The number one thing to avoid to get kids to love reading!

The number one thing to avoid to get kids to love reading!

Last fall, when we still had teacher candidates out in schools, there was a classroom I visited that had a sign on the front door that said, “Everyone is a reader, but some just haven’t found the right book yet.” It immediately caught my attention and put a smile on my face whenever I was in that building and saw it. I love not only the idea of everyone thinking of themselves as a reader but having a lifelong love for it.

But then I got to thinking, “How do we help readers find the “right” book? And what does the “right” book even mean?” If you ask five different teachers, you might get five different answers. 

In recent years, book leveling has become the way that so many people have decided is the “right” way to match kids and books.  And there’s no shortage of leveling programs out there–Lexile, F & P, DRA, the list goes on and on.  

But here’s the thing: 

  • Book levels don’t take into consideration student interest or background knowledge
  • There are as many ways to level books as there are books (not quite, but it sure feels that way sometimes)
  • Paying too much attention to book levels might narrow the choices so much that students won’t be able to find that “perfect book” that makes them love to read

In this blog post, I’m breaking down when using leveled books is appropriate and when it isn’t. 

The best part?

It’s a pretty simple formula any teacher can implement.  

Using leveled texts has been advocated by the likes of such big reading names as Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (they have their own system to level books that is very widely used) and Marie Clay for use in Reading Recovery (one of the biggest reading intervention programs ever).  Guided reading sessions and intervention times are two widely used examples of when leveled texts are often appropriately used. 

Many schools do a form of reading incentive plan such as Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts.  They may also participate in outside programs like Book-It.  All of these programs are geared to help encourage reading and, hopefully, to develop lifelong readers.  When testing in AR or Reading Counts, students are often asked to read within the level of books that have been determined best for them by assessment.  This is when we can get into a gray area.  

Yes, students will likely be more successful at passing quizzes when the readability of a book is within a certain range.  However, is passing a quiz the greatest determiner of love of reading? I think not.  Usually, students who are already voracious readers will be the ones who amass the most points.  I saw this time and time again when I was in the classroom. Those that find reading more challenging (for whatever reason) likely won’t all of sudden become proficient and successful readers because they are required to earn a certain number of points. Yes, for some kids, this will be an incentive, but for many others, the opposite is true.  

How do I manage mandated programs and building a love of reading?

This can be tricky, but as a general rule, if you are mandated to use a certain program, I’m not the one to tell you to buck the system.  Only you can decide exactly how programs like Book-It or AR are used in your classroom.  What I can tell you is that using leveled text should be like broccoli.  Sure, you might need it sometimes to make healthy choices, but it doesn’t mean that you can never have a chocolate chip cookie again.  Students should be allowed to read books that are of interest to them the majority of the time whether it is within their assigned level or not. 

Other factors to consider…

When deciding whether or not to use leveled readers there are other factors to consider.

  1. Is there an educational purpose for limiting the range of books offered? (essentially what you are doing if you are asking students to read only within a certain level) 
  2. If you are asking students to read a leveled book, are there enough options that they will also find one on a topic that interests them?
  3. If you are asking students to read a leveled book, are there enough options that they will also find one that reflects their funds of knowledge?

The surest way to get kids to hate reading is to answer no to any of these questions.

I believe that the only way students will love reading is if they have choice and control over what they read–at least the majority of the time.  Yes, we have determined that (like broccoli) there is a valid reason for using leveled readers.  It is when we OVERUSE them that we run into trouble. We must also be careful to not refer to students as a certain level.  Remember, we level BOOKS, not CHILDREN. This is another mistake I see teachers make all too often, and if I am being totally honest, have done myself.  Once I thought about what I was truly saying though, I realized how demoralizing that sounded and stopped immediately.  

