October 31, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion

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Those of you who know us personally or follow us on social media know that the last few months have been filled with the emotional highs and lows that come along with writing and finishing a book. However, those of you who know us exclusively through this space probably know very little about Reading Wellness, which was finished in February and has since undergone all phases of the Stenhouse production process.  We are proud to share with you that four weeks ago, Reading Wellness made its debut.

Reading Wellness by Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris

As we conceived of Reading Wellness, we imagined writing a book that would do more than treat the problems students experience when learning to read.  Rather, we imagined writing a book that would help teachers prevent problems before they happen. When we began, we asked ourselves what we thought contributed to healthy, robust reading lives and built our chapters around these ideas:

  1. Love–Authentic Reasons to Read Informational Text Closely
  2. Posture–Mindset, Agency, and Hard Work
  3. Alignment–Working to Make Sense of the Words
  4. Mindfulness–Reading Closely, Comprehending Deeply
  5. Strength–Productive Effort and Building Reading Muscle
  6. Joy–Reading More for the Love of It

For us, writing Reading Wellness was a labor of love, but as anyone who has written for an audience knows, what happens when your thoughts and ideas go out into the world is up to the world. Because it’s only been four weeks since Stenhouse released Reading Wellness, we are just beginning to hear readers’ responses.  So far, this is what we’ve heard:


From Paula Borque, Literacy Coach, Augusta Maine:

I LOVED it!! … As I read each chapter I kept thinking how they were expressing so exactly the thoughts I want my teachers to have about creating reading communities and encouraging reading lives.  I felt so connected to those authors!


From Russ Walsh, Literacy Specialist, Rider University

Ultimately, Burkins and Yaris, want to help literacy teachers to move beyond the expectations of others – close reading, identifying main ideas, and all the aspects of reading writ small – and to keep our eyes on READING writ large, that READING that enriches our lives and that we hope will enrich the lives of our students. (For a full review see Russ’s blog: How “Well” is Your Reading?)


From Mary Howard, Literacy Consultant and Author

Chapter titles says it all–Reading More for the Love of It! Every word makes my heart sing!


From Dr. Byron Ernest, Educator, Indianapolis, Indiana

#ReadingWellness really hit home with me. Every #educator should read it! We are going to do a book study.

If you are interested in reading Reading Wellness, you can preview the whole book online at Stenhouse.  And if you do read it, we hope to hear your honest feedback!

Guiding Reading with Great Books

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We are constantly on the look out for beginning reading material that gives young readers substantial work with meaning. Unfortunately, too many of the beginning reading texts available offer minimal opportunities to think deeply. As finding texts worth rereading is essential to teaching students to read closely and carefully, the quality of beginning reading texts is a real dilemma.


We’ve engaged in a number of efforts to promote conversations about quality, beginning reading texts. For example, we developed this Text Complexity Rubric for evaluating guided reading books on levels A-E (because after level E, quality material is much easier to find.) Also, we worked with the wonderful illustrator, Steve Jenkins, to develop “Think Books,” which are leveled A-E, are companions to Steve Jenkins’s other titles, and available as free PDFs and free digital flipbooks. We are fond of the guided reading books by Okapi (reviewed here), as they have higher than average numbers of books that rate a level 4 (highest score) on our rubric, which means they give young readers a lot to think about.


Recently, we have revisited the “Brand New Reader” collection from Candlewick Press. Kim’s sons both learned to read with these texts, while Jan is relatively new to them. We are excited to add them to our collection of texts that offer both appropriate word work and thought-provoking comprehension opportunities. The authors/illustrators accomplish this feat by letting the images carry some of the meaning in the text.


