Getting Started with Action Research

We are excited to have Matt Renwick back on our blog today with a guest post. He has written before about his school’s efforts to develop lifelong readers. This time he is back with some pointers on getting started with action research for both teachers and administrators.

Getting Started with Action Research
Matt Renwick

We recently facilitated action research for twenty of our district teachers. They came from all areas in grades K–12. The course was led by Dr. Beth Giles and Dr. Mark Dziedzic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teachers met one evening a month to explore their driving questions, set up action plans, collect and organize data, and prepare their work for an inquiry showcase this spring. Here are some of the questions that were specific to literacy, and what we learned.

What happens when we provide choice in reading and learning?

Three teachers investigated this tenet of engagement. A second-grade teacher conducted Genius Hour at the end of the day, a time in which students could tinker and make things of their choosing. A third-grade teacher allowed her students to decide how their classroom should look and feel regarding furniture and resources. A reading interventionist embedded choice within her instruction, including letting the students select one book a month to keep.

What they found out was that choice affected each student in different ways. For example, the reading interventionist discovered that if a student’s basic needs were not being met, he or she had a hard time progressing. She countered this reality by bringing families into school to engage in literacy activities, such as building bookshelves. The third-grade teacher realized that some students liked working with peers regularly, whereas others needed quiet time to read and write. The second-grade teacher found that, for one student in particular, a half hour of tinkering every day led to a reduction in office referrals by 70 percent from fall to spring. Providing choice in school helped teachers better understand their students and adjust their instruction.

What happens when students are taught to ask questions and reflect about their reading?

A fourth- and fifth-grade teacher working with multiple curriculums in a split classroom realized that addressing the needs of a wide variety of learners was a tall order. Therefore, she wanted to find out if teaching her students to ask their own questions of the books they read and to reflect on their thinking in authentic ways through reading journals would lead to more independence.

She modeled these skills and strategies with her own reading. Gradually, she released the responsibility of questioning and reflecting to the students. Data she gathered were anecdotal and powerful. Students not only kept reflections of their own reading, they also noted what their peers were reading. Recommendations for what to read next led to students creating “Want to Read” lists in their journals. Also, students emulated how their teacher talked in their book discussions. This teacher later noted that she was looking forward to working with next year’s fifth graders in the fall.

What happens when teachers reveal themselves as learners?

A secondary reading interventionist was frustrated with her past students’ inability to exit her program in a timely manner. She decided to focus on how her language might promote a growth mind-set in her most reluctant readers and writers. First, she wrote in front of her students about the struggles she was having as a teacher and as a parent. These were day-to-day ordeals—ordinary issues she was sharing publicly. Students were also asked to write about their struggles. Few initially took her up on it. But as the teacher continued to model a growth mind-set, more students followed her lead.

Because the teacher was so open about her own learning, students felt safe in her classroom to take risks. They started to shed their rough exteriors, revealing frustrations about classes and their home lives. This led to exploring literature that students could personally relate to, populated with characters and settings in which they could reside. Pretty soon, her students were coming to her with improved progress reports to share and celebrate. A few kids exited her reading intervention earlier than anticipated but didn’t want to leave. This teacher eventually published her action research in the Wisconsin State Reading Association journal.

What happens when we let kids read?

A fifth-grade teacher and I teamed up to provide her students with a lot of texts to read, and we decreased the reading requirements placed upon them. I would come in once a month with a box full of high-interest books and do a quick blurb about each one. The teacher also used her allocated funds to enhance the classroom library. She taught the students how to have a conversation with peers and frequently conferred with students about their reading and goals. Her work derived from the research by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston, highlighted in a Stenhouse blog post four years ago.

My role as coresearcher was to survey the students once a month using a tool developed by Ivey and Johnston. What we learned was that every student was different. Their reading lives varied from month to month. One student who proclaimed “I hate reading!” in February was excited about a new series he discovered in March. Other students also became more honest about reading in school. “I am SO glad to be done with my reading contract, so I can read whatever I want.” This type of data was more powerful than any screener or test score. Reading lives look more like a heartbeat than a straight line. Readers—kids and adults—have their ups and downs.

In observing these teachers’ journeys, I have discovered new truths about principalship. Just as students need to be engaged in their learning, teachers have to be engaged in their work. Not merely busy or working collegially with staff, but really engaged. We need to trust in their professionalism. We need to provide teachers the room to ask questions and grow. We need to honor the process as much as the outcomes. We need to celebrate both their mistakes and their successes, always striving to become better every day as professionals. Letting go of some control as a school leader is hard. Yet when we do, teachers are able to be the leaders of their own learning.

