into the grading process.

Rubrics

I hate them, but I also recognize their importance. I think it’s critical that students know how they are going to be evaluated. We need to show them rubrics before they start brainstorming. On the other hand, rubrics are wildly limiting on creativity and intellectual freedom. By creating rubrics, we automatically tell students exactly what they are looking for. I know that folks argue that they create rubrics that are very open. No matter how open a rubric is, it limits students’ creativity to go in a wildly different (and potentially incredible) direction. They are teacher-focused rather than student-focused. My solution to this is the provision of rubrics that are student-generated (as a whole class, most often) and as open as possible. I continually remind my students that I would excitedly invite a different approach to the assignment, and I invite them to see me if their vision seems to conflict with criteria on the rubric. The students and I collaboratively develop expectations, and it is my hope that this process will not restrict their visions.

Grading with Rubrics

A student asked the smart question—if I grade a student’s work according to a rubric and then read other students’ work and realize that I evaluated the first student’s work wrong, can I redo the rubric? I am very conflicted about this issue. If you didn’t even know how to evaluate the first student, how would they know how to earn an “A.” For me, this means that the assignment expectations weren’t clear enough. I told my students that they are welcome to go back and redo the grading process, but they might rethink how students might be more firmly aware of the assignment expectations. The solution here, in my opinion, is that students always need to be given the opportunity to revise. No summative assessment should ever be a definitive final grade, and students should always be able to revise their work to improve their reading and writing skills. An argument against this might be, “But an employer wouldn’t allow a worker to revise their writing!” My response to this is, “Classrooms aren’t businesses. Classrooms are designed to foster learning.”

What complications do you have with grading? 

Teaching Tuesday: Teaching My Son to Read (by Ricki) Part II

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“Teaching My Son to Read” (by Ricki) Part II (Part I Post: Here)

Forging On

Thank you all for the wonderful advice in the comments section of my last post. I purchased the Mem Fox book and continually remind myself that read-alouds are the most powerful tool to teach a child to read. This has alleviated the pressure, and I feel your company when I roll my eyes when someone mentions, “So when do you think you’ll teach him to read.” In my mind, looking at pictures is reading.

His Pride

But he is really excited about reading. His uncle, who follows this blog, asked him about his reading when we were video-chatting. Ever since then, my son will say things like, “I am going to show Uncle ___ that I read this page.” He’s started feeling a sense of pride in his reading skills.

“Reading Books”

I am not crazy about this term. But my son has started calling the books he reads his “reading books.” (I am not sure what he considers the other books.) It’s provided him the onus of saying things like, “Let’s do all reading books tonight,” or “I don’t want to do any reading books tonight.” Like I said, the term makes me itch a bit, but it’s his term, and I am trying not to use my critical educator framing on him. I am letting him drive the car, and I am focusing intently on not pushing him. If he wants to read and takes pride in the process, I will continue to support it. If not, I will let it go.

More Books

He’s gotten really into the Flip-A-Page series. I brought one home from the library, and he wants more, more, more. (They market all of the books in the series on the back cover.)

 

These books are really fun (for me, too!). Essentially, they work with the concept of word families. So for the first book pictured, it will introduce the sound of “ake” and then there are cut-outs on the page for both the word and the images. As the reader turns the page, the “ake” sound is repeated, and part of the picture is repeated. My son loves to flip back and forth to look at the transformation. It’s pretty ingenious and highly entertaining for both of us.

More Traditional Early Readers

My son received a bookstore gift card for Easter, and he came upon the Avengers books in the early reader section and wanted them.

I’ll be honest. I would never consider buying these books for my son on his own. Leveling books drives me bonkers (see this anti-lexile post). When he said, “Please can I get this one!” instead of the magnificently beautiful, new picture book that was on the display, I paused for a beat. I knew what was likely in these books, Page 1: “I am superman.” Page 2: “I shoot webs.” But then I remembered my critique of the educators who don’t allow kids to read freely. So we got them. This is how he chose to spend his gift card, and he couldn’t be happier. We are reading the simplistic, obvious descriptions of the superheroes each night. They are improving his reading skills, for sure, and he’s in love with the Marvel illustrations as we read. And I’m improving. I’m reminding myself that kids read what they are interested in. While I may find these books to be soul-crushing in its simplicity and while I may find these books to be wildly boring, my son is avidly devouring them. He begs to read them over and over, and he’s simultaneously loving how they are teaching him new words. I recognize that I must be true to my reader/teacher philosophy that we should let kids read what they want to read.

What’s Next?

As corny as this may sound, I’m not sure. I am letting him be the guide.