I know this post might seem like a lot of doom and gloom, but the good news is, that while this is the sure-fire way to make students hate reading, there are many more ways to help them LOVE reading.  Be sure to check back here often as I share my favorite ways to encourage a lifelong love of reading for all. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you use leveled readers? What place do they have in your classroom? Until next time, happy teaching! 

Earth Day

Earth Day

Next to Christmas and my birthday, my favorite day of the year is Earth Day!

I found out about it for the first time in college through a wonderful science methods professor that I had, Dr. John Beaver. Since then, I have always made a point to teach environmental awareness every day, but to also take time to celebrate Earth Day with some special activities.

Through the years of my teaching, we’ve cleaned up school grounds, planted trees, made landfill models and did a year long rainforest unit culminating in a giant replica rainforest with a fundraiser to save acres of the Amazon.

Now, more than ever, I feel the focus in classrooms (even those that are now virtual!) is on sustainability and alternative energy sources.

I am going to share some my top 5 ways to teach about the environment as well as what not to do.

  • Start with the basics—teaching the 3R’s. The topics of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle have been around for as long as there has been Earth Day, and it is a great place to start.  The difference I am seeing now is the focus on the 3R’s as being a hierarchy, with reducing our waste as the most important, then reusing items whenever possible, to finally recycling what is left. Recycling is extremely important, but really should be considered the last resort after reducing as much as possible and reusing what we can.
  • Here are two of my favorite reuse projects using commonly found household items—toilet paper or paper towel tubes and bubble wrap.
    1. Toilet paper roll napkin rings—One way to reduce waste is to use cloth napkins that you can just wash and reuse many times and these napkin rings add to the festive look while also keeping the tube out of the trash. For these, I cut a standard toilet paper tube in thirds and wrapped with washi tape. You could use duct tape, scrapbook paper, or whatever you have on hand. And then I just slipped it on the napkin—easy peasy! These would look great on your dinner table tonight!
    2. Bubble wrap hopscotch–Use some leftover packaging from an online order (bubble wrap), a sharpie, and some painters tape to make this fun outdoor or indoor game. Cut the bubble wrap (if needed-some of mine was just the right size already) into squares.  Turn it over to the flat side and use a Sharpie to draw the numbers—remember to draw them backwards so that when you turn it over they are going in the right direction! Once you are finished, tape it to your floor with painter’s tape or to your sidewalk with duct tape to prevent slipping or the board blowing away.  My daughter put ours on the driveway. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was upside down! 1 should be closest and so on up to 10) Look up the rules online for how to play hopscotch and let your kiddos hop and pop away!
    3. Look for more fun ideas on my Instagram—(Your Teaching Mentor)
  • Be a smart shopper! When I cleaned off our desk area to prepare for it to be my new online teaching space, I found a ton of old pens, markers, glue sticks etc. I organized them into cute bins so that when we need something we know right where it to find it and not rush out to the store to by another one.  When the time comes to replenish items, make smart environmental choices—you can get pencils made from old blue jeans and pens made from recycled water bottles now.
  • Watch videos or listen to songs to learn more about environmental issues. I found a fascinating video about how recycling is changing right now called “Why the United States Is Turning To Recycling Robots” You can find it here.

    I would say this is a good video for third grade on up.  For the younger kiddos, Mr. Eco has lots of great songs/videos about important environmental concepts (also on YouTube).

  • I am sure it is no surprise that my last suggestion is to read a book. There are tons of great new books out there that I need to check out but some of my favorites are:
    1. Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
    2. The Earth Trilogy (Touch the Earth, Heal the Earth, and Love the Earth) by Julian Lennon
    3. City Green, by DyAnne Disalvo-Ryan (This book inspired a huge inquiry project about recycling milk cartons in my class).
    4. Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child and Bridget Hurst
    5. 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World by Melanie Walsh
    6. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
    7. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Now that I have given you a start on how to celebrate Earth Day with your students, here’s what I wouldn’t do:

Send families links to print reams of paper for a recycling coloring book, or worksheets matching the trash to the right recycling bin. 

