Reading for Professional Development

“The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is power and to keep reading.”
– Attributed to David Bailey

As a child I would read at any opportunity, even if it was only a few lines, I would grab the book of the moment, read the few lines I had time to read and then keep going. This often occurred, much to my mothers frustration, in the morning when I should have been getting ready for school, and would conveniently forget that fact, and become absorbed in the story. I grew up with a plethora of solid Australian authors to choose from, with my two favourites being John Marsden and Morris Gleitzman. Mum introduced me to Jeffrey Archer, Wilbur Smith, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum. Eventually Timothy Zahn re-introduced fans world wide to the Star Wars universe with the release of his Heir to the Empire trilogy, which for me served as a re-ignition of a much loved saga.

Somewhere along the way, between then and now, my reading habits changed. Growing up, I was a voracious reader and would often fall asleep with an open book late at night. At some point, my habit of reading for a while before bed every night changed to a habit of reading if I had time before bed, which evolved into it being too late to read, maybe tomorrow night.  I still read, just not as often. I found that I had fallen too far behind in the release schedule of the Star Wars novels and I did not know where to start in order to catch back up. I dived into Middle Earth, reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion and the various titles in the Unfinished Tales from Middle Earth series.

Then I got to university, and my reading habits changed again. I had to read. The texts that I was required to read in order to complete tasks were often written in dry and dense language that is often associated with academia, and I began to churn through three of four journal articles a day, purely for the purpose of completing the assignment. Though I (occasionally) found the various texts I was reading interesting in themselves, they often simply served to aid in the completion of an assignment. Reading for pleasure became something that I did not have time for.

I had long disdained e-books, I am not entirely sure why, other than a love of the smell of books and the feeling of holding a book and turning the page, but I had not engaged with Kindles and the like at all. I then discovered, quite accidentally, fanfiction.net and turned to it for five minute bouts of reading while I ate breakfast. I have, over the last twelve months, made a conscious effort to return to ensuring I read for pleasure. I have worked through the Magician series by Raymond E. Feist, and I have read through each of the immense books that George R.R. Martin has published thus far in the Song of Ice and Fire saga.

I was left with a dilemma. I had engaged in various avenues of ongoing professional development; attending FutureSchools in March of this year and participating semi-regularly in various education chats on Twitter however, I had not made any effort to engage with literature for professional development. Something about the nature of reading journal articles for university assignments had deadened an enjoyment of reading for professional development, and though I had skimmed a handful of journal articles, I had not engaged fully with any form of professional development through reading.

This term I am making a commitment. I purchased a copy of Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez whilst at FutureSchools, and had started to read through it on the train ride home that afternoon, yet having just been offered a temporary contract, I began to focus what spare time I had on developing a program to suit the specific role I had been assigned, and had, unfortunately, not returned to it. I also recently purchased a copy of Hacking Education by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez, which I have not even opened. So in order to return to reading for both pleasure and for professional development, I commit to reading through a chapter a week, beginning with Invent to Learn, and using this platform to solidify my learning, the ideas and inspiration, the challenges and the professional avenues I wish to explore, as a result of the reading, with one blog article each week, beginning next week, devoted to the previous week’s reading.

Gratitude Challenge – Day Two

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Ordinarily my articles open with a quote that somehow pertains to the theme or message for that day. However when I sat down to write today’s article for the Gratitude Challenge, I realised that I would not be able to select a single quote that encapsulated how I felt about today’s topic of gratitude, which for this particular iteration of the Gratitude Challenge, is a treasured possession. Hence, this article is sprinkled with a variety of quotes, all sourced from this page, and are merely the tip of the iceberg about how I feel about books.

“We read to know we’re not alone.”
– William Nicholson, Shadowlands

The treasured possession which I am grateful is my book collection. The photo below is merely one of the bookshelves that Mrs C21stT and I have filled, and the bulk of the books in our burgeoning library came from my collection. I am immensely grateful for books and everything they bring with them. They are a source of joy and comfort, and can induce feelings across the full gamut of emotions.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

I was fortunate as a child, as I believe many of my generation were, that my mother read to me every night before bed, up until the age of four, or thereabouts. My memories of her reading Little Golden Books to me before bed, or buying me a book from the checkout when we did the groceries (I cannot remember the name of the series; they were square shaped, roughly as wide as a small envelope) when I had been well behaved were things that I distinctly remember looking forward to. Further, my mother was an avid reader, so our house was full of books and reading books for fun was modelled to me from a young age by not only my mother, but some of her closest friends. My Grandparents were also avid readers, and the top two shelves in the photo above are actually some of the books that Have been handed down to me since Pop’s vision declined to the point that books need to be audio books.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”
― William Styron, Conversations with William Styron

As a child, I moved house quite frequently (when I moved out of home at twenty-two years old, I was moving out of my twenty-second house) and though I managed to make casual friends at each new school, it was my books that provided me with the friendship I craved, the adventure I wanted and the succour that I needed each time we moved house and I changed schools. When we finally returned to my home town and I was enrolled in what would be my school for years three to six, I set out to devour the school library, and made a solid effort of it.