Tips for Getting Started in Action Research
If you are a teacher…

  • Ask yourself, “Why do I want to engage in action research?” If you can identify the purpose for this work in your professional life, it will motivate you to get started.
  • Do your homework on action research to build a knowledge base about the topic. Excellent resources include Living the Questions by Ruth Shagoury and Brenda Power (Stenhouse, 2012) and The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research by Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey (Corwin, 2014).
  • Develop a community of professionals who also want to engage in action research. You can leverage the power of the group to persuade your principal to support this initiative as part of the professional development plan. If you cannot collaborate in person, check out online communities related to classroom research, such as The Teachers Guild.
  • Find a question that you want to explore and that is embedded within your current practice. This wondering should relate to your professional learning goals and offer artifacts that can serve as evidence for your evaluation system.
  • Include your students in your action research as much as possible. They will become a great source of information as you study the impact of your work on their learning. They will also come to see you as a learner, which enhances the entire classroom community.

If you are an administrator…

  • Be deliberate when considering action research as a possible professional learning experience. The phrase action research can scare off some teachers who might otherwise be interested in this approach. Start small, maybe offering it as a voluntary course beyond the school day for graduate credit or pay.
  • Connect with outside organizations that can facilitate a course instead of trying to host it yourself. There is vulnerability involved in action research. The more we can have others lead the initiative, the more likely teachers will be willing to open up and take risks in their pursuits of becoming better practitioners.
  • Conduct action research yourself. I did this, using the resource The Action Research Guidebook by Richard Sagor (Corwin, 2012). The author offers several examples of a principal engaging in professional inquiry at a schoolwide level. I would share my findings and reflections in staff newsletters and at meetings. The message you send is the same one teacher-researchers convey to their students: We are all learners here.
  • Prepare a multiyear plan for facilitating action research in your school or district. Teacher questions seemed to lead to more questions during the school year. At the inquiry showcase, teachers were already asking if they could conduct action research again. “I feel like I just discovered my question,” noted one teacher.


Matt Renwick is a 15-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he served as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary school leader in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement will be published by Powerful Learning Press.

Add comment September 12th, 2016

Blogstitute 2016: Why Students’ Reading Plateaus

Welcome back to week 2 of our Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute. We are excited to bring you a post by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, whose latest book is the groundbreaking Who’s Doing the Work. You can still preview their book on the Stenhouse website, but first read their post below about why and how students reach a reading plateau and what you can do about it. There’s also some dancing involved. Be sure to comment or Tweet about this post for a chance to win our 10 new fall books! And be sure to join the #G2Great Twitter chat this Thursday, June 23 at 8:30 p.m. EST with Jan and Kim to discuss shared reading.

The Electric Slide Effect: Explaining Why Students’ Reading Plateaus

By Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris

Whos Doing the WorkTraditionally, the gradual release of responsibility has been viewed as a process educators follow through a single lesson: teacher does, students and teacher do together, students do. However, a single lesson is often not enough. In many cases, students need varied levels of support on multiple occasions to get sufficient practice to really learn the thing they are trying to master. This means that, to avoid learning plateaus, we must hold tight to all four instructional contexts: read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. As a whole, they provide students both the practice and the support they need to improve.

How Learning to Read Is Like Learning to Dance

Can you do the Electric Slide? The Electric Slide has been a dance party staple since we were teenagers, so over the years we have had multiple opportunities to learn and join in this dance. If you have ever learned the Electric Slide, or any other line dance, then you have keen insight into the gradual release of responsibility, including why each instructional context is critical for the transfer of learning.


Imagine you are somewhere with live music, the band begins to play the Electric Boogie, and the cool cats rush out to the dance floor. On cue, their feet and arms begin to sway and move synchronously. You stand along the edge of the dance floor admiring their coordination, feeling the call of the music, and wanting to be part of the fun. This watching from the side is like read-aloud, where a skilled other shows you the joy that can be yours as soon as you learn to read. This kind of reading aloud is a commercial for reading, just as watching people dance entices you to want to learn the Electric Slide.

You continue to watch carefully as the dancers move—right foot right, count to four, left foot right, cross behind the right foot—analyzing their strategies for changing direction or for keeping time. This close watching is also like read-aloud, when the more skilled other gives you a window into the strategies that will make the new task more accessible. When you are watching a dance because you want to learn to do it, you watch differently. The same is true for learning to read.

Jan and Kim 2014Shared Reading

Next, you move to the dance floor where the crowd dances as one. You stand behind someone who appears to be a viable candidate for So You Think You Can Dance? and attempt to jump in. Your dancing model holds the choreography, dancing steadily even as you stumble through the steps. Noticing your struggle, she begins to support you by counting or calling out the next step. Eventually, you bumble less and dance more. This phase of learning the Electric Slide is like shared reading. The learner approximates as the lead offers guidance while maintaining a steady reading pace.

