The Tyler Factor…Why Our Reading Challenges Matter Most!

You know this kid.  He’s the one that showed up in your classroom, absolutely HATING reading.  We all know this kid…we’ve all had these kids in our classes.  They are our biggest challenges and the source of our greatest joy…that is, if we are successful.

Meet Tyler.  He’s a kiddo who’s comfortable in his own skin, and has no problem telling you what he’s thinking about.  If he’s hungry, he’ll let you know.  If your lesson is sub-par, he’s got no problem telling you about that too.

We started our year with him jotting a note on my “Hello Board” that said, and I quote, “I hate reading.”

Yep.  “I hate reading.”  Just. Like. That.

But here’s the thing:  I LOVE THIS KID!  Even better:   I love being Tyler’s teacher.  He keeps it real.  He challenges me.  And he makes my days a heckuva lot more interesting.  He’s really fun.

Just the other day, Tyler was saying, “I’m hungry.  A cheeseburger would be nice.  What do you say Mrs. Lutzke?  How about you and me go and get us some cheeseburgers?  Knute’s has a $5.00 special today!”  Have I told you how much I love this kid?  Who wouldn’t, right?

But, I digress.

Tyler didn’t like to read.  That is true.  So I needed to figure out why he wasn’t enjoying reading.  So I conferred with him.  We talked.  He shared.  He debated.  And, ultimately he shared a truth that needed to be explored.  He didn’t know what he liked in terms of books.  He hadn’t yet found out what kind of reader he was.

We had to find a common ground…and that was in humor.  He’s a funny guy.  I’m a quirky adult.  So I needed to dig into my stash o’humor in order to find a starting point.  Thank goodness for Jeff Kinney and his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series!  I encouraged Tyler to give one a try, and…SHAZAM!  He liked the books.  A lot.  Tyler was plowing through this series the way the Tazmanian Devil decimates landscapes.  So cool.  So exciting as a teacher to watch this…and even more stunning…Tyler decided to join the school Book Club!

I ask my students to create “Reading Selfies.”  This was Tyler’s from November:

You’ll notice that Tyler’s reading some great nonfiction texts and focusing in on noticing text features and how they add to his understanding of the topic.  His goal of “read(ing) faster” is also included in on his selfie.  By this time, I was really pretty proud of the both of us.  
After the holidays, things changed a bit.  Tyler didn’t like being told what to read, so he quietly backed out of Book Club.  
He became frustrated…he was tired of DWK and was ready to try something new.  So we conferred.  We debated.  We talked.  And he shared that he really liked history.  A peek into Tyler’s book basket gave me an idea…all that history in those books…why not combine that with some Historical Fiction?
So, that’s the direction Tyler took.  Starting with Dead End in Norvelt and it’s sequel, From Norvelt to Nowhere…he loved Jack Gantos’ style of writing!  From there, we moved on to other amazing books like The Enemy Above…there was no stopping this guy.
Tyler’s an avid archer, and he’s learning about hunting and conservation from his dad.  So, when Tyler ran out of material, I decided to introduce him to Gary Paulsen’s character, Francis Tucket.
Tucket’s Travels was the perfect collection of books for Tyler.  So much adventure!  So much excitement!  So much…reading!
And then, the best part…the icing on the cake…talking with Tyler about the book!  Whoa!  We could have talked for hours about this book.  (He finished this yesterday, by the way, and he’s blogging about it at my side right now!)
There are conversations with kids that “stick.”  The conversation I had with Tyler will truly stick with me…”Mrs. Lutzke, I was thinking about this book last night.”  (That’s always awesome…when a kid takes a book home and can’t let it go, even as they are trying to go to sleep!)
Here’s the rest of the conversation:  “If I was Francis, and I had been living outside, on my own, and I had been my own boss for two years, I don’t think I could live with my parents after that.  I mean…I’d want to be close to them and live nearby, but if I had been making my own rules and living my own way, then being in someone else’s house would be kinda bad.”
Whoa…great conversation…great reader…GREAT KIDDO!  I’d say that you have this down Tyler.  
P.S.  Tyler is moving this summer to a whole new town.  I’m going to miss him terribly.  So, to Tyler’s wonderful mom Jen…you have my permission to share this blog post with his 5th grade teacher. Because he’s a great kid…and he only deserves the best!

Gifts of Literature

Right before the holidays, my students and I had so much to celebrate…Christmas (of course!), the completion of our Writers Workshop Unit of Study (Informational Texts) and having four of my little honeys exiting their Tier Two intervention for reading.

