Wednesday, June 22, 2011

BARNSEY ALERT - There's A New Book Out There And It's Just For Those Naughty Boys!

Okay.  Perhaps said book is not intended just for those fabulous naughty boys and their devilish smiles (click here, here and here for some archived fave naughty boy wonderful-ness) but for ALL the boys in your class who are struggling to get engaged in their reading.

Um, sound familiar?  Bring a precious little face or two to your mind?

I thought as much.

I'm talking about Pam Allyn's new book Best Books For Boys.  (Say whaaaa?  Yes, a book JUST to help you think deeply and come up with realistic ways to get your toughest friends to love reading.)

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of Pam's book - friends, this one is worth the trip to Barnsey. (Although, really, I take any excuse to go to my own personal candy-land.  Nerd alert!)

Pam's love for reading is evident.  Her passion for working with the boys at The Children's Village is inspiring.  Pam begins by introducing us to the severity of the struggle to engage many boys in a love of reading - a struggle with which many of us are very familiar.  I mean, how many of us have run out to the library to borrow every last book they have on sharks just because a little friend mentioned that just maybe he might like to think about reading some more books on that topic?  I know I can't be alone in my heinous overdue fees...

Pam proposes and explains four essential elements to creating a reading life: Ritual, Environment, Access and Dialogue (READ).  She then continues to answer some extremely poignant questions about boys, reading and our classrooms.  I mean, take a gander at some of these heavy hitters:

How can we make boys more comfortable with reading?
How does school affect boys as readers?
What if the boys are highly active and don’t love to sit still to read?  (Um, hello!  Sound like anyone you know?)
How can I choose books that build reading confidence in boys?

Finally, Pam includes a thoughtful and extensive list of titles (broken down by genre and level) aimed at getting our boys more excited about reading.  Actual titles, people!  Clearly, this is an amazeballs section and I've already run out to the library to check out many of these titles.  (Mr. Mimi has put me on Barnsey lock-down for the time being.  There was a bit of an intervention.  I have to admit, it was a long time coming...)

Overall, what I loved about Pam's book was that it pushed my thinking about my own practice and what I consider to be acceptable reading practices in the classroom.  Even though I consider myself a bit of a Rockstar, even I can get stuck in a rut.  I think all of us, without being aware of it, start to accept old definitions of familiar practices because they feel comfortable.  Pam's book urges us to push the boundaries and redefine what reading looks like in our classrooms - and to her I say, "Work it, girlfriend!"

Because I am one of the luckiest bloggers in the blogosphere (Dorkiest.  Word.  Ever.), I was able to do a quick Q&A with Pam to find out more about her newest book.  (High fives all around, no?)

(Quick side note: I included Pam's responses in all caps to distinguish them because they are rad, not because she was yelling. Ha!)

Me:  What inspired you to tackle this topic?

Pam: THE BOYS I WORK WITH ASKED ME TO WRITE THIS BOOK! THEY KEEP WONDERING WHY TEACHERS DON'T OFFER THEM THE BOOKS THEY REALLY LOVE TO READ. AND I AM HAUNTED BY THE SHEER NUMBERS OF BOYS WHO ARE STANDING OUTSIDE THE DOOR OF A WORLD OF READING. THEY DON'T FEEL LIKE THEY ARE BEING INVITED IN. I HAVE SPENT MANY YEARS LEARNING FROM THE BOYS OF CHILDREN'S VILLAGE, A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE. THEY ARE BOYS WHO HAVE BEEN THROUGH A LOT, BUT WHAT I'VE FOUND IS THAT A GOOD STORY WILL SHED AWAY YEARS OF RESISTANCE. THEY ARE TOUGH ON THE OUTSIDE BUT TENDER ON THE INSIDE. AND BOOKS AND POEMS GO A LONG WAY TO THAWING THE HARDNESS THAT'S GATHERED AROUND THEM. SEEING HOW MANY TIMES BOOKS HAVE WORKED ON THIS LEVEL MAKES ME FEEL THAT WELCOMING BOYS INTO A WORLD OF READING IS NOT JUST ABOUT ACADEMIC SUCCESS (ALTHOUGH IT IS THAT TOO) BUT ALSO ABOUT BECOMING A SOCIALLY AND EMOTIONALLY OPEN PERSON ABLE TO TAKE GOOD RISKS TO BECOME A LEARNER IN THIS 21ST CENTURY.

Me: As you may already know, Mrs. Mimi loves her some naughty boys.  Do you have a fabulous story about any deliciously naughty boys from all your experiences in schools? 