RickiSig

Teaching Tuesday: Teaching My Son to Read (by Ricki) Part I

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For a few reasons, Kellee and I have decided to break away from Top Ten Tuesday. Don’t worry—we aren’t done with lists! We’ve really enjoyed TTT, and we will miss it, but we are excited for a new Tuesday adventure that is much more aligned with our vision for this blog. We will rotate between individual and shared posts, but you can always guarantee that you will find something teaching-related, about education, about our students, or about books in reference to any of those things on Tuesdays.

“Teaching My Son to Read” (by Ricki)

The Pressure

While I think about classroom teaching every day, I also think a lot about teaching my older son how to read. There’s a lot of pressure to teach our kids to read before they enter kindergarten. I’ve heard it from my mom friends, and I’ve also heard it from random strangers in the grocery store. Everyone seems to have an opinion on when kids should learn to read.

A Child’s Love of Books

What do I value? I value my son’s love of books. I value the fact that today, during dinner, he asked me if I could read to him while he ate. I value that every night, he begs us to let him read just one more book. I value the mornings that I wake up to the sound of pages turning, and I click on the monitor to see him reading quietly in bed while he waits for everyone to wake up.

The Pressure

With this in mind, I have held myself back. I don’t want my son to dislike reading. I’d rather he learn to read after all of his peers if it means that he won’t lose his love of books. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a mom, it’s that I don’t know anything about parenting and am likely making the wrong choices most of the time. I am not sure if I should be doing more sooner or if I should wait for him to tell me that he wants to learn to read.

The Beginning Stages

As we’ve started to work on learning to read, I’ve tried to do several things purposefully. When he was young, we put Wheel of Fortune on the television in the background while he played. He learned all of his letters from this show. Thanks, Wheel of Fortune! When we were in the car or just playing, we sounded out letters. For example, “Look at the sky! What letter does ‘sky’ start with? What other words start with ‘s’?” This helped.

Phonics? Sight Words?

This felt natural, but the actual reading felt trickier. Kids like pictures, and they often prefer the adult to read to them because reading is hard. I also kept going back to my desire to maintain my son’s love of books. I don’t like teaching phonics very much, but then I wondered if I could truly teach my son to read using only sight words. I also began to wonder if we could find a happy medium between learning phonics and sight words.

My Son’s First Book

I came across the BOB Books. I was really, really hesitant to use them because they felt very phonics-y. Essentially, it’s a small square cardboard box that contains 16 or so very short books. Each book works on a different sound, and the picture matches the words exactly (allowing kids to use context clues). I overly prepped my son. To match my insecurities, I kept saying, “And if you don’t like the books, we won’t read them!” and “Let’s just see if we can practice reading. You are so smart!” Well, he loves them. Luckily, they are very short, so we can practice reading a little bit each day. He read an entire book with some support, and my heart was bursting with pride.

What’s Next?

I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know if tomorrow my son will hate the BOB Books and we will have to put them away for good. Luckily, there are so many great books out there that help support reading (e.g. Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss). I teach secondary school reading courses, so this is a new, untraveled path for me. Some of the strategies are similar, but most are quite different. I welcome your advice! What have you learned about teaching kids to read? What can this unabashedly inexperienced mom learn about teaching reading to a four-year-old? Parenting is a humbling experience, but I’ve learned so much about the beginning stages of literacy!

RickiSig

Books to Deepen Our Understanding of the Countries on the #MuslimBan List

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In order to understand something, I read, read, read. For I believe that in order to understand the dignity, the passions, the humanity of others, we have to imagine ourselves in their skin. It is my hope that sharing these books will encourage others to deepen their understandings of other people and cultures. I breathe books, so this is my method for deepening my own understanding, but please share other approaches that have worked for you.

1. Iran

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

This stunning text tells the story of two teenaged girls who are in love in Iran. I was mesmerized by its beauty and couldn’t wait to share it with others.

2. Iraq

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

This is an incredibly powerful book about a young man from Harlem who goes to war in Iraq. Initially, when I created this list, I intended to feature characters and authors who are from each of the countries on the #MuslimBan list, but this particular book vividly features the country and is a wonderful read.

3. Libya

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

This is a difficult text to read because it features complicated issues. It is told from the perspective of Suleiman, a 9-year-old boy who lives in 1979 Libya.

4. Somalia

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I have not read this book, but it is coming my way through the Interlibrary Loan! An excerpt: “Infidel shows the coming of age of this distinguished political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice.” I can’t wait to read it!

5. Syria

In Praise of Hatred by Khaled Khalifa

This is a second book that I have on Interlibrary Loan, and it looks fantastic. The reviews note that it is dark, gritty, and eye-opening. I will report back after I’ve read it!

6. Sudan

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Many of the readers of this blog know this book quite well. It is This book is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a Lost Boy of Sudan. I know several teachers who do Water for South Sudan challenge with their students. This sort of advocacy is incredibly empowering.