Now, the exiting part might not seem really big to you, but to a kiddo who has always been considered “low” in terms of reading, this is a pretty ginormous thing!
So…when we return from the holidays, where do we go from here in terms of these readers who are finally considered “at level?”
We are continuing our journey together in the Readers Workshop, utilizing Anchor Texts, Mentor Texts, Mini Lessons, Into the Book Strategies and Independent Reading as the foundation of our reading program.  We are diligently adding to our BLBs (Book Lovers Books).  
It’s time for the teacher to “up the ante” by pushing her readers towards more rigorous book choices for independent reading time.  No more gentle nudges and courteous nods for this girl…my strongest readers and my newly fluent “on level” kiddos deserve better.
It’s time for…GIFTS OF LITERATURE!
I’ve been using this strategy in my classroom for quite some time actually.  
Call me what you will…Book Queen, Hoarder of All Things Bookish, Collector, Bibliophile…I LOVE BOOKS!  I have tons of them…much to the disappointment of my hubby and my librarian sister-in-law!
There’s a part of me that enjoys sharing them immensely…and a part of me that gets pretty stinkin’ ornery when they don’t come back.
I have a smallish collection of my own personal books that never make it to my classroom library, but they are so good that I can’t NOT share them.  So I’ve created a small book basket of personal loaners that are “by invite only.”  These are the books that I “gift” my students with.
How do I do this?  
I start by writing out a short letter to the reader and then leaving the book on his/her table in the morning.  When they come into the room, they find the gift book and the note ( no pressure, just a vote of confidence that I have matched a good reader to a great book that will certainly challenge them and help them to grow!)  
If the student chooses to accept this gift, they keep it to put in their book baskets and read it during Independent Reading Time.  Since these are books I have personally read and enjoyed, the conversations we have in regards to these books are pretty great!   I’m better able to guide these readers through the challenges that each text presents to the individual and hopefully expose these readers to a higher level of quality in terms of text and book choices.  
Imagine the power this strategy has in terms of guiding your readers!  Think of the kids in your class who are strong and solid readers, but continuously go to the same “stuff.”  In my room, kids have a difficult time moving away from Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Goosebumps.  And while these three series are great for bringing reluctant readers to the Readers Table, they aren’t enough to sustain a reader for long periods of time and move them forward in their reading.
One of my readers, Brody, is so stuck in Junie B. Jones books.  Again, great series and well written books, but not enough to feed the mind of a kiddo with a 600+ Lexile level.  Brody is definitely a candidate for my “gift” basket.  I have a book with his name on it too!  (Brody is going to get a big push from me…period!)
What about the student who brings the book back to me and says, “Not interested.”?  That’s ok.  I’ll keep offering different choices.  Eventually, I’ll come up with a winner.  (I’m an optimist!)
Another terrific byproduct of this strategy…once other kids see these books, they ask if they can be the next person on my list to get the book.  It’s really pretty cool!  (Note:  For the students on the waiting list, the next time we go into the school library, I find the book and share it with them.)
I’ve just read three AMAZING books over the holidays that definitely fit the criteria of “gift” books.  They are as follows:
1.  Fortunately the Milk, by Neil Gaiman.  This quick read is one that your fantasy readers and “tellers of tall tales” will certainly embrace.  Enough pictures to provide a nice segue between the world of picture books and the intense world of chapter books, the text is rigorous and imaginative and would be a great fit for those creative readers and writers in your classroom.  (I have Olivia in mind…how about you?)

2.  The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes.  This is a sweet little read that is split among the four individuals that are most important to Billy (Teacher, Mom, Dad and Little Sis).  Billy is a second grader with a ton of heart who is worried that he won’t be successful in second grade.  This isn’t a complicated text, but it is a bit beyond the world of leveled readers and it has a ton of HEART!  I think boys and girls would enjoy this read as it isn’t overly “boyish.”  (I’m thinking of Matthew who just exited from Tier 2.)
3.  Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo.  Ok…say what you will, but in my opinion, this is DiCamillo’s BEST BY FAR!  She definitely has the “people and animal formula” down to a science, but each time, it’s just a bit different…unpredictable…This book is a spectacular read!  Your animal book lovers will think it is terrific. and it has great dialogue between the characters with a little mix of comic book format.  I love, love, love it!  (Note that this would be a terrific classroom read aloud and it is certainly going to make its’ way into my Mentor Texts in reading AND writing!  Yup…it’s that good!)  I’m thinking of my friend Mallory and what a good match this book will be for her.
Using the “Gifts of Literature” strategy, I’m able to point kids out to books that have the potential to be award winners and that they will certainly be exposed to along the way.
Other books that are in my “gift” basket are:
I highly recommend each and every book on this list, although not every one of these is appropriate for every reader.  The books in my “gift” basket are thoroughly read by me so that I truly know what the readability is and what the reader needs to have “emotionally” in order to tackle the content.
Here’s your challenge:  What books would you put in your “gift” basket?  Which students would be your first lucky recipients?  I challenge you to go through your personal stash of books and find those books that should be matched up with readers.  Maybe you’ve changed grades, like me, and found that the books you used to read aloud aren’t a great fit for your current grade level, but maybe there is a student who could use a push and the confidence instilled by having a teacher recommend a great book for them…
Oh, the possibilities!
Have fun learning and laughing with your kiddos!
Nikki