Sunday, May 6, 2018

Jordan Sonnenblick


All smiles in the book signing line
At approximately 8:17 am, an unsuspecting seventh grader hopped down the stairs headed toward the water fountain. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two Crazy Reading Ladies talking to a man in a blue sweater. In a scene straight out of a movie, the child - staring at the back of our guest - froze mid-stride. His mouth fell open and his face flushed pink. He extended his pointer finger and mouthed, "Is that Jordan Sonnenblick?"

Playing with the jazz band
The moment of wonder experienced by our thirsty pre-teen friend was just one of many from that day. April 12: the day our students had waited for, the day we had so carefully planned...there was just something special about it. Looking back, maybe it was a lot of little somethings. Before he ever stepped foot in the auditorium, Mr. Sonnenblick looked at the two of us and said thank you. "Thank you for making such a big deal out of this. You guys really went above and beyond. I could feel it when I walked in." The building was indeed buzzing, and - if you'll allow two Crazy Reading Ladies a weak sports analogy - Jordan Sonnenblick saw the pitch we lobbed him and hit it clear out of the park. Every single one of our kids was spellbound. Jordan Sonnenblick was superlative. The day was simply exhilarating. It was more wonderful than we could handle. It was a celebration of good books, and another reminder for our kids of what happens when you make the decision to read.

What if they don't read? Ha!
One of the first things we discussed with our principal when we began planning this visit was that reading one of the author's titles would not be required. We would not tell our students they had to read. Admittedly, this decision - while right in so many ways - made us more than a little uncomfortable. Wouldn't they get more out of the experience if they read? What if they didn't read? What if - after everything - we lured Jordan here and then he began his presentation staring at 466 blank faces?

But so much of what we do rests on the relationships we have built with our students. They trust us to put good books in their hands. They know we will be honest and tell them about books we loved. In reciprocity, we offer them choice. At countless conferences we have stood in front of teachers and administrators, spoken about our school-wide reading initiative and declared, "It's voluntary and it works!" How was this any different?

So we held our breath and let go of the control. We put the decision to read in the hands of our students. But here's the thing: when you pick an author like Jordan Sonnenblick, kids will read. Oh yes, they will read. They will read like the wind. All we had to do was introduce them.

Book discussion group
We dare you to read aloud the first five chapters of Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie to a roomful of seventh graders and NOT have a child promise you his college fund in exchange for your copy of the book.

Jordan Sonnenblick is the quintessential YA author. His books are about real kids who face unexpected challenges. They are honest and laugh-out-loud funny. They are emotional. They are engaging. They are short. Sonnenblick captures the voice of the sarcastic, impulsive, ego-centric adolescent the way only a former middle-school teacher could. He writes so well, in fact, that one Crazy Reading Lady took a break from one of his novels declaring, "I can't deal with this kid right now. I have to put up with obnoxious teenage boys all day long. I'm not spending my free time listening to this one." He's that good.
Are those 8th graders smiling? Nah.

Fun fact: that same book, Notes from the Midnight Driver, was the far-and-away favorite of our 8th grade students. Go figure.

In our effort to turn this author visit into a full-on Sonnenblick-a-thon, we hosted read alouds, Stop Drop and Read Days, and two book fairs. We ran teaser videos on the news. We peppered the hallways and cafeteria tables with a rotation of posters bearing book covers, quotes, summaries, and reviews. It has been rumored the Crazy Reading Ladies used up a year's worth of poster printer ink in preparation for this event, but c'mon. You can't believe everything you hear in middle school.
"The Thunderclap" interview team
The end result? Aside from one of us being put on printer probation until further notice, every single child was exposed to several chapters' worth of Sonnenblick. Most of our students read at least one book. Many of them read more. Some read seven.

