Why AR?

From elementary to high schools, Accelerated Reader is still in our schools! How many book lovers have been murdered and left bleeding by the book stacks because of AR? For those who don’t know AR, it is a program that has students reading books and taking tests over them. BUT the fact is, they usually don’t read the book. They Google the book and take the test from that information. Or in the case of my friend’s son, they share the info – two students read two different books and tell each other about theirs, and they each take the test and they get two books out of the way. My nephew is now a BIG HATER of books because of A.R. My niece will only read manga… HOW MANY STUDENTS HAVE TO DIE OF BOREDOM BEFORE AR GETS THROWN OUT?

So much money has been invested in public education for the AR system! We talk about a new millennium, so maybe this is when we should drop it! Many students hate it and end up “living” through it in elementary, intermediate and junior high. In high school, the students are book haters because of it.

AR is touted as helpful for teachers to get students to read or “Reading Management Program.” The books are chosen from various award winners and tests are created to see if the student read the book. One enticing thing is that students get to choose their own books from the list and read above grade level. Librarians are off the hook for book recommendations because there is a list to look at. Librarians become paper pushers instead of reading specialists. What hooey!

I don’t think that “one size fits all” applies to reading. Limiting is the least of the problems with AR. AR doesn’t take away a parent’s responsibility for monitoring what their child is reading. It seems like it might even lull a parent into giving someone else the responsibility. Using rewards is a whole other posting… You want to run a race with others then do so, but don’t use books to create competitiveness among readers. AR is one giant punishment for those who really like to read and it makes non-readers hate reading! It makes cheaters out of honest students who split reading or share answers or do lots of other shady things.

What might have been a good idea in the past has turned into a mess. It would be great if we all read or learned in the same way, but we don’t. Cookie cutter ideas rarely work in our world. I want students to tell me what they loved about a book. How they want to read more by that author. What THRILLED them about a book. Taking a test to punish a child for reading is like killing a mockingbird.

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Judging books by their covers

It took a year before I would read Bloody Jack by L A Meyer and now I have read all 11 of the books! It is a Young Adult book about a girl pirate, and the first cover was hideous! It looked like a silly cartoon and I wouldn’t touch the book for an entire year. The books are wonderful and the books on CD are even better! The Cockney accent in the beginning is a bit tough for students to read at the start, but then the book takes you for an adventure! They also give a history lesson through time. I love all 11 of the books. Can you believe a book about a “girl pirate” would be so much fun?
We all judge books by their covers, so I asked students to find books with awful covers that made them just want to put them down and create new covers. Some students really enjoyed it and created some beautiful pieces. Those book jackets are now enticing, and students want to read them.
As a librarian, you have to stay one step ahead, so reading the young adult novels is imperative. When a student brings back a book, I ask, “Did you like this book?” If they say yes, I have a new book to tell them about. If they say no, I ask them what their favorite book was and find them a book along those same genre lines. If they don’t know, I have a book for that, too!
They students really get excited that I have a new book for them. Whatever gets them to return and check out another book, is what’s important. Students are never a number at my school and Never do they leave the library wishing they had never come in.
Years ago I had an assistant who wasn’t very nice to the students. The students would come and tell me, “I want you to help me find a book, because she isn’t very nice.” I constantly corrected my assistant and she would say, “But I am nice to them!” That wasn’t the students’ perceptions. I would tell her, “It doesn’t matter what you think. It only matters what our patrons think, and they think you are mean.” I would have to have this conversation about 4 times a year with her.
I don’t know why librarians and assistants have to make students feel like they are “bothering” them! The whole idea is to get students INTO the library and keep them coming back. But once “judged by the cover,” most won’t read the book.

What good are Young Adult books?

