Liberating Your Summer Readers

By Sara DeMartino

Institute for Learning

As the parent of a rising 9th grader and as a former high school English teacher, I was pumped for my child’s open house this past week. I love high schools. I love that they encompass the promise of the future. I love that they smell like musty books. My 9th-grade students were my favorite. I could watch them grow from shy new kids wandering the halls to confident budding activists and intellectuals – the future of our community. I loved to learn about them throughout the year, talking to them about their interests, and reading about them in their journals. I would use what students taught me about themselves to point them towards books that would inspire and challenge their thinking and spark curiosity. This was reading I asked them to do independently and then share their experiences with the class through a project of their choice. I love books and I wanted to help my students discover the books that would inspire them to be readers, which in turn would impact their reading and writing proficiency.

So, you can imagine how excited I was when my daughter, Maria, and I wandered into the English wing at the high school. The pithy posters with Shakespearean insults and the classroom libraries filled with well-worn books with broken spines took me right back to my own classroom. I prided myself on the selection of books students could check out and the frequency with which students would show up during lunch or before school looking for something to read.

As we meandered through the English classrooms, we saw it. A small sign screaming with big bold print “9th GRADERS LOOK HERE!” with a QR code and a shortlist. The summer reading list. And I had to school my reaction real fast – A Tale of Two Cities and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Not the engaging summer reads that I could see building students’ love of reading.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s instructional value to having kids read Dickens and Shakespeare (although I’d love us to move further and further away from the old white man cannon). But independently? Over the summer? That’s an easy no.

How would kids who have never been exposed to Shakespearean language deal with untangling English that resembles a foreign language on their own? What context do students bring to Dickens when they haven’t studied the French Revolution? What happens to students who are still in the process of learning English? The answer is that like most eager students, they will open the books, they will give it a try, they will get frustrated, they will get discouraged, and then they will find something better to do with their time during the summer (and so would I).

Just because mom and dad had to read it, doesn’t mean that their children need that same experience.

As you prepare your summer reading lists, remember that summer reading should be an opportunity to help your students K-12 build a love of reading. Summer reading is not a time to get students caught up on literature you may not have had the opportunity to teach – especially after the madness and stress of the 2020-2021 school year. It’s also not the time to continue a tradition – just because mom and dad had to read it, doesn’t mean that their children need that same experience (equality does not equal equity). As educators, we use summer reading to help prevent some of the “summer slide” that kids experience once the last bell of the school year rings. When schools mandate required titles, they send the message that students are incapable of making good choices with literature and are not capable of being independent learners. However, we can prevent that slide and still keep students engaged in building their reading muscles by asking them to read one relevant and engaging text selected by a panel of educators and students, allowing the class to have a shared reading experience, and one text that students self-select.

A district’s goal for summer reading should be to help students continue to build their independent reading skills and to foster a love of reading. Students who take up summer reading typically have access to compelling books and choice in what they read (Shin & Krashen, 2008). To achieve a reading program with books that engage students, student voice should be central to summer reading lists – after all, if you really want to know what students want to read, what better way than talking to them about it? Consider creating a panel that is comprised of teachers, students, and the school librarian to discuss choices for summer reading in an open and safe environment. The discussion with students should not simply ask, “Hey, what do you want to read?” But should be a conversation with students about what they are interested in and what they want to know more about. Ask students about their previous experiences with summer reading and when it has gone well and when it has been a bad experience. And then yes, ask them which books they really love and would recommend to their friends and why.

The best way to find out what students are interested in reading is to ask them! Let them help create the summer reading list. Try a student-wide survey to collect potential titles.

Working from students’ comments, begin to dig into current young adult and contemporary literature (The ALA Printz Award list is a great place to start). Select one text that is relevant to what the student panel shared and that would be engaging for students to read, and then compile a list of novels that students can select additional readings from. Share your lists with students, get their feedback and ask them about ways they think they should share what they’ve learned from completing the summer reading once they are back in school in the fall. As you compile your lists, keep in mind the diverse learners that you have in your classroom. Consider their cultural and linguistic backgrounds as well as their areas of interest. Consider adding some less traditional readings – graphic novels or digital texts, for example The Boat by Matt Huynh. Be sure to include novels available in the languages spoken by your students, this is especially important for those who are still developing English language proficiency. Look for novels that have high quality translations too.

Centering students in the decision making about what they read during their free time in the summer has led to both increased student participation in summer reading and teacher satisfaction with the summer reading program (Lu, 2009). Liberating our students from the traditional confines of required summer reading takes some work, but if we begin to trust in our students and their abilities to take ownership of their learning, we’ll find that rather than having to dread the work required over the summer, students may begin to embrace using their free time to read a good book.