Three weeks removed from Sonnenblick-a-palooza, we have yet to find the right words to capture what happened on April 12th. The presentation he gave - just a man and a microphone - was one of the finest our faculty had ever witnessed. They are still talking about it. Thank you, Mr. Sonnenblick, for the wisdom and life lessons you so skillfully swathed in humor and shared with our students. Only a former middle school teacher could command an auditorium like that.
We are writers

And maybe, because of his years spent in the classroom, he can read our hearts when our words fall short. Perhaps he knows the value of validation he bestowed upon our group of writers. As part of his day at our school, he met with a selection of students - nominated by their teachers - and taught an hour-long master class. To watch those kids learn about narrative writing techniques and begin to craft an original piece right before our eyes was most impressive. We held back tears as four students read their work aloud, feet away from a best-selling author.
Moments like this

Part of our appreciation for the magic of that day comes from acknowledging the power such an experience can have on a child. As I relayed the day's events to my mom over the phone later that night, emotion took hold and I heard my voice break. I don't believe I ever had an author visit my middle school and I started to cry when I told her how much a day like that would have meant to twelve-year-old me. The fact that the two of us were able to gift our own students with an experience we didn't have was overwhelming.

Jordan Sonnenblick and two CRLs
Success takes on many facades in middle school. It isn't necessarily seen on the faces of 400 belly-laughing adolescents, but on the face of one 8th grade boy who has put his hand to his mouth to mask the smile he can't stop. It isn't exemplified in the line of one hundred students nervously smiling and clutching books to be signed, but in the action of one, who - still occupied by a science quiz - asked a buddy to bring his book to the author to be sure he didn't miss the opportunity. It was seen when two "reading disabled" students took their seats in the twenty-five-member discussion group with the author himself; an assembly comprised of super-fans, ones who read until there was nothing left to read, and one simple fact remained: those two earned it the same way everyone else did. They were there because they read seven books.

Little Crazy Reading Ladies
That morning, our principal stood watch over the book signing table. After about ten minutes, she waved me over. "Watch them," she said, smiling. "Nobody walks out alone. They all wait for someone so they can share the experience." For most of our students, this was the very first opportunity they had to meet an author. We watched them hold their books in line. We heard them giggle and whisper, "Oh my gosh!" as they progress forward, one step at a time. We watched until they were face-to-face with the man they came to see. And then we heard them carefully utter the words, "Hello Mr. Sonnenblick. I loved your book."

In Mary's office is a wall of photos, taken of starstruck CRLs with authors we love. Let us tell you, that nervous stomach and momentary loss of intelligent speech you experienced? That's normal. Those never go away. It is our hope that this experience will be the first of many in their lifetime. May our students grow to be readers who seek out good stories and friends to share them with. May their lives be filled with books and butterflies.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

CRL 2.0

Hi!  Mary here.  Erin mentioned the other day that we don't have anything on our blog that references my move to administration.  So...now we do!  (That's kinda how the CRL work.  She tells me what to do and I drop everything and slave away until it meets her approval.)  (Just kidding.)  Enjoy!

*****


I used to hate lunch duty.
When I was teaching, I would have one 20 minute lunch duty every six school days, and I detested it.  Lunch duty is loud, smelly, uncomfortable, and loud.   Once, I made a deal with a colleague; he covered one of my lunch duties in exchange for me grading 25 of his 8th grade Social Studies essays.  (Only 25? A bargain.) 
Now I serve three lunch duties a day.  Three 20 minute lunch periods coupled with transition time means I currently spend an hour and a half of every day surrounded by noise, cafeteria smells, the heat of 180 bodies packed into an enclosed space, and noise.  What’s more, in comparison to some of the other things I deal with in the course of a day, lunch duty is a breeze.  I actually look forward to it. 
And that, in a nutshell, is how I describe the transition from teacher to administrator.  
After thirteen years in a middle school ELA classroom, I became an administrator in January of 2016.   I took the job with all kinds of wide eyed enthusiasm about the impact I’d be able to have.  As a teacher, I said in my interview, I could only reach 80-100 kids each year.  As an administrator, I’d have access to almost 500!  Think of how I could shape them, mold them, positively influence them to become the change makers the world needs so desperately.  I would use my role to connect with students in new and meaningful ways, leading them in literacy initiatives and community service endeavors and mentoring them into compassionate contributors to the local and global community.  

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I see now that I was full of shit.  

You know what I do as an administrator?  I go to lunch duty three times a day.  I try to fit in classroom visits as often as I can, but it’s not nearly often enough.  I call angry parents.  I talk to
angry teachers.  I organize MCAS.  And I investigate incidents.  A lot. 