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little [messed] up.”
― Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

I am blessed that Mrs C21stT is also an avid reader, and we both have dreams of our own house with a dedicated library and we have been searching for ways of maximising the number of books that we can realistically have, because as Rudyard Kipling has been attributed as saying, “a man can never have…too many books.” 

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”
― Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel

I think I aptly expressed how grateful I am for my books to the class I was situated in for my internship, a Stage Three class. There was a heartbreaking dearth of books in the classroom, with nary a bookshelf to be seen, and only a few books that were not dictionaries or textbooks on the shelves. I went through my own bookshelves and pulled out a wide range of books, around thirty all told, and made them available to the students to read.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”
– Attributed to Charles William Eliot

I introduced them by asking who wanted to do particular things; go into space, time-travel, explore the ocean floor, hike in the remote parts of the world, win wars, create amazing inventions, meet the genres as personalities, be invisible etc. Every student’s hand was up at least once. I then told them that I had done every single one of those things, and more, and rattled off in which book I had achieved which thing in the previous list. The student’s devoured those books over the remaining two months of my internship, books including The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, Dinotopia by James Gurney, The Pagemaster by  David Kirschner, Ernie Contreras and Jerry Tiritilli (though it must be acknowledge that authorship of this book is apparently controversial according to this Wikipedia entry and a range of others from varying genres and at different difficulty levels.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
– Attributed to C.S. Lewis

I am immensely grateful for my books and for the vast array of emotions which they engender and I would challenge you to get involved in the Book Week Celebrations that will be held in your local school from the twenty-fourth to the twenty-eighth of August tin year

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Get excited about literacy!

Today’s professional development day opened with a session about Focus on Reading. Part of that discussion was around the drop-off in students’ engagement with reading, the so-called fourth grade slump and what we, as teachers, could do to re-excite and reengage students with reading.

There are, I believe, a number of things that we can do. Some of them are simple, and others will take a little more effort, while some will open up doors for lessons or discussions that you would be doing or having, at some point any way.

The first idea is, I think, fairly obvious. Select texts that will engage readers. You may have a text that you have been using for the last ten years with every cohort you teach. Look at retiring that text and trying something new and more contemporary. Consider the cultural context withing which that book was situated when it was published and taken up as being a quality text and ask yourself if it is still relevant. I certainly am not advocating removing all old books, just suggesting that we be more selective about the texts which we ask our students to engage with.

When doing class reading, or readers theater, encourage, strongly, the use of expression, or where appropriate, character voices. My supervising teacher whilst I was on my internship was reading The Hobbit as the class text. It was an over and above novel deliberately chosen for the complex language structure, the rich vocabulary and imagery and as something separate to all the learning that was going on, as an enjoyment read. When Gollum had dialogue, the students were required to read it in their impersonation of Gollum’s voice, as made famous by Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings movies. Expression and character voices can liven up the often monotone sounds of class readings.

Another option is to ban a word for a week (or a different time frame appropriate within your context). For example, I might ban the word said for a week. The word is not part of the permissible vocabulary in writing or speech for that week. This then requires a conversation about what are our alternatives – synonyms and antonyms, and understanding what the various words mean and how they can be used, and why whispered and muttered are not the same, even though they are both synonyms of said. Create a word wall, or have students create their own word wall in the back of a writing book or somewhere similarly easily accessible.

I wrote recently about using newspapers in the classroom. They are also tools that can be used to increase engagement with reading, and some of the strategies I discussed in that article will be relevant here.

I would love to hear from people about what ideas they have about how we can excite our students about reading. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section.

What is your ‘go to’ for literature? in the classroom?

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I have finished the theoretical part of my planning for this term, and now I am up to the practical part, the recording. The way that I will be structuring my flipped classrooms will involve a lot of reading of books for the students. Essentially, the majority of the students will be engaged with the flipped lesson (a book study) whilst I focus on a small group of students. Over the course of a few weeks, I will have seen all of my students and can then move onto the next part.

As part of getting ready to record all of the flipped lesson videos, I spent a significant amount of time in the local library, wandering amongst the bookshelves, looking for suitable titles. It was then that it struck me, how out of date I am with junior literature. I was able to pick out an assortment of books that I think will be suitable for each of my classes, but it started a train of though.

Who are the ‘go to’ authors for junior literature these days, and which books in particular are part of your core literature repertoire? I recall, growing up, that Morris Gleitzman, R.L. Stine, Mem Fox, Duncan Ball, Roald Dahl etc were considered essential reading.

If I was to pull a book from your classroom (or personal) book shelf to teach with, for any class from kindergarten to year six, what book, or which author would you be recommending, and why?