Quite often I hear from other librarians- “We only have the Classic Literature in our library.”  What hooey!  What arrogance!  What snobbery!  They are stealing from students!  They are stealing students’ ability to grow as readers because VERY FEW young adults start with the classics and continue to become LIFE LONG READERS!  (You really can’t tell that this is a pet-peeve, can you?)  Certainly it would be great if we all read the classics and this world were full of educated individuals.  How do we get there?  Do you think when we all learned to read that we started with classic literature?  Ha! maybe “Run, Spot, Run” is classic now.  

The point is.  Students develop their reading skills by reading YA books and move on.  Some, as adults, will read the classics and others will read spy novels, but the actual point is THEY WILL READ, because they were able to develop their skills with YA books.  I am like a lot of educated individuals who feel that our classic literature is being lost;  allusions aren’t understood anymore;   aphorisms have become a huge joke; idioms are completely misunderstood and misquoted.  Yes, many of these are found in classic literature which used to be our basis of learning; however, our world has changed.  Alas, so must how we learn and transfer knowledge change.  (Yes, grammatically upsetting but poetic?)  

Young adults might move on to classical literature, but first they must be readers.  When an allusion is placed in a YA book, maybe the young adult will want to know more.  Nah, just like adult readers – they will continue on with the story.  Maybe that is what we need to do – continue on with the story.

The only safety net we have in our world is Education.  The more educated a person; the less likely the person will live in the lizard part of the brain and other brain areas will activate.  Reading gets us beyond ourselves and our small world.  It allows us to flourish, grow and forget about our small problems and look at the world on a larger scale and maybe, just maybe understand a little more.  Sorry, but I have to leave you with this run-on sentence.  Have a merry Monday!

Censorship offends me

Okay, I know this will surely date me to prehistoric times, but do you remember the BOOKMOBILE? The bookmobile day was such an exciting day! We could check out two books for a whole week. Wow! Exciting times. Well, reading has changed. Or maybe that should read – Young Adult books have changed since the bookmobile days! I believe that students should have access to literature and that the student and parent should decide together what is appropriate for the student. That being said, I know that sometimes the books I wanted to read, I didn’t want to discuss with my momma. She tells how she became a reader when she got ahold of the book Peyton Place. She was in high school and the book was passed around her crowd until it was a wreck that no one could read. The more I read – the more “stuff” I would read about. That was much better than hearing false information from friends or no information from home.
When I first became a librarian, the other librarians would talk about how their principal would remove books from their shelves without going through the correct procedures on reconsideration of material policy. I believe that is censorship in its vilest form. It is the job of the librarian to remind principals/parents/people about the district policy that has been adopted about reconsideration of materials. Censorship should not be tolerated. Yes, books have changed, but it isn’t your call what I should read.
Talk about changes – I remember when Judy Blume’s books were all the rage because of content! I couldn’t wait to read them. I don’t think that I became warped because of a book!
My mom thought being informed was better than not.
This quote from Joseph Henry Jackson certainly hits a high note with me: “Did you ever hear anyone say, ‘That book had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?'”
So yes, books have changed due to content and language, but does that make them bad books? It makes them “real” books. I think that librarians today would be hard pressed to find a YA book that doesn’t contain the F-word. Do words on paper really make us better or worse people? Isn’t it better to make your own decisions about what you read? In the words of Bob Dylan – “Times – they are a-changin’.”
In high school we teach Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 where books are banned and burned. I hope people today understand the awful implication of this and will stand against censorship.

Still loving it

I knew in the 4th grade that I was placed on earth to be a teacher.  At the end of the school year, I would carry a box around to all of the elementary teachers and ask for their leftover mimeograph (yeah, the purple stuff) worksheets.  I would tote the box home 2 blocks and have a plethora of worksheets for every grade, every level and every discipline.  I was differentiating back then!  When my mom made us take a nap everyday in the summer, I would open my window, push out the screen and teach all of the children in the neighborhood!  This went on for a long time.  I even taught non-school age children.  One day, my mom caught me and school had to have a new time schedule.