I’ve said many times, and I’m sure people have assumed I was joking, (I’m not) that instead of curriculum design and budgeting, my graduate classes should have taught me how to conduct an investigation.  And I don’t mean an educational law class, I mean literally HOW to interrogate someone.  What to say, the appropriate tone of voice, what to ask, what to repeat, what to write down, who to question, when to call parents, when to call Central Office, when to call the police.  Watching reruns of Law and Order may be more educational for prospective administrators than pretty much anything I took whilst pursuing my license.

In an ideal world, administrators truly could shape the lives of every student in their building.  In an ideal world, there are no bullying investigations, no complains about the parking lot, no special schedules to be created, no data management systems to navigate.  The administrative job of my interviewing dreams did not include learning how to save security camera footage or repeating truly vile language to appalled parents.  In an ideal world, kids are nice to each other, each child comes from a supportive and capable household, there is peace and harmony in the world, and we all live happily ever after.  

Before I go too far down the path of negativity (too late?) there are parts of my administrative job that I very much enjoy. For example, our evaluation process of observation and conversation, reviewing evidence towards standards and providing feedback, is awesome.  I love visiting classrooms and seeing lessons.  It's such a treat to get out of the four walls of one classroom and into cool places like Science and Math and Spanish and Art.  If not for administration, I'd have zero idea what, let alone appreciation and admiration for, what goes on in a STEM classroom.  I love seeing where subjects connect and support each other.  In team meetings teachers would always talk about how some kids shine in other areas.  As an administrator, now I get to *see* it.  As an administrator, I get to see everything and talk to teachers about it and provide feedback that I hope will help them evolve as a practitioner.  I love it.  Evaluating and helping teachers improve their practice is almost like teaching. 

Interacting with kids
via bulletin board.
Ah, there’s the rub.  I think the hardest part about moving from a classroom to an office is that I desperately miss teaching.  I miss feeling excited about kids and content and projects.  I miss getting them to laugh and watching them grow and improve.  I miss planning lessons in my brain every time
I hear a cool song.  I miss reveling the language of a good poem.  I miss Shakespeare and Frost and Angelou.  I miss Scout and Jem, Liesel and Rudy.  I miss seeing kids get wrapped up in the beauty of a literary moment.  I miss crying with them when a good book ends.  I even miss being huddled on the floor in the corner of a classroom, quietly reassuring kids that they’re going to be okay and that I’ll do anything to keep them safe.  I never thought I’d miss that, but I do.  I miss teaching and everything that goes with it. 

So I teach when I can.  When students are suspended, they spend the day in my office where I willingly teach everything from 6th grade Math to 8th grade Spanish.  When I have to provide feedback and redirection in the cafeteria, I sit next to children and I teach.  When a student is in danger of failing and all other efforts have fallen flat, I take them into my office and I teach.   I’ve embraced the discipline process as a platform for education.   I’ve developed lesson plans for bullying, hate symbols, racial language, and vaping.  I teach in the one-on-one conversations I have with students when conducting an investigation.  I teach when students come to report a problem or
seek guidance.  Whenever and wherever I can, I teach.  

As a literary leader, Erin thinks my new position has brought benefits.  She calls me CRL 2.0. And I suppose I have been able to provide a new perspective and understanding of logistics and impact when we’re planning whole school events.  Sure, I’ve installed a new “Principal’s Bookshelf” in the lobby, and I was able to get new copies of The Giver ordered pretty darn quickly for our 7th graders, and I guess I’ll have to content myself with that for now.  

To answer those people who ask, “do you like it?” I say the jury is still out.  I’m a stronger, more resilient version of myself now than I was two years ago.   That’s good, right?  

To answer the those people who ask, “should I get my admin license?” I have to ask...how do you feel about lunch duty?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

It Never Gets Old

All In! 2018
At approximately 7:10 am, a beaming twelve year-old bounced his way over to the Assistant Principal.

"I finished the book! I did it!"

You what?

"Murder on the Orient Express - I finished it!"

