Celebration: From Here

If you read this blog, you know I am a reader who shares. I am a teacher who believes in the transformative power of stories. I spend thousands of dollars and endless time filling, organizing and thinking about my classroom library. Recently, I have shared details about it here and here and here.

This year, I moved from a grade 3/4 class (mostly 4s) to a grade 2/3 class (mostly 2s). This summer, I spent time switching out books that would likely not be at the reading or interest level of my new students. I thought a lot about how to ensure I “switched on” the reading love with this new group. I even wrote a post about it: Literary Nest Building 101. Two weeks in, some of my instincts were bang on. We are reading a lot of humour filled silly stories. Read aloud time is joyous! It often ends with “Read it again!” We read multiple times a day. Every afternoon we begin with a #classroombookaday and on Friday we vote for our favourite. The children love this. One of them has even figured out that I will share the news with the author if I can.

“Ms. Gelson you have to tweet Cece Bell! I Yam a Donkey is the winner of the vote this week! Tweet her so she knows.”

Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

We have connected books with celebration. We read the amazing story The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds and made a dot of dots. This dot is now hanging in our room and we broke out a fancy felt pen to have each of us sign our names around the outside.

Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

Our first chapter book read aloud was the perfect pick for many children who have never listened to a chapter book read aloud. It is illustrated, it is full of kid humour and fun and it works a little bit like magic. As soon as I start reading it, these little bundles of energy and distractibility start to calm as they inch closer and closer to me to listen at the carpet. I think some of them even hold their breath as they listen. I feel little hands on my arm, on my shoe, on my leg as if touching me can bring them further into the book. When Dory explained about ketchup monster noises, there was a whisper, “So that’s what that noise is.” When Dory shot Mrs. Gobble Gracker in the butt with a sleeping dart, there was pure joy that their teacher said “in the butt” out loud! They laughed and giggled but they also shared knowing smiles that said, “How cool are we?” I hear them heading home at the end of the day debating whether Mary, the Monster is really a monster, really even real or some strange talking dog. 🙂 I will be forever in your debt Abby Hanlon for Dory Fantasmagory!

Dory Fantasmagory Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

We started our first nonfiction read aloud: Guess What is Growing Inside this Egg by Mia Posada and the children love listening for “specific” words to add to our vocabulary list. Words like swamp, water-proof and instinct. Many of them were delighted when I explained to them that they could take their new knowledge home to share with their families. I am sure a lot of Moms and Dads and Grandmas heard about how alligators, despite all of their teeth actually don’t chew their food but swallow it whole. “I guess their teeth are just there to look scary,” suggested one child.

guess what is growing inside this egg Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

These children love books. They love stories. They love to be read to. They love to sit with a book that we have read together and in twos or threes retell or reread the story. I think I have heard Chris Haughton‘s Shh! We have a Plan about thirty times. I might have it memorized! Such an engaging fun book to read and feel successful.

“Ready one . . . ready two . . . Ready three . . . GO! “

Shh! We have a plan Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

And . . . (I am not going to write but) many children (more than half) in my new classroom are not reading even close to grade level “expectations.” This, I was not fully prepared for. Not to this extent, not so many children. Expectations, levels, proficiency are all descriptors that can officially name what is happening for these students. I am going to name it this way: they aren’t independent. (“Can you read this to me?” “I wish I could read this book.”) They desperately want to be. (“I really need to learn to read more words.”) They don’t identify as readers. (“I can’t read.” “I don’t know how.”) They can’t self select titles that correspond to their levels. (filling book boxes with chapter books because this is what they want to read when they can’t read 90% of the text on the page.) They need to be reading and they aren’t and this is not okay.

I feel a lot of things as I have discovered this. I feel angry and I am not going to elaborate on what I know has gone wrong. I feel worried. I feel little moments of desperate. This isn’t grade 1 where my task is to grow readers from non readers. This is grade 2 and 3 where I must now grow readers and play all kinds of catch up. I feel responsible. But most importantly, I feel urgent. And this is what I celebrate – the urgency of my task. The advocacy that needs to happen. My determination. It is fierce. My fear. It is motivating. My breath. It keeps me grounded. Somehow, someway, we are going to change things for these children.

I began sharing wordless titles in “tell aloud” experiences to make the point that we can read with or without words. That the pictures tell a story. That our own experiences and inferences fill in the missing pieces. That we have a sense of stories that is in us and we bring it to the books we read.

hank finds an egg Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

Friday afternoon, I packed up books from the classroom library into three rubbermaid bins. This wasn’t about taking books away. It was about removing titles that are currently not relevant and are actually, distracting. I left about 7/8 of the books still out. There are a lot of books. But now, we can focus on surrounding ourselves with books that we can read or might grow into in the near future. Some people thought this made me sad. Only very briefly. Until I thought about it: I love books because I love that they are read by readers. I adore the readers (and the readers to be) and these readers are my priority. These books will be back. When we’re ready.

Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

I filled display shelves with titles we have read and loved together. We need to look around and see our reading experiences in our environment.

Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

I went to the library and brought up bins of levelled readers and have them available not to start labelling a child with a number but to have titles to place into book boxes that match reading ability and a “ladder” to climb. I filled some other display shelves full of books that many of us can read with success. Displaying titles honours them. It screams, “Hey you! Read me!” It says these books are for us.

Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That Celebration: From Here There is a Book for That

I celebrate that I must get my students reading. I acknowledge the fear and the worry. I accept the challenge. I celebrate the necessity, the urgency and the will.

From here . . . here we go.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Happy 100 celebrations! I haven’t shared 100 times yet. But, in the future, I will get there. Every celebration gives me more.