Guided Reading

The song ends before you quite have the Electric Slide down. You, joined by a few other novices, pull your dancing friend aside to get both confirmation and guidance. Each beginning dancer works through a different sticking point, tries different movements, asks questions, makes attempts, and repeats the process until his or her Electric Slide is stabilized. The teacher celebrates your success, and you feel like John Travolta! You can’t wait to hear the Electric Boogie again! This small-group Electric Slide support is like guided reading, where the teacher watches the students work through the reading process independently as they identify tricky spots, try new strategies, and confirm or revise approximations.

Independent Reading

Finally, driven by your vision of yourself taking command of the dance floor, you crank up the Electric Boogie at home in your bedroom. As with independent reading, you choose how much or little you practice; you choose when and where to practice; and you even choose what music to practice to, switching to Don Henley’s All She Wants to Do Is Dance after you’ve replayed the Electric Boogie for the eleventh time. As you practice more and more, you mess up less and less, your confidence and your joy rise, and you begin to plan your groovy wardrobe for the next dance party.

Becoming a Cool Cat

We must confess: neither of us has mastered the Electric Slide. Like the teacher frustrated by the student readers stuck at the same place on the reading proficiency continuum, we find ourselves frustrated by our Electric Slide plateau. Why haven’t we ever mastered this silly dance that everyone else seems to have been born knowing? We think our need for an Electric Slide intervention has to do with our instruction, and the missing instructional contexts in our experience.

Learning involves progress across the gradual release, with each stage in this release represented by a different instructional context: read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. In our case, with the Electric Slide, steps along the gradual release have been omitted, as is the case with reading in many classrooms today.

Historically, we have watched the Electric Slide and then jumped in expecting to be able to do it, always a step off, always facing the wrong direction. This is the equivalent of moving from read-aloud to independent reading without having time to stabilize and consolidate our learning through shared and guided experiences. We can’t learn the Electric Slide by skipping the instructional contexts that afford us the additional practice we need to truly master the dance, any more than we can skip shared reading and/or guided reading and expect students to progress as readers.

In reading instruction, this Electric Slide pattern of skipping instructional contexts is classic, with one instructional context favored over another until there is a pendulum swing in the other direction. For example, pre-Common Core, many children received a lot of guided reading instruction, leaving very little time for read-aloud and almost no time for shared reading, which made the shift brought about by the Common Core predictable! Since the Common Core and its emphasis on text complexity, educators have shifted to doing a lot more read-aloud and shared reading, and in many cases almost no guided and/or independent reading.

Closing Thoughts

If you want to avoid the Electric Slide effect in your students, if you want the reading strategies you teach students to transfer to their independent practice, then hold tight to all four instructional contexts. These four ways of supporting students’ authentic interactions with text work together as a whole and give students the varied practice they need to grow.

See you on the dance floor!

Jan & Kim

14 comments June 21st, 2016

Sustaining Engagement: One School’s Attempt to Develop Lifelong Readers

We last checked in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin, just as school was wrapping up in June. Now that school is about to start again, Matt talks about how his school sustains the reading program he and his staff launched in an effort to create lifelong readers.

As I was getting myself a cup of coffee in the staff lounge this spring, I noticed these posted on the wall:



Staff members had taken their favorite recommendations from a book-a-day calendar and taped them to the wall. Inscribed on many of the sheets were short comments about the title, which briefly explained why they liked it and why you should read it.

While I waited for the Keurig machine to finish brewing, several questions popped in my head. Who started this? Why is it sustaining itself? Where will this lead? These inquiries led to more questions about how it relates to our school in general. How do we get all of our K-5 students to this place, where they see responding to reading as something enjoyable? Is this an idea our learners would naturally come up with as a way to connect with others? In other words, how do we transition our students from formalized literacy instruction to lifelong reading?

This year, we attempted to answer these questions with the advent of an after school book club. We hired two advisers to facilitate an intervention that would no longer be referred to as an intervention. Although our lowest readers received special invitations, we encouraged all of our intermediate students to join us in developing this new community of readers.

Before we got the club started, the advisers and I sat down and went over some ground rules:

  • No quizzes
  • No reading requirements or logs
  • Let them read just about anything they want
  • Let them talk to each other about reading
  • Give them opportunities to share their reading lives
  • Provide just enough structure for these activities to be successful

These ideas, deriving from literacy experts such as Gay Ivey, Peter Johnston, and Donalyn Miller, seemed counter to everything we thought we knew about school. But for at least a few of our students, more of the same would not have served them well. If any one of us were asked to extend our own school day, how would we like to spend it?