References
Lu, Y. L. (2009). Engaging students with summer reading: An assessment of a collaborative high school summer reading program. Journal of education for library and information science, 90-106. Shin, F. H., & Krashen, S. D. (2008). Summer reading: Program and evidence. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Rosita’s Reads April 13

“I always say, if we don’t know what our Constitution does, what chance do we have of figuring out what jazz is?”

– Wynton Marsalis

 

Jazz great Wynton Marsalis discusses “The Democracy! Suite,” a composition he wrote and recorded with members of the orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York as a way to “keep swinging” through the pandemic. Marsalis also talks about current events and the past that informs them, from Black Lives Matter to the United States Constitution.

Rosita’s Reads April 6

“How…do we convince 80% of (white) respondents that racism is an impediment? This perception drives a rejection of the consciousness you need to fight structural racism.”

–  Dr. Tricia Rose

In the lecture, Dr. Rose talks about the history of structural racism, the dangers of colorblind ideology, and the interactive, interdependent, and compounding nature of the five key areas of society where structural racism is “highly dynamic and consequential”: housing, education, mass media, wealth/jobs, and the criminal justice system.

IFL Partner Sees Success Amid Chaotic Year

By Michael Telek

Institute for Learnning

“Bless all the flexible so they won’t get bent out of shape.”

This Southern proverb has become the mantra of students, staff, and leadership at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School, a K-4 school part of Metro Nashville Public Schools, in Nashville, Tennessee, after a horrific 2020. Not only was the school dealing with the daily challenges and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but shortly before the virus arrived, Nashville was hit by multiple tornados over a 34-hour span. One of these torandos was responsible for 25 deaths and left behind an estimated $1.5B in damages. School leaders say they were lucky, because it narrowly missed the school, but still tore up a section of town.

“As educators, we love our routines. We love our procedures, and they’re just different right now. Our procedures are different, our routines are different,” said Principal Dr. Ricki Gibbs II. “We’ve just been trying to tell everybody ‘be flexible so you won’t get bent out of shape’ because things are going to change and we’ve seen them change multiple times.”

About a year into the pandemic, the experiences at Warner Arts Magnet are no different from countless other schools across the country. The district made the instant adjustment to virtual learning to finish out the school year with hopes of being back in the classroom come September. Since the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the district has been flexible in the way instruction has been offered. At times instruction has been fully virtual and sometimes families and care-givers have been given the option of having students attend in person with proper safety precautions.

Coordinator of Magnet Schools Curriculum, Dr. Wideline Jean-Paul, credited the students for their resiliency and staying engaged amid all the changes. She says that would not be possible without the teachers’ ability to adapt plans and accommodate tough situations.

Math…
a universal language that serves as a gateway to success.

Dr. Ricki Gibbs

“As a result of COVID 19, the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) Department has found creative ways to bring positive resolutions to issues faced by our students, teachers, and community,” said Dr. Jean-Paul. “We are addressing issues as they arise and providing the necessary resources to all stakeholders. I believe the collaboration and forward-thinking of the district staff, school-based staff, and IFL has been a big success for math instruction at the MSAP schools.”

The team at Warner Arts Magnet focused on one goal throughout these tumultuous times—keep meeting the needs of their students and provide them the quality education they deserved. School leaders say the IFL lent a helping hand in accomplishing this goal, specifically in the math department.

Dr. Gibbs says he views math as a universal language that serves as a gateway to success. 

Working with Kristin Klingensmith, Warner Arts Magnet has enhanced their understanding of effective teaching practice for mathematics. They explored the use of mathematical representations and learned how important the connections between representations are for helping students build their conceptual understanding.  Through collaborative partnership, we continue to refine our questioning practices and the ways meaningful math discussions are facilitated. 

“[We were] looking at the Accountable Talk®, high leverage tasks, all of that is what we need for our students to think and problem solve. We are constantly adding to their bag of tricks so they can reach in and grab something that will help them to understand and share their understanding. All of this is a takeaway from IFL,” said Dr. ReGina Etter, Director of Magnet Schools.

“When you work with someone like Kristin that has that fresh lens, has that knowledge base from a university and all the work coming out of the university that can bring it, it’s life been life changing, we’ve seen our results last school year begin to skyrocket. Even as we begin to start this school year just looking at how things have stabilized,”

Dr. Ricki Gibbs

The team at Warner Arts Magnet focused on one goal throughout these tumultuous times—keep meeting the needs of their students and provide them the quality education they deserved. School leaders say the IFL lent a helping hand in accomplishing this goal, specifically in the math department.

Dr. Gibbs says he views math as a universal language that serves as a gateway to success. 

The leadership in Nashville said it was important to have a fresh set of eyes come in, identify and readily assess what was needed. They called the partnership with the IFL a win-win.