They are also super affordable. You can purchase four books about a set of characters, such as Fish and Frog (below) in a slipcase for $5.99, or $1.50/book. They also come in boxed sets of 10 titles and an incentive chart with stickers for $12.99, which would work well for summer reading programs.*


Here are a few of our favorite titles:


Fish and Frog

Fish Makes Faces (Level C) and Hide-and-Seek (Level D) are both part of the “Fish and Frog” collection. In Fish Makes Faces, fish makes different faces–sad, silly, happy– in a mirror stuck in the sand on the ocean floor. When he makes a scary face, he scares himself. In Hide-and-Seek, Frog and Fish take turns hiding, but when Fish hides behind Fish, Fish can’t find him. Both texts have illustrations that give readers something to think about.

Mouse has fun

In the “Mouse Has Fun” collection, you will find It’s Super Mouse (Level B). Super Mouse–Mouse in a red cape–jumps off various, increasingly-tall objects to “fly.” At the end of the story, when he jumps off a hill, he flies and “lands.” The picture tells the story, of course, as the landing is a little bumpy.

Termite Trouble

Finally, we particularly love Termite Bites, which is in the “Termite Trouble” collection. This Level A text begins with Termite facing a log and thinking about where to bite it. It ends with Termite facing a wooden sculpture of himself.


For more information about the Brand New Readers from Candlewick Press.
*We receive a lot of materials for review and we only write reviews for the few we like best. We don’t usually list prices, but it seemed relevant in this case, since these are SOOO affordable and schools are both desperate for quality guiding materials and short on funds. We don’t work for Candlewick and don’t receive any kick-backs for reviewing their books. We do, however, like just about everything they do.

Evaluating and Vetting Common Core “Aligned” Close Reading Materials

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As publishers continue to flood the market with “Common Core” aligned materials, the task of sifting through and weeding out the good from the bad becomes increasingly more difficult. Educators are particularly concerned about which materials to purchase to support students’ ability to read “closely and carefully.” In response to this growing concern, we offer you the following three questions to ask as you evaluate and vet the materials you are considering for your school.

1. How interested will your students be in reading the texts in this resource?

In developing their materials, many publishers have ignored the three defining characteristics of complex text (quantitative, qualitative, reader and task) and unfortunately include text that meet only the quantitative measure. Furthermore, in many cases, publishers are repurposing text that is decades old, offering students the dryest of reading selections. Because reading is a transactional relationship between reader and text, it is important that text be compelling. We cannot expect students to invest in close and careful reading if they lack the motivation, purpose, knowledge, or experience to be able to interact with the articles and/or stories in the resource. We recommend that educators read at least three to five different samples of text in a close reading resource to determine whether the content feels appropriate for the intended audience.


2. Who’s doing the work?

As we have perused many resources aimed at helping students read “closely and carefully,” we have noticed a trend toward the publisher determining when and where children should stop and think.  Generally, these points are delineated by the insertion of a text-based question or task that asks students to reread to notice something deemed important about the text. While there is some value in supporting students’ ability to read closely and carefully in this way, we are skeptical that repeating this process over and over will yield the desired result–an independent and proficient reader. We believe that the decision making process about how to read closely and carefully is more important than answering a series of questions about a text.  We recommend that educators consider how a resource releases thinking responsibility to the student. If there are no opportunities for students to make decisions about where to stop and think and what to think about, it is unlikely that they will transfer this skill to their own independent reading.


3. Are the questions worth answering? 

In looking at several materials by several different publishers, it appears that “close reading” has been generalized to mean “exhaustive reading.” We find that more times than not, close reading resources leave no stone unturned. Text is chunked into equal portions and students are asked to notice and note details about every aspect of the text, regardless of its significance to the larger themes and messages of the text. We are concerned that this practice implies that all text is created equally, which it is not.  Some text , even portions of classic literature, just isn’t worthy of close, careful rereading.  We worry that time spent rereading to answer questions about inane sections of text will perpetuate what Kelly Gallagher calls “readicide,” or, the systematic killing of the love of reading.” As you evaluate resources for reading closely and carefully, we recommend that you consider how much rereading students do in each text and consider whether the questions in the text have students striving toward significant or superficial understandings.

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