The advisers, both avid readers themselves but not classroom teachers, could hardly contain their excitement. After some heavy recruiting, they got almost 20 students to initially enroll in the club. One of their first activities was for each student to bring in a favorite title, throw it in the middle of the table, pick a new one, and try to guess who originally submitted it.

This was actually a pre-assessment. Not of their reading levels, but of the level of enjoyment they experience as readers. Questions that were answered for the advisors included: Who knows who as a reader? Which genres, authors, and titles are the kids into right now? How comfortable was each student in being seen as a reader? This activity led to many more activities, such as hosting personal interviews with each other, facilitating book talks, reading aloud, and lots of independent reading.

Due to budget constraints, the book club could only meet two nights a week after school. This meant that they had to extend the day in ways that were meaningful for the students. One tool they used was Kidblog. Each student was given access to a blog in order to reflect on their reading as well as comment on others’ thinking. In addition, students were given access to eReaders that contained many titles of their choosing, all within one device. Through these activities that helped them connect with others, students could see that reading did not have to be sequestered to the literacy block.

We did not expect our students to make substantial gains from two and a half hours of extra reading practice. Our goal was to develop lifelong readers. With anything, people will engage in something over and over if they find joy, success, and recognition for their work. That is why the advisers and students culminated their time together with a readers theater performance. The play itself came from our school’s anthology series. This was okay, because the kids selected it.

After many re-readings and rehearsals, they were read to present in front of the entire school.

Someone could say that the activities these students engaged in – peer discussions, blogging, readers theater – are not interventions that have evidence for improving reading in students. But I think these people are looking at reading only through the lens of the act itself. We can quickly forget that reading is just as much an emotional endeavor as it is a cognitive one.

My own reading life didn’t begin until 3rd grade. That was the year my teacher read aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. The rest, as they say, is history. It is not to suggest that I received poor instruction in my K-2 years. I just hadn’t developed an affinity for reading yet. I had the skills, but lacked the engagement.

Gay Ivey noted at the 2014 Wisconsin State Reading Association convention that readers don’t read to accumulate a required number of minutes or to fill out a reading log. They read because they love reading. The minutes and logs that we demand are a result of this engagement. In an educational world that highly values the scientific side of literacy, we need to continuously cultivate a community of connected readers and engage them in a lifelong and joyful journey of learning.

digitalstudentportfoliosMatt Renwick is a 15-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he served as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary school leader in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement will be published by Powerful Learning Press in July.





3 comments August 11th, 2014

Blogstitute Post 3: Closely Reading Our Students

We kick off the second week of our Summer Blogstitute with a fabulous post by Dorothy Barnhouse, author of Readers Front and Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts. In her post Dorothy shows us that by the putting students at the center of our teaching we can help all readers tackle complex texts. Be sure to leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win a package of eight free Stenhouse books. Last week’s winner is Alex Fausett. We will pick a winner each week, so keep coming back!

Beyond Text Complexity: Closely Reading Our Students

I love the word complex. It implies a challenge, a puzzle, something to be figured out. The thesaurus gives us intricate and multifaceted as synonyms. Texts worth reading, in my opinion, are all complex, no matter how simple they may seem (see I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen or In a Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming).

The problem, as I talk about in Readers Front and Center, is that the Common Core has emphasized specific levels of text complexity to be achieved by specific grades. And while I’m a strong believer in high expectations, what I have found in schools where I work is that the focus on text complexity has left many of our students behind.

Here’s one, chosen today because he’s pretty typical. He’s an eleventh grader. His class, which I visited in May, had read three novels since September. They were now preparing for the New York State Regents Exams, working with partners to fill in a worksheet describing each novel’s themes and literary devices.

This boy sat without a notebook, a book, a pen, or a pencil, but the backpack at his feet was unzipped to reveal a basketball. He spent most of the class talking with his partner about his game but expertly switched topics when the teacher approached. He had all the answers.

The Great Gatsby,” he proclaimed confidently. “Theme: Love is out of reach.”

As the class drew to a close, his partner pointed to the sheet. “We still need a literary device.”

“Easy,” the boy replied. “Symbolism. Don’t you remember in the movie? The green light at the end of the dock—always out of reach.”

With that, he borrowed a pencil, completed the worksheet, zipped his backpack around his basketball, and walked out of class.