7. Yemen

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali

A friend told me about this book. She said it changed her. I have asked her to borrow her copy. In the meantime, I will share an excerpt: “I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no.”

I have read four out of seven of these books, and I am looking forward to diving into them all. I will never claim to be an expert, and I don’t believe that reading books that feature other countries will make me an expert. It will, however, help me better understand humanity. If you’ve read any of the books above, please comment, as I hope this can be a place for us to share books with each other. I would love any suggestions of other texts featuring these countries!

With the exception of Walter Dean Myers (who writes about an American who goes to Iraq), I intentionally chose texts that are written by authors who are from the countries they write about. This list is in no way exhaustive—reading one book set in one country most obviously will not help us understand the experiences of all (or even most) of the people who live there. It will, however, give us one snapshot of one life.

RickiSig

Two Year Blogiversary: Ricki and Kellee Check-in

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UnleashingReaders2YearButtonRed

It has officially been 2 years since we launched Unleashing Readers!!

To celebrate our blogiversary, we thought it’d be fun to do some revisiting. Today we are going to visit with each other to learn more about our literary, educational, professional, and parental journeys! We each came up with a handful of questions, and we cannot wait to see how the other responds to them!

Kellee

1. How has your job changed since you have become a reading coach?

The main goal of my job has not changed at all. I still work with students to help them find the books that they are going to connect with. The difference is found in the specifics. I no longer am teaching intensive reading (struggling readers). I coach and work with the other three reading teachers in my school. Each of those teacher’s students are allowed to come visit my classroom library where I try to work with each student who comes in to find the best book for them. In addition to continuing our struggling readers’ literacy growth, I am in charge of helping my reading teachers with instruction, interventions, and data analysis. Because of every course having an end-of-course exam, I am not able to do pull-out intervention anymore, so instead I work with the teachers to ensure interventions are being implemented in the classroom. 

In addition to coaching, I am still teaching my yearbook class, coaching Future Problem Solvers, and they added an advanced reading class for me last year. 

2. What are you aspirations for the next year of the blog?

I would really like to work on our Navigating Literary Elements pages and try to add even more than we did this week. I think it is so important for teachers to have a go-to place to help them decide which texts will best suit their needs.  I think it is essential to really flesh out these pages to make our blog even more of a resource for teachers. 

3. What is one special reading moment you’ve had with Trent?

Trent loves books! I am so glad that I began reading to him as early as I did because he knows how special books are. 

One of my favorite memories includes the book Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton. If you don’t know it, go listen to it here for free 🙂 

This is one of Trent’s go-to books (if you follow the blog, you know that he has a handful of favorites, and it is really tough to get him to read anything else; however, he loves those books so much!). We have read/sang this book probably a hundred times already.  One day, Trent grabbed it just as he usually does, but this time he began turning pages himself, pausing, and saying, “Bob, Bob, Bob” and other words/sounds as he read to himself. It was magical, so cute, and just wonderful. His first independent book of choice!

One of Trent's many times reading Fifteen Animals.
One of Trent’s many times reading Fifteen Animals.

4. What is your favorite teaching memory?

This one is the one that stumped me. I have so many amazing memories! I am going to share two recent wonderful things then probably my favorite collective teaching activity (this answer is going to be long!).  

My advanced reading class this year was not a class that students chose to be in. It ended up with 8 students who had no where else to be (plus 4 that did ask to be put in after the year started). This can make for quite a tough go of it because some of the students would have rather been in any other class next to a class where they were going to be forced to read. There was one student in particular that fought me most of the year. He is so smart, but didn’t always choose to work to his ability. He also was one of the few students (since I’ve started being an advocate for independent reading) who I could not get to read or grow a love of reading. He was tough. But then two things happened. 1) The Crossover; 2) A yearbook message. In May, he read The Crossover and he said to me that he now understood why people read independently. He connected so much with Josh and couldn’t stop talking about the book. Then, at the end of the school year, this student wrote in my yearbook one of the nicest messages that I’ve gotten. With the way we butted head, I would have never assumed that by the end of the year he would appreciate it. He thanked me for never giving up on him. 

This year also marked my third year of students graduating from high school. This graduating class is especially special because many of the students who graduated were in my class all three years of middle school (and many others for one or two years). I know a lot of the seniors. These students graduating also meant I could become Facebook friends with them! Many of these students are ones that I want to be in touch with for the rest of our lives, so as soon as they requested, I accepted. Last Monday, on my birthday, these new students wrote well wishes on my wall, but one stood out in particular: “Happy birthday to the greatest teacher I’ve ever had!!! Hope you have a wonderful day Mrs. Moye 😊” Wow! A student who graduated from an IB high school just said I was the greatest teacher she ever had. That really blew me away (and made me tear up). 

