A Measure of Love

InkedEOY evals_LIWhen I started my fourteenth year of teaching last fall, I made sure to implement the strategies outlined in Penny Kittle’s book, Book Love, with fidelity. My students had free choice of books, time to read each day, as well as book talks and book conferences. They wrote about the books they read. They talked to each other about the books they read. I was determined to turn them into lifelong readers, determined to make them fall in love (or back in love) with reading.  I was consumed with making sure I did everything “right.”  My constant evaluation of myself – my teaching practices, my philosophies, my pedagogy – and how I affected my students was both exhilarating and exhausting. I was so worried about the impact that I would have on them, that it wasn’t until there were only a few days of school left that I realized the impact that they had on me.

My students completed an End-Of-Year reading evaluation, one I adapted from those found in Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, and Pernille Ripp’s Passionate Readers. I added in a few of my own questions, and presented it to students. The purpose was to evaluate my teaching, the classroom culture, and students’ perceptions of their own personal reading growth. I asked for openness and honesty, and they more than delivered.  As part of the evaluation, I asked them to rank the importance of certain aspects of the reading culture in our classroom, and they overwhelmingly ranked independent reading time in class as most important to them. Ranked #2 was daily book talks, and #3 was having a classroom library. We should listen to our students – they know what they need.

In addition to praise, I received critical feedback. Some students liked the freedom to choose projects and groups, and they enjoyed all the student-talk that happened each day. Other students wrote that they would have preferred a more structured classroom in which the projects and groups are assigned rather than chosen, and they wanted a quieter classroom with less talk so they could concentrate more. Students recommended that I have more books with LGBT characters, more romance books, and more mystery books. (Which, as a winner of the 2018 Book Love Foundation grant, I will be able to provide!) Some students wanted my discipline to be harsher toward students who weren’t following expectations, while others felt that I was pretty strict. I had one student write that he thought we should read more classics, and that I should talk less about current events and books that address current social justice issues because it made him uncomfortable – which tells me he probably needed to hear those conversations more than almost any other student. I am carefully considering the feedback from all students and will make some changes to my teaching practices next year. (Although I have no plans to stop talking about current events and books that deal with current social justice issues!)

Some of their responses made me laugh out loud, and some made me cry. Here are several of my favorites:

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“Though I think the current selection is fine, I believe that maybe more LGBT books in order to really show that being straight isn’t default.”

“What I like best about the way Mrs. Visness teaches is her connection with the students. She doesn’t sound nice just because that’s how she should be as a teacher, but it feels like she genuinely cares about the students and their input.”

 

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“It’s interesting and I’m glad I saw there is something in reading other than trying to get to the end.”

 

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“I passed the reading STAAR because of reading all these books.”

 

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda because I can relate to hiding a big secret.”

 

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“Her book talks, I can’t wait to read the books I wrote down over the summer.”

“None, I never had a good ELA teacher for all through 6th-7th grade. I’ve actually learned something and now I feel confident to go to high school.”

 

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“My job. And Fortnite.”

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“The book talks you had really helped me get more interested and intrigued me into reading more books and actually completing them.”

 

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Tyler Johnson was Here. This was my favorite book because it was about police brutality and that subject does interest me a lot. It’s also because it made me feel like I was actually a part of it.”

“I plan to read more Jason Reynolds books, and books about police brutality.”

“You helped me as a reader by expanding/opening up my selection of books.”

 

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“You showed me books that had characters that weren’t White, straight, and perfect.”

 

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“She didn’t teach to the STAAR test.”

 

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“I like that she already loves reading so she doesn’t have to pretend.”

 

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“You helped me by every day you would give books talks about books. I liked it because you exposed me to books I wouldn’t have known existed.”

 

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“You gave amazing book recommendations, when I read a book you recommended I was never disappointed.”

 

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“I definitely feel that I can understand more on picking up foreshadowing and context clues earlier than before.”

 

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“I am a better reader because now I know what type of books I enjoy and I actually want to finish them.”

“Probably The Hate U Give because it really opened my eyes to what other people face that I didn’t know about.”

 

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“You let us read for 10 minutes in the class.”

“Let us read for 20 minutes.”

“To read every day for 30 minutes and then play Fortnite.”

 

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“I was not a very good reader at the beginning of the year. I struggled with understanding big words. Also when I would read books it would go through one ear and out the other.”

“I am not the best, but I am a lot better now. When I read now, I can really understand what the book is about.” (Please note #2 and #3! Amazing!)

 

The purpose of the evaluation was to find out if students benefited from the reading culture and strategies in our classroom.  I wanted them to fall in love with reading and books, but how do you measure love? I don’t know how to measure a love of books and reading, but this year, watching my students find their reading lives and thrive while finding themselves in the pages of books has been the most fulfilling experience of my teaching career. And while they spent the school year falling in love with reading, I spent the school year falling in love with them.

A “launch” I commonly used with my classes as they left each day is this –

Be kind, speak up, do right, and keep reading!

but I may be changing it to this bit of perfection –

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“Just read, boo.”