We all know students like this, students who get the gist of a text but don’t understand or seem to care about the details. Often our default mode when we’re teaching these students is to do the work for them. We may, as the Common Core materials suggest, ask “text-dependent” questions, or we may stop at a particular place in a read-aloud and ask a series of questions that help students uncover the meaning. If we’re conferring with a student who is independently reading, we may focus the conference on correcting that student’s comprehension, perhaps by drawing attention to a word or phrase we determine he or she is missing.

But these methods of teaching are all limited by one thing: they are privileging the text over the student. Ironically—and often, tragically—the more we focus on texts, the less our students do. “Why bother?” is the response of many. Others internalize the messages we’re sending with “I can’t.” And we all know how quickly “I can’t” turns into “I won’t.”

So here’s a different idea. Let’s start our instruction with the student, not the text. Let’s take this eleventh grader, for example, and invite him to take his basketball out of his backpack, so to speak. Let’s ask him about his game. How did it go? Tell me about it. What happened next? Why did you do that? Why do you think the other player did that? If you had done something differently, what do you think might have happened? Why do you think the ref made that call? How would a different call have affected the outcome?

You get the picture. Questions like these are, of course, frames for complex thinking:

  • Looking at how different parts are connected
  • Considering how the different parts contribute to the whole
  •  Asking and answering “how” and “why” questions
  • Thinking about “what if” possibilities

Similar questions can be asked of a text, perhaps even of The Great Gatsby.  Not that this list should be trotted out and delivered as a task for reading The Great Gatsby, mind you. Instead, what’s useful about making this list is how it helps us see that students, even those we think can’t, actually can analyze and interpret. In other words, they can do complex thinking. In fact, this boy was doing exactly that with his friend—and with no prompting from me.

Instead of making this list for students, what we can do is make this list with students. “Look what you’re doing,” we can say. “That’s reading!” In this way we can make complex thinking visible for our students, in the texts of their lives.

If we want our students to closely read complex texts, let’s first closely read our students, complex beings that they are. Let’s heed the words of the late Maxine Greene: “To pay attention is our endless and proper work.”

As I’ve been planning with teachers for the coming year, here are a few ways we’ve decided to situate ourselves to pay closer attention to our students:

  • Plan our year as a stepped-up opportunity. If we want to end with grade-level complex texts, let’s start with highly engaging texts—maybe even a basketball game or two. “Read” those texts side by side with students, with no agenda. Listen for complex thinking, places where students are analyzing “why” or considering “how” or synthesizing parts into a coherent whole. Step students up to do this thinking in other texts, from ones we know will be highly and immediately engaging to ones that will require some deferred gratification.
  • Teach mini-lessons after students read, rather than before. That way, we can turn our students’ thinking into notice-and-name mini-lessons. They will thus become the teachers in the room.
  • Establish independent reading as the backbone of our classes (yes, even and especially in high school). Students need to read widely in self-selected texts. Conduct research conferences. Our job is to get to know how our students think as they read. Books are our indispensible partners in this work.

How are you planning on putting your students at the center of your instruction this year? I’d love to hear your comments.



31 comments June 23rd, 2014

We are so lucky!

I am sure all of you book-lovers will appreciate this: the Stenhouse office in downtown Portland, Maine is very close — some might say dangerously close — to a lovely local, independent bookstore. During lunch breaks chances are that you will find one or two Stenhouse employees at Longfellow Books. Not that we needed another reason — or any reason at all — to love this bookstore, but then Stenhouse editor Philippa Stratton snapped this picture:

You know where I will be this Saturday!

1 comment November 26th, 2012

Podcast: Peter Johnston talks to Pat Johnson

The language that we choose to use with kids helps them create worlds—to imagine where they are, who they are, and what they’re supposed to do. Feedback that judges pushes children to think of things as fixed—intelligence, ability, personality. Once they have a sense that those things are fixed and they can’t do anything about them, then we’re sunk.

— Peter Johnston

Last month at the National Reading Recovery conference, Stenhouse authors Peter Johnston and Pat Johnson (Catching Readers Before They Fall, One Child at a Time) chatted about Peter’s new book, Opening Minds. Listen to this excerpt in which Peter discusses the difference between fixed and dynamic frames of learning, and gives examples of how specific language can move kids toward one frame or the other:

Add comment March 6th, 2012

Reigniting the passion

This is the final post in our series with Teri Lesesne. In January she shared with us her reading resolutions, in February she talked about how to foster a love of reading in kids, and this month she talked about how to get out of the reading doldrums. After reading this post and revisiting her previous ones, take a quick look at the special package of Teri’s books on the Stenhouse website.

Reigniting the Passion

I will make a confession:  there have been days and sometimes even weeks when I have just not felt much like reading ANYTHING.  Gasp!  Horrors, right?  The fact of the matter is that, now and then, we need a bit of a reignition, a kick start, a battery jump.  So, the next time you find yourself in that slump, try a few of these tactics (and they work well with our students, too).

