Sunday, June 11, 2017

Putting the Brakes on the Summer Slide, Part 2

For part one, in which I explain what the heck I'm talking about, go here.

During my spring break in March, I participated in a Twitter chat about combatting summer slide, and immediately fired off an enthusiastic and possibly incoherent email to my principal and our library aid.  Somewhat to my surprise, my principal responded by scheduling a meeting with the three of us plus our assistant principal, in which I laid out my suggestions in more detail.

Many reading specialists ask what good it does to keep the thousands of school library books locked away for the summer, blocks from where the kids are sitting without books.  Why not let kids check books out over the summer?  Whelp, said my principal and our library aid, because we can't afford to lose books.

My earnest idealism--0: Reality of school funding in Oregon--1.

What about setting up a Little Free Library by our school, since we're also a site for distributing lunches over the summer?  Maybe one of our handy teachers could build one?

My principal ordered a pre-built one.  I didn't even know you could do that.

My boss's "get-er-done" approach to life-1.

Other teachers on the Twitter chat (did I mention I actually managed to participate in a Twitter chat? Oh, three times already?  Sorry/not sorry) talked about giving each student a book.  I've seen this happen before--Scholastic Books offers books for a buck and other such great deals for exactly this purpose.  But you know how the clearance rack contains a lot of items that make you go, "Well, I can see why nobody bought THIS!"?  That's kind of what the cheap books are like.  So these teachers actually think about "What book would this student enjoy?" and then go buy that book, instead of just buying a bunch of books and handing them out.

Who can afford to do that for 70 kids though?  Hmm.  Maybe the person who has spent somewhere around a thousand bucks this year, give or take a few hundred, buying books for her classroom library.  So this spring, instead of adding to my library (well, in addition to, but I definitely added books at a slower rate than usual) I kept my eyes out for books for specific students.  Sometimes I found a good deal on a good book and then decided who to give it to.  For a few kids, I knew exactly which book (or author or genre) I wanted to get them, and I held out for that.  I spent as little as a dollar and as much as ten, but I think I held my average close to five.

I kept a careful list of kids and books, and my TA has spent weeks wrapping them in butcher paper and scrawling names on the outside.  I know some kids won't even read their books, but I also know that many of them will, and that some of them will be blown away with excitement when they see what I picked for them.

My love of matching books to kids--1: my budget--0

"Can we ask the local library to send someone over to get kids signed up for library cards?" my boss asked.

"They won't come," our library aid told him.  "I've asked them for years, and they say kids need to come there."

"I've emailed them three times this year to talk about cooperating on stuff, and nobody ever gets back to me," I added.

The next day, a warm but assertive email went out from the principal's office to our local library, and the teen librarian got in touch right away.

White man suggesting firmly--1: White women asking nicely: 0. 

While they were not able to issue cards at our building, they were able to bring application forms, suggest using school schedules as proof of identity and residence, and waive the requirement to have parents sign as well.  The librarian who came in let them know that the library will work with them to resolve old fines and that they've reduced overdue fines on DVDs and eliminated them on juvenile material.  She talked up both the summer reading program and all the activities the library offers over the summer, from "Escape Rooms" to scavenger hunts to movies.  I kept prompting her, "And how much do these activities cost?" and kids jaws dropped when she clarified they are free.  I also talked up how the kids can check out audiobooks on their phones, just like I've been doing for them using my own library card all year, and you don't even  have to go to the library, AND--the reason why I was comfortable sharing my account like that--you never have to worry about fines or losing anything.

Awesomeness of libraries--1,000: The two boys that kept saying, "Do we HAVE to get a library card?  Reading is dumb."-- minus 50

As we enter the final handful of days in our school year, I'm asking students to list every book they've read this year and make a visual of it.  Take a photo of the books, pose with your stack, make a digital collage of the covers, draw a bookshelf with your books on it--some way of representing their achievement.  Nearly all of them have been surprised to see how much they read this year, from the straight F student who read 42 novels (proving once again that compliance, not brains, drives grades) to the kid who said, "I've NEVER read a book!" who ended up putting three books in his pile (one he re-read this year and two books that were read aloud.  He specifically chose the two read-alouds he'd paid attention to and left out two others he'd tuned out.)  Then I'm going to have them spend a class period exploring the chain of Goodreads--Amazon previews--library website--TBR list.  I'll show them how to place holds and how to download ebooks.

And MY books will be available for checkout over the summer.  I've been telling kids, "It's okay to start a new book, because if you like it you can take it home.  Just get it back to me someday."

My earnest idealism: 2, so it ends up a positive number.  

And now, just for fun and to brag, some photos of my students' book piles from this year.

one of my most struggling readers' stack


Can you tell she loves graphic novels?


This young man made some real progress this year.


This guy fake read a few of these, but last year he spent literally all year on one book, so this is HUGE.


Last year she was where the previous kid was this year--a mix of fake reading and skimming.  This year she had a breakthrough, and I will never dis James Patterson again.


This kid--he's all about Horizon, and can't wait for the next book in the series.


And this is the kid who told me on day one how much he hates school in general and reading in particular.  He would not allow any talking while I was reading Ellie's Story to his class.  None.


  1. Aww, I love the book stack photos.

    My sixth grade teacher used to give us books. My sixth grade class was small, and the books were definitely the “I can see why this is cheap” kind. We all got the same books. I actually read them. Sixth grade is when I started getting more interested in reading, so I appreciated the books, even if they kinda sucked.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I so love this post, and I've made some notes for next year for my school! Your enthusiasm is contagious, and I love reading posts on what you do with your kids at work!


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