As for my favorite classroom memory, I love having students Skype with Eliot Schrefer and/or interview Ginny Rorby. This blows students’ minds because most of them have never interacted with an author. I think it is so important to have students learn about the process of writing, background for the books, and have a chance to ask questions that they have about the book. This is an experience unlike any they had have before. (Interviewing Ginny in addition to our Center for Great Apes field trip really is a special thing as well.)

Skyping this year and two years ago: 20150330_122700 

Phone interview two years ago: IMG_20130531_132742

5. What is one book that is special to you?

giver

By far the most special book to me is The Giver. I remember reading it when I was 12 and having my mind blown. The Giver made me realize how lucky we were to have art, love, music, family, books, memories, etc. I looked at the world differently. These things weren’t something I should take for granted–they are something we are blessed to have as part of our life because it can be taken away by the snap of a government official’s finger.  Even now, as an adult, I cherish each of the things that Jonas didn’t have will all my heart. 

Ricki

1. Can you tell us a bit about your doctorate program and what point you are at?

I am in the Curriculum and Instruction Department, and my focus is English Education. My long-term goal is to teach preservice teachers and conduct research in English Education. I am particularly interested in young adult literature and multicultural education. I just took my comprehensive exams and have moved from being a doctoral student to a PhD Candidate. Technically, this means that the doctoral student doesn’t need to take more classes, but I love taking classes, so I am going to enroll in at least two more courses. As long as my dissertation proposal passes, this upcoming year, I will be out in schools conducting my dissertation research. The following year, I hope to write up my research and defend my dissertation. If any bloggers/readers are interested in learning more about doctoral research, please don’t hesitate to contact me. It has been a really fun, life-altering ride for me. I absolutely love it. 

2. What teacher inspired you the most?

This is a two-part answer for me. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but my 8th grade language arts teacher (Mr. Goffin) urged me to teach English language arts instead of mathematics (my initial plan). He always pushed me to do my best in school, and I am forever grateful that he steered me in the English language arts direction.

My current doctoral advisor (Wendy Glenn) has this magic about her. She makes her students want to be incredible teachers. We always joked that we should buy bracelets that say “What Would Wendy Do?” When I was teaching high school, I often heard her voice in the back of my head. Specifically, she guided me to become more involved in the professional/research/service realm, and eventually, she planted the seed that I should consider going back to school for my doctoral degree. If you’ve met her at NCTE, ALAN, or elsewhere, you will know what I mean when I say that she has this way about her that makes people want to do better and be better.

3. What is one special reading moment you’ve had with Henry?

Before Henry was born, I was reading books to my belly. I ached for him to enjoy reading. Thank goodness, it seems he loves reading as much as my husband and I do. One of my favorite moments was before he was crawling. He barrel rolled across the living room floor because he wanted to be closer to the bookshelf to pull down a book to read. He is 18 months old now. Every day (multiple times a day), he walks up to me and holds out a book. I pull him into my lap, and we read together, and nothing else in the world seems to matter. 

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4. What is a funny thing that Henry does?

Just one? That boy has me laughing all day long. When we eat dinner, he loves to “cheers” everyone’s glasses. If we are out at a restaurant, he holds out his sippy cup to people at other tables and often gets them to cheers glasses with him. He is a social butterfly. He learned how to kiss this week, and he can’t walk by our shiny fridge without kissing his reflection with a loud, “MWAH!”

5. What is a favorite book memory from childhood?

I know I did read books as a young child, but I don’t remember them at all. I most remember sitting on my grandfather’s lap as he blew smoke rings and told us Native American myths. He had a ruddy complexion and his red cheeks always stood out to me. That man wasn’t a people person, but he loved to tell stories. He was most happy when he was out at sea. My upper elementary school memories consist of me hiding books under the table and sneaking to my bedroom to read because I didn’t want to be social.

Make sure to check back tomorrow and Friday as we revisit two of our most popular posts and put a new spin on them!

Signature andRickiSig

National Readathon Day!

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readathon

Penguin Random House, the National Book Foundation, GoodReads, and Mashable invite you to join them for National Readathon Day tomorrow. They are asking readers to commit to reading for 4 straight hours from noon-4pm (all time zones) and to help raise funds to support the National Book Foundation.

You may be asking: “How can I participate in the readathon?” As a reader, the easiest ways to participate are to create your own Firstgiving Fundraising page to benefit The National Book Foundation, invite friends and family to donate to your effort, check the National Readathon site to find a participating venue near you, or just read tomorrow and donate to a worthy cause by visiting the National Book Foundation.

Hope you will join in on the Readathon, and don’t forget to share your experiences and photos using the hash tag, #timetoread!

Signatureand RickiSig

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