Mary called Erin over; after all, some moments call for two CRLs. "Whoa - what happened last night? Did you just read like crazy?" Erin asked. He laughed. "Yes! I went to bed at 9:30 but I stayed awake until I read the whole thing. I couldn't stop!"

We high-fived him and exchanged wide-eyed glances. The tow-headed boy chattered away, following Erin to her classroom. As students arrived for the morning, she casually threw a few questions at him until it became clear. He comprehended this novel as well as we'd expect any sixth grader would - and we could tell he had read it in its entirety. We had our man. This feisty blonde 6th grader was officially the first one All In! 2018.

Turns out, he had a bet with one of his teachers. She was on chapter five yesterday, he on chapter six.

"I'm totally going to finish it before you." she challenged him.
(Love and kudos to you - you know who you are - man, middle school teachers know how to play.) All he needed was the chance to prove her wrong.
Monday morning's big reveal!

The book was revealed on Monday morning (we promise we'll write about that next!) Kids couldn't have gotten the book until Monday afternoon. By lunch on Thursday, three have finished. Three students are All In! already.

We were not expecting this. We never expected our local Barnes and Noble to sell out within 90 minutes of dismissal Monday afternoon. We never expected in-depth conversations about justice in the middle of 7th grade lunch. We never expected kids to finish the book before we had even one question written. We don't even have a list yet! Thankfully, we only have to remember three names...for now.

Our kids are in the business of surprising us. And we couldn't be happier. After seven years, a few hundred Massachusetts middle schoolers have the Crazy Reading Ladies shaking their heads...and smiling.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Some Days

We typically find ourselves drawn to this blog when we're on top of the world - when things go so incredibly, perfectly right and we are overwhelmed with love and good feelings.


One good day is all we need. It drives us; it feeds us. But what about those other days? The ones when you wish you never left your bed. The ones when you find yourself in pajamas at 5 o'clock. The ones you replay through your head and wish you could do over. The ones that make you cry. It honestly never occurred to us to use this blog to write about those.

We're very lucky Crazy Reading Ladies. We've had far more stellar days together, celebrating kids and books and authors, than most anyone. We have the best jobs on the planet; we have each other. Not a month goes by that we don't stop and say, "How did this happen?" We are optimistic people who spend an incredible amount of time celebrating good.

But sometimes we flop. And on those days we come to the blog, too.

We're not perfect. We know that, but we need to be honest: it ain't all sunshine and lollipops. Some days we know we could be better.

It's the curse of parents and educators everywhere; the pressure that comes from being called a "life-changer" can be crippling. The truth is, some days aren't our best days. Some days we don't work miracles. Some days we make mistakes but that "life-changer" thing makes us dwell on the fact that it wasn't perfect, instead of just brushing it off as one of those days.
 
Well, we have a story about one of those days.

Last Friday we held our first All In! team activity in over two years. We were stoked. This was our biggest year to date and the book - Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - has carved out its place in our collective heart; it's safe to say it's our favorite. This year had already exceeded our expectations in so many ways and Friday's event was going to be the cherry on top of the sundae. We had talked about our plans for months - we ordered supplies back in February and strung rare and precious minutes together to craft every detail. It felt good. We hadn't brainstormed and laughed like that in a while. We remembered those whole-group activities from years ago. We were both excitedly anticipating that feeling once again. It didn't come.

When Friday came, we found ourselves trapped in a meeting as "Go Time" approached. By the time we finally arrived, the kids were loud; they were excited, but they were loud, and it took way too long to give directions. It took too long, period - the activity we planned would take five-to-seven minutes ended up taking more than half an hour. Kids got antsy. Kids asked to go to the bathroom and were found by the Principal wandering the halls. Some kiddos that remained in the gym walked away from their groups, uncomfortable with the social aspect and unsure how to take part in a collaborative effort. This was a first, and we didn't like how it felt.

 But the truth is that we tried. We thought on our feet and changed the game - omitting one piece entirely and changing the objective of another. We tried. We planned well, but it wasn't good enough. We knew right away why it flopped - everyone wasn't engaged at the same time. It's an easy fix, really. We should just chalk it up to a lesson learned: some days our best isn't good enough.