First, it is perfectly fine to TAKE A BREAK FROM READING.  Daniel Pennac in his ground breaking book, Better Than Life (Stenhouse, 1999) includes some Rules for Reading.  One of the rules is the right not to read.  Now, don’t get me wrong: we can take a break, but we ultimately need to return to reading.  However, when things are hectic beyond all belief, take a break.  Get the other “stuff” done.  And then, if you need something to help you come back to reading, try this.

REREAD AN OLD FAVORITE.  That could be a book from your childhood, adolescence or adulthood.  Every time I read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, I see something I have missed before.  It is one of those rare and wonderful children’s books that, like Charlotte’s Web, has deeper meaning as I grow older.

START WITH SOMETHING EASY THAT YOU CAN FINISH READING QUICKLY. I read a ton of picture books.  In part, that is because I teach children’s literature in addition to YA literature.  However, when I am in a slump, there is nothing like a 32 page picture book (or 5 or 10 or more) to make me feel accomplished and fast!  I will sometimes start my morning with a stack of picture books to go along with my first cup of coffee.  About the time I take the final sip from my mug, I have finished at least 5 books.  5 X 32 = 160 pages. Granted, illustrations take up some room on the page, but I make no apologies here.  It works like a charm for me.

TRY READING SOMETHING OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE. I began reading graphic novels as a way to vary my routine of reading YA realistic fiction.  Now, graphic novels are part of my comfort zone (and, like picture books, I can read them rather quickly).  So, I press on.  I have grown to like fantasy and science fiction more because I decided to try to extend my reading interests.  If I never pushed myself at all, I would still be reading Gothic romances and little else.

ASK FOR A RECOMMENDATION FROM FRIENDS. I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club. Recommendations from the other members get added to my wish list at Amazon and my TBR pile which threatens to topple daily.  I trust these folks.  They know what I like, and they are always ready to suggest a book for me to read.  Of course, I have a couple of colleagues here in the department where I work who also make fine recommendations.

SEE WHAT IS LIGHTING UP THE SOCIAL MEDIA OR BESTSELLER LISTS. I troll Twitter and Facebook and other networks to see what others are reading and raving about.  There are blogs I follow religiously as well.  I might have missed books such as Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach were it not for the Cybills’ discussion.  The Cybills are awards given by children’s and YA bloggers.

JOIN A READING GROUP. My colleague Karin Perry (@kperry on Twitter) has formed a reading group of our current and former Library Science students.  In January we read Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Next up was The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (recently the winner of the Texas Bluebonnet Award with over 25,000 votes).  It is an online discussion because many of our graduate students live 400 miles from campus. We are so enjoying being able to talk about our reading with one another.

READ SOMETHING WITH YOUR CLASS ALOUD. Why not wake up all those dormant readers?  Find a quirky book like I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen or Dude: Fun with Dude and Betty by Lisa Pliscou and read it aloud.  It’s a Book by Lane Smith would work well.  So would Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd (get it?) or Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey.

So, here comes Spring.  Ready?  Set?  Read!

4 comments March 1st, 2012

Developing a love of reading in our students

We continue our series with Teri Lesesne this month with ideas about how to inspire students to become lovers of books and reading. Teri says that teachers, librarians, and parents, need to start by showing kids that they themselves love to read. We are still offering a special package price on Teri’s two books, Naked Reading and Making the Match. Come back again in March for more tips from Teri!

The pink hearts and red candy boxes are everywhere in stores.  Flowers, candy, stuffed animals: they all serve as concrete representations of love.  I wonder, what symbols would we use for our love of books?  How could we surround our students with reminders of the importance of books and reading in their lives?

The most powerful image we can provide our students is ourselves as a model of reading.  How often do students see you engaged in a text?  Do they see you reading books or listening to an audiobook or reading a book on your e-reader?  I would often be sitting at my desk with a book open as students came into class.  I would purposefully select books whose titles might engage even reluctant readers:  WHEN DAD KILLED MOM, THE EARTH MY BUTT AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS, WHY WE BROKE UP, UNDER A METH MOON.  If I were listening to an audiobook, I would ensure it was an intense passage such as when the main characters of Kenneth Oppel’s THIS DARK ENDEAVOR are defending themselves against the barbed teeth of the coelacanth fish or one of the battle scenes from THE ASK AND THE ANSWER by Patrick Ness or perhaps the chapter from Jack Gantos’  DEAD END IN NORVELT when young Jack believes his neighbor is boiling the skin from her hands (trust me, this scene is actually hysterically funny).  If I am reading electronically, I always make certain that a copy of the actual book is displayed so students can see what I am reading.  Two of my colleagues have clear folders on their door with book covers from the books they are reading with their eyes and reading with their ears. John Schu, an elementary librarian in Illinois, surrounds his library with covers of the books he reads (he read 2011 last year).