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks. This week, knowing that I must celebrate allowed me to frame this challenge in the most positive way possible. Healthy for me, necessary for my students.


46 thoughts on “Celebration: From Here

  1. This is such an honest post! I love your words “My determination. It is fierce. My fear. It is motivating. My breath. It keeps me grounded.” That really captures the feeling I have had many times. And I can’t wait to read Dory Fantasmagory. That sounds fun. Just in case you’ve not read it, Polly Horvath’s The Pepins and Their Problems was a fun read aloud when I taught second grade. The humor is very much in line with what you described they love so much!

  2. It’s easy sometimes to feel overwhelmed, to wonder if we’re even capable of making a difference at all, when the odds seem so stacked against us. Like you say, it’s healthy to recognize the challenges, to admit when we’re feeling frustrated, and to remind ourselves that even if we can’t reach every child out there who needs us, we can at least make a difference to the ones that cross our path. Another beautiful post.

  3. Love and hate to have read this. So frustrating when kids are below their own capabilities for external reasons, but love your determinism. I feel as a Librarian this is my struggle on a whole school level. Will be following closely on how you turn these readers into “love to” readers!

  4. I love that you are celebrating this challenge. It is so important to have a way to acknowledge the extra challenges we face as teachers without bemoaning them. I admire your choice to pack up some of the books and I am now reflecting and thinking I may have to do that same thing in my classroom. Thank you for sharing so often about your class library and your thoughts about organizing it. Have a great week!

  5. There are so many parts that I’d love to respond to, Carrie, but first I want to say that your reflection is so beautifully said. Instead of digging in and griping that these students aren’t “there”, you’ve changed the path so that they are “there” right now, and will feel so successful, and then use those new muscles to move on. I also love the idea of telling with wordless books, figuring out that it is a part of reading too, “knowing” the story. It will give such a support when they read more. FYI-my granddaughter, 1st grade, wants those funny books too, so I look, & we return to Elephant & Piggie again and look for others that make us giggle. Happy celebrating the journey with this new class!

  6. I love that you were able to still maintain a positive attitude and let the frustration help you move to make change. Thanks for sharing the struggle. I’m sure it will help others in similar situations.

  7. Carrie, your task is daunting and I feel your urgency. I LOVE your refusal to use the word BUT. Give your students the gift of the opposite of but – YET. I’m looking forward to reading your posts this year. I know there will be monumental growth for all.

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I teach 4th grade but have many, many students this year who can’t read grade level texts. They are at about a 2nd grade level. In small groups I’ve found myself having to teach how to read the “ed” sound and what an island is. Most days I feel a combination of desperation and frustration. My school is very data focused and the other rooms have fewer struggling students and it is hard not to compare. But I need to keep reminding myself that these kids were put in my room for a reason. I need to celebrate the challenge more because in the end success will be that much sweeter. Thank you for reframing my mindset as we head into a new week.

    • Cecily, I am so pleased that this post could be energizing for you. All kids need us, some much more than others. And yes, we need to celebrate the challenge so that we can move forward and make a difference.

  9. Your love of books waves across the ocean. I often pick new titles from your posts and add them to our library orders. It is not very easy to get English books in Estonia, the choice is limited, fortunately growing every year. I like how you consider the ages and interests of children and send some books on holidays until kids are ready for them.

    • On holiday – I like that image. I suppose my “tour guide” instincts weren’t exactly in tune when I did this initially this summer – but now more books have travelled to the land of “later” and “soon”

  10. Your blog is so inspiring! I celebrate this! Your students are so lucky to have you, you know what is best for them! When I read your blog, I think about the “reading moments” in my own classroom, and am inspired to capture these more. Thank you for continuing to share.

  11. Carrie, this is a marvelous post on how you have created a caring community of readers who hang on to the language of stories as they celebrate their growth as readers. Your scaffolding of the days of the week building up to the last day when the readers can feel a sense of pride on what was accomplished and how they can move on is a story in itself that rings true of a passionate educator.

  12. The part that stuck to me is the part about seeing students, who don’t see themselves as readers, who don’t know what books are good for them. So much to do for these readers! These are the kids I see, day in and day out as a reading specialist. And I don’t give up on them. You have to work so hard for them. They need to hear and experience those books that they can’t read, because they help them know what is waiting for them. But you have to cheerlead those other books, that aren’t always as engaging, but the ones that will help them grow. It’s a tiring job, but one that has such amazing rewards. Your students will get there because of your tireless fight for them. You know that, and they will too.

  13. Well, this post gave me all the feels and then some. My husband came into the room to find me wiping away tears because you captured so beautifully the desperation and fear of the struggling learner–they WANT to be able to read, they KNOW how important it is, and they can’t do it and they have no idea how to fix the can’t. It is overwhelming for them, and it is overwhelming for us. And then those lines about your determination and fear and urgency. So, so movingly written. Thank you.

  14. Thank you so much for this beautifully written blog post. I ache a bit for you and your readers. At the same time, I’m celebrating that these little ones have you there to bring them along on their roads to literacy. Your belief in them, and their belief in you will make all the difference. I struggle in the library with this reading level business. I don’t feel I have the right to limit their choices, but I still tell them I expect them to have at least one book they can read by themselves, or at least become a reader with. My challenge is finding enough engaging titles at that beginning reader stage for all of them who need it!
    I’m looking forward to reading more about how it goes this year.

    • I think so many of us share that struggle – why titles like Elephant and Piggie – high quality literature with mass readability across various levels are so important. Thanks Cheriee.

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