While there is some educational value in some of these things, you are really just adding to the problem with these types of activities.  If you want to teach kids about recycling, invite a local waste management person in to speak to the class (or now that we are virtual, see if they could join your Zoom or Google Meet). 

If you want to them to know how sort trash, have them collect real trash from the playground or other area and sort it accordingly.  I hope these ideas have given you some fun ways to think about Earth Day. For more ideas, check out my Instagram (especially the stories!) for more ideas!



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Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Want to know the best way I have found to curb excess talking? How about the most equitable and easy way I found to handle classroom jobs? These two seemingly small changes made a huge impact in my classroom!

Let’s talk about ways to curb the chatting first, shall we?

Every morning, each student got 3 bands. I used the hair ties that came in packs of 100 for $1 at Dollar Tree and just kept them in a tin I had from a gift I had received years ago!

I bought 5-6 packs at the beginning of the year and that usually lasted us the entire year—you could even think about putting them on your supply list or wish list for your classroom.  Invariably, I would have some break, or accidentally go home with a child. They also just wore out after a while—at 100 for $1, they aren’t necessarily the highest quality item you will find!

Here’s how the idea works:

The students could wear them on their wrist, keep them on their nametags, supply boxes, or whatever you choose. Each time they blurt out, they put one back in the container we keep them in.

I even developed a nonverbal cue to let them know that they had lost a band, so that I didn’t have to disrupt my teaching.  I would make eye contact with them and just tap my wrist and then point to the tin where the bands were kept.

This way I could keep going with what I was doing, and they simply got up and put the band back in the tin.  They knew right where it was kept (for me it was right on top of our mailboxes, so it was easily accessible, and they saw it often) and they could do that without any further disruption.

In over 20 years of teaching, I had tried several things, but this was by far the one that worked the best for me. It’s great because it’s a visual reminder for the kids, and this way you can be sure you have given them 3 warnings first before giving a more serious consequence. Win/win in my book!!!

The other so-simple-I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-think-of-it-sooner hack is how I handled classroom jobs.

It was another classroom “chore” that I tried multiple ways of managing before I finally settled on a great, easy solution.  When I was first teaching I had only a few jobs, but kids felt left out because only a few students ever got to help.

Then I purchased a pre-made bulletin board kit, but their jobs didn’t meet my needs.  Then I came up with a list of jobs so that every child had a job that I was changing every week.  Except that I would often forget.

I had students complain that some jobs were almost never used, while others were used multiple times a day.  There was even a year where I thought I would tie persuasive writing to the class jobs, so that kids could convince me that they were the right person for the job.

All in all, no matter what approach I took, it was just a headache that I never looked forward to dealing with until I came up with the idea that I will share with you here.

Some of you may already be familiar with Tara West and her blog Little Minds at Work.

She has tons of great ideas for primary grades.  She did a blog post with a printable for a “Lucky Duck.”  She used it to choose a mystery student for staying on task.

However, one day when I was particularly frustrated with jobs and kids complaining about them, I decided to make my “Lucky Duck” the helper for the day.  So each day, during our morning meeting, I pulled one stick and that person was the person who did any job that was needed that day—passing out papers or other materials, helping with calendar (this was a kindergarten classroom), taking things to the office or to other teachers, etc.

If I needed more than one person to help, I just had the Lucky Duck from the previous day fill that position so that there were no arguments.  Once I had selected the Lucky Duck, I put the stick back in the jar with the duck side down, so I knew that student had been selected.  Once all the sticks were duck side down, I knew everyone had had a turn and I could flip them over and start again.  Something else I thought of on my third year making them, that I will save you right now from making the same mistake, is that I just put numbers on the sticks instead of names.  This way they are reusable from year to year.  Just match the number on the stick with your student’s number on your roster. Easy peasy.

Both ideas were simple, low prep and effective while making my teaching life easier and more streamlined.  I hope they are as helpful for you!


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