So, students need to see us reading.  Preferably, the books they “catch” us reading should be books appropriate for their pleasure reading as well.  Students are more likely to come to us for book suggestions if they know we are familiar with contemporary books.  Surrounding them, then, with children’s and YA books, fiction and nonfiction, is also critical.  Walk into Donalyn Miller’s classroom (she is THE BOOK WHISPERER) and you cannot help but know how important books are to Donalyn.  Tub after tub, shelf after shelf, her books number in the thousands.  Is it any surprise that her students read dozens of books for pleasure each school year?  Classroom libraries are another essential way to surround students with concrete reminders about books and reading  (this does not mean that your students never visit the school library, though). Classroom libraries also eliminate the excuse of “I left my book at home or in my locker” as there are always some books they can pick up in its stead.

Finally, we need to talk about our reading, share it with others.  Now that my classroom is often online, I use a blog to let students know what I am reading right now. Other educators do the same.  Explore the blogs of  Kate Messner, educator and author ( or  John Schu, librarian ( or the hundreds of others out there who blog about books and reading.   Get the word out: you are a reader.  You want to share books with others.  You love reading.

4 comments February 1st, 2012

New Year, New Goals

We begin 2012 in very good company: As the first blog post of the year, Teri Lesesne shares her new year’s resolutions for staying active as a reader and writer. To mark this occasion, we are offering a special package of Teri’s two books, Making the Match and Naked Reading at a special price. Check out the package here and then visit us again in February and March, when Teri will talk about her LOVE of reading and will lead us in a MARCH into books.

So tell us, what is your new year’s resolution when it comes to reading and writing?

New Year,  New Goals

I am a list maker.  There is something satisfying about making that list and then checking items off as they are completed.  Of course, no list is ever complete; it simply morphs into a new list.  As the new year opens, my first list centers on some New Year’s Resolutions.  My professional goals are simple and to the point.  I resolve to read more and to write more.  Now, for the tough part:  how to accomplish these goals?

Reading More

  1. Set aside the time: As I wait for the coffee to finish brewing in the morning, I sit down with a book. Generally, I can read a chapter before coffee is ready. Sometimes I manage a few more pages as I sip that first cup. In fifteen minutes a day, a person can read an average of more than a million words a year or about 20 books.  If you are a commuter, add audiobooks to your drive time.  Make sure your devices have books loaded for that time when you are kept waiting somewhere.
  2. Join a reading community: Paul W. Hankins, a high school English teacher in Indiana formed a Facebook group a couple of years ago.  Those of us who joined the community pledged to read 100 books that year.  We posted our progress monthly. This was sort of like a support group for us all.  It kept us on track. So, gather a few colleagues around you who will join in your resolution to read more.
  3. Make a realistic goal: My personal reading goal each year is to read one more book than I read the year before.  So, if you have been dormant for a while, start small.  If 100 books seems daunting, settle on a number that is realistic for you and your situation.
  4. Monitor your progress: Goodreads can help you monitor your progress once your goal is set.  Once you set up an account, you can enter your reading goal and Goodreads will monitor your progress for you.  Basically, I keep an open  file on my desktop each month where I enter the titles of the books I have read.
  5. Save for that rainy day:  I love a rainy weekend.  It provides just the excuse I need to sit and curl up with some books.  I have a separate TBR (to be read) stack for those days: books that I want to read in one huge gulp instead of tiny sips.  Sometimes I have a big stack of picture books for those rainy days.  At an average of 32 pages per book, I can knock out quite a few picture books on a dreary weekend.  And I have found there are many picture books that work across the grade levels.

Where does the writing come in?  I write daily on my blog. Most of the time I write about the books I am reading.  However, from time to time another topic presents itself.  My blog is informal and personal.  It is also, though, a place to explore ideas and issues that might later evolve into longer pieces of writing.  You might opt for a notebook.  Even annotating a text by jotting notes and comments in the margins (or using these features with an e-reader) is writing.  Readers and writers do not operate in a vacuum; they are part of a larger community.  I hope you will join me this new year as I resolve once more to be active in my development as a reader and a writer.

16 comments January 3rd, 2012

Questions & Authors: The excitement of selecting a book

Do you feel a bit giddy when you go through your stack of books, trying to decide what to read next? If you do, Terry Thompson shares that feeling. In this installment of Questions & Authors, the author of Adventures in Graphica shares his ritual for “Choosing Day,” and wonders how he could instill the same excitement about choosing a book in his students.