“When you work with someone like Kristin that has that fresh lens, has that knowledge base from a university and all the work coming out of the university that can bring it, it’s life been life changing, we’ve seen our results last school year begin to skyrocket. Even as we begin to start this school year just looking at how things have stabilized,” said Dr. Gibbs.

Building Allyship Among Educators

By Ricki Gibbs II, Ed.D.

Principal at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary in Metro Nashville Public Schools

As educators we all have similar goals. We work to inspire, motivate, and empower the students we interact with every day. Realizing these goals requires us to support, collaborate with, and encourage each other as we do our life changing work. Being an ally in an educational setting is often thought of as a role for white teachers doing anti-racism work or heterosexual teachers supporting their students who identify in the LBGTQ community. However, allies should exist across identity lines. Being an ally means recognizing when others are being oppressed and standing in solidarity with anyone who experiences oppression.

Allyship, in its most basic form, is the ability to create the space that allows someone else to be their authentic self. Can any of these goals be truly accomplished when we have educators in our schools who feel disenfranchised, alone, and unsupported by their colleagues? Being an effective educational ally requires substantial self-reflection, a strong sense of self-identity, and a willingness to step up and advocate for a colleague. All educators can develop the skills to be an ally, but the journey to get to that point will look different, depending on the educator’s identity, life experiences, and understanding of issues of power and privilege.

Recognizing when colleagues are isolated or not invited into the group. These moves are a form of oppression which require that we stand up in solidary with anyone who is being oppressed.

Dr. Rosita Apodaca

  • Stand up, even if you are nervous.

Allyship in education can feel as if you are jeopardizing your own standing in your school by standing up for a student or colleague when others say that a situation has nothing to do with you. However, standing up for someone else, even when you feel scared or nervous, is what allyship is about. Responding in an open-minded and supportive way is not about conforming to arbitrary rules, beliefs, or being a doormat. When we take the school or world politics out of it, it is just the practical thing to do and the same thing we ask of our students every day. Still, many find it difficult to stand up as an ally in these moments because we run the risk of angering our colleagues or jeopardizing our own standing in our school.

Real-World Scenario

One day we will all be faced with deciding whether to stand up and advocate for our students. In my case, this decision was one that would change my outlook on supporting others as I sought to be an ally to the disenfranchised. Early in my administrative career I dealt with a situation in which two students engaged in a physical altercation. Video evidence showed that the African American student was not the aggressor, but his Caucasian peer left the altercation with bruises that required hospitalization. After my investigation I was ready to give both students an equal consequence, but my direct supervisor recommended I give the African American student a harsher consequence since he inflicted injuries on the other student. This suggestion did not sit well with me and when I let my thoughts be known it was not initially received with open arms. I knew I couldn’t just sit to the side and let a student be “railroaded,” so I asked for a meeting to discuss the situation in further detail. I went to the meeting with evidence and research on how minority students are punished at a higher rate than their white peers for the same offenses and was ready for battle, but to my surprise my direct supervisor had reflected on our conversation and decided to take my advice for equal consequence. This story illustrates the power of speaking up. As an educational ally we have the power to step in and support the young people we educate by ensuring we are balancing what at times can seem like an unbalanced system. We must use our voices to ensure all students are treated equitably if we are to remove bias, bigotry, and racism from our educational system.

  • Be willing to challenge the status quo. 

Challenging the status quo can be a difficult proposition when becoming an educational ally. When challenging the status quo, according to John Lewis (2017) we all have to take a long, hard look down the road we will travel once we have made a commitment to work for change. Know that this transformation will not happen right away. Change often takes time and it rarely happens all at once. Are you willing to engage in “Good Trouble”? Are you willing to challenge the status quo from inside the system? Are you willing to stand up for what is right even when no one else is standing with you? Are you willing to commit to being an upstander and not a bystander to create change?

Real-World Scenario

I recently had the privilege of serving as principal of an elementary school where 66% of our student population was actively learning English as a second language and 81% of our students spoke a language other than English in their home. As an educational ally in this community, I personally sought to ensure we empowered our families by celebrating their cultures. As an ally, one of the most critical measures you can take for the group of people you are supporting is to celebrate, empower, and encourage their cultural beliefs to give them a sense of belonging. By appreciating cultural diversity, you innately begin to build a circle of trust where immigrant families know and understand that you want the best for their child as well as the entire family. As educators many of us will one day serve a student population whose families are new to the country or are first generation Americans. Serving as an educational ally in these communities sets the stage for greater equity in our schools. 

  • Hold your circle accountable.