But first we have to move on. We have to realize that some days are better than others, and recognize that all days deliver some modicum of good.

It's not easy. Just like our students, we have a tendency to catastrophize: did this ruin them for life? Will they come back? What if we lost them for next year? We admit we allowed those thoughts to swim through our head - we even verbalized them - until we saw the pictures.

Sometimes we must take a less-than-stellar afternoon and do what we ask our students to do: look at what we did right. We pulled off an after-school activity on Friday of a long weekend with an eclectic mix of kids. A few hundred kids. We said we would do it and we did it. We had colleagues show up to help. We planned from our hearts. We put in time and effort and energy. We didn't do it half-way, it just wasn't what we thought it would be. And that's okay. Some days are like that.
And some days you see a child who has never attended and after-school activity show up and find her place.
Some days you hear kids shouting numbers in Lithuanian to welcome their teammates.
Some days you see 7th-grade boys laughing hysterically as they scoop colorful plastic spheres into laundry baskets.
Some days you hear kids quoting a book they read four months earlier.
Some days you look up and see your best friend in a matching t-shirt.

Some days that's all you need.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dear Ruta

Dear Ruta,

Days later, we are still struggling to come up with words. On February 17 the two women who never stop talking were brought to a tear-filled, head-shaking halt. It was a day filled with nothing but good and we aren't sure how to thank you. We don't feel like we can adequately express what happened that day and how grateful we are, but we're going to try.

Let’s start with the story of the T-shirts. 

Every year we order T-shirts for our readers.  They like them because they’re middle school kids and, hey, free shirt!  We like them because it gives them an external way of identifying themselves as readers.  It helps them find each other.  It shows that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. 

We always choose colors carefully.  Our first year of t-shirts we chose blue and yellow because they are our school colors.  The year after we ordered shirts in five different colors to align with the factions of Divergent.  For Unbroken we ordered camouflage green, for The Finest Hours – stormy sky blue.  Of course this year, everyone just assumed the shirts would be gray.

But that was something that we knew we couldn’t do.  The idea of putting this book, full of life and love and strength, into the hands of kids and then swathing them in gray?  It just didn’t feel right. 

See, we Crazy Reading Ladies do a lot by feel.  For example, we knew Between Shades of Gray was “the book” for this year without ever actually speaking about it.  Most years we do exhaustive research, compile lists, divide reading duties, and talk endlessly.  This year, we found ourselves planning activities and timelines without ever having the “Are you saying ‘yes to this dress?’” conversation.  We just felt it.

So we wracked our brains for colors that would make sense…variations of blue and white and black and other colors that could fall “between shades of gray?”  It still painted such a dreary image.  White?  Too boring.  Mary’s preference – slate (or gray, if you must) blue – was too close to last years’ color.  That’s when Erin suggested the colors that felt right. 

As much as gray felt wrong, these colors felt right.  Our feelings were validated when we logged into our t-shirt vendor of choice and saw that they carried colors that were exactly right.  We made mock-up shirts and stared at the proofs on Mary’s computer screen.  That feeling...

Please don’t think us too sappy (or crazy), but it reminded us of a certain July evening in the basement of a Boston restaurant.  After gathering ourselves outside and ineffectively trying to calm each other with “We’re calm.  Stay calm.  You’re calm, right?  Me too.” we walked into your open arms.  You embraced us before you even spoke to us.  It was as if we’d known you for years.  And it felt right. 

Our kids felt it, too.  Without realizing they would meet you that day, our kids were honored to understand the meaning behind the colors. We told them we were gathering to take a picture to send to you.  Picking up their shirts that morning, 8th grade boys - who are too cool for anything - gasped when we explained the color choices and said, "Ohhhh, that's awesome!"

Our kids feel connected to you.  From the beginning you’ve been tweeting at them, emailing them, smiling at them from the selfie we both have framed in our offices.  But more than that, they love your book.  Not only is it accessible and engaging, but it’s beautifully written and tells an incredible story.  Our kids simply devoured it.  Never before have we gotten the student feedback that we got this year.  “I want to know more.  I NEED to know more!”  “Do you have Salt to the Sea?  Please tell me you have Salt to the Sea.  I NEED TO READ SALT TO THE SEA!” 

