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Book Conversations or Accountability? Start with Teachers.

It is Spring break week here in NY and I have been enjoying a slightly slower pace with my children this week. We have been sleeping late, enjoying ice-cream out, practicing baseball and softball and relaxing with a bit of reading. As we read in the living one lazy, rainy morning, my youngest son asked if I was going to ask him about his book. I look at him surprised and said, “Of course I am! Readers talk about the books they read with other readers”. His response cut straight to my heart as he said, “No, asking me about my book means you just don’t believe that I read it”. I reassured him that was most definitely not the case and said he could ask me about my book (FlyingLessons and Other Short Stories) first. He agreed. I happily told him about the short story I read, The Difficult Path, and how amazing it was that a little girl finally found her freedom by teaching others how to read. I asked him about his I Survived text and he told me a bit about it. I did ask questions, but questions that truly reflected my thinking as a reader and if I might like the book, not questions to seek accountability.

We finished reading, but his words stayed with me for a while. I will ashamedly admit that I have been guilty of asking my son, and other students, questions about the book to not only connect with them as readers, but to ensure that they indeed read closely enough to understand the story, hopefully leading to an authentic conversation. But as my son taught me today, some students see this conversation as just another test of their reading and not an interaction between interested readers, something often reinforced in schools as we require reading responses focused on answering comprehension questions and providing evidence. But we can do something about that and I’d like to share a project that I created to do just that, starting with teachers. Enter the ‘Teachers as Connected Readers’ project.

The ‘Teachers as Connected Readers’ project seeks to make reading a mission, not an assignment, and cultivates teacher’s own reading lives so they can do the same for their students. Each month, we read a children’s literature selection with one simple requirement: to respond to the text in any way that makes sense to the individual reader based on their response to the book. Together, we read and discuss in authentic ways. Yes, we talk about the themes of the book and yes, we include evidence for our thinking. But no, we do not answer comprehension questions and no, we do not grade each other’s beautifully unique responses. The result is simply inspiring. Teachers are coming together to read, to discuss and to transform their own classroom practices as a result. You see, before we can respond to students as fellow readers and writers, we must become readers and writers ourselves, living and sharing our literate lives with others. This weekend, I am presenting at the Literacy EssentialsConference on how we can do just that and would love to connect with other interested educators to collaborate!


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