Today is Choosing Day.

I’ve been looking forward to this all day. I’ve cleared my evening and carefully organized a comfortable spot on the sofa.

I rushed straight home from work (no tutoring or after school meetings!), picked up a light dinner on the way (Chicken la Madeleine!), walked the dog, and silenced my phone.

I’ve taken care of everything.

My pile of books waits patiently. It always does.

Last night, I finally finished Edward Rutherfurd’s New York, and I’m ready to pick my next book. I relax into my spot and turn my attention to the stack that’s been gathering on my night stand for some time. Today is Choosing Day. Today I pick a new friend.

My professional book club is reading one of Richard Allington’s books next, but I figure that can wait. A book I want to study for church calls to me, but I’m going to hold off on that one a bit longer.

I decide that I’m in the mood for something historical (no surprise there, it’s my favorite!), so with that, I move on to several, more specific options. A recent trip to Illinois landed Devil and the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America in my stack, and that same trip prompted an interest in an Abraham Lincoln book, Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse. My editor recommended Year of Wonders and Dissolution, but both seem a bit heavy for my mood right now. And – even though I’m dying to – I’m hesitant to start Ken Follett’s new book, Fall of Giants, because his work is such a rare treat and I don’t want to use it up too quickly.

I revisit each title, remembering what originally drew me to them, and reread the jacket flap summaries. I shuffle through the stack several times. Deliberating. I take my time here. This is an important decision for me, and I don’t want to rush it. I finally settle on Devil in the White City. It’s a lightweight paperback making it a perfect choice for all the poolside reading I’ll be doing on my upcoming three day weekend.

I put the leftover books back in the stack on my night stand (until next time) and get ready to spend the rest of the evening immersed in a true crime historical murder mystery. I’m pleased and content. It doesn’t get any better than this.

I’m not sure when Choosing Day became such a big deal to me, where it began, or even how it got its name. But, it’s been a constant ritual in my life for years. Although not as childlike and giddy as it may seem, I really do get a boost of excitement from the thrill of deciding which book I’ll read next.

I often wonder, though: how many of our students feel this way? Certainly, it might seem unreasonable to expect every student we work with to gush with excitement for their next book, but what are their practices when they go to choose their next independent reading selection? Are their choices purposeful? Haphazard? Nonexistent?

Come to that, what are our practices that help promote an eager anticipation around book selection? I want my young readers to know this feeling. Granted, some of our learners will cultivate a similar type of choosing day for themselves, but just as many won’t. What conditions can we put in place that can promote an excitement for book selection in our students?


When teachers share their own excitement and process about book selection (and encourage students to do the same) they promote a classroom culture of enthusiasm for choosing texts. In a classroom that supports book selection, you’re likely to see students who are encouraged to share out about their selections and teachers that share favorite titles with the entire class or individual students who would take to them. Hearing trusted adults and peers share their reasoning for choosing particular texts lets students in on this valuable part of what it means to be a reader.


I get my best reading choices through recommendations from friends who know me well and know what I like to read. I bet you do, too. Offering a variety of recommendation options is a great way to get students interested in their next book. Whether you schedule time for readers to share their favorites out loud, have them use a classroom chart with sticky notes, or let them use a private note passing system for sharing books, making recommendations to friends – just like real readers do – can go a long way to foster enthusiasm for choosing that next read.

Keeping a Stack

Most readers don’t wait to finish their current book before considering their next one, preferring instead to keep a physical or mental stack of titles ready to pick from. For some, it’s a stack on their nightstand. Others keep a running list on their cell phone. In classrooms where there are enough books and space, readers could collect titles in their book boxes for later. If this seems difficult logistically (think: space and number of books available), students could easily keep a list of books they’d like to read next in their journals.

Knowing Yourself

Real readers know what they like. They know themselves as readers. They have favorite titles, series, subjects, and genres. They can talk about them and justify what makes them personally important. When they go to choose their next read, they do so in tune with their interests and their mood. They consider which titles they’re willing to commit to and pass on the others. Teachers who model, push for, and encourage this type of self-reflection help foster excitement about book choice.


Book choice in many of our classrooms is a hurried afterthought. We tell students they have five minutes to get to the library and back or we relegate independent reading book choice time to that space between attendance and announcements. But, when we set aside unrushed time for it, young readers come to learn that book selection is premeditated, thoughtful, and intentional. Classrooms that honor and celebrate book selection, allow students the contemplative time they need to get excited and give them permission to celebrate that excitement with others.

7 comments September 12th, 2011

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