Teachers aren’t supposed to use the word love.  We’re supposed to say that we “care deeply” and use euphemisms like “respect” as if “love” itself is a dirty word.  But we CRL do now, and we have for quite sometime , feel that eliminating love from the vocabulary of the classroom does a disservice to our students. 

When students read something that speaks to them and makes them want to learn more about their own heritage and the world they live in, it’s appropriate to use the word love.

When self-proclaimed “non-readers” finish one book and rapidly move on to its partner, it’s important to use the word love.

When a students’ eyes light up because their name has just been spoken aloud by the woman they hold at the same level of esteem as Harper Lee or Tom Brady, the only appropriate word to use is love. 

And without using the word love, we can’t explain Friday, February 17th.  We can’t explain the feeling that transcended the miles, pouring in like sunshine from where you sat in your office a thousand miles away.  Without love we don’t know how to describe the auditorium packed with 332 rapt adolescents who got to meet the woman who wrote the book that changed their lives.  Without love, we don’t know how to explain how every single one of those students silently defied their Assistant Principal’s directive to begin dismissal. 
Without love, how do you explain how 332 students knew to stand, en masse, without direction, to show you the shirts that came together to create the Lithuanian flag? 


And this brings us back to the t-shirts.  Besides being driven by instinct and what felt right, there was something else motivating the t-shirt color choice.  We kept thinking about that Skype visit - what you would see on your computer screen when the call connected.  We couldn’t let you see 330 seats filled with gray.  Instead, we wanted to honor you and your story; to at least try to convey what you mean to us and our students. We wanted to show you what you had done. We made sure you logged in to see an auditorium full of love.  

With Love and gratitude for everything, 
Mary and Erin

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Good Things

#ALLIN17 was revealed! December 13, 2016
The Crazy Reading Ladies don't have classrooms next door to each other anymore. More than Mary's administrator status, our reduced proximity has proven to be the most difficult adjustment we CRLs have had to make.

Over the years, some of our favorite moments occurred in doorways. In the hall between classes we'd share sweet anecdotes, vocabulary lists, student work samples, and the occasional eye-roll. During All In!, we'd be in and out of each other's rooms constantly, talking to students about the book and hearing the insightful, passionate reactions of our readers.

This time around we hear the comments individually, only able to share with the other on the rare occasion we (wo)man a mutual lunch duty or indulge in a Saturday pedicure.

And, so - as the finish line to All In! 2017 draws near - we have come to a conclusion: our kids love this book.


They seemed surprised somehow; delighted really, at how much they're enjoying this journey. They love the historical accuracy and the intrigue of a forgotten story. They love the human struggle and the relationships explored. They talk about its powerful, earth-shattering punch - how upsetting and unbelievable that something like this could really happen. They love the brisk pace and the short chapters. Dormant readers who approach books cautiously with side-eyes and a ten-foot pole take a copy when we tell them to try it. "Read the first three chapters and if you don't like it, bring it back." That's the CRL's deal and so far no one has returned a copy. No one.

Everyone loves Ruta Sepetys. And we don't know how it happened that we were so lucky; lucky enough to cross paths with this incredible writer and beautiful person, lucky enough that she's reaching out to our readers and following us every step of the way. Lucky enough that we get to share how her book is changing lives. Lucky enough that we get to thank her. It's just too much lovely.

It's gonna be a good year.

Here's one of the videos we created for our kiddos featuring the official #ALLIN17 theme song: Stand in the Light.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Power of the Read Aloud

Several days ago our All In! 2017 title was revealed: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. It's a haunting tale about Stalin's lists and the deportation of millions of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians. It's beautifully crafted, incredibly well-researched and exceptionally important. You should read it. More on the book and our reveal later, we promise!
All In! 2017: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
As part of our kickoff, we hosted a book fair at our local Barnes and Noble; for the first time, we performed a read-aloud as part of the evening's program.