Most educators will agree that we have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and that’s what allyship is all about. We all have our “circles”—those groups of colleagues that we feel comfortable around and tend to share how we really feel about certain topics. It is in these conversations where allyship can have the most impact. It is easier to hear something that challenges your thoughts about a topic from someone you know cares about you rather than a stranger who seems combative because you disagree on a topic. As allies we must listen and learn so when we return to our circles, we can better support each other in the fight for what is right. Allyship is not a solo fight, just like most effective educational practices cannot be attained in isolation. You must find others who are a part of the dominant group and hold them accountable for their words and actions, while at the same time remembering that, as an ally, you are accountable to the person(s) who are experiencing marginalization because of your status, power, and privilege.  

Real-World Scenario

Education is historically built on middle class American values. With that in mind, there have been and still are plenty of educators who have faced a situation that I encountered. When I was a classroom teacher, I had to make the decision to go along with the status quo or become an ally to a colleague who identified with the LGTBQ community. My school was like most schools across our country. There were teachers who held a lot of influence throughout our building and their thoughts and values shaped our school culture. That year a first-year teacher joined our staff, and she was open about her sexuality. I quickly realized that those who yielded the greatest influence in our school were attempting to silence her voice because they did not, in their words, “want her beliefs to be spread to our students.” In this moment I was confronted with a personal dilemma. Do I ignore what is obviously happening in front of me and go along with the crowd or do I stand up and challenge these influencers as I disagree with their treatment of our colleague? I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t nervous, because being an ally at times takes courage that we do not know we have inside of us. Remembering that moment I know I stumbled over my words, but when I stood up and called out the bigotry and homophobic behaviors we were displaying as a school, I could see my colleague begin to smile. Education is and should always be about challenging one’s thoughts and inspiring others to think critically. As educators, we must find ways to dismantle any beliefs that teach or encourage intolerance based upon how someone looks or how they love. As someone who held a spot in “the circle” of influencers, it ultimately became my responsibility to hold my circle accountable to ensure our beliefs are inclusive and welcoming to all.

  • Share the benefits of your privilege.

One of the hardest moments in every educator’s career is being the new person in a school, or in some cases, the person who is seen as “different” from others in the school community. The “difference” might be based on physical ability, size, language spoken, orientation, gender, race, religion, age, etc. The fact is that someone will be the minority on the staff and that can be lonely place. Not knowing if your opinions will be valued or if others will see the benefits your divergent experiences will bring to the team. As an educational ally, you have the ability to ease these nervous feelings by sharing the benefit of your privilege. This means extending the power that you hold to create a space for and amplify the work of the person who has been minoritized.

Real-World Scenario

Education is historically built on middle class American values. With that in mind, there have been and still are plenty of educators who have faced a situation that I encountered. When I was a classroom teacher, I had to make the decision to go along with the status quo or become an ally to a colleague who identified with the LGTBQ community. My school was like most schools across our country. There were teachers who held a lot of influence throughout our building and their thoughts and values shaped our school culture. That year a first-year teacher joined our staff, and she was open about her sexuality. I quickly realized that those who yielded the greatest influence in our school were attempting to silence her voice because they did not, in their words, “want her beliefs to be spread to our students.” In this moment I was confronted with a personal dilemma. Do I ignore what is obviously happening in front of me and go along with the crowd or do I stand up and challenge these influencers as I disagree with their treatment of our colleague? I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t nervous, because being an ally at times takes courage that we do not know we have inside of us. Remembering that moment I know I stumbled over my words, but when I stood up and called out the bigotry and homophobic behaviors we were displaying as a school, I could see my colleague begin to smile. Education is and should always be about challenging one’s thoughts and inspiring others to think critically. As educators, we must find ways to dismantle any beliefs that teach or encourage intolerance based upon how someone looks or how they love. As someone who held a spot in “the circle” of influencers, it ultimately became my responsibility to hold my circle accountable to ensure our beliefs are inclusive and welcoming to all.

Allyship in education is critical as we teach our students what it means to care for each other. If we do not do the same for other educators who do not look like us, believe as we do, or love as we do, we will never form the alliances that will allow us to reach our ultimate goals. In my world of school turnaround and/or school transformation, allyship has become a foundational aspect of the work. When educators understand that they have allies in the building with them, it creates a school community that feels valued and heard. These critical strategies set the stage for educators to be innovative and courageous as we change lives through the power of a great education.

People begin to feel valued and their voices can be heard. These small, but critical steps can open us up to innovation, build courage, and can often change lives.

Dr. Rosita Apodaca

Ricki Gibbs II, Ed.D., commonly referred to as “Gibbs” is the principal at Warner Arts Magnet Elementary in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) in Tennessee. He was recognized as MNPS Elementary Principal of the Year 2019-2020. He is an educational leader and school turnaround specialist who has an innate ability to highlight the assets of the educators with whom he works. He is a motivator for sure, but also an inspirer who leads by example, because every moment has the potential to change the lives of students in his charge.

Reference

Lewis, J. (2017). Across that bridge: A vision for change and the future of America. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, Inc.