Thursday, December 19, 2013

Second Six Weeks Stats

I used to make a flyer of our stats for the 2nd six weeks. We emailed the link to our staff and tweeted it. Not only are flyers super-easy to make on Smore, but you can also see the number of views that your flyer has.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SSR: Successful Skeeters Read

The main reason I became a librarian is because I was tired of feeling like a hypocrite. As a high school English teacher, I often felt like I was doing more harm than good in cultivating a reading habit in my students. Forcing them to read "required" books was not turning them into lifelong readers. In fact, it was doing the opposite. In my humble OPINION, our educational system has turned reading into a chore rather than a treasure and writing into a restriction rather than a release. Maybe this topic should be covered in another blog post, and I am not criticizing my school district or my fellow English teacher heroes for these woes. I think this is a systemic problem exasperated by the fact that educational laws and policy are created by politicians who know nothing about how to teach children or how the brain learns.  As I talk with hard-working, passionate teachers, many feel like their hands are tied by confining curriculum created by the mandates of a high-stakes-test-crazed culture; what they WANT to do and what they CAN do in the classroom are often two different things--unfortunately.

This dilemma still eats at me--how to get kids (especially teens) to love reading more. Feeding teens a steady diet of "boring" classics that they can't relate to and short, dull passages stifled by multiple-choice questions is NOT the answer. If anything, it magnifies the problem. I have spent years researching this topic, and the works of Gallagher, Krashen, Miller, Trelease, Kittle, and Layne all support the same solution: To turn students into lifelong readers, they need:
  • ACCESS to high-interest books 
  • EXPOSURE to quality writing through read-alouds as mentor texts
  • CHOICE in reading what they WANT to read (not what we think they should be reading)
  • TIME to read
The TIME part is what I keep coming back to...

In high school, when do we give students TIME to read books of their choice? We don't. The fact of the matter is that there is too much other "stuff" out there vying for the attention of our kids. If we don't give them time in school to hook them on reading, how can we expect them to choose it on their own? 

When I was the librarian at Shaw Elementary, we initiated a school-wide DEAR time, when all 796 students and 55 staff members Dropped Everything And Read. We did this four days a week, right after the morning announcements. For the most part, it was a beautiful experience. The students LOVED it, and we noticed a significant increase in interest in reading (and a gradual increase in test scores). 

When I came to Mesquite High School this year, I admit that I was skeptical about bringing DEAR time with me. How would it work on a high school campus of 2800 kids? Would the staff "buy in?" Maybe DEAR time was only an elementary thing? I thought I'd wait a year or so to get a feel for the place before I proposed this crazy idea of giving students TIME to read. 

But it seems that others on the MHS campus were ready to try this. One of our assistant principals, a former English teacher who did DEAR time at another high school campus, and my librarian partner had been discussing a school-wide DEAR time plan last year, and they were ready to make it work. With the support and blessing of our incredible principal, we began meeting in the summer to discuss the logistics of how to make this work for our campus. Here is how SSR (Successful Skeeters Read) came to fruition. It's a tale told in parts:

Part I: Teacher Buy-In

We did not want SSR to be "one more thing" thrown at our teachers at the beginning of the school year, so we decided to take a different approach. Rather than rush into implementation, we wanted to introduce the idea to our teachers and give it time to simmer in their minds for a six weeks; therefore, we decided to begin SSR during the second six weeks. Our hope was that this would allow the teachers time to process the idea, establish their classroom procedures, and get to know their students.  It also bought us valuable time to lay a strong foundation to make this successful (more on that later). 

We presented the idea to our teachers during our staff development the week before school started. The overall goal of this presentation was to persuade them of the benefits of SSR by using research and showing them how EASY this was going to be. 

Here is a link to our Prezi; we found one already created on the website, and it contained permission to edit it. Feel free to use our's as a starting point and then adapt it to meet the needs of your campus. 

Part II: Building Classroom Libraries 

We realized the key to SSR was students bringing reading material to their 3rd period class each day. In a perfect world, our students would march down to our fabulous Skeeter Library to checkout a book or magazine or download something from our district's nationally recognized digital library. But we knew this would not happen with many of our students. If we really wanted SSR to work, we would have to bring the books to them, and they needed to be ones that they would actually read. Enter Half-Price Books of Mesquite...our angels. After a phone call to some of the people in upper management at HPB, they threw their support behind us and donated over 800 books and 10 boxes of magazines! Our principal gave us $2500 to purchase books for the classroom libraries, as well. My partner and I got to spend a blissful morning at HPB in Mesquite selecting books! (Best. Day. Ever.) It took us exactly two hours to spend the amount to the penny (we are THAT good). We hauled it all back to the Skeeter Library in our mini van and SUV.

We spent about three weeks weeding through the books, sorting them on carts, and putting "Property of MHS" stickers on them. It was a huge undertaking but worth the time and effort. 

Part III: The Plan

At the end of September, we had a staff development day and presented our plan of action for SSR to the staff. We did this in a rotation, in which each department came into the library, so we presented six times that day. This worked well because it allowed for small groups so that teachers could ask specific questions. We even had a SSR "simulation" where we gave the teachers time to read so that they could see how it looked and felt.

Here is a link to our presentation for THE PLAN. This will give you the specifics of how we envisioned SSR working on our campus and how to tackle certain issues that we felt might arise once SSR got started. After we presented the plan to the teachers, they had a week to come down to the library and choose books and magazines for their classroom libraries. Teachers were able to select 15-20 books and 10-20 magazines for their classrooms. Many teachers had already started building their classroom libraries with their own materials. I believe that building strong classroom libraries is a KEY component to any SSR program. We still have some work to do in this, but we could not have laid this foundation without the generous donations of Half-Price Books or the help of our principal.

Part IV: Just Do It

Our first day to start SSR was October 7th, which was the first day of the second six weeks. Teachers chose the time that they did SSR during third period because of the conflict with lunches; most teachers use SSR time to re-focus their classes after lunch. We asked each teacher to complete a form  in Google Docs so that we would know when each class was doing SSR. Our district created a video feature on SSR. Watching it will give you a feel for how it works in our classrooms:

Keeping it Going: 

To borrow the title of Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, I believe that's where we are with SSR--at a tipping point. Now that we have implemented it, it's time to sustain it, and that might be the hardest part.

We have sent out teacher surveys to collect feedback about how it's going so that we can evaluate and change in order to keep SSR going strong. We have created several ways to collect data and feedback for evaluation:

  • Reading Consultation Form--This is for teachers to submit the names of students who are refusing to participate in SSR time. My librarian partner and I will meet with the students to help them find a book that they will enjoy reading (hopefully). 
  • SurveyMonkey--This is the survey that we sent to teachers for feedback after the first six weeks of implementation.  
  • SSR Success Stories--Teachers can submit the names of students and share the stories of how SSR has changed them as readers. 
Here are a couple of recent blog posts from the Nerdy Book Club about giving teens time to read in school. Click here and here to read them. 

One of the biggest complaints against SSR that I hear is that it is "a waste of instructional time." I strongly disagree. Giving teens time to read what they choose is NOT a waste of time. To be lifelong critical thinkers, they must be readers. To build them as readers, we must give them time to read. Research shows that it doesn't have to be boring informational texts to improve reading; it doesn't matter WHAT they are reading, as long as they are READING! 

I am proud that I work at a school that is willing to do whatever it takes to turn teens into lifelong readers. If SSR can work at Mesquite High School, it can work ANYWHERE.