On the hour, an announcement was made and people moved to the back of the store.  Fathers sat down next to daughters. Younger siblings settled in beside big brothers. Some people didn't even sit. One mother stood next to her two teen aged children, her eyes filling with tears as Mary began. Busy toddlers stilled and looked up as we read - it didn't matter what we were reading, just that we were reading. Due to one of those unforeseen, serendipitous CRL twists, we each got to watch the other as she read.
Mary reading aloud from Between Shades of Gray

And while we can't take credit for how positively transfixed our audience was by the first three chapters - this due entirely to the extraordinary storytelling abilities of Ruta Sepetys - we can profess the power of the read aloud, a practice oft-forgotten in a world of "turn and talk" collaboration and "teaching on your feet" dictum.

Reading aloud is typically associated with elementary school. Erin talks about her pre-CRL years - the ones she spent teaching first and second grade. And she ended every single day with a read aloud.

The kids packed up a full thirty minutes early, only to surround me and listen as we read The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Henry and Ribsy, and The Indian in the Cupboard. Looking back, I'm shocked to realize that we probably got through eight or ten books each year. Together.

It was sacred; we finished every book we ever started.


One year on the last day of school, my administrator appeared in my doorway, ready to usher us off to the Prize Day assembly.

I had three pages to go until the end of Frindle.

My pace picked up as she began signaling me that we had to leave. I looked up at her and tried to communicate, "Please. Not yet." The last few pages of the story are when Mrs. Granger writes to Nick. He's all grown-up now, but at the end he gets a letter and he finds out that his fifth-grade teacher has been rooting for him and his word all along; he learns that she's proud of him. We had to finish. Of course we finished. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't about a thousand times more relieved than I was embarrassed at being the very last class to file into the assembly that day.

The power of the read aloud is no secret to the teachers who spend their days with emergent readers, saying things like "Circle time" and "Criss-cross applesauce!" but for whatever reason, we forget about it in middle school.

A read aloud to close out Pajama Day
But reading aloud is a tool that no teacher should ever permanently remove from their toolbox.  Mary remembers, from her days in the classroom, that spending a day reading aloud can result in a hoarse voice and exhausted person...after all, as school progresses the chapters get longer and the classes rotate.  Reading aloud a 20 page chapter is four times harder in 8th grade than it is in 5th.  But it also leads to greater engagement and improved comprehension.  If you don't believe us, take it from Brianna.  She's now in 11th grade, and when asked what book changed her, she talked about To Kill a Mockingbird.  She shared that Ms. Cotillo read almost all of it aloud and that she still thinks of that book every day.

Yesterday, we Crazy Reading Ladies were invited to read Between Shades of Gray aloud to about fifty 6th graders. It was pajama day. When Erin got downstairs, desks were pushed out of the way, kids sat on the floor or lay sprawled out on their winter coats. One boy lay on his back staring up at her, his mouth hanging open.

"They took me in my nightgown," she began.

Ever seen sixth graders so quiet?
No one moved. No one went to the bathroom or needed a drink. No one said anything, except to whine each time she paused to look up at their teachers and inquire about the time. Everyone was sad when it ended - sad for the school day to come to an end.  On a Friday.  At the end of Spirit Week.  

As students get older, the adults in their lives mistakenly assume they don't want to be read to anymore. After all, they know how to read now. The events of this last week made something abundantly clear to us: our adult assumptions can add a dose of bitter to one of childhood's sweetest milestones. Proclamations of "You can read on your own now!" often lead to the end of time spent together reading aloud.  And parents are eager to regain those twenty minutes at the end of the day that could be spent doing dishes or laundry or simply putting ones tired feet up and enjoying a moment of silence.

But before we walk away from bedtime stories, may we ask: now that you can cook, isn't it funny how everything still tastes better when your mom makes it?

Why should that landmark thrill of learning to read result in the loss of a comfortable lap (or parka) and the warm embrace of a good story?

Middle School teachers: read aloud to your kids.  It will pay dividends you cannot measure on educator evaluation rubric (though you *can* use it as evidence for I.A.1 and II.A.2 if you want to). Parents: read aloud to your kids.  Even the big ones.  Even the ones who can read for themselves.  The snuggles and feelings of peace will bring more satisfaction than an empty laundry hamper.  Promise.