Pam: OF COURSE! I TOO LOVE NAUGHTY BOYS! THAT SPARKLE IN THEIR EYES AS THEY SHARPEN THEIR PENCIL FOR HOURS WHILE YOU ARE TRYING TO START WRITING WORKSHOP! TUMBLING AROUND THE PLAYGROUND, OR DASHING OUT OF THEIR SEATS TO LOOK AT THE FIRST SNOWFALL. BUT I THINK IF WE PAY CLOSE ATTENTION, THEY ARE TEACHING US SOME THINGS TOO. ONE OF MY FAVORITE STORIES IS ABOUT MY STUDENT WAYNE WHO SO LOVED ANIMALS. HE SPENT MOST OF THE YEAR TAKING CARE OF THE FROGS IN OUR CLASSROOM. HE WAS AN OLDER STRUGGLING LEARNER. BUT WHEN HE STARTED MAKING SIGNS AND STORIES ABOUT THE FROGS I KNEW WE WERE HAVING A BREAKTHROUGH. I WILL NEVER FORGET HIM. HE TOOK HIS OWN PATH AND I AM GLAD I WAS PATIENCE TO SEE HIS BLOSSOMING.

Me:  What would you say to a teacher who is looking for some inspiration? 

Pam: THE CHILDREN ARE ALWAYS OUR BEST INSPIRATION. STOP WORRYING SO MUCH, AND SIT DOWN AND READ ALOUD FROM YOUR FAVORITE SELECTIONS. LET YOUR BOYS TELL YOU WHAT THEY LOVE. LISTEN CAREFULLY TO THEM AND FOLLOW THEIR PASSIONS. THE INSPIRATION HAS BEEN RIGHT THERE ALL ALONG.

Me: What are your summer reading plans?

Pam: WELL, I LOVE THAT QUESTION! I HAVE A TON OF BOOKS UPLOADED ALREADY ON MY IPAD (WHICH I LOVE LOVE LOVE). ONE IS THE STORY OF HOW ELEANOR ROOSEVELT CAME TO CREATE THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. I HAVE ALREADY STARTED IT AND I CAN'T STOP READING. SHE IS MY TRUE HERO. AND THEN I HAVE READY TO READ A BOOK MY DAUGHTER CHARLOTTE RECOMMENDED TO ME CALLED SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY; SHE SAID IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS SHE'D EVER READ AND I TOTALLY TRUST HER, AND THE THIRD ONE I CAN'T WAIT TO READ IS THE NEW MYSTERY BY MY OLD COLLEGE CHUM HARLAN COBEN. HIS BOOKS ALWAYS GET MY HEART POUNDING. I DON'T KNOW HOW HE DOES IT, EVERY TIME.

Me: Can you share the titles of a couple of your favorite read alouds with us?

Pam: LATELY MY FAVES ARE THE BOSS BABY, BY MARLA FRAZEE AND CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG BY MO WILLEMS. YOU CAN'T GO WRONG.

So, clearly you are adding this to your reading list for the summer, yes?  I'm thinking feet up, coffee in hand and a little Pam Allyn for your summer professional development pleasure...cha-ching.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

We Are A Group Divided

It is that time of year, my friends.  We are a group divided.  On one hand, we have those that are currently sipping their coffee, checking their fave blogs (and thinking, "MY GOD! She's NOT dead!  She just hasn't finished her school year yet...") - basically, those who are in the midst of relaxing because they are finished with their school year and HOLY CRAP the end was brutal so don't look at me like that when I hit snooze on my alarm clock. 

And to those friends, I say, "Yea you!"  And, "Can you pass me a little liquid encouragement to end the year with a BANG instead of a sad, scrambling mess?"

So, yes, there are those friends and then there's the rest of us.  Those of us who aren't quite done yet, but the end is in sight.  Like a glimmering light at the end of a long tunnel or a really fantastic shoe sale that's two weeks away but you already have a pair all picked out.

No matter which group you fall into, the end of the year is brutal.  Bru-tal with a capital "are-you-freaking-kidding-me?"  There are portfolios to be organized, grades to be calculated, report cards to be filled out, classes to be reconfigured, classrooms to be cleaned and put to bed for the summer, cumulative files to be dealt with and, wait, what's that other thing?  Hold on, it will come to me....oh, right!  The kids.  There are kids who still need to be taught.

Combine that with all the special end-of-the-year events (Field Day!  Surprise Assemblies!  Awards Ceremonies!  Field Trips! Just Poke Me In the Eye Day!)  (Sidenote: Mini Mimi recently just poked mommy in the eye and it sucks.  Note to self- must stop making that joke as it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts.)

No matter how organized you are or how on-top-of-your-shiznit you claim to be, the end is a race (a drag out, full on dead heat) to the finish.  I hope that in all the chaos and frantic list making that you remembered to savor those last few moments with your friends, that you all found the time to reflect on your time together and all that you have learned and that (even if you were faking it) ended your year with a BANG and not a poke to the eye.

Who's Peeking?