I started getting paid to teach 32 years ago and still love what I do!  My first year in teaching, I was with some really mean, jealous, veteran teachers who made fun of me for smiling all day… “You get a few years in this business and you won’t be smiling like that anymore.”  I told them, “If I’m not smiling, then I will go get a job I love.”  They also made fun of my wearing heels to school, so you can imagine all the other things they said to me.  They were mean bullies and I cried all the way home everyday, but I lived through the first year of teaching with no mentor and no help.  Yes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger…” plus “I remember that and help newbies as much as possible!”

 

It’s important to not only help the students become readers, but to keep teachers in the loop with new literature. My teachers are really good about taking advice about what they should read next. It’s great that the students see the teachers with “outside” reading material on their desks. That goes back to modeling the positive outcomes that you are trying to reinforce with students.
I also ask teachers what they are teaching next and find new material to help them or take their notes and put them into PowerPoint or Prezi. Things they don’t have time to do.
Ipads are a new teaching tool that our school just received and the teachers are exploring the Apps, so I tell them about ones that will help them with their classes. Whatever I can do to make their teaching world easier, I do it.
Today I am going to leave you with; “If you are not making a positive impact in your school with students and peers, it might be time to retire.”

New Readers Thrill Me

A new student just came into the library and said, “My friend told me that you have lots of new books. Do you have…”

“No, that one is checked out, but let me tell you about this Dystopian novel! Have you heard of that before? Dystopia-futuristic-world-gone-wrong books? I loved this one, so here’s what it is about…” I replied. “You also will love this great fantasy (for next time) that has a love story in it. Make sure that you read at least 20 pages before you decide whether you like it or not and if you don’t like it, bring it back. We’ll find you something you love.”

“Oh, another thing that I tell new students. This library is your ‘safe spot’. If you need help or just a few minutes to get away, come here and I will help you.”

“Ok, just one more thing, do your eyes jump around the page? Use this blue slip of paper to read with. It will help relax the pressure in your eyes and your eyes won’t jump around the page. Just try it; it works for many of my students.”

The new student left feeling like she was important to me and her new library. She was excited about her new book and couldn’t wait to start the trilogy. I know that she will be back and I will look for her in the hallway to make sure things are going okay for her in her new school.
Since many of us remember what a teacher in school said about us, everyday I try to make students feel good about who they are, where they are, and where they are headed. I try to instill hope about their future and, of course, a love of reading. Getting out positive energy to students who are having a hard time is rewarding, helpful and most of all, IMPORTANT. Yes, it’s about the books; it’s more about the student.

You might need help becoming a reader

I loves me some books!

How many readers remember their first “real, adult” book? A bunch of hands are waving in the air. I do, too! It was Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk! I was 12 and my aunt gave it to me. She probably doesn’t even know that she bolstered my reading resolve to read forever! (Jot a note to give her a call.) It was a lovely book about a girl who wants to be an actress… That’s what’s in adult books? Boy, lemme at ’em!
When I wasn’t singing, dancing, acting around the house, teaching the neighbor kids, beating up my sisters, well generally being a girl, I was reading. Not always, though.

One day, my mom asked my sister to read the recipe to her. My oldest sister wasn’t a very good reader, so my mom called my other sister and me into the kitchen to read the recipe to her. She found out that her girls who made good grades in school, couldn’t read very well. That started the “reading to mom while she cooked nights.” Each night one of us would read aloud to our mom while she cooked dinner until we all could read really well.

That wasn’t all! In the summer, my mom started reading books to us and then the whole neighborhood would be in our den listening to my mom read The Bobbsey Twins.
What great adventures they had and mom read all the books to us every summer. This instilled a love of reading in us. We have watched our mom reading her own books every day of our lives. One sister doesn’t read and two read everyday! I’d say that worked.

This all ties back to being able to tell students about books. The more you read, the more you can tell them and the more books they will check out, and become a life-long reader. Now that is influence of the very best kind!

Trying to promote a love for reading, I am a guest reader in many classes and love doing that. What a wonderful gift my mom gave us and it only took a little bit of time!

I love it when students come back for a new book… that’s why I do this!